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.

We Can’t Be Fixed

And that’s okay

My counsellors get mad when I say that I’m broken. I kind of get it…saying that reflects a certain attitude about my state of well-being that seems unhealthy. My one counsellor, Daniel, would likely remind me that I need to re-frame my thinking.

Ugh. Fine, I’ll try:  I feel broken.

Okay, I’m being a smart ass. Sorry Daniel…

But sometimes the word “broken” is the best way I can think of to describe myself.

My brokenness stems from  a bunch of things. In the past, I often felt confused. I was so mixed up because of the lies I was being fed and the stress in my life that I couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t. I felt and still often feel fragmented, like I have too many parts of myself chipped off and spread too far. I get frustrated by my inability to do the things I used to be able to. I am aware of all the things I can’t do anymore—my brain and my body just don’t work like how they used to, or how I want them to, and that makes me feel broken.

I am happy to say that lately my okayness has seemed to outweigh my brokenness, but I know that at any moment the scales could tip and I’ll relapse. I’ve reached my depths before and risen up from there, but more stress is inevitable and change is inevitable and I accept that I will never stop being a person with anxiety, depression, and a history of abuse.

Back in 2016 I attended a life-changing mental health day program at my local hospital. Before going, I had some pretty strong assumptions about what my experience there would be. First, I thought I was going to be judged harshly by everyone and told that I didn’t belong. Second, I assumed that I would struggle to connect with my fellow participants. And third, I figured I wouldn’t learn anything new.

Wow. I was SUCH A JERK. 

Actually, I was just super nervous! 

What I got from the experience of attending this program, was that a) people in a mental health day program are, in general, exceedingly compassionate and kind; b) I found in these struggling, but warmhearted individuals so much common ground that I couldn’t wait to get to my workshops every day; and c) I learned so goddamn much more than I ever thought I would.

(I promise this story is getting to a point… pinky swear.)

But, the number one, most important, most life-altering lesson I learned at Day Program is that those of us with mental health issues will carry that diagnosis for the entirety of our lives and that this doesn’t mean we will always be unable to function, but that our goals and plans need to be adjusted with the understanding that we will always have to bear these struggles in mind. 

In other words: we can’t fix ourselves, we can only manage our symptoms. 

Boom! Take that one and throw it into your emotional health tool belt, because THAT is a quintessential moment of learning how to talk about and understand mental health problems.

Think about it like this: Cancer survivors who are in remission continue to have checkups and tests even if they remain cancer-free, and they will always keep an awareness of their diagnosis in the back of their mind, no matter what their state of health. Those of us who have depression, bipolar, anxiety, mania, or other mental health diseases have to follow a similar approach to maintain treatment for our illness. Once you go down the rabbit hole, you carry a piece of that experience with you forever. 

Knowing that we can be accepted regardless of our mental health diagnosis is vitally important. You wouldn’t expect someone without an arm to continue operating as if they have two; why do we expect people with mental health problems to behave as if they don’t? Why strive to “fix” us when we will always operate differently?

I hope Daniel will forgive me for continuing to say that I feel broken. Because if society continues to expect me to function like the elusive “normal” (Come on, what’s normal anyway? A post for another day, I think.) then I’m going to fail. Every day. And so are millions of other people with diagnoses and symptoms like mine. 

We can’t be fixed, we can only manage our symptoms.

I’m not being cynical, I’m just accepting that it’s okay to not be okay. That it’s okay to not be normal. That I still feel broken but instead of striving to put myself back together how I was before, I’m going to focus on using those fragmented pieces to build a version of myself that meets the needs I have now. 

xxJ

It’s okay to not be okay. 

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