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Are You Tired of My Grief?

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It finally happened, the thing my grief counselor warned me about. I was in a local pub with a couple of friends and one of them said, “I’ve been reading your blog . . . don’t you think it might be time to move on?”

From my brother’s death, is what he meant.

The question didn’t surprise me – my friend is definitely not a “feeler” when it comes to personality types, and he’s not one to intentionally process his emotions. Like many people, he sees “bad” emotions like grief as troubles to be overcome, wrestled to the ground.

I, on the other hand, am an off-the-charts feeler who firmly believes that uncomfortable emotions are meant to impart life lessons. They are spiritual teachers, and we should sit with them and listen to them. 

In my experience, if psychic pain isn’t fully processed, it comes back as depression, anxiety, anger, or – in the case of my dear departed brother – death. 

Fall 2012 c 015

Living in the Land of Grief

What that processing entails and how long it takes is unique to every individual and to every loss. Nevertheless, my grief counselor told me that at some point, someone would probably decide on my behalf that it was time for me to “move on.” 

So I had to smile when my friend used that exact phrase.

I can’t remember what I said to him, if anything, but the answer to his question is: No – it is not time to “move on” or “get over it.” That’s not what happens. Ever. A major loss will gradually become a part of you; you adjust. You do not get “finished” with grief. 

It’s like learning a new language in a new country. You will, over time, get used to it and function fairly normally. But it’s still a different country than the one you used to live in.

Bottom line: stuffing my feelings doesn’t work for me anymore, so I won’t be pretending that I’m “over” my brother’s death. If you’re uncomfortable with that, simply don’t read my blogs tagged grief, even if they are brilliantly written and sometimes maybe a little funny.

Deal?

Six Month Check-in

It has been six months now. I have little memory of the first three months, except for a great fear of losing my mind because that’s what my mother’s death did to my brother. I was relieved to find that several others in my grief support group shared that fear. That’s mostly gone now, thank God. 

When I try to analyze or control my grief, to tell it what it “should” be doing now, I still experience anxiety. 

If I get too busy or spend too much time with others and don’t take time for rest and reflection and writing, I find that the tears come rushing back as soon as I’m alone. Pacing myself is key to recovery.

I’m still having trouble doing the things that need to be done: lawyer crap, social security and medical bill crap, house cleaning crap. Crap, crap, crap. 

Sometimes I’m angry at Biff, at God, at life. At crap. But in general, I’m doing OK. I am feeling better, not worse. 

Write, Cry, Celebrate

I will continue to write about grief when I need to because it helps me, and because I hope that it might help others who are grieving to know that they are not alone. 

I want you to know that it’s OK to talk about your grief. Talking and talking is an important part of the healing process. Don’t feel that you are a burden — just make sure you choose safe people who won’t judge. There’s no right or wrong. If someone doesn’t understand, don’t share your grief with them. Simple as that. Your journey is unique. But it does help to have company, so find a support group if you can.

Write about it. Cry if you need to. 

Celebrate when little things get back on track. I can now go to the grocery store without losing it. This is big. Sometimes I can listen to music.

Six months is nothing, really, when you’re putting your soul back together, but every day is a small victory.

Warning: You May Find This Disturbing

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This week I’m sharing a (very) personal essay I’ve just had published on the blog of So to Speak, a feminist journal of language and art. I’m giving you fair warning that it’s not a very pleasant story.

Secrets in the Dark

The woman has been roughed up. There’s a bruise on her cheek, and her blouse is ripped. Her long brown hair has been hacked off with a pair of scissors, and several of her teeth have just been brutally yanked out. A crowd of filthy men and women taunt her, shoving her along a darkened street. Her voice breaks into a raw, bitter wail. “There was a time when men were kind, when their voices were soft and their words inviting.”

If you’ve ever seen Les Misérables, you probably recognize this gut-wrenching scene. Fantine, a factory worker who has just lost her job, has sold her hair and teeth to pay for her young daughter’s room and board.

Anne Hathaway plays the role in the latest film version of Victor Hugo’s story of love and hate in the French Revolution. She’s painfully beautiful in this scene, bruises dark on her pale skin, eyes sunken and hopeless as she’s pressured into prostitution to save her daughter.

A French army officer has just finished doing his business on top of her. She’s belting out this song, and I can hear people all around me sniffling in the dark of the movie theater.

“I had a dream my life would be

So different from this hell I’m living.

So different now from what it seemed

Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.”

Even the guy behind me with the annoying belching issue seems to be crying. He starts breathing badly, and I wonder if he’s having a heart attack or something. I’m considering turning around to ask if he’s OK, but I don’t want to embarrass him if he’s crying.

His labored breathing suddenly evens out, and I hear the sound of a zipper being closed. Apparently he’s successfully put himself in the French officer’s place and has had his way with Anne Hathaway in the dark.

les-miserables-screenshot-anne-hathaway2-300x187

♦ ♦ ♦

“Why didn’t you move?” My therapist’s face had that inscrutable look she gets, and her question seemed as impenetrable as her expression.

“Move?” I echoed. “Why didn’t I move?” An irrational shame nudged a blush up my neck as I tried to remember: Did I even think of moving?

Doctor Z nodded and leaned forward in her chair, elbows perched on her knees and fingers pressed together in a teepee under her chin as if trying to keep her mouth from dropping open.

“Well, I thought about it for a minute, but — I know it sounds stupid — at first I couldn’t believe it was happening. Like, I must be wrong. Then I thought that he was obviously a mess, sick, and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.” I paused, and my therapist raised her eyebrows. “Wow,” I said.

“Yeah, wow,” she said.

“But I felt trapped. Moving didn’t really seem like an option.”

“Why don’t you journal about this? Writing always helps you. I’ve heard you use those words before, feeling trapped, not trusting your own experience, not being able to take care of yourself because you were worried how it might make someone else feel.”

