Now, I’m super official and you can get all your updates on CathyTerranova.com!
Since this is our first blog post of the New Year, I thought we’d go ahead and dive into the murky water that is people’s New Year’s Resolutions.
If you’re like most people in America (and various other places/cultures, I’m sure), you’ve at least considered making a New Year’s resolution, or you’re currently working towards a goal you set for yourself 4 or so days ago.
And, if again you’re like most of us, those resolutions seem to lose their steam somewhere around mid-January.
So, what then do we do after we’ve, ahem, left our goals behind? Keep paying for a gym membership because we’re too ashamed to go cancel them after a month? Throw out the moldy vegetables we promised ourselves we’d eat? (Yes, throw out all the moldy food in your fridge. Just… always.)
What would we need to do to keep these goals we set to help us become better people? Is there a way to hold on to the practice after the passion dies away?
If nothing else, here’s a few tips you can use to either make good (but sort of late) resolutions, or view and adjust the resolutions you have made:
1. Set reasonable goals.
I don’t know what it is about the first of January, but we all get it into our heads that we can somehow lose 200 pounds, gain an eight-pack overnight, or find some radioactive spider to give us super powers. We aren’t helping ourselves out when we decide we want to fix all of our problems at once.
Maybe, instead of deciding you want to just drop weight, you could decide you’re going to spend more time being active, like going hiking, or riding your bike. Or buying a bike and then riding it.
You don’t have to change all of one problem at once. I promise you’ll get a lot farther if, instead, you decide to start doing things you know counteract said problem.
2. Don’t be vague. Seriously, don’t.
Goals like “be nicer to people” or “make healthier choices” aren’t real goals. They sound more like you read a fortune cookie and decided to take it’s advice.
Make real, attainable goals. Do you think you’re rude to people? Make a list of negative behaviors you’ve noticed yourself doing and decide to tackle those. Are you not making healthy decisions with your life? Sit down and decide one or two healthy practices you could start implementing (bonus points if those decisions could also be catalysts to change other habits in your life).
If you’re making vague resolutions, more than likely it’s because part of you already recognizes what needs to change. All you need to do is sit down and figure out a way to get the rest of you to catch up with this realization and then you can make steps to move forward. Which leads us to:
3. Make practical steps to follow-up on your goal.
Are you trying to lose 20 pounds? Make a running plan for yourself, or use your Google-machine to search for one that works for you. Then look at your diet and see what you need to add or cut out. Get a normal sleep routine.
Now you don’t just have a goal but you have realistic and, more importantly, healthy ways to reach them.
4. Evaluate why you want this.
It doesn’t do any good if you make a resolution for wrong reasons.
If people make fun of you for your body shape, don’t you dare make your resolution to change the way you look because of them. Instead, resolve to find ways to see how beautiful you already are.
It doesn’t matter if you want to change because of public opinion, to impress the opposite sex, or because you think that is what you need to be confident, starting new habits for unhealthy reasons is still unhealthy.
This year, are your resolutions going to make you a happier, healthier person? If the answer truly is no, then re-evaluate.
I know it can be hard to change, and I know it’s even harder when it’s not so close to New Year’s and you don’t have the afterglow of the holidays, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
If nothing else, know that we truly and genuinely support you. Trying to be a better person means you’re making the world a better place, and for that, we will continually cheer you on.
Photo credit: http://img2.timeinc.net/health/images/slides/2011-year-resolution-400×400.jpg
Source URL: http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20452233,00.html
The holidays are my husband’s favorite time of year. He loves decorating, shopping for gifts, wrapping presents, and seeing people’s faces when they open what he’s gotten them. He loves Christmas trees, Advent calendars, Christmas stories, claymation specials; any thing Christmas related- he’s on it. He refers to Christmas movies simply as “Christmases”.
“Do you want to watch a Christmas?” he’ll say and usually make hot cocoa or some kind of seasonal drink.
This year, he has instituted the celebration of the 12 days of Christmas, which lead up to the Sunday of Epiphany (the liturgical celebration of the wise men coming to see Jesus). We will bake a King Cake and hide a baby figure in it, I’m sure.
I am not like him. Holidays make me anxious and feel more depressed than usual. I am learning to relax and enjoy myself, but sometimes I just can’t do it, I can’t- Christmas.
