Fear Part 3: Things That Have Not Yet Come to Pass

This is instalment 3 of a three-part series on fear. If you missed the first two posts, you can read them here and here. I’m looking at how fear affects life in the past, present, and future. In this final post, I’m talking about how fear affects the future and the impact fear of the future has day to day. Thanks for reading! xxJ


I’ve been dreading this post.

Ha ha…

That was funny, right??

It’s also true! The anticipation of completing this discussion about fear, and the very raw and vulnerable feelings it brings up, is not something I’m keen to face.

Which is actually why I’m doing it, ironically enough.

Today, as I’m sitting at my desk with my “Happy Light” turned on full blast, a huge stainless steel bottle full of water next to me, and a completely quiet household (my kids are away with their father for the second half of their spring break), I’m trying to muster the courage to keep talking about my fear.

In my previous posts, I shared that fear is pervasive in my life. Looking at my past and how I feel about it now, and looking at my present circumstances and how fear plays into my daily life, has been challenging and I’ve appreciated the sincere and thoughtful feedback readers of this blog have given me! It’s hard to admit when you’re afraid. It feels like a show of weakness, doesn’t it?

I’ve talked about having an anxiety disorder before and I tend to see my anxiety as an ongoing sense of fear that rises and falls depending on what’s going on in my life. Anxiety to me is about the anticipation of things that haven’t happened yet, whether that means things happening a few minutes from now, or things happening a few decades from now. If you’re not a person with anxiety, then I imagine it must be hard to relate to the idea that someone can live in constant fear, especially if outwardly it appears that they have nothing to be afraid of.

But my worry about the future…my anticipation of stress and difficulties and unmet expectations and disappointments and struggles…is something I battle against in virtually every moment of my life. Even my dreams are full of anxious moments! Unfortunately, my past experience has taught me that I can’t trust the future. And this is what brings the most fear into my life—being unable to predict and feel secure about what comes next (or not feeling secure about my ability to handle whatever comes next) is what fuels my anxiety.

Do you live with anxiety? Do you possess a constant and growing fear of the future? Does this fear drive your anxiety and perpetuate the cycle of fear in your life?

If you live in North America or another “developed” nation (ugh…that’s such a gross term!), then surely you’ve noticed how adept our society is at sensationalizing things and using fear as a tactic to achieve greater political, legal, financial, emotional, or social power. We live in a world of bullies and fearmongers who constantly shove doubt, uncertainty, and discord down our throats.

Add to that the individual experiences of people in abusive relationships, those of us with legitimate mental health issues, people with learning differences, and anyone living in poverty, hunger, or addiction…it creates a terrifying picture and all of us start (or continue) to feel unequipped to even begin to manage the fear that surrounds us.

So what do we do?

Short term? Distract ourselves. We do some yoga, or we eat a snack, or we have a cup of tea, or a beer, or we go for a walk, or watch some TV, and we push our fears about the future aside temporarily.

We need long-term strategies to cope better though! And I think the way to address fear of and in the future long term is one of those things that’s simple but complicated at the same time.

Because the way to address our fears of the future is to face them and model the kinds of behaviour that reduce insecurity and support community and communication. That sounds kind of easy to do! Just be a decent person—don’t spread fear or panic—and say what you want or need, and we can nip this in the bud!

That idea gets holes poked in it by someone like me almost immediately! Like, how the fuck am I as one person, in a sea of billions of other people, who faces significant and highly individual struggles, supposed to enact the level of change required to address our society’s ongoing addiction to keeping people afraid?

Like, how the hell am I supposed to do that? Can anyone do that??

I was talking with a good friend last night. She and I have these amazingly real and vulnerable conversations together and yesterday we talked about how difficult it is to live our best lives because of our personal struggles and what we would have to face or give up in order to “save the world” (so to speak). Trying to face my future fears often feels incredibly hopeless. Just like it feels hopeless to look at the state of our world today and see the potential for positive and responsible change.

BUT

I don’t think that means that I should stop trying.

I don’t think that means that I should give up and let my fear consume me.

I do think that if we as individuals tune into our fears, recognize, and begin to address them, we could see change on a bigger scale.

Every time I get thinking about how I can reduce fear in my life and be a positive and contributing member of society, I come back to only one reasonable course of action: take care of myself as an individual first, so that I can then offer more to those around me and in the wider world.

To me, this means speaking up about my needs and wants. It means ensuring that I have reliable support in my life when I need it. It means educating my children about being empathetic and talking about world issues and how they can be thoughtful and responsible citizens. I means putting what little money I have available into the goods and services that I think are best. It means voting. It means protesting. It means writing authentically here on head/strong!

