Measure Up

I know I am not the only person who battles negative thoughts. You know, those kind of thoughts that tell you that you are not good enough or that you should be doing better. The kind of thoughts that tell you that a person like you can’t do it right or isn’t worth loving. Thoughts that tear you down and leave you feeling beat. Do you know these kind of thoughts?

I have heard these kind of thoughts referred to as “negative tapes”. This is a good way to describe them because quite often these thoughts, or tapes, play over again and again in our mind, leaving little chance for a person to feel very good about themselves.

There are a lot of books and self-help guides out in the world about this topic, and I think it might be accurate to say that the majority of the messages out there are about how to destroy these thoughts and how to replace them. But I want to challenge you, along with myself, to consider how you are measuring your worth and by what standards are you seeking to live up to, that create these thoughts? What is your litmus test for personal value? What is the ruler by which you measure yourself to determine you are okay?

Consider the moments in which one of these tapes or negative thoughts have come into your mind. Reflect on what it was that immediately precipitated the thought and what feeling were you overcome with immediately after the negative tape played?

After a “typical” day in my life I might spend some time evaluating what I have done that day, what tasks I have completed, and what kind of mood there is in my home. I can tell you right now, that thinking in this fashion, with this type of thought process is already flawed in a way that easily sets me up for some negative thoughts. First of all, I’m measuring myself by what I have done . . .evaluating my day by doing and not being. And I’m using the moods and emotions of others as a measurement as well.

When I end my day this way, I often come up measuring short of the measurement I wanted to achieve. It’s self-defeating to live in a way that I can only have value if I do enough or if other people seem to be happy and satisfied. It is self-defeating to hold myself to any kind of standard that does not focus simply on being valuable for being the best I can be at that moment. If I determine my worth in the first mentioned way, what kinds of thoughts will follow when I don’t measure up to this unobtainable standard?

A perfect example is if my husband has had a bad or frustrating day with work and he greets the evening in a bad frame of mind, I might be quick to think that his mood is directly related to what tasks I have completed that day. He must have noticed I didn’t get any laundry done, or that I don’t have dinner ready yet. Immediately a flood of negative tapes start to play when I use his mood as an indicator of anything other than how he is feeling about himself and his own experience. “You are a bad wife. You fail at even the simplest of tasks. You are not a good homemaker.” The destructive thoughts begin, the trigger has been pulled and the floodgates have opened. .  .washing away my sense of value.

How are you measuring up? What do you think you have to measure up to? How hard are you being on yourself by expecting yourself to meet expectations that no one can meet?

Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to determine your worth by being and not doing. This is what I am working on practicing and I find that I experience a feeling of freedom in knowing that I do not have to do something or measure up to anyone’s standard in order to be lovable and valuable.

The Stories We Share

I am lost in my own story at the moment, unsure of where I left off last, but certain you are aware that I am climbing up a proverbial mountain at this time in my life. I am on a constant search for healing and consider myself a permanent student in this huge classroom called life. As I strive to learn more about what will work best to bring me peace and healing, I am blessed to come across amazing and beautiful people who share their stories and what has in the past or what is working for them, as they are on a similar path of healing and seeking wellness. I couldn’t begin to recount all of the people and their journeys that have helped me, but one in particular is having an incredibly helpful impact on my life right now.

I have mentioned him before in my blog, and I don’t hesitate to again, his name is Tony Serve. His caring ways and gentle words give me a sense that I am safe, and I feel confident in saying  he does that for most who speak with him. If you listen to Tony on the radio you quickly find that all who speak with him hold him in high regard, and it goes both ways. His voice is filled with compassion and concern, and I imagine, if I were to have the privilege of meeting him in person, his presence would be a comfort as well.

Tony is kind enough to share his previous battle with PTSD, depression, and anxiety, with the public, on air and through his blog. By doing this, he reminds others that they are not alone and he is able to give the gift of wisdom that comes from his experience with different therapies and techniques that have been helpful in his process of healing. It is in a particular blog post of his, “Brain Training, Plasticity and You” that I have come to realize that there are some very good and helpful resources I have not made full use of and would like to implement in my life.

