life list

Self-Love Saturday: Learning to Live and Not Just Survive

Three weeks ago as I waited for my Human and Cultural Diversity class to start, I sat in a desk, staring blankly at my iPad screen, finger paused above the "submit" button, frozen. 

Can I really do this? 

I can't afford this....

Yes, yes I can. 

All of my bills are paid. 

We have a refrigerator full of groceries. 

I quickly did some calculations on paper regarding Brennan's upcoming birthday expenses and then looked back at the screen, staring intently at the "submit" button. 

I have enough. This won't break me. I can afford this. 

I sat staring first at the total amount and then the submit button, my eyes darting back and forth between the two, my mind racing, thoughts loud. 

I closed my eyes and started to breathe very slowly to keep the looming anxiety at bay. 

In.....

Out....

And then above the noise, I heard it....In between pounding heart beats I felt it.

Calm. 

Peace. 

"You deserve this A'Driane. Stop surviving your life and remember to live it. It's ok to live."

It's okay to live. 

I opened my eyes and hit the submit button. 

Relief and the tiniest pangs of excitement started sweeping over me as my confirmation number appeared on the screen and I stared at the itinerary outlined below it. 

Austin, Texas. 

I had just booked a flight for myself and Brennan to go to Austin, Texas.

A vacation. A six day vacation. To see some special people I love and care about, to see a city I hope to move to in the near future. 

Three weeks later, as I sit on my floor surrounded by clothes with an open suitcase in front of me, I still can't believe we're boarding a plane tomorrow and flying back to my home state. 

I still can't believe I actually took a step outside of my wishes and daydreams and tangibly grasped ahold of them. 

I know you're thinking, "big deal, you're going to Austin. So what?"

The so what is this: Since I separated from the military in 2006 and had Brennan in early 2007, I've been slowly getting back on my feet. I've mentioned before that I was practically homeless at one point and I eventually had to move back home with my parents. Stepping back into the civilian world with no employment, a child to raise, and no place to call my own hasn't been easy. I've spent the past six years much like I spent much of my childhood and teen years: surviving life and not really living it. 

I've been so preoccupied with trying to survive that I've forgotten how to live. Some of it is because I've had to in order to make it, but I've also forgotten how to live because I've let fear hold me back from really pursuing what I want out of life. 

I've let fear keep me in daydream mode, my mind filling up with wishes and hopes I've carefully stored away up on a shelf titled, "One Day....Maybe." I've been so focused on priorities and being responsible that I've suppressed the part of me that actually enjoys life. 

Enjoying life....that's something I've had to learn how to do while on this self-love journey. I grew up a military brat so traveling and seeing new places is something I LOVE to do. Stepping out and taking risks is a part of myself I've yet to really express, partially to circumstances but also to a huge amount of fear. 

I've always wanted to visit Austin...(living there is on my Life List for crying out loud) but when I realized I could make that happen by buying a ticket, fear and "what ifs"stepped in and made me question if I could really do it. I started to talk myself out of doing it, thinking that the more responsible thing to do would be to spend the money on something else...or save it. 

But the truth is, we're good. For the first time in a very long time, we have everything we need with more than enough left over to save and play with. 

I realized from this experience how important it is to not let circumstances or situations keep you from living your life. I know there are parts of our lives that demand our attention and focus, but that doesn't mean we are subject to just meandering our way through life, merely surviving from one day to the next. This experience has taught me to go after those things I've only wished and dreamed for, both big and super small, and I want to encourage you to do the same. 

What's your passion? What do you love to do? Where have you wanted to go? What's on your Life List? Are you talking yourself out of things because you don't think you can afford to take a step in a different direction? 

I heard a quote by Lysa Terkheurst yesterday that said this: "If we think we have forever, we forget to live for right now." 

Learn how to live your life and not just survive it. We were made to do more, to be more. We only get one shot. Let's do our best to give it our all and make it count. 

NaNoWriMo, Life Lists, & Coffee Beans

Man things have been CRAZY 'round here the past month, especially the last 2 weeks. Alot of it I've written about but haven't published because...well, considering where I've been mentally the past few weeks, let's just say alot of what I wrote was dark, angry, painful...hopeless...and even though I'm all about transparency, it's not always easy to hit the "publish" button. Suffice it to say that I'm not ready to share those posts yet....and when I am, I still might make them password protected so only certain folk can see them... Other things I haven't written about but will in another post hopefully later this week/weekend. A few things have changed for me in terms of school, I've had some breakthroughs in therapy, I've had some crazy racial incidents occur which have me at odds with Bucks County, PA, and some other good stuff has happened...but like I said I'll get to that in other post.

My last post dealt with a story about Carrots, Eggs, & Coffee Beans. At the end of it I mentioned that I am trying, with all of my might, to be a coffee bean and change the property of the hot water I'm in, break out of the mold, so to speak.

When I went to therapy two Saturdays ago, I spent most of it like I had the previous ones: bawling my eyes out and lamenting the fact that I feel robbed of  a normal, healthy life & existence. I had been telling my therapist how painful it is to realize that my illness (Bipolar Disorder) was brought about (for the most part) through no fault of my own. From what I've been learning through reading and just reflecting about my life & my family, genetics, environment, and exposure created the DNA for this disorder to exist and manifest in my life. Looking back I can see that while I may have started struggling severely with depression and anxiety as a teen, I've at least had anxiety since I was a child...probably between Alex & Brennan's age. Generalized anxiety? Intrusive thoughts? Panic attacks? PTSD? Living in fear? Chronic worrying?  Abuse, neglect, and other circumstances were the the breeding grounds for all of those and the set the stage for what I'm living and struggling my way through now. And it hurts. It angers me. It makes me angry with my parents, with my family, it makes me isolate myself from them even more than I already have. Their inability to own the parts they played in creating this mess of my life both infuriates and saddens me. The parts I played in creating this mess of my life infuriates and saddens me as well....but at least I can acknowledge that I'm also to blame for some of this-they cannot and probably never will. And that hurts me ya'll. Not as much as it did when I first started to realize it a few weeks ago, but it's still there like a dull ache.

