The Proliferation of False Positivity

My biggest pet peeve is the proliferation of false positivity.

False positivity litters Instagram, Facebook, magazine pages (wait, does anyone still read actual magazines??), blogs, web sites, self-help books, and almost all other media and advertising. We seem to be living in an era where we are told that simply having the “right” attitude is what will fix all of our problems:

Okay, first of all, no one should be taking advice from a fictional character, ESPECIALLY not Jack Sparrow (or Johnny Depp…ew!). Secondly, I’ll buy that the way we think about things affects our experiences of them, but I refuse to promise myself or anyone else that just “changing my attitude” will solve all my problems. In fact, I see this kind of bullshit approach to managing mental health and personal well-being as reductive and limiting. It tells me that if I’m feeling shitty, it’s because I just don’t have the right attitude! As a survivor of abuse and a person with diagnosed mental health disorders, I’m offended by the suggestion that my attitude about these traumas and struggles is what’s affecting my ability to heal or feel well.

And this is the problem, I feel, with what I’m calling “false positivity”. False positivity reduces our legitimate struggles into memes and clichés that essentially instruct us to ignore or disassociate from our problems. OR they create a sense of shame and blame that we can’t just “attitude” our way out of them!

Look at this bullshit! I guess it’s supposed to be uplifting, but it feels like anything BUT uplifting to me! If only I could simply use my supernaturally powerful thoughts to think away the abuse I endured, the chemistry of my brain, and the long-term trauma that’s resulted from my struggles with these things! Wow! Either I’ve been handed a magic key to happiness (nope!), or I’m being blamed for the trauma I experienced (yep!).

And this! This actually makes me angry. Like, I want to go punch something right now, because it’s so wrong to suggest that betrayal by someone you trust and love is actually a blessing or a gift! It’s the same with suggesting that my anxiety is a gift in disguise. Or that emotional abuse was a blessing because now it’s fueled this blog and my writing.

My anxiety is a daily and lifelong struggle. It was exacerbated to the extreme by my abusive partners. I did not asked to be abused. I have not fully recovered from that abuse and likely never will. And most of all, it’s NOT MY FAULT that people took advantage of me. Telling me that I should just “think differently” or see my experience of abuse (or the aftermath of it) as anything other than trauma is exceptionally upsetting to me.

I found these and many, many more after spending only about 10 minutes scrolling through Instagram. All of them create so much unease within me. I’m frustrated that people seem to think that comments like the ones in these screenshots are helpful, authentic, or reasonable. In fact, I would go so far as to say that they are more damaging than anything. They offer, at best, a temporary sense of relief from whatever mental anguish is ailing us, but the consequence of that is, I believe, a perpetuation or deepening of the shame/fear/struggle/anger/issues that we are trying to cope with.

You can’t solve real problems with fake positivity.

So what is an alternative? How can we offer better support and cultivate hope for people who are struggling for any reason? Why do we continue to rely on cute memes and catchy Instagram posts instead of addressing our problems in more authentic and lasting ways?

I believe that vulnerability and authenticity are the key to managing these problems better. For example, my writing with head/strong is based on relating my first-hand experience and offering insights into how I *actually* manage (or don’t) based on the  knowledge I have right now. You don’t have to swear like a sailor to be authentic; you just have to be consistently honest and allow yourself to admit fault, to share struggles, and to relate the real experiences you have.

Therapy can be a great tool for cultivating self-awareness and authenticity. Good therapists don’t hand you answers (which is effectively what the images above are trying to do); they help you work through your struggles and co-develop the coping strategies that work best for you.

Unfortunately, therapy isn’t accessible to enough people. And it can be really hard, even IF you can afford and find therapy, to get a counsellor whom you work well with! Just because they’re qualified as a social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist, or mental health worker, doesn’t mean that they’re able to support you in the ways that you need. My experience is that I have the most success in finding therapy when I reach out to referrals from trusted people in my life and then set up what are essentially interviews with these prospective therapists. If we don’t mesh in that interview, then I try someone else.

My first therapy experience was with someone who didn’t care to know me as an individual. We made progress in some regards, but the lasting impression from that experience is more trauma that I carry with me. I’ve learned how to speak up for myself so much more now that I’m not willing to accept people like that in my care team or in my life in general. (‘Bout fucking, time, eh?) It’s been decades of learning to get to this point though and I know how lucky I am that I can access exceptionally high quality counselling as I need it.

After learning so much in therapy, mental health programs, and lots of hard work, I can’t look at bullshit like what I see on Instagram and buy into it. I guess I can imagine, though, that some people feel good when they read something like this:

At least, they likely feel good for a moment or two…

But really, how practical is it to “walk like you are made of magic”? Like, how the hell do you even do that? What does this have to do with improving your mental health (the screenshot came from a mental health support post) and how effectively does its message of “walking with magic” reduce the legitimacy of mental health (or any) struggles?