Doctor Z pulled some papers out of her black bag, the signal that our time was up. I wrote her a check and drove home with only half my mind on the road. “Why didn’t I move?” I kept hearing the question.

♦ ♦ ♦

Journal entry:

Tough therapy session. Why didn’t I move away from that guy in the theater? Why did I feel so powerless? The other thing I can’t figure out is why I was afraid to tell anyone, even my friends. Like I had done something wrong, or the whole thing was so disgusting and ugly that I had to hold it in, protect the world from it. Not pollute other people’s lives with my pain. Just like when I was a kid. Don’t tell anyone what’s going on in the house; don’t tell the neighbors about Daddy passing out. Put the vodka bottles at the bottom of the trash bag. It’s all a secret I have to keep. What a burden for a little girl!

My mom. The queen of denial. She’s the one who taught me how to keep a secret. When she caught me on the couch with my ninth-grade boyfriend’s hand down my pants, she said, “I know I didn’t see what I just saw,” and she never said another word about it. Mom didn’t even want to tell the doctor that Daddy was an alcoholic when he was lying on life support in the hospital! As if they couldn’t tell. I broke the secrecy code and told the nurse our shameful secret. Daddy died anyway.

Now that I think of it, Mom’s was the voice in my head at the movie theater saying, “That couldn’t have happened. I must be wrong.”

♦ ♦ ♦

“Good work,” said Doctor Z when I finished reading my journal entry. “What else?”

“Well, I guess my family was so focused on our shame and secrecy that what I needed didn’t matter much. It’s like I learned that I’m not worth taking care of — I don’t believe I have any rights. Mom never took care of her own needs either — trying not to upset my father always came first. That’s why I was more worried about how that guy might feel if I moved than I was about my own feelings.”

I picked up the cushion on the sofa and began messing with the stitching. “Have I ever told you about when I lost my virginity?” I asked, though I knew I hadn’t. It all came out in a rush. “I was sixteen and I was at a party in an upstairs room with an older guy, kind of a friend. We were messing around and he got really aggressive. I said no to him, told him to stop. I said I didn’t want to, but he went ahead and I thought, ‘Oh well.’ I wanted him to like me, and I guess I figured it wouldn’t be worth the fight. I’ve always felt ashamed of that.”

There was a silence while we sat with my shame and I continued to unravel her cushion.

“You were sixteen, Melanie. Just sixteen.”

“Yes.” More silence. I couldn’t look at her.

“You’re an adult now. You can take care of yourself. You don’t have to be a victim . . . you have choices.”

“Yes, I have choices.” I did not sound like an adult. I sounded like a little girl parroting her mother’s directions. I waited for further instruction.

“Don’t forget to breathe,” Doctor Z reminded me, as she often must.

I exhaled a laugh, set the cushion down, and looked her in the face. “Yes, I do have choices.”

♦ ♦ ♦

Journal Entry:

I am going back to the theater tonight. It’s been nearly two months since Les Mis, and I was telling Dr. Z how mad I was at that asshole cause I felt like he had stolen my theater from me. I usually go every week, but the thought’s been making me nauseated.  “I can’t imagine sitting in that seat again,” I told her.

“Well,” she said, “you could sit in a different seat.”

“Oh yeah,” I said, laughing at this obvious solution. “I have choices.”

So I’ve been planning on choosing a new seat. But that’s still making me mad. He stole my spot and I feel l like a victim. So I think I’ll march right down that aisle and sit in my regular seat, twelve rows back on the left. If somebody sits behind me, I can always move.

………

You can visit the So to Speak journal here.

 

The Power of Names: Meet My Multiple Personalities

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I discovered my multiple personalities about five years ago while working with my therapist. I am going to introduce you to “my kids,” but first I want to make it clear that I do not have certifiable Multiple Personality Disorder, properly called Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

True DID personalities would fight mightily against being introduced to you — it has been called “a disorder of hiddenness” — and they would likely have the power to stop this blog from happening. While my kids are shy and not sure that you’ll like them, they are nevertheless ready to reveal themselves.

I am not making light of DID when I speak of my kids. I know people who have DID, and it is a painful and debilitating disorder involving mistrust and secrecy that can isolate you from others. Many people don’t even know they have DID and have instead been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, or bipolar disorder.

There’s a whole spectrum of dissociative disorders, with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder being the “mildest” (ha!) and full-blown DID being the most severe. DID is not a dysfunction, per se, it’s actually a remarkable coping mechanism for people who have experienced traumatic events. In essence, the “parts” of the self that have been traumatized “split off” in order for the psyche to survive.  They keep the painful memories isolated.

This becomes a dysfunction later in life when the trauma has passed, but the self and its dissociated parts remain separate and act as if they are still threatened. Hence, the separate parts are usually mistrustful, somewhat paranoid, and protective.

Psychology lesson over. To learn more, check here and here and here.

The Birth of My Personalities

Like a lot of people who grew up in chaotic, unpredictable homes, I experienced some dissociation when I was a kid. When confronted with painful and confusing situations, like my gentle and loving Daddy suddenly becoming an aggressive and nasty person after tossing back a few tumblers of Gallo sherry, my brain compartmentalized the chaos. Distancing from the craziness made it bearable.

My brother told me that when I was thirteen, I walked into the dining room and my father slammed down his glass and said, “So, are you pregnant yet?” I have no conscious memory of this. But the shock and confusion is in there somewhere.

You may be able to relate. Perhaps you’ve reacted to a situation irrationally and then in retrospect wondered why you were so bent out of shape . . . or since it’s easier to judge others than yourself, you may have noticed such inappropriate overreactions in friends, family, or coworkers. Often, the reason for this behavior is that our brains have made a subconscious connection to a similar upsetting situation from childhood and we are literally reacting with a child’s mentality. We have disassociated from our adult identity.

