Sunday, July 14, 2019

Lost Years

They say, "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." Well, if that's true, then I think that the reverse of it must be true as well. You don't know what you've missed until its there. In your face. To show you what you have never had.  .  . 

My friend's mother was in town visiting for a while, & I really got to know her. Got the chance to get close to her. And she told me about all of the things she did with her sons. Like play video games with them, go to concerts with them. (They went to see Linkin Park together! Can you imagine?! Getting to see Chester Bennington in his prime! Oh, I wish I could have seen that while I still had the chance. Rest in Peace, another legend gone to soon.)

But I digress. I got to watch her & her son together, talking in funny accents, making silly inside jokes, the bond that they have. And it's moments like these that make me see all of the years of childhood I lost.

When you come from a tumultuous upbringing, one plagued with abuse, neglect, trauma, poverty, molestation, etc., you're constantly in survival mode. At least for myself, I know I had to become my own hero to get out of it. And I never looked back.

However, once you get out of it, it doesn't necessarily get out of you, & you don't know what was missing. Until you see it for yourself.

I remember being in the 1st grade, hearing one of my classmates get complimented on her Winnie the Pooh overalls. Everyone was telling her how cute they were, & she said they were a gift from her mother. That's when I thought to myself, "Your mother buys clothes for you?" I was used to living in raggedy hand-me-downs from my cousins, or recycled clothing from the 80s that my biological mother (I call her the egg donor, actually) kept in old storage bins. I was lucky if I got something from a thrift store or a discount store that fit me properly. And I was used to my egg donor constantly berating me on my weight, calling me fat, getting mad at me for growing out of her clothes/shoes, despite the fact that I grew taller & broader than her. Hey, she's 5'4" and got with a 400 lb, 6'4" African American man! What did she expect! It's not my fault I grew like a weed! I'm an Amazon!

But it goes sooo much deeper than that. I really didn't think that the toxicity in my household was out of the norm until I seriously got into daytime & evening sitcoms. I grew up watching My Wife & Kids, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Everybody Love's Raymond, According to Jim, 8 Simple Rules, 7th Heaven, The Bernie Mac Show, & several others (A.K.A. the poor 90s kid who can't afford cable starter pack, am I right?) where I saw how "normal" families functioned. The ways they would talk & interact with each other. And it was watching these shows that started to reveal to me that constant yelling & being hit in the face repeatedly were not a normal part of family life. It was these shows that shed light on the sick reality I was living in.

But still, you don't think about these things once you get out of it. At least for me, I processed these memories in therapy, learned to cope, & focused on moving forward & away from these tragic cards I was dealt with.

Though, inevitably, it still comes up, & especially when you least expect it. Like the time I sat in one of my graduate courses, and the professor randomly asked the class such a simple question: "When you were a small child, what did your parents cook you for breakfast every morning?" I sat there & watched everyone fondly reminisce & spit out their answers like rapid fire.

"Oh, bacon & eggs!"

"Pancakes!"

"Huevos rancheros!"

"Um, I think my mom always made me oatmeal or waffles."

"Grits!"

I sat there, dumbfounded, trying so hard to remember. And I couldn't remember anything. Because there wasn't anything to remember. Everyone in the class took a couple of seconds answering one by one in a circle until it came to me.

"Um.  .  . um.  .  ."

I could feel myself panicking, taking up too much time to figure out an answer.

"Um, I don't think anyone ever made me any breakfast. Um, I remember having to wake up early to go to school to get breakfast in the cafeteria. I remember making myself something to eat. But I don't remember anyone cooking for me, not every morning. Um, maybe once in a while."

I think the class took a break after we had a dialogue about culture, and the professor took me outside to tell me that I didn't have to share anything I was uncomfortable with. Legitimately concerned about my well-being, she said I didn't have to feel pressured to give an answer. She noticed how upset I became, listening to everyone's fond answers that they produced so quickly, & then being completely stumped. I assured her that I'm an open book, I really don't mind sharing aspects of my life with others. But I left class that night feeling so deprived of a "normal" childhood. Everyone answered that question with ease, & I sat there, blankly, trying desperately to think of what was done for me when honestly, nothing came to mind. And the fact that everyone else had it so easy made me truly recognize exactly what was robbed from me.

