What NOT to Say to A Survivor of Emotional Abuse

I’ve been posting some pretty heavy stuff lately, so think it’s time to lighten things up and bring back some sarcasm. Adding humour to conversations about emotional abuse and mental health is something that’s always kind of “funny-not-funny” but I think we can laugh every now and then and not hurt our cause.

So today I would like to present to you, complete with the witty and charming commentary you’ve all come to love hearing from me,


Number 10: “Well, it takes two…”

Um, excuse me?

Whoever says this manages to both undermine the legitimacy of your experience and place responsibility for that experience on you, the victim. OBVIOUSLY relationships involve more than one person BUT only the abuser is responsible for their abusive actions. I’ve said it before and I will keep saying it: you are only responsible for yourself, no one else! You are not responsible for anyone else’s feelings, behaviour, or choices. Emotional abusers use tactics like gaslighting and playing the victim to convince you that everything is your fault and not theirs. There may be two of you in your relationship, and neither of you are perfect, but when you are being abused emotionally, you cannot be blamed for it.

Number 9: “No one’s life is perfect, so why are you complaining?”

Ugh. This one. The worst! Okay, well, one of the worst.

Saying this to someone is like when you were 6-years-old and refusing to eat your Brussels sprouts and your parents said, “There are starving children in Africa who would love to eat those” in an effort to guilt you into consuming what you’ve come to understand is a vile vegetable. (My adult-self now loves Brussels sprouts, for the record.)

Actually, it’s worse than that. Clearly anyone who says this has no understanding of what it feels like to be abused emotionally. When you come to someone and confide in them that you are experiencing abuse, there is no place for shaming. Yes, we all experience stress and hardship in our lives, but ABUSE IS NOT NORMAL STRESS OR HARDSHIP and therefore, it can’t be treated as such.

Number 8: “Couldn’t you just try harder?”

Wow. Okay, again, what a shitty thing to say to someone! When I was in abusive relationships, I worked my ass off to change them into healthy ones. I sacrificed and struggled and exhausted myself putting effort into making things work.

If your abuser isn’t putting equal effort in, or, if the effort they are putting in is narcissistic and hurtful, then it won’t matter how hard you try; your relationship will still remain abusive.

I think it is safe to assume that anyone who comes forward and says that they are being abused has spent an incredible amount of time and energy trying to avoid coming to that conclusion. So don’t say shit like this to them.

Number 7: “But how can you leave them? You have children together.”

There are probably lots of people who will disagree with me on this one and I’m betting some of those people have made the decision to “work through things” with their partner “for the sake of the children.”

I’m calling bullshit on that.

Who in their right mind thinks it’s better for kids to live in a dysfunctional home where one parent is being abused? What kind of model is this setting for those children? And why is it considered selfish to try to stop being abused?

Leaving an abusive partner when you share children is incredibly difficult; I know that firsthand. It’s not the kids’ fault and yet they have to endure the struggles of managing the breakup of their family. Some days I feel insanely guilty about putting my kids through a divorce, but then I return to the little mantra I made for myself: I would always rather explain why I left, than why I didn’t.

‘Nuff said.

Number 6: “But if you leave [insert name here], you’ll be all alone. Do you really want to be [insert age] years old and single??”

Fuck, it sucks to be a single divorcée! It especially sucks to be a single parent! Do you know what sucks worse, though? Being in an emotionally abusive relationship. As hard as it is to be alone, I would never EVER go back to my previous partners.

As if being single is someone’s primary concern when they come to you and admit that they are being abused! Please don’t say this to someone who comes to you looking for support. Just don’t.

Number 5: “Well, there are plenty of other fish in the sea…”

This one’s kind of the opposite of Number 6, isn’t it?

So someone’s just come and told you that they think they are being abused. Now is not the time to offer clichéd dating adages. Also, if someone has experienced emotional abuse with a partner, there is so, so much that they need to work through before they can feel safe and secure enough to trust somebody new. I’m not saying survivors don’t get into rebound relationships or go looking for another “fish” too quickly (yep, guilty of that!); I’m saying that to suggest that there are other, better fish out there in the sea, at a time when the fish this person had chosen has let them down and fucked them up monumentally, is completely inappropriate.

