The One Where She Finally Asks For Help

Rabbit Ears Pass Winter Wonderland, taken by my talented husband, Steve

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. It’s been five weeks and change since I bothered to post anything here. While I couldn’t get my shit together to write, you may be relieved to know I literally couldn’t get my shit together for much of anything else either. It’s been fits and starts for me for years now, and I’m spent from trying to figure out how to start my engine again. It seems as the rest of the world is beginning to bounce back into some sort of trial, post-pandemic life and get going again, I’m still standing in the starting gate questioning whether I heard the gun go off. It might have. I probably wasn’t paying attention. I don’t know. What day is today anyway? What am I going to make for dinner? I’ve got no clue. Will I actually put on something other than pajama pants today? Probably not. I’m too tired to put in the effort for myself and I’m too tired to care about it.

What’s the point. It’s not even a question anymore. It’s just a statement.

I’ve come so far in my emotional journey, breaking down my life’s components, decade by decade, to help me understand how I got to be 54 without having any idea who I am. Still I am coming up short of knowing myself honestly and without filters. I understand how I got this way. I know exactly what led me here. There’s no undoing it. First I had to accept that my childhood was run by emotionally immature adults who used me as a foil for all their issues. Then I had to grieve the loss of the childhood I wished I’d had. Then I had to work my way through the traumatic memories to take away their sting. Then I had to accept my own part in remaining that lost little girl. Then I had to begin to make amends to myself and to others who I used to bolster up my assumed identity. And, well, it was all worth it, but I’m spent and I’ve been spent for years.

I found this today in an Instagram post by The Holistic Psychologist. I wish I had written it. I couldn’t find the words, but I am grateful she did.

A Letter of Forgiveness to My Younger Self

I forgive myself for the time I spent in survival mode. I forgive myself for the times I used other people, alcohol, and other destructive behaviors to avoid the pain I felt within. I forgive myself because I learned that closeness meant chaos and dysfunction, and I re-enacted that dysfunction over and over again. I forgive myself because I witnessed adults who couldn’t self-regulate, so I dissociated to not feel and not connect to other people. I forgive myself because I was left alone to deal with my emotions, so I became fixed on not being abandoned by other people. In the process, I abandoned myself. I forgive myself because I learned my role was to be easy and to be liked, so I betrayed my own values to gain that approval. I forgive myself because I allowed my mother wound to impact every relationship I ever had, then avoided responsibility and blamed other people for issues they didn’t create. I forgive myself for my past and know that through taking responsibility for my life, I give the younger version of myself a new future.

That sums up where I am now. That is how far I’ve come. I get it. I see everything. How I became lost and how I kept myself lost is no longer a mystery. But I’ve remained stuck here in this place, biding my time and hoping I would snap out of it. Here I still stand, waist deep in a quicksand of exhaustion and apathy. Going NOWHERE.

Because of this, I determined that if I can’t move forward on my own, I’m going to have to ask for help. This week I did something I never thought I would do (back in the old days when I was 100% certain I was someone I was not). I started taking an antidepressant because I need a push to start living again. Not just breathing and going through the motions, but actually living my life. Being present. Being invested. Being enthusiastic. Being healthful. Being observant. Being open. Being brave. It’s too early to tell if they are helping yet and, indeed, I might need a higher dose to stop my stalling and get on with it. But, it’s a step. A step I desperately needed to take. And I am hopeful. Hopeful that I will find that lost little girl and tell her to go for it, all of it, and stop apologizing to everyone for existing in her skin. Hopeful that someday soon I will be writing again, and through my writing I will find my way to the beautiful me I’ve never known yet long to meet.

When You Don’t Like What You’re Seeing, Change The Filter

Yesterday I did something I don’t normally do. I hopped on a bandwagon. In this case, the bandwagon was the controversial Lensa AI app. Twenty-four hours ago, I didn’t even know the app was controversial. Hell. Forty-eight hours ago, I didn’t even know becoming an artist’s rendition of yourself via an app was a thing. I had only recently glimpsed a headline about the popularity of trying these lenses and then saw a post on Facebook from a friend who had tried it out the previous day. My decision to see what the fuss was about was based solely on the idea that it might be fun to see what images of me the app would come up with. I suppose downloading an app and then uploading my photos to it without understanding more about the technology was foolhardy. I didn’t understand what I might be getting myself into. Perhaps it was a little naive, but I’ve been home alone for ten days with little human interaction, so I was looking for something to distract me from myself. We make a lot of our dumbest choices out of boredom or curiosity. If I were a cat, I would have exhausted all nine of my lives seventy times over by now.

