She woke up every morning with the option of being anyone she wished. How beautiful it was that she always chose herself.

 – Tyler Kent White

iris

Advertisements

Turning Mountains into Molehills

molehill mountain

I think it’s safe to say, moving is stressful for anyone. For those without mental health issues, it is stressful. Add something, like anxiety, into the mix and a large life event gets even harder to manage.

Let me clarify what I mean by anxiety. Everyone has moments of anxiety, and just because you may have some doesn’t mean you have a diagnosable mental illness. There are many forms of anxiety that can be diagnosable, but in this blog I’m going to talk about generalized anxiety. This is the type of anxiety that one feels constantly, for various reasons, or for no reason at all. The kind of anxiety that turns molehills into mountains. The kind of anxiety that makes it very difficult to do ANYTHING.

When I was younger, I wasn’t exactly known for keeping the cleanest room. I liked to call my “piles” of random papers, books, files, etc…. “organized chaos”. I knew where everything was and what were in those piles, however my parents weren’t exactly thrilled with them. When the “organized chaos” started to overwhelm my parents, they would ask me to clean it up, put stuff away, throw stuff out, etc. I absolutely hated this task. Why? Because my anxiety told me that doing this was going to take HOURS. My anxiety told me these piles were much bigger than they actually were. The task, which in actuality often took 20-30 minutes if done without distraction or complaining, felt extremely overwhelming to start. My anxiety STILL tells me this about various tasks.

“It’s going to take too long. Why even bother?”

“You can’t do it.”

“This is going to be exhausting.”

“You don’t know how to do this.”

“Look how much there is to do. It will never get done.”

Anxiety doesn’t just mess with my thoughts, but it also makes me FEEL just how overwhelming something is. This anxious overwhelmed feeling, for me, typically starts in my chest. It feels like a thousand butterflies trapped, desperately beating their wings trying to escape as my lungs tighten in around them. It progresses from there into a panic attack unless I am able to stop it with coping skills or medicine, depending on the severity. This anxiety reinforces the dangers (made up or otherwise) that one’s mind believes. As is often my case, the “danger” of feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

And what is more stressful and overwhelming than a move! So how does one keep from descending down the whirlpool of anxiety when faced with such overwhelming life events such as a move? Well, I can tell you what works for me as well as some tips I give to my clients. First off, break large tasks down into smaller bits. As Frank from House of Cards said, “That’s how you devour a whale. One bite at a time.” I don’t know about you, but I certainly can’t keep everything in my head. Anxiety tends to make my mind race, so it is nearly impossible for me to keep my to-do list straight unless it is written out. Lists are essential! It helps to see on paper (or electronically, whichever you prefer) what needs doing. And I find a sense of accomplishment in being able to check items off. Sometimes I throw a few items in there JUST for checking off. No one said you can’t have fun with it, so “Make a list” totally counts as a “to do” and can then be checked off right away! Ahhhhhhhhhh look how I already accomplished something!!!! Sometimes all of the things that have to get done feel overwhelming because in my head it seems like they all have to be done NOW. However, anxiety is not very truthful. Not everything has to get done RIGHT THIS SECOND. Writing out a list can help prioritize what has to be done now, tomorrow, next week, next month, etc.

When my “to-do” list starts to feel overwhelming, breaking items down into smaller pieces helps. Let’s face it, if I wrote down “pack my apartment”…that feels extremely overwhelming because there is A LOT that goes into such a task. So when you have a big task to complete, how can you break it down into smaller bites? Into something more manageable? How can you turn your mountain of a task into a bunch of molehills? In my case, I started months ago with the task of “obtain packing supplies”. After that, my to-do list has focused each weekend on smaller tasks that will make this upcoming week (the major packing and move week) less stressful. I’ve packed what I can, devised a plan and enlisted help to move my critters, and purged items that I no longer need. In the next week, I’ve assigned each room to a “day” and belongings in that room (except what I need for the week) will be packed on that day. So I’m not going to be doing EVERYTHING at once. Also note how I started this process months ago. Knowing yourself is essential. If you are better at spontaneity, then great! If you’re the type where planning and taking your time helps lessen anxiety, then do that!

