Growth from Beneath the Rubble
Through the quiet moments brought on by nationwide shutdowns, I began to notice that adventure is just as much in your own space as it is “out there”. That there’s beauty within the nooks and crannies of our ordinary. We become accustomed to overlooking the present because the past and the future are so fluid. Goodness knows fluidity intimidates us humans. Fluidity is paired with fragility and God forbid any part of us appears breakable.
Sometimes, breaking is necessary if we ever want to grow. The molds we build up around ourselves in a desperate attempt to allude discomfort end up hurting us in the end. We are not meant to be trapped by clichés, routines, or expectations. That’s just our culture hiding its face against growth and vulnerability.
This year has bluntly and harshly illustrated how uncomfortable our fellow humans are made by growth and all that comes with it. To help grapple with the concept of having to take an honest look at ourselves, I’ve witnessed many dive down rabbit holes in frantic attempts to hide from our truth. These rabbit holes can take many shapes that have included substance abuse, risky behaviors, small mole hills that quickly grew into unhelpful mountains, and hell-bent opinions that drove wrenches into relationships.
Take your experiences from 2020 and sit with them genuinely. Fight the urge to break eye contact, no matter how intimidating these experiences may have been. Honor the beautifully courageous person you fought hard to be as you stumbled through the array of obstacles life hurdled toward you. Reframe the self-talk you beat yourself down with when you broke from the pressure, the deliriously unreachable expectations, and the grief of having little control. For, this breaking was viciously important. It was important because you broke from the mold that no longer serves you as we go along life post 2020. The mold that was created by other’s quick judgements; and our anguished attempts in preventing them.
Because here’s the thing.
We cannot outrun the judgements of others. They swirl all around us, just as pollen floats in the wind. Part of being human is creating quick assumptions about the world around us. It’s as natural as the changing of seasons.
Just because someone has an opinion that is different than mine does not negate me from my truth.
So, Happy New Year’s my friends.
Please sit with your experiences honestly and show your past self some empathy. You made it through an incredibly heartbreaking and exhausting year. This is a very admirable accomplishment! Next, create a mental note of your takeaways and the growth you inspire to embrace moving forward. For that is the most honorable and resilient thing a person can do.
Trading a Tangent for a Tid-Bit
I had the delightful experience of engaging in a conversation regarding feedback for this blog with a lovely individual recently. I say delightful because this human expressed a warm genuineness that left me feeling good-humored and energized. A piece of feedback included the addition of adding tid-bits to the blog, as I have been hyper-focused on the tangents.
So, without further ado…
Movie Metaphors: Part 1
My husband and I enjoyed the quirky new movie, Love and Monsters, one chilly evening. While this is not any sort of movie promotion, I highly recommend you delight yourself by watching it, for it illustrates a few human nuances we try so dutifully to ignore. Without giving the storyline away, there was a clairvoyant theme highlighting the magic that compassion embodies that can nurture others propensity for courage. I am a firm believer we all have courage within us. However, this courage can be dampened by the quick judgements based on outside perceptions or our own battles with impatience. The more this raw courage is faced with assumptions from ourselves or our environments, the more this light is dimmed.
You see, our worlds cannot grow without looking in the eyes of our monsters, for this is when we bear witness to our own courage and make our own choices of how we want to embrace it.
Whenever you experience your courage falter, sit with the discomfort and genuinely explore what fuels this unconfident narrative. Is it the quick judgements from others? Or is it the battle with impatience within yourself?
What it Means to be Human
Perhaps one of the most consistent themes in the therapy room revolves around the topic of humanity. This is a widely explored topic that does not discriminate. I’ve had my fair share of five-year olds whom I sit with on the floor with toys scattered about. Their brows are furrowed with concentration as they express their obstacles with humanness, a deep desire to “get it just right” and to “be perfect”. The desperation for “right” is expressed and modeled from the very beginning of their lives.
Then we have children whom are so preoccupied by the craving to fit within a dreamt-about model status which includes stellar grades, impeccable wardrobes and complexions, favorable friendships, and dreamy partners. Anything that steers away from this is incredibly distressing and all-consuming. The feeling of inferiority clouds their vision and pressurizes self-talk and everyday experiences. Their worlds scream “Try harder!” around every corner.