At any rate, I signed up for the app’s seven-day free trial, uploaded some selfies, paid $5.99 (come on, people, that’s the equivalent of one grande Starbucks oat milk latte) for 100 Magic Avatar images, and waited fifteen minutes for them to materialize. When the results populated my screen, I was fascinated. Some of the images were quite realistic, looking an awful lot like me in art form. Some of them were a little off, my eyes farther apart than they are in reality, my eyebrows higher, my nose straighter. Some of them were so far off I dismissed them completely. Still, it was a fun endeavor. I’m 54 and not getting any younger, so it was inspiring to see myself as a fantasy princess and a space warrior. I’ve never imagined myself like that. The images begged me to question why I hadn’t. Seeing myself in those images made me realize maybe I’m not as plain Jane as I have always thought. It might even be possible that I am, gasp, sort of pretty. I decided that the experiment was worth the $6. I downloaded the images I thought looked most like me, canceled my free trial, and deleted the app.

Feeling a little puffed up about how cool I thought the generated images were, I posted a small collection of them to social media. It took only five minutes before I got my first negative comment. Oh, social media. Aside from a family member’s house, where else can you go to have other people instantaneously judge your choices and question your intelligence? I chose to brush off the disdain and review the rest of the feedback. Overall, it was intriguing to see which images other people liked and disliked. A couple images I thought were only me-adjacent and not fair representations of me at all garnered quite a few likes, which confused me. Do people think I look like that? Do I appear that way to some people despite my own eyes telling me otherwise? Do they wish I looked like that? I couldn’t figure it out. Maybe they simply liked the artwork? A couple of the images I felt most realistically depicted my features and expressions were not liked at all. How does that even work, I wondered. That is what I actually look like (minus the airbrushing, mind you). Why did people not appreciate the images that most resembled me in real life? Those were the ones I was drawn to, the ones that made me look slightly younger and way more badass than I feel.

The experiment made me consider our self-perceptions. Having been raised in a decidedly negative household, my general self-opinion has mostly remained negative. I am fantastic at telling you what is wrong with me. Ask me what I do well and I’m stumped. Maybe that was why the images the app created enchanted me so. I looked at the woman in the artwork and saw a different side of myself, a stronger, braver, sassier me, one less afraid of her own shadow and more empowered. One who is really great at knowing what to do with her hair. Perhaps I was seeing the me I might have been earlier if I had figured out before now that I can, at times, be dynamic and inspiring.

The lesson I emerged with from this little experiment was this: when you’re feeling down, try viewing yourself through a different lens. There’s nothing wrong with you that can’t be changed by picturing yourself as the unique, bewitching, and formidable badass who forever dwells within you, even when you’re just doing the dishes or taking out the trash.

Unfu*k Yourself, Already

I read a book last week. Yes. A whole book. It was a short book, but still. The book was Unfu*k Yourself by Gary John Bishop. To be honest, I started listening to the book on Audible, enjoyed the introduction delivered with the author’s no-bullshit, full-on Scottish attitude and accent, and then got on Amazon and ordered a paper copy because I knew I would want to highlight passages. When it arrived, Mr. Bishop and I got right back to work. The book, as you can imagine from its cheeky title, offers suggestions for those of us who feel stuck on repetitive hamster wheel of self-sabotage. It’s a book about unsticking yourself.