The “Things that Have Not Yet Come to Pass” aren’t real yet. But the fear that surrounds these things, that creates the fearful anticipation of these things, IS real and has real consequences in our lives. So in the end, addressing our individual fears of the future is, I think, the best and only way to change things for ourselves and for our communities.

If there were a magic button, or pill, or treatment that would help me stop being fearful of the future, I would be first in line to try it. But that’s not reality. Reality is that future fear affects me every day, and I suspect it affects many other people every day too. Be we can acknowledge our fear. We can talk about our fear. We can put things in place so that when we are feeling afraid we have something to fall back on. We can kick future-fear in the ass, even if it’s a fight we have to keep having until our fear is overcome by an authentic sense of security and safeness. I hope for you, as I hope for myself, that that level of security is attainable and that we can keep trying and not let fear be the ultimate winner.

xxJ


Reminder: FEAR IS A LIAR. You got this *fist bump*

Fear Part 2: Things That Are

This is the second instalment in a 3-part series about fear. Throughout the series, I’m breaking fear down and looking at it from the perspective of fear in the past, in the present, and in the future.  If you missed the first post, you can see it here. Thanks for reading!


What does it mean to experience fear in the present?

All the mindfulness advice and chit chat about “being in the present” and “staying in the moment” can feel impossible if you think of the present literally. If you consider that it is fleeting, with every moment moving almost instantly from future to present to past, you’ll never be able to be in the present. But if you think of “the present” more broadly, if you look at it as what you’re currently doing/working on/experiencing over a short span of time (a few minutes, an hour, a day), then I think it becomes easier to understand.

So, if we can all agree that “being in the present” means living in our experiences over a short and immediate amount of time, then we can start to think more about what fear does in that space.

After writing about fear in and of the past last week, I realized that it’s a hell of a lot easier for me to think about fear as something from before or as something that’s yet to come. But, I do want to think about how I can examine fear as I experience it now. What I ended up realizing as I prepared to write this is, that fear in the present isn’t necessarily about living through fearful experiences in the moment—I don’t know anyone who can mindfully examine their fear (or any other feelings) if they’re literally terrified, do you?—I think the key to examining fear in the present is to look at how it affects us from moment to moment.

Ruminating on past feelings, or past experiences of fear, is an example of how fear affects us in the present. This kind of thinking can quickly take over and crowd out things like productivity, confidence, or mindfulness. Likewise, if we spend our time feeling fear over what might yet happen, fear also hijacks the present.

If we’re not living in a situation where fear is a reasonable response (like say, if you lived in an active war-zone or with an abusive partner) but we continue to allow fear to sit at the forefront of our minds, then it sabotages our ability to function. Our fear response of “fight, flight or freeze” should only be stimulated in acute situations, but many of us stay in this kind of stress response for long periods of time and THAT is when fear fucks up our experience of the present!

I grapple with past fear and future fear in almost every moment of every day. Somehow these things can co-exist, even though that doesn’t seem to make sense. My anxiety (which is largely the trepidatious anticipation of the future) and my depression (which is mostly a product of my past experience) are ever-present, which means that fear persists throughout my daily life.

Being fearful in the present means that all my actions are affected by my fear. This sounds like a terrible way to make decisions, but there’s some benefit to keeping scary past experiences and apprehensive future possibilities in mind when deciding things.

Remember that bit on “Animaniacs”, the one called “Good Idea/Bad Idea”? I keep thinking about it as I’m writing this. Mr. Skullhead usually only had to grapple with things like: “Good idea? Stopping to smell the roses. Bad idea? Stopping to feel the roses.”


Classic Mr. Skullhead.

In real life, though, the consequences of fear can be much more serious.

Like, it’s a good idea to sign your kids up for swimming lessons and keep a close eye on them at the beach so they stay safe in the water. But it’s a bad idea to never go to pools and beaches altogether because of the remote possibility that your children might drown, even in shallow water.

Or, it’s a good idea to not climb into the leopard enclosure at your local zoo, but it’d be a bad idea if your fear of a leopard attack kept you from even looking at them from a safe distance with a barrier in place!

Or what about these:

Good idea? Not leaving a party with a stranger.

Bad idea? Not going out at all because you’re afraid that everyone will try to kidnap you.


Good idea? Taking a cab or staying home when you know you’ve had too much to drink or if you’re high.

Bad idea? Not driving anywhere, anytime because you’re too afraid that you might get in an accident even just popping out to get some milk.


Good idea? Letting your daughter stay home from school when her tummy is upset.

Bad idea? Taking your daughter to the hospital every time her tummy is upset because you’re terrified it might be appendicitis or a perforated ulcer or Cholera or Dysentery or cancer or…or…or…


When I’m in a bubble of fear…okay, maybe it’s less of a bubble and more of a vise-grip with razor sharp edges or some other horrible torture device…when I’m deep in the grips of fear, I really do get stuck there: fear becomes my present and my present becomes entirely obscured by my fear.

