It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

Look forward, move on, get over it, think positively… these messages cloud our systems. Don’t look weak, don’t let it get you down, you get the picture.

All of these adages have some credibility and in general they can be helpful, but oftentimes they have the potential to also be harmful. I think that in our society we are so focused on being the happiest, the most fulfilled, the strongest, that we forget the most basic and simple truth: We are HUMAN. Sometimes before we tell someone to just be happy, think positively, or to move on, maybe we should let them know it’s okay to not be okay.

For so much of my life I have thought, wow, I am so good at getting through things! I was unbothered. Life was good, I was good, it was all good! Don’t get me wrong, life has been good to me, but the times when it wasn’t, I thought that strength meant not letting it get me down. So I buried it. I didn’t get through it, I didn’t move on from it, I just covered it up and sat on top of it and kept on smiling. But a facade will always crack. It’s not solid, it does not hold up. Years of repressed negativity came creeping up and it made me feel anything but strong. Broken, weak, lost. How could I continue to smile, or flourish, or uplift others when I couldn’t even figure out how to keep myself together? I needed to not be okay. Desperate, I continued trying to replace the parts, patch up the facade, plaster a smile over the pain. Some days I didn’t want to get out of bed, leave the house, look in the mirror. Guilt and misery crept in because I could see the things in my current life I had to be thankful for and to be happy about, but I was poisoned by the things left inside of me I had not dealt with. Move forward, smile, be happy… I wanted those things and struggling with my toxic insides made me feel like I would never have them again. I was broken, defeated.

It’s never too late. I thought that if something happened 20 years, or even 5 years ago I should be able to just toss it aside and move on, I didn’t have the right to let it affect me so. This was just another unrealistic and unfair burden I had placed upon myself. One by one I began to face up to the darknesses that lived inside of me. Sounds easy, but it wasn’t, believe me. But I did what I should have done from the very beginning, I let myself process and handle those darknesses, I was not okay and it was okay. And as I processed, I finally began to heal. Then, and only then was I able to begin to manifest light again, to smile again,to move forward and think positively. Before I could move on, I needed to not be okay and I needed to know that it was okay.

Maybe you need to not be okay, and that’s okay. Don’t live with your darkness longer than you have to because the world wants you to think positively and move on. Because trust me, there is only so far you can go when you’re dragging a boulder with you.

A Little Bit Brighter

There have been a few times in my life when I have examined myself and realized that I felt a little lost. It was that kind of feeling where if someone had asked me to describe myself, I wasn’t really sure how I would respond. I am sure that this is something that is totally normal. After all, we all go through various stages in life, we spend time growing and changing and adapting to the world. I think it is in those uncertain times when we really do our growing, when we find the person that we are, or will become. We choose that direction at the fork in the road, and the conditions of those paths shape us. But there are times when life just happens to us, and the fork in the road is blocked by a wall making no easily accessible path. For the last few years I have been at that wall; sometimes sitting there pondering it, sometimes beating my head against it, celebrating at it, living by it, curled up in a ball next to it, hiding from it, ignoring it… in general, just stuck. Stuck is a scary, dark place to be.

So much of my thirty-two years have made sense to me. It seemed that in spite of the trauma I had endured, or bad experiences I had encountered, I always had that disposition which allowed me to see the glass as half full. It wouldn’t matter who you asked and about which age, I was consistently described as a kind person who could see the best in anyone. Kind became who I was, and who I wanted to be. I set my goals by this, and dreamed about making a difference in the world.

Nothing would break this resolve for almost thirty years. Not the sexual abuse I suffered at nine, or the silencing I experienced from not being heard; not the pain from 3 years later when I was heard and had to endure the process of seeing someone convicted; not the mental torment of being an abuse victim; not the failed marriage at the end of college; not the crappy self-punishing relationships that would follow… I was unbreakable. I forgave people who didn’t ask for forgiveness, who never even admitted to me that they had done wrong. I looked at things from other peoples’ points of views to explain their behaviors, I felt for them and excused them. Little did I know that this process was less of a kindness and more of a coping mechanism. That’s not to say that empathizing with people and attempting the understanding of another person is not okay or right, but just that the deep need I had to do this in particular was a way for me to cope with the things that had happened to me, and the way I was treated by some people. I felt indestructible, and if anything, my experiences empowered me to want to go forward and find a way to do good in the world. To be good in the world, for the world.

And then I hit that wall. I cannot tell you the exact moment that I hit the wall and began to crack. One day the world began to feel way too big, and the troubles of the world began to sit directly on my shoulders. I stopped feeling like I deserved to have anything good in my life because there were others in the world who had nothing or less than nothing. I felt like what is the point of doing anything when how could a microscopic spec possibly make a real difference? This didn’t necessarily stop me from being kind, or finding empathy for others, but I began to lose sight of a purpose in the world, and I started seeing the scales of good and bad people tip out of balance. For a person that lived so long wearing rose colored glasses this was very overwhelming and confusing. Outwardly I remained the same as I always had been, but inside I struggled with the feelings that it just didn’t matter.

