June 7, 2011

hospitalbracelet

Where do I even begin? I guess the best place to start would be to explain the significance of the date: June 7, 2011 was the day I tried to take my life for the first time. I’m not going to rehash all the not-so-pleasant details or any of what led up to this day two years ago…I talk about most of that in my “Pensieve Dump” post (about three quarters of the way down, the paragraph where I start talking about February 2011).

I brought this day up during my last session with M and it wasn’t because I wanted to talk about it, but because I couldn’t remember the actual date…I got confused somewhere. In talking to some people lately, helping them try to understand their friends who are going through some of the same things I have/am, I was telling them that attempt one was June 6th. And then I re-read something I wrote some time ago and I had written there that it was June 7th. So I was like fuck…you would think this would be a date I would never forget. I think I got confused while filling out forms asking about the date I had last worked, THAT was June 6th, the day before the attempt…and I’ve spent so much time writing down June 6th that my stupid brain got confused. I brought it up to M because I knew she could access my medical record and tell me the actual date of my admission to the ER. She was rather excited that I had gotten confused and had technically forgotten the date. “Isn’t that a good thing?” she asked. And I said, “NO!” And she asked me why, bewildered. And I said that, at least to me, that date is just as significant as a birthday or the date of the passing of a loved one. No, it’s not pleasant and something one would normally “celebrate” and as much as I would like to forget it, you don’t often forget such traumatic events. If we could, I’m sure we would put therapists out of business. Another part of why I wanted to make sure I had the right date was my OCD. For my own peace of mind, I wanted to know/remember what the actual date was even if I wasn’t going to write about it. People ask me all the time, if we talk about this subject, when I did it. I would like to give them the real answer and be sure of myself. I don’t even know if this is making sense…the OCD and just wanting to have my shit in order and know for sure rather than second guess myself/wonder if that really is the right date. But…the picture above is my actual hospital bracelet so June 7th is the “winner”…the actual date.

Why I even wanted to blog about this is lost on me now. Maybe I just wanted to pay homage to the date, acknowledge it and reflect on the two years since it happened. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different…” That pretty much sums it up. End post. Adios.

 

 

 

But seriously though…that’s what it feels like. I don’t feel any different than I did two years ago. I don’t feel healthier, “better”, stronger. I still feel like I’m in the same place. But when I pick myself and my brain apart, I can see some notable changes. I wonder what this blog would be like…what you and I would be able to see had I started this the day after I got discharged from the hospital… Since the last six-ish years have been preserved on my personal Facebook page, I can definitely see MAJOR changes there. (Word to the wise: don’t Facebook-stalk yourself at 2 AM.)

I suppose we can start with my “progress” in therapy. I’ve been with M for a majority of the last two years. She wasn’t the first therapist I saw when I was discharged but she was THE ONE when I met her a month or so later. (I had a different therapist at the time but it really wasn’t working out and I had no interest in continuing to see her.) Naturally, it took me some time to get to know M and trust her. Once I did, it was no holds bar. Anything and everything came out…tears, snot, laughter and all. I think M knows the real me more than anyone else, even better than my mom (though my mom would beg to differ and would scoff if I dared to suggest anyone knew me better than the woman who gave birth to me). M has seen it all…the good, the bad, the ugly and the REALLY ugly. We’ve had fights…not knock-down drag-out fights…but fights where I stopped seeing her for a period of time or refused to make a follow-up appointment. But we are (now) so honest with each other that we can talk about whatever upset me or her, dissect it if we have to and move on…and do it in such a way that it’s not something either of us has to bring up again or throw back in the other person’s face when upset in the future. That’s pretty awesome because I don’t know anyone in my life that can do that…not bring the past up when disagreeing/fighting. M, much to my chagrin, gets EXCITED when I’m pissed off at her. Her grin and the twinkle in her eyes pisses me off when I’m already pissed off! “Feelings are good!” “Let me have it!” And I’m like, “For the love…” I’ve probably been the most real and the most open and honest with M in terms of showing genuine laughter and genuine pain…genuine emotions period. Not many people can make me cry (not many people have even seen me cry). She can. Not many people can make me laugh without saying a single word. She can. And not many people can make me laugh and cry at the same time. She can. (And sometimes I hate that she can do that! I’m trying to be serious and she’s not helping!) And knowing myself and how I let people “get to me” and my heart, I think the fact that she can do all those things is a testament to the depth of our relationship and the trust and respect I have for her. I know of no one else in my life that can do the above things to me or bring out the above things in me…and I don’t care that only my therapist can…I’m just grateful someone can. With M’s prodding, she has gotten me to do things I would have never done if left to my own devices. The first major thing she got me to do was go to group therapy. THAT was a fight and I have to give M props for being persistent. I fought her for over two months about going and finally, I was just like, “If I go, will you stop nagging me?!” M said yes and off I went, dragging my feet, feeling defeated. M even said I only had to go once or twice and if I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to continue. And so there I sat in group, stubborn as hell, arms crossed, not saying a single word for about a good ten months (don’t ask my why I stayed because I still don’t know the answer). Mix K in there somewhere and refer to the “Boots of Awesome” post for how that adorable slice of heaven got to me. As stubborn as I was during my time in group, I still soaked up what I was being taught like a sponge…so much so that I actually had to be kicked out of group. M and K called it “graduating” but it didn’t feel so pomp and circumstance to me. M told me (and the group) on my last day (and continues to tell her fellow DBT cohorts) that if she ever calls in sick, call me because I can teach the group. (Knowing the material and being able to execute it are two totally different things but that’s a different post for a different day.) I learned a lot in that group and I continue to learn and practice the skills I was taught even though I’m no longer in the group. Graduation or not, using DBT skills will always be a work in progress and something I don’t feel anyone can master, without effort, all the time. That was huge…the group journey. Even other therapists, who facilitated with K before M even became a part of the group, who knew me in my early days of group and later filled in when M or K was sick or out of the office, have made comments to M that essentially said, “Holy shit…that girl is on fiyah!” I won’t poo-poo the change or “compliment”…I own it. My group journey was significant, especially when you compare the beginning me to the end me. I don’t give myself kudos often but I think I will when it comes to group.