I lived like that for many years and it was awful.

It was worse than awful, actually! And I’d never want to go back to living in survival mode again! But I know that lots of people do live like that! Lots of people remain in bad situations or continue to make bad choices because they’re so deeply ensnared by their fear, no matter how irrational or ridiculous it may be. My fear kept me in unsafe and unhealthy spaces (both mentally and physically) for well over a decade. It’s not an easy thing to overcome.

So on one hand, fear helps keep us safe—it protects us and warns us and sometimes, we really need it. But our response to fear can be unhealthy and I think the biggest thing to consider when talking about fear in the present is that we have to tread lightly along the line between being too fearful and just fearful enough.

Because of my past experience and all of the counselling and learning I’ve done in the last few years, I now spend a lot of my mental energy checking in with myself to make sure that I’m thinking about and doing things rationally and responsibly. Using tactics like The Bizarro World Technique , creating Positive Belief Records, spending time outdoors, doing some physical activity, or simply pausing for a moment and turning towards my feelings are all things that help release me from the clutches of my fear.

I say “release” a bit hesitantly, actually. It’s more like “lessen” or “diminish” because fear still never completely leaves me. Or, if I work through it for one issue, it pops right back up for another one, so there’s this ongoing amount of effort I have to exert to keep it in check. As an abuse survivor and a person with mental illness, I continue to have to practice relieving myself of fear and trusting not only myself, but others, to keep me safe.

Remember, fear is a hungry bitch and likes to be fed! So I try to tame her growling stomach by feeding myself hope and love and awareness and mindfulness. I throw shitty thoughts into Bizarro Land or I take a break and check in with someone I trust. I search for moments with people whom I feel secure around and try to relish moments of relaxation, no matter how rare those are. I aim to follow the clichéd advice of trying to conquer my fear without letting fear conquer me, but I do it thoughtfully and with a mild amount of skepticism about following anything that pops up on a Pinterest board or Instagram feed.

Does fear continue to run your daily life? What do you do to help work through it in the day-to-day?


Next week, I look at how fear in and of the future plays into our lives. ‘Cause I seem to know a helluva lot about what that feels like and may have a thing or two to say about it.

Til next Sunday, keep kickin’ ass. Keep punching fear in the face.

xxJ


Another way to put fear in its place? Keep a “Brave Camoll” nearby. Because if you can’t be brave, at least he’s got your back.

Fear Part 1: Things That Were

This is the first instalment of a three-part series about fear. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to try to break fear down using the past, present, and future. I want to explore how fear affects our lives and what strategies we can use to cope with it. Also, which strategies suuuuuuuuuuck and are super unhelpful, because that’s important to know too. So enjoy! (Or don’t? I’m not going to tell you how to feel, but like, I hope you like it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!)



LOTR for life! Also, a frighteningly accurate depiction of anxiety.

Fear is a bitch.

It’s true! Fear is the worst.

I suspect that fear is the culprit behind the vast majority of the struggles people have with just about everything. Anger, sadness, embarrassment, resentment, judgement, ego, narcissism—you name it, I think fear is the root cause.

Fear has been and continues to be a big part of my own life, playing a starring role in the abuse I experienced and feeding into the mental health struggles I continue to have.

So I want to break fear down; I want to dissect it into parts and try to look at the different ways fear plays into my life and the lives of others. Today, I’m starting by looking at fear in the past. And also fear of the past, which I think is an important distinction.

Little bit of a story time:

I vividly remember moments of intense fear in my childhood. Moments like being three years old and waking up in the hospital post-tonsil removal surgery, likely drugged up, and completely terrified because I had no idea where I was, I was freezing cold, and I had no one with me.

I remember at age five, waking up from a nightmare where I imagined that my mother’s head fell off, which was a terrifying and visceral experience for me at that age!

I remember being ten and hiking in the mountains with my family on a trip to the west coast of Canada. I decided to walk atop the raised barrier guiding us along the path and protecting us from literally falling off the edge of a mountain. I tripped and fell, only to be caught in one of those slow-motion-like moments where it’s as if you can watch yourself in a weird, suspended reality but are actually helpless to stop whatever bad thing is happening. As a child, that fall seemed terrifying; I’m not sure if it actually was, but I do remember the intense relief I felt when a woman on the path below caught me and stopped my descent down the mountainside.

So clearly fear has been a companion for most of my life. I’m sure all of you could also think of fearful experiences from your childhood. These would be moments that stand out in your life, either reminding you to be grateful for your health or your loved ones, or leaving you with physical or emotional scars as a testament to the scary shit you went through.