As I listened, a few things became clearer to me about my life, the consequences of my upbringing, and my future trajectory. First, there was the admission that I’ve been spinning and getting nowhere for about four years now. There are several life situations that coalesced to create a quicksand pit from which I have not escaped. The specifics about them aren’t as important as the fact that I was able to name them, which gives me a concrete place from which to get to work. You have to know what stopped you to figure out how to get around it. Second, the book prompted me to do a lot of thinking about the areas of my own modus operandi that work against me the most often. The result? The behavior that most often holds me back is fawning. I am a people pleaser. This does not mean I succeed at it. It just means I attempt to make others happy by doing what they want. I regularly set aside my own wishes to avoid conflict, to ensure other people are happy and comfortable, and to be palatable. You’ll often hear me speaking Fawn-ese: I’m good with whatever. You choose. Whatever works for you is fine with me. Really. It’s okay. Don’t worry about me. I’m flexible. I don’t want to be a bother. It doesn’t matter to me. I’ve got it. No worries. I can make that work. These statements (a product of being raised to believe I am the world’s most sensitive, overreacting, selfish jerk) make me feel like I’m being generous and thoughtful to others. In reality, however, I often say them because I’m so used to deferring to others that 1) I don’t know what I want or like, so I don’t know how to ask for it, and 2) I assume that letting others get their way will make me worth hanging around with. The truth is that my fear of speaking up for myself often makes me grumpy. Who wouldn’t be grumpy when they take on more than they can handle and often end up doing exactly what they don’t want to do? Unfu*k Yourself is about getting out of your own way and moving yourself into a better future, and Mr. Bishop outlines some key things you need to do to bring that about. And he does it by not pulling any punches and speaking directly to the multitudinous methods people employ to hold themselves back. In fact, the way he reads the book in audio form you can just about hear his frustration. I’m fairly certain he is tired of having to point out to people that the path to their best life runs only through them.

In one chapter, he discusses how we are wired to win. What he means by this is that we get what we set ourselves up for and expect. We are masters of the self-fulfilling prophecy. Spending your life bemoaning your history of finding the worst partners? You’re probably attracting all the wrong people because of something in your past. If you don’t fix what’s behind that curtain, you will keep winning at picking the losers to date. But, if you sift through the memories of your old relationships, perhaps you can pinpoint where they went wrong and do some work around your discovery so that next time you make a different choice. The bottom line is that when you’re wired to win, you can win at losing or win at winning. There’s a famous quote attributed to Jessie Potter that fits this idea: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” You can keep repeating your mistakes and blaming mysterious exterior forces that don’t exist or you can do the work, get your poop in a group, and do better in the future.

The chapter that I most needed to hear right now was entitled, “I am not my thoughts. I am what I do.” As a person who spends a lot of time in her head, thinking, rethinking, analyzing, overanalyzing, and reanalyzing those analyses, this chapter reminded me that I will never get anywhere good this way. I have to stop thinking and start doing. I’ve been unhappy with my fitness level. I can either sit on my sofa thinking about how I used to be in great shape and now I can’t seem to get motivated or I can haul my sorry ass off the sofa and put it on the seat of the Peloton bike and change my situation. I can whine about a relationship in my life that is dying but that I keep trying (unsuccessfully) to revive or I can decide it’s time to let it go and put my energy towards endeavors that may lead me somewhere I want to be. People who are successful have one thing in common. They stop talking and start doing. You can’t just hope things will get better. You need to look for solutions and then go out and do something to put you where you would like to be.

Now, I’m sure there are plenty of people who might read the book (or listen to the audiobook to enjoy the author’s delivery of it) and say, “Yeah. Yeah. This all sounds familiar. Nothing new here.” But that is kind of the point. If you’re still reading self-help books and saying they aren’t helping, maybe it’s because a book can’t change your life. YOU have to do that. And this book has some ideas about where you might want to start and why, if you don’t take action, you can continue to enjoy all the crap you feel life has handed you that you don’t deserve. If all I take away from this book is the mindset to get back to better health and get rid of relationships that don’t serve me, it will totally have been worth the paper it was printed on.

What was it Red said in The Shawshank Redemption?

“Get busy living or get busy dying.”

I am getting busy living. I will figure out who I am and what I want along the way.

My Autobiography: In Five Chapters

Along my path to a healthier me, a me who isn’t stuck operating from the trauma responses I adopted as a child, I found this poem. It has been my goal post as I move through the stages of recovery.

Autobiography in Five Chapters by Portia Nelson

Chapter I

I spent most my life unable to move beyond Chapter I. I was self-unaware. With no understanding the dynamics that had been in play when I was a child had heavy consequences, nearly everything I encountered was a challenge for my nervous system. Normal interactions and situations triggered my fight, flight, or fawn defenses. Without those defenses, I would have collapsed in on myself like a dying star. I had no real idea who I was underneath the overthinking, perfectionism, people pleasing, boundary ceding, bullying, and negativity. Worse yet, I didn’t see there was anything unhealthy about my MO at all. I was stuck for a long, long time.

