How to be a good friend to yourself. (With footnotes.)

IMG_9901.JPG

I know that not everyone needs to know how to not be their own enemy. I’m glad about this.

But for those of you who find it easier to be kind to every single person in the world than to be decent to yourself, or those who just want to hear more about being friendly to yourself, here’s a little list, with footnotes down below.

1. Don’t hate yourself. Sometimes this is harder than it should be, but it’s an important first step. Do you hate the baby birds in that nest over there? Do you hate donkeys? Do you hate sweet-cheeked babies? No? Then don’t hate yourself, silly. *

2. Walk with yourself. Hey there, this is a good pace. We’re doing great today. We love this. †

3. Spend time in your own head, rather than trying to guess the thoughts of others. Lately, when Gertrude the Anxiety Dragon would like to carry me over into the imagined mental processes of people around me, I tell her a firm no. “That’s not my head, Gertrude. I don’t belong in there.” ‡

4. Give yourself permission to exist. Listen, kids. You are not a role. You are not a type. You are not a mirror. You are a human being. A squishy soft miracle with a whole lot of possibility in every one of your cells. You are not a human doing-all-the-right things. You are not a human saying-all-the-right-things. You are a person with permission to exist, in all the complexity of what that means, and you get to see how God’s possibility will unfold in your life. I can’t think of anything better. §

5. Ask yourself questions like, “What would you like to do today?” Maybe you have a lot of things that you need to do, but don’t necessarily want to do. That’s okay. That’s normal. But is there one thing you really want to do? I think it would be fun to figure out what it is, and then find time for it by refraining from scrolling through social media or going on Youtube rabbit trails. Do that thing, and then remind yourself that you are doing it, and that you chose it. “I’m going for a walk in the forest because I really want to.” 

6. Enjoy where you are. Where you are is the best place to be. It’s the only place you can experience. Right? We don’t get two bodies or two souls. We have this one that moves and can be in a certain space and time in the world. That means that at any moment in time, we are not doing lots of things, not being lots of places.

But where you are and what you are doing is the very best thing, because it is the thing that you can feel with your hands, see with your eyes, hear and smell and taste. Even if where you are is trapped under a six-year-old’s sweaty arm really late in a long drawn out bedtime situation that involved many cups of water and an interrupted bedtime story. It’s the best place. ¶

8. Be in your body for a while, instead of your head. Are the sheets soft? Is the coffee hot? Do you like the smells in the air around you? Do you think that red paint looks tasty? Don’t eat it. But imagine what it would taste like if it were actually food. Yum. But no, yuck. Really, don’t eat it.

9. See yourself clearly. It is not self love to believe you are the person you wish you were, to hold tightly to that picture and defend it like a honey badger whenever anyone calls you on something that doesn’t fit the picture. The most friendly thing you can do for your dear self is open the door that you are so vehemently standing in front of. Let the fresh air and light in, let the Spirit of God softly sing over you, over the real you

10. Watch the sky whenever you can. It’s just so big, it’s so much bigger than anything in your everyday life. If you can see stars, you may get an idea of how tiny and beloved you are, that you have been set down gently in your life, to be this person, to learn that you are loved and that because you are loved and made by God, you don’t get to trash talk yourself. And the more you learn this, the more you stop loving others because you think they are better than you and can save you. You learn to love simply and tenderly, to hold others in your heart because of the honor of being created ones together. **

* Self loathing is one of the trickiest things I know. When I don’t know how to feel, or mental health is not in a good place, I revert to good actions and then remind myself that these are not the actions of someone who hates herself.
For example: I took a shower and then put coconut oil on my hair. These are not the actions of someone who hates herself. I went for a walk and listened to my favorite music. These are not the actions of someone who hates herself. I made a stir fry and lit candles at my table, sitting and talking with my kids. These are not the actions of someone who hates herself. Sometimes it’s all I can do. I’m feeling the bad feelings, but I’m acting on something different.

† The next part of this is walking with God. Every store you go into, every hard thing, you are doing it with the Spirit of God near you. Hovering, gently touching, ready to take the hard things on. Jesus beside you, looking at the tags on the second-hand sweaters, or finding a clear, soaring path through the tangly jungles of social interactions. Going for a jog with you. Looking at you with such clear-eyed tenderness, even though he knows every single hard or bitter thing in your heart. 