I know that, sadly, more people feel like me every year than feel like Doug. He is a rare and curious creature, and I am continuously confused by his fascination with me.
Regardless, a lot of us feel more and more like the holidays are a giant parade of plastered on smiles and over spending; a long stretch of tireless activity meant to please someone else. But whom?
Whom are we trying so hard to please?
Family? Friends? Co-Workers? Eager Children? Santa Claus?
Who is asking us to show up, to perform, why do we feel pressured and coerced?
I know that my family loves me no matter what day it is. I have loving parents, siblings, friends, and a spouse. But, why do the holidays make me so sad?
I know that personally, they feel like a giant highlighter brushing across years of terrible holidays. The older I get, the more painful the memories become. The more I realize the dark shadows above the times where it was seemingly a matter of life and death to show up, perform, and look happy. The glitter of the holidays did little to cover up the horror of the rest of the year and little to sooth the tensions that sought to rip me apart. The eggshells I walked on got thinner around holiday time. Things were, in fact, worse.
One year, I was raped on Christmas Eve and I honestly expected Santa to save me.
I have to make a conscious effort to focus on the here-and-now. I am making new, better, memories. It is difficult to be glum around Doug any day of the year, but sometimes the joy the season brings to my husband stings. How can something make one person so rosy-cheeked-happy and make another person so dismal?
It isn’t a matter of “pulling myself up by the bootstraps” it’s hard work that isn’t to be taken lightly.
Redefining this time of year is difficult even if you have little ones to distract you and cookies to bake and parties to attend.
I guess where I’m going with this is simple, make time to be sad. You don’t have to be a sugar plum until the second of January.
You have permission to grieve loss or suffering, no matter the season. You don’t have to put on a show for anyone.
But also, make time to be distracted, to lose yourself in the season, to make new memories, no matter how difficult it was to get out the door- or even out of bed.
The holidays don’t have to be awful forever. But it’s okay if they’re awful for a while.
If anything, at midnight on New Year’s Eve, toast to your survival.
Congratulations, you made it out alive enough.
Tree photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/madcitycat/3123664163/”>cathyse97</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>
Champagne photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/ackdoh/8586226215/”>ackdoh</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>
I used to believe that grief could be measured. That the amount of sorrow you should feel about something was some how dispensed to you and that you got less the further away you were from the epicenter of tragedy.
The flaw in that system is that grief is not a controllable entity. You’re as sad as you are and that’s that. Just because you weren’t as close to a bomb going off as someone else doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to the hospital for the bit of shrapnel in your heart. Sure, others are missing most of their face and appendages, but you’ve still got something that needs tending.
I used to believe a lot that was wrong.
I used to think I wasn’t worth very much, that no one noticed me, and that if you were in the “in-crowd” I was a mild annoyance if anything. The wild card for the school plays and musicals, the one who was only noticed at auditions because she may get the part you wanted. Because, sometimes, I did.
I met Jean Smith my freshman year of high school at Hylton. I also met Jim Smith that year. I made acquaintance with rest of the Smith family over the course of the next four years and proceeded to be absolutely blind to how much I was noticed. I still couldn’t tell you because, now, it’s too late to ask.
In December of 2008, Jean and Jim were killed in a home invasion. I don’t know most of the details and I don’t want to type the ones I do know.
I was 18. Being 18 made me both stupid and selfish. Being myself made me already dangerously close to falling apart. How I approached this tragedy was no different than usual.
I convinced myself I had no right to be sad. I told myself that the countless hours I had clocked with Jean from her being so involved in choir and theater were just that – hours of contact and nothing more. I told myself that Jim would never have considered me a friend. I made fuzzy the memories that we had created from even more hours spent together rehearsing and performing.
I made everything about me and my lack of “right” to feel what I was feeling. So while my lungs felt on the verge of collapse from lack of air and my throat in a giant knot, fighting back tears, I swallowed the truth: I had every right to be sad, to be devastated, because I was, I am.
The only permission I need to feel is the presence of the feelings.
Today, I’ve been crying about it again. Because I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t go to the funeral. I’m sorry I didn’t go to the wake. I told myself I didn’t belong there, that I didn’t deserve to go. I was so wrong.