Number 4: “Suck it up; just get over it.”

In the most significant relationship of my life so far, I spent the majority of my time “sucking it up” and since ending that relationship, I’ve done everything in my power to “just get over it.” There is no magic way to recover from emotional abuse. There may not be physical reminders of a survivor’s experience, but emotional scars run incredibly deep and they have their own timeline for healing. Advising someone to “suck it up” is a callous and insensitive thing to say, no matter what they’re telling you about.

Number 3: “They didn’t actually hurt you, so it’s not abuse.”

Oh my goodness, this one drives me absolutely crazy! People don’t usually put it to words so clearly, but often there is a strong implication that emotional abuse doesn’t count because it wasn’t physical (something I argue against here).

If you tell an emotional abuse survivor that their experience wasn’t real, you continue the cycle of abuse by gaslighting them into believing your own misinformed perspective. I still struggle with accepting the legitimacy of my experience because I assume that since a) my former partners don’t recognize the abuse, and b) I have no police report, hospital stay, or physical reminders to show that I was abused, it must not count.

How messed up is that? I am literally writing a blog about my experience of emotional abuse and I continue to question my experience! No one who has gone through something like what I did should have to justify it with corporeal proof.

Number 2: “But he/she/they seem like such a nice person…”

Wow, gee, yeah…I guess since you think he’s such a nice guy, I must be totally wrong! Thanks so much for helping me see that!

I have heard this so many times in the last few years and it is infuriating.

Do you think an emotional abuser isn’t capable of “playing nice” outside of the home or wherever they proliferate their abuse? In my experience, emotional abusers are exceedingly talented at manipulating others, so they can seem “nice” when it serves them to do so. I was once told that my story couldn’t be true because my former partner was “so handsome and charming.” I think I threw up a little in my mouth when I heard that and it definitely set me back a few counselling sessions too.

Ugh. Let’s move on to number 1…

Number 1: “I don’t care. I don’t believe you.”

Clearly, this is the WORST thing you could ever say to a survivor of emotional abuse. I don’t think I need to say much more about it; survivors need to know that we have the love and support from the people we confide in. A much better response when someone tells you that they are being abused is to say, “How can I help and what do you need right now?”


Helpful? Not helpful? Fuck, I don’t know all the shitty things people say to each other! But I do know that there are lots of ways to mess up supporting someone who needs loving kindness after recognizing a pattern of abuse in their life. (If you think you need a better understanding of what emotional abuse looks like, check out my post “Looks Like/Sounds Like/Feels Like”.) 

I hope you laughed a little; I hope you thought more about what you could say to someone in need. I mean, no one’s perfect (see number 10) but we can all try to show compassion to those who come looking for support.

Emotional abuse = abuse. Period.

xxJ

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.

Now You Are Lost

Rediscovering your identity after abuse.

Emotional abusers make you into whoever they want you to be, so whatever identity you have is the product of the screwed up environment you’ve been in and the screwed up messages you’ve received. When you leave that toxic person and that toxic environment, you lose whatever person you were. You lose the identity you abuser gave you; when you leave your abusive partner, you leave yourself behind too.

I lost myself in every significant relationship I’ve ever been in. In each of them, I fulfilled my partner’s needs and wants to my own detriment. I took on, or was given, roles and responsibilities that I didn’t want. I was told and shown that I was worthless and stupid and wrong all the time, and that everything was always, always, always my fault!

I ended up believing that was who I am.

And when I found myself alone two and a half years ago (How has it been that long already?!) I realized that the only identity I had was the one I let other people make for me. And I came to understand that I had absorbed, most especially, the identity my abusers had given to me.

It was the worst kind of personal epiphany.

It was so hard to recognize how little I knew about myself; it felt shitty to see that I was screwed up and feel so completely unsure about myself.

As time has passed, though, and my life has settled a bit, I‘ve had time to learn more about my authentic self and I’ve gained a few nuggets of wisdom about rediscovering an identity after abuse.