What else can you do during these types of overwhelming tasks or life transitions to help with anxiety? One thing that I’m a big fan of is know what you are capable of. Recognize when you’ve hit your limit. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Take breaks, reward yourself (however you self care), and when you are done with your tasks…BE DONE! If anxiety is telling you “do more because otherwise it won’t get done” then look back at your to-do list and remind yourself how you have planned everything out. There will ALWAYS be stuff to do. We never take enough time to just BE. (That’s a subject for another blog!) And in the end, it WILL all get done one way or another.

Also, if you need help…ask! If you have supportive people in your life it can be helpful to talk things out with them and get objective ideas on how to sort it all out. In addition, be aware of your own “self-talk”. Too much negative self-talk is NOT going to help you and can increase anxiety. For some people, positive self-talk can be helpful. Personally, I’m a fan of mixing positive self-talk with realistic self-talk. Constantly telling yourself “I can do this!” is great…because you can!!!! However, you may be having a day where you can’t tackle everything on your to-do list. And guess what…THAT’S OK! There’s always tomorrow. Sometimes it’s not realistic for me to get everything done on my to-do lists every single day. Things I hadn’t anticipated come up. Tasks take longer than expected. Health issues impede my ability to complete what needs doing. In these cases, my “to-do” list items get bumped to other days. Does that mean I failed (as sometimes my mind tells me?) Absolutely not! It means I’m HEALTHY because I know my limits.

So tomorrow my to-do list includes taking care of all my animals, cleaning out my car, and purging some more items. I will be sure to carve out time to relax and enjoy my weekend because without some balance, I will feel much more anxious at the end of the day.

If you feel you need some help in dealing with a large life transition, or you are dealing with anxiety and could use some coping skills to make life easier, feel free to contact me anytime. I’d love to talk to you!

It’s the Aggregate…

That is, it’s everything we’ve experienced, and how our minds react to what we experience now.

I believe that is what causes different people to react to the same experience differently. The combination of each person’s unique ‘biochemical difference engine’ (brain) and the experiences it has collected over time.

I’ve become convinced this is the reason that treating and resolving the most difficult and damaging kinds of life experiences is, well, pretty damn hard.

Severe trauma, deep grief, dissociating experiences, all the things originating from the exterior of the person that impacts the person is everyone’s go-to idea of what needs to be expressed, examined, emotionally responded to and finally ‘put in order’ in the person’s life. I agree, this is essential to treating and resolving whatever ‘disorder’ is standing in the way.

The next steps are a lot less clear and well defined, but seem (at least in my case) to be about taking the experiences from ‘disorder’ to ‘order’. I seem to do best with lots of my kind of meditation (letting my mind go wherever it wants to) along with letting someone else witness it with me. In my case, the witnesses are my therapist and, occasionally, my AA sponsor. It has been the only way I’ve found to pull the experiences out, tease them away from all the more routine and ‘normal’ parts of my life and try to find a place for them that doesn’t do any harm.

But when I do that, I still feel resistance to the ‘resolution’ part. That is, there are emotions that come up demanding that I not heal completely because that would silence justice. It says; ‘if you do this, there will be no justice, only “peace”’.

The angry part of me is still in love with the pain, because the pain feeds it. It says; ‘one day anger will bring you justice, which is better than peace… Peace is a lie if there’s no justice. It is only blindness’.

The rational part of me knows for sure that the first and last statements are false. Anger will not bring me justice. Not now, not ever. Peace is not blindness, it is the end of pain.

The middle statement, however, is a problem. Is peace, being an end to pain, also an untruth? Is it relief at the expense of truth? It begs this question, but only answers with ‘no, you can forgive and have peace, without forgetting’. There is a way to maintain a memory without the negative emotions that come with it. In theory. We believe. Because we have to. Because I have to.

