Learning not to Fear Failure

“When we begin to take our failures non-seriously, it means we are ceasing to be afraid of them. It is of immense importance to learn to laugh at ourselves” — Katherine Mansfield

In any given day, we will succeed at some things and fail at others. Failure happens to some degree every day. Over time, If we lose our sense of humor, we can begin to feel badly about our failures, letting those feelings compound into a statement about our self-worth. After all, who wants to fail?

There are times when a failure seems too big to make us laugh, and indeed some mistakes aren’t that funny. In those cases, does it make sense to continue to wallow in self-loathing, or to earnestly move forward in a new direction. Every moment offers us a chance for a new direction, and if we are mired in self loathing about our failures, we lose the chance to see the new opportunities that are available to us in the present moment.

I am resisting the temptation to see my move into a job that didn’t suit me as a failure. It was a learning experience, and I do not regret making the decision to change directions after several attempts to make it work. Resilience is one of my strengths. Having gone through much harder times, bigger failures in my life, I remain an eternal optimist, with a healthy dose of sardonic cynicism to keep me from being too naive.

Early in my recovery from an eating disorder, I had a sponsor who gave me a stuffed, quilted pig she had lovingly made for me. It seemed rather ironic, given my condition, but the words she said when she presented it to me have always stayed with me, even 35 years later. Her words were simple “Don’t wallow in it!”

I don’t expect everything in life to work out, and I don’t expect myself to be perfect. I know I will make mistakes, fail, fall down, and do dumb things. Sometimes I will be able to laugh at these things, and sometimes I will need to take a moment to cry.

Life itself fails us at times, and all we can do is decide, and decide, and decide again. Where to next?


Thawing Out and Letting my Feelings In

IMG_1661I’m sitting on the couch in my pajamas this morning. The sun is shining through the shades next to me, reminding me of a warm summer day, while a cold draft from the large picture window behind me lets me know it is a mere six degrees outside.  This mixture of cold and warmth reminds me of how life can be  good and bad, sweet and salty, all at the same time.

Growing up in a household where uncertainty was the norm, I developed this interesting ability to wall myself off from the painful moments when my mom was having a psychotic episode. I taught myself how to go numb, like a body does when its been in the cold too long, in order to freeze out the terror that was a part of living with a parent who struggled to cope with a difficult to treat,  sometimes debilitating illness  called paranoid schizophrenia. It wasn’t so much her accusations that I was the devil, the shouting at me, or the pushing me out the door that hurt so bad. It was the pain of watching someone I loved descending into a living hell and not being able to do anything about it.

So I learned how to protect myself, first by living in a day-dream world, hidden in my room surrounded by books, colored pencils for sketching my dreams, and  a desk full of pens for writing stories about a better life. Later my body became the subject of my obsessions; restricting, bingeing, purging, all to numb myself from the world around me.

In parallel to this numbing, was the ever-present sunshine in my life, even when hidden behind thick misty clouds or blizzard conditions, it was always there. The people who loved me unconditionally, the music that kept me in touch with my soul, and the tiny glimpses of a peaceful being that I couldn’t quite understand. Most call this presence God. I have found no words yet to describe this divine source of tranquility.

As life went on, winters came and went, and so did warm summers. I learned how to navigate life without some of the vices that had become my shield. Yet, whenever something unthinkable would happen, the near loss of a child, divorce, or the death of someone I cherished, I would find myself going back to my old way of coping, this time without the help of an eating disorder. I found that I had mastered the ability to quickly go numb once the initial tears were shed.

I am certainly not the only one who anesthetizes their feelings in order to cope. I am finding that most adults do to a greater or lesser degree all of the time. It turns out, our emotions seem to be our greatest foe at times, and we will go to great lengths to drown out our inner voices. We use drugs, alcohol, work, relationships, avoidance, sex, religion, gambling, violence, and many other behavioral tactics to keep us from facing our true selves.