To take it a step further, there was another course in my Master's program where the very first day of the semester, the professor wanted to start a discussion about parenting practices. She asked us what disciplinary measures our parents would take in raising us. Again, this was another unpredictably painful question to answer. I watched my peers take turns telling amusing anecdotes of trouble they got themselves into & what their parents did to punish them. I don't remember details, but all I can tell you is that their answers were innocent & tame. I looked across the room to see my eyes meet only with one other student, who was turning red as her eyes welled up with tears. I knew exactly what she was thinking. We were both dreading having to go next, waiting to go last, doing whatever we could to direct attention away from ourselves. I could feel myself becoming hotter as my eyes welled up with tears too, & they started streaming down my cheeks. But I'd like to think I've perfected the art of the silent cry. I've had to cry in public so many times when random conversations trigger traumatic reminders of my past. And growing up, tears were a sign of weakness, they were considered a nuisance, & if I cried in front of my mother (or sorry, I meant egg donor) the only response I would get is, "Stop crying, or I'll give you something to cry about!" And if I didn't stop, it was an open palm across my face, several times, the usual. Once I got into foster care, we were all teenagers, and my foster siblings didn't recognize the signs of depression I exhibited. They were just annoyed by my inconsolable sulky mood and bad attitude. Little did they know I distanced myself from them so I could cry privately and away from their cruel remarks and criticism. And so I learned from a very early age how to stop myself from audibly crying & hide behind dark sunglasses, go find discreet corners, & hold my sniffles in so no one would hear or see me while I did.

So I did this that day, & I sobbed under my breath & quietly, inconspicuously wiped away my tears until it was my turn to speak, the floor was mine, & all eyes were on me. I just began weeping as I told the class how I was constantly hit in the face, slammed into walls, scratched by long, dirty fingernails, burned with cigarettes, & thrown around, over the dumbest things. If I did so much as build a fort out of sheets or eat someone's chocolate, I wouldn't hear the end of it for hours, & I'd be slapped so many times I lost count.

But I don't bruise easily. Though I'm light skinned and fairly complected, I've never bruised easily. You can hit me as much as you want, & it probably won't show. (Which was quite convenient for my abusers since they got away with it for such a long time, & the cops would be called to our house or I'd go to school with no evidence left behind of their maltreatment.)

But that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt. Just because you can't see marks on my skin doesn't mean I'm not in pain. But the scars run deep, because my skin may not be marked, my capillaries may not be broken, but the scars I have are psychological & neurological, & their pain seems to be permanent.  .  .

I shared bits & pieces of my story, & this motivated my other colleague, the one that exchanged anxious glances with me from across the room, to share a bit of hers. And sure enough, she could relate to me. The circumstances may have been different, her father was an alcoholic, & that's what led to the turmoil in her childhood household. My family did not consist of addicts, it was solely mental illness that caused them to have such erratic behaviors. But the differences didn't matter, because the damages were the same. Here we were, the only 2 of our kind, completely grown women, crying our eyes out in this graduate course about Human Development because the truth of our pasts was blatantly revealed in its stark contrast to the privilege of our peers.

These moments remain fresh in my memory to this day. Instances where I discovered things I had never known before. Where it becomes clear just how bad I really had it.

Because for so long, & I'm sure many survivors can relate to this, we think it's all our fault. Or it didn't really happen. We made it all up. And we're to blame for everything.

And the gas lighting, or brainwashing that the perpetrators do seems to work to make us doubt ourselves. They will tell you over and over again that they did no wrong, they never abused you. And after a while you may start to believe them. "Maybe they were right? Maybe I did make everything up."

But obviously, you didn't. Yet, you start thinking you're delusional.

Until you have experiences like this. Where everyone discusses their "normal" childhoods, and you can't relate at all. You can't remember any happiness. You can't remember anything other than absence, pain, and resentment. (And in a sick & twisted way, at least it's validating, because now, you know it did happen, it was horrible, & you're not crazy.)

And so I felt some of these feelings come up for me again while my friend's mother was here. How envious I felt that he had a mother who did so much for him, truly cared for him, had fun with him. I told him how lucky he was & that he should never take her for granted. I can only wish I had a mother like her. A badass mother who plays VIDEO GAMES with you!!?? Heck, my egg donor barely knows how to turn on the TV! She struggles to operate a DVD player! She's stuck in the 60s, a video game console would be completely out of question!