Research tells us that young children need moments of failure, risk, and yes, fear, in order to develop skills like resilience, self-awareness, coordination, problem solving, and grit. It makes sense, right? But in a healthy, typical upbringing, fear should sit at a level where it offers at most a strong warning about the dangers of not being careful, or brings home  the reality of the “real” world so that we learn to be smarter.

To me, anxiety is really just a manifestation of fear; it’s a prolonged sense of being afraid that ebbs and flows to an extent, but can also become a part of daily living.

As I grew out of my kid-years, fear became a stronger presence in my life. I coped by turning against myself inwardly, while pushing myself to appear confident and strong outwardly. I’m not saying that fear was the only thing present in my life as I grew up—not at all! I felt joy and excitement and all kinds of other feelings! But fear was always lurking in the background, sometimes taking centre stage, and ultimately leading me into bad relationships with hurtful people that set me up with the life I now find myself in.

The scary moments in my childhood did little to prepare me for what it would be like to live in fear on a daily basis. In fact, those experiences I just described, and the other, similar ones I had as a kid, say nothing of the anxiety that became my companion over those childhood years and truly manifested in my adolescence and young adulthood.

To me, anxiety is really just a manifestation of fear; it’s a prolonged sense of being afraid that ebbs and flows to an extent, but has ultimately become a part of daily living.

I think fear is what allowed me to be victimized. Fear kept my mouth shut when I should have spoken up. Fear let me be vulnerable to the wrong people. Fear made me a perfectionist. It told me I wasn’t good enough. It said that I was ugly. Stupid. Too sensitive. Too emotional. Fear stole my self-confidence and pushed me to strain against it and keep pushing until I burned myself out.

Pretty much, fear made me it’s bitch.

Sound relatable?

This brings me to thinking about my fear of the past. I’m sincerely afraid to delve into my past because I fear being brought back to the deep, dark chapters of my life, when despair and hopelessness were the most pervasive feelings I had. As someone who has been suicidal, manic, and everything in between, there are just too many times that I shudder to bring up. It’s physically painful to think about these memories; I’m not kidding! Every time I post something here about my past, every time I talk with a counsellor, every time I see a baby photo of my kids, or I come across something that reminds me of my marriage or my wedding, or even things like high school or that ridiculous childhood dream about my mother’s head falling off, I have an emphatic response that zooms me right back to that moment and I feel it as if it’s happening all over again. It takes hours, or more often days, to move beyond those feelings.

So what do I do about it? What can you do about it when you start down that rabbit hole of reliving your worst moments and memories?

Well, oftentimes the best strategy I have is to distract myself from it. Short-term, distraction is a great tool for preventing you from following that White Rabbit into Wonderland. But it’s not a great long-term solution. Long-term, I’ve learned that I need to devote more energy and time into acknowledging those moments of struggle so that they become easier to face. I’ve had counsellors describe this approach as “turning towards” your feelings, or “looking at them with detachment.” You could even suggest it’s a type of exposure therapy. However you want to describe it, turning to look your fears in the face can be a powerful strategy in learning to manage them and move past them in order to lessen their grip on your life.

Sometimes, we can choose to look back at painful things and this can be an empowering way to re-frame the experience of reliving difficult or scary moments from our memories. But sometimes our fears from the past get triggered unexpectedly. Someone says or does something, or you see a movie or hear a song, or smell or taste something familiar and it brings you right back to that awful, terrifying moment. These are the hardest occurrences of fear to manage. They jump out at you like high school kids at a tacky Halloween haunted house fundraiser. It doesn’t matter that they are ridiculous; what matters is that they still scare the shit out of you!

Why is it so damn hard to face our fears of the past?!

Because fear is a strong, mother-fucking beast! That’s why it’s so hard! And that’s why I can’t say everything I want to say about it in just one post. So I’ll stop here for today and ask you to look for another instalment next week. Until then, I’m going to try and imagine that you’re out there, kicking fear in the ass and, if even only for a moment, or only in a very small way, you’re recognizing your strength and your resilience and continuing through the fear. Remember, the scary stuff in that haunted house is all just smoke, mirrors, and a gawky teenaged kid in a Jason mask.

xxJ

Is Fixing the World the Ultimate Therapy?

Watching or hearing the news is very difficult for me. So much so, that I go through long periods of time where I dissociate completely from what’s going on in the world. In those times, I tell myself that it’s okay to not listen and to turn away; that I’m doing it because I have my own shit to deal with and can’t bear the burden of worrying about anyone outside my intimate circle. I say to myself that in meeting my own needs and working on being a better, healthier person, I’m contributing to society in a positive way and that I shouldn’t feel guilty about that.

And at the same time, I long for connection beyond my own four walls. Beyond the scope of my emotional landscape, and beyond the needs and wants of my own circle of family and friends. I want to care about more than just me.