My god, I wish I could feel like magic all the time! I can’t. No one can! And I don’t want to feel a sense of shame for “failing” to walk like magic when clearly that’s exactly what I should be doing to fix my life.

What do you think about false positivity? Do images like the ones in this post lift you up in authentic ways, or are you like me and view them cynically (and likely cringe) whenever they show up in your news feed or wherever?

I plan to continue avoiding and remaining skeptical of messages like the ones I screenshot for this blog post. And my goal with head/strong (and in general) is to continue being authentic and offering real, tangible ideas for how to manage as an abuse survivor and a person with mental health problems—we can do so much better than telling ourselves that our attitude is the problem, instead of the problem being the problem.

xxJ

My attitude towards false positivity (artist unknown, unfortunately)


It All Comes Down to Me

My struggle with depression feels like a never ending mental tug-of-war. This chart that’s been making the rounds lately sums it up just about perfectly, because depression (or at least, my experience of depression) is a nuanced shifting of feelings that goes between numbness and detachment, to sadness and hopelessness:

I think a common analogy we can relate to depression is the image of drowning: one minute you’re there, kicking your legs and thrashing your arms, head staying above the water, even if just barely. And then suddenly your head goes under and you swallow a bunch of H2O and it feels like you’re never going to come up again. Depression often feels like you’re being swallowed up in deep, dark water that pulls you down, no matter how hard you try to get back up to the surface.

Sadly, some people never make it to the surface again. I feel lucky that I always manage to kick myself back up and out of the water. But, when I get depressed like I am now, life remains a struggle until I’ve reached the shore, so to speak.

When I’m depressed, I often fixate on my alone-ness and currently I’m spending a lot of time thinking about it. I’ve felt alone for as long as I can remember, because emotionally abusive partners don’t make you feel like you have support—they can’t offer you security or consistency—and things like depression get worse in an unhealthy relationship. Or, when you somehow manage to stand up to your abusive partner (which is, of course, the last thing they want you to do), you have to deal with the fall out that comes from sticking up for yourself. The retribution of an incensed emotional abuser is often powerfully devastating.

I have now divorced or broken up with my emotionally abusive partners, but I continue to deal with the consequences of being in those relationships. My tendency in all my relationships is to put an intense amount of effort into supporting the other person. This is a fault of mine that I continue to work very hard at changing, because it’s something that not only made me an easy target for narcissists and abusers; it also made it feel like I was alone in those relationships. When I’m really depressed, I often linger on these feelings of being alone and not having anyone in my life to share the burden of living with (FYI: when you’re depressed, life really does feel like a burden, not a privilege. It’s totally fucked up.).

Maybe I’ve romanticized the hell out of what it would be like to have a partner who isn’t a narcissistic and abusive asshole (maybe a little bit…). But what I see in the friends and family who support me so well is that they all have someone else in their lives who they prioritize more than me. And I can see that these people all have someone in their life who prioritizes them too. I’m not talking about worshiping your spouse or partner; I don’t mean that my friends and family have perfect relationships and get all their needs met all the time. What I’m talking about is how they each have that person, the one who knows the shit that’s going on in their life and who keeps a beat on their comings and goings. The person with whom they have built a secure baseline of love and trust; the person they can count on to be there for them.

Now, some of my friends and family who read this will likely want to say to me: “Of course I’m here for you! I support you in so many ways! You can always call me and I’m always here for you!” Please don’t think that I’m unappreciative of your love and support, or that I don’t see and feel the ways that you help me. I do! I’d be even more of a mess than I currently am without you! But at the end of the day (and I mean figuratively and literally), who are you coming home to? Who do you sit and watch Netflix with before heading to bed? Who do you remind about packing school lunches, or remembering to call your sister for her birthday, or ask “did you pick up your medication on your way home today”? Who do you organize your life around and make plans and set goals for a life together with? Who gets first billing in your life and offers you that same commitment back?

It’s not me.

And I don’t expect it to be, but I long for someone in my life who chooses to make me their priority and who expects and accepts that I do the same for them.

This feeling eats away at me every time I fail in another relationship, or I have another mental health relapse, or even just when I climb into my bed alone every night. It makes me feel like a failure, like I’m unworthy, and, since I’m being honest here, it makes me resent the very loving and supportive people in my life for having what I can’t seem to get.

The best way I can sum up these feelings, is to say that in times like this I can only think about how it all comes down to me.

There is a silver lining, though. It’s a tiny, glimmering ring of silvery dust hanging around what feels at the moment like an hellishly big rain cloud looming over my head. The silver lining is this: it all comes down to me.