In short, I have some kids in my head, and they sometimes govern my reactions to life events. I can now recognize them and give them their due. It’s like being a parent to a passel of children. You need to listen to them, reassure them, and meet their emotional needs.

kids charleston2

The cool thing is, these little characters are part of my identity — I am reintegrating them into my adult self and find that they are creative, funny, and inspirational. And they like to express themselves through poetry. Their poems help me understand myself.

This week marks twelve weeks since my brother Biff passed away. The kids honored the event by expressing their feelings through poetry. The poems are Blackjack Poems, three lines of seven syllables each for a total of twenty-one. So without further ado, here are my kids and their poems.

Marnie and Biff

Marnie and Biff

Characterization through Poetry

Marnie

Marnie is what I called myself when I was too small to say Melanie, and the nickname stuck. Mom always called me Marnie when she was feeling mushy. Marnie is about four. She likes to laugh and have fun and play and is easily frightened by anger or confrontation. I have an image of her in a puffy party dress, hiding behind the couch waiting for an argument to blow over. She’s the reason I avoid tense situations. She writes:

The house is very quiet

I don’t know what happens next.

Nobody’s laughing. He’s gone.

Sport

Sport is a nickname my brother gave me when I was seven or eight. Sport is a fun kid with short hair, freckles, and a gap between her front teeth. She’s an animal lover and likes to be active outside. In the early sixties, she would flee whatever madness was going on in the house and escape into nature, which she found to be a healing balmalmost mystical. She’s probably the reason I became a vegetarian and devoted my career to environmental protection, and she’s definitely the reason I get so pissed off when people say they don’t believe in climate change. She knows that honoring nature is a matter of survival on many levels. She writes:

No, that’s silly. He’s hiding.

There’s no sun if he’s not here.

He’s the one that makes us laugh.

Whisper

Whisper didn’t show herself until well after the others had come out and named themselves. Whisper is intensely shy and prefers to be invisible because it’s less painful than being ignored or neglected. She feels responsible for bad stuff happening and carries a lot of shame — another reason for hiding. Whisper spent the late sixties sitting in front of the TV watching sitcoms and eating bologna sandwiches and chips, in the hopes that chubby layers would keep her hidden.

She’s a creative little soul, ten or eleven years old, who finds peace and joy in music and other artistic pursuits. When I decided to face my fear of computers and create a blog, it was to Whisper I turned. I gave her permission to be heard. I think she’s the one who helps me write from the gut. Her poem:

If I am very quiet

And don’t cause any upset,

Maybe he will come back home.

Cat

Cat. Dear Cat. Her name says it all. She is a teenager and powerful in a way that only teenagers can be. She strode in, dressed in patched blue jeans, a paisley t-shirt, and a bandana and stood between my father and the cowering Whisper. We were silent no more, though we could be sullen, surly, and snarky. Passive-aggressive and bitingly sarcastic, Cat was done with my father. (Now that I think of it, she learned those behaviors from her beloved big brother, Biff.)

Cat’s clever and brims with false self-confidence. Underneath, she’s just as fearful as Marnie and Whisper, but you would never know it. I love Cat — she took control and took no prisoners. She’s impulsive and spontaneous and is the one who still occasionally tears down the Beltway at eighty five miles-per-hour in pursuit of some idiot who cut her off. Sometimes she drinks too much and it took me several tries to get her to quit smoking. She cusses a lot. Cat is dismissive of poetry but offers this nonetheless:

How could he do this to me??

What the fuck! This can’t happen.

I gotta get out of here.

 Mel

Mel is a miracle. Mel totally rocks. She is my young adult, twenty or so. She’s the one who started asking, “Why not?” and “What if?” She is smart, capable, determined, and gets things done. Mel worked from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day and held a weekend job as well so she could pay her way through college in night school. When she didn’t find the major she wanted at university, she designed her own Environmental Studies degree. She nagged the folks at the Sierra Club until they hired her in 1982. I think she deserves most of the credit for the Masters in Nonfiction I just received from Hopkins. I need her to get me out of bed during this period of grieving. I’m sure she will step up, she always does. She writes:

I guess I’ll try to do this.

What is an executor?

I’ll ask the lawyer; he’ll know.

Melanie

Finally, there’s Melanie; adult Melanie. Me. Through spiritual disciplines, recovery support groups, and therapy, I’m learning to integrate my kids and am becoming a whole and healthy adult. I seek to appreciate and learn from all my parts — the whimsical joy of Marnie, the outdoor girl in Sport, the creativity of Whisper, the fearlessness of Cat, and the go-getter spirit in Mel. Here’s where I am:

On good days now, I can laugh.

Some days I stay home and cry.

My friends laugh and cry with me.

 ♥♥♥♥♥

This post was written in response to the WordPress Writing Challenge: Power of Names. I’ve found it empowering and enlightening to name and claim the kids inside of me. Who’s inside of you?

“So – Are You Going to Sue the Hospital?”

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I understand why people ask if I’m going to sue. My brother always said, “If you put me in the hospital, they’ll kill me.” And they did.

On the other hand, my brother killed himself. Biff’s choices led directly to his death. I know that.

Yeah, I yelled at the doctor and told him to quit bullshitting me when he said “the procedure” had nothing to do with Biff’s death. And yeah, I flipped out when the anesthesiology firm that “provided the services” that stopped Biff’s heart left a pre-recorded satisfaction survey on his phone. But in the end, I’m just looking for someone to blame other than my dear departed brother.

Us

Us

The Whole Story – Sort Of

I haven’t told you the whole story of Biff’s death, and I may never. Partly to protect his dignity, partly because the six-year story is too long, and partly because it’s ongoing. I’m still processing.

