blog · cancer · death

2021 Began With A Goodbye

The monstrosity that has been 2020 ended with the very sad passing of a childhood friend’s father. As I sit down to write, I have just returned home from his viewing. It is New Year’s Day, the day that most people create fresh starts for themselves, trying to say hello to new habits and goodbye to less desirable ones. Unfortunately, many of us from my small town have found ourselves welcoming the new year with a painful goodbye.

Death is one of those subjects that I avoid thinking about, unless, of course, I’m in the middle of a panic attack, convinced everyone around me is going to die (anxiety, am I right?!). But here I am, on New Year’s Day, looking death in the face and grappling with what it all means. My dear friend’s father was taken by cancer in what felt like the blink of an eye. This is a man who has watched me grow up, from attending all our soccer games as kids right down to the day we graduated high school and beyond. I have countless fond memories of this man, who was a tried and true cowboy until the very moment he passed.

But why did he pass? Why now? Why do my dear friend, her dear sister, and her dear mother have to say goodbye to someone they loved so much? It’s times like this when I cannot make sense of it all. There are so many theories out there about how you can “manifest” your own healing, even when it comes to cancer. I’ve ready so many stories in which people say that after they were diagnosed with cancer, they fought like hell and never accepted death; and because of their tenacity and positivity, they beat cancer, even in the most grim of circumstances.

So what gives, huh? Is it a “great spirit” that heals cancer? Because this man had it. Is it a positive attitude? Because he had that too. Do you need to be a believer in Jesus to be saved from cancer? Because let me tell you, this man loved the Lord. As a teenager, when I would have sleepovers at my friend’s house, I was always impressed by his work ethic, the perpetual pep in his step, and the way he always greeted me with a “Hey baby! How you been?! God bless, baby, god bless!” and a hug so tight you’d nearly get the wind knocked out of you. When it came to positivity, this man did not appear to be slacking one single bit. So why? Why did he have to leave now, when he still had so much left to tend to here on earth? He wasn’t anywhere close to slowing down in life! In fact, this man had more soul and spirit than could possibly fit into a secular body….

….and maybe that’s the point. Maybe he had so much soul, so much spirit, so much love to give that his time on earth had ended and he was needed elsewhere. Maybe his soul simply outgrew his physical body and therefore, it was his time to pass. I have always believed that your body is a vessel for your soul. And while your body may die, your soul never does.

While my heart is broken over the pain that my dear friend and her family are enduring in the wake of their loss, I am also acutely aware of the irony of beginning the new year with a goodbye. Jesus, God, the universe, or whatever deity you might believe in truly doesn’t care about the minute in which 11:59pm one year turns into 12:00am the next year.

Every minute matters. Every day counts. A resolution on New Year’s Day is no more special than a resolution on a Tuesday afternoon in the middle of July. And while so many resolutions tend to be centered toward weight-loss, 2021 reminds me that this body that you’re in is merely a vessel. With that being said, if you have a resolution for this year, I encourage you to make it something soul-changing, not body-changing. Resolve to be more present with your loved ones. Resolve to tap into that artistic talent you’ve always known you’ve had. Resolve to volunteer at an animal shelter or food pantry. Whatever it may be, feed your soul and the souls of others. Live so beautifully that it becomes contagious to the ones around you.

After all, that’s how my friend’s father lived. And in doing so, he has made himself an eternal light to all of us.

Rest in peace to the cowboy who was loved by all.

blog · Change · eating disorders · Mental Health · shame · trauma

Why Trauma Survivors Don’t Go To The Doctor

I have not been feeling well for months. -low energy, aches and pains everywhere, chills, and chronic fatigue. I’m so exhausted that I can barely make it from my bed to the couch downstairs without feeling drained. At first I thought maybe it was depression, but as the months went on, I started to get this feeling that there is something deeper going on with me aside from depression. I have a history of thyroid issues in my family, and I’ve been told by a few doctors that I should keep an eye on my thyroid levels, as they have historically been on the lower end of the spectrum.

Thus, after months of feeling like total crap, I picked up the phone and made an appointment with an endocrinologist, hopeful that this doctor will give me the answers I am looking for. I scheduled my appointment for the end of December – and what did I do immediately after I hang up the phone?