Chapter II

Six days before my 46th birthday, I was sabotaged in public by a family member. Because my eleven year old son had been used as an unwitting pawn in the scheme to humiliate me, something in me snapped. It was my roller shade moment. After decades spent repressing abuse I endured as a child, the window shade I had pulled down to protect myself from repeated trauma flew up. I could not unsee what had been lurking behind it. I was bumped into Chapter II, forced to acknowledge my past and reckon with my trauma responses and their repercussions. I couldn’t stop using them to protect myself yet because I still needed them. So, I kept behaving mostly the same way I always had, only now I was aware how unhealthy my reactions to every little thing were. I didn’t know how to stop them, but I knew they were wrong. Every time I caught myself in an epic overreaction, the shame was overwhelming. I read a stack of self-help books and realized I needed to start regular therapy. Through therapy, I faced my past. It was painful and slow going. Every time I hurt my husband or my sons because I could not control my responses, I felt like the worthless person I was told as a child I was. I was a skipping record, stuck in a groove, doomed to repeat my patterns.

Chapter III

After some research, I decided to shift to a new therapist who offered EMDR therapy, which has helped thousands of people suffering from PTSD see their trauma in a different light. I’ve spent most of the past two years in this chapter. It has been an endless cycle of acting out my old habits, catching myself, acknowledging my behaviors and thoughts are not helpful, apologizing to myself and others for my missteps, and then forgiving myself and trying again from a more mindful place. Sometimes I would react in a more healthy manner immediately. Other times I had to sit with the negative pattern I had repeated for 5-10 minutes before understanding how I could do better and then ameliorating the situation for myself and those I had been unfair to. I saw my progress and was encouraged, but I also knew I could be in this chapter for decades until I was skilled enough spot the hole before falling into it.

Chapter IV

Recently, and with some extra assistance, I’ve had some legitimate success walking around the trauma hole. I can bump myself out of my well-worn groove and react differently in the moment. I’ve made it to Chapter IV. I don’t live here full-time, but I am finally here. I catch negative thoughts mid-stream and I make a choice to walk around that hole. Holy shit. There is no way to explain what a monumental life shift this has been for me. While I still stumble into my old patterns a few times a day, I also stop them a few times a day. I’m owning my mistakes because I know I’m not expected to be perfect. I’m beating myself up less, looking in the mirror and seeing myself in a positive light more than a negative one. I’m stopping my inner bullshit before it gets loose. I’m holding myself accountable. Best of all, though, I’m holding others accountable too. I differentiate between a me problem and a you problem. And I am able to stand up for myself, walk away, and let someone else deal with their own inner bullshit. I no longer think I am broken or horrible or perpetually wrong. I am still working but I am more present. I am proud of myself.

Chapter V

A lot of people have lofty goals for their lives. They know what legacy they would like to leave behind. Me? I don’t concern myself with any of that. I just want to get to Chapter V and hopefully live there for a bit, with a reasonable level of control over my actions, some mindfulness, and a lot less reactivity. If I get to a place where my childhood trauma responses are a faint whisper or dull memory rather than a full-fledged fire alarm, I will have walked the path I believe I was meant to walk. My goal in this life is to recover, to do better for myself, my spouse, and my children, to break a cycle.

The light at the end of the tunnel is growing brighter. I know someday I won’t have to negotiate my way around the hole at all because I will have already walked down another street.

Not Quite A Mermaid Yet

My brother-in-law and husband working towards their diving certification

“We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.” ~Helen Keller

This weekend, I learned a few things about myself.

First of all, I learned I am not yet ready to be a mermaid. The dive class Friday night went well for the most part, with my biggest stress coming when we were told we needed to sit underwater with our regulator in our mouth but no mask over our face. This was nearly impossible for me. I’m a fair swimmer, but not a great one. My first experience of swimming was being forced off a diving board into the deep end of a YMCA pool when I was 9. It did not go well. I swallowed a mouthful of chlorinated water, surfaced choking, and decided swimming was not my thing. I eventually learned to swim well enough. And while I passed the 10 minute float test with zero trouble, I remain a 54 year old who jumps into a pool holding her nose. I can swim underwater only if I exhale bubbles from my nose. So, yeah. Sitting on the bottom of a pool with air bubbles rising up from my respirator and hitting my nose was not my thing. I freaked out, inhaled more water up my nose and went home dejected. Still, I rallied and tried scuba class again on Saturday. I had no problem clearing my ears or learning to achieve neutral buoyancy. I loved swimming around underwater at 13 feet and diving for toys. But when it came time to take off my mask, hold it in my hands, swim around, then put it back on, I knew I was finished. I left the class early and alone. I will not be scuba certifying until I get my confidence issues resolved. My mermaid days lie ahead somewhere. Perhaps after a summer of swimming and some private lessons.