Here are a few posts that give you an idea:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/09/08/late-summer-dream/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2013/09/24/what-would-you-do-with-your-one-moment/

In short, after our mother died six years ago, my brother collapsed mentally, physically, and emotionally. Deep depression, anxiety attacks, and PTSD led to congestive heart failure, and Biff declined treatment. Sadly, his distrust of the medical community – not entirely unfounded – kept him from having the surgery that could have saved his life.

Some days he would admit he had heart failure, some days he would say it was indigestion, some days he would boil up dandelion leaf broth, some days he would take vitamin C. But he would never see a doctor outside of the two times he landed in the hospital.

On his third and final trip to the hospital (a facility which will remain nameless so that THEY don’t sue ME), they told us it was too late for the heart surgery.  As much as Biff would protest my saying it, the doctors were right. Just as they predicted, he was experiencing multiple organ failure due to a faulty heart valve.

But just as Biff predicted, he was dead within days of entering the medical system. When they put him under “light sedation” to do a “simple” endoscopy to see how damaged his liver was, he died. His heart stopped.

What Was the Point?

Why did it matter how damaged his liver was? They had already told us he had weeks or perhaps several months to live. The palliative care “end times” doctor was due to talk to us that very afternoon. I was looking for a nursing home where Biff could receive hospice care.

So why? Did they just want to use their shiny new endoscopy machine? I don’t know. I choose to believe that there was some reason for the test. The cardiologist had said that Biff’s organs were improving: while they weren’t optimistic, they would reevaluate him for surgery. So I’m guessing that’s why they decided to do this risky procedure on a dying man.

Death is Not Simple

So you see? It’s very complicated. It usually is. Part of grief is all the second-guessing, the questioning, the anger, the search for blame. I would like to be through that stage and move on to proper mourning, where I can accept that he is gone and just pound the walls and wail. Unfortunately, the grieving process doesn’t involve a multiple choice menu. You just take it as it comes.

I’m not sure the endoscopy was the smartest thing . . . no, I take that back. It obviously was not, given that pesky old “do-no-harm” Hippocratic oath. Do you sedate a dying man with dangerously low blood pressure who is already on morphine? No, you do not.

But the fact is, he was dying. The hospital facilitated his death, brought on the actual event, but Biff chose the manner of his passing.

He had been in a lot of pain for a long time, and God had mercy on him, given the dreadful scenarios that could have transpired with multiple organ failure. He died in his sleep, after having spent the morning discussing his cat and Shakespeare with his nurses. There are worst fates.

So, no. I’m not going to sue the hospital.

I’m just going to be grateful for every day I’m alive, and I’m going to try to stay clear of hospitals.

I suggest you do the same — that is, unless you have heart failure. Then go to the damn doctor.

Things That Can Happen When Someone You Love Dies

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I told you that my brother died. Three weeks today. I also told you that I’m numb, and that’s pretty much still the case, although rivulets of sadness escape my eyes from time to time — a good thing, or I might burst like a water balloon full of tears.

The numbness doesn’t mean I’m not grieving. It’s a stage of grief and is not the same thing as denial, according to a grief counselor I spoke with last week. She says it’s protecting me, which is what I was guessing.

I don’t really need a professional to tell me I’m in “the grief process.” (Doesn’t that nice, pat moniker make it all sound predictable and controllable?)

For one thing, there are the damn mirrors scattered throughout my house. I stop to gaze into them often nowadays, I guess to see if I’m still here. Or to see if there’s a huge red gash ripped across my face, or a jagged hole in my chest.

At first glance, nothing’s amiss. The facial components are all present, and I can even make the corners of my mouth go up when necessary. Like one of those grimacing theatre masks.

088.mask.crop

But look harder. The topography has changed. The lines at the sides of my mouth have become cavernous, and the small frown lines between my eyebrows now reach halfway to my hairline. My eyes are empty, as if my “self” is busy on an inside project and doesn’t have time to interact with the outside world.

This is where you have to be careful: when you are grieving, so much of your energy is busy with the inner trauma that you don’t have all your normal faculties about you.

Things to Watch Out For:

  • You may find yourself stopped at an intersection waiting for the light to change and then notice that there is no light. There’s not even a stop sign. You don’t know how long you’ve been there.
  • You’ll read a chapter in your novel (a big, fat one chosen to distract you) and the next night you won’t remember whether or not you’ve read that chapter.  You won’t even recognize the names of the characters. Or you won’t be able to find the book at all.
  • You’ll pack up your belongings after a potluck and forget to put the top on the vinegar bottle and then track brown vinegar all over the carpet at your friend’s new house. And you won’t care, because in the scheme of things, what’s a carpet?
  • You can bet that you won’t have clean socks or underwear because you forgot to do the laundry. Again. But you won’t care about that either, so that’s OK.
  • You may find yourself outraged at the woman at the gym, formerly a source of amusement, who talks incessantly about her scalp condition and her latest oils and rinses. She regularly asks your advice about what she should do, and you are dangerously close to giving her some less-than-gracious suggestions.

Speaking of Being Outraged:

Here’s something that I hope won’t happen to you, but given America’s health care system, I wouldn’t rule it out.

I dropped by my brother’s vacant house the other night to make sure the pipes weren’t freezing. I punched the blinking light on the message machine and heard several automated messages from the anesthesiology firm that recently “provided services” to my brother. They would like him to “press 2” to take a brief satisfaction survey.

I guess their records don’t show that my brother freaking DIED under their freaking anesthesia. Does not waking up count as dissatisfied? How about having your heart stop?

If my brother does not “press 3” to remove himself from the list, they will continue to try to reach him. Good luck with that.

