When is it appropriate to share personal stories with others? Sharing my story publicly was actually a lot less daunting than worrying about how you'd feel about me being willing to share my story so publicly. For reals, people! I've been scared of what you'd think because I'm willing to share so much, not because of what I'm sharing! Ironic, huh?
When is it appropriate to share with others? Have you ever been afraid you've overshared? Brene Brown, whose own struggles with vulnerability and self-disclosure have been a huge inspiration to me, believes "we should all ask ourselves this before we share: 'Who has earned the right to hear my story?' If we have one or two people in our lives who can sit with us and hold space for our shame stories, and love us for our strengths and struggles, we are incredibly lucky. If we have a friend, a small group of friends, or family who embraces our imperfections, vulnerabilities, and power, and fills us with a sense of belonging, we are incredibly lucky."
Sharing with others who can receive your story with compassion is truly a healing experience. Sharing with the wrong person can tear you down and make you feel worse. This lesson has taken me like 35 years to learn. Better late than never! On the bright side, I am incredibly fortunate to finally recognize sharing my feelings with the wrong person ends very poorly (well...more like catastrophic, temper flailing, all out depression spiral, but poorly sounds much better. Ugh!!).
Brown lists 6 types of friends you should use caution with when sharing personal information. I'm guilty of sharing my feelings with those I've shouldn't. Have you experienced any of these types of friends (or even been one yourself?):
1. The 'It's All About Me' Friend
“The friend who hears the story and actually feels shame for you. She gasps and confirms how horrified you should be. Then there is awkward silence. Then you have to make her feel better.”
This friend always turns the conversation around to her problems. Suddenly you're consoling her because her issues are way more important than yours.
2. The Friend with No Empathy
“The friend who responds with sympathy (“I feel so sorry for you”) rather than empathy (“I get it, I feel with you, and I’ve been there”). This friend doesn't even try to understand you. She pretends but could care less about what you're feeling.
3. The Friend who Lives Vicariously Through You
"The friend who needs you to be the pillar of worthiness and authenticity. She can’t help you because she’s too disappointed in your imperfections. You’ve let her down.” She will remind you of your wrongdoings and disprove of your behavior.
4. The Friend who Loves to Place Blame
“The friend who is so uncomfortable with vulnerability that she scolds you: ‘How did you let this happen? What were you thinking?’ Or she looks for someone to blame: ‘Who was that guy? We’ll kick his ass.'” She shames you for your feelings.
5. The Friend who Avoids or Denies
“The friend who is all about making it better and, out of her own discomfort, refuses to acknowledge that you can actually be crazy and make terrible choices: ‘You’re exaggerating. It wasn’t that bad. You rock. You’re perfect. Everyone loves you.'” Good friends are honest with you. They don't sugar-coat imperfections.
6. The Friend who Competes
“The friend who confuses connection with the opportunity to one-up you: ‘That’s nothing. Listen to what happened to me one time!'”
I'm positive I've been all 6 of these types of friends at one time of another. I failed you. I'm sorry. Likewise, if I've asked you to do more for me than you are capable of doing, perhaps I am guilty for not respecting your boundaries or accepting the relationship for what it was.
For those of you I can really share myself with, who see my imperfections and love me just the same: I am so grateful for you!! Love you E, N, M, C, H, and S!
Have you ever shared with the wrong person? Do you know who to go to when you need support?
Thank you for reading!
I am not a self-help person. I never have time to read and I have never listened to a podcast. Audiobooks are an enigma. I've never owned a book on cd. Not going to happen. So when N. dropped a cd in my mailbox last spring it sat in a drawer for a year. I was going through tough times and she texted me out of the blue that she had left it for me. Super sweet and thoughtful, right? I forgot about it until just a few weeks ago when I stumbled upon it again. I'd heard one too many Ariana Grande songs on the radio (I mean, she's great and all but how many songs can be popular at once?) so I thought I'd give it a try on my way to work. Everyone seems to be listening to podcasts these days. I need to get with the program. A book on cd seemed like a good place to start. I'd stop listening if it sucked.
It didn't suck. I can't believe I hadn't listened to it sooner.
Dr. Brene Brown's "Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead" was like a breath of fresh air! It was like Brene had read my mind. I'd been feeling so vulnerable about sharing my life with you and suddenly I had someone teaching me about the power of vulnerability. I can't recommend the book enough. Get it, download it, read it or listen to it!! (Yes, its six years old and I'm way behind in the times, but whatever!) It challenges so many beliefs we have about vulnerability, shame, and fear. Brene writes that the "uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure" of vulnerability "is the birthplace of love, belonging, courage, empathy, and creativity." YES! I was hooked. You can't avoid vulnerability. Ignoring it or trying to hide from it robs you of being present and living wholeheartedly. When you embrace it, you come out stronger, braver, happier and more connected to others. Hell yeah!