Once again, I digress. But the main conclusion I'm trying to get at here is that many of us don't realize how messed up our childhoods were until we see how others had it. And then we truly know what we've missed out on.

I was walking down my street the other day, & I saw that my neighbors had hand drawn a game of Hopscotch on the sidewalk with chalk for their small daughter. One of the times I was walking home, I happened to pass them as they were playing with her, and they encouraged me to play, so I did. I joyfully jumped along, following the directions they had drawn, and heard the resounding laughter that filled the air. They were so nice and she seemed to really be enjoying herself.



All I could do was think back to how nothing like that was ever done for me. I don't remember my egg donor ever playing with me. I can only remember playing by myself, reading, writing, or watching TV, alone.

It's the smallest things that can trigger me. And they're a persistent reminder of the years I've lost. Years that I'll never get back. And as much as I've worked through it, that still hurts.

Grief is not only for the dead. Grief can be for anything that's lost, including things you've never had. And I'm still grieving the childhood that I never had. The one I was cheated out of.

A recent scene from the CW show Jane the Virgin resonated with me, (& don't worry, no spoilers here!) when the main character tells her best friend that it's okay to feel sad for yourself & sad that you didn't have it better growing up. And that's something a lot of us have to learn. It's okay to be sad. It's okay to grieve. And it's okay for me to wish I could have had it better.

But I'm doing everything in my power now, as an adult, to right the wrongs of my past, & give myself everything I never had. I practice so much self-love and self-care. I have to, because back then, there was no one to give it to me, at least not until I got placed into foster care & formed strong, lasting bonds with my foster mother, teachers, mentors, & relatives that my egg donor prevented me from seeing.

I live my life to the fullest, I treat myself to what I want when I can afford to. I'm pursuing all of my dreams & achieving my goals. And I work hard so that I can play hard & spend as much time with my friends & family as possible to make up for what I've lost.

I'm in such a good place right now. I feel incredibly happy every day, and I have so much gratitude to God for how far I've come, for all that I have, & to know that I survived through the struggles & they've made me stronger.

I find myself fulfilled in what I do, in those who I surround myself with, & in the many communities I'm proud to be a part of.

However, it's still necessary to never forget where I came from. I accept the fact that I'm still grieving all of the years I've lost, & I acknowledge that there may always be a hole in my heart.

But I'm trying my best to fill it.

Thanks for reading. <3 

Monday, May 13, 2019

Do it Yourself


"If you want something done right, do it yourself." 

Recently, I have had a couple of friends compliment me on self-publishing my book. They said they were quite impressed I've been making things happen, all by myself. (Namely, Carly & Jennie; thank you loves.💕)

Well.  .  . I am. And I'm very appreciative of them noticing. But let me tell you why I've been doing things solo.

In highschool, many of my teachers praised my poetry & creativity. I entered into several contests & won a few, but was rejected from a majority of scholarships/grant opportunities I applied to.

While I studied at UCLA, I started off as an English Major. My aim was to enter into the Creative Writing program. I applied for the Poetry class, a very competitive slot, only 15 spots available each semester. I submitted 5 of my poems, the pieces I was most proud of, each time. I was rejected all 5 times.

After being treated poorly by the faculty & staff, I left the English Department and declared my major with the Gender Studies Department. There, I felt welcomed, supported, respected, & valued. I studied Feminist theory, Sociology, Psychology, Ethnic Studies, and Sexuality Studies, all social justice oriented subjects that now informed my writing & gave me the terms necessary to articulate my lived experiences as well as the struggles I observed, in myself, others, & society as a whole.

This influenced my decision to go onto graduate school & pursue therapy. Though writing was still & always will be a passion for me. I continued to write & finished my poetry collection. I decided to submit it to various publishers. Button Poetry & Andrew McMeel both rejected my work. Several other publishers wanted to charge me exorbitant rates of $1,500-$4,000 to publish, print, & market my manuscript. I turned down all of their ridiculous offers as I am still a starving student saving for rent each month.

But then I was connected to resources in my community that made me aware I could self-publish, by myself, for free.

This is why I do all of the work myself. I have visions in my mind & I know exactly how I want them to be executed.  I trust myself & I trust the process. But that's not my main point.