So I go through waves, of pulling back, then diving in, then pulling back, then dipping my toes again. I enact this cycle between willful ignorance and determined understanding. I dance a dance of pushing myself to face my triggers and then I try to manage when they inevitably trigger me.

I think the world is in crisis. And I’m not the only one who believes this. Most recently, 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg has received widespread attention for her no bullshit conversations about climate change and the crises humanity faces. US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has come into the limelight, proposing the radical New Green Deal and using her position in American politics to call out the bigoted scum that currently make up much of the Oval Office and the elite class in the US in general. And what about Michael Moore? Naomi Klein? David Suzuki? Bill McKibben? Al Gore? Tarana Burke? Indigenous pipeline warriors? Black Lives Matter? #metoo? #timesup? So many people are speaking up for humanity!

Today I came across this scathing article by Holly Truhlar, “Mainstream Psychology Can Go Fuck Itself”, which essentially calls out the upper class/white/cis community for its blatant disregard of the issues humanity at large is facing, its misappropriation of “self-care” practices like yoga, and its willful ignorance surrounding both the climate crisis and our collective crisis of understanding and lack of community.

My inclination after reading this, was to go curl up and hide. I didn’t want to hear what she had to say. I don’t want to hear about any of the devastating and difficult shit that’s going on in the world right now. But I also feel deep shame that I can’t handle this stuff. I feel a profound sense of responsibility to do more than just look after myself and my kids. I have an intense longing to connect with people beyond my community and feel like I’m contributing in a meaningful way.

I am acutely aware that I have privilege and that means I’m afforded daily luxuries and the ability to practice “self-care” and to “work on myself.” But the truth is that I don’t know how to balance dealing with my own, legitimate trauma, and the role I see myself as having with helping to alleviate the world’s collective trauma.

I was convinced for so long that my life didn’t have meaning. I felt worthless, ignored, used, and small. I learned to believe that my needs were inconsequential and that I didn’t have the capacity to do anything of consequence. This is the frame of mind I lived in at the hands of my abusers for well over a decade. I always have been and always will be a Highly Sensitive Person; I know that I feel and experience things more deeply than others. I know I was and would have been this kind of person even without being a victim of abuse. I know being an HSP is likely a key reason why I was such an easy target for narcissists and emotional abusers. And I know that it makes me a person uniquely positioned to recognize the struggles of others, which gives me the choice to take action, or not.

I’ve been struggling with this sense of knowing I “should” do more and not feeling capable of doing it for a very long time now. My efforts  to alleviate this struggle from my life have manifested in me trying things like what I now call “white woman spirituality”—using crystals, attending or hosting Red Tents, visiting mediums, using “daily affirmations,” reading Tarot cards, and so on. It’s also resulted in half-assed efforts at “going green” and being more “eco-conscious.” At shyly suggesting to others that they use “natural” remedies and spending more money on “green” alternatives to things without really taking the time to investigate their claims of being “eco-friendly.” I looked into co-housing and joined food basket programs, but never actually stuck it out. I’ve now moved myself out to a semi-rural location and am planting gardens and hoping to raise chickens and honeybees, or maybe some goats or a few ducks.

What the hell am I doing???

None of these things, past or present, has had a large-scale impact on the world. And it now feels increasingly hollow to say that the best I can do is look after myself and my kids; to model for my own two children the kinds of morals and behaviours that I think are right…

I feel like I can no longer separate things like caring for the environment and championing action that addresses emotional abuse. They’re really one in the same! To care about each other means caring about the world. Authentic wellbeing can only come from sincere connection to who you are and how you fit into a community. Disorders like narcissism can only be healed by changing the ways in which we engage with each other and with the world. If I’m going to take responsibility for helping others deal with emotional trauma, then part of that has to include going beyond instructing us to work on ourselves as individuals; we have to understand how are traumas are the product of the world’s collective state of crisis.

I know I sound dramatic, but I believe it’s fully warranted!

I can’t be “well” in a world that is broken and neither can anyone else. If we all continue to only focus on ourselves, then we can’t ever really be healthy. As Holly Truhlar points out in her article, if our psychologists and mental health professionals (not to mention politicians, media, educators, and all “personal wellness” professionals) are not talking about and addressing the oppressive systems of the world, the climate crisis, and social collapse, then they are ignoring a key source of trauma and fear that we are all living with!

In the words of the amazingly wise Greta Thunberg:

“Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money… It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few…You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes…”

There’s no sugar-coating that, but in general, our response is obstinate ignorance because we have the luxury of doing so.

I’m one step away from being a member of the ultimate privileged class. By virtue of being a woman, I face hardships that a white, cisgendered, upper-middle class man would never face. But my trauma scratches the surface of what other, less privileged people experience. My trauma, although it’s legitimate (as is the trauma that white, cisgendered, upper-middle class men may experience), can only be healed if I take responsibility for it and refuse to turn my back to those who face bigger hardships than I do.