This part really hit home for me. Brene explains, "when something good happens, our immediate thought is that we'd better not let ourselves truly feel it, because if we really love something we could lose it. So we shut down our ability to completely enjoy so that we can also shut down our capacity for feeling loss." She calls this process foreboding joy.
I do it. All. The. Time. I forebode joy like its my job.
For example, on Monday night I was feeling pure bliss laying with our beloved Goldendoodle, Fozzie, because he's undoubtedly the best dog ever. No really, he is! His velvety fur and warm hugs are heaven. It's my happy place. And then it happened. Just like all the other times I've had this moment with Fozzie. I started envisioning the day he will die. I imagined telling my girls he was gone. I imagined burying him with his red frisbee in the backyard. I imagined holding him in my arms as we made the decision to put him down. I worried about how it would affect his little doodle brother, Samson. My moment of joy turned into panic and sadness! Why? Because my love with that furry guy is so deep it scared me! I felt extremely vulnerable feeling that much love for Fozzie! It's pure uncomplicated love. The best kind! I never want to lose it. I was foreboding joy.
How many times have you done this to yourself? How many times have you ruined a moment of joy by imagining all that could go wrong? Whose with me here? Let's imagine all the things that can go wrong during blissful moments to protect ourselves. From what exactly? Why can't we just feel happy and leave it at that?
Because feeling great makes us feel vulnerable! We rob ourselves from feeling the happiness and joy of our lives because we fear losing it. Yet, we ARE THE ONES MAKING IT GO AWAY by imagining the worse possible scenarios! Dress rehearsing tragedy does not prepare us. It makes us scared and miserable. Leaning into joy, as Brene calls it, is the most difficult and challenging of all human emotions. Joy is terrifying!! (I'd never looked at that way. Mind blown!)
One trick Brene's book teaches is shifting vulnerability to gratitude. I had my doubts because I thought this worst-case-scenario way of thinking was ingrained in my brain. But what did I have to lose? I gave it a shot. When I felt my mind going to a dark place, when I felt myself dress rehearsing tragedy and feeling vulnerable, I shifted my focus to gratitude. Gratitude is the antidote for foreboding joy. I'm so thankful to have such a fun-loving amazing dog that makes me so happy.
He is fabulous, isn't he? Life is so much better with Fozzie!
Refocus and embrace the moment. Be present. Feel the joy by feeling gratitude in moments of vulnerability. Feel the vulnerability, feel the joy! Who knew? Oh, and the silver lining to doing this? It strengthens our resilience. It gives us the courage and strength to deal with tougher times. It makes us stronger!!
Practicing gratitude takes some practice and you may feel like you're faking at first, but actively practicing gratitude will change your life. I wish I'd learned this sooner!
Here are a few examples of how I've practiced this new strategy in my life. I caught myself three times foreboding joy today and redirected myself to gratitude.
So there you have it. My tip for the week is from the fabulous Dr. Brene Brown. Stop letting vulnerability steal your thunder! Practice gratitude. Feel happier. It's pure magic.
If you actively practice gratitude or have another tip to share, leave me a comment below or send me a message! I love hearing from you!
"Why do you care what he thinks," my husband asked? Ugh, not again. I don't want to have this argument. I felt defensive and foolish for letting myself care. When I feel this way I act poorly. Why do I care? I'm not supposed to care about what others think. I'm 41-years-old! It's the unwritten rule of adulthood. My life would be so much easier if I didn't care what others think! He's got a point. However, he thinks I have a choice in the matter, and this irks me so darn much! I'm not capable of not caring. Duh. Have you met me, dear husband? I care. It's who I am. Hello!?!
It's hard to be mad at him though. He doesn't like to see me hurting so he offers this simple solution to help me. I know that. But it doesn't stop me from getting annoyed! If it were that easy to stop caring, wouldn't I be doing that already? How many of you can relate to this? How many of you are so sick of feeling judged for caring?
Is it possible to not care what anyone thinks? Can not caring be learned? Why does it seem so easy for some while others are paralyzed by criticism? Why do we care what others think? I was determined to see if learning not to care was possible.
I want this to be the part where I tell you it was so easy for me to figure this out and change my thinking for the better, but that's not the case. I really didn't know how I felt or why I felt that way. Most of the time I felt numb, scared and angry and had no idea why. I also had no clue where to start. I wanted to feel at peace and knew I needed to figure this out, but it wasn't easy. And, let me be perfectly clear, I couldn't do it alone! I found a great counselor. Months have passed with lots of tears and talking and loads of reading and learning. I've learned a ton.
I'd like to share with you my revelations because I don't think my coping style is rare. Many people take my very same approach. If I'm right, you're walking around feeling anxious and angry and have no idea why. I can't let you do that anymore. You do not have to live this way!