And so two Saturdays ago, I was hysterically babbling  explaining this to my therapist, and asking her what the hell I was supposed to do with this...this...pain, this anger, this resentment, this...STUFF that had erupted like Mt. St Helens within me. "IT'S NOT FAIR! IT'S NOT FAIR FOR ME TO BE THE ONLY ONE LEFT TRYING TO PUT ALL THESE PIECES TOGETHER!' I screamed at asked her. "I WAS JUST A CHILD! WHY DOESN'T ANYONE GET THAT? WHY DO THEY ACT LIKE IT'S ALL MY FAULT THAT I'M LIKE THIS?! F---!" After a few years moments of silence she looked me dead in the eye and said, "This is not your fault. You need to know that. No matter what mistakes you've made as an adult that may have contributed to this, understand that this is not your fault. You couldn't control this. And the ones who could have at least tried their best to prevent it didn't. They failed you as parents. As family members. They didn't protect you, they didn't get you the help you needed. They subjected to you years of abuse and even sexual abuse. They can't own it because that would mean they would have to acknowledge what they've done and they can't. So they leave you to deal with it and deflect it all on you."

"Ok...I get that. I could try to wrap my mind around that and accept it. But what do I do? Why is this so hard? Why is it so damn hard for me to just SURVIVE, let alone LIVE? Why do I feel like I've been fighting my whole life just to claw out some meager existence? This is insane! Who would want to live with this? Seriously? I'm going on autopilot because anything else is just too damn hard...I'm tired."

What she said next hit me like an artillery round to the temple: " A'Driane....it's hard because you're doing something that no one in your family has made strides to do. First of all, you're seeking help. REAL help for what you're facing. You're not hiding behind faith, you're not hoping that prayer makes it all better, you're getting professional help. You're accepting a part of you and doing everything you can to not let it destroy you or make you "check out" on life. You're breaking patterns, you're refusing to recycle the garbage that's been dumped on you...Mental illness runs in your family on both sides and you're the first one to really seek help and medication and treatment.... and guess what? Breaking out of something like this, of anything really, is hard, hard work. It's like breaking ground for a new building-you have to break up and overturn what's there so you can lay down a foundation to build upon. That's what you're doing. You're breaking out and you're breaking ground-so you and your boys can have a better life. So your boys will have a better chance of fighting this than you did. You're different. Doing something different is always a struggle. But you have to keep going, because as much as it hurts, and as lonely as it is, the reward is going to far outweigh the cost. Promise me you're going to hang in there and keep fighting...."

And this ladies and gentlemen is the exact moment when I knew I had found the right person to work through this stuff with. She got "it," she got me....She understood...and she reminded me of something I had forgotten. Ever since I was a little girl, I've always said to myself, to God, I'll do things differently. I won't do what was done to me, I won't repeat what I had to go through. When I was pregnant with Brennan, I reiterated that promise, telling God I'd keep Brennan if He would just help me not recycle the garbage, if He would help me break the generational patterns from BOTH sides of my family. Until two Saturdays ago, I didn't fully understand what that promise meant. Now I do.

It means I'm a coffee bean. I've been in hot, boiling water my whole life, surrounded by circumstances and situations that were less than ideal and bred a lot of pain and dysfunction in my life and the lives of those around me. I could be a carrot and get soft, weak, mushy...or I could be an egg and let what I've been through harden me...I've seen examples of both of these in my family and in people I've met. But I've also met coffee beans-people who take what they've been through and allow it to change them in a way that changes the environment around them, breaking out and creating something new, something that smells amazing, something that can be useful. And I'm one of them. I understand so much more now that I really understand that I am a coffee bean.

So, with that knowledge I'm tackling the first item on my Life List: Write Book #1. I'm writing about my childhood, my mental and sexual abuse, how that has impacted me, and set the stage for now having to live a life with a beast of a disorder. I'm writing about my experience living with Generalized anxiety and how it led to my experience with Postpartum Anxiety & depression as well. I"m writing about how I'm trying to balance faith, motherhood, & mental illness. Why? Because I want to destroy the stigmas surrounding mental illness in the Christian & African American cultures. I want my voice, my story to be out there so someone else can know that they aren't crazy and that they aren't alone. I don't care about money or anything like that-I care about helping people. I care about removing shame & empathizing with others. So I'm writing my first book.

I signed up for NaNoWriMo's 30 day writing challenge and will be spending the entire month writing. The goal is 50,000 words, 175 pages of unedited, raw content. I'm not writing a fiction piece so I probably won't submit it (I'm considered a Nano Rebel) but I'm still using this challenge as a guideline to get the bulk of my story (or at least a huge chunk of it) out.  Not sure what I'm going to do with it once it's written in terms of structure or publication, but I'll cross those bridges when I come to them in December. For now, for November, the goal is to just write it out....write out everything that's coming to the surface as a result of (finally) being medicated and in therapy.

I started tonight, and got my first 5 pages and 1100 words done....even had one of those clarifying Oprah "aha!' moments while writing them out....

Here's to the next 170.