Counseling

UBC 4/20 Day 19: “When is ‘I love me’ enough?”

I don’t know that it is possible for the average person to have never heard of Demi Lovato. However, just in case you’re an extraordinary person who never saw Disney’s “Camp Rock” movies or missed her performance of “Anyone” at the 2020 Grammys, she is a pop star, song-writer, and an addict who keeps working toward recovery, despite relapses.

Despite the fact that she’s nearly half my age (I’m 50 and she’s 27) her music is hitting me to my core. Her song, “I Love Me,” is very powerful, in how it so accurately describes my relationship with myself…especially the first few lines. She’s describing the struggle between body-image, identity, and mental/emotional health. The video does a very good job of illustrating the inner struggle that I, and probably many others, experience on a regular basis.

I’m in that kind of struggle right now. There’s the “enlightened me, who has been through six years of therapy and a lifetime of various forms of counseling, in addition to concurrent spiritual growth. This “me” says that my worth and value have nothing to do with my physical appearance, my weight, or my body size. This “me” tells me that I have much to be proud of: the hard work I’ve invested in myself, my mental health recovery, and the repair of relationships I wrecked prior to my diagnoses and treatment. She reminds me that I have gifts and qualities that matter in the world: intelligence, my writing ability, my EQ, my compassion, and my empathy for others.

Then, there’s the insecure, uncomfortable in her own skin, self-hating, self-saboteur and her minions: depression, anxiety, self-doubt, and exhaustion. When they get going, it’s like listening to a discordant dirge. They characterize me as lazy, weak, powerless, and unsubstantial.

The first is the intellectual me and the second is the mental me. You’d think both would get through to the emotional me. However, that’s not true for me. My intellect dissociated from emotions in order to survive and move through the various traumas I have experienced. The mental me is the one that was changed by the traumas and has genetic differences which activated into depression and bipolar disorder. Mental me seems to be in charge of the emotional me, who often totally ignores intellectual me.

Why am I breaking this all down?

Because I have spent the past three weeks on a “self-improvement” spending spree, which began slowly with a nail polish or two here and there. It was put on the fast track with the stimulus payment, a couple of smaller payments received, and getting hired for the new job. I bought clothes, shoes, makeup, more nail polish & accessories, and special personal hygiene supplies. I also paid a couple of bills, helped buy groceries, purchased a few small gifts for family members, and take out food. Finally, I purchased auto insurance for the car some friends are giving me. Basically, I’ve spent close to $1,400 in less than a month.

Maybe that doesn’t seem like a lot of money to some people. Many people I know pay that for rent. However, I’m pretty sure that all together, the money I’ve received in the past six years is less than that. But, I digress

Initially, the nail polish was something to do to pass the time, teaching myself a new skill, and celebrating the fact that I have miraculously stopped chewing my nails. Then, I needed clothes for my new job. Lastly, I bought makeup. I’ve basically gone 14 or 15 years without wearing makeup. Why the hell do I feel the need to buy it now? Especially during social distancing. I mean who will see it?

I felt good about the nail polish. However, once I got to the clothes, that good feeling went away once I tried them on. The last time I bought clothes, I had gotten down to a 2x, occasionally a 1x, from a 3x. Now, a 4x is tight in some places and a 5x is a bit loose…and the scale announced that I am almost 300 lbs. I think that’s when I decided to get the makeup. It may be a type of armor. I really don’t want to be seen right now. Maybe makeup will distract people from my size if I do it right. Finally came the membership to another weight loss program, online this time.

I want to leave diet culture behind. The last two times I managed to lose 20-30 lbs I ate healthy, followed a loose meal plan, and exercised. The last time, in 2018, I attended Weight Watchers for about six months. I treated it a bit like a 12 Step program – I did 90 meetings in 90 days. It wasn’t a nonsensicle, unrealistic eating plan. The app was amazing. The people were real and honest. The curriculum was really based in psychology and used what I call DBT-lite strategies to adjust thinking and responsive behaviors that drive overeating and weight gain. Yet, I couldn’t sustain the changes. Turns out that it takes more than 60-90 days to create a habit or replace an old one, for me.

michelin manI want to be body positive and accept all of me…love all of me. But, I’m not and I don’t.

I’m bothered by the “curves” in all the wrong spots that make me look like the Michelin Man. I’m bothered by cottage cheese like bumps on my stomach that push against any fabric, large or small, that lays across it. I’m bothered by the carry on size overlap. I’m really bothered by the verticle ceasarian scar that bifurcates my lower stomach and makes it look like I have a butt on the front. It’s also very frustrating to know that the natural side boob is made larger than what’s on the front.

So, long and flowing tunics and leggings to hide my body and makeup to hide my face – body armor and a face mask. I’m camoflaging my inner emotions and thoughts about myself behind the superficialities. I’m ready to go to battle.

