Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"Wash your face . . . Say a prayer . . ."

So, I have to admit something that will shock most all who know me …

When I was a little girl/teenager/young adult I was WAY emotional … shocking, right? I know it is difficult to imagine because I am so level headed and emotionally removed now and am able to stay completely emotionally detached in basically all situations especially those I feel passionately about but dig deep and see that it is true, I used to be what people would call – over sensitive.

Just even sensing that someone was about to use the s-word on me (and by that I mean sensitive folks, not what we all normally think about when the s-word is mentioned … supercalifragilisticexpialidocious) I would go postal and get even more emotional and sensitive, "How dare they call me sensitive?!" I would think and sometimes exclaim, " I am not sensitive! The rest of the people in the world are just dead zombies without feelings!"

Now, while I still hold true to my stance that the rest of the world could be without feeling :), I will concede that I could be a tad reactionary …

I mention this only to allow your empathy to be heightened for those poor people that had to live with me during that time – my family, especially my mother. To be fair to young, little, overly emotional Mia, I think anyone would be sensitive to their "loving" brothers breaking into the chorus of  "Let Her Cry" by Hootie and the Blowfish, every time it even looked like tears would come :) We all laugh about it now, after my years of therapy to get over it (haha – jk) However, given that I can now see that I must have been a joy to live with, I can give my mom leeway when I remember the two most hated phrases she would use when I would get too emotional: "Wash your face. Say a prayer." Now, unless you read those phrases in your mind with a proper Latina accent (think Gloria from Modern Family) you cannot appreciate their full power so go back and read them again … I'll wait …

To this day my blood pressure rises and my pulse quickens at those words and I remember that 99.9% percent of the time they only worked to get me even more upset and I would usually end up calmly **cough cough angrily cough cough** saying back, "Don’t tell me to wash my face or say a prayer!!! YOU wash YOUR face, YOU say a prayer!" … Oh, my poor dear mother … Now, she would give that advice to me for any emotion  - if I was sad and crying – if I was rude and fighting with my brothers – if I was justifiably angry at anything – if I had just woken up from a nap and looked like I might, at some point in the next day or so, feel any of the above emotions – she would say, "Mia, go wash your face; say a prayer." Before yesterday, I have never understood why she continued to use the phrase when she always got a negative response from me; but maybe there was a method to her madness because yesterday … yesterday, those words came back to me …

In one of the cosmic jokes of life, I don't often do well when I have extended periods of time without somewhere to go or something to do; even though, when I am in my busy normal life, going places and doing stuff, I wistfully dream of the time when nothing will be exactly what I have to do. So, as you can imagine, the nothing that spring break has given me has had its ups and downs – yesterday was a down. I didn't hardly sleep the night before because my mind was busy thinking over every horrible thing that had even happened and every horrible thing that could possibly happen … it annoyingly does that from time to time (ok, fine - all the time), doesn't yours'?

I had been awake from the early hours just lying in bed feeling the types of things that come when your mind has just finished one of those lovely states of positivity I just mentioned above, and I thought, "I am never getting out of this bed. Life has nothing for me (dramatic, I know …), nothing good will ever happen ever again …" After a couple more hours of laying there I decided if I had to be depressed today, at least I would do so with clean teeth … As I stood in my dark bathroom with my hands on the counter supporting myself - like it took effort to just be standing there - I heard the words I always hated … Wash your face … Say a prayer … and for the first time that morning – I smiled.

I thought back to all the times my mom had said that to me and I laughed as I remembered how angry I would get … I thought back to my mom and her life and how with all my supposed trials, she had grown up in far worse circumstances … I thought about what difficulty would have meant to her and why she would have continued to give me the advice I never ever wanted to hear … I thought about her strength and love and how that strength had to have come from somewhere …

As I thought all those things I decided to put her advice to the test: I washed my face, then walked into my living room, knelt down, and said a prayer. Now after, I didn't miraculously feel better or feel overcome with relief like my overly TV watching/movie going brain was expecting but at least I was up – at least I was beginning to shake the dark fog I had fallen into and think about what I could do that day to help someone else and in the process I knew maybe it could help me.

So, I got ready for life and went outside and did things; the weird part being that the dark, depressing fog never lifted. I felt it all day long but you know what – its ok. I'm fine with that because to me that's life – not everyday is awesome. I used to expect my trying to get me immediate results. Old Mia would have come home at the end of the day and thought, "Well, mom's advice didn't work. I washed my face AND prayed and the feelings never left – she was wrong, God didn’t help me, I'm never doing that again …"

New Mia knows that my mom never washed her face and prayed when life got overwhelming because she thought the results she wanted would come, she did so because she had faith in the process. The process of real life – not the TV/Movie version that gives immediate results to actions; the process that we become who we are in moments, in minutes, in hours … in just continuously trying and not giving in or getting upset when we fail.

So, today I am going to wash my face, say a prayer, and go do things. You should too ... 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Ummm .... should you call me fragile?

photo's courtesy of my 7yr. old nephew photog :) Thanks, E.

