Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I'm not (quite) as cool as I thought I was

Yesterday, I posted about how I've learned to say NO. And how good it feels to do what I want, and to not be manipulated by others... I posted a conversation I had where I got to be the person who had learned stuff, and I talked about how it's okay to think about what you want... blah... blah... blah...

Last night, we'd planned to go fishing, but it was raining and cold.
This is how the conversation went:

BJ: Jen, do you want to go fishing?
Jen: Sure.
BJ: Do you WANT to?
Jen: I don't know... can't I just go and think about it later?
BJ: Think of this as payback. What do you WANT?
Jen: Well fuck. (pause, while I actually thought about what I wanted) No. I don't really want to go tonight, but I AM willing.
BJ: That wasn't my question. My question was "do you want to?" The truth is, I don't want to go right now either, but I was also willing. We could have both ended up doing something neither one of us wanted just because we thought the other one wanted to.

He has a very good point. I wonder how often THAT happens. Both people are unhappy because neither one says what they want.

Wait a second... now... as I'm writing this, I wonder: When was he going to tell me that he didn't want to? Calling me out on my inability to say what I want, but completely ignoring his own wants...

Just in case anyone is wondering... I have made a lot of progress... but I definitely wouldn't call this one of my strengths.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

It doesn't make you kind - it just makes you feel like a slave.

The following conversation has actually happened. More than once. Most often, I have been the pink person. Once or twice I have been the green person.

A conversation between two people:
Do you WANT to do that?
When some people say "sure" I don't feel concerned. When you say "sure", this is what I hear: "I can't even think about what I want. HE wants me to do that, so I will." Which means what you are really saying is, "I haven't thought about what I want yet, but I probably don't want to do it."
Of COURSE I don't want to, why would I want to do that?
I don't know. Why would you?
I DON'T.  But... I'm supposed to do what everyone else wants me to do, that makes me a kind person.
No. It just makes you a slave to other people. I can't imagine that he wants you to feel like his slave. I think he probably actually cares about YOU... If you cared about someone, would you want them doing things they didn't want to do JUST because they felt like they had to... or JUST to make you happy... Only a really selfish, abusive, jerk would want you to do something you hated, just to make them happy. How could knowing you were miserable make someone else happy? I don't believe he's that kind of person. Do you?
No. It's just easier to do what other people want than to deal with the anxiety of disappointing them.
Really? That's easier? You feel depressed and anxious most of the time. You feel guilty and afraid whenever anyone asks you to do anything (unless you also want to do it, then you feel happy. That's the way it is supposed to be. BOTH people are happy.). It might be easier, but I'd say it's killing you slowly. Besides, the fear of NOT pleasing them makes you avoid people. If you had the freedom to say NO, you'd also have the freedom to say YES. Being with other people would not freak you out as much as it does.

You have nothing to be afraid of. You are good and kind and wonderful. You will still be all of those things when you learn to let yourself do what you want. You will find that you want to do a lot of things for other people, and doing things for others won't wear you out like it does now. It will feel good. It will feel fun and loving and GOOD. 
Ok? I can't really think about all that you just said. So, what do I say right now? How do I answer his question today?
Say, "No". 
Say, "I appreciate you asking, but I am not interested right now. If anything changes I'll let you know". 
It doesn't really matter... You can even tell him how hard it is to say no, because you feel like you don't have a choice. You can tell him you feel like you have to do what he wants, but you don't want to... Just be honest with yourself, and understand you are worthy of having your own wants, needs, thoughts, and opinions. You get to decide what you do with your life. 

When I was afraid that I couldn't say NO, I had a lot of social anxieties. I was afraid of every man, woman and child. What if they wanted something? I HAD to give them what they wanted. If someone asked for something, I had no choice. If someone looked like they might sort of kind of want something, I had no choice. It was my job to take care of everyone else, and the way I did that was to always do what everyone else wanted. The world was a terribly frightening place.