Along with my individual therapy, my men’s group therapy and my participation in AA, I have been looking very hard at what the rest of the world has been up to regarding the mental and emotional condition of men…

What I’ve been finding is, well, kind of horrifying. Shelley and I have talked at some length about the state of the world in general, and the view of mental and emotional health for men and boys in the West (that is, the US, UK, western Europe, Australia, etc.).

I could site literally hundreds of links here demonstrating my point, but that would not be fair to me or you the reader. It is not my place to try to lead or guide your thoughts about this unless I am asked to do so. 

But just for a peek into what terrifies me most about my ‘place’ as an ordinary single man with mental health issues, let me show you something I found a while back en-route to looking for other things…

This is the Abstract and Conclusion of a 40+ page paper published last year in the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism by Jamie R. Abrams, currently an Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law (Electronic copy of the full paper available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2790940 (Copyright © 2016 by Jamie R. Abrams):

The Feminist Case for Acknowledging Women’s Acts of Violence

Jamie R. Abrams†

ABSTRACT:

This Article makes a feminist case for acknowledging women’s acts of violence as consistent with—not threatening to—the goals of the domestic violence movement and the feminist movement. It concludes that broadly understanding women’s use of strength, power, coercion, control, and violence, even illegitimate uses, can be framed consistent with feminist goals.

Beginning this conversation is a necessary—if uncomfortable—step to give movement to the movement to end gendered violence.

The domestic violence movement historically framed its work on a gender binary of men as potential perpetrators and women as potential victims. This binary was an essential starting point to defining and responding to domestic violence. The movement has since struggled to address women as perpetrators.

It has historically deployed a “strategy of containment” to respond to women as perpetrators. This strategy includes bringing male victims of domestic violence within existing services, monitoring exaggerations and misstatements about the extent of women’s violence, and noting the troublesome line between perpetrator/victim for women. This strategy achieved specific and important goals to domestic violence law reforms. These goals included retaining domestic violence’s central and iconic framing as a women’s issue, preserving critical funding sources and infrastructure to serve victims, and thwarting obstructionist political challenges largely waged by men’s rights groups.

While acknowledging that these goals were sound and central to the historic underpinnings of domestic violence law reforms, this Article considers whether the strategy of containment is too myopic and reactive to endure. It begins a discussion of whether moving beyond a strategy of containment might paradoxically advance the efficacy of both domestic violence law reforms and the feminist movement. It suggests that moving beyond the strategy of containment would strengthen the infrastructure and foundation of the domestic violence movement. It would move beyond the limited masculinist frame dominating domestic violence, beyond the pathologized and marginalized frame depicting women abusers, and toward a more inclusive movement. It further examines potential gains to the broader feminist movement, such as preserving the movement’s sustained legacy, diffusing gender stereotypes, righting skewed legal standards, and advancing women’s political and professional status.

CONCLUSION

Domestic violence is indeed gendered and complex. It is both individualized and systemic. It has critical shared underpinnings, yet it is different in every manifestation. It is time to consider whether it is too myopic to ignore female perpetrators. It is both “possible and politically necessary to acknowledge that some women use violence as a tactic in family conflict while also understanding that men tend to use violence more instrumentally to control women’s lives.”

There are real reasons to pause and ask whether the movement is stagnating in its efforts to end violence against women. It is time to selfassess critically the efficacy and trajectory of the movement. For decades, the movement has worked to train family court judges, lawyers, police, and advocates. Yet, the movement still faces incredible obstacles presented by hostile judges, uncooperative police, and a disbelieving public. Our modern approach has led to a high stakes game of “whack-a-mole” whereby advocates try to train new individuals, intervene where misunderstandings emerge, and responsively try to move relief measures forward. This may be an effective relief measure to making existing systems work. It may not, however, be an effective strategy to ending violence against women. Within our communities individually and our nation as a whole, vast structural changes have occurred to which the domestic violence movement might align and adapt and evolve. Are there ways, for example, to deliver services within the context of a “sharing economy” that might lift up communities and allow for more community-specific service provision. How do we move toward a stronger model of state accountability within communities? How do the goals of the domestic violence movement align with broader conversations about police and community relations? This conversation begins with moving beyond the “third rail” status of women’s acts of violence in feminism. Women’s violence has historically been marginalized and apologized in problematic ways. The feminist movement has a powerful role to play debunking stereotypes underlying gendered violence and gender equality and propelling the movement forward consistent with modern understandings of gender.