Having a very rough pregnancy which ended in a truly traumatic birth really did me in. As a lot of people know, eclampsia ended my pregnancy 11 weeks early, and my beautiful boy was born at 29 weeks. I woke up in the hospital no longer pregnant, and my baby had been taken to another hospital. It would be about 5 days before I would be released to go and meet him. I was in so much pain but I pushed through it Because my sole purpose became helping him thrive. Oh he was so sick, what a tiny 2 lb baby hooked up to monitors and a machine breathing for him. I couldn’t hold him much, and there were times when my holding him was actually bad for him. I had to learn what to do if his sats dropped and he turned blue. And once or twice he did turn blue…in my arms. During this time I was 1400 miles away from home and lived in a Ronald McDonald House. This is a very condensed version of events. My mom flew up and drove me home 68 days after he was born. We came home with an oxygen generator and medications. We spent 4 days in the car stopping every 2 hours to get him out of the car and sleeping in hotels where every 3 hours I had to feed/pump and administer medications. Two times his oxygen machine ran out of battery and it was almost catastrophic and when we finally made it home it became one specialist after another for months. I saw a crisis in everything, I was scared of my own shadow. The wall grew even larger. I felt strong for him, but I was more broken than ever. I wanted to be the person that I used to be, but that person was shattered and damaged beyond recognition. I tried to live the same way, but I was just a shell.

It’s cliche to say that love lifted me, but it did. The love of my son, eventually of my daughters, and of a woman who saw through the shell and reached in and began dusting off the broken pieces, these things began healing me. This didn’t happen all at once, and has not always been a pleasant experience. At times I’ve felt that there wasn’t any hope, I was broken beyond repair and I was going to just have to learn to live with this new version of myself. But little by little pieces of the old me, my true self began to slip through, fighting with the parts of me that felt the weight of the world, that saw a crisis in every move, who wanted to hide from it all. I’m not saying I could never have achieved this on my own, but I could not move forward with these journals without giving credit where credit is due, and credit is due to the woman who helped me glue myself back together and reminded me who I am inside.

If it weren’t for her I never would have had the courage to open up these wounds so that they could heal. I would have continued piling on patches and telling myself everything was cool. Maybe writing about all of this in a public forum is self-indulgent, I don’t know. I could just go to therapy or write it down in private, but I think that for me, opening myself up to be vulnerable has been crucial. The first two blog posts felt difficult, painful, but necessary. After publishing the second one I felt a odd sense of peace that I couldn’t explain, like I knew I was going to get better. It’s a relief from a pressure you didn’t realize you had until the pressure begins to wane. The figurative wounds were opened and the draining has begun making room for the literal healing to happen.

I am standing at this wall at the fork in the road, but the wall has begun to weaken, there are spots where I can see to the other side. Finally, I am beginning to break through.

Flowers Blooming in a Cage

Two days ago I sat down and began a mission of healing. For a brief moment I trusted my instincts as I poured my heart out onto the page. Almost as if on autopilot, the words came forth and when I read them at the finish, I believed in what I was setting out to do. But then, doubt. What was I thinking? Writing in a journal, internal dialogue, personal thoughts, fine. But to put them in a public forum where anyone might read them, or maybe no one would. What were people thinking as they read them? Did they scoff at the ideas, the ridiculousness? The simplicity? I don’t belong here, I said. Opening up random blogs from strangers on the site, I devoured their depth and intricacies. I felt that I didn’t measure up. I wanted to end before I even made my second post. Lying awake at night, and all throughout the days I pieced together ideas in my head for the next entry, but it always ended the same way: in fear.

Fear is why I’m here. I’m standing up to myself and up for myself. Too long I have been living in my mind, and I am ready to be free. It has not yet become clear to me what I will achieve with this, and maybe that’s why it’s so important to continue. Fear of the unknown is a huge component of my state to begin with, maybe facing this fear is the first step to healing.

This morning I’m sitting at the dining table with two of my beautiful children as they draw pictures. I scan the scene and feel like the luckiest person on earth at that moment; in front of me is a bouquet of flowers my wife brought home as a surprise last Sunday from the grocery store. It strikes me that they are a few days old and still looking vibrant, some of the blooms have not even yet opened. The sunflowers seem like they might have reached their peak, at about a ¾ bloom, but they are as yellow and beautiful as ever, even with the small amount of dim winter light that the shades have let in, and the same water I originally put into their vase. Over the dining table, we have an industrial type chandelier, lending to the farmhouse/industrial interior; each of the several Edison bulbs are in their own hanging cage. To be cliche for a moment, this scene illuminated a light bulb over my head like an idea in a cartoon. The partially unopened sunflowers were like me, and the cage over the light bulb were like the cage of my mind, a trap that wasn’t quite a trap, because if I just looked down, I would see that the bottom of the cage was open, and I could escape. There is a way out.