The message here that I'm trying to pass on: Never give up on your Dreams or Visions. Several doors will get slammed in your face. You will be rejected several times. But if you're patient & dedicated, eventually, the right doors will open for you, or you will make your own damn doors! 🚪

And go with your gut feeling. I knew that my poetry was well received by my teachers, friends, family, colleagues, & broader community. So I didn't let it get me down when departments, professors, & publishers didn't see my potential. I saw it for myself. 

For those of you who have purchased my book already, I want to thank you for your undying support, & kindly ask that you leave a review. Reviews help independent authors flourish. 🌱⚘

And for those of you who would like to grab a copy, follow this link: A Root that Sews

Thanks for reading. ❤

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

A Root that Sews - Now Available!



My first book, A Root that Sews; A Collection of Poetry, is now available for purchase as a Kindle eBook ($7.99, or free for Kindle Unlimited members) & Paperback ($12.99) on Amazon.com! 





Follow this link to order it here: A Root that Sews on Amazon.com

Thursday, March 7, 2019

It's the Small Things. . .

Last night, I cried tears of joy over fruit snacks and animal crackers.

Okay.  .  . , let me explain myself and give you some background on why this happened to me:

I grew up pretty poor, but it wasn't just the lack of money that led to my deprivation. My mother was incredibly strict and stingy with what foods she would purchase for the household. She would not allow me to have any sugary snacks or cereals. Her reasoning was that she wanted us to be "healthy" & she considered herself a "health nut," but it was contradictory in that she would buy a box of Twinkies or a bag of gummy bears for herself, and not let me have any!

It was super unfair, and if I asked her to share some with me, she would become irritated and say, "Go buy some with your own money!"

My allowance was only a measly $5-10 every month or every 2 weeks if I was lucky. And I couldn't spend it lavishly as I desperately needed it for bare necessities, such as body wash, shampoo, deodorant, pads/tampons, clothing, etc. since she usually did not buy these things for me and expected I do it myself.

And please, don't think that's all she could afford to give me. She was busy donating $15-$25 or more a month to charities like St. Jude's Hospital, Union Rescue Mission, Feed America, etc. when she literally had a hungry child at home! (Oh, the irony!)

I will say, when you have abusive/neglectful parents, you take what's good and leave the rest behind. I definitely learned how to budget my money well as a preteen and spend only on priorities. If I had any left over, I'd save it to buy something I really wanted, like a GameBoy Color game. (Ah, #Throwback)

But my mother was very selfish and would buy some of my favorite snacks and refuse to share with me. It was heartbreaking and devastating.

Because of it, I started to develop unhealthy binge eating behaviors. Once, I was allowed to visit a neighbor's house, and her mom had a gigantic bucket full of fruit snacks. I had to have eaten 20 packets in one sitting! Her mother became somewhat upset with me, but she understood that I really didn't have access to that type of luxury in my household, so she brushed it off.

I tended to do this whenever I went to a friend's, relative's, or neighbor's house. I would eat all of the candy, sweets, and junk food they had in sight because I knew I wouldn't get any at home. I'd stock up while I had the chance. Thank goodness I didn't end up having an eating disorder, and luckily I managed to grow out of this bad habit. (So a small lesson to learn here for current or future parents, DON'T deprive your child of small snacks they love! Just let them have it in moderation or from time to time so they don't end up doing what I did!)

However, in the midst of all this, one of the small things I do remember enjoying as a young child was my grandmother or uncle always surprising me with Barnum's Animal Crackers. They were cheap, probably only 79 cents or $1, but I loved the cute box & the fun shapes.


This box looks exactly how I remember them. <3

When I went into foster care, my foster mother always had a huge cookie jar full of animal crackers, and it was a nice snack to munch on in between meals, as well as brought back some of the very few fond memories I had of such a chaotic, tormenting and horrific childhood.

Another thing I remember were these cheap, single serve pies called "Mrs. Redd's" that you could buy at Food 4 Less or any other discount supermarket for 4 for a dollar. Occasionally, on a trip to the grocery store, my mother would allow me to pick one, I'd always get the chocolate pudding pie, and it was my little dessert that I was allotted maybe once or twice a month, or less frequently. But it always made me smile. :)

I happened to recently find them again while I visited my childhood Food 4 Less, now they're 2 for a dollar (go figure, inflation I guess, LOL). But I'm excited to eat them when I get a craving from my sweet tooth.

