Love

Love is not a finite resource. There isn’t a limited number of love things to pass around. Which means holding on tightly to the love inside you, instead of giving it away, isn’t the way to get love.

 

At times I have felt like it is safest to not express all of the big love I feel–for my most special person, my special people, or just random people I see who are also special because they’re people. I have this worry that the more strongly I express love, the less other people will need to express love to me.

Maybe that’s what happens when you’ve had important people in your life who lay the love on thickest when you aren’t on good terms with them, people who are nice-as-can-be when it comes to winning you back, but once they have you back can be a little (or a lot) meaner. Maybe that’s how some of us learn that we’ll get the most love if we play harder to get, emotionally, or if we keep our love-feelings to ourselves.

Or maybe it’s what happens when you’ve expressed lots and lots of love to important people in your life who can’t seem to express much love to begin with, so all your big love and kindness stuff goes unanswered. Unrequited. From the people you should have been able to count on. You’ve been starved of affection, and it stings less to stop giving affection away. Maybe if you don’t express stuff, it’ll make more sense and feel better if people don’t express stuff to you.

Guys, therapy is f***ing great. One of the biggest concepts I’ve learned from it is that closeness and love happens only when you are open and honest and express stuff. Whether that stuff is good or bad. If I am mad at you and I keep that to myself, we grow apart. If I am mad at you and I’m really vulnerably honest with you about the yucky feelings, only then can we get closer. But it works with the good feelings, too. If I love you to death, but I keep it under wraps, as if somehow it’s safer not to tell you I love you, not to tell you I think you’re amazing, not to tell you I am proud of you–if I don’t express the good feelings, we will also grow apart.

 

It seems like a simple and obvious concept, that you shouldn’t be afraid to express love and affection, and be kind and generous–especially toward the really special people in your lives. But at least for me, it doesn’t always come naturally. I still have these times where for some reason it feels unsafe.

Like if I express this big love feeling, or do a really nice thing for you, you won’t need to love me back anymore.

Or that maybe you were never going to show me as much love and kindness as I would show you, so it’ll feel best to not give away more love than I’ll get back.

Guys, the love-stuff you hold onto as if to protect it–it doesn’t feel good to keep. In no world does keeping your positive feelings bottled up, your affection and friendliness under wraps–in no world does this make you feel happier and more fulfilled.

In fact, I bet that the kind of people in your life who would be good to share love with, the kind of people you want to be close with–I bet those people will respond positively to you being your true, kind, generous, loving self. If anything, their love will feed off of yours, and your love will feed off of theirs.

I think when love goes out, more love will come in. When love meets love, two plus two might actually equal seven or eight or nine.

On the flip side, I think when love sits there, immobile, unexpressed, stagnant, the two that it was slowly burns out and feels more like a zero.

Trying to keep all the good feelings for yourself doesn’t work. Let yourself love.

Rumi - love

To a little kid, little hurts are big and real

I want to speak up for a group of people that can’t really speak up for themselves. A group of little people. People who don’t get taken too seriously when they speak up. Because they’re “just” little kids.

(Hey you, if you saw this title and clicked on this post because you were excited to shame someone you know, to make them feel bad for not having “parenting” figured out, or excited to attack anyone, really, please just skip to the P. S. at the very bottom.)

I’ve looked for the words for this for a long time, sat on a draft for over a year, because I actually think this subject matters a lot, but I probably don’t know enough about it and definitely won’t do it justice. But I guess it matters enough to say it anyway–at least this morning it does.

 

Bradford was a sensitive little guy, maybe 6 years old. He had the cutest little dimples and the sweetest laugh. I remember Bradford’s face when someone poured water over his head one time. It didn’t seem like a big deal to the adult who poured water over his head, but it was a big deal to Bradford, and he cried. A lot. I don’t think that makes what the adult did bad. But I think when Bradford starts crying, that matters. I think when Bradford starts crying, it’s time to hear Bradford’s feelings, to care, to see him as a human with valid experiences and needs.

The problem is I think we very frequently discount all those experiences and needs, because Bradford is “just a kid.” So we laugh awkwardly about it when Bradford is crying–silly Bradford. He’s just not emotionally tough yet. He’s overreacting. He’ll get over it. It was pretty funny.