Jim was my friend. Who cares what that looked like?
Jean loved me. At a time when I couldn’t love myself and I couldn’t see the love that anyone offered. She loved me.
I learned later on, that she got quite grumpy with the choir boosters when it became clear that if I was to go on the trip I would need a scholarship. Things were cited, like my lack of participation in most of the fundraisers. She didn’t think that was important, given that I spent more hours doing things for the choir and the theater departments than most kids ever did. She fought for me to go on that trip, because she wanted me there. Me, specifically.
She and I spent a good while convincing the choir director that the spring choir concert should involve whatever it needed to to ensure that the whole of concert choir was to sing “Bohemian Rhapsody”. I even sang Billy Joel in a Cracker Barrel with Mr. Tutwiler to make our point.
Eventually, we won and my senior year, 2008, it happened.
Jim and I spent most of our time after we went to Governor’s School together whispering the filthiest thing we could think of into the others ear to see who would laugh first.
After they died was when I noticed that Jean was always paying close attention to what I posted on Facebook. It stuck out to me that she would comment on notes that I wrote (notes were the thing at the time) saying encouraging things.
I imagine that now, whether she told me she did or not, Jean would read this blog.
I also imagine now, that Jim would be pleased to hear all the new filthy phrases and words that slang has birthed since he’s been gone and I would tell him each and every one.
To close, here is a bit of the love to which I was so very oblivious. Jean left this comment on something I’d written about feeling as if GOD was calling me to wait on a relationship we both turned out to be right.
Jean C Smith:
1. You are a quality girl of inestimable intelligence both emotionally and intellectually. When you fall it will be hard, and for someone your equal in these ways.
2. Ben is right. Wooing should lead to dating should lead to courtship should lead to commitment. You can get off the train at any way stop if it is not right until you reach sacramentville. (notice I did not include any “bedroom communities” in this itinerary.)
3. Call it God, call it your gut, call it a logical rebellion to mixed media messages. Trust it. But know that intimacy is really what you are craving, and physical intimacy is the most fleeting of these. Relationships that are based on trust, respect and love become intimate….this is the correct model, whether in friendships or marriages or mentorships. TRL …..you are already good at building those kinds of relationships, so see where it takes you if you feel like you can trust it.
4. To quote the cinematic classic, “My Cousin Vinny” Your biological clock may have begun ticking. hormonesare nature telling you to start paying attention. So, enjoy paying attention, just don’t act on it until everything is right. Just find the right things to pay attention to.
5. Ummm…also, upon reviewing my pics from the fall play, your hair is adorable, and the color is lush. If I didn’t love you sky big, I might hate you…..okay. Carry on.
Carrying on isn’t so easy, Jean. But I’m trying.
Jim, there’s this great trend where people twerk on everything.
A couple years ago I read this great article in Christianity Today about how after quite a few surveys they discovered something about Christians.
Despite popularly held belief, people outside the faith typically liked Christians. They thought that they were usually nice, trustworthy, likable humans. Reading this article, I felt a weight lift.
“Wait, people don’t hate me?”
The Church has spent a lot of time getting persecuted. But for as many people who hate Christians there are people hating other people and things.
Growing up in The Church I felt much like the article said I would, like if I so much as said Jesus’ Name too loudly in school I would be left friendless and with a permanent stigma of being *gasp* uncool. The article assured me that my fears were unfounded.
But growing up in the real sense; graduating high school, working, living on my own, and making friends with people who aren’t Christian- I learned a freeing truth.
Non-Christians don’t see Christians like the Pulpit thinks they do.
In fact, most everything I was told would affect my “witness” or my “testimony” didn’t.
I’ve been judged more harshly in the name of being a good example to non-Christians by The Church than anyone outside of it has ever judged me or my faith.
I remember a conversation I have kept going back to over and over again:
I’d just gotten back from probably the worst women’s retreat I’ll ever experience. It was even book-ended by conversations about my “witness” that were exhausting.
The next week I poured all of my frustrations out onto the desk of one of my co-workers. I told her that I had been told I needed to stop being friends with the man who was to be the Man-of-Honor at my wedding (and still would be if I was getting married tomorrow). I was told that I needed to understand how the amount of time I spent alone with men while at work would be perceived. Mind you, I was working for the Park Service in a division where I was the only girl. I was advised to look for other work, other friends, and to do all of this to “protect my marriage”.