The new version of Mrs. Redd's pies. The packaging has been updated, but they still taste the same!

So, this is the reason I cry tears of joy over some fruit snacks and animal crackers. I went on a trip to Costco, saw them, and immediately picked them up & hugged them. After I brought them home, and placed them in my cupboard, it made me sooo happy to know that I can buy this type of food for myself, just to have as something to snack on at home, or bring to class for a quick bite when I get hungry in between breaks. They were something I wasn't allowed to have, and now that I have the freedom and ability to buy them for myself, I don't take it for granted.

Not to mention, they also serve as a reminder that I managed to escape that emotional abuse & neglect, and I now live in an apartment I love, a home I created, and I can provide for myself.

Welch's Fruit Snacks (my favorite brand) and Costco brand (Kirkland) Organic Animal Crackers

It really is the small things in life that matter the most and make us happy.

Thanks for reading. <3

Monday, February 18, 2019

Profound Moment


A random act of kindness; one of life's mysterious, beautiful, & meaningful moments. 

I had an interesting, strange, & profound moment at Union Station the other day. As I was waiting to board the Red Line train in Downtown LA, I thought very briefly about launching myself off of the edge of the platform & being killed by the impact of the train. I wasn't feeling sad at all. I had just finished class & was relieved to have gotten through the week. But the thought came to me in a split second. A daydream about ending it all. The thought scared me. It scared me to feel that way. To want to off myself even though seemingly nothing was wrong. I shook my head & pondered, "It's probably just because I'm very tired." I've felt tired of life often. 


I caught the train to Union Station, & as I arrived, a man kindly approached me. His skin was of a bronze complexion, he may have been Latino or Asian, I'm not quite sure. He was dressed in a black coat and looked a bit disoriented. He came up to me & asked "Excuse me, you speak English, right?" I nodded & verbalized "Yes." He proceeded, "Can you help me?" I obliged. He held a discharge sheet in his hand & explained to me how he had just been released from a mental hospital. He had since taken his psychotropic medication on an empty stomach & was starting to feel the side effects kick in. He appeared uneasy. I offered to buy him a small snack. Happily, he said he would like that. I walked him over to the small convenience store, letting him know that I could only spare a few dollars. He said that would be fine. I watched as he hurriedly grabbed 2 small bags of Famous Amos cookies & a Vitamin Water, trying very considerately to not take up much of my time, & politely apologizing for the inconvenience. I told him not to worry. We waited in line for the cashier, & I paid for the items on my credit card. $5 and a few cents. We walked out together and he thanked me & told me how much he appreciated my help. I told him that he asked the right person. I shared with him that I, too, have been in a mental hospital. He asserted, "Ah, then you know how it is." I told him "Yes" & shared with him my diagnosis. I told him that I then went on to work in a psychiatric ward for a year, & am now pursuing my doctorate. He thanked me again & told me to have "a blessed evening." I told him to do the same, & we said our goodbyes.

I cried immediately after the exchange, and for several minutes during my ride on the Gold Line train home. I thought about how good it felt to help him, to have the capability and privilege to spare a few dollars for a small snack that could reduce some of his discomfort. I thought about how good it felt to be able to help someone, but I also thought. . . If I had killed myself just minutes earlier, I wouldn't have been there to help him. And again, this thought scared me.

This interaction caused me to re-evaluate my existence for a moment. I truly do believe my purpose on this earth is to help others in the ways I've learned to help myself. I truly believe that is why God created me. And it's my reason for being.

It gave me the opportunity to look at how far I've come. I've been through so much. Only a few years ago, I was in that man's shoes. Feeling uneasy, alone, disoriented and in need. And now, I'm accomplishing great feats.

But when taking a step back from this experience, I now see.  .  . I don't think I helped that man as much as he helped me. 


 Thank you for reading. <3

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Love Should be Conditional


This will most likely be an unpopular opinion piece. So be it.

I have never believed in the concept of unconditional love. It doesn't sit well with me. It doesn't seem right.

But I've talked to many friends about it, & most view it as the truest, purest form of love.

I still disagree.

I believe that love SHOULD be conditional. You should love someone on the conditions that:

-They love you back.
-They respect you.
-They trust you.
-They are loyal to you.
-They value you.
-They would never do anything to intentionally hurt you.
-They are kind to you.
-They are considerate of your needs & support you.