Grace is the youngest in her family, still young enough that her little big feelings aren’t too consequential for the grown ups in her life. So when Grace gets to orders onion rings, and saves them for last, and then begs her dad not to eat her onion rings, and then cries when he eats them anyway–this is all pretty insignificant. Grace, after all, is just a kid. She will get over it. Onion rings aren’t something to cry over.

There’s a little girl I know who has such a big heart and big smile, and those come along with big feelings. She is cute as can be, and like any toddler, she is learning how life works. A while ago I was watching and listening to her do and say something just outrageously adorable. Like, she doesn’t even know. And it made the grown ups around her proud. Made us laugh a beaming-affectionate type of laugh. But the little girl saw us laughing, and she suddenly got quiet. She looked very worried. It wasn’t fun anymore. Why were we laughing at her?

 

Trying to predict the feelings and reactions of a little kid is about as difficult as it is to predict the feelings and reactions of “grown ups” like the ones you work with. (Let’s be honest.) So I don’t fault anyone who unintentionally makes a little kid feel sad, scared, embarrassed, or picked on. It’s going to happen.

I do, though, care a lot about what happens when the little kid starts feeling sad, scared, embarrassed, or picked on. When their smile fades and their eyes start filling up.

 

When Bradford is an adult, I don’t think he’ll care as much about water getting dumped on his head. When Grace is an adult, she’d probably just buy herself her own onion rings and not let people steal them. And when that little girl watches videos someday of her adorable two-year-old self, I bet she’ll smile and laugh, too, self-consciousness gone.

But the fact that they’ll grow up not to care as much about that little thing doesn’t make their feelings now unimportant.

Really, what is the difference between a child feeling hurt and an adult feeling hurt? Why do we have to be considerate of the feelings of an adult, but not of a kid? Why do we have to be kind and respectful to an adult, but not really a kid? Time? Age? Do those change the value of the hurting person? No, I think when we think really honestly and carefully about this, the really big difference is that the little people can’t stick up for themselves. It’s okay for adults to tease and laugh at little kids for being weak and vulnerable. It’s okay for adults to be thoughtless or unkind to little kids. It’s okay because the kids will grow up and . . . not have scars? No, it’s okay because the adults are in charge.

Lots of times, adults absolutely care when their little one starts crying–here’s to you, that can be an exhausting job! But sometimes, it’s just that adults don’t care when something ends up hurting their kiddos. For some parents, it never ever matters what their kid “wants.” And I think more frequently than we’d like to admit, adults actually get to be downright mean and inconsiderate to their little kids.

I want to say this, but I want to say it carefully: Little kids learn big lessons about the world from their little big feelings. When their tears are funny to you, they grow up knowing that. Even worse, when their tears just have no significance to you, they grow up knowing that.

I want to say that carefully, because “they’ll have scars when they grow up” is only part of the reason little kids’ feelings matter. Someone’s future feelings shouldn’t really be a necessary motivator for valuing their now-feelings. People just matter. People’s hearts matter. Feelings matter. Whether those now-feelings are felt in 6-foot-2-inches of body or “just” 3-foot-9.

 

I know 3-foot-9 feelings can be unpredictable or irrational. But that’s really no excuse to write them off, because 6-foot-2 feelings are also unpredictable and irrational. (Have you met grown-ups?)

And I know sometimes, no matter how angry or sad or hungry or not-hungry or definitely-not-wanting-to-wear-pants your little kid is in the moment, you have to get them in their car seat, they have to swallow some nutrients, and they cannot watch TV all day. So they’ll cry, and even if you love them and value their feelings, you still have to take good care of them, and you still have to keep your sanity. More power to you, moms and dads, because I can’t even imagine . . .

But when I grow up, I’ll remember if you at least cared to not let my tiny heart be broken unnecessarily. I’ll remember if you ever accepted or affirmed my emotions. I’ll remember if you thought they were funny or annoying instead of real. I’ll remember if my feelings never matter.

And honestly, that should matter before I grow up, too.