Now, you might wonder what all that has to do with my own personal journey toward healing, the anger that stands in the way, the fear of letting go of anger and resolving the despair that has so often lead me to suicidal thoughts and actions.

Well, I’ll tell ya. My life didn’t begin and end with the abuse I endured. A lot happened between then and now. Most of it happened in a vacuum of enforced ignorance and fear of rejection. A repeating cycle of effort, failure, temporary ‘success’, more failure and the shame and self-blame that comes with it.

Then one day it all came crashing down at once, and I just stopped caring at all… Drinking assisted in helping me decide to really, finally end my life. By drinking myself to death. I was a severe alcoholic, I knew how to drink and I knew that one could die of alcohol poisoning.

It didn’t work out that way. That is, I did NOT survive a suicide attempt, rather I failed to die successfully. It was from that point of view that I began the slow climb back to being alive. That is, NOT recovering, NOT healing, NOT becoming some kind of heroic figure that overcame the odds… Just someone who was doing more than just continuing to breathe, eat, sleep, etc. For the rest of it, I had to work. And I needed help. I returned to the fellowship and recovery program in Alcoholics Anonymous. My sponsor insisted that I get outside help for my trauma issues, as he’d never experienced them and hadn’t worked with anyone else who has. So I began therapy. What I call ‘God’, Shelley and my sponsor have brought me from there to here. I am now starting to live. This has taken over two years.

What I haven’t said here yet, nor have I discussed it in any detail with anyone else, is that before, during and as I ‘recovered’ I have also been looking around at how the world I live in sees me… I have looked hard. And from every angle I could find. I had an overwhelming desire to throw off that vacuum of ignorance about my ‘place’. That is, how I am seen.

I have read and otherwise consumed vast amounts of information about toxic masculinity. About patriarchal gender norms. About male oppression and power. About male privilege. About white male privilege. About white, male, cisgendered privilege. About how I was the very apex of the hierarchy in which I live. The top dog. The MAN. Me… If you knew me, you’d know precisely how ridiculous that is…

I have also consumed lots of information about misandry. About male disposability. About the apex fallacy surrounding patriarchy theory. That being a white, cisgendered straight dude somehow makes me equivalent to Donald Trump. I can assure you I am no Donald Trump. All I am in this context is a victim of childhood sexual abuse with the resulting trauma, lethally addicted to alcohol, a victim of the Duluth Model of domestic violence injustice and a ‘thrown away’ disposable man. Who has been disposed of. I’m not alone in this. There are many men like me.

The way I am perceived in my world is vile, it is sickening, it is profoundly unjust… And it is everywhere. It tempts me to scream at all of you: ‘Do you want me to stay alive? Then stop beating me up, and fix the world, or let me die!’ Or ‘Leave me the hell alone! Don’t talk to me, don’t engage with me, and don’t look at me. Just back off!’

But I don’t say these things… Sometimes I think them, but I don’t say them. I want to get well. I want to live. I’d even like to thrive someday. But I just can’t avoid seeing how the rest of you see me. I haven’t made ‘peace’ with that yet. I’m working on it. Really. Now, go back and reread the abstract and conclusion I quoted above. Then search for information about men’s mental health, male disposability, men’s issues and rights. Google, and Google Scholar are your friends.

When you look through this work, examine your thinking. Ask yourself why it is so hard to think of someone like me as a human being…

Introduction to Guest Post

When we think about sexual or domestic violence survivors, who comes to mind? Do you know someone who has personally been effected? Is it someone you’ve seen from a news story? Is it an image of what you think a survivor “typically” looks like. What does a survivor look like? I’m wondering how many of you are picturing someone who is female. FBI statistics show that for sexual assault, 1:6 adult women and 1:33 adult men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime as well as 1:4 girls and 1:6 boys will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18. These are based on reported rapes, and we know 50% of rapes are reported (again per FBI). It doesn’t take a genius to deduce that sexual violence is HIGHLY under-reported. This is especially the case if the survivor is male.