I agonized over the appointment. Every day that it got closer to me having to go to the doctor, I felt my anxiety increasing. I loathe going to the doctor. In fact, I’m petrified. And here is a little glimpse as to why doctors appointments, for myself and many others, are often traumatic:

My recent appointment with the endocrinologist went as follows:

I arrived, checked myself in for my appointment, got my temperature taken, and was called back by one of the techs.

“Step on the scale please,” she says. I respond “Oh, no, I am in recovery from an eating disorder and I cant – ” She cuts of me off. “Ma’am, we really do need your weight if you’re going to be a patient here.” I feel myself starting to shut down. “Ok dont be a big baby, just get on the scale” I think to myself. As I step on the scale, I say to her “Okay but it’s triggering to weigh myself so can you please not tell me what my weight -” She cuts me off again to say my weight out loud in front of multiple other people in the office so that someone else can write it down.

And then the shame starts. I start sweating. “Oh my god oh my god that bitch yelled my weight out to the whole office everyone is going to know my weight oh god I cant breathe.” I walk into the room to wait for the doctor. Soon enough the doctor barges in the door and says hello without making eye contact. She sits down at her computer and asks me deeply personal questions without looking back at me one single time.

“You wrote down that you have PTSD?”

“Yes.”

“From….?????”

My heart sinks right into my gut. I stammer on my words as I try to give a 15 second elevator speech about my trauma to a woman who isn’t even looking at me. As I finish speaking I start to cry into my mask. “Why couldn’t I just tell her I wasn’t comfortable discussing it?” I think to myself. But I cant help it. I’m with an “authority figure”. I’m playing out my trauma – giving my all to a person who promises to help me but doesn’t actually care about me.

She types on the computer in complete silence for what feels like 15 minutes. She gets up, touches my hands, my ankles, my neck, my chest, and says “There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong.”

I finally start to get angry. “That can’t be right. I’m telling you, I don’t feel well. I know when something is wrong with my body. I am in recovery from my eating disorder and eat better now than I ever have in my life and somehow have put on an excessive amount of weight in the last few months that has me extremely concerned about my health.”

She says “Well, I’ll send you for more bloodwork but in the meantime, you should exercise, 20 minutes a day. Sound good?”

NO THIS DOES NOT SOUND GOOD, DOC. If exercise was the f&%$*@! answer, I wouldn’t be here talking to you, now would I? The problem is that I do exercise, perhaps not as much as I would like because I’m so exhausted I can barely function but I do my damn best. I’m not here because I needed you to tell me to exercise. I’m not here to talk about how to lose weight – I’m here because everything in my body is screaming “SOMETHING IS WRONG.”

But I dont say any of that to her. Instead, I nod through my tears “Yes, I’ll exercise.” and I am sent to the front desk to check out. The woman hands me a piece of paper with the summary of my appointment, in which it says that the doctor discussed BMI with me and I agreed that I was going to exercise every day for 20 minutes.

And I sobbed. The discharge summary said nothing other than that I am overweight and need to exercise. I threw it in the garbage because IT IS garbage. Why why why can we be so obsessed with someone’s weight but be completely oblivious about the trauma that is often behind the number on the scale? Why are we still even talking about BMI? There is a plethora of research negating its validity as a tool for determining health.

How differently could that appointment have gone if she had asked me what is going on in my life aside from exercising? If she had looked me in the eye when she walked in the door and made me feel seen and heard? Would I have been so horribly triggered if they had respected my right not to step on the scale? I guess I’ll never know, but I do know one thing:

This sort of stuff happens in doctors appointments over and over and over again. Folks who are struggling with eating disorders are often masking trauma. When you get to the root of the trauma, you mitigate the eating disordered symptoms. The person then learns how to listen to their bodies and eat intuitively, and their weight becomes whatever it is meant to be.

WEIGHT WILL TAKE CARE OF ITSELF. It is not necessary for doctors to be discussing BMI when 90% of the time, we don’t show up to the doctors to discuss BMI. Weight isn’t, despite what so many people think in this fat-phobic society, the root of all evil. Unprocessed emotions, underlying autoimmune diseases, irregular metabolic functioning, and suppressed trauma, are just a few of the many, many things that are more important than BMI.

I wasn’t given the time of day by this doctor, as has been the case with dozens of other doctors. Instead of leaving with answers for what is going on with me when I know something is wrong, I left full of shame and rage that no one will listen to me when I am doing everything short of screaming at the top of my lungs “SOMETHING FEELS OFF WITH MY BODY PLEASE HELP.”