I do care what others think but I had managed to convince myself otherwise. I don't care what anyone thinks! You're sooo stupid for caring! You'll show them! Don't CARE! They can't hurt you!! These phrases lived inside my head for decades. I thought I was so smart. I pretended not to care until I believed it myself. Here was a typical day in my life: feel hurt, convince myself to push the hurt away, feel confused, hide my pain, take the I-don't-care-you-can't-hurt-me approach, become angry, repeat. I was so good at this cycle that I trained myself to not even recognize the hurt! I'd push it away completely and feel confused and angry. All the damn time. Every new situation dug a deeper hole in my heart and turned me into an angry jerk. A series of small let downs and sadness piled into a mountain of depression that I had no chance of escaping.
For example, when I was in 9th grade and moved to a new school, many girls gave me dirty looks and called me names like "slut" and "bitch" purely because I was the new girl, attractive, and they felt threatened. It hurt, but instead of crying in the corner and being sad, I thought the appropriate response was to show them how little I cared. I'd push the hurt aside and fling my hair back thinking "I'll show you!" They made me feel anxious and confused, but I thought letting them get to me was the worst thing I could do. Well-intentioned adults would tell me "they're just jealous!" and "ignore them!" No tolerance bullying policies were not established in the early 90's and relational girl type bullying was hardly a thing. Being attractive and new was my cross to bear. Just deal with it.
I don't care what you think. I don't care at all.
This you-can't-hurt-me approach? Well...eh...you can see from the example above it did not serve me very well. I did care what people thought. A lot. I was living a lie and felt super confused and anxious. I had learned to ignore my hurt feelings so well, anger became my instinctual response whenever I felt hurt. I took the "I'm better than you, so screw you" approach most of the time. I bet you several of my high school peers have no idea how scared I was to go to school everyday. Some may even describe me as conceited! I put on a very good front to cope with the hurt I was feeling. My career choice as a School Counselor is no coincidence. This was a very difficult time in my life.
Think about it. Imagine the young teenager who desperately wants to fit in. They get rejected and convince themselves they just don't care to fit in. They become angry and depressed. It's a cycle that is all too familiar for SO many of us. We need to feel loved. We need to belong. When we don't, it hurts and it often leads us to anger. We let anger win and lose touch with our true feelings. Anger is acceptable by society. Sadness and hurt, not so much. We become resentful and disconnect from others. This often leads to unhealthy choices.
Here's what months of therapy uncovered for me:
Guys, I'm not writing this as a punishment for those who have hurt me, nor is this about any one person. I debated not posting this for days because I didn't want to hurt anyone who may read this and thinks its about them. It's given me tremendous anxiety. There were several relationships and patterns in my life that were unhealthy from my past. Not so much now. And, I contributed to the patterns above. I let them happen! I let my anger seep out at very inappropriate times in very inappropriate ways. My end goal is peace, truth, and happiness. For you and me.
If you can relate or see of these same patterns in your life, hear me out. If you often feel confused, angry, sad, and beat down, you are not crazy! You are strong enough to get to the root of the problem. Be brave. It will be scary, but you will learn and you will grow. I know it seems impossible, but its the truth. Happiness is possible if you are brave enough to deal with your pain.
If there is someone in your life who is constantly moody, unhappy, or angry, I can tell you with utmost certainty they are hurting more than you can ever imagine. Don't take it personally! If you love them, you can find a way to reconnect. (I have some tips to help you connect and help these people that will be coming in a future blog post, so be sure to subscribe and/or like my Facebook page to be notified of new posts)!
Me? Well, I still have my days but I'm less angry and much more aware of my feelings. I still hurt and feel sad, but I have established boundaries and feel stronger everyday. I don't bury my feelings and let them fester. I deal with them, learn, make adjustments, and move on.
Should you care what others think? Nope. 100% NO! But you do. It's the truth. I do too. Therefore, I propose we all stop hiding behind our I-don't-care-what-you-think attitudes and deal with it. Head on. We can care! We just don't have to let it matter. It doesn't have to define us. It doesn't have to change who we are. Yes, we may feel hurt. We're human! But, we are way stronger than we give ourselves credit for. We can deal with the pain and move forward.
Let's stop pretending. Let's live our truths. Let's live freely. The world needs more of us!
It took a long long time to get here
It took a brave, brave girl to try
It took one too many excuses, one too many lies
Don't be surprised, don't be surprised
if i talk a little louder
If I speak up when you're wrong
If I walk a little taller
I'd be known to you too long
If you noticed that I'm different
Don't take it personally
Don't be mad, it's just the brand new kind of me
And it ain't bad, I found a brand new kind of free
Feeling anxious and overwhelmed about college? Should you be doing more to prepare your child? When should you start thinking about college? College planning can be extremely stressful and cumbersome. Parents often tell me they feel out of the loop and unprepared. Rest assured, you are not alone. With 15 years under my belt as a School Counselor, I've gathered some tips and tricks I've learned along the way. Below is a list of do's and don'ts to help guide you through the years leading up to college.
Do know when to start. It's never to early to start thinking about your child's future, but don't beat yourself up if you haven't yet. My good friend called me frantic because her daughter had an unexcused absence. Would it be on her transcript? If so, how would that look when she applied to college? An unexcused absence was terrifying to her. Her child was in kindergarten. Ha! I assured her that no, elementary school attendance records are not part of college applications.
Starting in kindergarten is a little early, but in reality, you can make a huge impact at any age by challenging your child to be the best version of themselves. Expose them to new opportunities, watch them grow, and follow their lead. What do they love doing? What makes them smile? Where do they excel? These are important clues on what interests they will develop.
A good rule of thumb is to start the college process when your child enters 9th grade. I'm not saying you should have it all figured out, but you should know if your child is likely to be headed in that direction so you can start laying the foundation for the future. Pick a strong but realistic freshman schedule and encourage your child to do their best. Establish good study habits! Encourage your child to join a few clubs or activities.
When sophomore year arrives, be on the lookout for PSAT sign ups. PSAT's are practice SAT's and administered once per year at almost every high school. Sign-ups start in mid-September but check with your high school counselor to be certain. PSAT scores arrive a few months after the exam, typically right after the holidays. These scores (and your child’s grade point average) can be used to estimate college admittance chances and create a very rough draft list of potential schools.
SAT's should be taken in the spring of 11th grade. Your child should be ready to apply to a handful of school by the beginning of their senior year. (note: many meetings between your child and their school counselor should happen in between these steps!)
Do know there are several paths to college. There are thousands of schools. THOUSANDS! College Board is an excellent free resource. Plug in your child's PSAT scores you can do a very user-friendly search to create a list of schools where they are likely to be accepted. For example, a quick college inquiry using SAT Math scores of 500, SAT Reading Scores of 500 in the Mid-Atlantic region came up with 461 colleges! To further narrow down that list, you can select filters like majors offered, location, size of school, diversity, etc. Not sure if your child prefers an urban, suburban, or rural environment? Not sure if your kid wants to go to a big, mid-sized, or small school? Leave those questions blank. Make lists! Play around! Start making a short list of schools and plan on visiting a few of them during summer vacation.
Do know what you are up against. Your child has a 4.5 GPA, is President of the Student Council, plays Varsity Basketball, and got a 1600 on the SATs? Awesome! She will find several opportunities await her. Highly competitive colleges will be in her sights. Highly competitive colleges are highly competitive because they accept students just like her. Translation: she will be up against other 4.5 GPA/1600 SAT score applicants with extracurricular activities to match. I wish I knew the secret formula for admission, there's no guarantee of admittance. . Harvard's Class of 2022 is comprised of only 8.2% of its 42,742 applicants. That means 39,237 students received rejection letters last fall. Princeton University saw a similar number of applicants and admitted only 5.5%. Admission's Counselors are looking for growth potential, character and personality, interests and activities, and how your child would contribute to their community. We "scrutinize applications for extracurricular distinction and personal qualities" says William R. Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard College.
No matter what kind of student you have, there will always be fierce competition. Pick a variety of schools that match your child’s abilities and needs. Don’t waste time visiting schools too far out of your reach.
Do know that community college is a great option. Have you ever glanced at your friend's university diploma and remarked, "Did you start at a community college?" Me neither!! Community college is an amazing option and I'm going to let you in on a little secret! They don't require SAT scores for admittance! After completing 2 years at a community college, students don't have to send their high school transcripts or SAT scores to their transfer school! Once your child completes two years of community college, she can transfer to thousands of highly competitive schools with a clean slate.
Don't be their secretary or solve all their problems. Take a step back and let your kids take initiative. Do not fill out college applications for them or contact schools on their behalf. I've talked to several admission counselors over the years and their number one recommendation is to make sure the applicant is actively engaged. Your child is about to enter adulthood. They should fill out their own application and be actively engaged in the admittance process. Several colleges give applicants access to their Admission's portals to check their application status and several applicants rarely log-in to check it!! Consider this scenario. Your son’s file is incomplete because the university hasn't received your son's SAT scores. They have requested them twice through the portal. A few weeks later, you call the Admissions Office to check on his application status to learn they are missing SAT scores. Which they asked for. Twice. In the portal your son was supposed to check.
Not being actively engaged sends a message of indifference. Colleges are more likely to offer admissions to qualified students who want to attend their schools.
Some kids are shy or poor self advocates. I get it. But you have to teach them now or they will never learn. Teaching them to problem-solve effectively and be their own self-advocate. When your child does poorly on a test or misses school, they should ask their teacher for help or what they missed. Not you! Its okay to check-in with your child's counselor or teachers to follow up, but your child should learn to advocate for himself.
Don't set them up to fail. Your job (as painful as it may be) is to really consider the truth. Honesty is key here. What are your child's strengths and weaknesses? Some young adults are just not ready to tackle AP Biology and that's okay. Challenge is key but motivation, aptitude, and drive are essential. If you're overriding every course level recommendation in high school and not truly focusing on your child's abilities, you are setting them up to fail. There are several pathways to college, remember? Yes, AP Biology looks great on a high school transcript, but only if your child is successful in the course.
