Posts Tagged ‘past’

Not a stranger to myself — responding to a note from someone I used to know.

Don’t be a stranger, she writes.

I find myself thinking
how can I be anything but?
I was somewhat of a stranger to myself when I knew her,
in the midst of a getting-to-know-self dance. Getting closer, but always a
few steps behind.

Now I generally keep up but my
self keeps me on my toes.

On a person-to-person basis,
Not being a stranger implies visits,
intimate and casual conversations
some form of connection
we may or may not have.

It’s always a risk,
but to you, stranger/acquaintance/community sister,
it could be like facing a flame of my past, my past beliefs
or like facing the awkward silences of the I-used-to-know-yous,
and who are you now?

She writes that she hopes to see me soon.

I’m not sure what to say to that.

I am thinking of the dream, a few nights back, of people from that community yelling at me, of the nagging feeling that stayed with me most of the day.  I am thinking of well-meant phrases that came across as antagonistic that day with her in the garden. I am also thinking that this matters, but less and less.

I am thinking of the feeling of wholeness and happiness that lingers with me longer as time goes by. Of standing with myself, of being in partnership, of doing art, of finding ways to sustain my livelihood.

I am thinking of dancing.

Don’t be a stranger, she writes.

Maybe that time — time for not-stranger-ness —  has passed. Perhaps it has not. I feel distant from that-which-was. I am not sure of what will be.

I put the letter down. At face value, the mailing is a year-end letter from a nonprofit organization asking for money. Her note is scrawled across the top, turning the letter into a more personal appeal.

letter fragment

It does appeal to the part of me that wanted — and wants to be part of something. But I remind myself that I am part of something, of some things: my own life, my marriage, my friendships, my Nia communities, large and small.

And I think of what it means to belong, not merely fit in. And how at some points in my life, I felt like I belonged and fit in, but often confused the two. While I’m still at odds with myself sometimes, in feeling “not enough,” I feel more like I belong. I belong, most of all, to myself. I’m not sure I want to fit in, at least not in the way I once did.

I don’t know how much thought she put into writing this short note. Clearly, I have put some thought into how I am reacting and responding to it.

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Health results, past and present.

I remember when I first found out I had some sort of cyst or tumor, nearly four years ago now. At first, it was tangible — it showed up in X-rays and an ultrasound, and I could feel it when I touched my abdomen — but it wasn’t quite a real thing for me. I was determined. I was determined to be fine aside from that; I said to myself and everyone around me that I was otherwise healthy. I was finishing up a healing and empowerment program and I felt alive and powerful. While I did things to mitigate the occasion sharp pain and continued with the trajectory of making doctors’ appointments, I also pushed forward. I was determined that it was not going to interfere with the goals I had for myself.

I didn’t consider how much energy the mass took up inside me. Nor did I consider the power of denial. Which is not to say that the feeling of empowerment and hope and idealism was not very real for me — it was. But I didn’t even really think about the potential realities of a mass growing on my ovary. I continued as if it were not a factor.

Also, I had not had this experience before. I simply was lacking both experience and information. Phrases like complex cyst and borderline ovarian tumor did not yet have meaning for me, even if and when I heard them. It wasn’t really until after my surgery where those meanings hit me and I understood.

The present:

Saturday, I stared at the letter: my most recent pelvic ultrasound results. I get an ultrasound every six months or so to make sure that I am tumor-free. My results up to this point have been negative — nothing abnormal found. This time, there is a small cyst on my left ovary. The letter said to wait about three months and get another ultrasound and see if it resolves itself or if I need to take further action.

I froze, putting the letter down, motioning for my love to come over. He took the letter away from my shaking hands.

And I realized this weekend: While I am afraid, it’s important to not let my fear paralyze me. I can acknowledge the worst-case scenario while also acknowledging that that may never come to fruition. At the same time, it’s important not to bury myself in denial. I don’t have to present myself as a pillar of strength and push forward and try to make everything okay whether or not it is. I can be vulnerable and strong. I can be scared and concerned while still moving forward with creating my life here. I don’t have to push; I will take one step at a time.

This could be something. It could be insignificant or nothing. Many cysts resolve on their own. I’ve had one that did not. This one is small, just over one centimeter.. The one I had was nearly 13 cm. For now, I will do what I can. I will try natural and herbal remedies, ask for healing thoughts or prayers.

This weekend, I re-felt some of the trauma from that time, where I did not receive the support I needed from my community during my health scare and following crisis. I reminded myself that my support network now is strong: husband,  parents, parents-in-law, other family, friends. I allowed myself to feel the fear and the grief while also holding the reality of my current experience. In the past few years, I have created a safe space within myself to feel what I need to feel and also move through it. I have developed and strengthened relationships.  No matter what happens, I have a strong foundation.

Recognizing my experience of depression in the pages of the DSM-V

A few weeks ago, my assignment for my Abnormal Psychology class – choosing a disorder and writing about it from a specific therapeutic perspective – gave me a reason to look through the DSM-V, the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I went to the local library, sat down with their reference copy, and flipped through the pages. I skimmed the criteria of different disorders, searching for one that might seem intriguing, but not too triggering or something that I have directly experienced.

Major Depressive Disorder did not meet my second requirement; nonetheless, I stopped skimming and read through the criteria. And as I read, I recognized that two and a half to three years ago, I met nearly every point of the criteria, line by line. Part of me suspected this, but I hadn’t looked it up, not even in my old copy of the DSM-IV that I’ve had for years. If the page had been a checklist, it would have been full of check marks.

On one hand, the realization was sobering: I was severely depressed. That’s scary and serious.

