Posts Tagged ‘therapy’

I live in a very middle-of-the-road, middle-class neighborhood, own a middle-class sized house and drive a middle-class car. I guess my car could even be considered lower middle-class. It is a bottom of the line, drab gray Nissan Sentra, after all.

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My Brand of Car

 

But even though I live the very middle class lifestyle, I do have some “HMG” possessions. What’s HMG, you ask? It’s code for: “High Maintenance Girl.” Perhaps I need to put this in clearer perspective.

I live next to, or nearby a neighborhood where upper-middle to obscenely wealthy people live. These are the folks who live in McMansions, drive luxury cars (when their Hummers are in the shop, of course) and have nannies to help raise their private-school going kids. Most of the moms are stay-at-homes, who spend a lot of time out and about showing the world how “HMG” they truly are.

Whenever my husband and I dare to venture “across the tracks of our suburban slum territory” into their “promised land of plenty,” we play something called the “HMG game.” This is a lot like the license plate game, only we compare women instead. Let me describe the look of the HMG girl: most often caucasian, blond — natural or bottled, always perfectly coiffed and held back with a pony tail or leopard print head band, leggings or yoga pants, minimum of 2 carats of diamonds on her ring finger, spray tan, carrying a designer handbag, wearing bug eyed sunglasses and usually carrying a Starbucks grande coffee in one hand and her Iphone 6 in the other.

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Their Type of Handbag

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My One Size Fits All Bag

When we spot one of “them”, we try to make a story around  her: where she lives, what she does for a living (if she even has to work), what her husband does for a living (probably a workaholic, but who knows?), and how many spoiled kids they are letting their live-in nannies raise for them. Then, we watch and see how they interact with “common, ordinary folk” such as clerks working the counters at the local Starbucks or CVS. Sometimes, we just want to know IF they will take their eyes away from their expensive smartphones to even lower their social status long enough to engage in conversation with the working class peasants.

Yes, I know I sound bitter, jealous and angry over these HMG. You might even think that somewhere in the back of my mind I keep wondering “Where is my rich, handsome prince who will buy me everything I want, things I actually don’t need, and allow me to stay at home and watch someone else raise my kids?” The truth is, I wouldn’t want that lifestyle if I could have it. It’s just not me.

blue-jeans-cloth-texture-world-collection_639877I have always been low-maintenance. My favorite outfit is blue jeans, tennis shoes and a Tshirt/hoodie of some sort. I prefer sweatpants or hospital scrubs and leggings to yoga pants. I get my haircut at the local barbershop for $14.00, and that includes the tip.

Incidentally, for all you women out there who think a barbershop haircut is too “manly” and “unprofessional”, let me clue you in on a little secret: barbers have much stricter requirements for getting their licenses to cut hair than “beauty” professionals. While they don’t learn how to color, they do spent a lot of time (600 hours, to be exact) learning how to just cut hair on both men and women. I trust my female barber 100%, and have never been disappointed by her work.

Hold onto your high-priced designer handbags ladies — there is one other thing I do (or rather, don’t do) that clearly does not qualify me as “HMG”. I. HATE. TO. SHOP. Hate it. I would rather head to the thrift store and buy gently used clothing there than spend ten minutes in a Kohl’s trying to find good deals AND good fits. I spent twenty minutes there last week and left in disgust – I couldn’t find a single pair of jeans to fit me. And shoe shopping? Forget it. I have three pairs of shoes: one work quality, one pair of tennis shoes, and one dress pair. That’s it. I can’t wear high heels because of my bad feet (I’m tall enough anyways) and I choose comfort over fashion any day.

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“Like Feet Up a Sheep’s Ass” Warm

But, I have to admit I own a “couple” of items that might put me on the edge of HMGness: I own a pair of UGG boots and, yes, a Northface hoodie. But, these come with a very good explanation: the UGG boots were bought because of hockey, and the Northface was a gift from my students years ago. I was a hockey mom for years, and those 5 am ice times in mid winter when the temps were in the negative teens made sitting on cold metal bleachers very miserable. By the time my son’s game was over, I couldn’t feel my toes. I told my husband that, if I don’t get the warmest pair of boots ever made to keep my toes from becoming popsicles, I was done with going to watch my son play. After talking with the other moms, I came to the conclusion that a pair of high top UGG boots were the only things that would keep my feet and calves toasty warm. So, I bought them and they are the only (and last pair) of boots I will ever purchase or wear in winter. And they make my feet feel like I’ve just shoved them  up a sheep’s ass. See how that makes me different?

I do have one final confession, however, that makes me rethink my potential HMG status: manicured nails. I have been a nail biter all my life. I’ve always thought that manicures are a complete waste of money and too luxurious a commodity for me to get done. Until recently, that is.