Beside myself, I was near to tears in my friend’s office. I felt like an absolute failure. How could I be so wrong? How could I feel like these things weren’t right when I was being told otherwise?
Yes, I had slept on the floor of my fiance’s apartment sometimes when I stayed late, but usually, so were seven other people.
What must people be thinking of me?
After my word vomit covered the entirety of the last half hour, she looked at me and said words that can never be retracted:
“When I look at you, that’s not what I see.”
There it was. Words from a non-Christian, telling me that they didn’t think anything of the kind about me; telling me that other of my actions were the focus of their opinions; telling me that when it came to The Church’s thought about what she “should” be thinking- they couldn’t be further from the truth.
I wish I could say that that’s all it took to really set me free from the lie that because I cuss and drink and talk about sex that I’m the worst example of a Christ-Follower ever- but that is a work-in-progress.
Here is my nugget of hard earned wisdom.
Unless you talk to people about Christ, you aren’t going to know what they think of the fact that you’re a Christian.
We can’t spend our lives being slaves to managing people’s perception. There are those who think I am a giant sack of self-righteous crap. Sometimes, they’re right.
I can’t control what other people think. I can’t crawl into their brains and give them all the reasons I do A. B. or C. I can’t speak for anyone’s marriage, but mine is okay even though my best friend is male. Most of my husband’s best friends are women and that’s okay.
I trust my husband to be alone with other women, he trusts me to be alone with men, and if that bothers you, I can’t make it stop bothering you.
When we live enslaved to what people could be thinking about us it creates a divide that doesn’t actually exist. There is no “us” and “them” in the world.
Yes, there are people who aren’t Christians. Yes, there are people that are.
But we’re still people.
Stop projecting thoughts or feelings onto a faceless crowd that doesn’t exist.
Non-Christians probably don’t hate you for being Christian. If they do, you can’t change that by trying to be something that you’re not to appease a set of morals that you think they think you should have. Even just typing that hurt my brain.
If you really want to know what someone thinks of your faith, why don’t you ask them? Why not invite a conversation?
Peter says to, “have a ready answer for the hope that you have”.
Stop just saying you’re #blessed.
That light was green because it was set to a sensor, btw, #incorrectuseofblessedallovertheplace.
Why not, instead of bashing your friend for getting drunk because it could “affect their witness”, ask them why it’s becoming a pattern, if there are things bothering them, ask them normal person questions.
Doug and I spent several months drinking and getting drunk regularly because we weren’t happy with things going on in our lives. I wish now, that someone would have heard our cries for help instead of just judging us.
I am not a fan of getting drunk. When I do, it’s usually because something is wrong. I’m not a fan of sleeping all day either. Both are symptoms of the fact that I’ve needed help.
Ironically, it’s always been my friends outside the Church who have seen past my trouble-making to the trouble-managing that was really going on.
At the end of a human-day, we really are all just people. No one can claim to know what anyone is thinking. Creating fake divisions based on a skewed perception of what the secular world is “thinking” is the first misstep to sharing the reality of what a walk with GOD actually is.
If you want to share your faith, share it, live it, and admit when you’ve screwed up. People value transparency and honesty. GOD wants a relationship with you. HE already knows how messy and broken you are, you can’t fool Him, so why try to fool anyone else?
*This Christmas, give a foster kid a duffel bag! Stop by Rethink Trauma on Facebook and order a tee shirt*
photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/jjay69/4776302029/”>jjay69</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>
People ask me all the time, “How can I help?” and I’ve started being honest.
If you want to help writers that you like, sharing our posts, tweeting our posts, talking about our blogs and books, purchasing our books, leaving reviews, commenting on blog posts, following us on social media; all of these help us in ways that you can’t imagine.
They amplify our voices in a manner that goes beyond what we can do alone. So if you like what we’re saying, share it.
As for Rethink Trauma, a lot of the same applies. We’re trying to get the word out that mental illness doesn’t have to be scary. It doesn’t have to have a stigma. Trauma-related disorders are real things and they come from lots of different types of trauma. Mental illness isn’t just for the homeless or the eccentric or for that one weird cousin. It affects everyone.