M has recently started referring to me as her therapy baby because she’s learning right along with me, like a new mom. (For clarification purposes, M is only a couple years older than I am and is still a relatively new therapist. Lucky for her, she got the one patient early in her career that will test her patience, skills and everything she knows/thought she knew.) I have severely tested M and her fellow therapists and I’m not exaggerating. They have never had anyone that has been in such intensive therapy for as long as I have (and who was committed/persistent enough to never miss or cancel a single appointment), been in a therapy group so long I had to be kicked out, and stuck around long enough after “graduating” from said group. So now everyone is all, “Well now what the fuck do we do with/teach her?” I’m an experiment y’all. M has told me on countless occasions that I have taught her a lot…how to be a better therapist, what cues to pay attention to and how to get people to continue to see/talk to their therapist after said therapist pissed them off. I am, apparently, the exception rather than the rule when it comes to being a patient. I have never missed or canceled an appointment or group session and I have never been late. Most people give up and do not finish group therapy which is through no fault of the therapists…it’s the patient who said fuck it, gave up and stopped coming. It is not a therapist’s job to chase you if you run out the door and don’t come back. Also, I had no idea that such a big chunk of therapy patients only go to therapy and group when it fits into their schedule and/or when they feel like it. To me, therapy is (and always will be) a commitment…and if I don’t make the effort, how can I expect my therapist to make the effort? You get out what you put in. M has told me, and I’ve witnessed first hand, that a lot of people who start group end up quitting (often within the first month or two) before giving it (and themselves) a chance. It’s not instant gratification and it takes some effort if you want to get something beneficial out of it. I may have fought M about going to group and I may have wanted to give up and stop going more than once…but I didn’t. I kept going. It wasn’t a cure all and it didn’t fix anything, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get anything out of it…and that goes for more than just better coping skills. If I hadn’t gone to group, I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to meet K and let her join me in my journey and some days, just going to group and having it take up a good chunk of my afternoon was my therapy and was what got me through the day despite what was taught or said that day. I stuck it out and I followed through with it until I was told I had to be done. So to have someone so stubborn refuse to go to group, then cave and go, and then stay to the point where she had to be kicked out really threw M and the DBT team for a loop. They are now in the process of devising an “after treatment” treatment: what do you do/where do you go in therapy after a patient graduates? It’s never happened/gotten this far before. I’m a lab rat. They’re still trying to figure out what to do with me because by some fucking miracle, I haven’t given up yet and they’re apparently not about to give up on me, even if they’re not entirely sure what to do. We’re making it up as we go. I’m breaking new ground y’all! To future patients: you’re welcome.

Another big change I see, that maybe a lot of people don’t see or can’t see, is my attitude and my thinking. I’m sure someone reading this will call me out and say that of course people are going to be able to notice your attitude, especially if it’s changed. And for clarification purposes, I guess it’s more my attitude towards/about certain things and not necessarily my attitude as it relates to my outward behavior (though I’m sure to the people who are looking for it will see some change in that area too). I’ve always been a thinker. I prefer to think before I act or speak (though I don’t always do it) and I will over-analyze a situation/conversation/problem/person until there is nothing left to analyze. That hasn’t changed, much to my dismay. While I’ve always thought of myself as a thoughtful person (no pun intended), I think I’ve become even more so over the past two years and probably over the past year especially. I LOVE giving…and I don’t have much to give but people severely underestimate the power of a kind word or a simple, “Hi. I’m thinking about you.” in the form of a text message or card in the mail. (For more on this, please read my “Warm Fuzzies” post.) No matter what mood I’m in, you can be sure that I’ve tried to do something nice for someone at least once a day. I often do it anonymously, but not always…and I think it’s pretty huge that I can pull my head out of my ass long enough to shoot some love over to someone every now and then. It makes their day, makes them smile and in return, gives me warm fuzzies…and I like that…a lot. Win/win. I’ve also become much more careful with my words. I’m not perfect, so I do fuck up here and there but for the most part, I ask myself, before I speak, “How would this sound/feel if it were said to me?” Words are SO powerful…that sticks and stones ditty is a load of crap. I’m the type of person who can forget an entire conversation we had, yet hang on to one single thing you said and repeat it to myself over and over in my head. This goes for good things and bad things. For example, K called me one week when M was out and I was a sobbing hot mess and I remember bits and pieces of the conversation but what I took from it and repeated over and over in my head (and still do, to this day) is what she said to me at the end of that phone call: “You rock my world, J.” And I’m going to take a wild guess and say that K doesn’t even remember saying that. She might remember it if I brought it up, but without prompting, she may not ever give it a second thought. K isn’t nearly as forthcoming with her feelings as M is and that’s just how therapists are (K is also not my personal therapist and now that I’m out of group, I don’t see or interact with her very often)…they choose how much they want to share and say regarding their personal lives and feelings for their patients. So knowing that about K and knowing that she doesn’t say things like that often meant the world to me (obviously, if I still remember it like it was yesterday). And on the flip side, during a conversation (a rather one-sided conversation as M was doing all the talking and I was crying) M and I had, she said, “I don’t know what more I can teach you. I don’t know what more to do with you.” Forget the rest of the 49 fucking minutes I was with her and what she said, that is what stuck with me and that is what kept replaying over and over in my head. (For clarification purposes, M was not saying this in exasperation and giving up on me though that’s what I thought, heard and felt at the time.) I have a new appreciation for the little things people say and do and I’ve realized that people usually don’t give a second thought about them, but the person you did said action to or said whatever you did to may remember and think about it for a lifetime. That person you flipped off while on the interstate this morning? You probably didn’t give a second thought about it all day and won’t ever think about it again, but perhaps the person you did that to…maybe your action ruined their entire day and/or made them start their day off on the wrong foot. Don’t get all philosophical on me and say that that person you flipped off had a choice to let your behavior affect them or not (and even had the choice of not engaging in the behavior that led you to flip them off in the first place)…my point is that sometimes it’s not always easy to brush something so “innocent” off your shoulders and forget it happened or forget it was said…and the things you don’t give a second thought about are some of the same things others can’t STOP thinking about. In summation: if you can’t say/do something nice, don’t say/do nothin’ at all. (Thank you Bambi, Thumper and Walt Disney for teaching me that lesson, even if I learned it a little late in life.)