Do teach them that their reputation speaks volumes. Social media accounts can and will be checked. Some high schools do include total absences on their official high school transcript which is sent to colleges. Colleges do ask if your child has ever been suspended. I'm not saying unexcused absences and a suspension will tarnish college admittance, but it could. Teach them to be mindful of their actions. You never know whose watching.
Have a question or want me to cover another topic? Comment below!
Today would have been your 63rd birthday. You’ve been gone almost 31 years.
I was in sixth grade when you died. The day you died I didn’t feel sad. I felt deep and uncontrollable fear. I felt SO scared. Scared of what was going to happen to me and H. Scared of what was going to happen to Mom. Scared of not knowing if I’d ever feel safe again.
The years that followed were bleak. Family stepped up and helped where they could but things really fell apart. Our family was broken. Mom did her best, but she was lifeless and grief-stricken. Can you blame her? You left her with 2 children to raise. By herself. H did what any other 14-year-old girl would do. She surrounded herself with her friends.
I felt very alone.
Mom remarried a few years after you died. He is a very kind man with a gentle heart. I didn’t like it one bit because the marriage meant I had to move to another state, which was an 8 hour drive away from everything I knew. H got to stay back to finish high school. I was 13. Adjusting to having a new stepfather and being an only child was strange. I hated every second. Because I only had the depth and understanding of a child, I couldn’t see how complicated things were for Mom. I was angry she remarried. I was angry I wasn't her main priority. Looking back I feel a little guilty and sad. Mom deserved a fresh start.
Moving was more difficult than I’d imagined. The new area was not welcoming. I was bullied. My self esteem took a nosedive. I desperately needed to feel enough, yet surrounded myself with people who made me feel small. I made some questionable choices with boyfriends those years. Ugh! It was a very confusing time in my life. Thankfully those years are behind me.
I’m extremely proud of who I am. I’d like to say that time healed all wounds and everything fell into place but it wasn’t that simple. There was a lot of heartache along the way. I had to fight to keep afloat.
Dad, to put it bluntly, your death sucked. I get that you were in pain but did you know how much chaos you’d leave behind? Would you have changed your mind if you did?
Did you know Mom, H, and I still struggle to maintain a healthy relationship? You’d think we’d be close because of all we have endured but the truth is we struggle. Your death broke us. I was a child and I needed my mother. She was left to pick up the pieces of your suicide and had no idea how to navigate it all. I resented her.
H has done very well for herself and I am super proud of the woman she has become. She clings to stability and hates change. She despises conflict and is very selective with whom she gives her heart. Despite trying, we’ve never been very close. We learned to be guarded with each other after losing you.
Me? Well, transparency and honesty are qualities I need in my life. It makes friendships with me difficult because I expect a lot from others. I address conflict even when its super uncomfortable for me because I need to communicate in order to gain trust. I am sensitive and guarded. If you hurt me, it will take loads of hard work to earn my trust again. Trust is everything.
Dad, your death ended your suffering but did you know the tornado of events it would unravel? Your suicide ended your pain, but it transferred it to us. Is that what you wanted?
Happy 63rd Birthday, Dad. All these years later and I am still dealing with the aftermath of your death. This year I’m on a mission to prevent others from passing their pain onto their loved ones. People must be comfortable asking for help if they cannot deal with their pain. They cannot give their pain to their families!!
Dad, I hope you can hear me. We are not better off without you.
"Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional. We cannot avoid pain, but we can avoid joy." -Tim Hansel
I’ve often confused strength with suffering. Why? Because I was taught that suffering produces strength. And so were you. Am I stronger for growing up without a father? Sure. Are you stronger after dealing with a life-changing experience or trauma? Absolutely! But, I didn't sign up to lose my father to suicide to prove my strength and you didn't sign up for that miscarriage or cancer diagnosis to enhance your life. Strength was the silver-lining of our pain. Strength was the outcome of the unavoidable mishap that was thrown our way.
Depression is not an unavoidable mishap you have to endure. Depression does not make you stronger. I know, it goes against everything we have been taught but hear me out. Suffering with depression does not make you stronger. It weighs you down. Depression forces you to live a lesser life. Depression robs you of your self-worth. Depression symptoms make you weak.
How many people silently suffer because they believe getting help is a weakness? We subscribe to societal norms. We confuse strength with suffering. I will suffer, therefore I am strong. Would you tell your doctor after a cancer diagnosis, “Doc, to prove my strength I am going to handle this alone.” No! Yet we do this time and time again with depression. We think depression is something we have to survive. We accept our misery as a sign of strength.
Do I have the strength to endure my suffering? Heck yeah!
Do I have to suffer to prove my strength? Heck no!!
Life will throw us plenty of opportunities to suffer where we don't have a choice.
If you are suffering from depression, don't waste another second. Get some help.
Unsure where to start? Make an appointment with your primary care physician and tell them you are experiencing symptoms of depression and/or make an appointment with a therapist. Psychology Today is an invaluable resource which allows you to search for therapists in your area. Remember to use the refine tool to filter therapists who accept your insurance!