“I Love Me” by Demi Lovato
Flipping through all of these magazines
Telling me who I’m supposed to be
Way too good at camouflage
Can’t see what I am
I just see what I’m not
I’m guilty ’bout everything that I eat
(Every single thing)
Feeling myself is a felony
Jedi level sabotage
Voices in my head make up my entourage

‘Cause I’m a black belt when I’m beating up on myself
But I’m an expert at giving love to somebody else
I, me and myself and
I , don’t see eye to
Eye, me and myself and I

Oh, why do I compare myself to everyone?
And I always got my finger on the self destruct
I wonder when I love me is enough (Yeah, yeah, yeah)
I wonder when I love me is enough (Yeah, yeah, yeah)

Why am I always looking for a ride or die?
‘Cause mine’s the only heart I’m gonna have for life
After all the times I went and fucked it up
(All the times I went and fucked it up)
I wonder when I love me is enough (Yeah, yeah, yeah)

I wonder when I love me is enough
I wonder when I love me is enough

Haters that live on the internet
Live in my head, should be paying rent
I’m way to good at listening
All these comments fucking up my energy

‘Cause I’m a black belt when I’m beating up on myself
But I’m an expert at giving love to somebody else
I, me and myself and
I, don’t see eye to
Eye, me and myself and I

Oh, why do I compare myself to everyone?
And I always got my finger on the self destruct
I wonder when I love me is enough (Yeah, yeah, yeah)
I wonder when I love me is enough (Yeah, yeah, yeah)

Why am I always looking for a ride or die?
‘Cause mine’s the only heart I’m gonna have for life
After all the times I went and fucked it up
(All the times I went and fucked it up)
I wonder when I love me is enough (Is enough)

I wonder when I love me is enough
I wonder when I love me is enough

I’m my own worst critic
Talk a whole lot of shit
But I’m a ten out of ten
Even when I forget
I-I-I-I
(I’m a ten out of ten, don’t you ever forget it)

I’m my own worst critic
Talk a whole lot of shit
But I’m a ten out of ten
Even when I forget

UBC 4/20 Day 15: Trauma Muscles

Many people are experiencing various waves of emotions about what’s going on in the world today: panic, fear, anger, sadness, etc.. These are all normal responses to the global threat and common traumatic experience. However, if those feelings get too intense and pervasive, it can become debilitating and make it difficult to function. Then, there’s also dissociation – that feeling of being disconnected from emotions surrounding these events…kind of like compartmentalizing thoughts and action separate from emotional response. In my personal experience, that kind of thing I’ve learned as an automatic coping mechanism, which is an automatic response to trauma, a symptom of my PTSD. For me, dissociating has enabled me to get through periods of life when I was experiencing things which would have triggered overwhelmingly immobilizing emotions.

The thing is, we get really good at what we practice, right? In my life, I’ve bounced from trauma to trauma to trauma and dissociating, disconnecting from my emotions to the point where it became my way of life. I got so good at it, that, not only did I not consciously experience the “negative” emotions, I was also disconnected from the “positive” ones. It’s important to realize that emotions are neither negative or positive. Emotions are instinctive tools which tell us something about ourselves and the world around us. If we don’t learn how to read and understand our emotions in any given situation, then, whatever action we take as a result of the emotions we experience can have negative consequences.

Another word for practice is “exercise.” The more we exercise dissociation, the stronger our ability to ignore, push down, and function in spite of our emotions becomes. Suffice it to say, I have very strong dissociation muscles. They developed into a form of brute strength. But, brute strength only gets you so far. In order for it to be useful and constructive, that brute strength must be shaped, sculpted, and toned. In other words, training is needed.

I had a lifetime of developing the brute strength of dissociation to contain and manage my emotions until they started leaking around the edges and creating some truly negative and destructive consequences. I’ve now spent over six years training to hone and reshape how I handle my emotions. Dissociation is still my automatic “go to” response to intense emotion. However, it’s now mitigated by things I’ve been learning. Specifically, DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) has been very instrumental in teaching me how to harness and use the strength of dissociation in constructive ways. All while I continue to train and learn new methods and ways to mitigate it.

Which brings me to the present time of stress and trauma we are all going through as individuals, families, communities, a nation, and the global collective.

In the past month, I have experienced the feelings and had the thoughts of many, if not most, people in the world around me. I have seen two distinctive responses to those thoughts and feelings: acknowledgment and acceptance of the world as it is now, or fear or denial about how bad things are or will get. The first response gets things done and keeps one moving forward, facing and learning to overcome these new challenges. The second response results in stagnation and, possibly, regression.

I believe my well-developed “trauma muscles” and the training they’ve been getting from therapy, DBT, and spiritual growth is what has enabled me to address the issue and effectively deal with issue of being unemployed. It is also the thing which has helped me to continue my healing and growth process in my mental health.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that trauma is the best training tool for learning how to deal with and manage emotions. It isn’t. Trauma changes us and derails our path to who we had the potential to be. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe it’s not. It impacts our relationships and our ability effectively and constructively function in the world. But, with training and healing work, I believe that the strength we gain from surviving trauma, can become powerful and impact our lives and the lives of others in amazing ways.

