Happy Thanksgiving 2019!

Happy Thanksgiving 2019! Last year I wrote that I thought that year was the oddest year of my life. I was wrong. This year. 100%. Odd isn’t bad, though.

I have a lot to be thankful for. There’s all the usual, but there are some things I’m especially, newly thankful for this year. An odd year makes an odd list, I guess.

 

Starting with this will probably help the rest of my list make sense: I’m thankful for therapy. Life is weird. Different ones of us have more weird, less weird, different weird, fun weird, scary weird, exhausting weird, scarring weird, confusing weird, or just plain weird weird. I should probably have started seeing a therapist way back when I was an unusually anxious little kid. I should probably have started seeing a therapist as a young adult when I felt so much loneliness and hurt that I hated and hurt myself. I should probably have started seeing a therapist as a little-less-young adult who finally learned to keep my balance surfing the waves of life by pretending like I didn’t need anything. But I didn’t. I waited until I had a concussion last year that knocked all the “okay” out of me and I could hardly make it through each day because everyone and everything scared and hurt me. Shortly after starting with him, my therapist teased me (a little bit honestly, though) that hitting my head was probably going to turn out to be one of the best things to happen to me, because it shook my feelings back into view. Turned out I still had lots of feelings. Like . . . think a long, confusing, lonely, depressing childhood’s worth of feelings, but with ten additional years for the mess to simmer while I added more hurt to my life by using the crutches I learned to get through said childhood. Moral of the story, I needed a therapist. Thank goodness that I have one, and thank goodness for the one I found. Therapy has ended up being absolutely the healthiest thing in my life. It has changed so much in this last year. It has helped with so much healing. It has given me so much more hope and freedom. It has made so much more sense of the world. It has made life safer. It has made me more confident. It has given me permission to be myself. It has explained so many scary things. It has helped me know myself, finally. And it has helped me to take care of myself, in a way I never thought I was allowed.

Hey, you, person-reading-this: If you are having a tough time deep down inside, feeling depressed or anxious, or even if you’re “totally fine” but know that actually something’s not quite right and you’re a year or two away from having to stop playing strong . . . please know that talking about it is okay. There is nothing weak about seeing a therapist. Actually, I hate that sentence. It doesn’t matter if there is anything weak or strong about seeing a therapist. “Weak” isn’t bad. “Strong” isn’t good. You have a real heart. Your heart is the same exact heart you had as an emotional little 3-year-old, an adventurous little 7-year-old, a confused little 12-year-old, an angst little 16-year-old, and as a lost little 21-year-old. It doesn’t matter if you’re a female or a male. It doesn’t matter if you grew up poor or wealthy. It doesn’t matter if you have a cushy life or scrape by week to week. It doesn’t matter if your big feelings and scars come from getting physically abused, bullied, emotionally neglected, molested or assaulted, or from going through a terrible experience that left you with PTSD. Or from none of the above, so you feel like you have no right to be struggling. Please know that you are not silly or dramatic for having feelings. Sure, some of your feelings may have a little silliness or a lot of drama-ness, but hurting, being scared, feeling weak, feeling helpless or hopeless, confused, sad, angry–all those big feelings are okay to have. And if you need help with how to navigate them and how to take care of yourself at this point in your life, therapy is just a really good idea. It’s like a doctor or a personal trainer but for your feelings. You have those. That’s good! Please don’t feel any shame in taking care of them. Therapy is GOOD.

Being open with your people is good, too. Being real about your humanness. We’re all in this together. A lot of us think we’re alone, but if we talked about all this weird stuff more, we’d all discover that we’re very much not alone. It’s amazing what it does for your heart and for your life to allow yourself to stop being alone about who you are and what you think and how you feel.

So I’m thankful for therapy. And thanks to therapy I’m thankful for . . .

Myself. Weird, right?

Tears. Healing. Even though tears don’t feel like healing. Healing apparently doesn’t feel like healing either. Nobody warned me on that one, what the heck. But for real, tears are good. No matter how strong or adult or male you think you are. You’re just a person. People need to cry sometimes. Sometimes a lot.

Imperfection. I’m thankful for imperfection. I guess the okayness of imperfection or the freedom to be imperfect.