So I cussed. Repeatedly. I felt angry and that felt good. A feeling! There’s somebody home behind those empty eyes. The feeling was gone in ten minutes, but I did feel. That’s the point. There’s been a crack in the nothingness.

Wouldn’t You Like To Be A Person of Dignity?

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A friend of mine used the phrase “a woman of dignity” the other day, and the words echoed inside me like the caroling of a cathedral bell tower on Christmas Eve. Now I know what they mean when they say “it rang true.”

Ringing Truth

That’s exactly what I want to be, I thought. A woman of dignity. Not a woman with dignity, as if it’s something additive —  attached from the outside or assigned by someone else. But a woman of dignity, as if it’s the very stuff she’s made of. The word connotes integrity, another character trait to which I aspire. Integrated — whole, sound, of one piece of cloth. Dignity is something woven into your being.

File:Tapestry weaving.jpg

The Latin root of dignity means worthy, proper, and fitting, and the Indo-European root would be dek – to take, accept.

I love this combination of meanings, not just for women, but for everyone. We are all worthy just by our very existence. All we need to do is take this — accept it as truth. This way of self-identifying, this state of grace, is what I would call being a Child of God and recognizing it. We should accept no less than the proper and fitting honor for that, both from the way we treat ourselves and the way others treat us. Our inner ruminations, self-talk, our motivations, our outer behavior, and the way others treat us should all be rooted in decency — also from that same dek root.

Unlearning Falsehoods

I’d venture to say that most women, in particular, have grown up thinking they are not good enough. From a million societal messages, we hear this every day and our mothers did and our grandmothers did and so on and on. Many men I know got this message from their fathers, who probably got it from theirs: “No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t please him.”

Deep inside, most of us do not believe we are worthy, and we accept behavior that we don’t deserve, from ourselves and from others.

I grew up in an unhealthy environment where we all learned the various family “isms” that go along with an alcoholic home. Low self-esteem, anger, denial, anxiety, shame, lack of authenticity and trust, fear of intimacy — visit the Al-Anon family site if you’re interested in finding out more.

By the way, it’s not just alcoholism that foments these traits — a raging parent or sibling, emotionally distant or disturbed family members, drug, sex, or gambling addictions, etc. etc. And the behavior is often passed from generation to generation, so even if a particular generation does not have active addictive behaviors, they will still exhibit the behavioral and attitudinal “isms.” No offense, but I’ll bet you have some of them. You’ve got some voices in your head telling you lies.

We Get to Choose

Today, though, I get to choose. I’m no longer a trapped child, no longer a victim. I don’t have to do crazy anymore. I don’t even have to do disrespectful anymore. I can choose to walk away from people and situations that do not honor my dignity.

I can make choices that recognize and honor myself as a woman of dignity. If I recognize and treat myself that way, it’s far more likely that others will do the same. So honestly, you don’t have to become a person of dignity. You already *are* a person of dignity. Accept it and believe it. If you have to, start by “acting as if” — just act as if you’re a woman or man of dignity; own it — and see what happens.

Reach Out and Take It

This week, I’m going to talk to a lawyer about a situation that I have allowed to go on for many, many years. It’s been disrespectful and stressful and has had big ramifications in my life. I’ve decided that I deserve better. I’m not acting out of anger or revenge — that doesn’t come from dignity. I’m simply not accepting this anymore.

I am stunned that I have found the courage to do this, despite the fear of anger, retaliation, and loss of relationship. I’ve heard it said that courage is simply fear that has said its prayers. In fact, it was surprisingly easy to dial the lawyer’s number when I woke up this morning and said to myself, “I am a woman of dignity.”

So, here: I offer you dignity – reach out and take it.

Free, Public Domain Image: Military Veteran, In a Wheelchair, Shaking Hands Stock Photography

It’s Yours

Photo credits:
Bell Tower: Wikimedia Commons

Weaving hands: Wikipedia

Elderly man shaking hands: White House public domain photos; Acclaim Images

Strolling into the Future

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He’s walking fast, Starbucks coffee clutched in his right hand, rolled black umbrella in his left.  As he strides past me — confident eye contact, slight nod, no smile — I can smell the fresh scent of his morning shave and shower. His posture is erect, made more so by a tightly tied, tidy backpack. No lose straps here; he’s all business. Although he’s dressed in khakis and wearing gym shoes, everything about him says suit and tie.

I, on the other hand, am strolling. A teabag tag dangles from my dented and decidedly uncool thermos mug, and my umbrella swings in lazy circles from my wrist. I’m wearing my hiking boots because they are the only walking shoes I have that don’t hurt my feet.

He’s headed somewhere. I’m headed nowhere.

Boots on the Ground

Boots Going Nowhere

Church Lady

I spent last evening organizing greeters for my church and preparing to lead an Advent Quiet Day later in the month. I read my Bible and did my centering prayer meditation. I wrote a couple of memos for a local environmental group, had a cup of chamomile tea, and went to bed with a heating pad because I was sore from the gym after a four-month hiatus with broken ribs.

When did I become an achy, middle-aged church lady? One who strolls while others stride? Sipping chamomile instead of espresso? I used to be cool; I really did.

Way Cool

Way Cool

This transition to the other side has been gradual.

Why, just the other day I was striding the halls of Congress doing my best impersonation of a mover and a shaker. I was becoming like the young strider. Creating myself, shaping who I would be in life, looking eagerly to the future.

Unbecoming

Now, I’m unbecoming. Well, not in the traditional sense of the word. I do still shower and brush my teeth. Rather, I’m dismantling the ego-driven, competitive persona that built a successful lobbying career. I’m taking the time to heal childhood emotional wounds that have always caused me to be less than who I wanted to be. I’m stripping away the character traits that used to serve me well, but which now only make me wince.