UBC4/20 Day 14: Parenting from afar

At the beginning of this month’s challenge, I mentioned my youngest daughter, but, I haven’t said much about her. Since I’m having some big feels regarding her and my relationship with her, I figured I’d talk through it here. If nothing else, I’ll get some more Emotion Color Wheel practice in. I’m feeling sadness and love. Sadness about her not being with me and love simply because she’s my daughter.

Digging deeper, I realize my sadness a lot of things: distressed, melancholic, shameful, and hopeless. Exploring that more reveals that I feel agonized and hurt, depressed and sorrowful, regretful and guilty, anguished and powerless. That’s a lot of sadness that’s heavy on my heart. I’ll get to the whys in a little bit. But first, I want to explore the love more. There’s tenderness and longing. Those expand out to compassionate and caring, affectionate and sentimental. That love is all twisted and intertwined in the sadness.

The love is actually buried under the sadness in a lot of ways and I think that’s all tied to my childhood trauma and the mother wounds I carry. I know I have attachment issues. It’s very, very difficult for me to be physically affectionate. I don’t enjoy snuggling, hugging, and close physical contact with anyone. I never have. Please don’t hold my hand for more than a few seconds. I can give hugs, but, please don’t hug me. Don’t get me wrong. I love being with people and interacting with them, but, not in a physically close way. This social distancing thing and communicating via Zoom, Messenger, FB Groups, and texts are all fine for me. Much easier for me than being in a roomful of people.

But, I digress.

I’ve known about my attachment issues for a very long time. I’ve been acutely aware of it since my youngest daughter was born, a little over 11 years ago.
I decided to breastfeed. Great for her health and good for us financially. Except, that’s the only thing she would do if she wasn’t screaming or crying. She howled for 45 minutes after she was born and didn’t really stop for the next five months. She was constantly on a breast. Clinging to me. Burrowed against me. I wore her in a wrap around me because it was the only way I could get anything done. It was like being pregnant, only carrying the child on the outside of my body. My life was centered around her need to feed and have that comfort.

I hated it, but forced myself to do it because I wanted to give her that opportunity for attachment to me in ways I hadn’t been given with my mother and had been unable to give with my older children. So, I also decided to let her self-wean. Only, she didn’t really. She nursed until she was almost three. By then I had to cut her off. It took her a couple of years to stop asking for it. Part of the reason I let her nurse so long was because her dad, who she was very attached to, was a truck driver and took a long-haul over the road job and was gone weeks at a time. Then, after an incident between him and my teenage daughter, I moved out and got my own place for a couple of years, thereby limiting their ability to be with each other. So, nursing was the primary touch point for comfort and a sense of safety and stability I could give her…even though I hated it.

Her dad and I stayed separated for a couple of years, but, were still enmeshed with each other and I wound up letting him move in with me. By the time a year had gone by, I was either in an emotionally hyper-reactive state or in a near catatonic dissociated state in order to manage the depression without knowing I was also trying to manage PTSD and Bipolar Disorder (II) and not receiving treatment for it. Things came to a head on her fifth birthday and I took her and left three days later. I have not gotten back together with him, but, because of her and her issues, he’s still too much a part of my life and I continued to be psychologically and financially enmeshed with him.
It turned out that our little girl is on the autism spectrum. It’s hard to tell because she’s what’s considered high-functioning. That label implies that she’s less impacted by the spectrum issues because she’s highly verbal and more social than children on the spectrum are often characterized as being. I don’t think she’s less impacted. I think she’s impacted differently and I’ve had to fight tooth and nail to get her the identifications, diagnoses, services, and supports she needs.

Over the past six years, her dad and I have “co-parented.” In our case that means he got to have her with him on weekends, school breaks, and holidays, while paying for her needs and wants, providing my phone, and paying for electricity & internet. So, functionally, I was operating as single parent. I was the one to deal with all of the agencies, organizations, medical facilities, and educational systems. I was also the one who bore the brunt of her emotional/behavioral issues.

She got increasingly violent with me, both verbally and physically. I have been shoved, slapped, hit, kicked, scratched, and bitten. I have been called a bitch, told I am hated and that she wished I had never been born or that I would die like my mother and go to heaven. I was the one who dealt with the school when she would get suspended for tearing the classroom apart or physically attack staff and students. I couldn’t let her be around my grandchildren because she was very mean to them.

She wasn’t always like this. She never acted like this when she was with her dad.

Last Thanksgiving some serious things happened and my adult daughter’s family became homeless. At that time, my grandchildren were five, four, and two. I couldn’t see them living on the street or in a shelter. So, they all crowded into my apartment. My little girl’s behavior escalated again, until it reached the point where she attacked me and punched me in the spine. I couldn’t take anymore and I had her move to her dad’s.