Guilt-free pleasure. I grew up feeling guilty about fun. Guilty about anything that felt good for me. Hobby stuff, social stuff, body stuff, braggy stuff, self-care stuff, freedom stuff, me stuff. Everything had to be “worthwhile” or “productive,” and I existed to serve others. I’m thankful for the freedom I’ve found as an adult to just love and enjoy stuff, without having to wonder if it’s “selfish” or if I’m “wasting time” or if it’s “too indulgent.” Life has good stuff. Have it!

Weirdness. My weirdness, your weirdness, people’s weirdness. Weirdness is something I’ve really come to appreciate this year. Weirdness is like cooking with salt and pepper and thyme and rosemary and cilantro and chili powder and maybe a dash of ketchup for those weird-people who put ketchup on everything because it makes them happy. Being normal, doing everything the “right” way, is bland if it’s not you. So embrace the spice of weird in your life. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as confident or thankful for my weirdness as I do this year.

Freedom. Freedom. Just freedom. Freedom to choose, freedom to be, freedom to talk, freedom to be silent, freedom to feel, freedom to be angry, freedom to be happy, freedom to be sad, freedom to be tired, freedom to be bored, freedom to not feel a thing. Freedom to be who I want to be. Or just freedom to be who I am sometimes without having to want to be something else. Freedom from things that I used to think I had to serve or protect or acknowledge or care for or fix. Just freedom to do life and not look back and not spend every day handing out band-aids to everyone and everything that might not like me.

Friendships. Thank you to my friends. I have never realized the value of friendships as I have this year. Friends are good. Friends are needed.

And emotions. One of the most helpful of all my sessions with a therapist was when he taught me the little chart-of-emotions that little kids learn: Happy, Sad, Angry, Fearful. These are normal. These feelings are okay. You should have them. I should have them. I didn’t know that. Especially, especially, especially anger. I didn’t think I was supposed to have anger. I thought that if I felt any anger I had to real quick stop it, put it away, take responsibility for it, solve it, protect everyone else from it. I thought that anger meant that I wasn’t being a good enough person. I learned how to be angry this year. I learned that it is okay. Like, I won’t be an ass hole about anger. But I can actually say when I’m upset now. I can express anger. That’s a new thing and boy is it life-changing. Do you know that it’s okay to be angry? To be sad? To be happy? Or to be afraid? Or even to have multiple emotions at the same time, like being happy AND mad? You can do those emotion-things without recklessly and viciously taking them all out on the people around you, but you absolutely can do those emotions. You have to have emotions. You do have emotions. Let yourself be you. So this year, for the first time in my life, I’m really thankful for all the emotions.

Therapy has done so much for me this year. I recently wrote a letter to my younger self, an experiment I highly recommend, and I’ll link to it here because I hope that you can find a little encouragement and hope in a few of the words and if they resonate a lot with you, I hope you’ll take care of yourself and see a therapist, too, if you also have weird stuff you need help with and if you don’t already see one.

If I could send a message to 18-year-old me

Thank you therapy.

 

I’m so thankful for all the good things in my life. I’m thankful for evenings laughing with friends. I’m thankful for interesting things to learn about the world. I’m thankful for languages. I’m thankful for cheese. I’m thankful for piano. I’m thankful for music. I’m thankful for an absolutely amazing SYML concert. I’m thankful for travel. I’m thankful for for a body that can move. I’m thankful for people like chiropractors and massage therapists who can help when your body’s not moving quite right. I’m thankful for the Canadian Rockies and road trips. I’m thankful for poetry that says what other things can’t. I’m thankful for books to read, especially books by Neil Gaiman and Ray Bradbury. I’m thankful for Iron Man, which is a painful subject. I’m thankful for adventures. I’m so thankful for cooking and food and especially food. I’m thankful that I got to go to my first Yankees game and then book tickets for the next night which turned out to be a past-midnight nail-biter with the wildest ending. I’m still thankful for cheese and just want you to know that hasn’t changed since the beginning of this paragraph. I’m thankful for really good movies to watch and really great buddies to go see movies with. I’m thankful for quiet time. I’m thankful for Toastmasters, a place where I have felt myself come alive and felt connected and engaged and passionate, learning to help people through words, and helping people find their own words. I’m thankful for Santa Barbara, even though Psych wasn’t actually filmed there, for its waves to play in, its nearby winding mountain-top-roads, and for its little taquerias. I’m thankful for coffee, which is weird because I never was before. And, as always, I’m thankful for The Office.