One of the questions I get asked most when talking about suicide with other people is, “Are you glad you were found/saved?” My answer two years ago and my answer now has not changed: “No.” A friend recently countered my answer with, “But J, you said you believe all things happen for a reason. You were found/saved not once, but three times…don’t you think there’s a reason for that?” Here is where I’m probably going to totally contradict myself and not make sense…forgive me in advance. Yes, I believe all things happen for a reason. I think I can say that yes, being saved three times means that someone thinks this bitch ain’t done here yet as much as she wants to be done. Do I know the reason I’m still alive? No…’cause Lord knows I shouldn’t be here right now. None of my attempts were half-assed. I should seriously NOT be alive right now. And then, of course, I sound like an ass when I say that no, I’m not grateful I was saved. I do think there’s a reason for it, but it’s never been revealed to me and to be honest, I’m kind of tired of waiting to be shown and whatever the reason may be, I really don’t want to go through all this shit just to find out what it is. Everyone can make the argument that you never know what you will do in life or the impact you may have. I could win a Nobel Peace Prize, I could find a cure for cancer…there are a million and one things I could be or do. I don’t have a degree in statistics, but they don’t look too favorable considering I’m nearly at the halfway point in life and have accomplished jack shit. And if you’re going to ask me what would make my life worth living, save yourself the e-mail and breath because I don’t know nor can I think of something that would make life worth living right now. I made a choice two years ago, an informed decision. Some people think you have to be off your fucking rocker to make such an insane decision like ending your life and do it while knowing all the pro’s and con’s…I’m here to tell you that it’s possible. It doesn’t happen with everyone nor does it happen all the time or with all suicide attempts but in a nutshell, I’m telling you that I did my research and I weighed the pro’s and con’s and made a rational informed decision. Whether or not I’m here for a reason, I’m mad that a decision was taken away from me (e.g. my life was saved). I was gone in attempt one…literally. I was found blue and unconscious and I was even told that had I been found a minute later, I would not be here writing this right now. That choice was taken away from me and I can’t tell you if that’s what upsets me about the whole thing or if it’s because, two years later, I’m still miserable and wish I had just succeeded (or been left to succeed because technically I DID succeed, I was just…not left to finish succeeding). Perhaps a bit of both? I am not pro-anything. I am pro-choice when it comes to pretty much everything. I may not like or agree with your choice, but I support your right to choose what you think is best for you, however wrong, sinful, immoral or bad others view your choice. I will not condemn you for the choices you make whether or not I agree with them. It’s not me that has to live with your choice; it’s you. No one but me has to live with three failed suicide attempts and no one but me has to live with all the other bad choices I’ve made over the last two years (and over the course of my whole life, if you want to go that far)…I have to live with it. I own everything I do, be it good or bad. I don’t blame my feelings, my problems or anything else on anyone but myself whether or not the blame should be rightly placed on someone else (this leads to many long nitty-gritty therapy sessions because I will own shit that isn’t even mine to own…but again, different post for different day). My mom thinks I am on some hell-bent mission to make her life miserable and everything I do and have done over the past two years has been some life mission on my part to make her life a living a hell. This boggles my mind when, in the next breath, she will call me selfish. Soooo…I’m being SELFISH by doing all this to get back at YOU for wronging me somehow? I don’t have a math degree either but 1 + 1 is not adding up to 2 here. She refuses to understand/validate that I keep trying to end my life to actually SPARE her the heartache and headache of dealing me with me for the rest of my/her life. Think of all the money you will no longer have to give me to pay my bills, think of all the worry that will be lifted from your shoulders when you won’t have to wonder why I’m awake at 3 AM or why I won’t talk to you or how the hell I landed in a psych ward AGAIN. I could go on but that mess is also a different post for a different day. I’m not here to convince you that suicide is right or wrong. I’m just saying that it’s a choice and it will always be a choice. Per M and K, it doesn’t have to be a choice…I know that but I choose to let it be a choice for me…that card is always on the table and has been for two years. I’ve been accused of not letting the choice of suicide go as if it were a security blanket and if you want to psychoanalyze me, that’s probably right…it is a security blanket…I always have an out if I keep the suicide card in my hand. And while that may be true, that’s not how I see it. The suicide card is one I want to play, but no one will let me…letting their choices and morals get in the way of and prevent any choices I want to make. Perhaps a better metaphor is that I want to play the suicide card, but per the “rules of the game”, I cannot. It’s not a joker card or a “draw 4” wild card in UNO that I can lay down and play whenever I want to…I have to wait to play it and/or it’s not a playable card at all (in terms of the “rules of the game/life”). Maybe it’s like the Old Maid card…it’s not a playable card and it’s not a card anyone wants to end up with. Am I making any sense at all? God I hope so… In summation, I don’t keep suicide floating around in my brain or in my hand of cards “just in case”. I want to play that card but things and people and “rules” prevent me from doing so. It’s never a last-ditch thing for me…it never has been. It’s never been a “fuckitallimdone” decision. I don’t hold on to it for when things get bad just so I have somewhere to run…so I have an “easy” out. In my opinion, things are already bad and I want out but y’all won’t let me. Yes, I know I can discard it and choose to not let it be a choice for me but I am actively choosing to let it be a choice for me because I want it to be a choice…no one is forcing me to keep that card in my hand. I’m sure we could throw this around and dissect it all day but ain’t nobody got time for that and I don’t feel like I’m making any sense…so let’s move on, shall we?

Something I roll my eyes at and blame voodoo magic on is the timing of this “anniversary” and how I feel right now. I don’t want to get into details, but suffice it to say that June 7th almost became an anniversary twice over…2011 and 2013. For clarification purposes, I have never actively chosen the dates I’ve attempted to take my life…the dates have no significance to me whatsoever unless I survive and they become a date like June 7, 2011. And also, don’t assume that just because I am still here and able to write this post commemorating the first June 7th to mean I’m no longer feeling that way. It just didn’t happen like it almost happened. Capisce?

I never put myself in a pessimist or optimist category and one of my major faults is that I tend to look at how much further I have to go instead of looking at how far I’ve come. If you ask me if I’ve changed, gotten better or healthier over the last two years, I will tell you no. If you ask M, K or a select few friends, they will tell you yes, I have changed/made progress. I concede that things are different…as in how I think and my attitude towards certain things (i.e. I’ve become VERY uncensored, especially over the past six to eight months, not caring much about what other people think about me and just being me and adopting a “like it or leave it” attitude)…but I don’t think things are better nor do I think that I am healthier. When I look at just the surface:

– Me two years ago: suicidal and done.
– Me now: suicidal and done.*

I see no difference. Do you? I will cave and give myself some gold stars in some areas but NO ONE can look at the last two years of my life and say I didn’t try. Some people think (and tell me) I didn’t/I’m not trying hard enough. I’m just at a point where a lot of people are saying, “I don’t know what more I can do with/for you.” And I am wholeheartedly agreeing with them…I don’t know either. I have exhausted the entire pharmacy, being on every kind of medication combination possible. I have been in intensive one-on-one and group therapy for two years. I have done (almost) everything M has ever asked me to do, even if I fought her before surrendering. I’ve never been one to do things half-assed. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to go above and beyond…that’s just how I do. My suicide attempts are no exception. Sometimes I think, “I can do this! I can win and live and be happy!” and other times I’m like, “You are so stupid for thinking you can win.” I feel like I am trying to win a win-less fight.

And it’s funny how I imagined
That I could win this win-less fight
But maybe it isn’t all that funny
That I’ve been fighting all my life
But maybe I have to think it’s funny
If I wanna live before I die
And maybe it’s funniest of all
To think I’ll die before I actually see
That I am exactly the person that I want to be