I don’t know yet how to avoid being a hypocrite. If I’m honest, which I always am, maintaining my current quality of life (and the quality of life my children have) remains the driving force in my life. I’m not prepared to, for example, cede my property to its rightful indigenous land owners. I’m not ready to stop buying my groceries at a chain store most of the time. It’s not feasible to walk away from fossil fuels. I can’t give up on mainstream life without making massive sacrifices that will affect not only me, but my children as well!

So I have to think. And I need to keep asking questions and keep saying “yes” to opportunities to learn more and do better. Most of all, I can’t turn away from the discomfort of watching the news, and neither can you. Those of us who struggle with our mental health or who are victims of abuse, must use our traumas to empathize with others and call for action for the betterment of society; fixing the world would be the ultimate therapy. But can we do it?

xxJ

I don’t know if I can save the world, but I know I can’t turn away and ignore what’s happening.

So It’s That Time of Year…

What time of year, exactly? Time to ruminate on all our failures from the past 12 months and anxiously anticipate the year ahead!

Kidding!

Sort of… (*insert nervous laughter here*)

As a society we seem to have agreed that January is a “reset” month. It’s a time where we all suddenly feel like we have the gumption to get shit done and do better for ourselves and we make lofty goals, disguised as the more fashionable term, “resolutions”, that we, in good faith, hope to do. Whether we write them down in some trendy bullet journal, or we paste them to a vision board, or jot them onto a scrap of junk mail, or just keep them rolling around in our heads, I feel like it’s a safe assumption that most of us approach the new year with some goals and resolutions in mind.

I used to set big resolutions for myself. Every January I would cling to the idea that if I could simply follow through on a few new year’s goals, then I would feel better and life would get better too. This practice was fed by my mania-driven belief that if I just worked hard enough, EVERYTHING WOULD BE OKAY. So I made lists and I created fancy flow charts and I typed up documents and I told myself that I’d better smarten up and get more shit done because it was my responsibility to make everything better!

Surprise, surprise, that’s not how it ever worked out.

That’s because my resolutions were generally hollow. Or they were sabotaged by abusive partners, friends who let me down, or mental health relapse. Or they were so rigid that any small change in circumstances blew them completely apart, like the dandelion fluffs my children savagely blast from their milky stems in the fall.

So I stopped making them.

I gave up.

And I focused instead on just getting through each day. I had no space for resolutions in my life; I was stuck in a perpetual state of fight/flight/freeze and I hung by a thread for quite a few years. So I said “fuck it” to all those bullet journals and vision boards—they just made me feel like a failure when I couldn’t live up to what I put in them!

But this year…

This year is different.

This year I have some space in my head. I have some room in my heart. And yes, I’m still struggling with some things, but I know that I have the capacity to set some intentions for myself and take steps towards them.

Notice that I didn’t say resolutions.

I also didn’t say goals; I said intentions.

Let me explain why…

Language is important to me. Crafting my words mindfully is both intuitive and something I practice; I’ve been working on linguistic eloquence my whole life.

So finding the right terms to define my goal-setting is really important. In the therapy I do, my counsellors and I know that figuring out the right words is key to creating new frameworks of understanding that I can adopt and connect with. I’m trying to practice this way of thinking outside my therapy sessions too (Daniel would be so proud!) so yeah, I said new year’s intentions, not goals. Not fucking resolutions (fuck resolutions!); intentions.

Something about the word “intention” seems more flexible to me. Like, intentions can change; they can shift depending on how things go. Goals are set. Resolutions are set. At least, that’s how they feel in my mind.

So this year, I’m creating intentions. Actually, I only have one:

This year, my intention is to focus on love.

And yeah, I mean romantic love, but I also mean family love, friend love, earth love, community love, and, probably most importantly, self love.

The reason I’m choosing this intention is because in spite of all I’ve learned about myself in the last few years, I still harbour a core belief that I am unworthy of love. That I will never be good enough for someone to love fully. That I can give all the love I have within me and won’t get it back or feel fulfilled.

I know some people in my life will be quick to rebut what I’ve just said— “Of course we love you, Juliana! You never have to worry about that!”—I’m not arguing with how you feel. I’m sharing that one of my fucked up core beliefs about myself is that I don’t have and don’t deserve love. This belief is a deeply internalized feeling that people like my former partners fed into, and I know that I’m the only one who can figure out what I need in order to change how I feel.

So my intention for the new year is to love myself. To share love with others. To cultivate love in my life. To practice loving self care. To recognize and appreciate the love around me, wherever and whomever it comes from.

My intention this year is love.