As soon as I began therapy, I noticed my nervous habits such as nail-biting and bouncing my leg up and down had begun to diminish. While I have always remained calm on the surface, my inner turmoil was still burbling underneath and coming out through nail biting. It was a daily habit.

Now, as I continue exploring my past and all the feelings I was never allowed to share and experience (surrounding the unplanned pregnancy and subsequent adoption), I no longer feel any urge to bite my nails. They are long, strong and beautifully manicured. And while I continue to get my hair cut at a deep discount, shop at thrift stores and generally live a low-maintenance lifestyle, I will also continue to “cross the tracks” into the world of HMGness, and get my nails done professionally on occasion. Why?

Because my manicured nails say, “I’m stronger now than I’ve ever been.”

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Until recently, I was never a big fan of support groups. I used to think they were just comprised of a bunch of high-maintenance people sitting around pissing and moaning about the small, insignificant problems they have in their lives: “I can’t find a decent pair of heels to match my burnt orange Hermes bag” “My bottled water never seems to stay cold enough during the day” “My pets aren’t being properly groomed at the doggie spa, I’m thinking of suing.” The “first world problems” folks.

But lately, it seems like I keep uncovering little nuggets of buried issues that I didn’t even know existed. Each time another shifts up to the surface, I think “I bet there’s a group for that.” and I hop onto the internet to check if there are any support groups within a two-mile radius of my house (because I’m not spending 45 minutes of my time driving clear to the other side of town just to hear a bunch of people drag me down with their problems). If I want to be dragged down or caught up in the swirling tides of emotional release, it better be close enough to a coffee shop and my warm bed waiting for me to crawl back into and curl up into a fetal position.

Fortunately, each of the support (interest) groups has met my criteria for self discovery: one group takes place at the Tim Horton’s down the street, and the other meets at my local library. I don’t believe this was a godsend for me, because I don’t believe in a god, but I do believe that this happened because there are a lot more people out there with similar interests and/or issues to address. That makes me feel better and less likely to sit at home and get all my advice from repeat episodes of Dr. Phil.

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The first group I joined isn’t really a support group. It’s a writer’s group. Why do I classify it as a support group then? It’s very simple: writing helps me work through the issues I have uncovered. For me, it is much easier to sit down at a computer and let my mind unhinge and purge itself of whatever I happen to be thinking at that time. In fact, as I type this, I have no idea where my writing will lead me. I just know something enlightening and illuminating is unfolding before my eyes.

My writer’s workshop is a small one, and we meet locally over donuts and coffee just to go over our latest writings and share them with others who are kind enough to laugh, smile, cringe, or rage with us as we read our words out loud. In a way, it’s like a form of therapy, but without the standby boxes of tissues.

This past Sunday, a couple of positive things came out of this group: one, I’ve decided I’m going to force myself to write more. There is a 50,000 word writing challenge staring me in the face. The competition (?) is called NANOWRIMO. I wasn’t planning on participating in it, as 50,000 words in a month sounds like a novel, and I don’t have the focus to write a novel. Never have, never will. I’m perfectly content with short stories, opinion pieces and poetry. But, the folks in the group helped me do the math, and it appears I only have to write a little over 1,000 words per day. On a good day with a great topic I can bang out 1,000 words in about a half hour. On a great day I can write much more than that. So, challenge accepted.

The second benefit of joining the writer’s group was a sense of belonging. I’ve always loved to write but never had much of an audience for it. I love to blog and put things out there to the world, but I’ve never had my real life friends come to me and say “HEY, how about you read me your latest pearls of wisdom? I don’t have anything more important to do.” It just doesn’t work that way. But with my writer’s workshop, I know the people love to write as much as I do, and they like to share as much as I do, so it’s a win-win all the way around. Plus, I get to put my active, weird imagination to work when I am asked to submit some really off-kilter writing prompts. This past week’s was “What’s that doing up in there?” As you can see from my eggplant and toothbrush stories, that’s where my muse took that idea.

Lastly, the writing allows me to take risks I wouldn’t (perhaps shouldn’t) normally take. I can be as rude, crude and offensive as I want with the characters and story lines I create. I can be a genius or a moron, virginal or slutty, prim and proper or a raging swearaholic. That’s the beauty of being able to escape into my mind and let my id take me to places my super ego won’t.

As important my writing has become to me, it is only a small part of the other healing I need to do. As I wrote in an earlier post, I had a baby boy I placed for adoption when I was nineteen. Many years of self-imposed silence and shame have done some pretty big emotional damage. Determined to unload this shame, I’ve decided to come out from behind the curtain and openly discuss all I went through with others who have gone through similar circumstances.