Together, we can make a difference. End the shame. Getting help for depression is the bravest thing you can do.
May I ask you a small favor? Share this post with your friends and family! Let's get the word out that asking for help is the strongest thing you can do. Suffering in silence is no longer expected or acceptable. Someone needs to hear these exact words.
Everyday I see an article in my social media feed alerting me that things have gotten out of hand. CNN recently reported teenagers visiting the ER for suicidal thoughts or attempts has doubled in the past eight years. On the way to work, a billboard reminded me we are facing an opioid epidemic. An epidemic, people. Add to that my circle of friends who are discussing the dangers of Snapchat and how we must monitor our children's phones because they are being bullied and exposed to garbage and my head is spinning. You know those machines at the arcade that you feed your tickets to count the tickets you've won? That's me. I'm the ticket machine sucking in every ounce of bad news until my brain feels like its going to explode.
We all want a solution. Kids are too stressed out and can't handle the pressure. We must make it easier on them! Social media is a breeding ground for cyber bullying. We must police or ban the internet! Drug use is on the rise. We must inform them of the dangers! We are frantically trying to control, shield, and eliminate all negative experiences and emotions so they never have to suffer.
Its not working.
The cold hard truth? Why are things so out of control? We are teaching our kids zero skills to navigate challenges on their own. One tiny set back can shut them down completely. If I had a nickel for every time I heard "well, I missed a few days of school and the makeup work was overwhelming so I just stopped doing it altogether" I'd be a very rich woman! Young people are throwing in the towel when they feel defeated. They don't know how to manage negative emotions.
Ladies and gentlemen, we've got some serious work to do.
I have a quote hanging in my office. I'm not sure where it originated from, but it remains year after year because it is so darn accurate: Don't be upset by the results you didn't get with the work you didn't do.
Don't be upset by the results you didn't get with the work you didn't do.
Last summer, my oldest daughter was really upset. I don't remember exactly what she was upset about, but I do remember she thought I would never understand it because (her words) I was perfect and would never have thought/done/said/felt whatever she was feeling. My 11-year-old daughter should look up to me and think I'm extraordinary, right? I am perfect. Ha! No, seriously, that moment make my heart hurt. She viewed me as having it all together and doubted herself for not. And it made my heart ache.
I immediately wanted to fix it and cheer her up. I felt helpless, defeated, and anxious. I hated every minute of it. It was so excruciating for me to watch her suffer and not be able to fix it that I had to ask my husband to step in so I could privately panic and lose my mind (which usually looks like this: go to my closet, hide, cry, question my ability to parent, feel awful).
But this time was different. A light bulb went off. I'd been doing it all wrong. I've hidden SO much from her. How can I teach her to manage her feelings of self-doubt and teach her that she has the power to overcome them if I'm not modeling this behavior myself? She hasn't seen me struggle, so how can she know I do? How can she know that mommy feels scared and insecure at times if I don't share my feelings with her?
Don't get me wrong, I don't think my 11-year-old and I should be trading secrets and discussing my latest dilemmas at work; there has to be a balance between what I share and what she can handle. She is a child. But I do think she should know that I was also one of the tallest girl in the 6th grade and I felt awkward. She should see me cry and know I feel insecure. A lot. She should know that I have bad days and get through them. She should know I make mistakes and have regrets. She should see me coping with what life throws my way. She should see that vulnerability is a manageable emotion.
Okay, this seems doable. I can work on sharing more of myself appropriately with her. But this next part? This part made me want to puke.
She has to learn to struggle.
Aggghhhh! I never want my babies to hurt, feel sad, scared, or insecure. Ever. I want to solve all their problems before they begin. I'm a fixer. I can't let my kids suffer. It makes me feel vulnerable and scared. No way!!
People, listen to me right now because this is going to hurt. WE HAVE TO LET OUR KIDS SUFFER. Our over parenting-fix-everything motto? It's what’s hurting them the most.
In "10 Reasons Teens Have So Much Anxiety Today", Amy Morin discusses how over parenting is fostering anxiety instead of resilience. Today's parents do not let kids deal with challenges on their own. We’ve become their saviors, shielding them from all disappointment and hurt. We let them avoid uncomfortable situations. We micromanage their emotions so they never have an unpleasant one. We cheer them up when they are sad and calm them down when they are angry. Our kids expect to feel happy all the time because we’ve spent years being their cheerleaders. We're developing an entire generation of kids that don't know how to cope!!
Guilty as charged. I had some serious work to do.
In the past few months I have spent a lot more time listening and guiding and a lot less time solving problems. The result? I am seeing much more confident little ladies. Try it. Ask your child to share their ideas and solutions instead of jumping to solve their problems. Offer guidance and watch their self-confidence grow. Let them feel nervous, bored, uncomfortable and sad. Assure them negative emotions are a healthy and normal part of life. It’s not easy to see them suffer and you’ll likely want to throw up, but it’s the only way we will teach them to manage their lives effectively.