Actually, I’ve worked really fucking hard to figure it out, so I want to share it with you. (Because caring is sharing, right?) Here’s the head/strong guide to finding yourself post-abuse, in six [not so] easy steps.

Enjoy.

HOW TO FIND YOUR IDENTITY AGAIN
(After Leaving That Shit-For-Brains Piece Of Slime Who Treated You Like Crap For So Long That You Learned To Believe It)

Step 1: Get the hell away from anyone who isn’t treating you well.

If you feel like crap around them, stop engaging with them! Or, if that’s not possible, get help establishing and maintaining some firm boundaries to protect yourself around them. Hopefully you have someone you can trust and call on at this time. If not, seek someone out at a shelter, hospital, doctor’s office, counsellor’s office, or mental health program. There is always someone to talk to, but you do need to be willing to ask.

Step 2: Make your home a sanctuary.

Or your room. Or wherever you spend the most time. You don’t need to hire a designer and bring in tasteful accents to make your space feel like an oasis, you only need to make it feel safe—whatever that means to you, whatever that looks like to you, whatever you can afford.

For me, having photos of my daughters and I, and our friends and family, up on the walls of my house was really important in asserting my identity as a mother and a single-parent. Getting a new bed and having comfortable bedding was also a priority for me, especially since anxiety often robs me of sleep. I love bright, rich colours, so the art and furnishings I‘ve found for my space reflect this (I also love me some secondhand treasure-hunting! A go-to for decorating on a budget). I need music in my life that reflects my moods, so having speakers and a personalized digital music library was an essential addition to my space. I also established very early on that all pick-ups and drop-offs with my children would happen in a neutral place or out on my driveway, so that the sanctity of my space was maintained.

There are so many ways you can manifest your sanctuary: colours, scents, sounds, art, food, furniture… As much as possible, be intentional with what you put in your space.  

Step 3: Surround yourself with people who are authentic and who bring you up instead of down.

It’s time to weed out the baddies. This part SUUUUUUUCKS and it takes some time, but it is massively important to revitalizing your identity.

You already took the courageous step of leaving your abuser/s (you’re such a legit badass!!) now make sure that everyone else in your life supports, loves, and nourishes you because you will be fragile at this time. You will be scattered and scared and messy, so the ones who show up and who leave you feeling better than when they arrived, those are the ones to keep around. Anyone who leaves you feeling worse than when they got there needs to be shown the door (good-bye!). We can’t avoid all annoying people (if only, eh?!), but we can control who we let into our inner-sanctum both literally (see Step 2) and emotionally/figuratively.

Step 4: Do something that you love.

Find something that you enjoy and just fucking do it! It does NOT have to cost a lot of money. It does NOT have to take up a big chunk of your time. It just needs to be something you can do reliably and regularly.

I returned to writing when my “Life 1.0” ended. I returned to making music at the same time. I began reading again. I gardened. I went out and started rock climbing with a friend. My life as a single mom means that I have limited free time, a limited budget, and a limited amount of energy to put towards things, so I found activities that were easily accessible to me and slowly increased the amount I time I spent on them. Regardless of budget or lifestyle, you can find a hobby you like to do. The only criteria is that it has to make you feel good.

Step 5: Put effort into rediscovering your identity.

Duh. That’s what this blog post is all about! And Steps 1-4 lay out some clear ideas for ways you can work on finding yourself after abuse. But Step 5 is here because the previous four steps don’t talk about the emotional work that needs to go into rediscovering identity.

Counselling, if it’s available to you, is hugely helpful with this step. Keeping a journal, doing monthly check-ins, picking up an inspiring and motivational self-help book, joining a support group, or participating in a mental health day program like the one I went to, can all be super-duper helpful in maneuvering the path towards self discovery post-abuse. You need to tune in and acknowledge yourself: your needs, your wants, your skills, and your faults (see my previous post for how to identify healthy self-beliefs). You need to take sometime and figure out not “who am I?” but, “who am I right now and where do I want to go from here?”

Step 6: Repeat steps 1-5, as needed.

