Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Lens of Empathy

Countless times people have expressed their surprise upon hearing my story. Meant as a compliment, they say variations of, "I never would have known," or "I had no idea." I understand the sentiment behind those statements, but it does pose a question. How does the perception of the struggles of others influence how they are treated?

Television, big screen productions, and novels have filled our minds with images of how someone who has faced hardship should look and feel. We expect someone with a traumatic past to wear difficulty on her face, leave a string of violence in her path, battle addiction publicly, and/or cling to unhealthy relationships. When we meet someone who abuses herself with repeated bad choices, we comfort ourselves and explain the negativity away by concluding that she must have had a horrible history. We measure the level of past struggle by current self-inflicted hurt. Because of this flawed measurement system, when we encounter someone centered and positive we assume that her struggle has been light or that the sunshine is somehow dishonest. A more accurate conclusion is that not all who are living well have always had the best life has to offer.

How has your perception of struggle influenced how you treat others? On what factors have you based those perceptions? Are you more sympathetic to visible, known hardship? Everyone you encounter has been hurt. The father trying to set a positive example to his children, the cheerful woman working at your favorite clothing store, and the friend who is always making you laugh have all experienced heartache and are coping with it daily. You may not have witnessed the hurt, but that doesn't make it less real. Trade in the clouded and inconsistent lens of assumption for the more genuine lens of empathy. Reach out to those you love. Check in with your friends, even if you don't think they need it. They may surprise you.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Bad Day

Suzy Stocky and Myla Denise
Some see my encouraging posts and quotes and assume that I do such because I don't know struggle or because I'm not being honest. Both are far from the truth. It's nearly amusing to write this, but I've been accused of being too positive. I've been asked, "Don't you ever have a bad day?"

This has been a tough week. Like most, I was saddened by the loss of Robin Williams, an entertainment icon who brought joy and awe to so many for decades. I continue to watch the city of Ferguson, Missouri get rocked and divided by the shooting of an unarmed teenager by law enforcement. In the last seven days, I've grieved, remembered, and been anxious and outraged.

In addition to the tragedies that I share as a citizen of this country, this tough week became even more difficult personally as I received news that my dear friend passed away. Do I ever have a bad day? I am having one right now.

My friend, someone I shared many conversations, meals, celebrations, tragedy, and simply time with is no longer here. Initially, I found comfort in the memories and in knowing that during our last communication I told Suzy that I missed her. Eventually, though, my feelings changed and I was overcome by the finality of her absence. I can no longer call or text her. I can't take that trip we'd discussed. I will never get to hear her boisterous laugh again and all of that makes my heart hurt.

The positivity that I display and often write about is genuine, but it developed through hardship. It is because of times like these that I can trust that I will get through this newest challenge. Too positive? Not at all. I acknowledge the depth of my hurt. I recognize that the death of my friend brings up feelings related to the loss of my father. I know that when I feel broken and vulnerable it can trigger trauma and if I'm not careful, can result in much more than grief. I do have bad days, but I work through them because I can't afford not to. The risk is too great.

Difficulty and heartache are common experiences. Yours may differ from mine, but they are no less real or influential. You get to choose how to handle—or not handle—your hardships. I have considered several ways to cope over the last few days, not all of them good or healthy. Today I choose to write through my bad day. I hope you will choose wisely as you face yours.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Emotional Toxins

Toxins are harmful. Ingesting them can require medical attention at best. At worst, they can lead to long-term illness or death. Knowing the dangers associated with toxins deters us from ingesting them, but we aren't as careful with the emotional toxins that we allow to seep into our lives.

There was a time when I willingly fluctuated between living peacefully and tiptoeing in turmoil. My assumption was that the peace would minimize the pain, but it was the pain that infiltrated the peace. It wasn't enough to only give up my peace in increments—only on holidays or special occasions. If I genuinely wanted to live in peace, I had to stop self-administering the emotional toxins completely. Living in peace required me to close the door on sources of anxiety and unease. It was not safe at any level or interval nor worth the risk to dabble in toxicity. In order to obtain peace of mind, I had to sever all ties with emotional toxins.

Nudging up to emotional toxins is gambling with your peace of your mind. Eventually, toxicity will demand a hefty payment of clarity, health, stability, positive relationships, balance, and ultimately, self-love. Consider the sources of anxiety and unease in your life. How much of it is a result of normal adult responsibility and life events vs. ill-advised decisions, habitual behavior, guilt, and fear of the unknown? Peace of mind is priceless, but it isn't free. Are you willing to give up the emotional toxins in your life in order to pursue it?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Permission to Heal

Perception influences how we face life's challenges. We understand the care and patience needed to cope with circumstances like loss, an injury, or an equal opportunity illness. These situations, and ones like them, are not attached to judgment so we give ourselves proper time and permission to heal. However, not all circumstances elicit the same reaction.

In 2011, my father died suddenly. I have given—and will continue to give—myself the space to acknowledge what I feel, talk about him, and do what is necessary to cope with his absence. I don't pretend or hide my hurt to make anyone, including myself, more comfortable because I don't see the need. There is no judgment attached to my grief. I haven't been so kind to myself in all situations, though, and as a result, I have complicated and extended my healing process.

I was sexually abused for seven years. The emotion tied to simply making that straightforward admission is exactly what made the road to recovery difficult and complex. Unlike grieving the loss of my father, shame and self-blame was connected to the abuse so I did everything I could to avoid facing its impact on my life. Instead of focusing energy and attention on pursuing peace and making emotionally healthy decisions, I tried to protect myself by ignoring its influence and I tried to protect others from my pain by hiding it. I muted my hurt and took on the unreasonable responsibility of making others comfortable with what I had to endure.

Maybe you have an issue that you've attached to shame, guilt, self-blame, or disappointment. Whether you are coping with the effects of child abuse, sexual assault, abandonment, neglect, domestic violence, infidelity, an eating disorder, an addiction, or a mental health issue, acknowledge your truth and work through the process of recovery. Release the judgment(s) attached to your circumstance. Detach from anyone or anything that hinders your healing. Let go of the notion that it's been long enough already. Free yourself from making others comfortable with what you had to endure. When you separate judgment from your circumstance, you can walk in your truth and give yourself permission to heal.