Likewise, male domestic violence survivors are much less likely to report their abuse. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1:3 women and 1:4 men have been the victim of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Also, 1:4 women and 1:7 men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner, where the survivor feared for their life. Despite these statistics, only 13% of calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline in 2013 were male survivors of domestic violence. What keeps male survivors, both sexual assault/sexual abuse and domestic violence, from reaching out? Well, that is another topic for another blog, as there are many many many reasons.

I have had the privilege of working with such a survivor for a few years now and I’ve asked him to write a piece on what it’s like being a male trauma survivor. I hope you are able to take in his words with an open heart. This is what trauma does. It makes one feel less than human. It re-writes the script of what is. I understand this may not be an easy read, but it is an important one. A big thank you to the writer for his bravery in sharing his thoughts. 

*It is apropos that this post is coming out in light of Chester Bennington’s (from Linkin Park) recent suicide. Chester was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. He spoke about feeling stigmatized by society for the trauma he suffered and so many male survivors of trauma can relate to this (which is what keeps many from coming forward). I have seen much talk, since Chester’s passing, about his depression, his history of addiction, encouraging those with similar issues to get help and support, etc. All of this is great, however there has been a glaring lack of discourse surrounding survivors of childhood sexual violence. As hard as it is for people to talk about mental health and addiction it is that much harder for them to talk about sexual violence and trauma. Especially if the survivor is male. Yet it is essential in healing our men and boys. Thank you to my guest blogger who speaks about how he has been effected by this very issue.

Favorite Quote

I am currently working on a very important blog post collaboration and since it is not finished so as to be posted this month, I figured I would leave this month with one of my favorite quotes.

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.” – Martha Graham

Wisdom in Emotions

We all have rough weeks. There had been a series of events which had unfolded various levels of grief, anger, exasperation, anxiety, and depression within me a few months ago. In times like these, one of the “tools” in my Self-Care Toolkit is to find supportive persons who will Listen.

I put the word Listen in “caps” because that is a skill that I find certain people lack. To truly Listen is to be engaged empathically with someone without trying to fix, change, or invalidate them. To Listen is to JUST BE with them in their pain. To Listen is to support their emotions because those emotions exist. There is nothing wrong with having emotions; in fact emotions are normal! To Listen is to say, “I’m so sorry you are having a rough week” instead of “You need to get over it”. To Listen is to say, “I’m here for you, is there anything you need right now?” instead of “Don’t feel the way you are feeling.”

Some people have a tough time seeing others go through certain emotions. Typically you see this with the emotions that are termed “negative”, like sadness, anger, etc…however I’m of the mindset that there are no such things as “negative” emotions. Humans have put this term on certain emotions because it is harder to feel them. It’s much easier to feel happy than sad. It is much nicer to feel excitement than anxiety. However there is Wisdom in all emotions and without feeling them, we miss out on this Wisdom. The Wisdom in my emotions during that rough time is that I love deeply, and I care very much about my clients and the work that I do. What is the Wisdom in your emotions?

It is ok to feel, because that is how we heal. I read a quote once that said “Emotions aren’t pretty, but they are beautiful.” How true that is. Who supports and validates you the way you need?

One of my favorite quotes is by Catherine de Hueck Doherty, and I think it sums up the skill of Listening: “With the gift of listening comes the gift of healing, because listening to your brothers and sisters until they have said the last word in their heart is healing and consoling. Someone has said that it is possible ‘to listen a person’s soul into existence.’ I like that.”

Welcome!

Thank you for viewing my blog! I will strive to post each month about various topics that weave through the work I do. Some blogs may be more trauma focused, some may be more grief focused, and some may be insights on various other topics. Wisdom nuggets may be scattered throughout, thanks to my love of animals and all they teach me. I hope you enjoy this blog as much as I have in creating it. If you would like to contact me at anytime, check out my website at http://www.shelleypier.com or see my info at the bottom of this page.