The point of Rethink Trauma is to start a conversation, and that only works if people start talking to each other. This stuff doesn’t have to be weird. I’ve already told you my sleeping, eating, and bathing habits so if it is weird, how much weirder could it get?
We need to stop “liking” and start doing.
We need to step up for each other. What do you care about?
Animals? Civil Rights? Orphans? Widows? Modern Day Slavery? Domestic Abuse? Drug Addiction? Homelessness? The Hungry? Those in Prison? Illiteracy? Education? Small Business? The Environment? Eating Disorders? Alcoholism? Blood Diamonds? Fair Wages? Migrant Workers? Disaster Relief? Clean Water?
It starts with one question:
What in the world, do I care about?
And it takes flight with the question that changes everything:
What can I do to help?
What can I do to help?
What can I do to help?
What can I do to help?
Share. Share yourself. Share knowledge. Share your time. Share your resources. See the end game and run towards it.
Those who are fighting against slavery aren’t imagining a world with less people enslaved. They are imagining a world where no one is in slavery.
People digging wells are imagining a world where everyone has access to clean water.
Those working with endangered animals are imagining a world where those animals can thrive in the wild and not have to be preserved in zoos and refuges.
I do this because I want a world where mental illness doesn’t have a stigma, people don’t use words like crazy, and there is hope and healing readily available to every person who needs it.
What do I do to help?
I write, I talk about uncomfortable things, I seek out resources to help others who are struggling, and I do the work in my own healing so I can say that there is hope on the other side.
Some mental illness can be cured. Mine, will most likely just be managed. But that’s not my end game. I want a world where there is a cure, where there is wholeness, where there is abundant life.
I know that for me, I find that in the knowledge and Truth of Christ. Because in Him, nothing is beyond repair. The Cross says that nothing is irredeemable; nothing is so far gone or broken that it cannot be saved.
I want you to ask yourself what you care about.
Then I want you to ask:
“What can I do to help?”
*If you are interested in helping foster kids, stop by Rethink Trauma on Facebook and place an order for a tee shirt. Each shirt will provide a duffel bag for a kid in the system who deserves something better than a trash bag to carry his or her life in. HINT: It’s all of them.*
Kitten photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/jfa/22124068/”>John Ashburne</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>
This post isn’t my first about problems that I’ve seen in The Church. It probably won’t be my last. But what I have learned in the last year is that abandonment can come from the strangest places. Even your church small group.
But wait? Isn’t it supposed to be a collection of friends? If not bound by real camaraderie than because of a shared belief in Christ and the benefits of sacrificing time to come together each week for the purpose of the GOD commanded directive to fellowship with other Christians? Is it?
One by one I have heard so many stories of difficulties arising in church-goers lives. Genuine hardships that can cause any human to do what is easiest when things are at their worst: retreat. What they leave in their wake is not what you’d think.
I try until it hurts to be transparent. Do you think I wanted to tell the group of girls that I was leading that I had lied to them by omitting the fact that I had been in a destructive relationship for the last 7 months? Nope. But I did. Because it affected them because I was their teacher and spiritual adviser. I wanted to be someone to look up to and to maintain that I needed to be honest. I needed to come clean. Were they pleased with my actions? No.
But guess what? They were pleased with my honesty. They were edified by my trust in them to make the decision about my character themselves. They were relieved that I too, make mistakes.
When I did what I did it had negative and positive consequences. Some of the youth didn’t trust me anymore and they didn’t have to, I didn’t deserve it. But some of them felt comfortable enough in light of my failure to tell me the real ways that they were struggling.
That is fellowship.
GOD calls us to be a supportive familial network; loving each other as brothers and sisters. The other day, loving my brother meant that when I got a text from my mom saying, “Ben wants you to text him” my response was sending him a message asking,
“Dude, why are you being so lazy?”
Our mom isn’t a carrier pigeon. Send your own messages.
Call it tough love, whatever, but love is tough.
In John 13:35 Jesus says:
” By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
When I teach that I like to say that the Love that Jesus was talking about isn’t just warm and fuzzy. It is also inconvenient and uncomfortable.
Does your small group show inconvenient and uncomfortable love to one another? Or after a quick group “cover all” prayer do you plan next week’s meal?