I’m processing, reflecting, and writing. Most of these young folks don’t have time for that. They hear the call of success, whatever that might mean for them. Nothing wrong with that — it’s what they are supposed to be doing at this time in their lives.

A Call to Aging

I’m still figuring out what I’m supposed to be doing in this phase of my life. We all have unique cycles of call in our lives, right up until we breathe our final breath. Learning how to navigate aging is one of our most important calls.

Tick Tock, Tick tock

Tick Tock, Tick Tock

I’m not there yet. There’s a lot I want to do before I’m deposited in a rocker to relate and re-relate stories of my youth to a circle of what I’m certain will be enthralled children. I’m finishing up my Masters in Writing and might be doing some teaching in addition to becoming a famous author.

OK, maybe I am still shoring up my ego in some ways.

But I feel pretty good about where I am and where I’m going. I don’t think I’m going to be one of those bitter older people who resents the young. Yeah, I wish my feet and knees didn’t hurt, but I don’t begrudge the spry among us.

I wouldn’t trade any of my experiences to be back in striding mode. Even the grief, loss, and failures are golden. They help me empathize with other people who are going through those things. The Bible says you comfort the suffering with the comfort you have received from God. God has been there for me, and now I can share that comforting spirit with others, whether or not they personally believe in God. That’s a calling to aspire to.

“Self-harm” Doesn’t Begin to Describe It

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I want to introduce you to a friend of mine and share an extraordinarily powerful and seriously helpful piece of writing from him. I’ve never had a guest blogger before, but this is truly a must-read.

If you think you don’t know anyone who has serious depression or who struggles with self-harming behavior, you are probably mistaken. At the least, this essay will equip you to deal with this in the future, because you will encounter it and may need to help someone you love.

The essay is long. Please read to the end because the first section explains what *not* to do, and the end gives you some positive suggestions. At least file it away so you can have it when you need it.

This was posted on Facebook on October 24 by Teaque Kaiden McLaren, age 25 and is reprinted with his permission:

Teaque

Teaque

“So I know I said I was going to bed, but I’ve got something that I feel really needs to be said. And I’m sorry it’s so long.

As a person who has dealt with depression, self-harm, and suicide attempts over the past 9 years of my life, something I’ve found that doesn’t really help a lot when people find out you’re struggling with thoughts of hurting yourself is them telling you things like, “oh no don’t do that,” “just think of the positive things in life,” or “get help, NOW.” I know they think they’re helping, but when a person is in a state where they’re seriously considering harming themselves, trying to tell them what to do isn’t going to do much of anything. Or, if anything, it’ll make them feel worse because they want to stop so badly, but they don’t know how. When they’re in that state there are no filters to emotions, there is no logic behind what they’re feeling. Asking them why they feel that way is just going to frustrate them because they DON’T know why. It’s a giant rush of all these different emotions that are coming at them so fast there’s no way to sift through it all and find the root and be like, “oh, this is why I was feeling down, let me just change that.” I know this is a hard thing for some of you to understand if you’ve never dealt with that kind of situation before, so I’m going to try my best to help you understand things from our side. Show you how we see the situation, and how we see the world in general.

"A giant rush of all these different emotions..."

“A giant rush of all these different emotions…”

Before I continue I just want to say that no one case of depression is exactly the same, because no one person is exactly the same. Everyone reacts differently in situations, so it’s hard to say exactly what will and what won’t work, but I’m going to try and at least help you understand the basics of what depression is like and how you can really help someone if they’re having a hard time. Even if that means you have to contact the proper authorities. Even if it means that they might disown you as a friend. It’s their LIFE on the line, not your pride, not your desire to be the person who talked them out of hurting themself. If you can’t handle the situation, then find someone who can. That is how you can be a true friend. You never know if one day they’ll track you down to thank you. I know there was a friend I was upset with at first for telling the school administrators when I would cut in high school, but more than anything now I have nothing but respect for her, and am so thankful that she did that. Sure it meant embarrassing moments of getting called to the counselor’s office or the nurse’s office and having to wait for my mom to come pick me up, but you know what? That got me the help I needed.

There are many reasons why people choose to start and/or continue to self-harm, just like there are many ways that it is done. There’s cutting, burning, punching, slapping, starving yourself, binge-eating, and so many more that I couldn’t possibly list them all off the top of my head; and I’m sure that there are even more ways that I haven’t heard of yet. Never doubt a persons’ creativity; even when it comes to self-harm. Like I said above there are many reasons why people harm themselves; some people are actually trying to kill themselves, others view it as a form of punishment because they feel they’ve messed up to a degree that deserves some kind of repercussion, or that they aren’t being punished enough. Other people view it as symbolic; letting the blood flow or forcing themselves to throw up is a cleansing of all the bad inside. All the hurt and pain that they feel inside that is so intangible and hard to comprehend is suddenly physical. Watching cuts heal is like watching a wound in the heart or in the soul heal, and they genuinely do feel better for a while after they’ve done it. That is because of the endorphins that are released by the body that go to the site of pain, numbing it and making it feel like it’s getting better, even if only for a short time. In the end though, it all comes down to control. They feel like they have no control over their life, over these emotions that over half the time they can’t even put a name to, so they reach out and grab for something that they can control. Unfortunately, that control usually ends up being through harming themselves.

Of course there are the people who do it to try and get attention or to seem ‘cool’ or ‘tough’, and while yeah they irritate me that they’re making light of a serious problem, no incident of self-harm should be overlooked just because you think they’re not genuinely struggling.