On the positive side of this unfortunate discovery, however, is the reality that when I realized I was not ready to meet this challenge at this time I was able to be honest with myself, tell the instructor I was out, and forgive myself for needing a little more time to prepare. I can’t be angry with myself for needing to learn to be a mouth breather. I can be proud of myself for recognizing my limits and being willing to step away until I can make progress with my swimming. This is big step forward for me. Even as it was a disappointment not to be ready to complete the scuba class, it was a growth opportunity I managed. Does it suck not to have achieved this goal as I planned? Sure. But I wasn’t ready. And I’m wise enough now to understand that “not right now” does not mean “not ever.”

Overall, the weekend was a mixed bag. It is difficult for me to admit defeat, even if it is temporary, but I am grateful I was able to acknowledge my current limits and step away. I will get my water issues sorted. I just need to trust the growth process and keep moving towards my goal. Someday I will pass my scuba certification and the accomplishment will be even sweeter for the time I spent working towards my goal.

Don’t Mess With The Senate

First day of 8th grade

When our youngest was in 8th grade, his teacher told me he thought Luke had a good shot of becoming his class valedictorian. I thought it was sort of a crazy thing to say to a parent, but I took it to heart because Mr. Beckwith was a no-nonsense, honors literature teacher with high expectations. He was not the type to throw around undeserved praise. At the continuation ceremony, each homeroom teacher spoke briefly about their students. Mr. Beckwith said this about Luke:

“We call him The Senate. That is what he liked to be called*. But unlike the Senate that the adults are accustomed to, Luke works really, really hard. He is a diligent, quiet leader, but don’t let that fool you. He has a powerful, powerful voice in class. And his work ethic, I can’t stress this enough, it sets the bar for everyone around him. He raises the level of excellence by just walking into a room. It’s pretty profound. Luke, you will be missed but never forgotten.”

As a parent, I was blown away by Mr. Beckwith’s words of praise and by his assertion of where Luke might be able to take his high school career. When we left the ceremony, I told Luke what Mr. Beckwith had shared with me about being valedictorian. Luke’s eyes lit up. In that moment, I immediately regretted my words. Luke is a formidable person who sees a challenge and makes it a goal. He’s like a border collie with a job: get out of his way and watch how quickly and efficiently he lines everything up and puts it away. Like Mr. Beckwith, I knew well how hard Luke works, and I wondered if I had just doomed him to a difficult and decidedly un-fun high school career.

Luke started freshman year with honors English and social studies. Sophomore year he added honors math and science. Already a student ambassador, Luke joined Student Senate. He was inducted into the National Honor Society and became an officer for that. By senior year, he was Lead Ambassador, NHS president, and a leader on the cross-country team in addition to maintaining straight As in all his honors and elective classes. I regularly asked him if he wanted t have friends over. He regularly declined. My worst fears were realized. He was working too hard, I thought. I told him repeatedly he could try giving 90% sometimes instead of 110%. My words went in one ear and out the other.

Last Friday, the dean of the high school announced the senior awards. When he was about to name the valedictorian, he noted there were two this year and said he would announce them in alphabetical order. I held my breath since our last name begins with W and I know Luke is the last kid in his class alphabetically. The dean named the first student and went through his academic and community achievements. Then he named the second valedictorian. It was Luke. Although Luke had carefully been monitoring his progress towards his goal and thought he had a good shot at it, you never know until the fat lady sings, right? He scanned the room for us, looked right at his father and I, and waved, just like he did when he was on stage for the Christmas program when he was in kindergarten. He was beaming. He’d done it. He’d locked his gaze on his goals, rounded them up, and escorted them, one by one, into the pen until he saw the gate close behind them. Mr. Wood later announced that Luke was also voted Senior of the Year by the teachers because, of course, he was.

I recount this story about our upward climbing Luke not to brag or because I had anything to do with his accomplishments (other than being his chauffeur). I tell this story because 9 years ago, I sat in my kitchen and wept after I heard a dyslexia specialist quizzing Luke and realized my 3rd grader skipped letters in a recitation of the alphabet, couldn’t name the days of the week in order, or name even half of the twelve months of the year. I cried because before she left she told me Luke needed to go to a special school. She told me his dyslexia was severe, and he was years behind other students. Years. He would likely never read well. Looking back now, though, I know I shouldn’t have worried. That specialist knew a lot of things, but she didn’t know Luke. She didn’t understand the power of The Senate.