I’m thankful for this blog. At the beginning of the year, I committed to write five blog posts every month, because blogging, writing, and helping and inspiring people is a dream I’ve had for a long, long time. And my experience blogging this year has taught me that consistent action builds good stuff. I’ve been so honored that some of the things I have written have deeply resonated with lots of people, helping them feel understood and like they’re not alone, helping them find the right words for their own experiences they want to share, helping inspire them with big life stuff or the little day to day odds and ends. Thank you all for being with me on this journey. If one little thing I write helps you with one little thing, that is all the motivation I need to keep writing.

I’m thankful for my friend Lyssi. I’m thankful to have a person who really likes me and wants to be my friend and is on my team and supports me so much.

I’m thankful for a life of adventures.

 

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope your life is weird and full of zest!

 

7 Words of Hope from a Nazi Death Camp

 

One of the hardest books to read, but one of the most rewarding. I just finished psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. During the Holocaust, which claimed the lives of an estimated 17 million humans like you and me, Frankl was moved from camp to camp, doing forced labor in brutal conditions, threatened constantly with death. Man’s Search for Meaning serves both as a memoir of sorts for his time in concentration and labor camps and as an explanation of how that experience shaped his understanding of psychology.

I want to share with you just a few of the words of hope that I found in Frankl’s book, and I hope you’ll be inspired to read the rest of the book yourself. I can’t state strongly enough the impact that this book has had. No matter how sad its stories, I found it to be one of the most hopeful books I’ve read.

 

1. You matter.

Some days you may question whether there’s any point to your being here. But even in the worst of times, Frankl found that if he and his fellow prisoners considered the impact they might still have on others through their love and their work in the future, they could see just how much each of them did matter.

“A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.'” – Viktor Frankl

 

2. You get to choose your life’s meaning.

Life is a weird path of twists and turns for each of us, and in comparing ourselves to others or to the ideals we think we’ve learned, we sometimes can’t find how we matter. But Frankl learned that peace can be found in giving up the search for an ultimate meaning, and instead choosing what you will live for.

“Everyone has is own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it. . . . Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked.” – Viktor Frankl

 

3. You can always find joy and fulfillment in LOVE.

Love is a powerful and beautiful thing. For me, this was one of the most meaningful and helpful messages in the book. In a strongly individualistic society, it is hard to grasp the significance and fulfillment in just loving another person. It is okay to live for love.

“My mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise. . . . A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth–that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved.” – Viktor Frankl

 

4. You can reduce your suffering by observing it objectively. 

It’s hard to imagine suffering worse than prisoners in a concentration camp, but even in such intense suffering, Frankl found relief. He discovered that a simple change in how you observe the present moment can make a bad situation much more bearable. He told a story about when, during a particularly awful day, he started imagining that he was actually retelling his situation in a future psychological lecture. Just this simple mental exercise helped immensely, reminding him that life was bigger than his current hurt, that the present was simply a circumstance that could be observed.

“By this method I succeeded somehow in rising above the situation, above the sufferings of the moment, and I observed them as if they were already of the past. Both I and my troubles became the object of an interesting psychoscientific study undertaken by myself. . . . What does Spinoza say . . . ‘Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.'” – Viktor Frankl

 

5. Feelings of joy and suffering are relative. You’re not stuck in your feelings.

This may be a blessing and a curse, depending on how you look at it and what focus you choose. Frankl observed that the feelings of despair, suffering, frustration, and sadness, weren’t necessarily worse or more overwhelming, in a situation as awful as a concentration camp, than in a less severe circumstance. Humans tend to feel suffering very completely, whether the stressor is big or little. On the one hand, that can mean a small disappointment can be overwhelming. On the other hand, that can mean that you may handle the very worst circumstances much better than you think–which is a hopeful thought. Studies have shown that people who go through awful events often end up much less devastated, at least after a while, than they think they will be. In the same token, feelings of happiness and joy can be extremely strong, even when found in very simple experiences.

“Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the ‘size’ of human suffering is absolutely relative. It also follows that a very trifling thing can cause the greatest of joys.” – Viktor Frankl

 

6. Growing old is going to be okay.

This one sucks. I always hate thinking of growing old, watching my remaining time in this life get shorter and shorter. This book honestly helped with that. Frankl has the most beautiful perspective on this that I’ve heard. It’s a peaceful and hopeful one. I’ll let him speak for himself. I hope it helps you as much as it helped me.

“At any moment, man must decide, for better or for worse, what will be the monument of his existence. . . . I should say having been is the surest kind of being. . . . The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. On the other hand, the person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back. He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the fullest. What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old? Has he any reason to envy the young people whom he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth? What reasons has he to envy a younger person? For the possibilities that a young person has, the future which is in store for him? ‘No, thank you,’ he will think. ‘Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, though these are things which cannot inspire envy.'” – Viktor Frankl

 

7. You are always free to choose and change.

Another one that is near and dear to my heart, that inspires compassion and hope for myself and for others: His life in Nazi death camps persuaded Frankl that people are not stuck being, thinking, speaking, or acting as they have, or as they’re conditioned to. Sure, the deck may be stacked against you. And on average, people tend to stick with their patterns. But at the end of the day, each of us is free to choose. Free to choose how we will react to the circumstances life brings to us. Free to choose who we are.

“Man is not fully conditioned and determined but rather determines himself whether he gives in to conditions or stands up to them. In other words, man is ultimately self-determining. Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant. . . . one of the main features of human existence is the capacity to rise above such conditions, to grow beyond them. Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary.” – Viktor Frankl

 

Guys, it’s hard to communicate how much I loved this book. It wasn’t the most impressively written, it wasn’t the most exciting, it wasn’t the most pleasant. But it was full of the raw experiences of real life in all its nitty gritty weirdness. It was honest. And it was full of hope and inspiration. So full of hope. Real hope.

I hope you’ll read it. And I hope that every day for the rest of your life, you’ll find hope.

~

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor Frankl

Need Someone to Change? 5 Things to Know

Marilyn Ferguson - cannot persuade others to change

When I was younger and knew everything, I was pretty sure I could change everybody’s minds by arguing with them using things like logic.

When I was a little less young and naive, but still knew just about everything, I thought I could still kind of control people’s beliefs and actions by appealing to their feelings and emotions about things.

And now that I’m a little older and hopefully even a little bit less naive than before, I’ve learned that you really can’t make other people agree with you.

You can’t. They might, but you can’t.

You’d be surprised how many times I’ve had to relearn this lesson.

I want to share with you five things I’ve realized as I’ve come to terms with my inability to control what others think, feel, and choose:

1. It’s a good thing I can’t control what others think or do–because I feel like every few days I realize that something I thought I knew was totally wrong.

2. The task of changing and controlling people is exhausting and frustrating anyway. It’s so much nicer to not have to do that.

3. You may as well just accept where people are, understand them, love them, and make the best of it. Loving and getting along is easier after you realize you can’t control others. People are amazing if you love them for who they are.

4. If there is a thing you can’t healthily accept into your life about somebody, that is okay. You cannot change them, and it will only get worse if you try. But you can set boundaries, little or big.

5. If you would still love for someone to make a change, for their sake or yours, be the change you would like to see. Be the proof, the hope they might need, that they’d be okay and safe if they end up changing. And then if they decide they want to make a change, they’ll know they can look to you for help and encouragement.

Hope this helps!

“No one can persuade another to change. Each of us guards a gate of change that can only be opened from the inside. We cannot open the gate of another, either by argument or by emotional appeal.” – Marilyn Ferguson

 

Uncertainty

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
– H. P. Lovecraft

“Change.” It’s so hard that there are books and seminars and coaches all dedicated to helping people with “change management.” It’s also 100% inevitable.

Why is it that when faced with uncertainty, we often (always?) fixate on all the scary things that could happen?

Sitting in the quiet this early morning I found myself noticing all the good things that life’s weird twists and turns have brought me. There is so much more good in my life than all my times fearing the unknown led me to expect. I’ve had countless uncertain times, nerve-wracking to downright terrifying. But so far, most of the awful things that could have happened haven’t.

Isn’t that how life goes? I’m not going to say that change is always for the better–sometimes it depends on how you look at it. And sometimes really sad, permanent things happen–things that will always hurt.

