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

2018-11-28 12.09.37
“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

“Jingle Bells, Anxiety Smells, Depression Kicked-in Today…”

“The days are short, the nights are long, it’s Christmas again, hurray!”

Around this time last year, I came across this brilliant little graphic while scrolling through my Instagram feed:

Holiday Anxiety Letterpress Card Image
(I wish I could credit whoever made this, but sadly, its source is unknown to me.)

I lol’d for sure upon reading this, but to be honest, my giggles came from a place of humour and from recognizing how deeply I related to this little letterpress graphic.

I know humour is great medicine and I’m always appreciative of a good belly laugh, or even just a quick little smile and nose exhalation (come on, you so know what I’m talking about), but when you live with mental health struggles or in the wake of trauma, too often those happy moments are small in number and short in duration. Good times always seem to be followed by a reaffirmation of the anxiety or depression you feel and usually these reminders intrude vehemently, as if they are trying to out-do the little bit of joy you just experienced. It’s like my anxiety reasserts itself saying, “No, no, no…remember me?? You can’t forget about me; I’m what matters most. Hahahahaha!”

(For the record, I’m imagining that being spoken by either Cruella De Vil or Skeletor; take your pick of the two.)

do like Christmas. I do like celebrating holidays and special occasions, or at least, I want to enjoy them. But I struggle during these times; I always have! And the recent events in my life have made these times even more difficult.

Anxiety is often described as a fear of what is yet to or may come. Working with the assumption that anxiety’s core quality is this intensely fearful anticipation of the future, and understanding that anxiety manifests as things like social anxiety, panic attacks, mania, or other debilitating symptoms, I think it’s easy to see why holidays trigger people who struggle like I do.

Throughout the Christmas season, I try to remind myself to cherish it; to use it as an opportunity to connect with friends and family, to enjoy holiday traditions with my children, to pause and celebrate my successes over the past year... I try to do all those things, and I succeed some of the time, but I know I’m facing a lonely season. I know I’m going to be without my kids for much of the Christmas break. I know I will be surrounded by happy couples and happy, intact families who get to enjoy Christmas together. I know I am responsible for all the holiday activities, meals, gifts, and decorations around my household. I know I have to bear the financial burden of these celebrations. I know I will have to participate in large, social gatherings and will need to travel substantial distances over the Christmas season. I know that I will have to manage my diet and my body insecurities as I’m offered treats throughout the holidays; I know my willpower will be tested and that when I indulge, I will feel guilty.

I know all of these things,  but it’s the anticipation of them that really causes me to struggle at this time of the year. Yes, it can be (read: it is really, really) hard when I’m experiencing them in the present, but ultimately it’s the build-up to Christmas that gets me down.

do my best to get through the holiday season, but despite my efforts, I always spiral into unhealthy thinking. Like, right now, as I’m typing this, my anxiety has just promised me that if I can just get a boyfriend, all my holiday anxiety will go away. Of course! Meet a dude—the right dude, obviously, because that’s so easy to do—and all will be well!

As if it’s just that simple!

The effect of this thinking is to lead me into another anxious and depressed down-spin, where I start thinking about how lonely I am, about how there must be something wrong with me since I’m a single, divorced, mother of two. How all the men I’ve been with have let me down or been entirely the wrong fit. How that can’t be true because the only common denominator in those relationships was me, so clearly everything is all my fault…

Do you see what I did there?

It’s a fucking slippery slope, friends. And again, I’m half-laughing because I recognize how absurd this thinking is. It is absurd, but my reaction to all these stressors does make sense.

Christmas time is one trigger after another; it’s incredibly overstimulating! And my fancy Christmas anxiety may look really pretty on the outside, but it feels sharp and gut-wrenching on the inside.

Are you lonely this Christmas? Do you have to give up time with your children because of divorce or separation? Are you a single parent taking on the responsibilities of the holiday season all by yourself? Are you living with chronic illness or mental health struggles that sabotage your experience of special occasions or require significant accommodation so you can manage?

I hear you. I see you. I feel you.

I wish I had something more to offer all of us than just that, but I don’t. And honestly, my plan for getting through the holiday season is pretty much just to rely on silly Instagram posts, a good dose of writer’s therapy, and all the self-love and self-care I can muster. I hope it’s enough, but I know I will still struggle. I won’t give up, though, and acknowledging my struggles, speaking  up about them, and giving myself permission to feel these things, will go a long way to helping me get through this festive time of year. 

I think as a starting point, I’m going to keep re-imagining the lyrics of different holiday songs. For example, maybe the lyrics “Christmas time is here, happiness and cheer…” should be changed to “Christmas time is here, doing my best to get through it this year…”

What do you think??

xxJ

Christmas Skeletor
Skeletor: Oh, oh, I don’t think I feel well.
He-Man: Well, I think you’re feeling the Christmas spirit, Skeletor. It makes you feel… good.
Skeletor: Well I don’t like to feel good. I like to feel evil. Oooh.
She-Ra: Don’t worry, Skeletor, Christmas only comes once a year.
Skeletor: Ah, thank goodness! (source)