You see I’m learning to recognize that in the end, all my failures AND all my successes, all my terrible relationships AND all my amazing ones, all my depression AND all of my happiness…every. fucking. thing. comes. down. to. me. And that includes the bad AND the good.

My depression often steals away my ability to notice the good parts of being independent. It feeds my feelings of loneliness and anger and sadness. It heightens my awareness of the hard parts of being alone. So I’m now trying to curb my thinking towards recognizing that it takes strength and courage to face the world on your own. That people like me, who don’t have a trusted partner in their lives, possess a huge amount of grit and determination for getting through every day solo. I’m telling myself that I am not giving up, even if I’m alone when I settle down on the couch for some Netflix at the end of the day.

I mean, at least I never have to argue about who gets to hold the remote.

xxJ

I think I’m the one.

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

Bizarro World

As I said last week, the world is kind of going to shit. And within that chaos, we each have our own pile of crap to manage. It often feels like the shit is hitting the fan and everything is falling apart in our own lives and all around us. What a time to be alive!

When my life was dangling from the shit-covered fan of a messy divorce and major mental health problems, and I was desperately trying to disentangle myself from everything I had known for the past decade and a half, I started gathering an arsenal of tools and strategies I could use to cope better. I’ve already talked about some of these strategies, but today I want to share a new one. Here’s how I learned it:

One day in a therapy session, my counsellor turned to look at me and he asked, “Do you know who ‘Bizarro Superman’ is?”

I’m not exactly a comics buff, but I’ve picked up a bit of knowledge from watching Marvel and DC movies, and from many sessions of playing superheroes with my daughters, so I looked back at him and said, “Yes.”

And my counsellor continued… “Okay, so Bizarro Superman is like the exact opposite of the actual Superman. He exists as a reflection of Superman and does things that seem strange and unexplainable to the rest of us.”

“I want you to imagine that parallel to your real life, there is a Bizarro World. It’s a place where all the crap that doesn’t make sense and isn’t rational and is completely ridiculous exists. And when you come up against something that is nonsensical and irrational and completely ridiculous, you need to stop and remind yourself that it’s all just Bizarro World crap.”

And I went, “hmm” and sat with the idea for a moment.

My counsellor went on: “So when someone says or does something hurtful, just tell yourself that this is Bizarro garbage and belongs in Bizarro World.”


Random garbage bag full of Bizarro crap, obviously.

So I learned The Bizarro World Technique, as I’m now dubbing it, and it consists of doing one simple thing: reminding yourself that irrational thoughts and behaviour (whether done by yourself or someone else) belong in Bizarro World and not in the real world. The Bizarro World Technique, or TBWT because I’m lazy and want to use an acronym, is similar to using the Positive Belief Record (or PBR, ’cause who wants to spell everything out every time? Not this girl!) I talked about back in October of 2018. What TBWT has that the PBR lacks is a sense of humour. And humour truly is great medicine. (I think someone said something like that once.)

It’s not always easy (or appropriate) to use humour when dealing with trauma, but sometimes it’s the best way to diffuse tension, open up to creativity, or just get some big emotions out in a way that leaves you feeling better instead of worse—my counsellor and I had a good chuckle on the day that he introduced TBWT to me and I absolutely left that session feeling better than when I had arrived.

As I continue to manage the crap in my own life, and think about how I can do more to help the world, I’ve had to remember this technique of referencing “Bizarro World.” It helps me sift through the mess of thoughts I’m being flooded with and deal with the crazy behaviour I’m seeing from people around me.

I want to be clear though: I’m not saying that we should ignore the alarming and destructive behaviour happening around us. Likewise, TBWT doesn’t mean you should ignore your feelings, or stop working on addressing your personal trauma and your triggers. The technique categorizes these experiences and re-frames them into a much more manageable framework so you can detach from them emotionally and then think rationally about how to handle them. Plus, it might make you laugh! Bonus!

The Bizarro World Technique also reminds us that WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR OTHER PEOPLE’S FEELINGS. EVERRRRRRRRRR.

Recognizing the shitty behaviour of others through using TBWT (or a PBR, or talking to a counsellor, or journaling, or blogging, or talking with a trusted friend…) should be an act of removing any sense of obligation you might feel to fix or change other people. Throwing that junk in Bizarro World means that you recognize that it is someone else’s shit and that your job is simply to manage how you feel and what your behaviour looks like.

Really, it’s about taking ownership of your thoughts and behaviours, so that you can think more clearly and take action with intention.

So when your ex does something typical and shitty and you start to feel crazy, remind yourself that it belongs in Bizarro World.

When you start thinking that no one could possibly be as stupid/ugly/crazy/whatever as you are, throw that garbage thinking into Bizarro World.