(*Luke liked to be called The Senate in 8th grade because of his love of Star Wars. It was a joke he made once with his classmates and it stuck. He’s as powerful as Palpatine, but he has no desire to join the Senate.)

Be A Goldfish — Slippery And Bold

“She generally gave herself very good advice (though she very seldom followed it).” ~Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

In the Apple TV series, Ted Lasso, the protagonist coach famously tells one of his players that the happiest animal on earth is the goldfish because the goldfish has a ten-second memory. He then tells the young man to “be a goldfish” so he can let go of a negative interaction that happened with a teammate on the pitch a minute ago. That line has become a favorite among fans of the show. It’s so popular you can buy mugs, stickers, and t-shirts with that saying, and it regularly makes the rounds in comments on social media. And I get it. It’s a good saying. I quite like it. I’m not very good with the advice it offers, but I’d like to be.

Today I found this meme while scrolling through my Facebook feed. It offers a goldfish with a different point of view. I like this one too. I’m a little better at being brave than I am at letting go of comments, people, and past events that are no longer important or worth perseverating over. I attribute this to two things. First, I grew up believing I was inherently unlikable, so of course if someone said an unkind thing about me or acted like I did something wrong or suddenly stopped speaking to me, I knew it was my fault. I carried those feelings around like they were a suitcase, handcuffed to me and filled with irrefutable evidence about my worth. Second, to achieve anything when you have low self-esteem, you have to be at least a little brave. It’s a fake-it-til-you-make-it proposition. So, like I said, it is easier for me to be a little brave than it is to forget about a slight.

Ideally, I think both goldfish in this scenario are right. It’s good to let go of junk you are carrying around for no reason because it often says less about you than about the person or situation you are believing rather than yourself. It’s also good to work on your bravery. Although there are some who are born brave and some who become brave situationally, most of us could put a little more deliberate effort into being brave daily. We could stand up for ourselves with our boss or ask our partner for what we need instead of stuffing our feelings or tell the chatty barista that we need a new latte because we asked for oat milk but we got whole milk and, well, that just won’t work. To be so slippery that negativity glides over me like a kid on a Slip-n-Slide and so bold that I can live my truth every moment of my life from here on out, no matter who is watching or commenting, those are my goals. Goldfish are really speaking to me these days.

When I die, if for some odd reason I can’t be cremated, I want the Lewis Carroll saying at the top of this page on my tombstone. I am good at giving myself advice. I’m good at knowing the right thing to do (be it, let it go or be brave), I’m just not great at doing it. I’m just telling you this because I spout a lot of platitudes and inspirational quotes (read: fluffy bullshit) on this blog, and you should know it doesn’t mean I am living it. I’m working on it, but I’m not there. Not by a long shot. So if you’re not there either, that makes you my people. My suspicion is I have a lot more people than I thought.

Keep on keeping on, friends. We got this.

Go Ahead — Ask For Some Help Already

This post is for all of you helpers. You know who you are. You are the ones who take on more responsibility than you need to, who feel overworked and under-appreciated because you don’t know how to share the load, who don’t know how or when to ask for help or even that asking for assistance is not only important but healthy.

I am your people. I grew up believing I could only count on myself. I had no problem helping out others. I learned that if I wanted something done the “right” way, I had to do it myself. It never occurred to me that perhaps someone else might have a better way of doing something or that I might learn something useful from their efforts. I didn’t know how to ask for what I needed, so I told myself I didn’t need anything from anyone else. If someone disappointed me, which happened on occasion precisely because I didn’t know how to ask for what I wanted, I labeled them as untrustworthy and went my own way. It was a vicious cycle. Each time I tried to trust someone and was disappointed, it was further proof I could only count on myself. And so I went through most of my life taking on more and more, trusting less and less. Since no person is an island, I created for myself an untenable situation. I became stressed out. I continually felt put upon. The truth is, eventually, we all can use some help. Wise people understand burden sharing provides insight, camaraderie, and a sense of belonging. Taking on everything solo fosters isolation, frustration, and bitterness.