Oh this roller-coaster of life…it’s what drives us to keep going and it’s what drives us to give up. Some people can handle it and some people can’t. Some people can endure and some people can’t. I probably can endure…if I chose to…but do I want to? Is it worth it? What makes it worth it? Only time will tell, I suppose. I’ve been through a lot…others have been through more. There’s a difference between giving up and knowing when you’ve had enough. I can handle, tolerate and put up with a lot of shit…and not only can I, but I do…on a daily basis. But just because I am strong enough to handle the pain doesn’t mean I deserve it. Granted, I probably create a lot of it myself….but remember: I own all my shit. I don’t feel that the world is out to get me nor do I think that my hell hole is any worse or more miserable than someone else’s. I’m not here writing this to make you feel sorry for me. PLEASE, for the love of God, do not feel sorry for me. I just know my limits. If I’ve learned anything over the last two years, I’ve learned more about myself, who I am, why I do what I do and why I think what I think. I don’t necessarily believe that “that which does not kill you only makes you stronger” but I concede that I am stronger than I ever gave myself credit for…stronger than I thought I was, even if I’ve whimped out a few times and tried to end my life. I’ve told people my story time and again and I’ve gotten a lot of “holy shit”‘s and “I would have never been able to live through that.” and “Oh my god, that’s a lot for someone your age.” I’ve gained more insight into what makes me tick, what I can and cannot handle, what I can and cannot do, what I want and do not want. The last two years have not been all bad. Just like a heart monitor in the hospital…each blip on the screen represents a heartbeat and each blip in my life is a moment of happiness or joy. I’ve had to let some people go and I’ve welcomed new people into my life. I’ve even welcomed some people back who left or that I lost touch with. I’ve experienced some amazing things…amazing good, amazing bad and amazing I-can’t-believe-I-lived-through-that. I don’t have any regrets. I love the people who are in my life and I love them even more when I turn around after falling and they’re still standing there. What hurts and what makes me push them away is that I don’t want to cause chaos for them. I don’t want to hurt anyone or affect anyone’s life while I ride my roller-coaster of ups and downs. I say shit I don’t mean, I shut people out, I get angry and I get hurt…and in doing that, I inadvertently hurt others…and I don’t want to do that…it crushes me. I realize that had I left this world two years ago, and even if I choose to leave it now, I will hurt people. But pro’s and con’s: do I hurt you now by leaving, knowing that that pain will lessen over time…or do I let you hurt/cause chaos for you as long as you choose to have me in your life? I don’t want to hurt you…I don’t want to hurt anyone…yet I know that I affect everyone who comes into contact with me…be you the person I flipped off on the interstate this morning or be you my therapist or best friend, who knows everything…knows my heart…and will do anything and everything to help me keep going.

I thought I had a point in writing this and as I get ready to wrap it up, I realize that I have no point. It’s been two years. A lot of shit has gone down and I don’t expect anything less in the next two years to come…and the two years after that…and so on and so on and scooby-dooby-doo-yeah.

6_7_2011

A MILLION

A million different realities
A million different me’s
A million different “A”s
A million different “Z”s

A million steps forward
A million steps back
A million steps up
A million steps down

A million miles away
A million miles to go
A million miles walked
A million miles flown

A million things I want
A million things I yearn
A million things I know
A million things I learn

A million loves lost
A million loves gained
A million loves healed
A million loves pained

A million ways to live
A million ways to die
A million ways to laugh
A million ways to cry

A million ways to hop
A million ways to prance
A million ways to sing
A million ways to dance

A million things written
A million things read
A million things forgotten
A million things unsaid

* This is not a suicide note or me saying, “Goodbye cruel world.” I’m done leaving notes and even if I did leave a note, I wouldn’t post it publicly for a bunch of strangers to read. This is just a lot of nonsensical rambling, trying to put words to my thoughts/feelings and failing. This post didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to and I blame that on my current emotional state, which is probably very obvious if you read in between the lines. But I chose to post this anyway. It is what it is. This is water.

You’ve got a friend in me…or do you?

friend (noun) \ˈfrend\
1. A person whom one knows, likes, and trusts.
2. A person whom one knows; an acquaintance.
3. A person with whom one is allied in a struggle or cause; a comrade.
4. One who supports, sympathizes with, or patronizes a group, cause, or movement.

Where. The hell. Do I even. Begin. Let’s start with me. I am an introvert. It doesn’t mean I’m painfully shy (just normal shy) or antisocial, it just means that I prefer my own company over the company of other people. People stress me out…be they family, strangers, parties, whatever the case may be. Too much social interaction will send me into panic mode. My idea of a nice Saturday night is a hot bath, drinking a Coca-Cola and a good book or movie…not being at a packed bar getting shit-faced drunk. I’ve always been this way. It doesn’t mean I don’t have friends, but I’m a tad more selective about who I choose to let into my private world and I don’t have a lot of friends and that is purely by choice, not happenstance. Sometimes I wonder if something is wrong with me because I see a lot of my friends on Facebook have friends into the 300’s and I’ve never had more than 90 at any given time. I’m also not one of those people who sends a friend request to anyone and everyone I’ve ever met over the course of my 30 years of life. My Facebook friend rule is that you don’t have to be my BFF, but you have to have known me (e.g. went to school with me), know me now (e.g. you’re in my contacts list, work with me), or you have to have meant something to me, are more than just an acquaintance or someone I said hi to once back in ’96. I try to keep my insanity at bay “in public”…be it on Facebook or in real life. I have my good days and my bad days and I may post a snarky comment here and there but you will never see a status update from me that says “I hate everything #slashwrist”. If you’re around me in public and I’m having a rough day or week, I’ll probably just be pretty quiet; I try really hard to not bring people down with me when I myself am feeling down. Also, if I’m not in a good place, you probably won’t catch me out in public anyway…but commitments are commitments and I tend to be someone who follows through with what they say and doesn’t break promises, appointments or commitments.

I have some absolutely amazing and awesome people in my life that I am beyond grateful for and I am honored that I am their friend and that they are my friends…my best friends. I have two friends in particular that I just love the shit out of. They both insist on living on the east coast which is their only fault, but I like to think we’ve done a pretty bang up job keepin’ it real with each other despite the distance. One lady, C, is the Ethel to my Lucy…the Patsy to my Eddie…the Thelma to my Louise…the Shirley to my Laverne. And I’m quite sure, if there ever comes a time when we do live closer to each other, there will be some new state laws passed. The thing that makes me sort of giggle about this relationship and makes me appreciate it all the more, is that C is over 50. But if you look at our text/e-mail/Facebook conversations, you wouldn’t ever know that (I’m not calling her immature). How we ever even came to be so close given the age difference escapes me because it was just one of those magical awesome things that just happened and I’m so grateful to have her in my life. She plays many roles in my life, however. She can be that level-headed mom voice because I despise my own mother and am more apt to go to and listen to C than I am my own mom. She also has that experience thing that older friends and moms have…the kind where they tell you that the adventure you are about to embark on is a really bad idea, but they know you’re gonna do it anyway, so they just grab a bowl of popcorn and sit back and watch…and you come back to them later with your tail between your legs because you know they were right and you hate that they were right and you’re kicking yourself for not listening to them…and then you turn around and do it again. Yeah…that. But C never says, “I told you so.” She’ll more than likely just laugh at me, call me a “mattrez hag jynseckz hooka ho” and tell me she lives me (yes, I meant to type live…inside BFF joke). C is also someone who will help me hide a body and if you can’t say anything nice, come sit by us. C and I have some of the most epic conversations in the history of friendship (made even more humorous by our autocorrect typos) and we can cover everything from LOLcats, World of Warcraft, dickwagons, relationshit (we’re really good at making up new words), why certain laws exist and why they should be banned…and how to import shit to get around those laws. In summation, C and I often tell each other that we know too much about each other to NOT be friends…so I’m pretty sure we’re in this for life…which is fine by me.

(I am on the right, the darker text bubbles.)

C1

C2

(Ignore the arrow; I have this weird thing where I ALWAYS catch the clock at 11:11, AM or PM, doesn’t matter. I’ve been keeping track since December. Add that to the list of reasons I’m insane.)

C3

(If none of the screen caps/conversations made sense or made you laugh…it’s not you, it’s me and C.)