The biggest gift we can give our children? The ability to cope with whatever comes their way.
I must point out that if you don't have healthy coping skills, you will not be able to teach them to your child. I repeat: You will not be able to teach healthy coping skills to your child if you don't have them yourself. Learn to manage and accept your own negative emotions. This takes practice, patience, and maybe some therapy. It's never too late to make positive changes in your life. Those positive changes will spill over to everyone around you.
My hide-in-the-closet-and-obsess-over-how-I-parent coping style? Probably not the best way to handle stress. For me, talking about it so I can understand the fear that is driving my behavior, reading, going for a jog, or getting a nice big hug from my dogs, Fozzie and Samson, are better choices. They are way more effective and actually work. They stop me from spiraling down my self-pity hole AND emulate positive coping skills for my kids. Win!
We have the power to teach young people that the world is a manageable place. We just have to be comfortable with letting them suffer. Do you have the courage to do that?
To learn more about healthy coping skills, check out The Do's and Don'ts of Teaching your Child To Cope, by Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. on PyschCentral.com.
I have only shared this blog on a few private Facebook group pages. It felt safer that way. It’s so much easier to take a risk around people whose opinions won’t absolutely devastate me. I would test the waters. I would get my feet wet. My plan was to share my page publicly when I was ready. You know, after I'd gained a decent following and proved myself worthy of writing a blog. Obviously by then Good Morning America would be featuring me so I’d HAVE to let you all in on my secret blog. ??
Facebook had other plans.
I have started getting “like” notifications from people I know well. Neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family. Facebook had taken a comment of mine and put it on your feed. “Heidi Wilson commented on The Ordinary Chaos”. Intrigued, you clicked on my page. I'm thrilled! I’m gaining a small audience! You're reading my posts without me having to ask you!! Wow! Thank you!!!!!
Then PURE panic set in. I felt so exposed, scared, nervous, and VULNERABLE! Being honest is freaking hard, people. Really hard. ??
Cue the negative self-talk! A belittling comment here, “oh my gosh, is she actually complaining” and a sucker punch there, “She's too high maintenance.” “She's just doing it for attention.” “Please, how could SHE have any problems?” “Obviously your damaged. Your father took his life, what kind of values could he have taught you if HE COULD DO THAT?” These are all things I have actually heard directly or indirectly from people I’ve ALLOWED in my life. (I keep these comments in a safe place to question my self-worth during times of insecurity. Very effective, huh? ?)
To be perfectly clear, I'm just as guilty of judging others. Vindictiveness, jealousy, and other emotions can make us so horrendous to each other. I do it too. Especially if my feelings are hurt! I go into full-on protection mode and judge you right back. Usually harsher. “Oh really, well have you looked in the mirror?” (Ughhhhhh! No more!!)
If you judge or criticize me, it’s more about you than me. Period. If I judge or criticize you, it's about me. Period. Less judging, more loving, people! How can we possibly support each other this way?
I can spiral into self-hate and withdraw my posts. Or, I can carry on and believe what I have to say is worthwhile.
It looks like vulnerability and me are going to be thick as thieves for the unforeseeable future.
Millions of people suffer from depression. We are successful, funny, goal-oriented people. Our empathy runs deep. We are loyal friends. We are perfectionists. We have high functioning depression. The kind you wouldn't recognize because we are able to live life with the rest of you. And we are the least likely bunch to ask for help.
This has got to stop.
Will sharing my story make a difference? Will it make depression less taboo? Can I show you a side of depression that is fun, silly, and relatable? Will more people be willing to talk about it and ask for help? Will you secretly wish you had depression? (okay, so maybe that's going a little too far...)
What makes you feel most vulnerable? Are you hiding parts of yourself to avoid judgment and shame? Have you ever felt judged or judged someone else too harshly?
Hi, my name is Heidi and I have high-functioning depression.
There's no turning back now.
I didn't know I was depressed. I wasn't that lady in the anti-depressant commercial who couldn't get out of bed until her dial was wound back up. I wasn't thinking about ending my life. I wasn't staying in bed all day, losing interest in things that made me happy. I was going to work. I was functioning.
I couldn't be depressed. I made people laugh. I socialized. I was successful. Sure, I felt sad and irritated a lot. At times it felt like I was going through the motions and putting on a show, but I was used to it. It would make me exhausted, especially when surrounded by people for long periods of time, but that's just the product of being a mother with a full-time job and family, right? My time was limited and my responsibilities were endless. My energy and self-esteem were often low but after having children your body never looks the same and you question every decision you make, so of course my self-esteem was low. I felt hopeless and alone at times, but that's normal. I didn't have the luxury of meeting a friend for dinner or focusing on me whenever I felt like it. I felt agitated and irritable other times. I'd rationale every feeling away convincing myself it was just part of being a working mom in a stressful job.