It WAS really hard to face the anxiety of saying NO, and even more scary to think about what I wanted. It was SO hard. I wasn't sure it was worth it at the time, but it got better. I got used to acknowledging my wants and needs. I got used to doing what I wanted, and they were right! I actually WANT to do a lot of things for and with other people. I am much more kind and giving person now, because I do things from my own heart. I don't do things out of obligation, guilt or fear.

I feel very comfortable in social situations now. If someone wants a hug, I think about what I want and I do that. (I CHOOSE.) If someone asks me a question, I decide what and how much I will share. If someone needs money, I decide how much I can and want to give. The world isn't scary anymore, because I know I can take care of myself.

Other people didn't change. I did!
 I learned how to take care of myself. I learned how to respect me. I learned I had a choice. I had the right to say NO to any request, at any time, for any reason.

There are some people who don't care about my wants or needs... They care a lot about their own wants. Some people's needs include controlling others, controlling ME. When I encounter people like this, I find I have to be VERY strong. NO should be enough, but sometimes I have to get distance and space from them too.

There will always be people who don't understand or respect my boundaries. There will always be people who use manipulation, insults, and whatever else they have to do to get what they want. When I'm dealing with people like that, less is more.  NO is enough. If I give my reasons, or my thoughts, they tend to use that against me.

There are still people who don't know how to handle it if I don't say YES. They just aren't used to me saying no. At first, they might do some manipulative things, but they won't KEEP doing those things. (This usually happens with family. They've known me all my life, and they just don't know how to handle "the new me". Explaining to them where I have been and why the change makes a lot of sense to them. Their love for me motivates them to become a part of the next group.)

For the most part, all of my relationships are better. Closer. More open. Just more.

There are some people who were afraid to ask anything of me. They knew how hard I tried to please others, and they didn't want to make it harder for me. Now they know I will take care of myself, and that gives them more freedom to take care of themselves.

It turns out, mm  e becoming healthier and stronger made all of my relationships healthier and stronger. That was something I wasn't expecting.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

I miss knowing that I could heal the world.

A friend of mine recently discovered a tumor. Cancer. Stage III. Very close to her heart and pressing on her lungs. She's scared. Her family is scared.

I'm scared... What if she isn't okay?
And a bit angry... It doesn't seem fair. This is supposed to be a very happy time for her. She's fought hard to be healthy in mind and body. She's worked on creating beautiful friendships and relationships. She is one of the nicest, sweetest, most giving people I know. She deserves to spend the next few years just laughing, and going on fun cruises, and LIVING.

Mostly, I feel sad. And helpless...
(A warning to those who find peace in fasting: If you don't want to hear my sad and cynical point of view, stop reading now.)

I grew up believing in fasting and prayer. Someone got sick, you could pray for them, and if that didn't make them better, you could just go without food, and THAT would make them better. I could do something. I could help. If I just didn't eat AND prayed hard enough, God wouldn't hurt the people I loved. If I could just go without food, everyone would be safe.

That kind of teaching... taken to an extreme... sounds like a perfect recipe for a pretty serious case of anorexia.

Five years ago, I was really struggling with an eating disorder. I met with my Stake President, because I believed he would know how to help me. He told me that I didn't need to go to therapy - I just needed to fast and pray. If I fasted enough, God would cure me. I am glad I hadn't starved ALL of my brain cells yet. I gave him a shocked look and said, "Do you know what an eating disorder IS? I have fasted a lot, and I'm still struggling. If all I had to do was fast, it wouldn't be a struggle.... because fasting is what I WANT to do. I could be wrong, but I don't think fasting is the answer."

He shrugged his shoulders and said, "Well... then I don't know what to tell you. I guess you can TRY therapy, but without the power of fasting... How can God cure you?"