I feel that these conditions are fair. I feel that they are just. They are equal & reciprocal. They should be amendable.

And I feel that if these simple conditions are unmet, you don't have to love that person.

It seems that many people think you should give love freely. I don't disagree. But if someone won't love me as freely as I love them, I'm not going to waste my time by continuing to love them & give when all they do is take. In my opinion, this is idiotic & self-destructive.

Rather, you should give kindness freely. Kindness can be bestowed upon anyone you meet, a stranger or even an enemy, & it should be. But love, to me, is a more serious investment & a relationship to that person, which does not apply to everyone.

I feel that unconditional love can be used as an excuse to stay stagnant and not change, still expecting others to love you for who you are. But if you can't become a better person, a better version of yourself, continuously improving, then why should anyone go out of their way to love you when they're putting in all of the work and you're putting in nothing? That's one sided.

I do believe you should love someone flaws and all, on both their best day & their worst.  You should love the person as a whole, in their entirety. But that does NOT mean unconditionally.

I feel that many people think that loving family is an obligation. (Ever heard the saying "Blood is thicker than water."?) Throughout my life, I have been detached & estranged from my biological mother. People don't understand this. They tell me things like, "You should love your mother!" "How could you not love her!? She gave birth to you! She created you! She raised you!" "How dare you hate your mother!" "You need to forgive her!"

I do not hate my mother. I don't truly hate anyone. Hatred takes energy & negativity that I don't have. I may throw the term "hate" around loosely & jokingly, & I do have a strong dislike for certain things. But no real hatred.

I do forgive her for all of the abuse & neglect she put me through. She is deeply mentally ill, & has been for decades. I don't feel that all of it was conscious or her fault. It's the illness's fault. And I do believe that forgiveness is necessary, but for you, not for the other person. You need to let go of that hurt & move on before it consumes you. You can't heal, make progress in life, or grow until you do. And in terms of my mother, she isn't fully aware of the extent of the pain she caused me. "Forgive them for they know not what they do."

I do acknowledge that she did the best she could with what she had. I grew up poor, with food stamps & section 8 housing. We didn't have much, but she made sure the utilities were always paid & we had food on the table, even if that meant we went to a food bank or church to get it.

So I have empathy for my mother. I understand why she is the way she is. And I'm grateful for the good in her. But I do not love her. I cannot love her.

I cannot love someone who is toxic. I cannot love someone who is abusive & destructive. I cannot love someone who has no regard for others. I cannot love someone who refuses help & support. I cannot love someone who doesn't have love for him/herself.

Instead, I am indifferent towards her & I pity her. And that's just how it is.

She will never change. She is beyond saving. And I've accepted that.

There's no use in trying to love her when it is unsafe for me. When I tried to maintain a relationship with her, it threatened my own sanity, emotional wellbeing, & mental stability.

That is not worth it.

And it makes my heart heavy. It pains me. It fills me with sorrow. I wish I could have a normal mother/daughter relationship with her, but I can't. She is not a healthy person. She refuses to see a Psychiatrist or Therapist, heck, she won't even got to a regular medical doctor! She resists all help & functions as a ticking bomb waiting to go off. It is too dangerous for me to even be around her because she is so explosive, volatile, & completely unpredictable. So I can't risk my own safety by being around her. And my intention isn't to hurt her or make her sad, but protect & preserve myself. And the only way I can do that is by staying away from her. It's an incredibly hard plight that most people don't understand, but it's my life.

Some people are still able to love their abuser. This is known as "Stockholm Syndrome," or in clinical terms, "traumatic bonding." But this is usually a means of survival because they cannot escape the hold of their captor and they are trying their best to cope.

This is not something I possess. I was able to escape, to become my own person, & to leave my abuser behind. And I feel that I am stronger and more resilient because of it. But I am not capable of unconditional love.

Perhaps this is a distinct part of my personality or nature. I have a tendency to detach & disassociate easily from others. I can fall in love with you instantly, but lose that love just as quickly. Maybe I developed this skill as my own survival mechanism to shield myself from harm, or maybe it's an inherent quality. Either way, it's how I interact with others in the world. If our love is mutual, you can remain in my life. If not, I let go, disconnect, & move on.

After reading this, you may view me as a victim of my past or as a creature of circumstance. You may completely disagree with me. And that's okay.
But try to see my point of view.