I had my “aha” moment in my therapist’s office yesterday: I was never provided with a support system back then. The group I ended up belonging to were a group of teenage moms planning to keep their children. While sitting in these support group meetings, they would exchange thoughts, fears and feelings about what it will be like to raise a child at such a young age: Will they be able to finish high school? Will they be able to afford a baby? Will they be able to get a job?

All these questions didn’t apply to me. I was an island, sitting alone in a sea of baby blankets, booties and baby supplies as the mothers-to-be bonded and exchanged worries of teenage motherhood. What I needed back then was to be part of a group of teenage birth moms about to surrender their children for adoption. I needed to know I wasn’t alone in this, that my decision was self-LESS rather than self-ISH. I needed someone, anyone, to tell me that I wasn’t “giving my baby away because I didn’t want to deal with it”.

It hit my therapist and me at the same time: I need to find a local support group to further my steps towards healing. The opportunity to meet with others with similar stories to tell, in all phases of recovery and healing, could be the final piece of the puzzle that has been missing for my entire adult life.

I came home and immediately went to my trusty friend, Google, to help me find a group. And, lo and behold, there is a local meeting coming up in November that, again, is less than two miles from my home. Excitedly, I emailed the workshop organizer and gave a quick bio on me, and asked if I could register. What I didn’t expect was her amazingly supportive, concerned response. It was so heartwarming and nonjudgmental, I started to cry. She even offered me her personal phone number and said if I needed to talk before hand, not to hesitate and give her a call.

Finally, I’ve found groups of people who are more than happy to accept me for who I am, weirdness and all.

Take that, religion.

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I need a superhero.

My therapist and I have been dabbling in some “inner child” work lately, and her latest assignment was for me to create a list of “needs” I feel have been seriously missing in my life. What was it I needed most as a child, but never felt I got? A superhero.

I grew up in a family filled with kids and chaos. I was the youngest of six. With such a large family to monitor, what time my parents had to give to each of their kids was minimal and sparing. Being the last in line, it always seemed to me that whenever I needed something, I was the last to be heard and get it.

I was a scrawny, gangly kid with bucked teeth and bad eyes. Looking back on it  now, I see my inner child as totally “adorkable”, but back then, I could have been a poster child for both the ophthalmology and Orthodontia Associations. I needed a lot of work done to straighten out my teeth and realign my eyes. In the end, only my teeth got fixed. I’ve been living without depth perception and balanced eyes since 1975. I’ve adjusted.

But as kids are prone to do, this made great fodder for bullying. I was bullied as a child — starting right around sixth grade, as the hormones began to kick in and boys’ and girls’ bodies start to develop. I was way behind on the maturity train, if that helps explain things.

This isn’t about bullying, even though the way I was treated by my peers back then has a lot to do with how I respond to the world now. This is about what I needed as a child to help me endure and rise above the mistreatment and disappointments of life. I needed someone in my life who could have rushed in at the moment I needed it and said “YOU WILL NOT TREAT HER AS SUCH! YOU WILL LISTEN TO HER NEEDS AND FEELINGS AND RESPECT THEM!”

I have some very vivid memories of  events from my childhood where my superhero had totally “left the building”. One event has permanently impacted my physical stature.

I went through a rapid growth spurt in fifth grade and was outgrowing a pair of shoes about every three months. With the way money was so tight in my house (according to my dad- if you read about him in my tribute you’d know what I mean here), I felt it was too much of a financial burden on the family if I told my parents I needed new shoes. I was sure I would hear my dad say “What do you mean you need new shoes? We just bought you a goddamn new pair three months ago!!”

So, instead of letting my parents know my feet were now a size 7 instead of a 5, I would just continue to wear them, knuckles bulging upwards as they formed into permanent hammertoes.  I bet my superhero, had he or she been there, would have gladly swept into the house, picked me up in his or her arms. and flown me to the nearest shoe  mart to find me a pair of new, bigger, less binding shoes. But sadly, that never happened.

The other incident I will never forget was the time I came down with a case of tonsillitis so advanced I nearly landed in the hospital with surgery. Again, I was reluctant to tell my parents I didn’t feel well, because there was always some sort of kid crisis going on with my older siblings. Who was I, the littlest one, to ask for help? So, I endured the blazing sore throat, the high fever and chills, and just “toughed it out” until one day I could barely swallow my soup. I happened to find my mom in a rare moment of solitude, and approached her cautiously. “Mom, my throat hurts a little, can you look at it?” My mom audibly gasped and recoiled in horror at what she saw. My throat was bright red, with white oozing pustules and yellow streaks running down the back. My tonsils were so swollen they were almost touching each other.

Obviously, my mother rushed me to the doctor immediately – she wasn’t one of those “It’s just a little viral thing, you’ll get over it” kind of moms. The doctor, however, felt my mom had been negligent, and proceeded to rip her a new one for not bringing me in sooner. He was ready to send me to the hospital and have my tonsils ripped out. Eventually, the antibiotics kicked in, and he determined tonsils were more beneficial than not having them, so surgery was called off.

Again, if I had had a superhero in my life, he or she would have let mom know I was truly, really, sick days before I worked up the courage to tell her myself.

Moments like these occurred all through my life. The Catholic upbringing played a large part in it as well. Being constantly told to remain humble, not stir the pot, be good, patient, etc., because that’s what god wanted, in a large family where everyone has too many needs that all can’t be met right now, caused me to always put my own needs aside for everyone else’s.

But now it’s time to become my own superhero. My therapist has been encouraging me to raise my voice, speak my mind and let my needs be known. She is working on giving me back some of what was missing in my childhood – the strength to speak up and out about whatever is bothering me, or what I needed.

Perhaps, she’s the superhero I was looking for all along.

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The watershed moment happened in an unlikely place – the hall corridor of a hospital — and was tipped off from an unlikely person – a little old lady in a hospital volunteer’s uniform. I was searching for the grief therapy group I had signed up to attend in order to process my parents’ deaths, and nobody at the main hospital could tell me where I needed to go to find it. As I became more and more frustrated and angry, the tears began to well in my eyes and spill out over my lower lids (much to my determination not to let the public see me cry). Out of the blue, an elderly angel comes up to me and says “Oh honey, do you need a hug?”

I am not a very outwardly affectionate person. I don’t hug and kiss my close friends every time we see each other. I never enjoyed kissing my in-laws (a definitely huggy-kissy bunch) and I felt extremely uncomfortable safe hugging my students. So, I was definitely conflicted about getting a much needed hug from this elderly stranger. I decided to go for it.

In between sobs and hiccups, I was able to choke out “I’m here for the grief therapy group, but I can’t find it!” I must have sounded near hysterical at the moment, so she quickly stopped heading wherever she was going and immediately brought me back to the information desk and told them to get the hospital chaplain down here so I could get some emotional support. And after an extended chat with the chaplain where I divulged some pretty heavy duty material about the events which have occurred in my life, she said something that was the most thought provocative comment I’d ever heard anyone tell me: “You have never learned how to ‘feel your feelings'” Wow.

Looking back on my childhood, I see a long pattern of emotional invalidation  I had never recognized before this year: from my non-nurturing father, in the form of Catholic guilt from my mother, and through relentless teasing and bullying from my siblings. I was never physically abused or sexually abused, but the invalidation of my feelings caused me to question my very own sense of self. I was constantly being told by an overwhelmed father of six kids: “Stop spinning your wheels, Scooter” “Stop crying, you have nothing to cry about” “You have no idea what you’re talking about” – comment after comment where everything I said was doubted, discounted and dismissed. In order to stop having to hear it all the time, I just shut down my feelings and refused to share them with anyone — because to do so would put me at risk for judgment and further invalidation.

My one coping mechanism was to turn to intellectualism. If I couldn’t show people my value through my emotions then I was going to show them all how “intellectual” I was. I became fascinated by everything and anything — a knower of many things, a master of none, so to speak. I could debate and discuss virtually any topic that came my way. I could even discuss topics that weren’t of interest to me provided I was given enough time to research them first. I absorbed information like a sponge. I was determined to prove my worth through intellect, not emotion. The beauty of being intellectual is that it is a fact based function. Facts can’t be argued, discredited or disproved. There is nothing there of any emotional substance, therefore I wouldn’t get judged or invalidated — again. A brilliant alternative and safety net.

And I have been doing that since the day I walked into the hospital chaplain’s room and she told me to stop. It’s hard to change learned behavior when you’re about to turn 50. But, I’ve begun regular therapy to help me. I’ve found a wonderful psychologist who has been slowly assisting me in getting back in touch with my inner child, who is so much more damaged than I ever realized. Together, we are rebuilding my emotional self, and I’m just now starting to take emotional risks and recognizing how others’ comments and actions affect my feelings.

What I’ve noticed lately is the amount of feelings I’ve repressed and how I’m processing them now. Instead of pushing them down (like I did when my parents and brother died), I’m acknowledging them, putting the appropriate label on them and dealing with them accordingly. Whenever I start to feel “something”, I will say “sad, it’s sadness at this moment” or “anger, this is what anger feels like” and then I take a moment to let it wash over me. Unfortunately, the angry feelings are very strong – I’ve been snapping at a lot of people over the simplest things. I’ve had to tell my loved ones not to take my overblown reactions too personally – it’s all part of my therapy. Those poor folks.

I have a long distance to go in getting myself back in balance between intellectual and emotional health. But, with the continued help of my therapist, I see myself coming through this a much happier, much more enjoyable person to be around.

I know I can do it – because I feel it can be done.