Professor Pain

We all have a favorite teacher. I have several. My favorites were always those that I felt especially connected to for whatever reason. It seemed like the more I cared about them and felt they cared about me the better I did, the more engaged I was. I had always reasoned that teachers who were nicest and most caring were helping me learn best.

This is not actually the case.

There are other teachers, teachers and coaches with whom I had a love/hate relationship. GAH, they were so ANNOYING. Always pushing and sending work back, making me run a lap again, giving me bad grades or demanding that I do better. BLAH!!! This is STUPID!! It’s just a PAPER!! I HATE THIS!

It is with reluctant honesty that I now finally admit that I grew more under the teachers I loved to hate instead of the teachers that I just plain loved.

At the beginning of life, we see teacher as a person in front of a class. As we graduate school and move on into “regular life” the term teacher gets wider and bigger to include some rando on a train during our commute to work or a persistent life problem that we cannot shake. Just like in school, the teachers and professors we love to hate persist. The ones that help us grow the most are the ones who will not let us go no matter how belligerent we get. Those persistent professors are a pain in our ass.

 

Wait, let me re-arrange that…

“Our ass in pain is a persistent professor.”

 

A good teacher won’t let us go until we learn. A good coach won’t let us quit until we master the skill. What is the persistent pain in your life trying to teach you? Have you learned the lesson yet?

~Jennifer

 

If you have an area of persistent pain in your life and you could use some help learning the lesson, please reach out to therapy resources in your area. If you live in or near the Aiken, SC area, check the contact page to schedule a session with Jennifer.

Vulnerability

Vulnerability is a 13 letter word. I counted twice. But the way we treat it, you would think it was a 4-letter word. I ask people in my office all the time to define vulnerability for me.

“Weakness.”

“Being a sucker.”

“Opened to being tricked.”

“At Risk.”

“In Danger.”

“Incapable of protecting yourself.”

They aren’t wrong, necessarily. But these definitions, these instincts are based largely on what culture has taught us, and let’s be honest, our culture isn’t the most healthy and balanced.

Brene Brown, whom I love (please find and read all of her books immediately) defined  vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure,” which “we face everyday and are not optional.” I’ve written before about secrets and the prison they can lock us into. If that illustration was at all accurate, vulnerability is the key that unlocks the cell.

I’ll be honest, I was struck with wanting to write about this when I saw a friend’s blog about protecting ourselves from vulnerability. I understood their post and know where they were headed, but the idea bothered me deeply and for several days. Vulnerability is not the enemy. I’ll go one step further and just come out with this: pain is not the enemy either. Boy don’t we think so sometimes, though? Pain, whether it be physical or emotional must be kept far from us and we must do all we can to avoid it. Self medicate, isolate, restrict, discipline, shield..in short, bend over completely backward to prevent this awful thing from coming at us. It doesn’t work though, does it? Backbends can really hurt. Pain still finds us. Dammit Pain!

But why?! Why must pain find us? Why must we stay vulnerable to its possibility? Because without a willingness to feel life’s deepest pains, we absolutely cannot feel its deepest joy.

Stay Vulnerable, friends.

Secrets

screenshot_20171009-1319446376931420827440401.pngSometimes we do things we aren’t proud of. Maybe things happen to us that embarrass us or cause us shame. For some of us, there are things about our identity that we just know will make others hate us. Occasionally, we take those things and we turn them into secrets.

I used to think a secret was this thing we bury inside of ourselves that we want to protect from others. Lately I have been noticing something different. It seems that secrets aren’t things that we lock away in a cage somewhere, but things that lock us in cages.

Here’s the pattern I have been seeing. There’s a thing, a thing that causes us some shame and we have ourselves a secret. We go to great lengths to protect our secret. We lie, we evade, we deny, you know the drill. Sometimes we might think about just confessing the secret. We might even feel the words creeping up into our throats when around people we care about. We practice the words when we are alone.

 

“I cheated on you.”

“I take things.”

“I was abused as a kid.”

“I’m gay.”

“I’m in a lot of debt you don’t know about.”

“I throw up on purpose.”

 

We imagine what might happen if the secret crosses our lips and the image is almost always horrific. We envision people throwing things, telling others or walking away. It’s better if we don’t talk about it, ever. Things are good now, it’s not a good time. It would be selfish of me to confess this, I would only be doing it to relieve my own conscience.

Unfortunately, the longer it stays inside of us the worse things get. You might start to think that everyone knows and you look stupid. Or you start to tell yourself that if the people in your life knew, they wouldn’t be in your life. Then over time, every display of affection toward you gets immediately discounted. Someone says, “Wow, you are so awesome, I just love you.” And you hear a voice inside of you say, “If you really knew me you wouldn’t.”

At some point the little secret you kept in a cage deep inside has become the warden at the jail in which you are the only captive. And bizarrely enough, you are the only one who holds the key.

What a twisted mess.

 

So, what do you do? Well, sorry friend, I can’t tell you. That sucks, huh? The trouble with this mess is, there is no suitable one size fits all answer.

This is what I will tell you. As someone who was a chronic secret keeper, finally unlocking my own prison was the most magical thing I ever did for myself. Depending on the secret there were different ramifications. Some I was welcomed to pleasant surprises of support and affirmation and some left me with some bruised relationships that required work and healing. I also have some pals who have recently started living openly and vulnerably with people around them. For all of us, once the dust settles we find a fresh wind of confidence, strength and self acceptance that is worth far more than anything we might have been protecting ourselves from by keeping it inside.

I’ll leave you with this. There is officially no advice in this post, just an observation. If you think there are secrets compromising your relationships and you want help uncovering them, that might be an excellent reason to find a local therapist. We are good at that kind of thing.

Gratitude: The Antidepressant

Five years ago (ish) I was depressed. Lucky for me, so was one of my new friends. I was feeling old and getting older and felt like my life didn’t fit me. It was like a cheap pair of jeans that rode too high, sat too low and the button would never stay buttoned. Life was frustrating, uncomfortable and I felt like I looked ridiculous. My friend was younger, smart and catching on too quickly to the meaninglessness in what “grown-ups” spent their lives doing. In short, we were a miserable pair.

I don’t know what it was, me, her, some lame Facebook meme or what, but somewhere along the line we challenged each other to be grateful. Everyday. Every night really. We would text each other a list of five things that happened that day that we were glad for. It could be little, it could be huge, that didn’t matter. It just had to make our day better that day.

When we started, it was easy.

  1. Ice Cream
  2. no dog poop in my house
  3. warm blankets
  4. Paycheck day
  5. Dr. Pepper

After a few weeks it got harder.

  1. the dumpster is close to my house
  2. oranges
  3. lists
  4. numbers.
  5. I didn’t die.

Some days she would force me. Some days I would force her.

Some days we just wouldn’t do it. But most days we did.

The effects weren’t immediate. But they were powerful. It was such hard work some days to come up with something that made me feel happy or glad that day. Over time, something started to shift where it became easier and easier again. If you had asked me back then why life was getting better, I would have said, “well, life is just BETTER now than it was then. I am just lucky. Things are just happening.” But that is NOT what was happening for us. Gratitude was rewiring our brains. We could see more clearly just how great things were for us. That, in turn, made us feel better. That, in turn, made us try more things. That, in turn, gave us new opportunities. That, in turn, made life more exciting. And now, life is perfect. Just kidding. I have bad days and she has bad days, but they are nothing like what they were before gratitude. In fact, suddenly, I find myself in a field I’m wildly passionate about and she finds herself currently travelling all over the globe. Two lifelong passions now realized.  Seems like a good change.

 

Give it shot. You only have discontent to lose.