His words played around in my head for a while. They really messed with my brain until I realized I just don't believe that God cares if I go without food or not. It doesn't make him do things for me that he wouldn't have done otherwise. (Like, ya know, God was totally going to let her die, but now, because you haven't eaten for the last twenty-four hours, He's changed His mind. WTF?)

I can go without food for a long time. I get headaches. I get dizzy. I feel sick, but I can ignore all that. I have the ability. It doesn't make me a stronger person. It doesn't make me a better person. It doesn't make me more spiritual.  It doesn't make God do what I want. It doesn't make the world a safer place or a better place. It does make me hungry (and dizzy and sick and eventually numb to the world).

Today... I want that belief back. I want to FEEL like I am doing something to help my friend. I want to believe that I can make a difference...

Reality is, all I can do is love her. Be there to support her in whatever ways SHE needs support. Listen if she wants to talk. Go away if she wants to be alone. Send money. Or food. Or even... if her knowing I was fasting for her made HER feel better, I'd do that too. I trust her, and I trust the doctors that she trusts.

I felt a lot of anxiety when I started writing this post. Somehow, writing the last paragraph, I feel peaceful. Accepting things as they are IS very peaceful.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Happy Fall!

There are some days that are just too beautiful for words. This was one of them. Have a beautiful day everyone!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

My life wasn't his to give, but he gave it to me anyway

My last entry was about my own suicidal thoughts and feelings. BJ pointed out that I could have said so much more. He's right of course...

I tell the rest of this story VERY CAREFULLY.
Please stop reading if you are dealing with your own depression or suicidal thoughts. I don't mean to be triggering, but this could be.

I don't tell this story lightly. There was definitely a time that living for other people kept me alive, and I am grateful for that. I don't know what would have happened if the timing hadn't been perfect. I don't have to know, because the timing was perfect. I'm not giving advice - only telling you MY experience.

On with my story:

I had felt suicidal for as long as I can remember, but when I was 29, I became a different kind of suicidal. I don't know why it happened when it did. I know some of the things leading up to it, but for whatever reason, my brain broke. I can't think of a better way to put it. I felt shattered, broken into a million pieces. I was in so much pain: physical, emotional, mental... every single second felt eternally, despairingly, painfully long. Flashbacks. Weeks and with NO sleep. When I did sleep, nightmares. Pseudo-seizures. Crazy thoughts. Dissociation. Pain so intense - there really are no words to describe it. I wanted the pain to end, and I saw no end in sight.

It was kind of like I had to experience ALL of the pain of being abused. All of the pain that I hadn't been strong enough to feel when it happened, I felt in those few months. Years and years of being used, abused, raped, and beaten... experienced all at once. I eventually got through it all, but in the middle, I didn't know if it would ever end.

 I didn't want to stress anyone out or hurt anyone with my pain, so I hid it as much as I could. BJ convinced me to share with him and to talk to him. I'd try to smile, but he'd look deeper. He saw the pain even when I was trying to protect him from it. He created a safe space on the floor (at the time beds and homes weren't safe. Too triggering.) I'd curl up in a ball and he would sit with me for hours. In the worst of it, I'd hear myself crying, "I just want to go home. Please..." He understood that "home" meant heaven or God or someplace without suffering. Death felt like the only way out.

He'd tell me I needed to stay... How lonely he would be if I died. How sad. How much I meant to him. I kept on living, so he wouldn't be lonely. I kept on suffering, so he wouldn't feel sad. And then one day, he stopped saying that.

Instead of begging me to live, he said, "Jen, I love you. I want you to stay alive. SO MUCH. But I won't be selfish. I won't ask you to live for me anymore. This is your life, and your choice."

At first, this thought scared me. If I wasn't living for him, how could I stay alive? If I wasn't living for other people, what reason did I have to live?

I almost said, "Okay. I'm done," but I didn't, because I also felt excitement. Hope. No one had ever told me it was my life before. No one had ever given me permission to live or to die... My life wasn't his to give me... but he gave it to me anyway. MY life? MY choice? What did that even mean?

