Vulnerability – It Makes Us Real

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My life is full of mistakes. I have loved the wrong man, trusted the wrong friend, been hurt more times than I can count, I have stayed too long in the wrong job, and I have been terrified to move on to something else because I live with a very strong case of imposter syndrome.  And while I hope that I won’t repeat these mistakes – it is inevitable.  Because I truly want to believe the best in people. I hope that my work life improves.  I wake up every day wanting to be smarter than I was the day before. Not only smarter, but braver.  And kinder, and more sophisticated. I want to be more me. There isn’t a whole lot that is wrong with the kind of person that I am. I just want a life that I can be proud of. A life without shame. Spoiler alert – I am proud of the little life that I have created.

But a life without shame can’t be had. No matter what I do, someone will call me out on some aspect.  I’ve had a bad couple of weeks. I ended up sleeping in my closet – and someone that I used to know called me pathetic for doing what I needed to do. Or maybe it was for doing what I needed to do and sharing it. Doesn’t matter. The point is – I took measures to take care of myself, and he didn’t agree with my methods and tried to shame me for them.  Me feeling hurt, scared, and angry from that reaction doesn’t do me any good. Once upon a time, I would have taken those words, and changed my behaviour. I would have tried to be better behaved, be more like the kind of person he wanted me to be.  But I learned this lesson a few years ago, I will never be the kind of person someone else wants me to be. I can only be the best version of me that I find acceptable.  We are all flawed, this is what makes us fantastic. Just because I (sometimes) find it necessary to act in ways that you may not understand, doesn’t mean that I am not of value.

I grew up in a family, where we didn’t show our cards. We worked hard, we had our eyes on our own paper, and we didn’t talk about our feelings. We grew callouses on top of our emotions. Being vulnerable – or letting others see that you are vulnerable was not an option.  And thats fine. It doesn’t work for me – but I can see how it might be easier to live that way. But I have carried around a lifetime of shame. My earliest memories are something that nightmares are made of. And the moment that I started accepting those events, and owning them as part of what makes me Laura, and then sharing them – I started to let go of the pain. I will probably not be free of the pain completely, but I am able to enjoy moments of life. Whereas previously, I didn’t think I deserved to have a single good moment.  Do you know what happens when you feel like you don’t deserve happiness – you form toxic relationships (if at all), you become a shut in, you find yourself in near constant chaos (and not the good kind), you aren’t able to speak up for yourself, and you most certainly will never see yourself as a valuable or good person.  And this is why I share my struggles. You may find it necessary to call me out on that behaviour, but disappointing myself is a whole lot worse than disappointing you.  My apologies if that hurts your feelings, but if I am not honest with myself – then I can’t be honest with you.

I have a hard time trusting people, which sounds counter-intuitive to embracing vulnerability. But I also know that if I don’t take that risk (trust), I will never get any better. So I will always ask the “dumb” question, tell the person he is liked (I still struggle with love – but I am working on it), hold a person’s hand when they are having a rough day – even if I have just encountered them on the street for the first time, share a meal and a conversation with a person who needs to share his or her story. These moments mean everything to me. I don’t do it to feel stronger – I do it so someone else can.

These are a few of the gifts that I have been given, because I have chosen to be open about my struggles and my story. Vulnerability has allowed me to:

  • forgive
  • relate better to children (thats important when you work with children)
  • be open to new ideas
  • be more creative
  • stand up to bullies (or ignore them when it calls for that)
  • create better relationships with my family
  • have wonderful friends
  • become much more empathetic
  • smile
  • volunteer
  • go outside
  • listen
  • be sincere
  • not worry about seeing the world differently than others
  • do my own thing

There is not one thing on that list that I could do when I was living a life that someone else wanted me to lead; when I tried to be pulled together, and stoic (there is absolutely nothing wrong with those qualities, they are in fact ones that I admire). But they aren’t me.  My life needs to be a bit messy, colourful, emotional, and filled with both light and dark. I need to do things on my timetable. And I need to not be shamed when I choose to live differently than you. So I live life on my terms. It’s chaotic but its so so good.

I wish the good life for you, however you choose to live.
*Photo Source Trammell Hudson via Flickr

Walk-in Closet Needed

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In better days, this is what my closet looks like. But its also something else.  Its where I go when life gets to be too much.  I throw down a sleeping bag, and some pillows, bring in a cup of juice, and I close the doors and sit in here until I calm down.  I know its strange.  You don’t need to tell me that its unhealthy. I know that it is. But its also May – a month that is (historically) difficult and filled with anxiety. And while its still early days, the expectation is high that it will match past years.

In the past 2 days I feel like I have lost 15 pounds (I havent) but I am sick, exhausted, and so anxious. I am frantic. The reason?  Its May.  There is nothing I can do to change it. Calling it April 32nd isn’t going to make things better. All I can do is get through this month the best way I can. That means scheduling a bunch of stuff, so I don’t have a lot of alone time to think bad thoughts.  And when I have spare time, putting myself in a small space. I am not claustrophobic, however open spaces really bother me.  So here I am sitting in my closet.  And here is where I will stay until my next student arrives.  I will most likely be sleeping here tonight.  And chances are, I will have a makeshift desk set up-so I can work in here tomorrow.  The clothes are a bit bothersome, but since I don’t have anywhere else to put them, I have no choice but to share their space.