I know that earlier in this post I said a bunch of shit about not setting lofty new year’s resolutions and it may sound like I’ve just undermined that completely, but wait a second, because the intention I’ve identified isn’t lofty, it’s generous. It’s flexible. It’s open-ended. It’s positive. It’s specific and not specific all at the same time. And I know I have room to focus on love now that I don’t have a divorce to negotiate, an abusive partner to manage (as much), or children who are still in diapers, or worse, potty training. (Fuck potty training!)

So now I want to know what intentions you have in mind as one year ends and the next begins? What words are coming into your head? What changes do you wish to see? (But honestly, it’s okay if your answer is that you just want to keep going as is; that can be a powerful intention in and of itself!)

My intention is love and who knows where that will lead me?!

I imagine 2019 will have ups and downs like any other year, but I want to face those adventures with love in mind. And I hope that through those 12 months I find more love and you do too.

xxJ

P.S. I’ll never be too old for crayons.

Damn, I Wish It Was Easier.

Grief is a tricky, messy feeling. It manifests in many different ways and goes at a pace that is unique to each person who struggles with it. I’ve personally experienced the death of loved ones and I know what that grief feels like.

I still carry with me a sense of loss for those people I no longer have in my life, but I’ve learned that grief can also be a response to things other than literal death. In the counselling I’ve done these last few years, I’ve come to realize that I am living in a cycle of grief. Not because someone I loved has died, but because the life I thought I would live ended.

Just as it does when we grieve the death of another person, my grief ebbs and flows; it changes, but it still persists. Some days are easier than others, but last week, when I wrote about struggling at Christmas time, my grief was very present. The holidays bring out all the symptoms of my grief because this time of year highlights many of the difficult and lonely situations I have to face in my post-divorce/post-abuse life.

I’m not sure how many people consider the experience of a break-up, or divorce, or another significant life change, as something to grieve, but I now believe that part of what makes these break-ups so difficult is that in these situations, we have to learn to accept life without the person or things we thought we were going to have. The plans we made, the future we envisioned, the expectations we created; these are all things that may contribute to our sense of grief at the end of a relationship or during a big change in our circumstances.

The grief I am living with now is for losing the life I envisioned as a mother and the life I thought I would have as a wife. It’s also because of a deep sense of injustice that I haven’t been able to get over yet.

Imagine being away from your kids every other weekend and committing to this schedule until your children have grown. Consider for a moment what it would feel like to wake up on Christmas morning and not see your own kids. Imagine how it feels to answer phone calls when your child is with their other parent and tell them, as they beg you to let them come home, that you can’t come and get them (because a court order says they have to be with your former partner). Pretend for a minute that your baby is sick and you can’t hold them because you can’t be with them during their other parent’s access. Imagine that you have to explain to your kids over and over again why you and your partner have separated, but at the same time, you can’t say to them that the reason for this is a long-standing history of domestic abuse. 

This is how I experience life in a family of divorce and I will readily admit that it has been a devastating change for me to try to accept.

I once had someone tell me that giving up Christmas mornings and living through those teary phone calls are “necessary sacrifices” in order to save ourselves from an abusive or unhealthy partnership. It’s become a small comfort to tell myself that and I’ve looked for other ways to help assuage my grief. For example, soon after my separation from my husband, I wrote a little sentence that has become somewhat of a mantra to me, and I keep it in mind whenever my grief bubbles up and I feel guilty, sad, or angry about my circumstances.

I tell myself,

“I would always rather explain why I left, than why I didn’t.”

These words offer a little assurance when I start feeling triggered, but my grief is a constant in my life. It is present all the time and every day that I miss with my girls, every Christmas I don’t wake up to their happy faces, every birthday when we’re not together, every time they call and ask to come home, every time I am surrounded by friends and family in loving, intact relationships, I am reminded of my loss and reminded that this is how it will always be from now on.

Always, in the corner of my heart, I hold my grief.

Always, I feel it in my gut.

It is always there.

Much like how we need to acknowledge and accept that mental health can be just as debilitating as any other disease, we also need to see that grief is a reasonable response to loss and not just to death. As I said before, I used to think of grief as something we only experience when a person we care about dies. Now I see that grief really means experiencing profound loss of any kind and trying to come to terms with it.

So I allow myself to acknowledge my grief and I know that’s the best way to deal with it. I also know that I need to give myself permission to feel shitty sometimes; grief has no timeline, no schedule, no checklist and I need to make space for it on the difficult days. The only way to move through grief is to live through it.

Damn, I wish it was easier.

xxJ

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“Some pain is simply the normal grief of human existence. That is pain that I try to make room for. I honor my grief.” – Marianne Williamson

Speaking My Truth is What Saved Me

It wasn’t therapy. It wasn’t psychiatric medication. It wasn’t my divorce. It wasn’t moving to the country… Authenticity is what saved me.