Rinse and repeat, people! Check in with how you’re feeling and adjust as necessary. This is an ongoing process. The definition of yourself can change. In fact, it already did when you left your abuser! But when you craft your OWN identity, these changes happen fluidly, which means they’re a hell of a lot more manageable and you stay in control of how things flow and who you are.

Your abuser(s) may have handed you a shitty deal, but you now have the opportunity to trade some cards in and get a royal flush. Jackpot!

Okay, I know honestly know shit-all about poker, but you get the point, right? Your abuser was (is) an asshole, but you’re not (I’m assuming) and you don’t have to let that jerk control your life anymore. You get to rediscover who you are after abuse. You get to decide what your identity looks like. Confident, crafty, gritty, humble, kind, tough, simple, fancy…whatever! You can find your identity after leaving your abuser, you just need the right steps to follow and the right supports to climb them.

xxJ

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This cheery reminder hangs in my living room for my daughters and I to see every day. Artist credit: Becca Cahan for Society6

Turning Paper Into Diamonds

Or, “I Bet You Look Cute in that Emotional Tool Belt”

After my divorce, I spent some time working with an abuse counsellor named Alanna. She was one of the last stops on my roundabout tour of finding caring, knowledgeable support when I was at my lowest point and needed help getting up from rock-bottom. The partner abuse program she facilitated ended up moving to a different agency and she ended up moving elsewhere as well, but the months I spent attending sessions with her had a profound effect on my daily life.

The biggest take-away from my time with her has been a single piece of paper that I keep taped up above my writing desk. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at this flimsy, white sheet and felt stronger because of it.

Good counsellors offer a wealth of helpful and insightful information, but great counsellors listen closely to their clients and offer little gems of wisdom that hit just the right note at just the right time and give the people they work with exactly what they need in that moment.

I bet you most of the time my counsellors do this and then giggle to themselves as they watch me unfold my understanding, thinking that I’ve come to some great realization all by myself, when really it’s because of their sly influence.

Damn they’re good!

Alright, I won’t keep you on tenterhooks (how’s that for a word of the day, eh?) any longer. Obviously you’re all dying to know what the hell is on this glorious, life-changing piece of paper.

Shit…now I’ve built it up too much! Ugh. Okay, it doesn’t matter, because even if you think it’s lame, it was/is totally the exact right thing I needed from this counsellor and she fucking nailed it.

Here it is, in all it’s simple glory:

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Pretty fucking awesome, right?

Okay, fine. It’s just a piece of paper with a some lines and a few very important words that suggest one simple idea: think about what your stupid, anxiety-ridden/depressed brain is telling you and then call yourself out on that bullshit and use objective proof to throw it the fuck out the window!

Or in different terms: figure out your self-critical belief, use that to identify what’s really true (your new, positive belief), and then prove to yourself that the new/positive belief is real by coming up with examples that support it.

It’s gotten to the point where I can just glance at this paper and be reminded that I’m not crazy. It reminds me that I can handle my shit. That what my abusers have told me isn’t the divine truth. That my mental illness doesn’t have to stop me from living well. That I can fucking DO THIS.

Feel free to borrow it.

Print it out, or draw your own fancy version, or scrawl the words onto a Post It and stick that shit up somewhere you’ll see it.

You’ll find that you’ll catch yourself glancing at it and thinking about its message, whether you have anxiety, or depression, or not. Whether you’re an abuse survivor or not. No matter your circumstance, you can use this tool to improve your life.

I like to think about techniques like this as tools that I keep in an emotional tool belt (a metaphor gifted to me by my other kick-ass counsellor, Daniel). My emotional tool belt used to be filled with rusty, dented, useless objects that caused me more pain and confusion than I ever needed in my life. I’ve been slowly scrapping those old, dysfunctional tools and refilling my tool belt with useful shit like this worksheet. I keep it next to my #2 Robbie (screw you Phillips screwdrivers!), a copy of Rupi Kaur’s “milk and honey”, my “DIVORCED AF” tank top, and the same stainless steel water bottle I’ve been slurping from for years (gotta stay hydrated!). I keep it with my dearest, most important possessions, but I know it’s better to share, so it’s yours to borrow now.

