Thank you for indulging in my year of discussing how mental health issues showed up in my life and how I’ve managed to become a healthier version of myself. I wanted to close out the year with a few resources that supported me over the past six years just in case you planned on working on yourself in the future. *
Oprah & Deepak Miraculous Relationships 21-Day Meditation: I remember doing this meditation like it was yesterday. I’d sat down to figure out how I could have better relationships with everyone in my life. At that time, I wasn’t speaking to one of my favorite cousins because he hadn’t introduced me to his then fiancée, had missed my doctoral graduation, and had begun drifting away from me. Two of my goddaughters hated me; one of them, according to their father, didn’t even want to vacation in Florida because then, they’d “have to visit Kathy.” And my marriage was a hot mess. When I sat down to do this meditation, I thought for sure it was going to offer a prescription for how to be better at relationships. Instead, it focused on the relationship I had with myself. It truly was miraculous, and I recommend it for anyone who has so-called relationship issues.
Mindvalley: It’s hard to explain what Mindvalley is, and I don’t even remember how I stumbled across it, but many of the videos and podcasts that the founder, Vishen Lakhiani offers have helped me develop a new perspective of the world and everything in it. For example, Lakhiani created a term called brules, which stands for bullshit rules. In short, these are cultural norms that we all learn that limit who we can become. One brule is “your success should look like someone else’s success,” something that I think we can all agree isn’t true. Mindvalley offers information from people you may (or may not) have heard of, such as Lisa Nichols, Michael Beckwith, Jim Kwik, Marisa Peer, or Neale Donald Walsch. Each person has a specific message about a topic intended to increase your personal growth. I especially suggest listening to the podcast whenever you can.
Mirror Work: 21 Days to Heal Your Life: Louise Hay, the author of this book, is an internationally and well-known healer. But before I praise the contents, I do want to say, that of course, no one can heal themselves, no matter the issue, in twenty-one days. However, this book is a great example of something that can jumpstart the process. I enjoy it because it provides you with four things: 1) a short explanation of the day’s concept, 2) the day’s mantra and mirror work, 3) a journal prompt, and 4) a free meditation you download from Hay’s site. With the exception of two, I spent approximately fifteen minutes per day doing this mirror work. Even though I’d done a lot of introspection and healing over the course of six years, this book was very helpful in showing me where I still needed to heal and grow. It highlighted people with whom I still held resentment and anger and provided me with healthy ways to acknowledge, accept, and move forward in processing these emotions.
Other resources that I won’t explain in great detail:
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is like a self-help book masked as literature. The overall message (for me) seemed to be that all of our lives are spiritual journeys and how we walk them is up to us. Essentially, we can do what we want here on this earth.
“The 7 Essene Mirrors” explained by Gregg Braden shows how we’re all, essentially, mirrors of one another. Everyone with whom you’re close to is showing you something about yourself. This video is two long hours, with no glitz or glam, but it helped me process possible reasons for why I judged those close to me.
Get Over It!: Thought Therapy for Healing the Hard Stuff is a self-help book that is a little woo-woo. If you believe that perhaps your mother’s mental state and overall health condition during the time you were floating around in amniotic fluid impacted you in some way, then this book is for you. It’s mostly centered on cognitive behavioral therapy concepts, which loosely explained, demonstrates how thought processes can lead you to a better way of dealing with past trauma.
As we enter 2021, I hope we remember that no matter what’s going on around us, we still have a responsibility to name, heal, and process what’s going on inside of us. Each of these resources have helped me to deal with my mental health in some way, which has also shifted how I function in most relationships.
Please feel free to add anything in the comments as I believe you never know what may support someone else.
*Disclaimer: I have not been paid to market any of these resources. Statements are my personal opinion.
As a writer, I’d love to end the story with, and I never returned. As a person showing up in authentic spaces, I’ve created for myself, I want to tell the rest of the truth.
Of course, I returned. I had to get my purse.
But I didn’t want to.
That evening, I’d stayed up well past midnight journaling: writing and processing, processing and writing. It had worked when my father died, so perhaps it would work with this situation. I wrote until my eyes were heavy. Part I of this series is the result.
“I don’t belong here,” I told Dwight the next morning.
“Here in Covert or here in your family?”