It starts with authenticity.
If I’m spilling my guts to you and you can’t do it back I will stop coming to you. Why? Because that’s not a relationship. That is you, checking off boxes in your do-gooder workbook.
Are you not telling people in your small group because you want to save them? They want to know. They want to help.
Are you not telling them because you don’t want to be a burden? Well then how dare you let them be a burden to you. Because if that’s what sharing difficulties is to you, burdensome, then I’m not going to burden you anymore.
You have, even unwittingly, by trying to save your pride or not be a burden, or just not tell me for whatever reason, alienated me. You have said with your actions: This does not go both ways.
It’s like I asked you to be a bridesmaid in my wedding and you asked me to serve punch at yours. Because emotionally, that’s how it feels. If you don’t think your small group is trustworthy enough to share the real things that are happening in your life, you need to ask yourself some questions.
Is it the people? Is it the atmosphere? Is it me?
I get it, if you don’t trust them.
But if you do? If you expect them to call you for help and you won’t call out when you need it you aren’t being honest.
If I ask how you are and you say, “fine”, when things aren’t fine, you are lying.
Superficial things don’t last.
We need to be calling each other out on our crap. We need to be comfortable crying with one another, praying with one another, following up with each other, being open and available to each other.
That is fellowship.
Pre-occupation with perception is enough to ruin any ministry or relationship. Stop thinking you have to show church your, “best side”.
In the words of a quote frequently attributed to Marilyn Monroe,
“If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.”
Jesus didn’t die for your best. He died for your worst and when you act like you don’t have a worst you deny your need for a Savior. You essentially deny Christ’s whole purpose in restoring you to fellowship with GOD the Father.
Why are we all agreeing we need a Savior then acting like we don’t?
I don’t want to waste my time fostering a belief that participation in a shallow, weekly, dinner party is enough to constitute fellowship. We’re supposed to be meeting each others needs, even if we happen to be the needy ones at the moment.
Small group is a place in the church where we should feel comfortable to bring our problems, but we should also know that if we can’t meet our friends where they are, they will come to us.
Don’t let people get away with their crap. Call them on it. Tell them you don’t think that they’re just OK. Let your host family take a break and meet somewhere else. Small groups shouldn’t need leaders. We should be motivated enough to make it work to spend time together.
Don’t miss this opportunity to love inconveniently. How else will anyone know that you can love them powerfully?
And stop being selfish. Stop thinking that you’re a burden. You aren’t. If someone calls you that, they aren’t a friend.
Just let someone carry you. If not for your benefit, than to help them learn that they are strong enough to give out love too.
This week, when your small group meets, ask yourself why you’re there. Are you surrounded by friends? Would everything collapse if your “leadership” fell on hard times? Are you willing to open your home, your heart, your wallet for these people?
If the answer is no, then why not?
*P.S. Friends don’t clean before real friends come over.*
*P.P.S. Stop by facebook.com/RethinkTrauma and get a tee shirt to help foster kids get duffle bags. *
photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/youngrocky/5484821982/”>youngrocky</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>
My relationship with GOD is always the first thing to suffer when things get difficult for me in the mental health department. I forget how to pray. I forget how important it is to pray. I fight the feelings of shame and failure when things aren’t miraculously “better” just because I’m checking all the right boxes off in my How-to-Be-A-Good-Christian Workbook.
I lose sight of purpose and meaning. I withdraw. I feel alone.
In Jenny Cutler-Lopez’s book, Who I Am: American Scar Stories, I look at the amazing feats of people around me overcoming physical illness- cancer, accidents, surgeries; all with a sense of dignity- it seems – intact.
I have to choke back a shameful amount of jealousy sometimes. Mental health has a stigma. Serious mental health is almost an outright joke. People wrongfully compare my C-PTSD and DiD to depression, anxiety, bipolar, even schizophrenia, when the truth is:
It’s nothing like any of those.
It’s not even in the same family as some of those disorders. But people like me have to listen and nod politely to people who are explaining that they “understand” because they had a cousin who was a drug addict or how they were depressed after a major trauma or, or, or, or. The thing about mental illness, is that it deals with people’s brains and even if we did have the same disorder it can manifest very differently. If I was schizophrenic, unless you are telling me that you, specifically, also have been diagnosed with schizophrenia – I’m not going to pay much attention to your stories about people that you knew. No one with a mental illness takes much pride in being the object of your pity, let alone having to listen to how someone else is “crazier” than we “seem to be”.