I hate the words "mental illness". They somehow say to me that my brain is sick, my brain is less than your brain, and as such isn't good enough – is defective. So no, because I have struggle in emotional or mental areas of my life to the point where acting on suicide was a reality of my past does not give anyone the right to label me as mentally ill. To me I am just a human being who is alive and struggling, dealing, learning, and growing. To the individual who called me fragile today, I love you … yet you sparked a fire in me … this is about to get real:

Don't you dare call me "fragile" … I am not some little bird whose wings are broken and need fixing; I am not Tennessee William's Glass Menagerie; I am not fine china that you only bring out during special occasions so that you minimize the risk of damage; and more than anything, I am not something you put in a box and on the outside stamp "Handle with Care" …  

I wasn't handled with care when I was in grade school and kids made fun of me because my mom "talked funny" and looked darker and different than other moms;

I wasn't handled with care when the words 1-800-Jenny-Craig were written on my desk in fifth grade and everyone laughed when I saw it;

I wasn't handled with care when I was sexually abused at the age of eleven and threatened and bullied with what would happen to me if I told;

I wasn't handled with care when I was asked out by a guy a few years ago only to have him drive a mile from my house, tell me he "made a mistake" and didn't want to date me and drove me back to my house;

I wasn't handled with care by the police when I tried to end my life a few years ago and they yelled at me in my car and told me to get out or they would force me out;

I wasn't handle with care when the arrogant psychiatrist at the hospital told me I am lucky the cops didn't charge me with driving under the influence because I tried to end my life in my PARKED car with the keys not even in it and that he felt I needed to stay in his facility to "learn my lesson" …

If ever there was a time when I needed to be handled with care it's already been mentioned so don't put me in your box and label me "fragile". I am not fragile. I am the type of strong you wouldn't even know what to do with. I am the kind of strength that was able to live more than fifteen years with a secret that ate at my soul through demons in memory and words so horrific that I still face the consequences today. I am the kind of strength that didn't allow myself to hurt others like I had been hurt; the kind of strength that held onto a belief in God and a hope to one day fully understand that he can love me and that His loving me isn't manifested in fulfilling my every wish or want. I am the kind of strength that has faced hours, days, weeks, and years alone at the end of every night when I wanted anything but to be alone.

When was the last time it took you three hours to get out of your house because anxiety crippled your every muscle even as you screamed within your mind that there was nothing to be afraid of in walking out your door and facing the world? I have lived a life where that was an almost daily occurrence and to face that is strength in my eyes, not fragility …

I have sat in a psych ward of a hospital, stripped of my humanity and treated like nothing while doing math problems in my head as a last ditch effort to hold it together; so I wouldn't lose my cool, so I wouldn't let them see me panic, so there wouldn't be something else for them to hold against me.

I am privileged to work with children and parents who have gone through some of the most horrible things imaginable and what you would see as fragile and what society would sometimes see as "mentally ill" I see and know as power, as strength.  They wake up, and most days they go to school or work, and they come to therapy to get help facing fear, embarrassment, sadness, humiliation, anger, panic, intrusive thoughts, and nightmares of the sleeping or waking variety; sometimes they fail but that's ok. Failure doesn't minimize their strength in my eyes, it makes me want to be there with them even more – to let them know that I see them, I am with them.

If my life, as well as working with others who have faced trauma, pain, and anguish of the mental and emotional type, has taught me anything - it is that vulnerability and fragility are not the same thing and the mistaking of the two needs to stop. When you saw me sharing who I was and being real about the struggles I have had, continue to have, and know I will have for years to come, that has been me finally understanding that vulnerability is power and strength.  The only way I am going to make it through this life is by harnessing that strength and stepping out of the shadows that have been my home for far too long. 

I am far from fragile - and the billions of other people who wake up around the world each and every day, even and most especially when they don't understand how to or want to, aren't fragile either, they are stronger than they know. So ... the next time you feel the need to handle me with care ... please don't. I got this. 

Boom. Drop the mic.   
 ** or gingerly set it down ... one can never be too careful :) **

Monday, March 9, 2015

I ate a hamburger and fries today . . . A conversation about self-worth.

I ate a hamburger and fries today.

I also did homework, paid bills, called insurance companies for my parents to battle about prescription drug costs, listened to an LDS conference talk, went for a short walk, wrote a letter to a friend in prison, surprised my mom with something small she's been talking about for weeks, mailed a package to a friend who I felt could use a pick me up, cleaned my apartment, went to the grocery store and while there gathered up some random shopping carts spread throughout the parking lot, and called an older gentleman from my mission who doesn't get out much just to see how his weekend went …. but …. I ate a hamburger and fries today, and somehow, that's all that matters.

Now, I cringe as I write the list of things I did today because I'm by no means Mother Teresa (unless one becomes Mother Teresa just by returning shopping carts scattered randomly around parking lots – then I definitely am :) ) and I feel like someone might read the above and think, "Who does she think she is? How prideful can you get?! – Service doesn't count if it's shared and she's just saying it to get attention …" I assure you, that is not my intention and I am way ahead of you in thinking that it could be and judging myself because of it – ha! I beat you! :). Also, just for your information, last Monday I spent the whole day watching Criminal Minds and Drop Dead Diva on Netflix while ignoring every phone call I got … It all evens out in the end folks, it all evens out in the end . . .