I want to address a certain issue regarding counseling. Parents of children and spouses of those dealing with depression and self-harm who are religious, I know that the first thing you want to do is drag them off to a counselor of your own religion (which is in your right to do so), but before you do please, PLEASE do some research into the places you are going. We honestly do not do well at all with people throwing bible verses at us or spouting other religious stuff into our faces and saying how we should immediately trust in your deity to take care of everything. A lot of times when we’re dealing with depression, if we were religious at all before, we’re also having a lot of trouble with our faith. You may say all you want that Jesus or Allah or whomever will lift you from this, and that’s nice that you believe so much in your God that he/she can do this, but we’re in a place where inside we just feel this giant black void. We feel alone, we feel isolated, we wonder how a God so loving and so powerful could let us suffer this way and if you sit there and try and shove it down our throats, more than likely we’re going to respond by pulling further away from where you want us to be. I know you have the best intentions, and I admire that, I really do, but please take into consideration that we are having a really hard time and the last thing we need is someone telling us what to do and that there is no other way but that way. We’re just trying to sort out our lives, our emotions…we can only handle so many things at once. After all, we’re only human. Now I’m not saying don’t take them to a religious counselor, as you’re welcome to do whatever you please. I’m saying to make sure that they’re open-minded, that they’re willing to listen before talking, that they truly have your loved ones’ best interests in mind. I’ve been to counselors who don’t listen; they just speak at you not to you, trying to force their ideas onto you. Honestly, it just made it all worse.

Another issue I want to address mostly pertains to parents, though it is not exclusive to them, it just so happens that it’s mostly parents who do this. When you find out your child has been self-injuring or has been thinking about it, I know your first instinct is to pull them in and shelter them, don’t let anything touch them. This is a generally a bad idea in my experience, ESPECIALLY if they’re in their mid-teenage years. They’re at that point in life where they’re trying to find their individuality; they’re trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be, they’re trying to learn how to be themselves and separate themselves from you so they are no longer just someone’s son or daughter, they are a person. An individual whom they feel is worth something in this world. I cannot stress enough how important this stage in their life is. If you never let them grow up, never let them learn how to be an individual, then they’ll never be fully prepared for the world when suddenly, they’ve graduated college and are out on their own. They won’t know what to do because all their life they’ve been coddled and spoon-fed how to live. At this point in time in their lives they don’t want a parent, they want a friend. They want someone they can trust; who they can go to with their problems where they know they won’t be judged for how they feel or who they may happen to love. And I’m sorry to tell you, but if they don’t find that kind of atmosphere or relationship with you or your significant other, then they’re going to go elsewhere to find it. That elsewhere might be just a good group of friends, or it might be drugs or gangs where they can end up getting into a lot of trouble then or even later on in life. At the same time though, don’t push too hard. Just let them know that you’re there for them, no matter what they need.

Now I know I’ve said a lot of what not to do, so I want to share a couple things that I’ve personally found to be helpful when struggling with urges to self-harm. Instead of trying to tell them not to do something, try saying that you believe in them, you believe that they can hold on and resist. That you know they’re so strong and that they can make it through. A quote I once read from the book A Bright Red Scream: Self-Mutilation and the Language of Pain by Marilee Strong said it better than I could ever hope to word it. A woman was describing her plans for the future about how she would like to have a family of her own one day, “But,” she said, “right now, my goal is just make it five more minutes … then five more.” Sometimes that’s all they’re going to be able to do, and you have to support them in that. No matter what, make sure they know that you are there for them, but keep in mind that if things start getting out of hand, or if you feel it has gone beyond your capabilities, then it is your responsibility as their friend to seek out proper help.

Speaking of the book by Marilee Strong, I would highly recommend it not only for those who deal with self-harm, but also for those who wish to understand better from a more scientific point of view. She not only interviewed over 50 people who suffer/have suffered from depression and self-mutilation habits (including some famous names), but she also interviewed psychiatrists, psychologists, and neuroscientists to try and get the full picture. While it does mostly focus on those who self-harm in result of traumatic incidents in their pasts, it still gives you a good look into the lives of these people who struggle day by day just trying to get by. Some reviews do say that a few of the stories can be triggering, so if you are sensitive to this kind of material please read with caution if you chose to look into it.

With all of that said, and with it now being after 5am, I want to thank you all who do at least try to reach out. I know your hearts are full of good intentions; I just wanted to make sure that you knew a little bit what it’s like in our shoes. We can’t up and change our moods on a whim; it’s a difficult process that we have to go through but we really appreciate each and every friend we have who supports us and helps us get through our darkest hours. I know for me personally, while it’s been a long hard road and I’ve lost friends along the way because of it, I wouldn’t change my past for anything. I wouldn’t take away these scars because that would change who I am, and I’m proud of whom I’ve become because of them. I wouldn’t be as strong as I am today; I wouldn’t have the confidence that I have now in myself that I can do anything I put my mind to had I not gone through those years. I know I still have a long way to go, but each day is a new page, and if I can help even one person understand better, or help one person realize that they’re not alone…then why stop at one?

Related Posts:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/suicide-happens-help-stop-it/

http://brokenlightcollective.wordpress.com/

http://twloha.com/vision

Photo by Melanie Lynn Griffin

What Would You Do with Your One Moment?

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My brother writhes on the floor, yells in pain, and then is still as he gasps for breath.

“It hurts, it hurts,” he moans. “Why does it hurt so much?”

His legs and stomach are too swollen for him to get up off the floor where he has fallen.

“Please let me call the rescue squad – they will help you get back up on the couch.” He is too much for me to lift. His legs have no strength to push.

“No, no, they’ll take me away. They won’t let me live here alone like this.”

This is not the time for me to beg for the thousandth time, “Please get the operation; it doesn’t have to be like this.”

And for him to say for the two thousandth time, “The doctors don’t know what they’re doing. It’s not my heart. There’s something wrong with my stomach.”

This is not the time for another fight, not the time for more tears. This is a time to try to get back up on the couch.

What is the right thing to do? I cannot think, cannot decide, cannot help.