‡ The advanced pose is to not base what you do or think on the imagined reactions of others. For those of us with anxiety or neurological differences, this is trickier than it might appear. Some of us don’t actually know what we really think. And even trying to figure it out can bring on a whole emotional break down. Why? Because it can be a terrifying thing to realize that you don’t actually know how to be if you aren’t basing it on the reaction you are expecting. This is an intermediate trick, therefore, but it is a very friendly thing you can do for yourself. I call this permission to exist. See the next point.

§ This can be confusing also. Of course, we are interconnected. Of course, we touch each other in every area of life, and kindness goes an incredible distance. Mostly because we have the privilege of reassuring others that they too have permission to exist. But there is something about defining yourself as a role that is dehumanizing and doesn’t honor God in his continuing creation within you. For instance, if you are the role of mother, in the verb sense, you can fail at this. But you can’t fail at being a human, at being a creation of the most beautiful, smart, absorbing and wonderful being in the world.  

¶ This includes doing nice things and not feeling guilty about them or trying not to enjoy them because you’re fairly sure you shouldn’t be okay with being happy. Forget that crap!

** No judgment here. I’m in the self trash talk boat. Valiantly leaping out of it, swimming for shore.

***

Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts, as well as my books as soon as they are available. I really really appreciate your support, it helps me to keep going with writing and publishing my work.

The bad place.

IMG_4092.JPG

I’ve been in the bad place again. 


The bad place feels like accusation. Lack of permission to exist. Wanting to not exist. 

It feels like self loathing.

Itchy skin.

Tears that won’t stop.

It feels like irrational fear about saying or doing the wrong thing, so much that there is no Rae anymore, only a duffel bag full of fear. A Rae-shaped duffel bag full of fear. 

It feels frozen. Clingy. Desperate. Frantic. Oh anxiety, you old, one-eyed cat.

Coming out of the bad place feels like a bird slowly coming down, down, down and lighting on a branch.

It is driving through tiny alleyways and noticing signs. Reading, writing down words that resonate in a journal. Seeing that the chairs in the optometrist shop are wearing socks. Immediate delight over a sign with the misspelling, “Marry Christmas.” Walking through aisles of yarn or enameled plates. Deciding that now is definitely not the time to try any Christmas shopping. (What are you crazy?)

It is breathing through waves of fear and pain that radiate out of the sternum.

It is reminding myself, “I am allowed to exist.” At stoplights. In bed. While looking for chocolate chips at the bake shop. Anywhere the panic comes. “God sees me. I’m not alone.”

Eating salad. Also sushi.

Looking at the sky.

Thinking about tomorrow and immediately panicking, so stopping that right away. Today is enough to think about. Driving home. The mountains will be cold. Is my coat good enough? Maybe not, it is actually a hoodie, not a coat, why did I say coat? 

The bird tucks its head under its wing for a wee nap. 

Tomorrow will come and I will be here. I am allowed to exist.

***

PS: Mom, don’t worry, I’m okay.

***

PPS: I’ve been sharing a bit of Advent content (not every day because that’s not really my strength set) for Patrons at Patreon. Come check it out if you are interested. xoxo

PPPS: Have you checked out the Shekina Meditation Podcast yet? You should.

Today.

IMG_2104.JPG

I am okay. I will be okay. Thanks to anyone who checked on me and thanks to those who didn’t, because I sense that you know I am okay.

I wrote and read the love letter poem because a great amount of the suffering that comes with depression is the fear and experience of judgment. I get it all the time, in little and big ways. Why can’t I just be normal? Why is someone like me, apparently accomplished in many ways, still like an injured bird? 

I also have a tribe of loving people around me who understand, either from their own experiences or just from being awesome and caring and understanding. I wish that for everyone. I wish people who suffer from mental illness to feel validated and cherished.

And today is always new and fresh. While it is called today, I will not harden my heart, but strive to enter the rest of God, as it says in the book of Hebrews. 

Rest. Ah… how I would love to have a restful mind. I don’t, so my rest looks like reading, writing, painting, riding a motorbike through jungly growth, and sitting with fireflies. 

“While it is still called today.” The day is always called today. It is another way of saying, It is never too late.

I am out from under the heaviest of this, and today I give thanks for breezes, for birds, for Isaac hugs in the morning, for Chinua my beloved, for music and fun and breath of new days ahead. For good hard work and the gentle touch of God, who loves, who loves, who loves.

A love letter to the mentally ill.