I’ve been in recovery from my eating disorder for awhile now. I’m more in tune with my body than ever before, but because my BMI labels me as being overweight, everyone jumps to the conclusion that it must be my diet and exercise that are off.

We need to do better. We need to get rid of the BMI are start assessing people’s ACE scores (see https://alyssascolari.com/understanding-adverse-childhood-experiences/ for more info on ACE scores) because this is ultimately what’s going to kill people, not their BMI. You can put someone on the biggest, best diet in the whole world and they will still continue to have health issues until you get to the core of their wounds.

“Trauma-informed” is not just some training that we need to get in order to check off another box on our “to-do” list. It’s a crucial part of the work that all healthcare professionals do. When we start to shift our focus towards a truly trauma-informed practice, I can guarantee that we’ll start saving more lives than the BMI chart ever has.

blog · Mental Health · self care · trauma

Boundaries vs. Threats

Of all of the pain I have endured over the last few months as a result of a significant loss in my life, I have to say, both time and space have given me the ability to see this person for exactly who he/she/they really are. I have had some time to reflect on the recent years filled with scenarios that left me feeling full of guilt and shame. This person, who happens to be the ultimate gaslighter, loved to tell me that he/she/they were setting boundaries with me. The thing about being in toxic relationships is that when you’re in one, you inherently believe that this person is speaking the truth. You don’t question whether or not this person actually knows what he/she/they are talking about. And when you start to feel angry and offended by what this person says, instead of blaming that person, you automatically blame yourself!

Thank God I know so much better now. The fog has cleared and although this person is nowhere to be found in any aspect of my life any longer, I feel as though I can see this person for who she/he/they truly are for the first time in years.

As I am processing the depths of my relationship with this person, I have realized that if this has happened to me, it is likely happening to so many other people, so I want to provide a little bit of clarity on a rather fuzzy topic. There is a significant difference between someone setting a boundary with you and someone threatening you, but sometimes the lines can be blurred and what we think are healthy limits are actually threats.

So let’s break it down, shall we?

BOUNDARIES

Boundaries are limits that we set with other people or sometimes, even ourselves. The point of setting a boundary is to protect our own physical, social, and emotional health. Setting boundaries with others can look like:

-“Thank you for the invitation, but I can’t go out this weekend.”
-“I won’t be joining you for the holidays this year due to the pandemic.”
-“I have let you know repeatedly that I do not want to speak about this topic. If you continue to bring it up, I am going to leave the party.”
-“I have told you that I am not comfortable meeting up without masks. If you are not able to wear a mask, let’s wait to meet up until it’s safer to do so.”

Again, boundaries are put in place to honor ourselves and protect all aspects of our well-being.

THREATS

Threats are designed for us to get the things we want and/or need, often at the expense of someone else. Threats typically come in the form of a warning that someone or something might be harmed if we don’t get what we want. Some examples of threats might be:

– “If you are going to continue dating that guy, then I’m going to stop asking you how you’re doing since you’re only going to get hurt.”
-“If you don’t spend the holidays with us this year, then I’m not buying you those shoes you have been asking for.”
-“We aren’t having sex at night anymore since you clearly can’t even have the laundry done by the time I get home from work.”
-“I’m paying for this wedding so I think I should have some say in where you have it.”

Threats are about securing our wants and needs by taking something away from someone if things do not go our way.

THE THIN LINE

As you’ll notice in the section on boundaries, none of the examples I provided were about doing harm to the other person in any way. The only thing a boundary should do is help us to protect ourselves without doing harm to others. The line between threats and boundaries starts to blur when we start punishing other people for not getting our way. There is no punishment happening when we tell others, for example, that we aren’t comfortable meeting up with them unless they are wearing a mask. There is punishment happening, however, when we withhold sex, threaten emotional neglect, or hold money over people’s heads in order to get what we want. Sometimes it can be quite difficult to tell the difference between a threat and a boundary. Many people feel that they are one in the same, but that could not be further from the truth; and it is important to suss out the difference so that we are taking good care of both ourselves and our loved ones.