He tells me he hasn’t eaten all day. I bring him some mac & cheese and a little water. I wait for him to catch his breath.

We are about to try again, to hoist, to push, to groan, to fail.

Then time stops.

As per the WordPress Daily Challenge: For a moment today, time stands still — but you can tweak one thing while it’s stopped. What do you do?

Miranda the cat has stopped in mid-stride, her head cocked in puzzlement as it has been for the entire seven hours her human has been on the floor struggling and groaning. The clock is stopped at 5 a.m.

Everything is still.

I gently put my hand over my brother’s heart, pray, and heal his mitral valve.

That’s what I would do with my one moment.

A Better Day

A Better Day

What would you do with your one moment of stillness?

Related story: http://outsideinmagazine.com/issue-six/wordstories/late-summer-dream-melanie-lynn-griffin/

Suicide Happens. Help Stop It.

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There are a lot of ways to kill yourself. Of course there are the socially acceptable ways, like overwork and stress and pickling your liver.

But I’m talking about more dramatic departures. One friend of mine drove his van full speed into a brick wall – the weird paint pattern that covered the patched hole was visible for decades until they tore the building down.

Another guy lay down on the railroad tracks. He was drunk. High school.

A friend’s teenage son shot himself. He was on anti-depressants at the time.

Another friend of mine says that every day his niece doesn’t kill herself is a good day.

A young woman I used to teach in Sunday school hung herself in August 2011.  Heather was a beautiful, spunky, talented angel. You never would have guessed.

Heather getting some love from her twin cousins

Heather getting some love from her twin high school buddies

These aren’t famous sportswriters creating detailed farewell blogs about their suicides. They are just regular people who couldn’t handle life. They didn’t get the help they needed for whatever reason.

The Sad Statistics

Tomorrow is World Suicide Prevention Awareness Day, September 10. It’s a good day to educate yourself, because if you don’t already know someone who has taken their own life, the sad odds are that you will.

The World Health Organization says that suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the world, especially among young people. Worldwide, there is one suicide every forty seconds. The number of people who die by suicide every year exceeds the number of deaths from homicide and wars combined.

In the U.S., suicide is the second leading cause of death for people 25 to 34, and the third rated killer for ages 15 to 24. It’s not just the young — in 2010, an elderly person (65-85) committed suicide every 90 minutes. For the population as a whole, it’s the #10 killer. Nearly a million Americans try to kill themselves every year.

Warning Signs of Suicide

You’ve probably seen this list, but it’s worth taking a look at again – just in case. Warning signs vary, and they aren’t always obvious. Some people keep their struggles a secret, some verbalize them. But here are potential signs to watch for. A suicidal person may:

  • Talk about suicide, death and/or no reason to live.
  • Be preoccupied with death and dying.
  • Withdraw from friends and/or social activities.
  • Have a recent severe loss (esp. relationship) or threat of a significant loss.
  • Experience drastic changes in behavior.
  • Lose interest in hobbies, work, school, etc.
  • Prepare for death by making out a will (unexpectedly) and final arrangements.
  • Give away prized possessions.
  • Have attempted suicide before.
  • Take unnecessary risks; be reckless, and/or impulsive.
  • Lose interest in their personal appearance.
  • Increase their use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Express a sense of hopelessness.
  • Be faced with a situation of humiliation or failure.
  • Have a history of violence or hostility.
  • Have been unwilling to “connect” with potential helpers.
  • Start saying goodbye to people in a “final” kind of way.
  • Suddenly exhibit a strange sense of calm (the decision has been made).

What to Do if You are Worried about Someone

If you suspect someone is contemplating suicide, the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research recommends:

  •  Encourage the person to seek treatment. Ideally, the individual should consult a doctor or mental-health provider. But if they won’t, then suggest reaching out to a support group, crisis center or faith community. Or the person can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • Help the person get assistance. For example, you can research treatment options, make phone calls, review insurance benefit information, or take the person to an appointment.
  •  Facilitate open communication. Be supportive and understanding. Listen attentively and avoid interrupting.
  •  Be respectful of the person’s feelings. Even though someone who’s suicidal isn’t thinking logically, the emotions are real. Not acknowledging how the person feels can curtail communication.
  •  Don’t be patronizing or judgmental. Instead of contending that “things could be worse” or “you have so much to live for,” ask questions such as, “What would make you feel better?” or “How can I help?”
  •  Never promise to keep someone’s suicidal feelings a secret. The reason is simple. If you think that the person’s life is in danger, you’ll have to get help.
  • Offer reassurance. Emphasize that, with appropriate treatment, he or she will feel better about life.
  •  Encourage the person to avoid alcohol and drugs. Using drugs or alcohol can lead to reckless behavior and increase depression.

If you think that someone is in danger of committing suicide or has actually made a suicide attempt:

  • Don’t leave the person alone.
  • Call 911.
  • Try to find out if he or she is under the influence of alcohol or drugs or may have taken an overdose.
  •  If these options aren’t possible, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Say Something

Please don’t feel silly or self-conscious talking about this. If you’re worried, there is probably a reason. Better safe than sorry. Say something. Do something.

Here is a link to a great website about how to help someone you are concerned about. When someone in my family was suicidal a few years ago, I used many of these talking points almost verbatim. They gave me confidence, and he tells me that when I told him, “Whether you believe it right now or not, you WILL get through this, you WILL feel better,” it gave him the strength to make it through his worst depression.

,You might want to keep this number in your wallet. You never know when it might save a life: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), is a 24-hour, toll-free suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

Light a Candle

Please light a candle in a window at 8 p.m. tomorrow night. In support and solidarity, or in memory of someone you love.

I wish you peace.

Light a Candle at 8 PM on World Suicide Prevention Day e-cards or postcards in English

Please light a candle

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