I had spent every second of everyday worrying about, thinking about, and considering what everyone else needed or wanted. I analyzed and tried to anticipate everyone's needs. I'm not saying I succeeded at my endeavors to take care of everyone, but I never stopped trying. Somehow, he was able to show me that I didn't have to live like that.

The pain didn't go away. Everything was still just as intense, but I felt a sense of peace. If it ever got to be "too much", I had permission to end it. It was MY life. MY choice. It seemed whenever I was faced with the choice after that, I WANTED to live. The freedom to choose death finally gave me the freedom to choose life.

Monday, September 10, 2012

It's my life, and DAMMIT, if I'm going to live, I'm going to LIVE!

It's suicide prevention week.
I spent most of my life (29 out of my 33 years) feeling suicidal. "Suicidal Ideation" is what the professionals called it. Suicide sounded like a good idea. I dreamed of my death every single day. I prayed for it every single night. I hoped it would come, and on many days I planned for it. I attempted it once. I lived through it - in part because I immediately started throwing up. Apparently, although I didn't want to live, and didn't believe I deserved to live, my body decided something else. I also tried starving myself, and an addiction to exercise... somehow I survived those too. I'm pretty darn lucky.

I've sat here trying to think of what I would want someone like me to know. The only thing I can think of to say is, "LIVE!"

I wanted to die, because mostly, I felt like I was already dead. I was still breathing, but I wasn't living. I was doing what I thought other people wanted me to do. I was being who I thought other people wanted me to be. Looking back, I can say I barely even existed. That is no way to live... and something deep down inside of me knew it. That is the part of me that kept telling me to either LIVE or DIE. (I'm not a black and white thinker... at all.)

A while ago, I was talking to a friend. He was suicidal. He thought his death would end the craziness he felt, and he figured if he died, he wouldn't have to live with disappointing others. Since I had felt that so strongly myself, I had words that were helpful.

"You go through life trying to make everyone else happy. And then one day, you say, 'I can't live like this anymore!' What do you do? Do you end your life? Or is there another option? For me, at one point I just decided, it's my life, and if I'm going to live, DAMMIT I'm going to LIVE! It's my life, and I can't live it for anyone else anymore."

It sounds strange now... I thought I was selfish. I thought I was SUPPOSED to live my life for everyone else... In fact, that is one of the things that kept me alive for so long. I wasn't willing to put my sister through the hell of my death. I'm glad I had that bond with her, because it kept me alive long enough to find myself.  There came a point where even living for her wasn't enough to keep me breathing. There came a moment when I had to love myself enough to live for me.

I understand feeling sad. I understand feeling overwhelmed. I understand wanting out and away from all the hell. I also know what it feels like to find ME. I know how good life can be.

So, my advice is simple. Find a way to survive today, because tomorrow (or sometime in the future) will be worth living for. My life is nothing like I thought it "should" be, and everything that I want it to be.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Angela's word revisited (A guest post for Julia)

Julia asked me to do a guest post for her blog
She gave this post the title, "A Mouse Tells How She Found Her Voice".

When I was in high school, I had a violin teacher that told me at least once a week that I played like a mouse. He'd push me to play stronger. I wanted to please him, and I wanted to play better, but I could NOT figure out how to be less of a mouse.

When I started playing again (two years ago), I had no problem playing out. It seems that I found my voice, and my mousiness went away.

Here is the blogpost I wrote. 
Thanks for the invite Julia! I really appreciated revisiting this poem. It meant a lot to me before, and it meant something more this time.

A Mouse Tells How She Found Her Voice
Sometimes, I come across the writings of others, and I wonder how they could have put my thoughts and feelings so perfectly into words. This poem described my journey perfectly:
When Angela was very young
Age two or three or so,
Her mother and her father
Taught her never to say NO.
They taught her that she must agree
With everything they said,
And if she didn’t, she was spanked
And sent upstairs to bed.