I had periods of joy and laughter but I'd always come back to that same feeling of blah. It felt like a piece of me was missing, the piece that could feel hope and excitement. It was numb. I'd look at my two exceptional children and my fabulous husband who makes me laugh everyday and I'd be happy but still felt empty inside. I felt unable to focus or make decisions and unmotivated to start my day. If someone hurt my feelings, I'd spiral into self-pity. I'd beat myself up for things I had done or didn't do, for the way I looked, or the way I may have come across to others. I would spend days denying myself certain foods because I'd convinced myself I was going to gain weight. I would obsess over what others thought of me. I'd feel guilty.
I was able to hide most of it from those around me but my immediate family noticed. My own daughters were growing older and I felt like a hypocrite telling them to love and honor themselves while I was emulating everything I wanted them NOT to be. I was an insecure woman pretending to be happy. I didn't love and honor myself. I was terrified they were going to notice. Something had to change. I made a decision right then and there. I will do whatever it takes to be whole and happy for them.
That's when I learned about dysthymia, or high-functioning depression. High-functioning depression is what I like to call "depression-light." People with this type of depression experience less-severe depression symptoms. Symptoms last for at least two years. These symptoms are often dismissed as a part of your personality. "I'm just a moody and emotional person who cries a lot. I have a short fuse. I take things too personally."
No one knows for certain what causes dysthymia, but it could be linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain, a family history of the condition, a history of other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, stressful or traumatic life events, physical brain trauma, such as a concussion, or chronic physical illnesses. I was basically a ticking time bomb with almost every single factor listed above. It all started to make sense.
Guys, it took SO much courage to admit something may be wrong. It took so much courage for me to talk to my doctor and call a therapist. But I did it. Why? Because I refuse to suffer any longer. I refuse to teach my children that misery is acceptable. Suffering through depression did not make me stronger. It robbed me of enjoying my life.
Talk-therapy and/or anti-depressants are very successful treatments to treat high-functioning depression. I started with my primary care physician and went over my options and you can too. If you think you may have dysthymia, don't waste another second.
Help is available. You do not have to live this way.
Thank you for reading my story! If you want to be notified of new posts? Like my Facebook Page, The Ordinary Chaos, my Instagram or subscribe!
Thank you for reading!
The pictures above represent the most EPIC year! I've been so blessed to travel all over the world. My family and I spent two glorious weeks exploring Australia. It was a bucket-list vacation I still can't believe happened. In fact, in the past year, I've been fortunate enough to visit NYC, Chicago, Seattle, Vancouver, Beijing, and Zurich! I hiked the Canadian Rockies, walked on the Great Wall of China, snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef, AND sipped wine surrounded by the breathtaking peaks of the Swiss Alps! Not bad for a girl who lives in a small suburb outside of Philadelphia, right? Can you say picture-perfect flawless life adventures? My social media accounts look like heaven!
The truth is the person I portray on my social media accounts deserves an Oscar for hiding my very real struggles with depression. My posts only show a one-dimensional side of my life because I never post the hard stuff. You see my highlight reel. You don't see pictures of me falling apart on our last night in Sydney, when I was sobbing on our hotel balcony, wondering if I'd fulfilled my life goal of traveling to Australia too soon and therefore I'd have nothing to look forward to anymore. I didn't share that planning and being excited about our trip to Australia distracted me from the grief that consumed my soul after losing one of my best friends. I didn't share that my husband was afraid to leave me alone that night on our hotel balcony.
I hid my depression because I didn't want to be judged. I hid it because I didn't want to admit it to myself. I hid it because when I was 11-years-old, my father ended his life and even though I didn't understand what depression was, I learned that if you are depressed, you commit suicide. Depression leads to suicide and that is shameful! I wanted none of that, so I pretended and preached about how we needed to end the mental health stigma, assured people depression was nothing to be ashamed of, and silently suffered, feeling like a complete hypocrite every day as I created picture-perfect posts of my life.
Through therapy and a lot of patience, I've learned to understand my depression and my triggers. I've learned about my unhealthy coping mechanisms and faulty beliefs, and that depression isn't anything to be ashamed about. Depressed people can be happy. Depressed people don't always end their life. Depressed people are pretty freaking amazing!!!
It was only recently that it occurred to me that maybe I'm not the only one silently suffering. Maybe other women feel ashamed for feeling depressed. Maybe other women need to hear my story in order to share their story or ask for help. Maybe I can make depression relatable and together we can end the stigma of depression! Maybe we can support, understand, and encourage each other through our dark days. Maybe we can share some laughs along the way.
I have depression. I am not crazy. I am worthy of love and friendship. And so are you.
Thank you for reading my story! To read more and be alerted of new posts, like my Facebook Page, The Ordinary Chaos.
Heidi shares personal stories of her ordinary chaotic life. She gives an honest raw look at what it means to be a mom, wife, counselor, and friend struggling to keep it all together. Her personal experiences with grief, relationships, depression, poor self-image, bullying, anxiety, and relational aggression give her a unique perspective on what its takes to overcome tragedy as an adolescent and adult.