Use it to remember: you are more than your mental health diagnosis.

You are more than what your abusers say you are.

You are capable and smart and strong and brilliant.

You can change and you can get better tools to put in that cute-ass emotional tool belt of yours.

This paper may as well be made out of diamonds, because it’s become completely priceless to me. And I’ll keep it on my wall until it yellows and fades. I’ll keep it until I don’t need a daily reminder to re-frame my thinking, because I’ve got practices like this to grab from my cute-ass tool belt at any moment.

xxJ

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This is also usually found near my writing desk. It doesn’t fit well into my tool belt though…

Everything Needs to Be Perfect

Because that’s not too much to ask, right?

I live with a dual mental health diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Of the two, anxiety is the stronger beast and tends to take first billing in the screenplay of my life. One of the core contributors to my anxiety is an ever-present and absolutely fervent desire to be perfect. I try to come off as cool and calm and relaxed—ha! The vicious truth is that the effort I put into seeming nonchalant about things is actually a symptom of my perfectionism.

Oh, cruel irony!

Anxiety produces hyper-vigilance in me so habitual that it pervades all of my life. Everything ends up being calculated and controlled and set up so that I have the absolute best chance of not failing or embarrassing myself, even if the threat of failure or embarrassment isn’t actually real.

It’s kinda messed up, right?

These are the levels of thinking that Generalized Anxiety Disorder bequeaths upon me! I have the gift/curse of being so so so SO aware of every goddamn thing I’m doing all the time. And if I perceive a risk of failure or humiliation, no matter how small, it’s always a full-stop.

Okay, there are probably times when I can’t avoid risky situations (okay, there are definitely times when I can’t avoid risky situations…), but that doesn’t stop me from doing everything I can to mitigate the chances that I won’t be successful.

I’m not exaggerating: perfectionism rules my world, friends.

In some ways, my perfectionism is good; it pushes me to strive for success, which can be very motivating and, in certain contexts like school, perfectionism helps me succeed at a high level. It makes me an attentive mother/friend/lover/daughter/sister/person and it ensures that I give my full effort to whatever I take on.

But here’s the other edge of the sword; perfectionism is my enemy too. When its hyper-vigilant voice takes control, it debilitates me and vilifies me with feelings of unworthiness, failure, guilt, and shame. Sometimes I can’t do something because I’m too afraid that I will fail. Sometimes, unexpected challenges or variations pop up and my carefully-crafted perfectionist plan gets thrown out the window, which triggers major anxiety in me. A lot of the time, perfectionism makes things take waaaaaaaaaay longer than they need to, because I have to lay out and follow a prescribed set of steps to accomplish whatever level of success my perfectionism has determined for me.

I can’t even send a fucking text message without re-reading it eight times and checking for typos. And heaven forbid if I edit my text, send it, and then find a latent typo! The shame I feel on those occasions is akin to when you accidentally call your grade 4 teacher “Daddy” instead of Mr. Snair (not that I ever did that!). Or when you’re 12 years old and you catch your toe on an uneven patch of sidewalk and stumble awkwardly while sauntering past your current crush AKA the love of your life AKA THE ONLY PERSON WHO MATTERS IN THE ENTIRE WORLD

Writing this blog is a test of patience and mental fortitude for me. I will admit, I re-read everything I write, including unpublished drafts and the bits and bobs I keep around as potential writing topics in the future, at least 800,000,000 times before I hit “publish.” Then I look them over another bajillion times after publishing to affirm (and reaffirm, and re-reaffirm, and re-re-reaffirm…) that my writing is worthy of being looked at by other people.

In my past relationships, perfectionism fed my codependent behaviour and my abusers benefited greatly from my desire to make things perfect (i.e. the work I put into making them happy, keeping our lives together, making it look like everything was okay to others, etc…). They used this to encourage me into putting more and more effort into fulfilling their desires, instead of addressing my own needs. Emotional abusers don’t care about the amount of effort their victim puts forth, they only care about getting what they want. I was the perfect candidate for the job of codependent and perfectionism was a big contributor to helping me get hired.