That was just before we went to social distancing, then shelter-in orders. I’ve only seen her a couple of times since then and done video messaging a few times. I don’t know what to do or say that is meaningful for her. I miss her, or the idea of her and having a good relationship with her. At the same time, I’m relieved I don’t have to be in her presence 24/7. So, lots of sadness with bits of love sprinkled throughout.

We’re supposed to spend some time together on Friday. We’ll see how it goes.

UBC 4/20 Day 8: Updates and Checking In

I don’t have anything particularly interesting or exciting or deep to write about today. As a matter of fact, it’s about 3:00 AM and the insomnia is activated. I woke up around 1:30 AM, had some juice, chatted with my friend … rather, I listened to her retell a couple of stories I’ve heard before. Then, I just stayed up and dozed for a little bit, but couldn’t really sleep. So, I decided to write today’s post. See if I can get the words to stop wandering around in my head, whispering and shouting at me. So, here we go.

I hadn’t heard anything about the job since last Thursday. So, I tried calling the number the HR guy I’d interviewed with had called me from. It was a generic Google Voice number with a generic screening message and no indication whose phone I was calling. I hadn’t actually saved his phone number, so, I was left wondering if I had left a message on a spam caller’s voicemail by accident. A little later, I remembered I had his email address. I emailed him and got an almost immediate response

It turned out that the managers of the house he had in mind had both been off work and he hadn’t connected with them yet. Also, he hadn’t actually checked my references yet. When I submitted my initial application, it required that I list three professional references, with at least one being a supervisor. Well, having been out of work for over seven years, I didn’t have any ongoing contact with any of my former supervisors or co-workers. I couldn’t even remember most of their names or could only remember first names. I reached out via text and email to my instructors from the Peer Support Specialist and Peer Wellness Specialist training classes I took fall and winter of the current school year.

Well, I didn’t hear anything from them within 24 hours of starting my application and I was too impatient to wait any longer. I made a false assumption and jumped the gun by listing each of them as a reference without first getting their agreement. One of them replied to the email, stating that she doesn’t usually provide references for her former students, but, because she thinks I would be good for the organization, she would give me a reference. I was applying to the same organization that had provided the training.

Additionally, he had to do employment verification for the one job I held, back from 2007-2008, which held any kind of relevance to the position I’m being considered for. Normally, he would have had me come in and complete a form which would then be faxed to the employer. However, as we all know, these are not normal times. With everyone working remotely from home, there was no one and nowhere he could fax anything to. So, he had to have me complete an application for the specific position, since my first application was a generic one used to have a pool of employees ready to fill various positions which are needed on a regular basis. Completing this new application was the only way he could get my electronic signature to authorize that employer to release employment information to him. I got that done as soon as we got off the phone.

I also found out that the house I’m being considered for is a low-risk house and I would be on shift by myself. I’m not really sure how I feel about that. I’m used to working with other people as part of a team. I told him that I’m good with it. I know I can do that on my own, I just feel awkward and uncertain thinking about it, at this point. Anyway, if things check out and all the connections are made that need to be made, I could start training next week.

Not knowing what that potential schedule will be, meant I couldn’t actually schedule next week’s counseling session. So, if I don’t hear anything concrete by Thursday afternoon, I’m going to text my therapist to set up that appointment. We’re getting some good work started and I don’t want to lose momentum.

I read, paraphrased, what I had written on the blog yesterday. She was surprised at how much I had actually opened up about, especially in such a public forum. I told her that I’m REALLY good at going deep in a very shallow way. She indicated that is a common thing amongst trauma survivors. It tends to be a way of testing relationship waters. Basically, putting the bad stuff out in the beginning, determines if someone is going to stick around or if they’re going to abandon the relationship. It is a way of telling the story without getting into the emotions and feelings.

We talked about feelings being like waves in an ocean. Some can be soft and gentle like the small waves brushing against the feet and others can be huge waves that overwhelm us and knock us off of our feet. An these emotions can be ones that make us feel good as much as they can be ones which make us feel bad. My assignment for this week is to work through the Color Wheel of Emotion and identify the waves of feeling I experience.

Well, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. See you tomorrow.

UBC 4/20 Day 7: Avoidance, Fear, and Understanding Myself

I have a counseling appointment today, via computer. I really like this therapist. I met her fact-to-face just once after social distancing became a recommendation, before it became a government mandate… so, that would have been three weeks ago. I feel like she’s going to be good for me. I also think she’s going to be somewhat hard-nosed and won’t let me get away with not doing my “homework.” So, here I am, cramming homework I had all week to do, into a few hours before it’s supposed to get turned in. Just like in high school or college.

Turns out that this is exactly part of the homework I was supposed to be working on. Avoidance.

What am I avoiding, exactly?