The problem with having this ability to numb oneself is that it is hard to go back to feeling anything once the cold has passed. I am working on being able to show up in the moment and open up my heart to whatever feelings come to me, no matter how scary, as that is my only hope of ever being fully alive.  It may take me the rest of my life to figure out how to live in a world that is bittersweet, but slowly I am thawing out and warming up enough to experience the beauty of life as well as the pain.

My Body – Writer’s Quote Wednesday

katie dance bestToday as I reflect upon my quote for Writer’s Quote Wednesday, I am reminded of all of the wonderful ways in which my body has served me over the years, even when I was at war with it and didn’t believe it was good enough.

While I never had the kind of talent my niece displays in this photo, I am so thankful for this body of mine.  As I grow older and my body continues to change, I will treat my instrument with kindness and love, appreciating all that it has done for me.

Check out Colleen’s wonderful blog, Silver Threading, if you would like to participate in Writer’s Quote Wednesday.

Click here to see all of the wonderful quotes in her weekly wrap-up.

A Day in the Life: Home Sweet Home

Coming Home – another post in my series called a Day in the Life about my life growing up with a mom who had paranoid schizophrenia.

I am now living within two miles of the house in which I grew up; a fact which amazes me. How could I, the one who was going to leave and never come back, be the one that lives closest to our childhood home?

After graduating from high school, I went 300 miles away to a college in Nashville. After getting kicked out of that college (stay tuned for that story) I boomeranged back home for a brief moment and then was propelled back out into the world, where I floundered aimlessly trying to make a living and overcome my lack of maturity. Gradually I gained living wages and an apartment, but the maturity didn’t evolve until much later.

Once I was back in the city, I would visit my parents occasionally mostly to see my baby sisters. Usually these visits were bittersweet. I wasn’t my mom’s favorite, and there was always tension between us, causing the rest of the family undo stress. I would stay long enough to pick up my sisters to take them to a park, museum, or the mall, returning them a few hours later. Sometimes I would stay for dinner, as my mom had become quite a chef and I couldn’t resist her cooking.  Invariably I would end up leaving in a huff over some spat between us, but not before pilfering her hidden stash of goods. My mom stock-piled toilet paper, canned goods, soap, toiletries, etc, and upon my exit, I would often smuggle some of these out as well as a $20 bill from her purse whenever possible. I think it was my way of taking from her what I felt I’d been deprived of all those years.

After I married and came face to face with my own issues which I had been holding at bay for years, namely my anxiety and eating disorder, it seemed to become harder to visit home. I saw several therapists who insisted on querying me about  childhood memories and feelings, which they believed led to my issues. Eventually, through individual and group therapy, a 12-step program, and going to anxiety “classes” to learn to cope with the panic attacks I was having, I began to recover and feel better.

At one point in my recovery process, I decided it would be easier to move away, and we headed off to the east coast. It was there that I had enough space to listen to my own head and start working on my on goals, like finishing up college, becoming a nurse, and concentrating on my family. It was there that I began to grow and mature. I made some wonderful friends, joined a support group, and became a better parent. Still, I missed my hometown.

Eventually, after my mom passed away, we moved back to the midwest. It was hard at first and I was flooded with a lot of memories. I resisted the instinct to flee again, and I’ve remained in my hometown for almost twenty years.

After my divorce three years ago, I moved to a little neighborhood closer to my childhood home. Instead of causing feelings of anxiety, I found it strangely comforting.  Maybe it is because it makes me feel closer to my brother, who passed away in 2008, or maybe I am finally able to remember the good times too, rather than struggling to keep the bad memories at bay. It all happened so long ago and my life has become so full, it almost doesn’t even seem real any more.

And now for the lessons I have learned:

  • I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter where I live, what I do for a living, or how many possessions I have accumulated. What matters is how I view my life and knowing deep down inside that I am good enough.
    • I remember how I used to desperately pray to God for better circumstances only to feel forgotten. Then one day I  realized that I already had everything I needed to improve my life. It  was like I was asking for a sandwich when all of the ingredients were there in front of me and all I needed to do was learn to assemble it. I kept asking for more when all I really needed was to see the gifts I was born with and learn how to utilize them.
  • The same concept is true for love. Love has always been in my life even when I couldn’t see it. Love is a constant that never changes. It isn’t love that grows with time, it is my capacity to love that grows.