My life isn’t terrible.  I am not destitute or hungry. I am employed, I have friends, people care about me. I am even loved.  But I am in a bit of pain right now.  And this is the only thing that I can think of that will make me feel better.

I will add a little levity and say that my next place will have much nicer closets, also I really need to go shopping.

 

Post-it Psychology

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I am really hard on myself. I would say that I am my worst critic -though not my most imaginative one (saving that story for another day). I didn’t even know how bad I was to myself until some people I didn’t know well, pointed it out to me. So I decided to do something about it. I started taking notes about what I liked about myself, what I wanted to change, and what things I could live with. It’s been a considerable journey – I filled up a fairly large notebook with my findings.

Once the notebook was filled, I kind of forgot everything I put in there – so I started condensing the notes and writing the good stuff onto post-it notes. Then glued them to where I would see them. You know that I already have a thing about lipstick mantras – if you don’t know, I write mantras and words of wisdom in lipstick on mirrors. Sometimes they stay up for months at a time, sometimes they last for about 10 minutes.  They serve the purpose of a quick reminder to check my attitude. But the post it notes – they are reminders that I’m fairly awesome, or need a little work to get to awesome depending on where the note is located.  For instance the note in the bathroom reminds me to compliment my nose – because  someone once told me my nose was globular – and Ive kept that with me, and now I’m a tad insecure about it. But enough about my nose.

On my music stand is a reminder of how far I have come in a year.  It has a date on it only. Next to it is another note that tells me I can accomplish whatever I want as long as I go slow.  And behind my chair, plastered to the wall is another post-it that says “communist”. Its not about my political leanings. Rather, its to remind me of time when I was a fierce performer, and that I could steamroll any challenge that came my way.  It’s there to tell me that I am on my way back.

I have post-its in every room.  I change them according to what I need to hear. They are not to do lists (those are for the phone),  They are simply a nudge to remind myself that I am pretty great – and that it takes a little work to be come truly excellent.

Do you do anything like this to give your mental health a boost, or a kick in the pants – depending on what you need in the moment?

 

Being Mentally Strong

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This post is based on Amy Morin’s book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.
Let me preface this by saying, I have not read her book (yet), but I have read her summary post about it about 900 times in the past year – and I have some thoughts regarding my own journey  struggle journey to becoming mentally strong.

When I first came across this list, it was almost a year ago, and I had just re-injured my elbow so severely, that I couldn’t imagine playing guitar again. More than that, my doctors, and teachers/coaches didn’t think I would ever play guitar again.  If you know me at all, you know that there isn’t a whole lot in life that I love more than being a musician. It’s pretty much the reason for my existence.  So not only was I dealing with that stuff – but after years of teaching, I was unhappy with what had been happening in my studio, and had decided to take a break. I was in an unhappy place. I had isolated myself from a community that I loved, and I didn’t see a way to come back to it.

Of the 13 things that mentally strong people don’t do according to Amy Morin, I can tell you that I was doing all of them. These things are:

  1. They don’t waste time feeling sorry for themselves.
  2. They don’t give away their power.
  3. They don’t shy away from change.
  4. They don’t waste energy on things they can’t control.
  5. They don’t worry about pleasing everyone.
  6. They don’t fear taking calculated risks.
  7. They don’t dwell on the past.
  8. They don’t make the same mistakes over and over again.
  9. They don’t resent other people’s success.
  10. They don’t give up after the first failure.
  11. They don’t fear alone time.
  12. They don’t feel the world owes them anything.
  13. They don’t expect immediate results.

When I first read these- my initial reaction was “Fuck you Amy Morin!”.  I didn’t think that any of my problems at the time had anything to do with me – or at least weren’t my fault. I wanted a quick fix, and I didn’t think I should have to do the work.  I was pretty much the most spoiled brat on the planet when it came to viewing my situation.  I viewed myself as a victim, in the worst way possible. While I have definitely grown this past year, and made some great strides in my guitar playing and the way I see the world (and myself in it), I am still struggling with some of these things. Continue reading

What’s Behind Door Number 1

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When I was a kid, I was obsessed with doors. Behind doors lay magical worlds. Talking creatures that were not human lived just on the other side, colours not found in our world existed there, grand adventures were to be had, but most of all behind special doors there was a place where anxiety couldn’t survive.

In the house I grew up in, closets were a special fascination. My house had huge closets.  Walk-in closets, closets that could be used as clubhouses, and hiding places. Closets that could be used to escape from the noise. These were places where I could escape from myself.

These closets were big enough to drag in cushions, and mattresses, and pillows, and piles of blankets.  I could bring in a stack of books, a flashlight, and mugs of iced tea, and I would be happy there for days. Sometimes I skipped sleeping in my own bed just so I could stay in that world a little longer.

Today the start of (what I call) the PTSD season snuck up on me.  It does so every year. I don’t ever realize its approaching until its here – and I have a panic attack so bad that I don’t think I can survive – in case you are wondering, I did survive.  But I am now aware that for the next 6-10 weeks, life is about to get a bit more challenging.

And right now, the only thing I want, is a closet big enough to drag in an air mattress, and take a flashlight, some books, and a big mug of iced tea, and move to a land (albeit temporarily) where anxiety doesn’t exist.

*Photo Source- Stewart Chambers via flickr