Now with all of this being said, I’d like to shift gears and speak directly to YOU – the one who is the epitome of the thin line. I know you lurk in the shadows of my life, reading every blog post, listening to every podcast episode, watching me rise from the ashes like the goddamn phoenix that I am. You are the thin line between threats and boundaries, the one who has been threatening me for years under the guise of being “great at setting boundaries”. I know your eyes will scan every word of this page, hoping to find evidence that you broke me but knowing deep down that you never had that kind of power. Let me take a moment to thank you for teaching me the difference between a healthy boundary and an insidious threat. You have allowed me to be able to share this critical information with others so that they can recognize a threat from a mile away and learn how to set appropriate limits with others. Allow me to express my gratitude for the blinding pain you caused me. While I would have preferred to live without your subtle threats, manipulations, and abrupt abandonment, I am proud to say that I am taking what you put me through and will use it to help others for the rest of my days.

blog · eating disorders · Mental Health · self care · trauma

The Pain Will Come Again

As somebody who is rarely ever short on words, I find myself struggling to speak lately. I am quiet these days, possibly because I’m not too sure how to put words to the things that I have experienced over the last couple of months that have culminated in me being re-traumatized on multiple levels.

I will never tire of the way in which I feel so alive when I sit with my patients. It feels so natural for me to enter their worlds and help them to make connections, process pain, and heal what hurts. But sometimes I don’t do so well when the roles are reversed. When I become the patient, looking back at my therapist, I am speechless. Perhaps this is because words simply do not feel like enough to describe what has recently transpired in my life.

I suppose I am doing as well as any one person could be doing after being re-traumatized. There have been moments, especially this past week, when I have wanted to crawl right back into the cold, icy arms of my eating disorder -anything to take the edge off and make me feel like I have some sort of control. I’ve had to fight like hell to maintain my connections with safe, supportive people instead of isolating. And once or twice this week, I even had to take the risk of reaching out to my treatment team to help get myself grounded.

The flashbacks have become more frequent and I am finding that the way in which I talk to myself or about myself has become increasingly negative. I’m having to focus nearly all of my efforts into the self-care department. It would be so much easier for me to constantly work so that I don’t allow time or space to process all that has happened, but I’m trying to be intentional about slowing down. My boundaries in both my professional and personal lives have gotten tighter (i.e., avoiding contact with potentially triggering people, setting limits on how many hours I am working a day, etc.). While this process has required an exhausting amount of introspection, I have become much more aware of the things that I can and cannot hold space for right now.

So what does this all mean? Does it mean I’m too sick to do my job? Does it mean I am unraveling and cannot function? Does my pain make me any less competent in my profession?

No. Not at all. If anything, being fully in touch with my emotions and having awareness of my limits right now makes me more competent in my profession than I’ve ever been. I am completely aware of how much I am hurting right now, and I am fully aware that I have more on my plate than I bargained for. 

Therapists are humans too, and as a human, being in recovery from PTSD does not mean that I will never have bad days again. It does not mean that I am immune to being traumatized in the future, nor does it mean that I am immune to a relapse in my eating disorder. Relapse is not only possible, but is also probably given my circumstances right now. Healing is not linear. None of us will ever wake up one day and be 1000% cured. The simple act of being alive means we will most likely experience pain multiple times throughout our lives.

But the exciting news is that with every breath I take, I have become more aware and more empowered to take my healing into my own hands instead of self-destructing, which is what I would have done in the past. As distraught as I have been, I have turned away from self-destruction and instead, I have made every effort to take better care of myself than ever before. This is what healing looks like. Healing doesn’t mean that we never hurt again! Healing means that, when the pain creeps back in, we feel more equipped to cope and to persevere.  I am healing because although I will never be okay with what has happened to me, I am choosing to love myself through it in every way that I can.

I truly don’t know what the days will bring given my current circumstances, but I do know that with every decision to love myself instead of hate myself, I heal a tiny bit more. I have the tools, the love, and the support I need right now. And when all else fails and I simply cannot turn down the intensity of the pain, the anger, or the worry, I turn back to one of my favorite fictional characters who, I believe, said it best:

“No good sittin’ worryin’ abou’ it. What’s comin’ will come, and we’ll meet it when it does.” – Rubeus Hagrid, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

blog · eating disorders · Mental Health · trauma

Have Mercy

Today, the day after Thanksgiving, is my favorite day of the year! Yet, it’s also one of the hardest days of the year for those of us who struggle with being elbow deep in diet culture and eating disorders.

The day after Thanksgiving leaves so many of us feeling guilt and shame over our bodies as a result of what we consumed yesterday. Eating disorders and diet culture, at their core, are really all about having control; and in a world that feels more out of control than ever before, I am sure that the urge to over-exercise and restrict food intake as a way to make up for the the calories consumed yesterday is extremely strong.