Fast forward to young adulthood. Those who have meandered their way into their twenties are faced with a whole different slew of pesky humanisms. Post- high school endeavors, such as college degrees, relationships, and careers, turn into a giant race heading toward a tantalizing, rumored finish line. This race quickly evolves into a marathon as young adulthood morphs into full-fledged maturity. As the race gets longer, the pressure to be anything or anyone but human continues to bear down.
I sometimes daydream about the ability to travel back in time to the moment our culture adopted the idea that embracing our humanisms was frowned upon. Was that moment in the Victorian era when women thought they were not “feminine enough” without a corset? Or does this tendency to outrun our imperfections go all the way back to the cavemen and women? Was there a feeling of inferiority and negative self-talk if someone’s cave painting was more profound than someone else’s?
It’s quite mind-boggling to think about the existence of self-talk throughout time and I wish there was a history book that followed the evolution of it. When did it become a normalcy for humans to punish themselves for being… well human.
Since when did anything good ever result from hate?
It would be like a dog chasing its tail and flopping down from frustration of not being able to catch it. It would then bow it’s head in the corner, perseverating on the fact it cannot bend like a fish.
We would take one look at this sorry pup and think it was being absurd!
“Of course you cannot bend like a fish!” we would exclaim.
“You’re a dog and you’re wonderful just the way you are! I would not be able to scratch your ears or snuggle with you if you were a fish,” we could coo as we consoled the distraught creature.
Just as this dog is in fact a dog, you and I are in fact humans. We cannot swim like a fish or run like a dog. We simply are not supposed to.
You see, being human is supposed to be complicated and messy. We have oversized brains that literally keep our young from being self-sufficient for a very long time compared to any other living and breathing thing. These wild, complex brains can conjure thoughts far more colorful and vibrant than any other life form on this Earth. The downside to this is, sometimes the color can be so profound, it can distract us from what’s really important.
Perfection and Normal do not humanly exist!
Read that again. Marinate in it.
These are dreamt about “destinations” our culture has decided to do its darnedest to make palpable out of our imaginations! It would be like willing Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy into existence with the notion “If I invest in this idea hard enough, they will become tangible”.
Sorry folks, that’s not how this world works.
We are human.
We are unique, and similar to a zebra, no one is an exact replica of the other. We have distinctions, birthmarks, nuances, and complexions that will forever be meant for us only. We have strengths and weaknesses. Opinions and preferences. We have the propensity to make mistakes, largely because they are the fundamental steps to learning and growth.
For the love of all things good, stop kicking yourself for being exactly how you’re supposed to be.
We are supposed to be messy. We are supposed to be complex and have opinions that differ from others. We are meant to have big feelings and experiences that are uniquely our own. As tantalizing as it might be to “turn off your feelings” or run toward the idea that perfect and normal are attainable, all you are doing is outrunning your truth.
The truth that we are all imperfectly humans that deserve compassion for being so.
Would you go to that dog sulking in the corner, beating itself up for not bending like a fish and say to it “You’re a sorry excuse for a dog. Work harder, I know if you keep trying and keep punishing yourself, you’ll bend like that fish. No pets until you do!”?
Of course not!
Please, stop punishing yourself for not bending in the ways we are not meant to bend.
Show compassion for the mistakes you and others stumble through.
Honor the messiness that growth is intended to be.
Don’t sulk in that corner.
Nothing good has ever come from hate.
The Beauty, the Mess, and the Choice
I had a birthday yesterday. I know birthdays can be viewed in different lens, but I’ve always found the beauty in them. Yes, we are one year older and lines around our eyes are perhaps more prominent as youthfulness gradually evolves into looks of wisdom. Joints ache more, and we don’t necessarily “bounce” after a tumble.
Birthdays can add flavor to a mundane work week. They can sprinkle joy into your world through birthday wishes, an excuse for cake, and an occasional sense of celebration. These senses of celebration are what fuel my passion for a good reason to celebrate the ones we cherish.