Every night as I’m finishing with dinner prep and we are about to serve, my husband asks if he can plate some food for me. Most nights I still say no. Most nights I tell him I can get my own. I grew up feeling self-sufficiency was proof of competency. Other people ask for help. I don’t need help. That was the lie I told myself. The more I took on, the more others relied on me for that service and the more exhausted I became. My life only began to improve when I started letting others share the burden.

I’m still learning it is okay to let others do for me. They might not do it exactly the way I would have done it, but that can be good. Sometimes when I let someone else do something their way, it’s a growth experience. Other people can be a great source of fresh ideas if you let them bring their gifts to the table. I’ve learned a lot through watching others do things their way. Sometimes I adopt their method because it makes that much more sense.

So, my challenge to all my control freak comrades is this: find a few moments this week when you are feeling overwhelmed and ask for help. You can start small. Ask for help bringing in groceries or walking the dog. If you’re meeting a friend for lunch, suggest a place closer to you for once rather than driving across town to meet them like you have always done. People who are willing to seek help and rely on others occasionally create for themselves a sense of belonging. I think we could all use a little more of that feeling these days.

I promise you this. Once you start asking for assistance, once you start allowing others to be there for you the way you’ve been there for them, you won’t go back to your old ways. It’s liberating to let go of unnecessary responsibility. And, believe me. When someone is insisting on contributing, it’s because they want to. Understand that accepting their offer doesn’t mean you’re incompetent; it means they feel they have something positive and useful to offer. Maybe it’s not about you at all. Maybe it’s about them and their desire to be involved.

There’s nothing wrong with asking for what will make your life a measure easier. Sharing life’s burdens makes life better. You just have to be willing to let go of a little control. No one of consequence will think less of you.

Evolution Isn’t Just For Finches

If anyone is wondering, I am finally sick of my own bullshit.

I am tired of my whining about people who put me in a box, closed the lid, and then sat on it to keep me in my place. I got strong enough to topple them, to push my way out, and then I complained about being held down for so long. I spent so long bitching about it that then I was holding myself down. I think that is a common pattern for people recovering from abuse. You have to process it to make your peace with it. And part of processing is wallowing. It’s the wallowing that makes you sick of yourself. And getting sick of yourself is a good thing because it pushes you out of the track you’ve been running in and allows you to begin a new track.

I understand now why I operated the way I did. And now I know how to operate differently. I don’t always get it right, but forward progress in any measure feels like a win. I will never let anyone speak for me again or tell me who I am or what I like or what I should do or be. I might solicit advice, but that doesn’t mean I’ll take it. No one is an expert on me, not even me. I am in the middle of an evolution.

All the best people are.

All Dressed Up With Some Place To Go

With our senior set to graduate in 39 days, 17 hours, and 30 minutes (not that I’m counting), last night we attended our final Denver Academy Gala as parents of a current student. Because the last two gala events had to be held virtually, we were thrilled to learn this year’s event would be in person again, and at The Ritz-Carlton, nonetheless. I’ve missed this event because it is my yearly excuse to get dressed up and prove that I know which fork to use at a full place setting. I get to wear a lovely dress and heels and see my husband looking dapper in his suit. And raising funds so more students can attend this private school that teaches students with learning disabilities the way they learn best is a passion project now. Steve and I will likely continue to attend these events after Luke graduates because the school changed our sons’ educational trajectories so dramatically. Luke entered 7th grade at the school reading more than a year below grade level, but four years later at 17 he was reading at post graduate level. Joe, who struggled in nearly every subject in elementary school, now attends a competitive liberal arts college and has a 3.6 grade point average. You can’t argue with that success. This year the school celebrates fifty years changing lives for these neurodiverse kids. We were happy to dress up, show up, and donate from the deepest corner of our pockets.

It’s not hyperbole when I say Denver Academy saved our family. Once our sons started at this school, there were no more homework battles; in fact, we were rarely asked to help with homework at all. Parent/teacher conferences no longer made me cry. The boys started believing they were capable. Smart, even. This was new territory for them. They began getting involved in sports and clubs. For our part, we attended a seminar that simulated what it’s like to live with learning disabilities and gained a better understanding of our sons’ struggles. We showed up for every lecture and presentation DA held that we felt could help us do better for our kids. We bonded with other parents whose experiences with their children were eerily similar to ours. We no longer felt isolated in our situation with our children. We found a home, and nothing in our lives has been the same since.

Thank you, Denver Academy, for teaching our kids how to be successful in their skin and for teaching us that learning differences are something to appreciate, not fear.