So I’m here to ask you one thing, and that is to have mercy on yourself. 

When you find yourself opening your eyes in the morning and immediately thinking about what you ate yesterday, have mercy on yourself.

When you tell yourself that you need to work out as a form of damage control for the food you consumed, please have mercy on yourself.

If you feel as though the only way you deserve to get through the day today is by eating lettuce that you later end up purging, please have mercy on yourself.

If you find yourself staring in the mirror and pinching and poking the softness on your body, wondering if your stomach is more doughy today than it was yesterday, have mercy on yourself.

When you find yourself starting to feel hungry, but do not feel as though you deserve to eat because you enjoyed yourself yesterday, have mercy on yourself.

And finally, if you find that you cannot stop chastising, telling yourself that you were out of control yesterday, and calling yourself names that are shame and guilt inducing, I beg of you, please have mercy on yourself.

You do not have to spend the day obsessing over how to reverse what you ate yesterday because you did absolutely nothing wrong. One huge meal will not, I repeat, will not have any effect on your weight. You deserve to nourish your body today, whether that means having three full meals with snacks, or snacking throughout the entire day.

Try to check in with your body and listen to what it needs. If we tune out the noise of diet culture, we will discover that our bodies already have the answers to the questions that we have been asking our entire lives. So be extra kind to the body parts that you hate, for those body parts have kept you healthy, safe, and alive far before your brain developed enough to allow diet culture and eating disorders get in the way.

When the guilt and the shame and the urges to restrict, purge, over-exercise, or body check start to creep in, please remember to have mercy on yourself. Not just today, but always.

blog · COVID-19 · suicide · trauma

You Just Want Attention

I don’t know how many times I have said this in the past, nor do I know for how many more months I’ll continue to say this, but damn, times are tough. I have more clients than usual who are in a state of suicidal crisis. While I am by no means negating the prevalence of the coronavirus, I do think it is important to point out that the number of suicide attempts and suicide completions far outweigh the number of covid cases in our world. Again, I say this not to take attention away from the seriousness of the pandemic, but to also point out the suicide pandemic that receives little attention.

As a therapist, I am frequently in contact with other care providers who work with my clients, such as doctors, school counselors, and parents. Lately, when suicidal urges increase among my patients, I find more and more doctors, school counselors, and parents having the same response: “I really think he/she/they is just doing this for attention. I don’t think there is any real threat here.”

This statement really hits me like a ton of bricks….not because I feel judgment towards the people who are saying it, but more or less because I find it to be so sad that we have quite literally shamed, chastised, and ignored people for wanting and needing attention from others. When people tell me that they don’t think suicidal urges are anything to be concerned about because it’s just a plea for attention, my response is usually
“Yes, this very well could be for attention, but that doesn’t make those urges any less real. And why risk it? At the end of the day, if you’re child/patient/student/spouse/parent is saying this for attention, then that means something is very wrong and we do need to give this person the appropriate level of attention and care.”

Why do we do this? Why do we condemn people for wanting and needing attention? Why is it such a bad thing to want attention from someone else.? I’ll be the first one to admit it: I love attention. I need it. I crave it. And most of all, I deserve it. I deserve to have others know when I am hurting so that they can help me. When my pain isn’t heard or validated, my suicidal thoughts and urges only become louder.

Now with this being said, I do acknowledge that there are people who can be manipulative with their words or are seeking attention in dangerous or unacceptable ways. I’m not suggesting we should be okay with this. What I’m suggesting is that we stop writing folks off when they say they feel suicidal. Sure, it could be an attempt at getting attention, but often enough, the attention that people happen to be seeking is much needed, even if it’s not necessarily needed in the form of crisis intervention. And besides, why risk it? Why label a suicidal person as ‘attention-seeking’ and then just wait and see if he/she/they really mean it? 

I’ll say it once more – life is hard right now. Like, really friggin hard. And the more I speak to doctors and school staff and parents and other providers, the more I see how hardened we have become to the needs of others. All I ask is this: let’s stop shaming and criminalizing others for being “attention-seeking”. Instead, let’s ask ourselves what kind of attention this person might need and how/if we might be able to help. Let’s all do our best support each other through this so we can all make it out on the other side of this pandemic happy, healthy, and most importantly, alive.

blog · COVID-19 · Mental Health · self care · trauma

Back to Basics

Are we all drained right now or what? We’ve got election stress, COVID-19 anxiety, and good old seasonal depression waiting for us right around the corner. Not to mention we are all fighting battles that others know nothing about.