Writing this blog has opened my heart to a new level of understanding and compassion for all those who are doing the best they can each day, including myself.

To see the last post in this series, click here.

Get Real

“I’m trying really hard to take the veil off the fraud,

to be real, to start with me.”

Jamie Lee Curtis

Here is an example of Jamie’s pictrue* next to another picture of her that was touched up.

 *Pictrue – A word I invented to describe a picture that hasn’t been airbrushed, photoshopped, or altered to create the illusion of perfection.

Thank you Jamie Lee Curtis for being brave enough to show your real self on the cover of More magazine in 2002. It seems like we should have learned something from all this by now, but instead people are using the many digital tools available to perpetuate even more myths of perfection.

Here is a short video clip I found on Youtube that shows what four women thought of pictures of themselves after they were touched up to look like models.




To Love is to Be Vulnerable

168905_485930874210_6256203_n“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

What would you like people to know about mental illness?

Question: If there was one thing you could tell people about your experience with mental illness, either in a family member, friend, or yourself, what would it be?

I have been thinking about this question a lot, especially since for so many years I kept silent for fear of being stigmatized and judged.  My experience with mental illness is far-reaching, spanning three generations of my family, and also from connecting with many people who have had mental illness over the years.

Based on my experiences, I would like to  answer the question from three different perspectives:

1) As the daughter of a mom who had paranoid schizophrenia, except for a few close friends, I quickly learned it was better not to share this information with people because of their response. The most frequent response was: “Are you going to get it?”

When I told people my mom passed away from cancer, nobody ever asked me that question.

So the first thing I would like to tell people is this: When I talk about my mom’s mental illness, please respond with the same compassion and respect that you would when I talk about her having cancer.

2) I had an eating disorder, anxiety, and depression. I have many close friends who know this about me, and whenever I have told people I find that many of them open up about their own personal experiences. Still, there are those who are not quite so sensitive.

So I would like to make a request. Stop perpetuating the problem by saying, “I wish I had an eating disorder, I could stand to lose some weight.” Stop talking about dieting and what people look like all the time, and start focusing on what is inside.

3) It was heartbreaking when my daughter developed an eating disorder and had a couple of episodes of major depression that landed her in the hospital. On one of those occasions I took a leave from work to be with her for 7 weeks. My good friends at work knew about it and were extremely supportive and caring, and that meant the world to me. However, in an effort to protect my daughter’s privacy, many other people didn’t know what was going on. In retrospect, I wish I had been more open with everyone. It was hard coming back as if nothing had happened. Especially knowing the kind of support people had given to other co-workers when their children had been hospitalized or come down with an illness that wasn’t mental in nature. It was sad that I felt the need to keep her illness a secret, especially when it became life-threatening.

So in the future, I want people to know that when my child has a mental illness, we need the support, cards, flowers, and casseroles the same way that someone whose child has any other illness does.

I do not blame anyone for their innocent responses, as they are rooted in a lack of understanding. And why would people respond in any other way if I, myself, am not comfortable being honest about what is going on. The only way these misconceptions can change is for any and all of us who have had experience with a mental illness to speak up about it, without any shame.

So now it is your turn – what would you like to tell people?

Bridging the Gap in Mental Health Care

Grand Canyon 2011 125I often wonder why more progress hasn’t been made in developing effective treatments and finding cures for illnesses that fall into the mental health category. For too many years these illnesses have been marginalized and treated more like character flaws than actual health conditions.

I did a web search today to learn about studies that are currently being conducted and found a rather large listing. ClinicalTrials.gov is “a web-based resource that provides patients, their family members, health care professionals, researchers, and the public with easy access to information on publicly and privately supported clinical studies on a wide range of diseases and conditions”.

As a researcher and mental health advocate, I think it is so important to become involved whenever possible and to assert one’s voice in order to accelerate the progress of finding cures and treatments for these illnesses.

Click on this link to search for studies.