On the other hand, if you see my side & agree, then begin letting go of unconditional love. It's an outdated, overrated cliché that can be more harmful than helpful. Begin to recognize your value & your worth and implement those conditions into your relationships. Ever since I have, I am surrounded by friends, the family I've chosen, who are healthy & supportive, & they enrich my life rather than try to destroy it.



Thanks for reading. <3

Friday, August 24, 2018

Please, Don't React; Respond.

Please, Don't React; Respond. 
4 Ways Not to React to Someone who's Depressed or Going Through a Crisis 
(& Healthier Alternatives)

[This article is currently featured on the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) online blog. Click here to check out their condensed version:
 https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/December-2018/Please-Don-t-React-Respond]

        Through my experiences with conversations, and as a person who lives with chronic depression, it has come to my attention that many people don't know how to provide comfort or respond appropriately in times of need. Instead of listening to what's being said & taking the time necessary to digest it, reflect on it, then proceed with a constructive response, people jump to conclusions & say the 1st thing that comes to mind, or in other words, they react. But, many times, this can be unhelpful, or possibly even detrimental &/or destructive to the person that is in distress. See, when you react, there is no tact. In order to respond, you must think beyond the initial reaction.

         Therefore, to try & resolve this common dilemma, I thought I'd come up with a list of reaction pitfalls to avoid & healthy ways of responding. I am inspired to create such a list by communication theorists, such as Carl Rogers, the creator of Client-Centered Therapy (*Search for “Unconditional Positive Regard” “Empathic Attunement,” & “Acceptance.”), psychologist & couples counselor Gary Chapman, who authored The Five Love Languages, & Virginia Satir, who identified 4 unhealthy forms of communication (i.e. Blaming, Placating, Computing, & Distracting) as well as hypothesized a solution, A.K.A. "Leveling." For more information on her studies & ideas, you can check out her book The New Peoplemaking. Mine are very similar to hers, but rather, they’re situational, & I break them down into specific categories with concise details & examples.

       Yes, personally, I am educated & trained as a psychotherapist. But these suggestions are simple & can help any layperson communicate more empathically & effectively.

Without further ado, here are the 4 reactions to avoid:

1 - Dismissing/Minimizing - This happens all of the time. Someone comes to you upset or with a problem, & the first thing you say is "Could be worse." Or, "It's not even that bad." One step further, you bring up a story that happened to you or someone you know & compare/contrast. This is not helpful. It just makes the person feel bad for mentioning what they're going through, negates their problem, & makes it look as if they’re complaining & whining. People, especially those of us who suffer from depression, want to feel heard & understood. Being dismissive or minimizing the problem makes it seem as if it doesn't matter, which only makes us feel more alone & like a burden to others.

Another way of being dismissive is being too cheerful or overly optimistic. Saying things like "Just think positive!" Or, "Look at the bright side!" Or trying to cheer the person up by making a ton of jokes or changing the subject. If a person is feeling down, this will only make them feel like you can't see where they're coming from or are too uncomfortable yourself to discuss their sorrows. Being superficially happy is not a solution. Being realistic & supportive is.

2 – Gaslighting -
The definition of "gaslighting" is when you make someone feel crazy by discrediting them & making them doubt themselves. The way this is most often done to depressed individuals is when they hear phrases like, "It's all in your head!" "You're choosing to feel this way!" "You're making this up!" “There's nothing wrong!” "Stop being so negative!" "Stop pitying yourself!" "Stop feeling sorry for yourself!" A person who is depressed or facing a crisis is NOT choosing to! Depression is a mental illness, a chemical imbalance in the brain, a disease just like Diabetes or Asthma & should be recognized as such. People who face depression already feel crazy! They usually have excessive guilt & shame, feel hopeless &/or helpless, have low self-esteem, feel like a burden to everyone they know, have little or no motivation, lose pleasure &/or interest in activities they once enjoyed, experience weight loss or gain as well as insomnia or hypersomnia (not sleeping much/at all vs. sleeping too much), feel incredible loneliness or start to isolate, & may be beginning to see life as not worth living because this exhaustion & pain becomes unbearable! NONE of this is a choice, but it is all a part of the condition. These are the symptoms, & making comments like these is not only insensitive, but emotionally abusive & neglectful.