Being aware that you have a mind that is not quite healthy, and yet at the same time feeling powerless to overcome and heal, is a very difficult concept to explain. It’s a reason why so many people struggle in silence. It’s a reason that, I dare say, leads to those heartbreaking instances when our friends, “who seemed so happy,” take their own lives leaving us very confused. You live inside your mind cage, looking up, and out, feeling like you are trapped and powerless. Like the partially bloomed flower you tend to yourself the best you can, using the resources available to you; but an artificial light is not going to grow you to your full potential. You will look healthy enough on the outside, colorful and pretty, but if you looked more closely you’d see the missing components. The problem is, you’re in a cage, how will you get what else you need? If only you could find a way out of that cage… and you can, but the feelings of inadequacy, of the weight of the world, of the feeling of being trapped, they consume you to the point where just the simple act of looking down to see that the bottom of the cage is open doesn’t even occur to you. Or, even worse, you have become so accustomed to your cage, that you see the opening, yet you are afraid to leave. You are more comfortable there than stepping outside into the real world only to find that you don’t belong there. Afraid of the unraveling affect that will happen when you are released from your mind prison. The truths you will need to face, the demons that reside there that will come out and beg to be vanquished. Your jailer will tell you anything to keep you in that cage.

I feel like I’m at the point of looking down and discovering that the cage has a way out, and yet, I’m only putting a finger out to feel which way the wind will blow.

*I feel like leaving this post as is will raise a lot of concern from some friends and family. I would like to put it out there that I do understand and appreciate that I have a wonderful life, loving people in my life, and good health. It is this understanding that keeps me looking for a way out of my cage and on the journey to a healed mind.

Beginning at the End -and- Healing Well in the Age of Positive Thinking

A word:

This is not the first time I’ve decided to try and start a blog. Many times I’ve wanted to put myself out there before I even knew what I had to say, and I can tell you that is probably the reason that almost none of those blogs saw the light of day, or lived beyond the first post.

The idea for this new blog started as something else entirely, and has been tumbling around in my head for a little while. As it has developed I have begun to really believe that it could be something important for me to do. Possibly in service to others, but definitely in service to myself. This is a journey of self-discovery. A journey of healing from the beginning to the end. A journey of learning to truly forgive, let go, and move forward. A journey that I hope will inspire others, but if the only person inspired is myself, I will feel the success. I have a tendency to overthink and over analyze what needs to happen and how it should progress, but this is something that came to me organically, so I am just going to go where my mind takes me. And although the beginning may feel heavy, a risky place to start, it feels like the right place. I can’t say where things with this blog will travel, or end up, but where it needs to begin is here, at the end.

And with that intro, I give you my first post:

Healing Well in the Age of Positive Thinking

What you think is what will be. Think positively and you will have good things. Negative thoughts bring a negative life. You are what you believe… sound familiar?

We are deep in the age of social media gurus; and a lot of those people tout the same message, it spreads like wildfire across your timeline. Think positively. Don’t be negative. Now, before you get the wrong idea, let me say that these messages in and of themselves are not inherently bad; there’s absolutely nothing wrong with thinking positively. But the spread of the positive living message has led to the way of thinking that people who do not remain positive at all times, about every situation, are bad, or should not deserve our pity because if they would just be positive, then they would not be in that situation. We tend to turn away from them, when the very negative things they may think or say are the cry for help that should be bringing us closer into them. We tell them to just think positively, everything will work out. But there are times when things don’t work out, and on top of the frustrations of that happening, they begin to feel ashamed that they can’t just think positively about it. Furthermore, there are scars from the past that keep some people from being about to feel positive. Scars that sometimes don’t reveal themselves until something obscure happens. In these times they may begin to feel powerless to “fix” their minds and heal, because the thing that everyone says, “think positively,” is not working for them. The message of positive thinking has its merits, but there are times when that is not the all curing answer. (This is not to even begin to broach the subjects of children born with illness, unborn babies, people getting a cancer diagnoses, etc. That is a whole other branch of this topic, which I may find a loop around to at a later date.)

Bad things happen to people. I guarantee someone you know, and probably think you know well, has a story. A big, hidden story. They have tried to patch themselves up the best they can, they have tried to go with the mantra of thinking positively, everything happens for a reason, and the temporary patch works. Temporarily. Life goes along and more things happen, cracking those patches, and then more patches are layered over again and again until one day, there is no patch that can contain the things that have been covered up, they must be dealt with. Now these eruptions do not always open up and exclaim, “here I am, the trauma you endured 20 years ago that you covered up, I’m here, deal with me!” When they erupt it’s more like in the form of something small hurting us and causing us to feel unrelated emotions. We project what we should have felt then, on the situation in front of us now. And to the naked eye, it’s easy to believe, well if we just think positively or be positive about it, it will be okay. However now we are confronting these negative emotions that we don’t understand where they came from, and the fact that thinking positively is just not working for us. It becomes to much to bear.

I’ll close today by saying that I don’t discount the idea of the power of positive thinking altogether. There are indeed times when positive thinking plays a significant role in an outcome. I am just against the notion that it is the cure all. I plan to spend some time in this forum, opening up about personal traumas that have followed me through to adulthood and the things that have caused me to not be able to heal properly. It is my hope that these open journals will help me to heal and move forward, while also encouraging thought, discussion and possibly healing in others. About this endeavor I will think positively.