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friendship

I’ll meet you there

People like reading advice. They like hearing about how someone got through a tough time, and similarly, about how they might get themselves through.

Absolutely.

But over the course of writing posts, and reading blogs, and tuning into myself, and thinking about the texts and emails and messages I’ve gotten following different things I’ve written, I’ve come to realize that there’s something people like to read even more than advice:

They like to read about a person experiencing it. Being in it.

Which isn’t to say that we like to know someone is struggling. But there’s something so powerful about hearing about someone who is in it – someone who is living it, someone who Gets It.

It’s why people like Jenny Lawson and Glennon Doyle Melton have such a following. Because they don’t just write about recovery or having overcome x, y, z. They also write candidly in the middle of hard times, real times. And that’s usually the piece we are drawn to – we love the inspiration of victory, and the hope that it could be ours. But the part of the book, or speech, or post, where they write honestly about what the Hard Times were like – that’s the part we most connect to. Ah. Yes. Someone understands.

I strive for that on this blog, and I’d like to keep moving towards it even more.

Because sometimes, in the hardest moments, it’s not helpful to hear “this will pass” and “you will feel better” and “here’s what you can do to help yourself”. Because sometimes in the moment, you just can’t believe that you’ll ever feel better. That you’ll ever stop hating your body, that you ever won’t feel traumatized or triggered, that you ever won’t feel a pull toward alcohol, that you ever won’t go back to a bad relationship, that you ever won’t feel hopeless.

Whatever it is for you.

In those moments, when someone cheerleads, (well-meaning, of course. This is not at all about malicious intent) sometimes you want to retort back, “Prove it! You can’t, can you? You can’t prove to me that I’ll feel better, that it’ll get better, that the outcome will be the one I desire. You can’t promise me it. So stop. Just stop. Because I can’t trust it.”

So I thought about what helps me in those moments, because I sure have them, I think we all do, when I don’t want a cheerleader. What helps me, what people have done for me and said to me, and what I will say to you, whoever you are, now, is:

I know. I know it hurts and I know you’re afraid and I know it feels like it won’t ever go away. I’m not here to tell you it will. But I’m here to hold you – literally or figuratively. I’m here so that you can tell me everything, all that you feel and fear and think. And I’m not here to tell you it’ll go away but I’m here to embrace it because this is where you are right now and I love you and I will love you through this. Tell me, say what you need to say, and I will hold your gaze and I will hug you and I will be right here. I know this feeling. I know this place you are living in. And maybe that will bring you comfort that I get it. But this, right now, is about you. I will understand even if I don’t understand. I am right here, meeting you on this path that you’re on, and I will walk it with you.

That’s all any of us need.

Telling stories

I turned 28 last week.

I meant to write a blog post on that day. Something heartfelt or meaningful or even something simple but still something.

But between packing, cleaning, moving, unpacking, and attempting to get back into some semblance of normal amidst the chaos in our new house, I haven’t had a single second to sit down, let alone blog.

(I miss writing.)

In thinking back to the past year of my life, one theme weaved throughout: telling stories.

My 27th year was spent telling my stories. I told stories in therapy. I told stories to my husband. I told stories to my family. I told stories to my friends. Some stories were about my grandpa, and about my grief. Some stories were from years ago. But all were ones I hadn’t expected to need to tell.

Over and over again, this year, I spoke the chapters of my life until I could breathe again.

I first reached out. To those ones. I made coffee dates and dinner dates. I shamelessly invited myself over. I texted. I embraced being real.

And then over the next few weeks: I sat in a friend’s living room with her and her toddler. I sat in the passenger’s seat of a friend’s car. I sat across from a friend in a coffee shop. I FaceTimed friends. I talked on the phone. I snuggled under blankets with a friend in her living room and she looked into my eyes and it filled me with love and compassion, and said, “I am just hear to listen to whatever you want to say. And it is so safe, that you can even look me right in the eye as you say it.”