BFF

My other BFF for life, B, is just a couple years older than me, but in a very different place in life…and in the country. Also on the east cost, she’s married with kids. (For clarification purposes, C is also married and has a grown child…who, coincidentally [or not?], has the same name as I do. C had to invent a nickname for me so her daughter and I know which one of us she is yelling at.) B and I have a relationship based on just pure love and nerdiness. We like to be crazy, off-the-wall, different…we don’t follow the crowd, we make our own damn crowd. Our conversations often consist of baby poop, breastfeeding, The Beatles, Harry Potter or Twilight. (As an example, I will be trying to communicate just how much I heart her face…in a text message…and I’ll say, “So the lion fell in love with the lamb. What a stupid lamb.” B: “What a sick, masochistic lion.” I let her be the lion because she is so totally Team Edward…I even bought her a Mrs. Cullen t-shirt for Christmas one year.) We also talk about normal 30-year-old shit and she bitches about her hubby when he’s being a douche-nugget and I’ll tell her that if he doesn’t get his shit together, I’ma go all Lorena Bobbitt on him and cut his dick off and throw it out somewhere in Texas, where hopefully a chupacabra will eat it so it can’t be sewn back on so he can’t make porn movies after B dumps his ass. And she knows I’m not kidding. (Hmm…maybe I should edit that part out…”premeditation” gets thrown around WAY too easily these days…) We are totally convinced that we were separated at birth and when we’re actually physically together, people think we’re sisters; we look that much alike. I think it’s awesome. I just hate the distance. But if you really want to test a friendship, keep it going from across the country and if you still have it after 5+ years, you got something worth holding on to. Both B and I and C and I get into some crazy shenanigans just through texts and Facebook alone; you should see what happens when we’re actually together. I think people are slightly frightened when we are in the same state together at the same time…and people should be frightened…because it’s awesome…and really loud…between the music and the raucous laughter. (Did you a hear a raucous? I didn’t hear a raucous. Can you describe the raucous?)

(A typical afternoon conversation with B. Again, I’m on the right, the darker bubble.)

B4

B3

B2

B1

(We’re dorks…I know…but this is love.)

I would call those two, and probably a few other people in my life, my tried and true friends. They love me for me, all of me, good and bad, and with all the shit I’ve pulled over the last two years (and over our entire friendship), they’re still the ones who’s texts wake me up in the morning and the ones who can make me laugh from a couple thousand miles away with a single word. Aside from all the awesomeness and fun stuff, we’re always there for each other during the bad stuff too. We’ve stayed up late for each other, talking, making sure one or the other is going to be okay. We listen to any rants and always keep close tabs on each other. We don’t have to constantly “check in” or “report” to each other…we know each other SO well, that we just know when something’s not right…when there’s a disturbance in the force. That’s how strong our bond is…for both B and C.

That stuff is all fun and awesome, but it’s not why I’m writing this post. I’m writing this because I’ve had the topic of “friendship” on my mind and some questions that have kept me up late at night. As an introvert, I’ve already told you I don’t have many friends and that’s the way I like it. Quality over quantity. Another reason is because it will take some time and patience on your part if you want to be a part of my life. I don’t let just anyone walk in and out of my life as they please. As harsh as this may sound, you have to prove to me that you want to be in my life and that you’re not gonna fuck with me before I even consider letting you past the threshold of the door. (Some of you will end up fucking with me anyway, but that’s the way the ball bounces. Don’t be sorry I trusted you; my mistake, not yours.) If I tell you I trust you, don’t make me regret it. If I tell you I love you, I mean it. I love hard and with all that I have and if I have been given the opportunity to be your friend, I will do my best to be an awesome friend for and to you. I’m not saying I will be perfect…in fact, I’ll probably tell you straight up that I’m gonna fuck up here and there, but we’ll talk about it and I’ll apologize and we’ll resolve the issue and then hug…promise. To those that mean the most to me, I try hard (especially with those girls on the east coast) to remind them that I do love them, that I think about them often, and that I value and appreciate them. I’m the kind of person who will mail you random cards and shit just to make you smile and/or give you a warm fuzzy. I will post stupid YouTube videos and pictures on your Facebook wall that will make you snort-laugh. If I’m out and about and I see something that makes me think of you, I will buy it and give it to you, take a picture and text it to you, or just holla somehow and tell you, “Yo bish! I saw dis and I thought of you! I heart your face!” That’s just how I roll. That is how I like to be a friend for someone. I do the same shit for people who live down the street as I do for those who live across the country. (And just to tell you how corny B and C and I can get, we’ll watch the same movie/TV show at the same time and text our commentary and sarcastic remarks back and forth to each other or on Facebook for the public to see [the SuperBowl was festive this year]…because we are dorks and that’s how we roll. It’s also quite entertaining to our mutual friends…especially C’s daughter who thinks her mom is insane when C is in the computer room busting a gut reading my running commentary on Downton Abbey.)

(Side note: If I’m weird around you, it means I’m comfortable.)

I am also that friend who, despite her own insanity, will drop everything to be there for you. This sometimes backfires on me. I am SO gun-ho about wanting to be needed and wanting to be liked, that at times, I forget to take care of myself because I’m so busy trying to take care of you. I know what it means to feel like you have no one to turn to and no one who understands you, especially in regards to mental illness. But sometimes I question if I am really THAT friend you should call if you are experiencing/going through some of the same hell that I am (e.g. depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations, etc.). On one hand, I’d like to think that I’d understand more than most and that I can probably empathize better than those who are not in the same boat. But…it’s kind of like AA. In AA (I only know this because my half-brother is going through AA/rehab), you are told to NOT associate with other people in recovery. It’s not hard to fall off the wagon, be it alcohol or depression. Yes, people in AA will probably understand you a lot better than your never-been-drunk-in-her-life BFF, but you and that person may be at two completely different places in your recovery. One of you might have been sober for 15 years and can easily say no to a beer…then the other one of you sees an episode of the Simpson’s where Homer is chugging a beer and you don’t have the tools to stop yourself from running down to the corner store to grab a 6-pack. I learned this lesson the hard way during my time in group therapy.

As I’ve said before, I was initially very quiet and closed down in group, not even letting the therapists into my world and there was no way in H-E-double-hockey-sticks that I was going to let the OTHER crazy people that made up the rest of my group in. That just sounded like a bad idea from get-go. BUT…it happened anyway. Right after I opened my mouth for the first time, I was invited to a little coffee date with some of the “groupies” after group. They had been doing the Starbucks thing for some time and I knew that, but I never had any interest in joining them and there was something that just didn’t sound right about it…I just didn’t know what it was…until I started going. Then I was like, “THIS is the reason this is not a good idea.” Picture this: a bunch of crazy people (across the board from BPD to bipolar disorder and everything in between, a lot of whom have interpersonal relationship issues, including myself) sitting at a Starbucks…talking about…what else? Crazy shit. Suicide. Depression. Issues. And I was like, “No no no no no no…see, we just spent 90 minutes in a group therapy session doing this shit…I ain’t gonna do it in PUBLIC at a Starbucks with people I don’t really even know or trust.” I went a few more times but then things started going downhill and I saw the drama coming from a mile away and got out before shit hit the fan (praise the sweet eight-pound homebirthed baby Jesus!). Some of the others weren’t so lucky and I’m sure they needed extra individual therapy time after that fiasco (even I needed extra therapy time because they dragged their drama into the group room and I said, “HELL. NO.”). I told myself when I started going to that group that I was not in it to make friends and I slipped a little because I was trying to give myself a push and get my butt to do something out of my comfort zone and get some bonus points with my therapist…but I ran the hell away from the Starbucks group when I saw things starting to go awry. Group therapy was not/is not meant to be a social or support group, it’s a skills training group and it just does not sound like a good idea to make friends with people who are just as fucked up as you are.