As we head into the colder months, when the flu meets COVID and political tension rises as power shifts from one President to another, let this be your gentle reminder to take the time to get back to the basics of your life so that you are well-equipped to handle what may be coming down the road.

-HYDRATE. Drink drink drink – not beer, not wine, not tequila (okay, maybe tequila). Drink water. As much as your body is telling you that you need. Take notice of how often you’re going to the bathroom and if you need to be consuming more water.

-SLEEP. I know, I know, it is so difficult to be in a regular sleeping routine when life feels like such a jumbled mess these days. But the world is going to keep turning, regardless of whether or not you get sleep, and nothing earth-shattering is going to happen if you log off of Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok for a while to give your body some R&R. Or maybe something earth-shattering WILL happen – and you’ll find out about it after you have slept. Try not to feed the urge to know everything that is happening in the world the second that it happens.

MOVE. Gyms have stricter regulations. It’s dark by 5pm. The weather is getting cold. We want blankets, and hot chocolate, and Christmas movies, not long walks or cardio or yoga. But as great as all the holiday vibes can be, sitting on the couch or in bed for hours on end can lead to a black hole of depression that can be so hard to get out of. So break up your day a little – go for a walk, stretch, take a 15 minute mild yoga class, or blast heavy metal music and go crush some weights. Either way, the movement will mitigate symptoms of depression and anxiety and will help your body to feel its best.

EAT. November is upon us so everywhere you look you’re going to see diets and holiday fitness programs all designed to help you avoid weight gain during the holidays. This season of life is stressful enough for all of us, don’t throw a diet into the mix and start detoxing or counting calories. If anything, be intentional about eating. Don’t skip meals. It doesn’t matter if all you did was sit on the couch all day – you still deserve and need to eat.

CONNECT. Make plans with friends and family in whatever way feels safe for you these days. Don’t use COVID as an excuse to feed into your depression and stop connecting with your loved ones.

LOOK AROUND. Shut off the TV. Put down your phone. Look away from your laptops and desktops and smart bikes and smart watches, etc. Look around at your environment. Love up on your partner. Snuggle with your pets. Stand outside for a few extra moments after getting out of your car just to feel the crisp air on your face. Be wherever you’re at. Tune in to your surroundings and let the stress of the world melt away, if only for a moment.

In these difficult times, I struggle to maintain all the of above, especially the last one! But when we feel overwhelmed with life, it’s crucial for us all to get back to the basics of living so that we can build strength for the future. So take the time to rest up everyone, for when we wake, we will get back to trying to change the world!

blog · Mental Health · self care · trauma

Stop Calling Me A Nice Girl

I’M NOT A NICE GIRL. People laugh when I say that because it sounds ludicrous that I would need to convince someone that I’m not a nice girl.

But let me tell you why referring to a woman as a “nice girl” isn’t always a compliment:

There was a debacle with one of my neighbors not too long ago. I was out with one of my dogs and my once-friendly neighbor felt that I was too close to his property line and began 1. taking pictures and videos of me, and 2. yelling at me for coming too close to his home.

I was not only stupefied that a man whom I’ve had nothing but positive interactions with in the past was yelling at me, but I felt threatened that photos were being taken of me without my knowledge or consent. With my history of assault, the last thing anyone wants to do is approach me angrily and start snapping photos of me. Cue PTSD symptoms!

But I’m not the silent woman I used to be. If you’re coming into my space in a way that is uninvited, I will let you know. If you are not listening to me when I tell you to back off, I will become louder than you to make it known you are not welcome in my space. So when my neighbor started with his shenanigans, I held my ground. And by “held my ground”, I mean I let him have it –

-Not in a “sir, you’re making me uncomfortable” type of way. More like a “Unless you want a stalking charge, get those photos of me off your phone and get the hell away from me because I know you aren’t screaming at me that way.”

Aggressive? No.

Passive? No.

Assertive? YES.

But what does that mean about me? That I’m a bitch? Apparently so, because as my husband came out to assist me, this man turned to my husband and said (pointing at me) “I don’t know what happened to her. I thought she was such a nice girl.”

And I LOST IT. Not explicitly, but implicitly. I knew I had been triggered and it was time for me to exit the scene and let my husband take over. But believe me you, I did not walk away without stating firmly “I am not a nice girl.”