One evening with a friend, we ate and laughed and talked work and life. And then as the hours passed, darkness fell, everything quieted down, and I began to speak. “The thing is,” I said. “The more I keep something quiet, the more I don’t talk about it, the more the days and months and years pass without me speaking of it, the bigger it gets inside of me. Until it becomes this huge big awful  secret, but really, it isn’t. And I need it to not be that anymore.”

“Just say it,” she told me. “You’ll feel so much better once you do.”

And so I did.

A text she sent me the next day contained these words: “I refrained, as you should, from calling it a secret. It’s not and when you call it that you give it far more power than it deserves. It’s your story and for good or bad it’s part of what makes you you. It doesn’t define you as you are in control of that.”

Yes. So much yes to that. I have held onto those words.

My secrets are out, and they are no longer secrets. They are just pages in chapters of the book of my life. We all have stories, and there is no reason – none – to keep them hidden as secrets.

27 was the end of secrecy. I want to spend 28 continuing to tell stories. To more friends, to more people, to the blogosphere. I am learning so damn much from talking.

Like:

It’s freeing. It’s shame-dissolving.

The details matter, but they also don’t.

Talking doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing.

It brings you closer to the ones you speak it to.

People understand, even if they don’t understand.

May we all continue to tell our stories and be freed in doing so. May we allow our friends to hold us – figuratively and literally. May we allow ourselves to heal. May we release everything into the wind. May we continue to speak until we can breathe. May we all make that shift from secrets to stories.

Being met with empathy

Briefly at one point I touched on how I find the difference between being met with sympathy and empathy so fascinating.

And I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately – the difference between how I feel after talking with certain people, the questions I have about why, the people I gravitate towards in the middle of different situations.

What I find extra interesting is that there isn’t necessarily a rhyme or reason to who these people are. We might have best friends who sympathetically hear your story but they’re not the ones you will turn to in times of crisis. Because they’re the ones who sit in front of you, and nod as you’re talking, and say “I’m always here for you!” and it’s very sweet but in your gut you know it’s more of a script they’re following and less of a from-my-soul-I-mean-this. They’re the ones who you leave often feeling just as anxious, unresolved, and maybe fearful about how you were perceived.

What we really need in our lives are these friends, the ones who meet us with empathy. Compassion. Love. Who don’t just hear us but listen. Who sit with you and nod along with you. These are the ones who look deep into your eyes and say, “Call me. Anytime. I am here.” And your core just knows – yes. They mean this. I could, and I might, take them up on this. And you feel loved, and heard, and wrapped in a blanket of compassion. And your fears about judgment and blame and disgust and shame go out the window because in those moments, in those conversations, there was no space for them to exist.

And different people serve different purposes in our lives and I don’t think there’s a thing wrong with that. But I encourage you – find one or two people, who in your gut, you just know – they will hear me. They will listen. They will love me through it. They will say they’ll be there and they will show up and they will mean it.

These are the people who will make you lighter. Stronger. Who will hold things for you when you can’t carry them. Who want to hold those things for you. Who will love you through it – any of it.

These are the people.

Who lift us up, propel us forward, carry our stuff.

These are the people we need.

Saying what you need to say

The other day, I got a message from a friend who sent me something she wrote. It was akin to a journal entry, and with it, she had simply said something along the lines of, “Had a rough day and wrote about it if you want to read.”

Of course I want to read, I thought. I read through it, and immediately messaged her back, letting her know how glad I was that she shared, how much compassion I felt for her experience, how I could relate and understood, and that I would be happy to hear more, read more, or talk at any point.

What she did – reaching out, without qualifying it, without apologizing, without drowning herself in shame, is still hard for me. Not always, but often. Especially when what I want to reach out and talk about feels big.

And I get stuck in spinny loops of thinking, but the problem with spinning thoughts is that when you’re having them, they seem incredibly logical.

Maybe I should call her and ask if we can chat. Wait. She’s been so busy at work, and I remember her talking about how tired she is. So really, if I asked for an hour of her time, it would be adding to her stress, therefore burdening her, therefore I am a burden. Good thing I thought this through, not a good plan to reach out.

Yes, of course, looking at that now it’s clear how illogical it is. But when you’re in it, you don’t see it.

Which is why I have conversations like this with my therapist:

Me: So this week I’ve been really feeling like I need to reach out and connect and talk about those things on my mind but I just haven’t.

Her: Oh? Why?

Me: Because those things are big and heavy and I don’t want to be a burden and dump on someone.

Her: Nothing you’ve ever told me indicates that you unfairly dump on people.

Me: But people are busy and have their own stressors and I don’t want to add to that.

Her: Hmmmm. [eyebrows raise]

Me: I know, I KNOW. I already heard your voice in my head yesterday about it, telling me, What would you do if the tables were turned? Would you view a friend needing to check in with you, because she was having a hard time, as burdensome and ‘too much’, even if it was a big or heavy topic? And no, the answer is no.

Her: [laughs, because in therapy, I’m hilarious]

Me: But it’s different. I mean, I know it’s not actually different. But it is. I just worry and feel afraid.

That’s the part where she encourages me, dispels all my arguments, and then (nicely) tells me that enough is enough. That if I need connection, if I need a conversation, I need to ask for it. I need to not sit back and hope that someone turns into a mind-reader and figures out that there’s something I want to talk about. I need to think of those people who have always responded to me with empathy, and not just sympathy, those people who have unconditionally said, I’m here, say whatever it is you need to say, no matter how big or intense. I need to go up to those people and, just as my friend did by sending me her message, say to them, Okay. I need to say it.

Because:

Quote by Maya Angelou

Right?

I also saw this article yesterday, which seemed to tie in nicely as well, and also help me sort through the thought processes that I default to. Lots of thoughts on that.

I am so interested in this topic, in trying to figure it all out. Does anyone else do this, where there are times that you hold yourself to a higher (or lower) standard than you would others? Where you can so clearly act in one way, but are afraid of doing it when the tables are turned? I am equally fascinated by the difference in how I feel when I am met with empathy vs. sympathy. More to write on that some day.

Anyway, I’m working on it. Working on reaching out, making the moves, despite the fear, despite the anticipatory worry. Whatever it’s about, however big or small it seems. It’s a good exercise, really, to ask for what we need. And something I suspect that many of us don’t do enough.

Bella

When I notice a behavior in a student, I think about it. I spend time analyzing, thinking, hypothesizing. There’s almost always a reason the behavior is occurring; it’s like a puzzle and I want to solve it.

So I’ve been thinking about Bella, one of my little elementary-schoolers – adorable Bella, with significant communication and social difficulties, among other challenges. A lot of the behaviors Bella exhibits, the things she says, or the games she plays, might remind you of what your preschooler says. But that’s not the concerning part. Bella acts the way she does, because that’s where she’s at developmentally. When a child didn’t yet have language, or any sort of interaction skills in preschool, they never got the chance to go through the phases of sharing, turn-taking, cooperation. They might not have had the experiences of having a toy grabbed out of their hands, grabbing at someone else’s toy, crying because they lost a game, getting angry when they can’t go first. So sometimes, we see those behaviors at age 9, because now they’re there.

Bella has been mean lately, to her friends. And I’ve been thinking – trying to figure out why she’s acting mean. And the other day, I watched through a different lens, and it clicked.

Bella and her friend Nicole came into speech the other day. When I asked how her weekend was, Bella told me that she had gone to a playground with Nicole.

“I went down the slide!” Bella told me excitedly, arms flapping.

“I went down the slide, too!” Nicole added.

Bella stopped flapping. She glared at Nicole. I watched.

“I also swung on the swings,” Nicole said.

Bella slammed her hands down on the table. “I swung on the swings! STOP COPYING ME!!”

Nicole looked at me, and then back at Bella. “I’m not copying you, Bella. We went together! We did the same things together!”

Oh.

When I thought back to when Bella gets upset, the pattern emerged. She gets “grumpy” and gets “Mean Jean” in her head when she perceives a friend to be copying her. And during those times, the friend is not copying her. The friend is agreeing with her, sharing a similar opinion, talking about a shared experience, or adding to the conversation.

While we often see kids get frustrated when someone has a different opinion (e.g., You can’t like tomatoes! Tomatoes are disgusting!), this is a little different in presentation. But it comes down to the same principle – understanding that different people have thoughts in their heads. Those thoughts might be the same as ours or different than ours, but everyone’s brain thinks its own thoughts.

So, I whipped up a social story, and the next time I saw her, she and I read it together:

When we were done, we played with some animal figurines, and Bella processed what we had just read by acting it out. My monkey figurine kept accusing her duck of copying me. Then the bear teacher reminded the monkey that two animals could have the same thought. Then during recess, the monkey and duck talked about movies and games that they liked. They realized that when they liked the same things, it was fun.

It’s a struggle for Bella to generalize much of anything she learns. Chances are good that we will need to read this again, and again, and again. And play, and act it out, and give her chances to practice.

The ultimate take home message – there’s always a why. Bella is not innately a mean kid. She’s not going through a mean streak. There is a reason she gets angry and frustrated about certain things.

There are locks, and there are keys, and some are clear and some are hidden, but we look. We don’t ever stop looking until we find them, put them together, and figure them out.

To my dear friend, when you forget:

It is so easy, so damn easy, to assume that everyone else is normal and we are the screwed up ones. But in reality, there is no normal. There might be a more common, but not a normal. Just because you cry at times others wouldn’t, and get deeply affected by events others don’t, doesn’t mean something is wrong with you. The way in which you react to a tough situation isn’t good or bad. It just IS. and you get to own that, without  apologizing for it, without judging it.

When we apologize for how we are, how we feel, how we think, we are essentially saying, “something is wrong with me. I am flawed, to the point where I need to apologize for it.” (The exception being, if you hurt someone or hurt yourself, of course you apologize. But the reality is, you don’t hurt people that often. You just worry that you do.)

You get to not apologize for crying. For spinning. For feeling. You get to not apologize for worrying. For ruminating. Because it’s who you are, it’s your wiring. And just because others don’t do or feel those things doesn’t mean you are in the wrong. It doesn’t mean anything. It just IS.

The reason you apologize after breaking down, after crying, after being you, is because you feel shame. You feel that something is intrinsically wrong with you and you just did something that you shouldn’t have done. And you worry that by doing what you did, you have made yourself fundamentally unlovable. But try, just try, to embrace it. This is who you are. And you can trust yourself that the person on whom you just unloaded loves you because of you who are, not in spite of it. And don’t apologize. Because this is you, there are no other you’s in the world, and this person loves you and cares about you and how beautiful is that?

So. Do not apologize to me for venting. For coming into my office and breaking down. For emailing long strings of thoughts. For talking and talking until you’ve let it out. Rest assured that at this point in my life, I no longer expend energy on unhealthy relationships. Which means that if you’re a part of my life, it’s not because I feel obligated or because we are unhealthily intertwined. You are in my life because I care about you, and I want to hear you, to listen to you, to hold your pain when you can’t breathe.

And so, you just be you. However and whatever that means and looks like, and I promise you, I will love you through it.

Shame

When I discovered Brené Brown’s work on shame, specifically her most recent book, I grabbed hold of it (literally!), thinking, this is IT. This is what I’ve been trying to put into words. This is what I’ve been trying to understand. And it was almost a sigh of relief; I don’t have to spend my life figuring it out, because she did the research and put it to words.

And so over the last however many months, or maybe a year, I’ve been thinking about shame and compassion even more than ever. I’ve tried to express my own thoughts on the subject. I’ve written a poem about it. I’ve jotted down notes. I’ve tried to briefly explain that the fear of shame is what makes us lack compassion for ourselves.

During this time, a friend and I have had countless conversations on this topic. Over and over again, we wonder: why do we think the worst about ourselves, but highly of each other? Why do we feel nothing but deep compassion for each other’s experiences and thoughts, but feel shame for our own? Why do we think we are the outlier or the exception?

And after thinking a lot, (I know, you’re shocked), I have a tentative conclusion: shame is (sometimes) somewhat of a self-protective mechanism.

I always used to say that I was pessimistic and didn’t get my hopes up about things, because that way I didn’t have to worry about disappointment. The fall is a lot less painful when you never left the ground, versus when you’ve climbed to the top of the tree. I think shame is similar. We preemptively shame ourselves so that if others shame us, it hurts less.

Have you ever gotten up the courage to share something with someone, something that was important to you, for whatever reason? And have you ever had their response be to tell you that you’re being dramatic, exaggerating, or just looking for attention? Boom. The shame response is born. From that moment on, we expect that the next time we share something, we will face the same response, which we can’t bear to experience. So we protect ourselves. We pre-shame ourselves, if you will. We preface our stories with, “I know it’s not a big deal, but….” or “I’m sure this isn’t what you want to hear, but…” or “This is really f***** up, but….” It’s protection. It’s setting the bar low, so if we are met there, no harm done.

(By the way? Even if we were being dramatic or exaggerating or whatever. The first thing we learn in our fields of work is that behavior=communication. It’s a principle we are taught to apply to all of our kiddos. And it applies to us, too. So there was a reason we once said or did what we did. We needed something from it; we were trying to express something, trying to release something. Even if at the time we weren’t sure what. And in the same way that we help our kids learn to express what it is that they truly are trying to say, we need to help ourselves. It’s a process.)

The interesting thing is, we expect to be shamed, but we would never shame others in that same way. Which is why we preface our stories that way, but if a friend were to tell the exact same story, or share the exact same idea, and preface it that same way, we would say things like, “Of course it’s a big deal” or “I do want to hear anything you want to say” or “It’s not messed up, tell me.”

If we were to tell our stories, to share our thoughts, without that preface, we’d be putting ourselves at risk. Which isn’t inherently something we want to do. We’d be standing on the edge of a cliff and trusting we aren’t going to fall. Which is terrifying. Even just writing this post, I want to put a whole long list of disclaimers, like, Feel free to disagree with this and I’m probably wrong but I’m just trying to share my thoughts and it’s fine if you think it’s stupid…..etc. But I won’t, not this time.

Part of it, I believe, is our culture. We live in a shame-filled society. If you think about the news, there is stigma placed on so many things, so it’s no wonder why we expect shame as anyone’s response.

I think the solution is to practice little bits at a time. And it’s HARD. A friend and I have a rule that we never apologize for texting the other. We’ve established that if the other person is busy, or not in a place to text or chat, they won’t until they’re ready; so we never need to apologize. But we find it funny that without a doubt, when we’re in a vulnerable place and text the other, we apologize. We say, “Sorry, I’m sure you’re busy, but….” and “Ugh I’m probably stressing you out more.” And then the other person says, “No apologizing!” So I’m certainly not saying it’s always doable. Especially when we’re vulnerable, or spinny, or anxious, or just out of balance.

But find that person with whom you’ve been vulnerable, with whom you’ve shared something, something that you worried would have a shame response, and didn’t. And the next time you talk with this person, try not to preface your stories. Just say them. Trust that you will not be shamed. Trust that this person is not going to suddenly think less of you. Trust that you trust this person for a reason. Trust that you’ll be met with compassion. Oh, it’s hard. But I’ve done it before, with a handful of people. And the feeling of just talking, just sharing, without those self-shaming or self-deprecating comments, is so liberating.

You deserve to release shame into the wind and breathe compassion in.

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