Ironic as it is, when I originally read this particular blog post of Tony’s not all that long ago, I was feeling a bit more at peace in my life and commented on his post as to how I felt that way. Now as I revisit his blog, I realize that this journey is ever-changing and in many ways infinite. My efforts to be whole and healthy must be ongoing and will not ever be complete. It is easy for a bump in the road or a new challenge to arise and then to feel as if we have lost all of our bearings. It is easy to feel as if the “rug has been pulled out from under you” when you battle with some of these issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and such.

But there is good news! In the stories we share, in our testimonies of what is working for us, helping us, and even not helping, we are able to learn from one another and help one another along this sometimes (very) rocky road of healing. If one does not make themselves vulnerable, then one cannot experience the joy that come from sharing one’s heart with another. It is by doing this that all of us can make a difference in another person’s life. It is by doing this that Tony Serve is making a difference in mine.

Tony Serve’s blog can be found by going to http://tonyserve.wordpress.com. Please visit the post I spoke of earlier by clicking here and please share your stories with Tony, with the world, with me, and with others who are challenged by similar issues, so that we can all learn from and help one another!

Stomping Out Stigma

“Stigma, by definition, is a mark of disgrace or shame.

Stigma has four components:

  • Labeling someone with a condition
  • Stereotyping people who have that condition
  • Creating a division — a superior “us” group and a devalued “them” group, resulting in loss of status in the community
  • Discriminating against someone on the basis of their label”

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mental-health/MH00076

It’s easy to think when your family is exposed to the realities of dealing with mental health issues that they will not be a part of spreading the shame of stigma. But, the honest truth is, they probably will be, and we are all capable of it.

Quite recently I sent out an email giving notice to family and friends of my upcoming participation in The Overnight. The Overnight is a fundraising effort to support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in its efforts to spread awareness and prevent suicide. You can read more about it here. I am so proud and happy to be a part of this walk. I am excited to bring awareness to this issue and I am excited for what it means to me personally to have overcome a lot of challenges to bring me to where I am today.

After sending out my email, a family member sent my husband a rather unpleasant email in response. She stated that she could not support me in my efforts and that it was an “adult pity party” to partake in this event. She continued to say that I was not focused on the gifts in my life such as my husband and children. She is pretty far removed from our day to day life and does not know me all that well, I should say, but her words still stung and hurt. I wanted to respond, but I knew it was not my place, nor would I be able to change her mind. Her perception of me is just that, hers. But it can be quite painful when a person’s words and attitude towards us is unkind and does not line up with the person we are working hard to be.

In fact, there is a link between this and suicide attempts. People who are treated in unkind ways, with unkind words on a consistent basis start to feel quite poorly about themselves. Having a poor self-image and self-worth leads to destructive thoughts and lies that we believe about ourselves, and it suffocates the reality of our true value and worth.

This is what stigma does to people. The stigma that comes with mental health issues hurts people at their basic core source of well-being, at the heart level. Clinging to thoughts that a person who suffers from depression or any mental illness is having a “pity party” or that they are “not right” relays the message that they are weak, damaged, and unlovable. These messages become a part of a person’s whole concept of themselves and can plummet them into further despair.

Can you see how we all have a responsibility to treat people with care and respect no matter what “illness” or challenge they may be suffering?

I am the first to admit that I have been difficult to deal with at times in my life, maybe I’ll even go so far as to say that I can be challenging on a daily basis. I may have had a pity party or two in my day. But, I am a person of value, regardless. I am a person who loves her family deeply and wants to care for them fully and well. I am not living my life in a perpetual “pity party” (although, I am ready to have a party!). I deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.

My point is that stigma hurts. Stigma can hurt any and all of us. How do we help? What can we do?