So remember to put yourself in your kid’s place, sometimes. To imagine what their feeling. To listen to what they’re feeling.

 

I’m no expert. I’m not a developmental psychologist. So maybe I’m wrong.

But I was “just a kid” once.

 

“Children’s emotions are as real as yours. Just because they might get sad over the colour of their cup, does not make their feelings any less real.” – Rebekah Lipp

 

P. S. One reason this post took so long for me to write is that I cannot imagine the challenge, the responsibility, and the pain of trying to be a “good parent.” We all screw up at just about everything sometimes, and you’re no more a monster for sometimes getting it wrong with a kid than you are for sometimes getting it wrong with the grown-ups in your life. This isn’t a you-should-feel-bad post, and please don’t use it that way, against yourself or against others. It’s just a please-see-your-kid reminder. I just wish you and your kiddo the best!

Dr Seuss - a person's a person no matter how small

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

Do you ever imagine what you’d say to younger-you if you had the chance?

Life is really wonderful and beautiful and full of magic and excitement and love. But life is also weird for each one of us, sometimes a really tough kind of weird. The kind of weird that can make you feel lonely and misunderstood. The kind of weird that makes it hard to go to sleep sometimes, and when you do fall asleep gives you restless sleep and upsetting dreams. The kind of weird that can blindside you on what you thought was a good day and leave you questioning yourself and what you thought you had.

I think we all need help with these weird life-things. But sometimes the different paths you and I have walked, even just the fact that you’re not me, makes it really hard for you to find hope in my words, or me to find hope in yours.

Imagine that you got to talk to your younger self, though. And that your younger self could really listen, because you get them–you were them, are them.

What would you tell your younger self?

If I could talk to 18-year-old me, it might go something like this.

 

Hey buddy,

 

You are free.

You love people. You know people matter and you want to take care of their hearts. This is good. So good. You don’t matter less than other people, though. You need to accept that.

It is okay if some people don’t love you.

You are so much stronger than you think. You can speak up more boldly than you think, you can run harder than you think, and you can be a better friend than you think.

You are strong, but you are not superhuman. Don’t stoically or slavishly disregard your feelings and emotional needs. They’ll only get deeper.

It is okay if you want to dance. But it is also okay if you can’t dance because you’re feeling scared.

Not everything has to have a deeper meaning. You don’t have to always feel profound, always be growing, always be deep. Lots of good life is simple life.

A thing isn’t necessarily going to be better once you understand it. Knowledge isn’t always the answer.

There is SO much you don’t know. That’s okay. Let it stay that way, because it will anyway.

 

Feeling yucky does not necessarily mean you need to fix something. Some things will always, always, always feel yucky.

Sometimes you’ll even feel tremendously guilty for something you really can’t help, can’t fix. And rationally accepting that it is not your fault won’t stop the waves of guilt. You’ll still feel guilty.

When someone has broken your trust so much, or done you so much damage, that you cannot have a healthy relationship with them, it does not have to mean that they are a completely, irredeemably bad person. You have to learn to let someone be unhealthy-for-you without internalizing the lesson that people who make you feel hurt are inherently unsafe. Remember that when someone has hurt you too much, you don’t have to stay there to help the person who has hurt you come back from it. Sometimes a relationship needs to be over. But you have to let humans be just-humans in your mind. Or else humans will always feel too dangerous for you. And that will leave you very much alone.

There’s another reason you have to remember that even people who hurt you are still just humans. You’re going to hurt someone, too, someday. And if you learned to create your boundaries because the people who hurt you were somehow unworthy, or absolutely bad, then when you discover you also can hurt people, you’re going to feel like giving up all those boundaries you ever made. And that would be very bad. So remember from the beginning that people are just people, because if you create all your boundaries to keep out monsters, those boundaries might come crashing down when you realize people really are just people. And some of those boundaries needed to stay up. Not because there were monsters on the other side of them. Just because the real human on the other side of them was no longer healthy for you. Period. So learn early on to set boundaries just because your relationship with that other person is never going to be healthy for you, even while you see they’re just human.

Healing is going to take a long, long time, and it will be like peeling off the layers of an onion. Trust that process.