On the other hand, I can also say that it’s factual, it’s true, and that reading the criteria simply confirmed what I already knew. I had a depressive episode, the worst I’d ever had. I acknowledge that before I experienced that episode, I likely struggled with mild depression, or dysthymia, on and off for years, perhaps since I was a teenager.

Alternately, I can also look at it like this: I was severely depressed. I went back to my hometown. There, I got the help and support I needed. I don’t know if I can say that I am necessarily better off because of my depression, but the support I got helped me get to where I am today. I like and appreciate my life now.

There is also something validating in seeing what I experienced written in words on a page. It tells me that other people have experienced this, that people have researched it, that treatment continues to be looked at and further developed.

I do recognize that a diagnosis is primarily a measurement used for medical, prescriptive, and insurance reasons. It isn’t consistently a defining factor in my life; at this point, the main thing is that I take two pills each morning. I also keep better track of my moods and I regularly use skills to deal with challenging situations and emotions.

I remind myself that I don’t have to make too much meaning out of the pages of the DSM; it’s a reference manual used in certain contexts. I know that if I experience and recognize the symptoms of depression again, I am more equipped to deal with it. I am therefore less likely to experience another major depressive episode. And that’s what really matters to me.

What’s my story? It’s mine.

 Owning our story

Picture of card with text:  “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” Dr. Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection.

For quite a while, when I saw a quote about owning my story, I would cringe. While I knew that Brené Brown and others meant well by this concept and phrase, it would remind me of a time when people asked me, “What can you own in this situation?” or “What’s your story?” (and story as in “what is the story you’re telling yourself about this situation?”)

I realize now that in some ways, these questions and statements from others may have been more about their perspective and their narrative of me, as in “I think you’re not taking ownership” or “I don’t think that’s what really happening,” etc. It wasn’t my narrative, it wasn’t my story.

We are makers of meaning, and sometimes the stories we tell ourselves about a situation or others are narratives based on something else entirely – belief, a past event, a judgment, etc. These kind of stories are informative in their own way. For me, I think the question, “Why do you think that?” provokes more thought, more discussion than a “what’s your story?” I remember reading Brené Brown’s Rising Strong, and she has a chapter where she gets angry at her husband, and realizes that it relates to a dream she had the previous night. She tells her husband, “the story I’m telling myself is…” And in doing so, she opens up, she opens up another level of honesty, part of how she thinks and how it causes her to react. And I recognize that she is the one claiming this, just as much as she claims her vulnerability and her truth in other circumstances that may appear more tangible.

Going back to the time about 3 years ago, when someone asked me the question, “What’s your story?” I felt volatile, vulnerable. I wanted support; I often got invalidating comments back. I was headed towards rock bottom, and it wasn’t a helpful question for me. It wasn’t a “where are you, how are you feeling, what’s happening for you when you say that?” I often grabbed onto sense and it feel through my fingers; communication was challenging, figuring out where I was and where I stood and how to make a coherent decision felt next to impossible. If my self had a narrative it had been wrapped around a goal, and now that I know longer wanted that, I felt like I was unraveling, as though I didn’t have a story.

My narrative of myself then was different: I felt like I had a number of successes, a number of times where I would rise to the occasion, and then I would crash: my energy, self-esteem, sense of self. I often blamed myself. I didn’t fully know what was going on, but every time I fell I got up again and tried harder. Several years ago, I wrote a lot about my personal growth; when I read it now, it doesn’t ring true to me. Nevertheless, I believed that narrative, and there are pieces of it that certainly held value for me.

When sensory processing disorder became part of my narrative, my perspective on the past changed. It wasn’t a story about trying and failing in the same sense anymore, or about my behavior – it was about the underlying cause that I once had no words for. It was about trying to voice what was going on and people labeling it as something else, a narrative based on misunderstanding. I’ve been working my way, on my own terms, towards understanding, and having compassion for the years of not knowing.

I think owning one’s story is about claiming what resonates personally. It’s about telling my story from my own perspective and allowing the details, as nitty gritty as they may be, to come to the surface.

And, of course, other people can say things to me or about me, and give perspective or feedback that can help me tell my own story. But there are ways to do that without wrenching the narrative away.

In the end, perhaps owning my story is taking the reigns of my narrative for myself; shedding the assumptions and projections; finding what is true for me in the moment, deciphering what is not.

What’s my story?
It’s mine. And I’m still in the process of telling it.
 

Conversation with my inner critic

I hear the voice, intruding in on my thoughts:

I am the one who minimizes your art
and tells you
no.
I am the one that doubts your
dreams and drives you too hard in their pursuit.
I am what you do not claim.
I am the one who steals your glory
Keeps you small when you rise
Who convinces you
you are no one.

My reply:
Your voice can be so loud
I want to raise my own
so I can hear
myself.

– Spring 2014

Connected.

Swirls of color in the sky
Light playing over the landscape
People dancing around the fire
Night sky full of stars
Pine trees, drinking from the stream
Trust and warmth flooding through

Sweetness and relief flowing over me
Thoughts wandering but not resting in between
In the sacredness of this, I feel my body, connected.

– February 2013

Visualization: creating presence.

Continuing to clear out my drafts folder. This was in the papers I sorted through earlier this summer.

From a wise woman visualization in a class on transformation:

She hands me a woven shawl that she tenderly drapes across my shoulders, a round stone with a spiral carved into it, and a map with a compass so I can always have a guide. The temple itself is made of tree boughs and logs, with stain glass windows that attract the light.

She smiles, such warmth and beauty. She wears long sleeves and a long, flowing skirt. She is so present and that is the main gift she gives to me, the vividness, the sharpness of what it means to be present.

– November 2012