Speak out. Surround yourself with people who are sensitive to your health issues. Join in the advocacy and support networks. Openly discuss these issues and release the shame of stigma by exposing it and caring for those who experience it!

Let’s Stomp Out Stigma.

On Being a Mother

As it is Mother’s Day, I’m taking a moment to reflect and share my thoughts, about being a mother and about being a mother living with chronic pain and illness.

I believe the majority of mothers are filled with joy the moment they meet their child. No matter the circumstances surrounding them in their life, that moment when you rest your eyes on your child for the very first time is filled with awe and pure joy. The feeling can be recalled easily for me, it is a beautiful moment filled with a swirling rush of emotions . . . the pain has subsided or is numbed, the adrenaline is rushing, you feel a sense of pride and a sense of being a part of the most amazing miracle to ever take place.

When I gazed in each of my children’s eyes for the first time, my thoughts would undoubtedly turn to how I wished to provide them with all that they could need to be a happy and healthy person. My greatest wish for them is to have a sense of peace and contentment in them, knowing their personal value and worth, without any doubt of any kind. And in order to give that to them, it will take a divine intervention, I’m certain.

I think every mom begins optimistically, at least while they are in the hospital, and then once you arrive home with your precious miracle, the questions and doubt might start to set in. How do I know if I fed them enough? Do I let them cry themselves to sleep? Is it okay to let them sleep on their stomache or do I have to put them on their back all the time? All the questions . . . start seeping in a mother’s mind and the worry about “doing it right” begins!

This time is challenging enough, but what happens when a mom begins to suffer from post-partum depression, or what if they have health issues that keeps them for being able to “do it all” for their child? In these situations, the doubt and questions can flood a mother’s heart and mind with a tsunami effect, wrecking all the optimism that may have been there to begin with and taking with it a good chunk of self-esteem and self-worth with it.

After the birth of my first child I experienced post-partum depression. My daughter was such a beautiful and perfect little creation, but my body’s hormones and my brain chemistry just wasn’t feeling it. Instead, there were tears that just kept coming and an overload of anxiety. My baby girl had colic, that began after coming home from the hospital, and she cried for hours on end, seeming to be in excruciating pain with little or no relief no matter what I did. The joy was displaced with self-doubt for so many of our hours together. But, no matter what, there were always peaceful quiet moments in the middle of the night, where she would stare at me, as I cradled her in my arms, and we would speak with our eyes and with our hearts. Her gurgles and coos were music to my ears in these moments, a joy like none other I had ever experienced.

My second pregnancy was a nightmare, but the end result another perfect miracle. My son came into the world bringing with him such a breath of fresh air and relief from an abundance of health problems I endured for 9 months. The little bundle that he was, he had wrapped tightly in his blanket an immeasurable amount of joy, just like his sister. Each their own unique individual, but bringing with them that same rush of emotions and pure raw joy. I don’t think there is any moment I can recall that I hold closer to my heart, than those moments when I first met my children.

My capabilities and limitations as a mother all changed after the birth of my second child and the development of fibromyalgia. I have always had some challenges as I battle with depression and anxiety, but fibromyalgia has given me a whole new lot of limitations as a mother.

I do a lot of parenting from the couch. I would rather be up and participating in activities with the kids. I send my kids off with family for activities and events on days that I am unable to participate due to feeling ill or lack of energy. I would much rather be a part of their experiences and be present to take photos and share the moments with them. . . when they feed the animals at the petting zoo, or find treasures on their nature hikes. I want to see the wonder in their eyes when they see something for the first time and not just get the delayed recap hours later when the newness has worn off. I want so much to be an active participant in their life, not just part of the scenery here at home.

In all honesty, I know I am a part of their care-taking in a multitude of ways, preparing meals, reading to them, making sure they are bathed and presentable for the world; tucking them in bed at night or nap-time, and doing a lot of simple things at home, like watching movies together or playing games with them. But, there seems to be a natural instinct as a mother to want to give them more, more, more! The adventures I would like to take them on, both big and small! The lessons I would like to teach them as we would go out and visit museums and parks.

These things are not out of reach for me, but they are limited to some extent, right now. It is my hope that it won’t be long before my energy level is consistently high enough to do more of these types of things with them and to do them more frequently. I think its coming, as I make changes in my life, as I heal more emotional trauma and work to leave the past behind where it belongs. I continue to strive to be a better mother, each and every day. I want to give them the best of me and for them to be able to look back and know that they were loved abundantly.

I choose to believe that the plans God has for me are for good, and that He also has my childrens lives in His great care. So today, on Mother’s Day, it is a gift to me, to treasure the memories that I have already made with my kids and allow myself to have hope for our future, despite the limitations and challenges I might experience now.

A mother’s happiness is like a beacon, lighting up the future but reflected also on the past in the guise of fond memories.  ~Honoré de Balzac

Naturally Selfish

Selfishness is that detestable vice which no one will forgive in others, and no one is without himself.Henry Ward Beecher

I’m sure you’ve heard the common response that a person who contemplates suicide or attempts suicide is partaking in the ultimate of selfish acts. This has always  felt harsh to me, condemning the person who was or is experiencing such excruciating emotional and or physical pain that they want to end their own life. I have been on both sides of  that coin, losing a loved one to suicide and also as a person who has attempted suicide in the past. I can tell you, from my perspective, that it is a definitively selfish state to be in, when you are so completely robbed of hope that you desire your own death. But, it is also not a purposefully selfish act or at least, I believe, that the person who is in that state of irrational thought is simply unable to comprehend the consequences of their actions at that time.

This topic in general, along with some personal recent events has brought to my mind the whole concept of selfishness and how we as a human race define it, live by it, and how it serves us.

First off, we need to be on the same page and understand how we are defining selfishness, there is actually a lot of gray area when you start to philosophically discuss and ponder the word itself. For the sake of this post, we will go with the common definition of selfishness as: the act of placing one’s own needs or desires above the needs or desires of others.

If you are a parent, you have more than likely been given the opportunity to watch as your sweet child developed from infancy. It doesn’t take long to notice that this newborn is only capable of voicing his or her needs and isn’t too concerned about anyone elses. In fact, I’m not sure at what point a child actually develops the ability to control their desires well, but it is years before they seem to display any selfless act on their own and without coercion from a parent.

In my experience, we have to mindfully and methodically teach our children how not to be selfish. It seems as if it is instinctual, then, to be selfish in nature and from birth, until we learn that there are sometimes benefits of foregoing a certain desire or need. We as parents are often shown how strongly a child feels about their own needs when we are given the chance to teach the concept of sharing for the first time, the second time, and for many times past, until the concept becomes a part of our child’s own resources. Sharing and being self-less by giving up a prized possession is often met with great and passionate resistance. In fact, as an adult, I too have experienced a feeling of great resistance when the need has arisen to let go of a much loved possession.

So, it seems, that being selfish is part of our nature. We might have been designed to be selfish to a certain extent for the purpose of self-preservation. In some obvious circumstances you could imagine the need for selfishness in order to provide food, clothing and shelter for yourself and your family.

Here is where my own questions on the topic led me today . . . does coming to this conclusion, that we are created selfish or at least born selfish, mean that when we are put under great stress or trauma we might be more susceptible to behaving and making choices in a selfish manner? And if this is true, if stress and/or trauma can cause a person to retreat and behave in a more instinctual way, then is a person to be held as accountable for these selfish acts? Are they as responsible for their actions due to the fact that it is (as I hypothesize) part of the human nature, an automatic response, per se.

I’ve heard survival stories before of people taking some extreme measures to meet their basic needs when isolated and in horrific conditions. And I for one, do not hold most people accountable for what they might have had to do to survive in the wilderness or harsh climate they were in, as they faced what seemed imminent death without making some very primitive decisions. I can’t judge what the proper response should be in those circumstances.  Therefore, can I judge a person’s behavior accurately when they are under extreme duress, even if it may not be a life-threatening matter?