I know that perfectionism isn’t a healthy habit. I also know that it’s something I’ll have to keep working on, probably for the rest of my life. In fact, one thing I’ve come to understand about a diagnosis of something like Generalized Anxiety Disorder, is that it’s a lifelong diagnosis and that the effects of this disease can be managed, but never eliminated.

Perfectionism is a part of me that will never go away, but I do practice relieving myself of the pressure to be perfect as often as possible. I try to allow myself to fail. I try to allow myself to make mistakes. I attempt to allow myself to not know something every once in awhile. I also let myself ask for help (well I try to, at least!).

I may have to force myself to do these things, but I do them because I know that putting myself in these situations prepares me for when it’s not a choice to have things change. Maybe the funny part of this is that in choosing to allow myself these transgressions, I’m still allowing my perfectionism and anxiety to hold the reins, but this way they remain at a distance. I’m electing to put myself into “risky” situations so that I can be better prepared for when truly risky moments occur.

So I’m still being perfectionist—I’m still plotting out the course I will take every single day. It’s just nuanced so that outwardly, it doesn’t appear that I’m controlling things and so that inwardly, I still get peace of mind and maintain a sense of control, which helps me manage my anxiety and makes me feel successful.

Does perfectionism rule your life too? Maybe we should start a support group… How about, “Life Will Never Be Perfect So Let’s Get Real About That And Figure Shit Out Anonymous”?

xxJ

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Every sunset is perfect, yet every sunset is different. So does that mean that none of them are perfect? Or is it all just a matter of perspective?

Embrace Me

It’s my body and I’ll eat pie if I want to.

Up until very recently I was living a depleted life. My days were filled with anxiety and depression, I was constantly overwhelmed and tired. My sleep was poor, I got light-headed all the time, I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t remember things, and I couldn’t keep up in general. I once had a naturopathic doctor posit that I felt this way because my body‘s resources were completely depleted and couldn’t keep up to the intense amount of stress I was going/had gone through. This sentiment was echoed by other medical and mental health professionals to the point where I accepted it as fact.

But my mission now, with my divorce settlement set in stone and my life much more in order, is to rejuvenate my body, soul, and mind and to give myself the loving care I deserve and have so needed.

To that end, I’ve sought out help. I have an A-list team of mental health, medical, and wellness practitioners assisting me in my recovery. Since seeking help, I’ve made huge (read: GINORMOUS) strides in bettering my mental and physical health: I’m on medications that seem to be helping me, I have counsellors whom I trust implicitly, I have friends and family on my side, and I have healthier outlets for my anger, my sadness, and my anxiety.

Right now, I’m working, just a little bit, which is something I hadn’t been able to do for years.

Right now I’m dating, just a little bit, which is also something I couldn’t have handled even just a little while ago.

I’m relaxing, just a little bit, which is something I had forgotten how to do.

And I’m eating—I’m eating well!—which is really the crux of what I want to talk about here. Because, like many other people, I have body issues and food issues, and these issues get more or less out of hand depending on how well or not well I’m doing.

Story time:

Last autumn I lost 20 pounds. It just fell off me between October and November.

*POOF* 

It was gone.

Some people would rejoice at shedding 20 pounds, but I know (and I knew at the time) that the weight loss wasn’t healthy for me. This weight loss was the result of tremors and panic attacks; it was the result of my lack of sleep and my lack of exercise. Really, it was the result of a deep depression and severe anxiety that made me lose my appetite and lose my will to try.

Fast forward to a few months ago when I hired a clinical nutritionist named Trish to help me make a healthy eating plan. Trish is awesome and one of the things I love about her is that she gives her clients a life plan, not just a nutrition plan. So when we met we had a conversation about, and I received personalized recommendations for, sleep, exercise, nutrition, sex/birth control, mindfulness, and stress management. Trish and I extensively combed through my habits and my preferences, as well as my stresses and my struggles. She learned about the meds I’m on, my hormonal cycle…everything!

Did you know that gluten can significantly affect our mental health? I had no idea.

Did you know that people can have late onset lactose intolerance? It turns out I’m one of those lucky late-bloomers.