It is okay to be frustrated by someone else–that doesn’t mean you don’t love them.

Maybe you couldn’t hear that. Honestly, it really, really, really is okay to be mad. To be disappointed. Annoyed. It is okay to tell someone you don’t like something, that you’re unhappy. You need to express those things sometimes. You don’t have to do it in a mean way, but you do need to say how you really feel. If you don’t, things will get worse, not better.

When you screw up, you don’t have to earn back the right to be loved or to love yourself.

If you feel a desperate need for a thing to make you feel better, remember that there’s an underlying reason you don’t feel good, and until you deal with that underlying reason, you won’t really feel better.

If a thing has helped you make it through the tough times, even if you don’t think it’s healthy and don’t want to keep that thing as a part of who you are, try not to feel guilty about it or angry at yourself because of it. Appreciate what it has done for you. It helped you make it this far.

Let yourself not be okay. Having “problems” is okay.

You are not alone. The world is full of people who understand how you feel.

If you need a therapist, that’s not embarrassing, that’s okay. Therapy is good. For everybody.

 

“Nice” isn’t all it takes. Honest matters, too.

Don’t be afraid of bullies. They’re hurting people. Do something about it, even if it makes others uncomfortable.

Learn to say no. It isn’t just a thing-you-could-do. It is a skill, a tough skill, one you need to practice, and one that you desperately need to have. Learn how to say no to invitations. No to requests. No to others’ behavior. No to opportunities. Just say the Yeses you actually want to say.

 

There are lots of safe people in the world. Trust me, you’re going to find some of them and they are going to be amazing.

You will find some people who are safe and don’t want to hurt you or control you even when they are mad at you.

The amazing people in your life are going to have rough days, tough things, moods that don’t match yours. This is okay.

In any given moment, you are not responsible for the happiness of the person next to you.

You need friends. Real friends. More than one.

Even if it’s not normal, connect deeply with people.

 

Please don’t stop being a little weird. Nobody is normal and that’s what gives each person their unique beauty.

Do your own thing. Just because the world isn’t used to it doesn’t mean it’s bad. Elope. Change your name. Walk to work. Have slumber parties even though you’re an adult. Take drives for no reason. Skip college (without apologizing) or get seven degrees. Eat bell peppers whole like you’d eat an apple. Lay in the grass too long. Drive to the airport just to play the piano. If books and fresh air are your happy things, read a book while you’re taking a walk–even after a bartender says “Hey I recognize you, were you walking down the sidewalk reading a book?” Different isn’t bad. You are different, and you only have one life.

 

It is okay to do great things.

Don’t put off what you want to do until everyone is okay with it.

Don’t wait for permission to be epic, to do big things, to chase your dreams.

Ask for things.

It is okay to do “unimportant” things.

You don’t have to do the best thing. It is okay to let yourself really love and want something, no matter how insignificant you feel like it is.

 

Remember to look closely at the things around you, just to see them.

Remember that you will never live a “yesterday” or a “tomorrow.”

It is okay to be happy.

It is okay to be sad.

It is okay to be tired.

When you can’t know that all these things are okay, just breathe.

Sometimes you just need to be alone.

Sometimes you just need to call a friend, and honestly, they probably really want to be there for you.

Again, it is okay to have “problems.”

You don’t need to hide.

You have to let people love you. When someone gives you their love, let it happen. When someone praises you, let yourself smile really, really big. Feel it soak in. Unconditional love from someone who loves you won’t get through to you if you can’t unconditionally accept it. Only letting someone fill your tank when you’re filling their tank back isn’t safer. It will just make you feel a little more alone and unworthy.

 

Please, please let yourself get a good night’s sleep.

Music helps. You’ll get busy and distracted, so don’t forget about music.

Laugh so much.

Set aside times to think about life.

Take time to be quiet. Like, a lot.

Give more hugs and get more hugs.

 

P.S. You’re 18. It’s okay if it takes you all your life to learn all these things. Lots of them might not make any sense right now. Lots of things I’m learning still aren’t making sense to me. You’ll always have a little bit of confused-kid in you. So if you don’t know what to think, that’s okay! You don’t need to “get it right.” I promise.
brown sketchers, faded blue jeans, brown t-shirt

 

What does your letter look like?