C-PTSD has an extra letter because it has extra symptoms.
Dissociative Identity Disorder affects less than 1% of the population, meaning in every survey we are less than the margin of error.
So where am I going with this?
Proverbs 31:8 says,
“Open your mouth for the mute
for the rights of all the unfortunate.”
The most amazing feat I’ve ever experienced?
Someone telling me something I didn’t know.
We wander around with all this information in our heads and in our pockets (thanks smart phones). We Americans live in a culture that idolizes being right, being in the know. We have to know everything about politics, medicine, celebrities’ professional and private lives, sports, pop culture, and everything about every one we’ve ever halfway met (thanks Facebook).
People are always trying to tell me about my dog, my hair, my business, my health care, my relationship with GOD; things that I should be the expert on.
I’ve been trying so hard to swallow my jealousy and think that the things other people are doing are meant for them and that GOD has something special for me waiting just around the corner– but this is that corner.
This little blog with just a little over 100 followers, this is where I get to open my mouth for the mute. This is where I get to tell you something you don’t know, which is what it’s like to live like this.
Am I an academic authority on PTSD? No.
Am I an academic authority on DiD? No.
But do I live with these things? Do I know what it’s like to not recognize yourself in the mirror, to respond to another name, to have violent flashbacks, to wake from night terrors punching your husband? Yes. Yes, I do.
The book of Proverbs is meant to be a book of wisdom; a go-to text when you’re unsure about your actions. Inside, GOD has tucked away a command. One that is echoed in Jesus’ ministry.
There are so many organizations that seek to be a voice for the voiceless.
International Justice Mission secures rights and justice for the unfortunate and oppressed every day!
Rett Syndrome Research Trust works to find a cure for Rett, a disorder that leaves girls without the ability to speak as well as a host of other motor issues.
Shining Scars is a non-profit that hopes to help kids learn about scars and live with the ones that they have, not just why they have them.
Then lastly, there’s me, Rethink Trauma is about just that. There are so many issues that find their roots in trauma. But we always seem to want to talk about the issues and manage the symptoms instead of treat the cause. Trauma isn’t always what you think it is either.
I want to help people find their voice and understand that they aren’t alone. In a country of millions of people where those of us with DiD would take up a large conference room before a stadium somewhere, something like this blog can bring us together. The conversation about trauma can be healing. We’re not alone. You aren’t alone.
You or someone you love may not have found their voice yet, but know, I’ll be talking until they can. Even when it feels like I’m screaming into the wind or entertaining an empty auditorium, I’ll be writing and talking.
Lord knows, I’m good at opening my big mouth enough for a few extra people.
PTSD is a triggered disorder. Meaning that; seeing, hearing, or over all experiencing things even loosely related to the trauma can cause anything from a panic attack to a full-blown flashback to sometimes, nothing.
Being triggered can look a variety of ways. It can set off a chain of obsessive compulsive behavior like picking at my skin, biting my nails, pulling my hair, scratching, or rocking back and forth. Sometimes the compulsive desire to cut is too much and I succumb to it.
I can dissociate and find it hard to track with conversation or even hear things directed at me.
Sometimes, I lose track of the passage of time and what feels like five minutes to me is in reality, a half an hour.
Panic attacks usually end in my ability to be present fully disassembling and my mind being unresponsive. Flashbacks open up a whole different can of worms for someone like me whose mind is fractured by Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Being triggered can end with me being lost inside myself until it feels safe enough to come out again.
Even seeing a picture of something I wasn’t expecting can send me into a dizzying spiral. It really is aptly named. Triggers go off as fast as a gunshot and provide pretty harmful results.
I’m not going to make a list of triggers because that could knock me out for the night, but I will tell you, it’s important that if you have PTSD to tell trustworthy people around you what your triggers are. One at a time so as not to overwhelm yourself.
I have a long list of triggers. So it’s paramount that Doug see movies before I do or to review books with others before I read them. (The Hunger Games series left me bleeding in my closet for hours and confused for days afterward.)