If setting boundaries makes me mean, so be it.

If letting you know that I don’t want you taking photos of me makes me mean, so be it.

If digging my heels into the dirt because I refuse to shrink in the presence of your unwarranted rage makes me mean, so be it.

If correcting you on what my name really is instead of hearing you call me “Amanda” for the 9 millionth time makes me mean, so be it.

If I ever gave off the impression that I was “too nice” to do any of the above, then I will gladly be labeled as the “mean” one. But to be honest, none of what I did makes me a mean person. It makes me be seen.

“Nice girl” really isn’t a compliment in this context. It’s degrading and oppressive, as if I’m not allowed to have a voice and stand up for myself since I’m such a nice girl.

What in the hell does niceness have to do with setting boundaries?

I cannot wrap my brain around this for the life of me. All I know is that I’m not a nice girl. I’m a multi-faceted woman who is so much more than “nice.”

Since that incident with my neighbor happened, I have found myself going back to when I was around 14 and would babysit my two little cousins. Their mom, who was also my cousin, gave me the best advice that I never understood at the time but live by now. Before she would leave me with her little ones to head off to work, she would say to me “If anyone comes to the door or comes anywhere near you, act crazy.”

I would giggle, but I didn’t really get it. Sometimes, the only way women are feared, respected, or taken seriously is if they “act crazy” – and by crazy, I mean engaging in all of the actions I mentioned above that would seem perfectly acceptable if a male were doing it.

What my cousin meant was “Don’t take anyone’s shit. Don’t let anyone take advantage of you. Don’t let anyone make you feel threatened.”

Besides, the only time I ever get mad or “act crazy” (by the way, I am not endorsing the use of the word ‘crazy’) is when I feel unheard, unseen, attacked, misrepresented, or taken advantage of. And in the words of my girl, T-Swift…

There’s nothing like a mad woman.

YOU made her like that.

Yours Truly,

Not A Nice Girl

blog · Change · trauma

The Loss of the Living

I never thought I would have to write a post like this. Lord knows I don’t want to sit with the feelings that come up as I write, but I know I need to.

There is a special kind of grief many of us experience that is unlike any other type of grief in this world. It is the loss of those who are still living – those who, at one point in your life brought you comfort and joy and peace, but no longer do. 

When you love somebody with all of your heart, when you trust them and allow yourself to be fragile and vulnerable in front of them, when you feel enveloped in safety by them, it is an indescribable type of pain to lose them. I do believe that there is a type of trust that, once broken, can never be rebuilt. When the trust is first broken, we get the urge to try to figure out how we can fix it, justify it, or rationalize it. Sometimes we even try to blame ourselves for the broken trust. This is because at the end of the day, when we are betrayed by somebody that we love, our hearts ache just a little bit less if we can find some way to take the blame for it.

But the fact of the matter is that not all relationships are able to last; and just because two people love one another dearly does not mean that they are meant to be in each other’s lives forever. 

There’s not nearly enough attention given to the loss of loved ones who are still alive – the ones who continue to move on with their lives. One of the most painful parts of parting ways with a loved one is knowing that life continues beyond this relationship. You will both laugh again, you will both continue to build relationships with others, and the memories of what happened will eventually fade. You will no longer be at the forefront of each other’s minds, and one day, other thoughts, feelings and memories will take precedence. I am not talking about a specific type of relationship here. This could be a romantic relationship, a friendship, or any individual who you trusted and loved deeply.

I have to admit, for the first time in a long time, I don’t have the answers for how I’m going to move through the ending of a relationship that I held so dear to my heart. I’m not being specific about who I am referring to because despite all that has happened, I still maintain a respect for this person that I don’t think will ever go away. It has been difficult to move forward while still trying to process what happened. My world as I knew it for the last 3 years has changed in ways that I still don’t understand. It hurts more than I can describe. And that’s okay. My pain only further confirms how special this person was to me, and it’s okay to be deep in grief. It’s uncomfortable, it’s awful, it’s excruciating, but over time it will pass. Just because feelings are uncomfortable does not mean we are incapable of sitting with them. 

There have been moments of full-on transparency with some of my patients this week who pointed out that I did not seem like myself. I even had a session with a client where I needed to pause, remove myself, let myself burst into tears for 30 seconds, and regroup. This is what grief looks like – allowing it to pass through you when it comes up, but not letting it ruin your life or your day. All I can do right now is show up for both myself and my patients, whatever that may look like, even if it means needing to take a moment for myself throughout the day. After all, when I’m not busy being a therapist, I am simply another human being – my heart breaks just the same as anyone else’s. 