But what do you do when you have people like that who were already in your life before you lost your marbles? I’ll tell ya right now: I don’t have a fucking clue. Hence the reason for this post.

I spend a lot of time alone, voluntarily (introvert, remember?)…and I don’t mind at all. The less people you chill with, the less problems you deal with. One of the cons to doing that is that I don’t get a lot of “practice” interacting with others and really, I am not usually called upon by my friends and the people I know to be a friend…or in other words, I go to them if I need them but people don’t usually come to me when they need someone (B and C are probably the only exceptions to this rule). I also find it REALLY easy to go into “friend mode”…dropping all my shit, however heavy it is, in order to be there for someone in need. And I usually don’t mind because I enjoy being wanted/needed/chosen…I like being there for people…being that person they can always count on. Contrary to popular belief, I love to love…I enjoy caring about other people because I know how much it means to me when I know someone cares about me. I feel that I am really empathetic, non-judgmental and a good listener. I try not to act like someone’s therapist or give them advice because I know it drives ME nuts when people do that to me. I may inadvertently dispense advice in the form of sharing my own experiences and what has or hasn’t worked for me, but I try not to tell people that they should do A, B or C. Being called upon to be someone’s friend is also a great distraction for me because even though my load is heavy, it’s a nice break/distraction when I get to focus my attention and energy on someone other than myself. But this can sometimes backfire. I am SO gun-ho about wanting to be there for another person that I forget that my load IS really heavy and while that person deserves my attention (and I want to give it to them), I also need to pay attention to myself and my needs and throwing myself into someone else’s crisis sometimes makes me forget about me and then later, when the other person’s storm has passed, I’m a mess because I’ve neglected my own emotions. As much as I would like to think that I am a great friend, I sometimes wonder if I really am…and I don’t say that in order to be told that I really am a great friend and I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Here’s where I’m going with this: a few weeks ago, a friend that I got to know while attending my pharmacy school sent me a message on Facebook telling me she was feeling suicidal. I’ve known this lady long enough and I know enough about her to know she has some legitimate depression issues and that was sort of the thing that brought us together as friends in the first place…that mutual understanding and empathy. I also know that she’s been struggling with depression for a long time but she is also someone who talks about suicide “lightly”…and I say “lightly” because she’ll talk about it while having no real intent or plan to carry it out…sort of a flippant “I would be better off dead” thought…a thought that, in my opinion, everyone has (“normal” or otherwise) at some point in their life. Correct me if I’m wrong but I think most people, at one time or another, have just gotten pissed and frustrated with life and wished, for a split second, that they could just disappear…but most people don’t give it much more thought than that. I do not like pity parties and I refuse to respond to flippant comments like, “ohmygod I’m so fat/ugly/stupid”. I’m not a “chaser” either…if you want to cry and run out the door hoping I will run after you…forget that shit. I will hold the door open for you, wave, and go back to what I was doing. I don’t play that game with my mom and I don’t play it with any of my friends or acquaintances. It is not my job as a human being or friend to meet your attention-seeking desires and to pump you up and blow smoke up your ass by saying things like, “No, you’re not ugly Narcissa…you’re so pretty!” Don’t fish for compliments in my pond because I’m not biting. Please don’t take this to mean I am a cold-hearted biatch and never compliment anyone…but I do it when it’s not “expected” of me, if that makes sense. If you post a picture that I find gorgeous, I will leave/give you a compliment that says as much…or I’ll send you a random text/note or something and just tell you that I think you’re awesome, thanks for being my friend. If you take me shopping and you try on some pants and ask me if they make your butt look big, I will fucking tell you to take those damn pants off because your ass looks HUGE. I’m not in the business of lying, no matter if it’s a “white” lie or a lie that really won’t hurt anybody. If you tell the truth all the time, you don’t have to remember anything. Some people post more serious things, but it’s done very flippantly…case-in-point: the aforementioned friend…H. H drops suicide bombs a lot…either on me personally or in public on Facebook. I don’t fuck around with suicide. I am also not someone who “announces” a plan to kill myself for the world to see because if I am intent on carrying that plan out, I ain’t gonna tell nobody…I’m just gonna do it. The caveat is that when people do things like this, be it H or someone else…I get confused. Is it really a flippant comment I can/should ignore or is it a legitimate cry for help? Do I send her a text or message and ask her if she’s really okay or just ignore it because I know that she does this kind of attention-seeking stuff? I never know and I prefer to err on the side of caution and ask if she’s okay because I don’t want to dismiss a suicide comment and find out later that it wasn’t flippant; it was a serious cry for help and I ignored it. It’s kind of like the boy who cried wolf…you do/say things like that one too many times and people will eventually stop believing you/responding/taking you seriously…and then the one time you’re NOT crying wolf, people ignore you when in actuality, that was the one the time people should have really responded. So H sent me a message on Facebook late one night and I saw it as a very serious crisis (I still don’t know if it really was…if she really was minutes away from offing herself…or if it was another flippant comment said in exasperation). Again, I don’t take suicide lightly so I stayed up to talk to her (and this was the day after a mini road trip and I was tired as fuck) and made sure she was going to be okay or if she/I needed to call 911. Based on the conversation we had, I determined she was fine, at least for the night…and I made her promise to call me or 911 if shit starts going to hell in a hand-basket. In another conversation, she said she could really use some support right now and would like to see me because she knows a little bit about the last two years of my life and she knows I have the kind of empathy and understanding that only people who have been/are in similar situations can have for each other. I agreed to meet her for coffee after an appointment with M one afternoon. After confirming a time and place and saying goodbye, telling her to call me or 911 if she needed to, I began to wonder if I really should have done that…agreed to meet up with her. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to see her…but I wondered if I was really the kind of friend she needed right now because I myself am in the midst of my own personal hell and entertaining my own suicidal ideations. On one hand, I can probably understand and empathize with H more than most of the people in her life…but on the other hand, I have my own suicide and depression issues and I wondered if it was a good idea for me to involve myself in her situation. One, I’m pretty open and blunt about suicide…I don’t sugarcoat the facts or the gruesome details of my own experiences and I didn’t want to exacerbate H’s emotions. Two, is it a good idea for one suicidal person to try to talk another suicidal person out of suicide?…kind of an oxymoron if you ask me. Three, was I okay/secure enough with my own issues that meeting up with H wouldn’t be a trigger for me? In hindsight, I probably should have run this idea past M or K before doing it…but I wasn’t thinking straight when I made plans to meet H…it was late at night and I was delirious with sleep deprivation. In the end, it all worked out I suppose because after H canceled that date on me, she proceeded to cancel two more and after the last one, I said fuck it and stopped trying. So I never met up with her. If you really want to meet up with me, I’ll go…but I don’t play this “let’s make a date and cancel” game…drives me bonkers. H is also what I like to call an “askhole.” An askhole is someone who constantly asks you for advice and always does the complete opposite of anything you say/suggest. It’s like…why even ask? You’re killin’ me, Smalls! Over the past few weeks, H has pushed my buttons one too many times, to the point where I am considering unfriending her. But I hesitate because 1), I don’t like hurting people’s feelings and 2), I don’t want to kick someone when they’re down. Based on my own observations and knowledge, H does a lot of talking but not a lot of walking. She’s in an abusive marriage (I don’t think it’s physical, but it’s very much verbally and emotionally abusive) and she hates the guy and the guy hates her and if she’s telling me the truth, it’s really not a good environment to be in whether or not you have psychological disorders to add to the top of the sundae. H has kept me up WAY past 3 AM on many nights telling me just how bad it really is and in my own fucked up crazy mind, I see an easy fix: leave. I get that battered wife syndrome and all but H has SO many people, more than just me, that have her back and are willing to help her get out and get a divorce…but I guess she prefers to stay and bitch about it on Facebook. She always has an excuse/reason not to leave as she’s giving me all the reasons why she should leave. (I know that I also live in a toxic environment…but it’s not abusive to the point where law enforcement could intervene and I know that I don’t have a whole lot of other options right now. It is what it is. And I know that. Do I like it? No. Do I bitch about it? On my blog and to certain people and my therapist, yes. But there’s a difference between my situation and H’s. And that’s radical acceptance. I don’t really have a choice right now…H does. Also, I’m working on trying to find a way out. H isn’t. I’m not saying I’m better than H or any of that bullshit…I’m just trying to explain that I am in a similar situation but I’m doing my best to cope with it in the here and now while brainstorming ways to get out. I have a goal. I’m trying to be proactive and help myself. H is just sitting there complaining and not doing a damn thing to help herself.) H has asked me about my own journey and my own suicide attempts and what I’m doing to help myself in my own toxic environment. I’m not ashamed to talk about my suicide attempts or what I’ve attempted/how I’ve attempted to do it…but H was asking for details and I’m all, “Aw hell no!”…I am NOT going to give you step by step instructions on how to off yourself. 1): I put a lot of time and effort into researching that shit. 2): They were all lethal methods; the only reason I am sitting here typing this now is because I was caught/found. 3): I am not going to be responsible for you ending your life by giving you the tools/knowledge to do it. I once steered a conversation in the direction of therapy, DBT therapy specifically, and H messaged me last week to talk to me about it. And we did. And H, verbatim, said to me, “Will it make me stronger?” I did a *facepalm* and then, being the honest and blunt person I am (plus, I was getting a little irritated and pissed off at her by this point), I said, “No, H…it won’t. Not if you just go and sit there. You have to want it to get it. You have to decide you want it more than you are afraid of it. DBT therapy is great…if you are willing to make it work for you and if you are willing to put the effort into making it work. It isn’t magic and it will not happen overnight.” H didn’t like this answer because she quickly changed the subject…back to her abusive husband. By this point, I was pretty much about done. She sat there and told me all the shit I already knew and, being the tactful person I am, I called her on her bullshit. I said, “H, you are pissing me the fuck off. You sit here with me, night after night, telling me how much you hate your husband and how much you want out, and the minute he travels out of town, you blow up his Facebook page with ‘I love you’s’ and ‘I miss you’s’…this is so counterproductive and maybe I don’t know jack because I’ve never been married…but if I hate someone I once loved, you can bet that there will be no ‘I love you’s’ coming out of my mouth anytime soon, if ever.” Five minutes of silence passed and she said, “Well…thanks for talking. I’m gonna go.” I didn’t even say goodbye. I just logged off the computer and gave birth to this post. I am now Googling how to politely unfriend a “friend” because I think I have decided I do not want this person in my life, even if it’s just on Facebook. I don’t need it and I don’t want it. But what stops me from hitting that button is my heart. I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings and if H is really in the pits of despair as she claims, I know how much a simple “unfriend” can hurt, imagined or legit. I don’t want to kick her when she’s down and I don’t want to give her another reason to hate herself or her life nor do I want to be the reason she posts her next status update of, “I have no friends; everyone hates me.” I also don’t ever want to be listed in a suicide note as one of the reasons someone took their life. “The person I thought would understand and validate me the most left me.” I would never get out of therapy. So it’s a catch-22. I HAVE made it so her shit doesn’t show up in my news feed but I haven’t taken the final step of actually unfriending her…because I don’t know how.

I have another post to spit out tonight, but I’ll post it separate from this one; it’s a follow up to my “It’s not you, it’s me.” post…do’s and don’ts, friendship edition. Stay tuned.

Thanksgiving

 

 

 

 

I used to love the holidays. I still do…sort of. But they’ve lost their magic for me. I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve gotten older and more cynical or if it’s because the holidays are huge stress magnets. I can tell you when I stopped loving the holidays. The day my father passed away…right before Thanksgiving in 2005. I think another part of why I dislike the holidays so much is because it seems that nowadays, Christmas immediately follows Halloween and it pisses me off. I didn’t used to be such a Grinch-bitch, but as I’ve gotten older, I refuse to utter the word Christmas until after we carve the Turkey. I boycott anything and everything Christmas until after we eat the bird. I had coffee with some of the “groupies” from my therapy group a couple weeks ago and sighed heavily when I walked into Starbucks only to be met with Christmas lights and a tree. I had to go to the Hallmark store after coffee and I clenched my jaw as I desperately tried to find a “thank you” card amid the three aisles of Christmas cards, all while listening to Celine Dion sing “So This Is Christmas.” A local easy listening radio station now starts playing non-stop Christmas music the minute Halloween ends. It pisses me off because there is a day of thanks that deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated IN BETWEEN Halloween and Christmas. So before we say “gimme gimme gimme”…can we say “thank you”? Our holidays have been turned into retail races and the whole reason for the season seems to be lost on most people. (The only store that gets any credit from me is Nordstrom, who refuses to “deck their halls” until after Thanksgiving.) Saying thank you is something I do often, holiday or not. I never miss an opportunity to thank someone for a gift or to thank them for their time or something special they did. I often thank people just for being themselves because some people are so wonderful to have around. The Three Kings of Orient DID bring gifts, but the holiday wasn’t declared for the sole purpose of exchanging gifts. And for me personally, not being really religious, it’s not even so much about Christ…it’s about love and family and being together. Instead, we come together to eat and exchange gifts. Who goes over to someone else’s house on Christmas or Thanksgiving just to spend time with another person? No one. They go to eat or to exchange gifts. And I think that’s sad. I would give up every turkey and any monetary gift just to have a nice conversation and a genuine smile or hug from someone. That means more to me than any pair of Dr. Dre Beats headphones would (and that’s saying something if you know what a music whore I am). So before you trim up the Christmas tree with bingle balls and woofoo fluff, don’t forget to say thank you.

I grew up in an environment where the holidays were always the same. Not boringly the same, but traditionally the same. I always knew what and who to expect every year because for 21 years, it never changed. We had the exact same Thanksgiving dinner every 365 days. We had the exact same Christmas traditions every 365 days. In 2005, that stopped. I lost my dad in the beginning of November that year. That was the first Thanksgiving I spent away from my family and celebrated with another family. Christmas that year was also spent, for the first time, with another family and not my own. Ever since then, every year and every holiday has been different. I never know what to expect. Well…I can expect a few things…stress, anxiety and ambivalence. For the past 7 years, I have shut down beginning in early November and I refused to start up again until February. I have to shut down so I don’t have a nervous breakdown. It is a survival mechanism. I have to shut down to get through the anniversary of my dad’s passing, Thanksgiving with a family I don’t particularly care for, a Christmas I couldn’t care less about, my dad’s birthday in January and mine shortly after. Boom boom boom boom boom…each significant day a small explosion of emotion.

I don’t want to imply here that I hate my family. Hate is a very strong word and just because you dislike someone doesn’t mean you don’t love them. You can love someone but you don’t have to like them all the time. My family “shrunk” after my dad passed away. Many extended family members cut ties and communication. I won’t get into the details of why because it doesn’t really matter…it is what it is. So for the most part, my “family” consists of myself, my mother, my half-brother (my mother’s son from a previous relationship), his girlfriend and my mom’s boyfriend. Five people. That usually works out fine for me because I don’t like big groups of people, no matter how close of a relationship I have with them. I’m very introverted and for the most part, I don’t enjoy just chatting amicably with groups of people, family or not. Plus, I don’t like being fake. I don’t like hurting on the inside yet forced to slap a fake smile on my face just to please those around me and not make them uncomfortable. I would prefer, instead, to just take myself out of the whole situation thus relieving my anxiety and so I don’t force people to walk on eggshells around me. I may be a “gloomy gus” at times, but I don’t enjoy raining on other people’s parade. I would prefer, instead, to be alone and have the rain fall on just me rather than on everyone around me.

As November approached this year, I felt myself starting to shut down so I could prepare for this year’s war. I mourned my father’s passing alone, spending my day talking to him, telling him how much I missed him and how I hoped that he was still here with me and that he wasn’t disappointed in me for the decisions I have made and the things I have done. My father was cremated and I have his ashes. My family went so completely ape shit when he died that no one could agree on (or pay for) a permanent home for him…so there is no where I can go to mourn him or put out fresh flowers for him. Although I wish I had a place for him sometimes, I suppose I am secretly glad that if anything, he’s here with me, quite literally. I don’t intentionally try to “keep” him from anyone else…but not once since his death has anyone asked me about his ashes. So it can’t be too much of a big deal to anyone else but myself…and that suits me just fine. Death is said to bring out the worst in people…and it is absolutely 100% true.

This year, as I felt myself start to shut down more and more with each passing day, I stopped myself for the first time in 7 years and said, “Instead of getting all wound up about all the things and feelings that MIGHT happen…know that they’re going to happen no matter what and make an escape plan.” So that is exactly what I did. I had 7 years of experience that told me that the same thing happens every year…stress, anxiety and invalidation. So I made a pretty good assumption that the same thing would happen this year…and instead of worrying about it, I expected and planned for it.

I won’t get into the nitty gritty details of DBT-focused therapy, but there is a module on Interpersonal Effectiveness. It centers around respect for yourself, respect for those you communicate with and how to communicate effectively without harming yourself or anyone else in the process. This module teaches you how to stay true to yourself and your values and feelings while letting others know where you stand. One big key component of DBT therapy is that you cannot ever control what another person thinks, does, or says. But that’s where the self respect comes in. Make your feelings known and stand your ground no matter what other people do or say. If you’ve communicated the best way you can and people still don’t respect your stance, that’s it. End of story. You did what you needed to do, the ball is in the other person’s court and they can choose to hit it back and engage with you or they can let it hit them in the face. This is easier said than done, of course. I’m still working on it but I’ve gotten better about stating my wishes and remaining firm on where I stand no matter how much another person tries to manipulate me or get me to change. I can walk into a room or event, state that this is how I feel, this is what I’m going to do (don’t confuse assertiveness with arrogance) and you can understand/empathize/work with me, but I refuse to “cave in” and do what you want me to do or feel how you want me to feel.

A big thing, for me, is a feeling of obligation. These people are my family and thus, I am obligated to love them and be happy about spending time with them. When I don’t, I often feel guilty and beat myself up about it. I’m working on trying not to do that. I do love my family, but I don’t like them all the time…or even most of the time. They make outings and holidays very stressful and miserable. My mom could really care less that I don’t feel like smiling or socializing on Thanksgiving; she will tell me to slap a smile on my tear-stained face and get my ass out to the dining room and socialize with the people who make up my family. Not this year, mom. Another part of interpersonal effectiveness is negotiation/compromise. Okay mom, I will come out and have dinner and join you all for a couple hours, but that is my limit. After that, I am retreating to my Bat Cave (my bedroom/laboratory) and putting my headphones in and turning the music up. To my great surprise (and relief), it worked this year. I spent a majority of the day in my room, watching TV, listening to music, snuggling and self-soothing. I spent a little over an hour with my family for dinner and conversation and after I was told to shut up after telling them that the blue whale is the largest animal in the world, even bigger than the dinosaurs were and their tongues can weigh as much as an elephant (I love learning new things and discovering mind-blowing WTF facts), I retreated to my Bat Cave, reinserted my headphones and sat down to write…my therapy away from therapy. My therapist once asked, after I started sharing some things I had written with her, if I was writing for her or for myself. I told her it was 100% for me but that I was sharing them with her because I found that writing allowed me the time to think more about my feelings and allowed me to express myself more accurately and with more clarification than when I am just sitting in my therapist’s office pulling stuff out of my ass. Not only did the writing turn out to be a great thing for me, my therapy away from therapy, it also allowed my therapist to better understand me. (Fifty minutes a week is just not enough sometimes.) Two birds with one stone. I don’t walk into her office each week with a dissertation, but she loves it when I do.

I suppose now that Thanksgiving is over, Christmas has officially begun and I said earlier that anything and everything Christmas goes after we carve the turkey. So Celine Dion, sing your heart out to “Ave Maria,” trim up the tree with Christmas stuff like bingle balls and woofoo fluff, trim up the town with goowho gums and bizilbix and wums…trim every blessed window and trim every blessed door…hang up wooboohoo bricks then run out and get some more! Hang pantookas on the ceilings, pile pankunas on the floor…trim every blessed needle on the blessed Christmas tree. I will cease to be a Grinch (until next year). But even after you open your gifts this year, say thank you again…not only for the gifts you received, but for the people who are in your life and for the love you receive, no matter if it’s from your family or your therapist…because Christmas doesn’t come from a store…Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.