Did you know that soy can do incredible damage to your hormonal cycle? I actually knew this, but I honestly didn’t realize how much it had affected me (fyi: I was vegetarian for 8 years, so soy was a staple in my diet!).

There are lots of fad diets out there like Keto and Paleo and GAPS that try to convince you that they are the BEST and ONLY way to eat. I know many people feel successful at addressing their body/food/health issues by following one of these diets, but I truly subscribe to the belief that each of our bodies is different and therefore each of our bodies has different needs.

My body’s not your body, your body’s not my body, and everyone should stop treating them as if they are the same.

So Trish and I came up with this plan, which I’ve been implementing for over three months now and guess what? IT’S LITERALLY BEEN LIFE-CHANGING! 

I am NOT used to what it feels like to have a healthy body; I’m not familiar with having stamina and strength and fullness. I love these changes, but here’s the rub: I love how I’m feeling, but I don’t love my body right now.

Those 20 pounds I lost last autumn? They’re back, and then some. In fact, I’m heavier now (aside from during my pregnancies) than I have ever been before. My clothes all feel tight. My belly is rounder. My teeny boobs are definitely less teeny. My thighs are chunkier. And don’t even get me started on the increasing voluptuousness of my booty.

My instinct is to hate it. And I mean HATE it. Feminist that I am, I’ve still fallen prey to the body image standards that society dictates and the messaging I got from family and friends growing up. I’ll sheepishly admit that I’ve always prided myself on being thin. But fuck, it turns out I was living a thin-privileged existence because this weight is really, really getting to me!

I can try to rationalize it to myself however the hell I want and I still always come back to “I look fat.” I avoid looking into mirrors now, because “I look fat.” I struggle to choose my clothes each morning, because “I’m too fat.” I feel self-conscious and so, so body-aware all the time.

I feel like a huge, fucking whale.

And I know it’s bullshit. I know, intellectually, that this is a crock of shit that my anxious, sick, unhealthy self created. I know that what I’m saying is stupid, but I feel like it’s completely and utterly true.

At least, I did until this afternoon.

Today, I put on my favourite pair of soft, body-hugging leggings, and a form-fitting, ribbed tank top, because I knew I wasn’t leaving the house and I knew that I wanted to wear something comfortable (none of my actual pants fit me anyway!). My daughters and I were busy all morning so I forgot to worry about whether or not my tummy was protruding or my thighs looked lumpy. Then I saw myself in the bathroom mirror at lunch time and my gut instinct was to feel revulsion, which is really the point I was at with myself! I immediately felt repulsed by my own image, but then a second later, I had an epiphany:

What if this is what healthy looks like on me?

WHAAAA????

What if this is what healthy looks like on me?

What if this body, these extra fifteen pounds or so, what if this is the body I’m supposed to have in order to be strong and energetic and beautiful and sexy? Oh my god what if??

When I left my ex-husband, I chose to do so because I knew I’d rather explain to my children why I left than why I didn’t. And today I decided to tell myself that I would rather be healthier and happier with fifteen “extra” pounds than keep living the hollow, depleted life I had been surviving in for the last two decades. I would rather eat well and feel full, buy pants a size or two bigger, have seconds if I want them, and snack instead of falling prey to my hypoglycemia…I would rather be bigger and find a way to feel beautiful at THIS size, than keep starving myself.

This has been a profound realization for me. And it’s one that I know I’ll be digesting (pardon the pun…not!) for quite a while.

I want to love my new body. I mean, even when I was thin (thinner?) I didn’t like myself! So what the hell do I have to lose in embracing the changes that are happening, which are OVERWHELMINGLY positive, and accepting that I am now this way and that it’s completely, entirely, fucking alright.

Who gives a shit that I have a few extra pounds on me?

Who cares that it took me this long to start feeling better?

What matters most is that I’m reaping the benefits of paying attention and giving my body what it needs. What matters is that I’m striving to embrace the version of me that looks different, but feels good. What matters is that I’m edging towards thriving instead of just surviving, and if achieving that requires me to go out and buy a couple new pairs of pants, then it’s most definitely worth it.