Try writing it. I bet you find it therapeutic. I bet you find that it brings you feelings of compassion, feelings of peace with who you’ve been and where you’ve come. And I bet the stuff you needed to hear then, you still need to hear on some of the weird days now.

And you and I and all these other weird humans with weird life-things are a lot more alike than we tend to think. So I bet your letter helps me, too. I’d really love to read it.

We’re all in this together.

Fear: 4 Questions You Should Ask

Fear plays a funny role in our lives. A funny role, but a very big role.

The earliest fear I remember having, maybe at 3 or 4 years old, was this: My family would be out for a walk. I’d fall behind, and as soon as my family was out of view, gypsies would rush out of the trees to steal me away and make me be their own child. (I had heard about gypsies.)

I remember watching The Elephant Man when I was 9 or 10. I hardly slept for a week. It’s an old black and white–true story–about a man with a deformed head who was put in a circus and ridiculed and died alone. I knew there was a good chance that would happen to me.

Around 11 or 12 I used to sit on the stairs crying because I was quite sure–in fact I knew–that I was going to die. Die early. Die early of one of two diseases: Small pox. Or spinal meningitis. And the morning I woke up with a sore neck after falling asleep propped against my headboard, I knew spinal meningitis was the culprit. I was beginning to die.

I’ve been afraid of lots of silly things in my lifetime. Of spiders laying eggs inside my ear. Of accidentally dropping something on a baby (like I actually had a phobia I’d like toss something on a couch only to discover a baby had been lying there). Of hitting somebody with a line drive if I ever batted a baseball as hard as I could. I have had many strange diseases I learned about on WebMD.

Maybe the scariest possibility of all was put in my 7-year-old head courtesy of my older brother: Bill Clinton and Al Gore were going to sneak into our house in the middle of the night and murder me in my sleep. (Bet you can’t guess which political party I grew up in.)

 

And then I grew up, and fears became more sophisticated. I’ll accidentally screw up my taxes and get in trouble. I’ll run out of money and become homeless.

So I say yes to things I don’t actually want, because I’m afraid of what someone will think.

More frequently, I say no to things I do want, because what if I screw them up?

What if people discover that I’m not a very cool person? What if nobody likes my blog post? What if I try making a podcast and nobody listens? What if people make fun of me? What if I accept a promotion only to fall flat on my face? What if I make close friends, and those friends let me down? What if I open up to a loved one, and they realize they don’t like me? What if, what if, what if…

Lots of things could go wrong. I could forget to lock the door to my home before I go to sleep. And when I go check to make sure I locked it, I might see it wrong and still leave it unlocked. Oh man… (#thankyoutherapy)

 

The thing is, I think even though our fears get more sophisticated as we get older, they’re still just exactly what they always were: Just fears.

Fears that you can get past. Fears that probably won’t come true. Fears that, if they do come true, will probably be fine.

Have you ever watched a child learn how to swim? Take their first jump in the pool? They stand there shaking and whimpering. Mom or dad smile and coax them into the pool. “I’ll catch you!” But the child is frozen. “It’s going to be okay. I promise.” But what if you’re wrong, mom? Finally–finally the child decides they want it bad enough to try anyway. They jump. Have you seen what happens to a child’s face in that moment? The terror changes to this incredible feeling of wonder and awe. So many emotions flash across their face: Relief. Excitement. Pride. They did it! They’ve unlocked a whole world of fun and fulfillment. They’re so relieved and excited they can’t help laughing. Giddy. It feels so good.

What’s something you’ve been so, so afraid of, that when you finally did it, you felt a similar relief and pride and excitement? What’s something you really wanted that you couldn’t have for a long, long time, because you were afraid? As Jack Canfield says, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”

Sometimes the fear doesn’t just go away once you’ve done your thing. Sometimes when you face your fears, all you feel is capable or healthy.

But I bet that most of your things you’ve done–through the fear–have left you with the incredible realization that it was okay. Even if it didn’t feel okay, you’re all right. Life’s not over. You are strong. You CAN.

 

But fear is still scary.