Well, the questions she asked me to consider at our last session were about me identifying my space in the world and in my life. Not where I feel I belong, but the space that belongs to me, specifically in my own home. What do I need to work on taking back so that I can feel safe and secure? Why is there such a strong sense of avoidance? What does avoiding look like? What am I avoiding?
Believe it or not, I think tackling the questions on avoidance will be easier than the other questions. Of course, that’s also a way of avoiding examining the other questions. Right?

Aaaaand avoiding dealing with the avoiding. It’s been about an hour, maybe more, since I finished that last sentence. So, back to the question: Why such a strong sense of avoidance? I think this is the point where my “stream of consciousness” writing style may come in handy.

Fear. Fear is at the heart of avoiding. At least, I think that’s what it is. If that’s true, then, I need to figure out what it is I fear. In the context of the initial questions about space and figuring out how to take back what is mine and what I need to do to work on to taking it back, what is it my fear?
It may be two things. The first is realizing that I’ve seldom, if ever, completely had my own space, or my own place in the world. I don’t think I even understand what that looks and feels like.

I remember being a young child where a couch was my bed and the living room was my bedroom. After that, when I had my own room, it became to catch-all. Whenever my mother expected people to come into our home, all the accumulated clutter from the public spaces was moved into my room and seldom, if ever moved back out. I recall one Christmas I had been given a peppermint candy cane log – it was HUGE. If memory serves, I had carved out space for it on my dresser and I was looking at it from an angle that meant I was on the floor. I have a sense that was because the floor was the only available space and it was also where I slept. After that life fell through and we moved again, I may have had my own room for a few months before my mom and I moved to live with my grandmother. It was a small, one bedroom apartment. More moving. Then mom died, leaving me in my uncle’s custody. Another one bedroom apartment for my uncle, his wife, and me. I was 12.

Eventually, I had a room to myself, but, it never felt like it was mine or my space because I never really felt like I belonged, that I was part of his family unit. Three more moves over the next four years. Some of the time I lived with my uncle, some of the time I lived with my grandmother. Sometimes I had my own room, but, mostly not. Then, at 16, I ran away. When you’re a runaway, you really don’t get your own room. I lived out of cars and hitchhiked across the country with my son’s father, until he almost killed me in front of our two year old son. At 19, I was a single mom, with no employment history or proven work skills. So, there was no way to afford my own space. When I did afford my own space it was either studio apartments or one bedrooms that I shared with my son. Sometimes there were roommates.

During the times when I might have had my own space, I wound up helping other people out and giving them a place to stay…often for extended periods of time. Including now, when my adult daughter’s family became houseless right after Thanksgiving. Her family of five plus one on the way moved into my tiny two bedroom, one bath apartment. Even before they moved in, though, my space wasn’t my own because her younger sister, who I was partially co-parenting, but mostly single parenting, is autistic and at 10 years of age refused to sleep by herself.

So, yeah, I have no clue how to own and occupy space that’s just mine.

The second fear is that, if I push the issue and push my daughter’s family out, I’ll be abandoning them, abandoning her, the way I was. Well, maybe not the way. After all, my mother’s undiagnosed, untreated mental health issues are what caused her suicide. But, she left me alone and, even as a 50 year old woman, there are times when I wish I had a mother to turn to. I don’t want her to ever feel that I won’t be available when she needs me and, right now, she needs me.

Finally, the third fear is intertwined with the second fear. I’m afraid of losing relationship with her and my grandchildren. Six years ago, my relationship was so broken with her that I had to find out from an old family friend that she had gone into premature labor and was in the hospital. She didn’t want me there. Now she’s about to give birth to baby #4. I don’t ever want to be in a position where I am not wanted or allowed to be in my daughter’s or grandchildren’s lives again.

Well, that’s enough processing for now. I know this was long. Thank you for sticking with me until the end.

UBC 4/20, Day 2: Future Tripping

I’m pretty sure I got the job. I should find out for sure today or tomorrow, at the latest.

I don’t even have the job yet and my brain has, without my authorization, already begun worrying and spinning about things that might not ever happen, but, have the potential to. I call this “future tripping.”

What am I future tripping on? I’m glad you asked. I’m happy to tell you all about it. Maybe getting it out of my head will help.

1. What if my daughter goes into labor while I’m at work? What if she goes into labor before my shift is supposed to start? I’m the one who’s supposed to drive her to the birthing center. I have no idea who else she could call on to do this for her. Going into full-term labor, without any sign of complication is not a reason to call an ambulance. Even if it was, she’s adamant about not having this child in a hospital setting. She has trauma around her first child’s premature birth and three-week hospital stay.

2. Physicality…what if I’m not physically able to keep up with my physical duties? I’m incredibly out of shape. I may have indicated to the interviewer that I can do all the things, when I’m not 100% sure I can do them all. Some of that has to do with my weight/size. Remember the Binge Eating Disorder I mentioned in yesterday’s post? Well, between that and the lack of physical activity from the depression I struggled with for more than a year, I gained 60+ pounds over the past 15 months. The last time I stepped on a scale I was less than 10 pounds away from 300 pounds. I don’t look it, but I feel every ounce.

3. Parenting time with my youngest daughter. I’ve already barely seen here because of Social Distancing and Stay Home, Save Lives, since she lives with her father now. Saturdays were intended to be my days with her. During the interview, the interviewer asked about my preferred work days and hours, as well as location…promising, right? Currently, Sundays are my faith days and Tuesdays are when I have my counseling and other appointments. He said they don’t usually split days off. So, he said if I get Sundays, then Mondays would be the other day off. That means working on Saturday. If I get the day shift, 7am -3pm,then I could still spend time Saturday with her. If I get swing shift, 3pm – 11pm, I wouldn’t be able to see her on Saturdays at all.

4. Who will be available to help my daughter’s family for the post-birth, taking care of baby, as well as the other three. Their dad is there and has been doing a good job of parenting and being a stay home dad while my daughter works. But, honestly, both of them are dealing with some undiagnosed/untreated depression and PTSD. So, postpartum depression is a big potential thing. I know, I know. None of this on me or my responsibility…but, my daughter’s and my grandbabies’ wellbeing is so important to me.

I still don’t know for sure if I have the job. So, none of this is helpful to be worrying about. So, what is it all about?

My therapist touched on it a lttle bit this week: I have an issue with rejection and not being enough. I thought, at the time that it had something to do with a maternal/mentor relationship that ended about ten years ago. However, now that I’m really thinking about it, I think it all goes back to family of origin and never having any security and stability, plus never feeling that a) I couldn’t do enough or do things the way I was expected to; and b) the rejection I experienced from my adult children in recent history and having been told, about four years ago, that I would never have a place in my grandkids’ lives.

Things are really good with me and my daughter and significantly better with my son than they used to be. But, I guess, I still am carrying that fear of rejection and not being good enough to have a place in my own family. Whih is complete b.s. and patently untrue. Now, if my brain would actually process those truths, I’d be golden.

Enough is enough and so am I.

It’s that time again! April 2020 Ultimate Blog Challenge

First, let me start by saying, “This is NOT another pandemic blogging projecct.” When I first signed up for this month’s challenge, I was asked what my goal was. My response was to state that I want to write 30 posts that have nothing directly to do with the pandemic. I may refer to it, but, I won’t be discussing the politics of it, the projections, or a daily accounting of my time spent “sheltering in.” What I write about may not wind up being as interesting or light-hearted as it could be in this time of stress and fear. But, it is intended to be a different thing altogether.

Now that we have that out of the way, you may be wondering, “Lillian, what ARE your 30 blog posts going to be about, then?” The answer is, “I don’t know for sure.” Sounds strange, I know. However, I’m not a planner. Never have been. I’ve tried. Lord knows I’ve tried. I just don’t have it in me. Every time I create a plan, it falls through. You know the old adage, right? “How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans.” Let’s just say that I tickle his funny bone whenever I attempt to make a plan.

What I do know is that there could be poetry or short stories. You might run into something like a devotional, refering to biblical scripture. However, it will likely be a combination of me processing my mental health stuff or discussing mental health stuff. It also might be a record, of sorts, about my search for employment and, hopefully, me adjusting to a job. For the moment, though, let me introduce myself, for those who don’t know me or who need a quick catch up.

I’m a 50 year old mom and grandma. My children are currently 11, 26, and 33. My grandchildren (by the 26 year old) are currently 6, 5, 2, and due in two weeks. The 11 year old experiences the world through the higher functioning end of the Autism Spectrum. Due to her behavioral issues and my mental health issues, I recently had her go live with her father. I have all kinds of feels about that and some of that subject may show up this month. My 26 year old daughter is pregnant with baby #4. Her family of five, soon to be six, are living in my tiny 2 bedroom apartment, along with a dog and a cat. Anecdotes and feels about things related to that may also appear here. As for my 33 year old, he’s married and living with his wife, doing his own thing. There will proably be little reference to him, unless it relates to our history.

I also live with a bipolar brain that has been shaped by trauma. So, I have diagnoses of Bipolar II Disorder, PTSD, Depression, and Binge Eating Disorder. I just started weekly therapy with a trauma therapist. I was blessed with a gift of 6 – 12 months of this therapy by my faith community, otherwise known as “church.” So, there could be a LOT of me processing through my mental health challenges this month.

I haven’t been employed for a little over seven and half years, except for a recent, very brief stint with H & R Block. I took their income tax preparation course last fall, and barely survived it. I also took a three month Peer Support Specialist class, followed by a 10 week Peer Wellness Specialist class, which I completed on Friday, March 13th. The last day I worked at H & R Block was March 16th. I have to obtain my Peer Wellness Specialist Certification through the OHA – Oregon Health Authority before I can actually get a job doing that work. Right now the OHA is pretty occupied and they already took 3 – 6 months to process those applications before the current health crisis. In the meantime, I need an income. So, I applied for a grocery store position, thinking it would be a good bridge job while I go through the hurry up and wait process. But they decided to “pursue other applicants.”

On Monday I applied for a Direct Care position in a mental health group home situation with the community behavioral health organization I took my Peer training through and have been receiving services with for almost a year. The next day, yesterday, they did a phone interview with me. I have a video interview with them today. Wish me luck.

This month promises to be quite the journey, or at least the first chapter of this new book in my life. I’m happy to have the company while it gets written. Thank you for joining me.

Healing Expressions: Restorative Art

Yesterday, I was blessed with the privilege of attending a Therapeutic Collage Workshop, offered by Therapeutic Arts Facilitator, Lani Kent, of Healing Expressions, located in Vancouver, WA. Going into the workshop, I wasn’t sure how doing collage can be therapeutic, but, when Lani shared her story and her process, I saw how it can be another way to express and explore experiences, thoughts, and emotions. It can give the unspoken and unspeakable a voice and be a powerful part of one’s healing process.

Lani’s art both speaks from and to the soul. You can view her gallery here. You can also find her on Facebook.

img_7297When we arrived to the workshop, we were greeted by Lani and chose our seats. Each setting had a folder and a small gift packet with a Blessing Card attached to it. Each table had small displays of Lani’s collage art.

She had a very long table almost overflowing with magazines and had lined the perimeter of the room with more of her collage work.

After she had shared her story and experience with Restorative Art and how it had helped her on her personal journey of healing and recovery, she invited us to wander the room and select any of her pieces that drew our attention, in either and inviting way, or even one that repelled.

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At that point she gave us instruction and time to reflect. Then, she explained how to go about the process of collecting the elements we would use in making our own collages.

I confess that I just started tearing into magazines and collected way more than I could use. I collected so many possibilities, that I probably only had time to cut out elements from 1/3 of the material I had collected. I suspect that I have enough leftover magazine pages to make several more than the two I did make.

We were encouraged to write the date and what we were experiencing during this time period, whether it was about what we were doing with the collages in that moment or in the greater context of our lives. Lani counseled that we may not know or fully understand the meaning of our collages, at first. That we may come back to them multiple times throughout our journey and learn more about ourselves, from ourselves, in this way.

As I said, I did two. I’m only going to show one, here. The other one requires some processing and unpacking with my therapist. Both of them do, actually. However, I think the symbolism of the one I’m posting here is probably a very universal theme. Though, when I researched the symbolism I learned some deeper meaning and insight into what this could be saying.

Please let me know how this speaks to you, if it does

Now What?

I’ve spent the past six and a half weeks focusing on prerequisite to job search activities:

Additionally, since I’m trying to get into work I’ve never done before . . . or haven’t done in 25 years (Really?!?!? That much time has passed?!?!?), I’ve applied for two different training opportunities, one which I didn’t get and one which I’m waiting to find out if I get in. I’ve also completed a Volunteer Orientation with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and am scheduled for my first volunteer shift for next week.

In the midst of it all, I’ve been attending a Peer-to-Peer class by NAMI, a REST/DBT class, and other classes and groups taught/hosted by my mental health provider organization (which also happens to be where my application for training was submitted), and attended my 1:1 counseling sessions. I’ve also been taking care of some physical health situations and have been to the doctor a couple of times, acupuncture once, and have my very first chiropractic appointment, ever, later this morning.

There are only two things I haven’t done yet, and one of those is scheduled for this afternoon, Career Exploration. The other, Google training, has been put on the back burner, for the moment, while I take care of some other things that have to be scheduled when that class is available.

Why do I need either Career Exploration or Google training, since I know I want to go into Mental Health Peer Support? For one, I need to know more specifics about transferable skills, more in depth understanding of duties/responsibilities, and what I can expect in regards to compensation. I have a basic, functional understanding of Google Gmail, Docs, and Sheets, however, I don’t really know how they, and the other Google applications work together for business purposes. Like the MS Office classes I took, I figure it’s good information to have, even if my future job isn’t directly related to office work.

Additionally, I need to get a “survival job” ASAP! My electric bill is almost two months behind and my internet bill is almost three months behind. My youngest daughter’s father may or may not be able to cover those expenses for me. Even if he does now, his circumstances have changed to where it’s not a viable long-term solution to getting the bills paid anymore. Even if I get into the training I’ve applied for, it won’t be complete until February or so, then I have to register with the State of Oregon in order to be legal to work. That’s about six or seven months until I MIGHT have a certification.

At any rate, the point is that in six weeks I’ve done about everything I can do, on my own, to get ready to actually look for a job. I’m still not fully ready to actively search for a job. I need to actually work on getting my resume set up for the career I want instead of the kind of work I’ve done in the past. I need a damn good cover letter.

I need interview clothes. I haven’t been employed for over seven years. So, what few clothes left over from my previously employed time are at least 10-15 years old and more than a little worn. A majority of the clothes I’ve acquired since then are mostly hand-me-down, hand-me-overs and beyond casual. The newest clothes have been bought with summer comfort in mind: several spaghetti strap camisole like tank tops and a pair of denim shorts. I don’t have any interview dress shoes. Again, worn out, out dated, and unprofessional describe the shoes I own.

If I can’t afford to pay my bills, I can’t afford to go shopping. Which means, I need to access more services to obtain these necessities. That means I have to find organizations and programs that offer funding to do these things. Funding requires proof of accountability. So, in order to move forward, it’s time to stop being the Lone Ranger and get more help.

Which brings me back to what’s next after completing the NCRC?

It turns out that “membership has its privileges.” Now that I have that certification, I have been assigned a WorkSource Employment Specialist. I have to be in communication with her at least weekly and meet with her on a regular basis. At each meeting, I have to complete and Opportunity Plan.

It’s basically an action plan worksheet. There’s a minimum of one thing that has to be done in each of four categories: Skill Building, Job Search, Networking, and Self-Care.

The benefits of working with her and in this program are:

  • I get a monthly bus pass for the duration of my job search and for three months after employment.
  • I get a small clothing allotment ($100)
  • I have access to Dress for Success – which actually opens a whole new level of pre-employment services, including actually getting a small, employment oriented, wardrobe for interviews and post-employment and a more focused and intensive week of job readiness classes that will help me even more with the resume, cover letter, and interview preparation.

I’m most excited about getting access to the Dress for Success program! However, in order to get the referral to them, I either have to have an interview or attend a Job Fair. When I met with the Employment Specialist yesterday, she didn’t have any Job Fairs scheduled for the near future.

I’m afraid of losing momentum.

Last week, when my daughter was sick, I didn’t leave the apartment to do anything other than check the mail, if I even did that. As the days went on, I felt the depression trying to assert itself. The apathy started rising it’s ugly head. Inertia started taking hold. I basically did NOTHING.

So, I’m concerned that I may relapse with my mental illnesses, if I lose the structure I’ve been building up of having something to leave my apartment for, each day, that is moving me toward a future I want to have.

I’m happy to report that, while preparing this post, I found a Job Fair, left a message to register, and shot my Employment Specialist an email, requesting a referral to Dress for Success.

Much Ado About Nothing Major

If you’ve been reading along, you know that I took the NCRC (National Career Readiness Certificate) assessment yesterday. It’s a certificate that lets employers know that you have basic workplace skills to understand workplace documents, mathematics, and graphic representations of data. Each of the three assessments can achieve rating levels from bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. Whichever of the three has the lowest rating, determines your overall rating. So, a platinum in reading, a silver in math, and a bronze in graphic literacy will yield and overall rating of bronze.

As previously discussed, my perfectionistic nature isn’t happy with the idea of having the lowest score determine the overall outcome. You may also be aware that I was super worried that my math score would drag me down. So, I was incredibly anxious about taking the math assessment.

The assessments are proctored and each one is 55 minutes long with 35 questions. On the math assessment, I guessed at two and ran out of time before finishing the last one or two problems. I assumed that meant I had gotten a low score.

Apparently not! I scored PLATINUM!!!!

I also scored Platinum for reading. The score that dragged me down was Graphic Literacy. I got a Gold rating for that one. So, my overall rating is Gold. Evidently, I’m not suited to be a chemist, medical researcher, or engineer. I’m good with that.

I have to admit, though, that in addition to feeling quite ecstatic about my results – I couldn’t stop smiling for at least the first half hour after finding out my scores – I’m also feeling a bit sheepish.

Why?

Well, I’ve known about the NCRC since 2013, the first time I thought I was ready to reenter the job market. I doubted myself and got overwhelmed by life and didn’t follow through on taking it then. In 2015, I started the process of getting ready to go back to work then, again, and avoided it completely. I could probably have taken it six weeks ago. However, I was so full of self-doubt about my math abilities, that I avoided it.

That pesky perfectionistic nature, that all or nothing attitude has been holding me back.

I’d like to say that this revelation means I won’t give into it’s immobilizing effects again. But, that’s probably not true. What is true is that I can start questioning the self-doubt when it rises its ugly head in the future. I can ask myself if I’m worried about doing something imperfectly or if I’m holding back because I genuinely don’t have the knowledge or skills to attempt it.

Another thing I can do to combat the perfectionism is to evaluate whether the goal I have in mind or the result I want requires the level or even the thing at all that I’m working so hard to be as perfect as possible at.

For instance: A Peer Wellness/Support Specialist doesn’t really need advanced MS Office 13 skills. Yet, I pushed myself to attain advanced certificates in Word and Excel. That job also probably doesn’t require algebra or geometry. Therefore, it would have been no big deal if I had gotten a lower score on the math assessment.

It seems that I have a lot of unpacking to do around the perfectionism. It will give me something to work on with my therapist when next we meet.

Is there an area in your life where perfectionism could be holding you back?