Maybe this is what my body looks like when it’s healthy.

You know what? Fuck maybe.

This IS what my body looks like when it’s healthy! And I’m going to fucking embrace it.

xxJ

2018-07-29 18.14.45
It’s basically impossible to feel shitty about yourself when you’re wearing sequins and rocking your dad’s university engineering jacket.

A 7-Layer Cake

Don’t let the bastards get you down; eat chocolate cake instead.

This past spring I took a writing course. It had the amazingly succinct, yet perfectly spot-on title of “Write Anyway,” subtitle: “don’t let the bastards get you down.”

I mean, it’s perfect, right?

It turned out that Write Anyway was about way more than just writing. Because during the course and since then, I‘ve ended up taking the messages and philosophy of the course and applying them not only with my prose, but also in my life.

See, I’ve led a life that was, up until this point (and excusing maybe those first 5-6 years of life when all children are entirely self-motivated because, you know, survival and all that), one where I prioritized everyone else’s needs and wishes before addressing my own. It’s been one where I constantly second guessed myself, felt anxious about even the tiniest decisions, and intentionally kept things private because I feared criticism, embarrassment, and a sense of failure.

But I’m learning some new things now, and I’m trying some new things now too, so I took a leap and signed up for the writing course. In doing so, I challenged myself to be vulnerable and authentic and, you know, kind of, sort of legit with my writing and with myself.

Somehow it ended up feeling like participating in Write Anyway became the pinnacle of all the hard work I’ve been doing! It was like the icing on the top of a massive, multi-tiered cake I’ve been building these last few years. Like, I’m imagining that I’ve been adding layer after delicious layer of what is the most mouth-watering cake ever created. In my mind, this cake is a decadent dark chocolate and sits at least 7 tiers high. Each layer represents a momentous benchmark I’ve achieved:

Layer 1: Ending my marriage (hallelujah!).

Layer 2: Getting a mental health diagnosis and starting treatment.

Layer 3: Finding the right psychiatric meds to be on (this took sooooooo long and was sooooooo effing difficult).

Layer 4: Beginning therapy with some amazing counsellors and seeing/feeling real, authentic progress.

Layer 5: Buying my own home out in the most beautiful goddamn place and knowing that I don’t ever have to move again (can I get an amen?!).

Layer 6: Getting my first real job in almost a decade.

Layer 7: Calling myself a writer and signing up for “Write Anyway.”

Icing: Participating in said writing course (and giving it every ounce of effort and energy I could muster!).

Sprinkles (of course there are sprinkles!): Launching head/strong, sharing my story, and taking the leap into being a legit writer/blogger.

In between each of these layers would be the richest, creamiest, dark chocolate ganache, which cements everything together and makes sure that this cake doesn’t crumble or fall. Or maybe it would be custard. Or raspberry jam. Or strawberry! Mmmmmm…

Okay, okay, I’ll quit it with the cake analogy… it’s making me quite hungry, actually… The point I’m trying to make with my appetite-inducing dessert comparison is that I now finally have the confidence and the energy to just fucking WRITE ANYWAY in every single part of my life! (As in the literal sense of writing down words and in the metaphorical sense of, “we all write our own life stories.”)

I can write my own life and while I sometimes feel pangs for the life I thought I would have, or regret the words I thought I could have written better, I’m forging ahead and showing up and I’m living and writing the fuck anyway!

So thank you to Janelle Hanchett of Renegade Mothering who taught the writing course, and to the incredible and engaging women who took Write Anyway with me! Thank you for putting the icing on the cake of my accomplishments and pushing me that little bit further so I can show up and be present in my life.

I feel charged, I feel competent, I feel like taking some risks. And I know that’s the key to succeeding in life: you show up, you do your best, and you keep going even when the icing starts to melt, or someone’s stuck their thumb into the cake and fucked things up a bit.

Isn’t it amazing that life can be so delicious, even when it seems like it’s also full of shit?

xxJ

headstrong blog post - Sept 9 2018
When life hands you lemons, make chocolate cake instead!