 

So in case it helps, I have 4 questions I’d like to suggest that you ask yourself about fear. 4 questions to quietly reflect on and answer thoughtfully:

1. What is something you haven’t done/aren’t doing because you’re afraid?

2. On a scale from 1-10, how vague is the outcome you’ve been afraid of?

3. What are the realistic possible outcomes? The good? The bad? If the bad happened, how would you deal with it? (Be very specific.)

4. What one step could you take today to move toward that thing you’ve been too afraid to do?

I don’t think answering these questions will make you unafraid.

But I do think when you answer question 1, you’ll realize that you want to do your thing even though you’re afraid.

And when you answer question 2, you’ll realize you’re mostly just afraid of the dark. You’re afraid because you have no idea what possibilities are lurking on the other side of your fear. As the iconic horror writer H. P. Lovecraft put it, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

And when you answer question 3, you’ll realize that when you switch the lights on and take a more realistic, honest, specific look at what was in the dark, it’s never quite as awful as you thought. In fact, the whole thing might be quite safe.

And when you answer question 4, you’ll be starting your new journey. A journey toward the life you want and dream of. No matter how scared you are.

Because you see fear for what it is: Just fear.

You’ve got this.

And you’re going to be okay.

Ralph Waldo Emerson - world is not so scary when you look

You’d be surprised how many of us are broken.

Hey friend,

I’m asking you to take a closer look.

The world asks us all to put our best foot forward. To be fun, to be chill, to be cool, to be strong, dependable, easy to get along with.

Work demands our game face. We’re competing constantly. At all times on display, being assessed, critiqued, counted on. Competing every day for the chance to bring home groceries again next week. Even when we’re really good at competing, we always know we’re one misstep from it all being taken away. So we tread carefully. We hide our struggle.

Our friends and families may be a little more understanding. But when we show our weakness, sometimes their pity and patience only last so long. Some of us just can’t be bothered with another’s feelings, but I think far more often, it’s just that we’re fighting our own battles, too. And sticking around to watch his battle might make hers a lot harder. So when we overshare, over-need, our lifelines start to distance themselves, and we quickly learn to hide our struggle at home, too.

Hiding. Always hiding. Doing fine. It’s all good.

But please, look closer. We’re deep creatures. With deep happiness, but also with deep sadness. Deep fear. Deep pain.

And the constant fear that our deep feelings will get us kicked out of each other’s good graces means that our fear and pain and sadness and anxiety and depression and trauma and stress and anger and panic and burnout and insecurity and heartbreak get deeper and deeper and deeper. Because it’s dangerous not to hide.

So when you see a smile, look closer.

When you see success, look closer.

When you see beauty, look closer.

When you see laughter, look closer.

Sometimes you’ll find the smile is real. Sometimes you’ll find that underneath the smile, there’s a dam about to break. Sometimes you’ll find that the smile and the struggle are both very real together.

And sometimes, the person you were most sure has it all together, turns out to be barely holding on. I feel like I see this again and again and again.

So please, practice looking closer.

There are happy people. There are healthy people. There are people without mental illness, trauma. People who aren’t as fragile as others. People whose smiles are a lot deeper than their frowns. I think.

But what I know is that if you’re willing to look closer, you’ll be surprised how many of us are broken.

The longer I live, the more I see this vision of an earth crawling with a bunch of anxious creatures who just desperately need someone to give them a hug.

Brokenness isn’t all there is. There’s beauty and happiness, adventure and connection, accomplishment and excitement. There’s so much good in this world. It’s the stuff that we talk about all the time! That thing went well! Way to go at this! Look where I did a thing! We don’t often hide the good stuff.

So please, when you see the good stuff, don’t forget that underneath may be someone who really needs you to ask if they’re a little broken, too. Someone who might need a hug, a smile, a shoulder, a chat.

What about you? What are you hiding?

We’re all in this together, friends. Let’s be brave: Hide less. Hug more.

And every chance you get, take a closer look.

 

P.S. And if you can truly hear this yet, please know that your brokenness is okay. You are exactly you, and that is a good thing. So maybe “broken” is the wrong word…

 

Kahlil Gibran - out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls