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Archive for the ‘Becoming me’ Category

I’m about to turn 27, and so I’ve been reflecting on things I learned this year:

-You teach people how you want to be treated.

-Being pregnant is not as magical as it looks.

-If you hesitate while you wonder whether you will regret not speaking up, you will regret not speaking up.  Say something.

-Be kind to yourself.  If you would cut someone else slack for the same issue, why not show that same kindness to yourself?

-Dream bigger.  Ask for more.  Don’t settle.

It’s comforting to think that nothing is a surprise to God.  This year sure shocked the hell out of me.

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I moved a lot as a kid.  In fact, I moved 24 times in 20 years.  (I’m 25 years old.  In a post earlier this week I said I was 26 – my birthday is coming up in about 6 weeks, but apparently I am so old that I’ve forgotten how old I am.  Seriously.)

However, since I was 15 years old I’ve lived in the same tri-state area/metropolitan region.  At what point do I become “from” here?  Will I magically wake up one day and feel like this region is home?

My husband built his business here, and his work relies heavily on referrals.  He’s very successful, and I’m grateful for those business contacts.  My husband’s little brother lives here, and I can’t imagine missing out on watching him grow up these past 6 years.  I can’t believe he’s about to turn 8.  My parents live here.  That’s a mixed bag, but there are definitely positives to being able to drop by and see them.  It was great to have them so close by when my husband was in the hospital.

All of these positives aside, when I was in high school I never thought I would settle here.  It was just the last place that my parents moved after a long military career that involved leading a nomadic life.  I didn’t like the culture of this region of the country, and always planned to relocate somewhere closer to the coast.  Then I met my husband, and now it seems like I’ll be here my whole life.  When is it going to be home?

(PS–I went to add tags to this post and saw these suggestions: Tri-state area, User interface, Hurricane Irene, Death Race.  Umm, okay…)

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I was thinking about how much “screen time” my brother-in-law has each day.  He is seven years old and I think he needs to get outside and play more, or read a book, or make up a game like school or house (which I played a lot as a kid).  He spends a lot of time playing on the computer (club penguin, anyone?) as well as video games (Mario, and Halo when he’s at his friend’s house, which is an entirely different post) and sometimes Wii.

I wasn’t allowed to have video games as a kid, and when I was very little I could only watch a half hour to an hour of TV a day. There were times in my life when I wasn’t very supervised, like when my parents were separated, and I spent hours each day watching TV.  I can remember feeling like the day had been wasted, even as a kid.

However, I think there’s a real argument to be made that using computers and video games prepares kids for life in a world that is more technologically advanced and fundamentally different than the world our parents grew up in, or even the world that our generation grew up in.  (I am 26.)  Maybe I have antiquated notions that he should be reading books more or playing flashlight tag, when really the skills he needs to succeed are more common in Club Penguin and Mario.

Are you going to (do you) limit your kids’ “screen time?”

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I am not trying to convert you.  I’ve never asked you if you’ve found Jesus or feel his love in your heart.  I won’t give you a pamphlet, or try to legislate what’s taught in schools to indoctrinate your children while they’re still young and vulnerable.  I understand that there are religious people (of many types of religions) who do this, but I am not one of those people.

I have peace in my life from my walk with God, and if you’re curious, I will tell you about it.  However, I don’t think Christians have a monopoly on the truth.  Many practitioners of other religions, and lots of agnostics and atheists, lead lives that are good and I think God recognizes that.  Many Christians lead lives that are bad, and I think God recognizes that, too.

I’m not a Christian because I woke up this morning and felt like it would be fun.  It’s hard for me.  The bible is full of contradictions and I read it every day and I studied theology and I can probably tell you more about how the bible doesn’t make sense than most people who are vehemently opposed to Christianity.  I don’t feel accepted in any particular church.  I struggle with who is going to hell and who is going to heaven.  I have doubts.  There are people I can’t forgive and forgiveness is not negotiable in Christianity.  I’m not happy about being different from the rest of my family and most of my friends.  I feel on the outside a lot – like the black sheep.  Being Christian is a knock-down drag-out fight for me, and I make a choice to be Christian every single day because I feel like I was called to do it – even when it would be easier not to.

I wanted to tell you this because there is someone I can’t tell.   Someone who matters to me seems inexplicably angry at me for being Christian and who acts like I’m attacking them and part of an insidious institution, even when I’ve never tried to convert them.  This person thinks I’m presumptuous and arrogant.  I wish I could tell that person that I am not trying to make them unhappy by practicing this religion and  I am not trying to change them.   In fact, I don’t see how it has anything to do with them at all.  My belief in Christianity is central to who I am.  It informs all of the choices that I make in my life, and I don’t need this person to be Christian, but I need them to leave me the hell alone about my choice to be Christian.

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There is something about me that talks too fast and thinks too fast.  I rush to fill silences.  I leap ahead and people aren’t ready.  I say startling things.

Today we argued.  I washed the dishes.  I came back and said, “Do you regret the way this visit is turning out?”  In those moments of solitude, I had decided to give you a chance.  I thought maybe you wanted to turn back the clock to when this visit had still seemed promising, but you don’t know how.  It turns out you weren’t ready for this peace offering.  You were probably still planning your rebuttal.  You stared at the floor and said nothing.  I felt like my gesture had been rejected and I put on my shoes slowly, waiting for you to say something.  You didn’t, and I left.

I gave you a chance and you blew it.  Loving people is giving these chances again and again.  It’s being vulnerable after you’ve been hurt.  It’s trying to get in sync with someone when their pace is all wrong for you.

Why can’t you be ready for peace?  Why are you still planning what to say next?  Why can’t you be quick on the up-take, and recognize the opening I gave you, and pause a moment and say, “Yes, I regret the way tonight turned out.  Let’s start again.”  Why don’t you see the chance I gave you?

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I’ll be turning 26 soon, which has led me to reflect on what I’ve learned this year.  Here are some of the lessons that stand out to me, in no particular order:

-Miracles do happen.  My husband’s green card was a miracle.

-Pain fades over time.  So does anger.

-People die.  Make sure you’ve said everything you need to.

-Take a risk.  Share with people something personal you’ve written.

-If someone you know can treat certain people in their life well (their client, a friend) – they can treat you well.  They are just choosing not to.

-The later you stay at work, the more stupid mistakes you will make.

-Counseling only works over the long haul.  Go back again next week.

-There is still no crying at work.

-Sometimes the most powerful thing anyone can say to you is, ‘That was not your fault.’  Be that person for someone else.

-There are values more important than honesty, like loyalty.

 

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If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may be getting the impression that there is some crazy in my life.  You would not be mistaken.  This year, I’ve been learning about setting boundaries.  I think I’m normally a pretty assertive or even bossy person, but there are some areas where I start to resemble an invertebrate *dealing with my family cough cough*.   I had a conversation with some family members a month ago that was very difficult, in which I attempted to establish important boundaries. Basic ones, like if you’re violent I will call the police.  Or, I will take action to help you, but I cannot listen to you tell me personal information I should not know.  I had not read this book at the time that we had that confrontation, so this is more of a retroactive reflection on that intervention.  Although the book deals with Borderline Personality Disorder, I think its guidance for setting boundaries is relevant to many situations when you are getting stepped on.  For those of you who haven’t had your own confrontation yet, here is what I learned from Stop Walking on Eggshells about setting boundaries:

What are some reasonable boundaries?

I was skeptical about the notion of demanding that a sick person (read: crazy person) respect boundaries.  After all, there is something wrong with them or they wouldn’t act this way.  However, the authors point out that if this person is capable of not treating everyone this way – professional colleagues, or friends, or people in public – then they are capable of treating you respectfully as well.  Duh, right?

It’s sad that of all the fundamental rights the authors list, there are really only 2 I am interested in getting.  Sure, it would be nice to have your feelings and experiences acknowledged as real, or to have emotional support, but basically I would settle for, “the right to be heard by the other and to be responded to with courtesy and respect” and “the right to live free from emotional and physical abuse.”  I don’t scream at other people, or call them names, or swear at them, or throw things at them.  I don’t deserve that treatment or treat people that way, and they should not treat me that way.  Is it pathetic how basic that is?  Be warned that reading a list of what other people consider to be fundamental rights and then acknowledging that you would personally settle for the two simplest is not necessarily the best thing for your self-esteem.

How do you communicate boundaries?

-Pick a time when things are calm.  (This seems counter-intuitive to me.  Why rock the boat?  Why not just go all out when things are already bad?)

-Be specific.  Not, “Be respectful.”  Try, “Don’t call me names.”  (I knew this from dealing with children.  It’s kind of amazing how applicable you will find any disciplinary strategies you might use on a 2-year-old.)

-Communicate one boundary at a time.  (Doesn’t this imply that you’re going to have to have repeated, awful, heart-wrenching conversations?  I went for communicating the core issues all at once.)

-Start with an easy one.  (See above.)

-Be consistent.  Intermittent reinforcement is damaging.  (This is where I see myself failing.  So I’m going to have to not fail here.)

The authors note that you shouldn’t get bogged down with whether you boundary is right or normal or expected.  Stick with this being your personal preference.  It doesn’t matter if they agree with you about the appropriateness of this boundary, but they need to respect it because you prefer it.  Shabam!

How do you measure success in setting your boundaries?

I liked this list a lot.  It made me feel like I did several things right, despite feeling like shit lately about the fact that my family hasn’t spoken to me in over a month:

-Did you respond as an adult, not as a child? C+ I wasn’t as assertive as I could have been, but definitely wasn’t 11 years old again.

Did you act in a way that demonstrates your self respect? Yes.

-Were you clear about your position? Yes.

-Did you remain focused, even if the BP tried to draw you off track? Yes.

-Did you remain calm and composed? Yes.

-Did you refuse to be baited and drawn into a losing argument? B+.  I wasted some effort trying to explain why it’s not my job to take care of this person, realized we didn’t share the same reality at all, and returned to the fact that this was my boundary.

-Were you considerate of the other person’s feelings, even if he or she did not give you the same consideration? Yes.

-Did you maintain a firm grip on your own reality while maintaining an open mind toward the BP’s concerns? Meh.  I wasn’t there to listen to that person’s concerns.

What if they don’t respect your boundaries?

You can leave the room, or hang up the phone, or stop seeing the person for a while, or stop seeing them forever.

What happens after you set boundaries?

I’m sure this depends on whether the people in your life are amateur crazy or varsity crazy, like the people in my life.  I would expect that they will try to punish you and then try to test you to see if you are serious.  You may have to decide how much you want this person in your life, and if the pain of not knowing them exceeds the pain of continuing to know them.  Please remember that just because you come from crazy, doesn’t mean your destiny is to live a life with this madness in it.  You can do better than your family did and you can choose who is in your life.  Their crazy does not have to be your legacy.

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I’ve been reading a book this week called Stop Walking on Eggshells about “tak[ing] your life back when someone you care about has Borderline Personality Disorder.”  Before you ask, no – the person in my life I am struggling with has not officially been diagnosed with this disorder, but the general idea behind reading this book was to help me learn how to make healthier boundaries in my relationships with my family.  I hate self-help books, so I thought I would condense the few useful facts I gleaned from this book and save you the effort of wading through 260 pages of why your feelings are valid, using I-statements, actively listening, etc.

What is BPD?

According to the DMS-TR (2004), it is “a pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by 5 or more of the following:”

1. Frantic efforts to avoid abandonment

2. Unstable relationships alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation (you are their savior, or you are a traitor)

3. Unstable self-image or sense of self

4. Impulsivity in at least 2 areas (like spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, etc.)

5. Recurrent suicidal behavior or threats

6. Mood instability

7. Chronic feelings of emptiness

8. Inappropriate rage

9. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms

What’s the bad news?

According to the DMS, about 8-10% of all people with BPD commit suicide.  This does not include those who engage in risky behaviors that lead to death, like drunk driving.  BPD’s can be skillful at convincing you that if you don’t do whatever they want, you are being selfish and uncaring.  If you set boundaries, you should be prepared for the BPD to act out and make “countermoves” to test those boundaries.  Some people with BPD may cope with feeling out of control by giving up their power in some form.  They may join the military or a cult and seek to have other people make their choices.

Common misconceptions?

-It’s my responsibility to solve this person’s problems, and if I don’t, no one else will.

-If you really love someone, you should take their abuse because you are better able to absorb pain than they are.  

-This person can’t help being sick, so I should not hold them accountable for their behavior.

Coping mechanisms for dealing with someone with BPD?

-Minimize any visible reaction.  Don’t let them get a rise out of you, or they may repeat that behavior.

-Focus on the fact that you can’t control what other people choose to think or how they perceive reality.

-Stop “sponging” up the BPD’s rage or pain and start reflecting it back to them.  It’s not your angst.

-Set boundaries (which I will address in the next installment).

What is the biggest thing I’ve learned?

There is a section in the book on not withdrawing, and I was brought to my knees when I read this passage: “There is nothing wrong with leaving if you feel attacked.  In fact, there are times when it’s a good thing to do….The damage comes from remaining passive and silent, absorbing the other person’s criticism while your sense of personal power and self-esteem deteriorate,” (emphasis mine).  How many times have I sat through a phone call while this person raged and made me feel like shit, thinking that I could take what they were dishing out, but that they could not handle it if I hung up?

This post has been a downer, but soon I’ll be putting up a post about setting boundaries, so get ready to make some changes.

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You are a poisonous lullaby, honey infected with plague.

Your hands that hold me conceal razor blades.

You rock me gently, smother me sweetly

Demand that I carry your condemnation.

Your silence is venomous, your words toxic

And when I kiss you, you only see Judas.

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I’ve been reading Story Engineering by Larry Brooks because I’ve never gotten to take a creative writing course and I thought this might teach me what I missed.  This week I’ve been reading about characters and I was struck by this quote:

“Characters are sometimes defined by their backstory.  And sometimes they are who they are in spite of their backstory.”

I want to give a shout out to all of those people who come from a depth of madness that you would never imagine just by looking at them.  I want to acknowledge those people who get up each day and put on their work clothes and earn a living and come home and spend time with their families, who put on a happy face and go grocery shopping and get stuck in traffic and pay taxes.  Those are my people!  It seems like no one sees that you are doing so much better than where you came from.   Living well in spite of your backstory is hard, but each day you get up and choose to make something of yourself is a day that you are a bad-ass.

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