I have to carefully monitor what time of day I watch certain movies or read certain books, what kinds of conversation I have, and what situations I put myself in.
I can go to the zoo, just not to the aquarium.
I can see kids movies without serious vetting, but not anything else.
There is an aspect that comes out when I watch Sherlock, so I have to be careful that she feels safe and that it isn’t too late or too close to taking my medication when I decide to watch an episode.
Often, it is easy enough for me to recognize that I need to change the subject and I can say, “I need to not talk about this anymore”. If the person doesn’t understand, it usually isn’t a big deal.
But there are those of us who haven’t had the practice I have of knowing when to stop short of our triggers. There are people who don’t explain to their friends that they can’t watch that movie, talk about that scary urban legend, listen to the news, or keep their eyes open on the haunted trail. Some of us with PTSD aren’t even at the point where we know that we can tell you.
If you know someone that has PTSD, be sensitive. If they need to walk out, let them. If they need to change the subject, let them. If you know your friend has been raped, maybe don’t tell that joke. It isn’t funny anyway. Even if you don’t know any of that, just ease off.
Triggers are hard to understand. Sometimes they are connected to repressed memories and don’t make any sense at all.
Essentially we’re just trying as best we can to navigate a mine field.
Be gentle when we set one off.
Yes, we’re trying really hard to not get triggered, no we don’t need to “face it” unless we’re in a therapists office.
This isn’t a movie. This is real life. Please, just be patient with us.
photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/stewf/2553975875/”>Stewf</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>
When I was little, I would lay in my bed and brush my hair all to one side. Like someone would if they ran their hands through my hair.
When things were scary, I would hide under my bed or in my closet. If that was an option.
When I wet the bed, I got up, stripped the sheets, laid a towel over the wet spot, and put on fresh sheets.
I would journal. I listened to tapes of friendly voices telling me stories, like they were in the room.
I would take teddy and a bunch of my clothes and hide in the treehouse, pretending that I had run away and Teddy and I were on our own.
I had a way to help myself not feel so alone or hurt.
When you start a pattern of self reliance in your life, it can become a singular track. Your feet keep following the same steps of doing everything on your own. You believe a lie that says you have to, that no one is going to help you, that you are in fact, alone.
And like a lonely train you trudge on.
It doesn’t occur to ask for help after a while.
Let me connect these dots for you.
When your loved one was young and impressionable, they learned that no one was coming to the rescue. There was no magic carpet to ride away on, no fairy godmother, no loving parent to run to; everything, including love, had to come from themselves.
If you are crying and no one dries your tears, you do it yourself.
This can be one of the most difficult and isolating habits to break.
A friend of mine asked me for advice a few months ago, she said, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to ask for, as far as support, then I get upset when my boyfriend doesn’t do what I didn’t tell him to because I still need help.”
My biological mother said she used to count my underwear when she did laundry because she knew I wouldn’t ask for more if mine had worn out.
I was getting coffee grounds from a chain coffee place that my husband passed twice a day, seven days a week, 60 times a month. If I had thought to ask, I could have finished my garden in just a couple weeks. But here’s the thing: It never occurred to me that I was allowed to ask Doug to go out of his way, even a block, for something that only I wanted. I wanted it, so I should be the one to get it.
But that isn’t how relationships work.
People who are stuck in survival mode can seem selfish and aloof. We have to do everything ourselves. If something is stressing us out, we need to control it or fix it. If it isn’t bothering you, but it is bothering me, I’ll be the one to change it.
We don’t know what we need from you, because we’ve never asked ourselves that question.
So, how do you support someone whose brain skips over the part of life where you ask for help before you need it or while you need it?
I can’t give you a simple answer, but I will tell you what I told my friend:
“It helps me when Doug does little things. Like brings me a drink or does the dishes or something.
Or hides notes.
Then it’s like preemptive support.”
Helping your partner be reminded that you love them and care for them is one of the best ways to help un-condition his or her mind to the lie that they are alone and need to do everything themselves.
Doing small things, like dishes or cleaning or making appointments for them is a practical reminder that you are there to help all the time and not just when they are feeling helpless enough to call out for you.
GOD bless those of you who choose to care for us. We know it isn’t easy.
photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/92276054@N04/9603567274/”>BrunoBindas</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>