If you’ve ever experienced this type of loss, I hope you can relate. I hope my words can provide some comfort and some insight. It’s okay to be devastated over the loss of someone who is still living. Yes, it’s easier to be mad at that person, it’s easier to try to make that person out to be a monster in your head, it’s easier to blame ourselves, because it helps us to avoid the grief. But the grief is still there. It’s to be expected. Let it come in whatever way it will. 

As for me, I will hold this person close to my heart and soul as I continue to process what happened. It’s an ache for which there are no words, only tears. 

My favorite poet, Rupi Kaur, has said it best: 

“They did not tell me it would hurt like this
No one warned me
About the heartbreak we experience with friends
‘Where are the albums?’ I thought
There were no songs sung for it
I could not find the ballads
Or read the books dedicated to writing the grief
We fall into when friends leave
It is the type of heartache that
Does not hit you like a tsunami
It is a slow cancer
The kind that does not show up for months
Has no visible signs
Is an ache here
A headache there
But manageable 
Cancer or tsunami 
It all ends the same
A friend or a lover
A loss is a loss is a loss”

the underrated heartache by Rupi Kaur

blog · Mental Health · shame · trauma

Gaslighter

I could easily (and I will one day) record an entire podcast episode on gaslighting and the damage that it does to one’s psyche. However, let’s take a moment to talk about it on the blog.

Gaslighting is one of the number one problems that I see when people come to me for therapy. Those who have been subjected to gaslighting often come into therapy confused, scared, and fairly certain that they are “sick”, “mentally ill”, or “crazy”.

By definition, gaslighting is a type of psychological manipulation that can be very subtle but oh so insidious. It is an attempt to make someone question and doubt their own memories, thoughts, feelings, and their perception of reality as a whole. It is not something that occurs only with romantic partners, but rather, this form of psychological abuse (yes, it IS abuse) can show up in friendships, with family members, and even from colleagues in the workplace.

Metaphorically speaking, gaslighting looks a little bit like the following:

You: I know how to ride a bike, I don’t need help.

Abuser: Okay cool! You’re right. You got this!

Abuser: ~puts a giant rock ahead in your path, watches you hit the rock with your bike and crash~

You: What the heck? That rock wasn’t there before. I take this bike path all the time!

Abuser: Hmmm, maybe your memory isn’t what it used to be. I’ve never seen that rock before. You must be imagining things. I mean, I know you said you knew how to ride a bike but it looks like you really do need my help after all. It looks like you’re not as independent as you thought you were…Come here, let me rescue you. I’ll help you clean yourself up and maybe next time you should listen to me. I only want what is best for you.

You: ~left feeling confused, frustrated, guilty, ashamed for thinking you could do anything on your own, angry but unsure why, lacking in confidence, etc.~

The gaslighters in your life want you to think that they want the best for you. They tell you they love you unconditionally, but believe me you, there are conditions. They tell you they want you to grow and flourish and be the best version of yourself, but as soon as you start to do that, they pull back, throwing in confusing and hurtful comments, insinuating that you don’t really know what you’re doing in life, that you aren’t quite ready to “fly on your own” yet, that maybe you aren’t as great as you thought you were. They may also send you hints that you are too needy, but when you stop needing them, they ice you out or retaliate in ways that leave you feeling hurt beyond your wildest imagination.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, please know you are not alone. More importantly, please know that you have nothing to be ashamed of if you had no idea you were a victim of gaslighting. On a personal note, it took me 4 years to realize I was a victim of gaslighting. I believed wholeheartedly that this person had my best interest at heart, despite being hurt over and over again and despite feeling confused and worthless after every conversation. I was told every single time that my feelings were a result of my own issues – a manifestation in my head (BULLSHIT).

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that is so popular among abusers because it’s nearly impossible to identify and it can cause damage that can take years to recover from. With that being said, recovery IS possible.

So for all of us who have fallen victim to the gaslighters in the world, let’s keep on telling each other:

-It isn’t our fault.

-We have done nothing wrong.

-We have nothing to be ashamed of.

-We have every right to be mad as hell.

-We will survive.

-Joy exists on the other side.

Abusers never win in the end.