I’m betting we’ve all met some truly authentic people. You know, those people whose self-awareness and confidence is palpable. They always seem grounded and honest—they carry themselves with an assurance that belies a solid understanding of who they are and what they’re doing. They’re the people who start movements, who pursue their passions, who have a glowing energy, and who seem legitimately happy in their lives, despite their struggles and stresses. They are the people we want to be around and the people we want to emulate.

I think deep down we all know who our authentic self is. Deep down, we know what’s true about ourselves. And deep down, we’re aware of what we need and what we want and why, but we rarely act on this knowledge or understanding.

Why do so many of us sacrifice our authentic selves? Why do we hide our authenticity and keep our needs and wants private? Why have so many of us lost the ability to recognize and act on what we really need in order to be fulfilled?

I can’t speak for other people. I mean, I can guess at things, but really I have no idea how other people think and what they need in order to be happy; those things are going to be different for everybody.

I can tell you this, though: speaking my truth absolutely saved me.

My parents tell stories of me as a toddler where it’s clear that in my youngest years I had no problem communicating what I wanted. I’m pretty sure I just bit whoever wouldn’t listen and smacked other kids if I didn’t get my way. I was an adorable child, to be sure.

Something changed as I got older, though—I learned to turn that energy inward. I learned that it was unacceptable to lose my temper, or to bite and hit (kudos Mom and Dad!).

Unfortunately, my self-regulation skills morphed into a practice of self-sacrifice and passivity. I learned to deny my needs for the sake of keeping the peace and to focus solely on making sure that the other people around me were happy instead of myself. This skill for self-deprecation, that I honed in my childhood and my youth, led me into some really damaging relationships. In not speaking up, in not having the language or the tools to make my authentic-self known, I lost touch with my needs and I let other people take advantage of me. I developed a deep sense of insecurity, anxiety, depression, self-hatred, and despair.

This blog is the product of my experience of emotional abuse and me coming to terms with the unhealthy habits I formed that led to the unhealthy relationships I experienced. A few years ago, my life felt like a prison. I remember resolving myself to face at least 40 more years of unhappiness because of the commitment I felt to my partner and the life we had together. I remember wanting to completely disappear; to evaporate, to dissolve, to press my body up against a wall and seep into the paint and become nothing.

It was a very dark time in my life.

And then something changed: my marriage hit a breaking point and I saw an opportunity for escape. Something happened that made me feel justified in leaving my life as I knew it and moving on, despite how scary and foreign the future looked. I finally spoke up and it saved me.

Authenticity saved my sanity. It gave me strength and courage; it bolstered support from the people around me who cared to listen. It got me medical help. It brought me to my counsellors. It secured a healthier future for me and my children. It saved me from other harmful relationships. It allowed me to find meaningful, engaging work. It got my creative juices flowing again, it led me to make more music, to write this blog, and to self-publish my poetry!

Authenticity saved my life!

It was a catalyst for all the positive changes I’ve experienced these last two years. Sure, I’ve had an intense amount of counselling and therapy. I’ve started and followed a strict mental health treatment plan that includes mood-stabilizing drugs. I’ve moved to a beautiful, rural home, I’ve been exercising and eating better, I’ve got a dog and some cats, and my kids are a couple of years older and more independent now… Sure, all of those things have happened! But they wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t being authentic.

So I want to ask you, what do you need? What do you want? Who the hell are you and what does your authenticity look like?

I can pretty much guarantee that you will feel happier and healthier living authentically. Although, I can also guarantee that it’s not a magic cure for what ails you. There’s no lifestyle change, no medicine, no treatment, no herbal beverage, mantra, yoga flow, detox diet, religion, or amount of money that will stop stress from being in your life. But you will feel better and everyone around you will notice when you start to live your truth. Even the most selfish of us should want that!

Authenticity doesn’t have to be poetic. It doesn’t need to be earth-shattering or beautiful or eloquent: it just needs to be real. That’s the key.

And now I’m done sounding like a cheesy motivational article from a teen magazine…“10 Steps to Finding the REAL you! Plus, 10 Cool Outfits to Let Your Personality Shine!” Ugh, gag me! Bleh.

I just want to tell you that authenticity is the key to life, and I’ll swear by that. Literally: it’s the fucking bomb. Authenticity is where it is AT and you can fucking quote me on that. It saved my life. It can save yours. And then we can meet up and have a delicious fucking potluck and bask in the authentic glow of our gorgeous, real selves being exactly who we need to be and doing exactly what we need to do.

I’ll bring the casserole, you just bring an appetite for authenticity.

xxJ

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Take it from my 7-year-old: your beautiful, authentic self is in within you. Pinky-promise.