Possibly it's obvious to those of you who have been reading for a while. I've had a tricky time with the anxiety gremlin lately. The cat has been sitting on my chest. I have trouble breathing at the strangest of times. 

And then there has been suicide in the news, and the two have me thinking about shame and stigma and what it feels like to have a mind you can't trust. How hard it is to understand. I have been ashamed of my mind, how it exposes me, how I break down in public places. So I wrote a poem and then I read it, and here it is. 

And I want to take a moment thank my friend Leaf, who has been speaking truth to me lately, and my family and community, who are kind and understanding. Let's be there for each other. 

Tiny ways.

Photo credit: Kenya Ford

Photo credit: Kenya Ford

Last night I went for a drive and all the edges of the clouds were edged with light. 

“Pull me up there,” I whispered.

Are you tired of escape poetry from me?

Listen, I’ve been running forever. Even when I run in place, right there in my kitchen thinking I should really get away but these children surely need to eat so here is the chopping block, here is the kale. Make it healthy, make it full of love.

Even when it’s just a corner of my soul retreating with my imagination, hand in hand. 

Trees, my soul whispers, leaves. The rustling light of leaves.

And my imagination concocts a new kind of Anne of Green Gables, one who actually gets power from trees, because trees and water buffalo and tiny tailor birds tell me that it is okay to be alive.

I am grateful for the books of my childhood. 

Wise people in the world create beauty out of violence, come out scathed but intact, and I have never experienced true violence, I have nothing to run from, really, except for the parts that feel like they will flake off if I can’t protect them sometimes.

I am better at staying when I run.

Here’s what it is: all the world of people is a code I don’t understand. Getting it wrong feels like stepping off a cliff, my heart in my throat. Twist of the ankle. Even after all this time, nearly forty years, I still don’t understand. I can tell myself and tell myself and tell myself. I write notes and notebooks and learn and memorize and I plunge myself in again and again. I ask questions. I study faces. I learn what is right and wrong and then I say something and it is the wrong thing again and maybe if I was different I would shrug the misteps off, but that is not me and I cry and cry until it feels like my eyes will explode. And then I get up and go into the world again. 

I am so tired. 

Yesterday, feeling my worst, I went to the pharmacy to get some allergy medicine for Kai. It was the kind of day when I felt exposed and afraid of people's eyes, like I didn’t want to be seen at all, I wanted to be invisible. But kids need medicine sometimes, so there I was in the shop. And in front of me were two older Karen men, in town from their village which was probably nearly two hours away. They were short, wearing tribal clothes, tasseled bags at their sides. They looked like they might be brothers, with the same lines in their faces. They stood and discussed all their options, with a leisurely sense of time, and as they did, they reached out to one another again and again, with an arm slung around the back, or gently touching the shoulder, or a hand on the back of the other’s neck. It was purely unconscious, little gestures of affection in the sterile pharmacy, figuring out medication and vitamins, one man translating the pharmacist's Thai words into Karen for the other.

I was so sad, but even then I couldn’t help seeing it. Tiny ways of being there for one another.

My little community has been having some rough days as we try to figure deep things out, and that means more situations where we all feel like we are out of our depth. And in the midst of it, my friends have been kind to me and to each other in generous ways. Leaf, made of light, bringing hope with her words, reaching out, speaking kindness, touching my arm or my elbow or my knee. Ro holding my hand, resting her head on my shoulder. Winnie with her endless kindness, checking in, buying iced coffee, pouring out love. Miri sending me verses and a picture she drew. Brendan with a bowl of food, offering to drop Solo off at his Science club. Josh with jokes and little nudges of humor that say, “You are my friend.” Neil and his rumbles and hums and murmurs of support. Olga with care for my daughter, showing up for hugs and a brief talk on the bench outside my house. All of our Pai community, with smiles on the motorbike, nods, music and help. And Chinua, my own, beloved Chinua, the Superstar Husband whom I have memorized, with arms and voice and lips that all say home. Chinua playing piano, Chinua giving me a hug, Chinua bridging gaps again and again.

I see all these things, these unconscious ways that we reach out to each other, speak love of God with one another. I name them, write them down, and the world feels livable again. Maybe I don't have to disappear.

There are light edged clouds, and there is rice in the bowl. Stones in the jar, in my hand. Imagination and the books of my childhood. My kids and other peoples’ kids swirling around like a stream of silliness and love. Poetry. All is not hopeless. The world is confusing and hard sometimes, and it circles around in new and surprising depths of hurt or pain, but it is edged in light.