Take the person who has been laid-off from their job, looking for work for months, and facing foreclosure on their home. “Selfishly” and by our definition, this person greatly desires to keep their home and to avoid at all costs being displaced from it. In our current economy, many people are faced with the option or decision to consider asking for a modification on the loan for their home. In most cases, in order for the lender to be willing to work with you, you have to prove that the income coming in currently is enough to cover your original mortgage payment. You are required to show that you can still pay your mortgage, as it is, even though you have lost your job. To me this absolutely makes no sense, for it is obvious most people who lose their jobs can no longer afford their mortgage. This requirement has led to a lot of people giving out false or misleading information to their lender in order to make an attempt to keep their home. This “selfish” act of lying in order to keep your home may not be characteristic of a lot of people under normal circumstances.  But in this circumstance, under great stress, should I judge that person for making the decision to lie? My first response is to say that they are wrong to mislead the bank, that it isn’t okay under any circumstances to take part in that kind of manipulation of facts for your own personal gain. But knowing the stress of being in a similar situation, I know that it has been quite tempting to make similar decisions. Fortunately, for me, I have been able to resist this temptation, but I’m not so sure if I have a right to be too judgmental of others who are simply acting in order to provide some basic necessities for themselves and their family.

Some other temptations are more difficult for me to resist, like a bit of self-pity every now and then. An indulgence in feeling sorry for myself, although not the smartest choice, seems to be unavoidable from time to time as we have struggled financially and with personal relationships here at my home recently. I think most people feel as if that is forgivable, but I do wonder . . . what if a person indulges in behaviors or choices that are more self-indulgent, more selfish, in an effort to make themselves feel better during stressful and sometimes traumatic times. Is this excusable? Do we offer more grace to those who are suffering during those hard times, or do we hold people to the same standards, all the time? And if a person has a “natural instinct” for self-preservation, do we write any of these selfish behaviors off to succumbing to “instinct” or a basic primitive type response to the situation. Should we if we don’t? Where do we draw the line?

Depression can certainly be seen as a self-focused state. It has been proven that when you take the focus off of yourself, it is helpful and can help you to come out of a depression. But on the contrary, it also requires some more attention to “self” to get through a difficult bout with this monster as you have to prioritize your health and well-being. You must make effective treatments a priority sometimes above other truly important needs, and often before you meet the needs of others.

As a person struggling with both depression and fibromyalgia, I have, at times, been perceived as being selfish. I often feel forced to rest rather than do household chores or must limit activities early in the day so that I can be available for the kids at a certain time later in the day. This makes sense in my brain and does not feel selfish to me, but on the outside, it can look and seem selfish because I am not able to meet the needs and expectations of others in my household or social network. How do I balance this without being selfish, how do I not place my needs above the needs of others. It is kind of like when you are on a plane and you are instructed to put on the oxygen mask first as an adult, and then on your child, isn’t it?

Or ponder this: a person may resort to other behaviors or vices when going through a very stressful time in order to self-medicate. They may do or partake in things that could be considered “selfish” but at that moment they are satisfying a need for themselves. Maybe a need to feel loved, to fill an emptiness inside them, or the need to feel valued and special. Is this wrong? Is it immoral? What if they are simply acting out of instinct? Trying desperately to fill a void in their life or relationship that is lacking?

I know I am ignoring and hinting at some obvious lines and boundaries that most people would say we should not cross in any situation. I am aware that I am leaving out the arguments for the “other side”. I am hoping to stir up our minds and thoughts on this topic, as I am indulging my curiosity today, maybe a little selfishly?

I wonder if we should offer each other a little more grace during tough times. Maybe being a little selfish isn’t all bad.

It would be fun to hear your responses, as I am on a bit of a philosophical journey here with this topic, and my 4 year old just isn’t up for the debate today!
The force of selfishness is as inevitable and as calculable as the force of gravitation.Hailliard