When you’ve had enough of the political bullshit our bigoted lawmakers keep spewing, wrap it up in a black garbage bag and toss into the Bizarro Universe.

I sometimes even literally say the words out loud: “This belongs in Bizarro World!” And I won’t think you’re crazy if I hear you saying the same thing.

We don’t need to take ownership for other people’s bad decisions; what we need is more people living authentically in order to help humanity get back to thriving! We need more people to wake up to the Bizarro bullshit they’ve become encumbered by and start putting it where it belongs. What we need are minds free of Bizarro World clutter so that we can make confident decisions and act mindfully and with intention.

xxJ


I think this is an excellent representation of how to get that Bizarro World junk where it belongs. If only I had all those muscles to help me really kick its ass!

Burn Anyway

I came across this little piece by Erin van Vuren the other day:

Its appearance on my computer screen felt like a moment of serendipity.

Fuck them. Burn anyway.”

These were exactly the words I needed to hear as I was, in that moment and in the last few weeks, experiencing some major insecurity about head/strong and about speaking up in general.

By choosing to make my experiences and my words public, I’ve had to push through a lot of fear. My anxiety creates a sense of fear around literally everything, but choosing to write publicly about my life—my past, my kids, my struggles, everything!—has essentially been a practice of putting something on a page, closing my eyes, and hitting “publish” before I chicken out or throw up.

That’s because the act of sharing something personal, of offering something authentic to the world, also means being vulnerable. And feeling vulnerable is a deeply uncomfortable feeling. Even more so when you are a person who has been taken advantage of in moments of vulnerability before.

The current authority on vulnerability is most definitely Brené Brown. Her amazing TED talk about vulnerability, aptly titled, “The power of vulnerability” has been viewed on the TED website over 38 million times. Her 1.2 million Instagram followers, plus her five New York Times best-selling books, attest to Brené Brown being a tour-de-force in her chosen field of study (not to mention the fact that she has a PhD in Sociology, is a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW), and teaches at the university of Houston in Texas. No big deal, right?).

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

Brené Brown

I’ve put myself in a position where I feel excruciatingly vulnerable. I felt this way when I first started talking to friends and family about my mental health struggles and the issues in my marriage. I felt this way every time I went and spoke to a counsellor and tried to dig deeper into what was causing me so much pain and heartache. And now I feel this way every time I sit down to write, and especially when I share that writing here on my blog and via Instagram or Facebook.

I’d be lying if I said that writing for head/strong isn’t partially about creating a sense of catharsis for myself—it does help make me feel justified in my experience. But I think that’s a helpful thing for me and for anyone who reads this. I’ve learned that there’s a difference between writing for yourself and writing for an audience (thank you Janelle Hanchett) and for every post I make, I keep this guidance in mind and I try to tread the line between being vulnerable (and therefore, authentic) and not using my blog as a personal diary.

I recognize that I’m the one who has put myself into this very liable position. I could have continued to keep my mouth shut, keep my words to myself, and not allow myself to be vulnerable. I was pretty much a master at maintaining the status quo already (regardless of how much it was hurting me), and likely could have kept on maintaining.

Except that I couldn’t.

And also, I wouldn’t.

I mean, I won’t.

A fire’s been lit inside me (to reference back to the piece from Erin van Vuren) and now…well now, I’m not going to shut up.

I think my experience gives me something worth saying and I think that using my life as an example allows people to connect better with what I’m talking about. I’m trying to connect with emotional abuse survivors, mental health warriors, and the people who support them. This is a very courageous, yet delicate group of people. Trust definitely needs to be earned authentically, so I feel its necessary to share about my life. I need to show that I’m in the club too; I’ve lived what I’m talking about.

The flames that are now flickering with head/strong want to grow and I want to fan them and let things build into a flaming inferno (not to be dramatic or anything…). I want to become a powerful woman who uses her position of authority to accomplish something meaningful and head/strong is an avenue to do that.

So I’m stoking the fire. It was lit a few months ago, really, when I made my first post and committed to writing every week. The spark I struck by hitting “publish” that very first time has ignited a flame and I intend to grow that fire and burn the hell out of anything that gets in my way.

I let myself be full of ashes for most of my life, but I won’t allow my light to be dimmed again. I’m not going to stop burning, even if I’m afraid.

Because I think we need to talk more about emotional abuse.

We need to talk more about domestic abuse.

We need to talk more about mental health.

We need to talk more about single parents and divorce and writing and creativity and healing and struggling and we need to allow ourselves to come from a place of vulnerability so that we can authentically connect.

So look for big things. Watch as I fumble around and try to make head/strong grow. Stick with me (I hope) and be vulnerable alongside me. There’s beauty in the flames, remember?

xxJ

Burn, baby, burn.