But look back at all the times of flux, the times of questioning, the times you have felt lost or unsure in life, the times you’ve lost your normal… What have those times brought you in the long run? I bet that change has been an overwhelmingly positive force in your life.

Why do we go straight to the bad? The what-ifs and the worries? We humans are an incredibly fearful bunch.

Try this: Next time you are faced with change, take some time looking for the good things–the opportunities and the benefits you can find. You may find way more happiness in the change than you’ve learned to expect.

Good luck, smile on! :)

lao tzu - eternal void infinite possibilities

Sadness Doesn’t Always Need a Solution

I crossed paths with a coyote a couple nights back. It was awesome! Bear with me while I take you through a weird train of thought I had. It trotted across a dark road and down the hill into a neighborhood. As I kept walking, I heard nearby dogs start barking loudly. I could see one of the dogs chained in its yard in the glow of a porch light. How sad would it be if the coyote attacked one of the barking dogs! It’s not unheard of in our area. What if I had a puppy that were killed by a coyote? What would I do about it? I’m sure I’d be sad and angry. I’d blame myself for leaving my dog unattended. I’d blame the city for not fixing its coyote problem. We live right next to a couple big nature and wildlife preserves and there are no fences keeping the coyotes in the preserve. Maybe I’d start a petition to put up some kind of protective fence along the preserve’s border. But–and here’s where it gets tricky–I probably have a neighbor who loves living here because of the closeness to nature and loves to see deer scamper through their yard. Lots of people would hate to have the preserve fenced off. And lots of people would not like the idea of forcing the wildlife to stay inside the preserve, thinking that’s cruel, unnecessary, unfair…

That was all hypothetical (though if someone were taking a vote I’d say no fence). What’s not hypothetical is that we tend to react to tragedies and sad events by looking for someone or something to blame and by trying to change something so that the event couldn’t happen again.

And what I wondered the other night is: Why do we do that?

And does it even help?

Is every sad thing a bad thing that should not have happened and that we should retaliate against and prevent ever happening again at all costs?

If someone you love falls from a cliff, should you stop hiking up beautiful mountains?

 

I think some of the things we do to try to stop any sad things from happening have their own sad effects in ways we don’t realize. Life isn’t all meant to be totally safe and free of bumps and bruises. Fearfully cowering in our homes means we miss out on a lot of happiness. Trying to get everyone to join us isn’t fair. Trying to organize the planet into safe boxes isn’t happy or beautiful. We can’t make life “perfect” and I think our striving to do so robs us of peace and love.

So when something very sad happens, before you “do something about it,” stop and think: Would it actually help? Or am I just making life more complicated and the world more bland for others? Think of all the frustrating and paralyzing rules and regulations that get made because one time something sad happened to someone.

 

And I think when we have to find someone to blame sad things on, we end up lonely and scared of the very people that could be there to hold our hands through our sadness. Sometimes a tragedy turns us angry and bitter against people who are close to us, or people that we wish could have somehow stopped the tragedy happening. So we call people evil and ugly and we become lonely and scared–and so we spread our loneliness and fear.

 

Sometimes we tell ourselves stories to lay blame elsewhere so that we can feel like the sad things happening is wrong, like it’s not a fair part of life, so it’s right for us to be angry: Like that all sad things are punishment for the world’s “sinfulness” and if only all those people weren’t the way they were… or that there’s an evil force who’s specifically targeting us for being so good–trying to trip us up. That can give us a boost of self-righteousness and courage to “overcome.” But it can also turn us against the rest of the world and it can catch us in a vicious cycle of obsessing over whether we’re good enough–when what we really needed was just a good cry.

 

And maybe when someone tells us they’re sad, they don’t need us to fix it.

 

Maybe sometimes we just need to feel the sad without having to blame anyone or do anything about it. The more time we spend in the initial stages of grief, lashing out in anger, trying to explain it away, insisting it shouldn’t and couldn’t have happened–the more we are hurt and broken and the more we hurt and break the world around us.

Maybe the fact that you’re sad doesn’t mean someone’s wronged you, or you’re living the wrong life, or you have the wrong people by your side, or the world is out to get you.

Maybe sad is a part of life we shouldn’t fight against.

“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.” – Carl Jung

Don’t bring about more sadness by your reaction to your own sadness. Just shed some tears and let life be beautiful.

 

sadness - carl jung