To top that off, making statements like “You're being overdramatic!” or “You're such a crybaby!” are cruel & can make things worse. I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough. Do NOT gaslight. You may think you're giving them “tough love,” a “reality check" or snapping them out of their funk, but this type of language is incredibly inconsiderate and does more harm than good.

3 – Playing the Devil's Advocate/Challenging -
This, at first, can be done with the good intention of changing a person's perspective or helping them to see more clearly. But if done carelessly or with persistence, it can become argumentative & damaging. For instance, say someone tells you about a friend that they feel slighted them or betrayed them. After you listen to their story, you start relating to & defending their friend's actions. Sure, maybe you think their friend didn't do anything wrong or malicious. That's fine, & you can express that, maybe offer some clarity. But if you go out of your way to analyze the story and identify with their friend, you're now taking sides & undermining their experience, making them feel like their point of view is insignificant or invalid. They came to you & told you the story because they were hurt & searching for support, not for you to overlook their take & ignore their feelings.
The only time I really see this as being helpful is if someone is thinking irrationally or delusionally. Otherwise, it's unnecessary.

4 - Unsolicited Advice
This is one of the most common ones and I really dislike it. Humans, naturally, are fixers. When someone comes to us with a problem, it can be our first instinct to solve it. But giving advice when it isn't requested can be rude, especially if you're not well informed, qualified, or familiar with the person's situation.

Very often, those of us who are feeling crappy just want to vent & release our frustrations. We don't always need help, just a listening ear to hear us out. If we ask for it, give the best advice & guidance you can! But if not, don't assume we need it & can't figure things out on our own. Perhaps you're trying to be helpful, but sometimes it's just insulting & not useful. Plus, if we're stuck inside of our minds all of the time, we've probably thought of all possible scenarios & decisions we could make & forged a plan.

Now that we've identified the unhealthy reactions people commonly make, here are some healthier alternatives:

Validating - As humans, we all seek validation. We want to feel like others hear & understand us. We want comfort & consolation. Instead of resorting to the reactions above, try saying things like, "I'm really sorry you went through that." "That must have been tough." "Gosh, that sounds stressful." "Wow, that's harsh." "You've been through a lot." Responses like this mirror feelings and show that you've been listening, you really do care, & you're acknowledging & imagining what they've been through.

Relating - Another basic human need we have is for empathy & compassion. We want to feel like others can walk in our shoes & empathize with our struggles. We want to feel like others can relate to & connect with us. If someone tells you about how a recent breakup has devastated them, this is an opportune time to tell them about a devastating breakup you had. Use your lived experience & wisdom to help them through their hard time, to show them they're not alone, & that they can recover. (To improve your skills in validating & relating, consider furthering your knowledge by doing research on “active listening" & “empathic responding.”)

Reframing -  This can take more skill, but those who are depressed tend to look at life through a negative lens. Help restore the accuracy of their lens. If they make a statement like, "I'm a failure," rephrase it in a more realistic way. "No, you had a setback. But it's a lesson learned, & now you can try again." Or, "No, you struggled to get the results you wanted. But that doesn't define you." You can also compliment them by reinforcing their strengths, skills, & accomplishments. Maybe they say something like, "I'm ugly, no one will ever want me." And you can assure them how beautiful they are, or mention how you know others admire them.

Having a Sense of Humor
If you're not being insensitive by changing the subject, but making a horrible situation hilarious, that can definitely be a great way of lightening the mood! But really assess the needs of who you're talking to & identify their communication style. Do they like to laugh things off? Or would they prefer you be serious & keep it real with them? Only YOU will know based on previous conversations. (Or you can always ask. Everyone has different needs @ different times.)

Encouragement/Instilling Hope - As previously explained, dealing with depression can make one hopeless. Their future may seem bleak to them, their view of the world may be shrouded in darkness. But you can help them see the light. We all need reassurance. Let them know things will be alright and turn out okay. Let them know that you are there for them & will support them every step of the way. Help them keep the faith alive, & remind them that there are resources out there for them if ever needed. Mental health services (i.e. therapy, psychiatry) & support groups are available (i.e. NAMI, DBSA, etc.) and you can refer them to these if they're interested. If you're willing, you can even offer to take them or accompany them so they're not alone & can see your support through your actions rather than your words.

Thanks for Reading. <3