I share the list of what I did today to give you context, so we can see together how insane my mind gets about things sometimes and where I go as I search for value and meaning for myself as a person.

In my last post I mentioned bullying and kindness and how I believe that kindness must be taught to children and adults alike. I believe that through acts of kindness, lives can be changed and many of the dark moments of life can be avoided. However, I also know that more often than not, kindness won't always prevail in our lives, so teaching our children (and while I know I don't have my own kids I can take the Michael Jackson approach and know that "children are our future" and see all the world's children as my own, haha) and preparing ourselves for what to do when cruelty and meanness comes is as important as teaching about being kind. People will be mean; comments will continue to be made about one's outward appearance – maybe you are too skinny, or you try too hard, or you are too fat, too ugly, too pretty, too short, too tall; comments will be made about other aspects of your life – what you chose to eat, what you chose to wear, what religion or faith you chose to practice, do you own enough things, take enough trips, are your children getting straight A's and captains of sports teams, do you have too much money, not enough money, are you a stay at home mom or do you work, and on and on and on . . . .

All of these things can press in upon us until we can't breath, until we are running around trying to be enough; that goal being a mirage in the desert because as soon as we make it to what we thought was our destination, the definition of "enough" changes and off we go again. So, what is to be done? Well, I guess we give up.

Now isn't that inspirational?

But, really, give up – give it all up! We all need to figure out how to give up basing our self worth on the opinions of others – especially if those "others" are people who don't even know us or people who purposefully want to hurt us. It isn’t just about giving up the negative opinions that people can have about us but in some degree, also giving up the positive. Now, someone might read that and wonder what in the world I'm talking about … don't worry, my mind asks the other voices in my head all the time that very same question ;) … just stick with me ... 

For as long as I can remember my self worth was based on the opinions of others – if someone said something good about me I was riding high – if they said something bad then I was down in the depths of despair, just hoping that something good would come along to bring me up. It was the worst kind of roller coaster ride, one that had me emotionally all over the map. It started in the roots of trauma with two sentences and has lasted for twenty years. The words have caused more lasting damage than any other aspect of the abuse I suffered at eleven; those sentences being, "You are fat, ugly, pathetic, and disgusting. No one will ever want you."

Those words echo in my head to this day, multiple times a day. I believed them then and was horrified at their truth – I wanted nothing more than for them to be false but each time a hurtful incident happened for me it added power to the truth of those words. So, to survive I searched for my worth in the words of others and placed my ultimate healing in what I saw as an ultimate validation of worth – a husband and children. I told my eleven year old self that it will all be okay, I will make it through middle school and high school and when I grow up and get married I will know I was worth something because to get married meant someone would want me, and then the lie that no one could would finally be proven wrong.

So . . . that was a great rule for an eleven year old and I have to say it got me through my adolescents alive and kicking ... however, if you know me, you know I am not yet married with kids ... oops ... my eleven year old self didn't plan for that ... I can smile now but I can tell you without any hesitation that when that rule came crashing down it created one of the darkest times of my life, a time I am still crawling out of and might be for a while yet to come. As a result, I feel that I need to share what I learned so that I can remember it when other dark times come and so that others can maybe not feel alone in the inner battles they fight with self worth.

Self worth must not be based on the foundation of others words or ideas about who we are. I'm not suggesting we stop allowing others to compliment us or express the good they see in us; I'm only suggesting that we not allow those compliments or words to be the foundation we set ourselves upon. Our foundation must come from within and that takes work and conscious effort. The work is battling the voices of others and allowing ourselves to take charge. If only there was a way to do a before and after picture of our souls? What would our daily focus be if that were our goal instead of seeking the validation that comes when we try to align our lives with the outward standards of society and the world in which we live? Because, at some time or another, all will fall short of those standards ... That doesn't mean I can't strive to keep myself physically healthy but it does mean that health isn't just physical – it's mental, emotional, and spiritual as well – and the before/after shots I'm striving for will now come from those last three areas and will be pictures only I can see.

The dictionary defines self worth as: "a feeling that you are a good person who deserves to be treated with respect." I believe all people deserve respect, even people who have done "bad things" and if I can believe that about others how can I continue to hold back believing that about myself? I can't. That leads me back to where we started: I ate a hamburger and fries today. I did all those other things but what was on my mind basically all day and what I allowed myself to judge myself on was eating that stupid hamburger and fries. I felt no self worth and even became a bully to myself, saying awful mean things and reinforcing the message that I've let rule my life for far too long. So, I give up. I let that be what happened and I soak in the silliness of the stupid hamburger and fries defining my worth for today and tell myself that I'm a good person, who deserves to be treated with respect.

I don't have all the answers and in fact, I fail more days than I succeed at this self worth game . . . but what I do have is determination - just ask anyone who has ever played against me in a friendly board game, on the soccer field, or even in a "friendly" debate about which exit will get you to the U faster, Beck Street or 4th South (obviously it's Beck Street) . . . I don't like to lose . . . so, this self-worth game will continue until I win and I hope yours' will too . . .