So Angela grew up to be
A most agreeable child;
She was never angry
And she was never wild;
She always shared, she always cared,
She never picked a fight,
And no matter what her parents said,
She thought that they were right.

Angela the Angel did very well in school
And, as you might imagine, she followed every rule;
Her teachers said she was so well-bred,
So quiet and so good,
But how Angela felt inside, they never understood.

Angela had lots of friends
Who liked her for her smile;
They knew she was the kind of gal
Who’d go the extra mile;
And even when she had a cold
And really needed rest,
When someone asked her if she’d help
She always answered Yes.
When Angela was thirty-three, she was a lawyer’s wife.
She had a home and family, and a nice suburban life.
She had a little girl of four,
And a little boy of nine,
And if someone asked her how she felt
She always answered, “Fine.”

But one cold night near Christmastime
When her family was in bed,
She lay awake as awful thoughts went spinning through
her head;
She didn’t know why, and she didn’t know how,
But she wanted her life to end;
So she begged Whoever put her here
To take her back again.

And then she heard, from deep inside,
A voice that was soft and low;
It only said a single word
And the word it said was … NO.

From that moment on, Angela knew
Exactly what she had to do.
Her life depended on that word,
So this is what her loved ones heard:

NO, I just don’t want to;
NO, I don’t agree;
NO, I don't believe that;
NO, that’s wrong for me;
NO, I wanted something else;
NO, that hurt a lot!
NO, I’m tired, and NO I’m busy,
And NO, I’d rather not!

Well, her family found it shocking,
Her friends reacted with surprise;
But Angela was different, you could see it in her eyes;
For they’ve held no meek submission
Since that night three years ago
When Angela the Angel
Got permission to say NO.

Today Angela’s a person first, then a mother and a wife.
She knows where she begins and ends,
She has a separate life.
She has talents and ambitions,
She has feelings, needs and goals.
She has money in the bank and
An opinion at the polls.

And to her boy and girl she says,
“It’s nice when we agree;
But if you can’t say NO, you’ll never grow
To all you’re meant to be.
Because I know I’m sometimes wrong
And because I love you so,
You’ll always be my angels
Even when you tell me NO.” 

Barbara K. Bassett
Julia asked for my thoughts on the poem - what it meant to me in my life.
I don't have a lot to add. The poem says so much, so perfectly... I was an agreeable little girl. I was quiet. I was giving. I was obedient. I was an agreeable adult. I did what I thought I was supposed to. I never said no. I tried not to have wants or desires. If I did have a want or a need, I tried to put other people's wants ahead of my own. I tried to be good and nice and GOOD, and I was miserable. I wanted to die.

Angels came along. They took many different forms. Friends. Books. Horses. Family. Bloggers. Acquaintances. Support groups. Songs. Church leaders. Each one of them gave me little glimpses into what life could be.

I was afraid. I didn't know who I'd be if I wasn't agreeable Jen. The many different angels in their many different forms supported me as I found ME. There was always an angel to show me my next step. They taught me how to live and how to be happy. They were there with me when I was afraid, and reassured me there was nothing to be afraid of. (It turns out I can still be a nice person AND have wants and desires and thoughts of my own.)

Re-reading the poem tonight, this paragraph stuck out to me:

She has talents and ambitions,
She has feelings, needs and goals.
She has money in the bank and
An opinion at the polls.
That's ME! I have talents and ambitions, feelings, needs, and goals. There's money in the bank, and I most definitely have an opinion at the polls!

 It wasn't that long ago that I felt guilt for having ambitions, feelings, needs or goals. I was not allowed to have money in the bank, so IF I had anything extra, I gave it away.

And an opinion? Especially at the polls? NOT ALLOWED. Mostly because my political opinions are very different than the majority where I live. But... then again... since I now know that my opinions are different, that means I have them. And that feels kind of amazing - especially thinking about where I once was.