As many of our worlds, my life has experienced a series of growing pains during this past year. Absolutely, there were some major opportunities for rejoicing. I fulfilled my dream of becoming a fully licensed clinician and my success in the private practice world skyrocketed. I became busier than I ever imagined, and my connections to my coworkers bloomed into wonderfully rewarding friendships.
I married my best friend in the middle of a pandemic. I don’t know about you, but pandemics were not included in the list of things a bride-to-be needed to fret over. Postponing our date from May to August was one of the most tumultuous decisions I’ve had to make. That journey could have wreaked havoc on our relationship, and I can remember the crossroads we stumbled upon while the world was legitimately turned on its head.
This is when I began to recognize my choice. Even in the depths of fragility and despair. I could choose to be angry, sullen, and hyper-focused on the date we had put our money on (literally), or I could choose to reframe my mind and choose what I focused on.
Growing pains are not only in our legs, folks.
My relationship with my now husband blossomed this year in ways I cherish after I realized my choices sitting perplexed at these metaphorical crossroads. The date nor the pandemic nor the obstacles did not define our story nor our love. We embraced the fragility of plan-making and went along with our pandemic-friendly dance lessons. We learned exactly what it meant to love fiercely and flexibly.
Being 27 was challenging in ways no one had warned me about.
Friendships can deteriorate no matter how hard you protest.
Loneliness can sprout no matter how thick-skinned you may claim to be.
The people you once held so close to your heart can fade out of recognition due to pettiness, resentment, or trepidation to have adult conversations.
What the hell is that about?
I have learned that growing pains are woven into the complexity of relationships. No matter the type of relationship, these pesky pains are there, and they will occur eventually. Whether it be a mother-daughter relationship that faces the transition from parent-to-child to parent-to-adult child. Or perhaps a friendship from both being single to someone who gets married. The types of growing pains go on and on.
As a marriage and family therapist, you’d think that I’d already be aware of these complexities. Maybe it was a matter of “it’ll never happen to me”. Perhaps my innocence clouded my reality of what was to come. Whatever the case may be, I faced the truth head on. Some relationships cannot grow past the pains.
This drives my stubborn, empathetic heart NUTS.
Because I still miss them. I still love those that chose to succumb to the growing pains. My anger toward them is only there to mask the raw vulnerability I experience with the pain of this heartbreak.
Life is messy.
I want to highlight that LIFE is messy.
Sometimes we can become stuck in the unhelpful thought patterns of “ I’m the mess. I’m unlovable. I’m too much or not enough.” Trust me, been there. Done that.
And it’s SO unhelpful and untrue! We are humans, no matter how much time we spend trying to convince ourselves that we're not. We are feeling beings in a world chalk-full of unpredictability. This year has done a great job of showing us that. Turning on ourselves and subjecting ourselves to ridicule because of something falling apart outside of our control is like yelling at the dog for you getting a math problem wrong.
I am writing this to myself as much as I am writing this to you. We have a choice in the ways we want to respond to the unpredictability and obstacles that surround us. We always have this choice. The choice to mourn or celebrate a birthday. The choice to react or respond in clashing perspectives of reality. The choice to roll with the punches of unpredictability or to swing at the air in anger until you're out of breath.
I recognized this choice in my romantic relationship and vowed to continue to do so in August. I recognize my choice with dissolved friendships, no matter how much this transition stings right now. Instead of perseverating on the pain, I can show myself compassion for my grief, while encouraging myself to look for the beauty in new, ever evolving friendships.
I am worth that. You are worth that.
What choices have you made lately?
Debunk the Myths
The closer we get to the dawn of a new year, the more prevalent mental health is on everyone’s minds. This facet of health has been catching fire for a number of years, however 2020 seems to have been the most recent kryptonite. In one way or another, everyone’s mental well-being has been tickled this year. The game of Jumanji has left its mark on millions upon millions.
I want to pay mind to the mental health of our children. It’s easy to write off their hardships in the noise of our own obstacles by dismissing their experiences due to the lack of bills they are responsible for or the increased time for play. However, this is something I want to challenge.
Perhaps, they’ve experienced a completely different version of the hell we’ve all been journeying through.
Let me paint you a picture.
Imagine the world of a present-day fifth grader in February of 2020. You’re king or queen of the school, the eldest in the building. Deposits for the end of the year fifth grade field trip are due next week, and you get butterflies in your tummy thinking about the middle school tours that are scheduled for April. It’s Tuesday, and early release is tomorrow. You’re excited because Wednesdays are the days Mom picks you up from school to grab a snack from the gas station before your regular tennis competitions. Life is safe. Life is predictable. You’re confident in your abilities to be an A/B honor roll student and climb up the tennis ladder to the “teens” group VERY soon.
Fast forward to April. Your world looks and feels VERY different. The joy you felt at the start of spring break has quickly devolved into confusion as you listen to Mom curse under her breath trying to set up your online school platform. You’re distracted because Mom and Dad have been bickering more lately, and Mom started crying again watching the news that morning. You’re confused by what’s going on outside of your house. While it looks peaceful outside your window, as it’s a nice Spring day and the sun is begging for you to come out and play with your friends, you keep hearing the news cackle anxiously about “death tolls” and the “killer virus”. Your frustration is building as each boring, lonely day passes. You’re so disappointed because Mom told you yesterday the fifth grade field trip you’ve been daydreaming about since 3rd grade has been cancelled, and the middle school tours had been wiped off the calendar. If only you could meet with your teacher before school for them to help you with math in that special way that makes sense, or feel the sun on your cheeks as you focus on your backhand on the tennis courts with your best friend.
It’s September, and you’re so sick of the stomachache that haunts you every morning before school. Because you never got to do the middle school tour, the butterflies turned into knots in your tummy and the sense of dread consumed you. You nervously walk into the new, foreign middle school building with a mask that keeps moving up into your eyes. You look around and everyone is covered up and muddled by the same obnoxious masks. Your heart is racing because Mom and Dad repeatedly told you not to touch your face or eyes or other people and something about washing your hands all the time but you so wish you could adjust your mask without touching your face. You finally find your first class and you’re so exhausted by your stress you’re quivering. The classroom looks lonely as every desk is wrapped in a plastic shield. You were already having trouble hearing people because of the masks and now you have to sit in bubbles. This pattern goes on for 7 class periods. By the time you get home you’re so unexhausted by the novelty, fear, stress, and unpredictability you want to dissolve into tears. Mom chipperly asks you to set the table for dinner, which sets you off because why can’t she understand that you jut can’t do one more thing without screaming “SOMEBODY PLEASE HEAR ME”.
Our children have been exposed to novel hardships that us adults cannot resonate with. Sure, we can empathize, however we will never truly understand their experiences or traumas this year has delivered. Their mental health has been challenged and jeopardized. Kiddos are having difficulty adjusting back into brick-and-mortar school environments. Anxiety that has plagued us adults for months has left some of our children just as crippled. The sense of dread that is reported is consuming and exhausting. Hopelessness for the return to normalcy and predictability is thick in the air. Loneliness that has been a second-hand result of social distancing stings. Spontaneous quarantines only fuel the feeling of being out of control.
It is so hard to be a child right now.
So, please hear me when I write this.
Debunk the myths about mental health. They are not “too young”. You will not “give them ideas”.
Because here’s the thing.
Our children were exposed to mature content far too early for anyone’s’ comfort levels prior to 2020. The content that we were exposed to in high school is floating around middle school now, and sometimes even late elementary. I say this from firsthand experience. Our children will fill in their own blanks regardless of the source. What is going to be vital to their resilience and their mental wellness are facts and knowledge. Open and honest conversations about having anxiety vs an anxiety disorder, depression, distress and eustress, and adjustment will create the most powerful and secure knowledge base we can gift our kiddos. Knowledge is power here, folks. Mental health does not have to be painted in a light that is dark and scary. Mental health needs to be painted in the same bright and inviting light as physical health is.
So, please do not try and “shield” your children away from the mental health conversation. Debunk the myths and aid in the filling in of their own blanks. Better you than the “peanut gallery”.