“Both,” I sighed.
But we had a wedding to attend. I’d decided the only way I could live through the remainder of my time in Michigan was to drink, to remain self-medicated so as to numb any future pain.
Forget cognitive behavioral therapy.
I didn’t want to feel the heat rise should my grandmother tell me to speak up or beg me to engage in meaningless conversation.
So, I drank until I ran out of the liquor I’d bought for myself. Then, I started on what was available, which included bottles reserved for college dormitories.
By the time my cousin went from Miss to Mrs., and by the time the last car backed out of the driveway, I…was…drunk.
Dwight, my aunt, her beau, and I stood in the kitchen. I don’t remember what set me off into a Shakespeare-like soliloquy, but I projected all of my thoughts from the time I was sixteen to present day onto my aunt. For over two hours, I expressed my likes, dislikes, wants, and needs from all the adults who raised and didn’t raise me. I cried and purged. I spewed almost every part of my life, from stories I’ve written for this blog, to words encompassed in an unpublished memoir. I left it all there in that kitchen in Covert, Michigan.
I’ve gone back and forth with myself about sharing this, but I’ve decided it’s okay for a few reasons:
Healing isn’t linear. I’m not sure where I first read this, but it resonated. In this culture, we act as if there’s a magic healing wand. I blame popular media, as well as the instant nature of society. Once you do x, y, and z, then you’re “cured” of your trauma and you live happily ever after. That’s simply not the truth. I’ve spent years working on myself. Most days, I’m super good and never think about my past. Other days, I visit my grandmother and feel like an oppressed teenager who’s learned to silence my own voice before someone does it for me. That doesn’t mean I’m not healed. It means I’m a human being, who can be triggered.
People are not perfect. We want the “I Have a Dream” speech MLK, but we don’t want to hear about his alleged adulterous behavior. We want our heroes unblemished, like fictional Marvel caricatures. But Spiderman loses frequently, and Tony Stark seems to be a bit of a jerk. I’ve written The Greatest Thing About My Grannie and meant every word; however, I also see her as a multidimensional human being who isn’t always very nice or emotionally supportive. Likewise, as I noted at the beginning, I’d rather present my own self as a whole person, rather than a perfect being who walks around quoting pithy reflections.
One moment is one moment. Everyone asked how the wedding was, and I wanted to say, it was good, except for the part when…but there was no need to repeatedly mention this situation. Doing so would be a form of unnecessarily beating myself up and carrying energy that needed to dissipate in my grandmother’s kitchen. The best thing to do was to contemplate what happened, apologize to my aunt for the timing and manner in which I expressed myself, and move on. It was one moment.
You can be gifted, helpful, and flawed. When we returned home, I received several pieces of good news that have come and gone. Someone from the United Negro College Fund (UNCF)/Mellon Mays Conference contacted me about a paid presentation. One of my essays was published in another anthology. Dr. Dinardo’s institution, St. Clair, and their SRC revised our video on situational anxiety and showed it on IGTV. I know that a lot of people believe you have to have it all together before you can be impactful in the world. I’m here to tell you…you don’t. Your favorite celebrity is proof enough of that.
I began this series with my husband’s question, “Can you imagine living here?”
My answer is clear. Not only can I not imagine living in Covert, Michigan, I also have no intention on returning.
Watch Dr. Dinardo’s keynote, “Emotional CPR: Catch Triggers Before They Escalate” to learn how to recognize and rein in triggers before they get out of hand.
As promised, I’m shifting the focus of Mental Health Matters to discuss ways I’ve learned to be a less codependent version of myself. This week, I’ll discuss one of the characteristics of being codependent: having low self-esteem.
Self-esteem is defined as the manner in which we evaluate ourselves. For example, I’ve always believed myself to be a pretty and intelligent person, thus creating high self-esteem.
However, self-worth is the belief that you are loveable and valuable regardless of how you evaluate your traits. Your self-worth is directly related to your childhood. For example, because I was abandoned as a baby and then later as an adolescent, I believed I was literally worthless. Underneath my highly rated self-esteem was a very low self-worth. I truly believed I didn’t deserve love.
But over time, I’ve developed a higher sense of self-worth with these three practices:
Remove Personal Value from Abandonment. As a person who was abandoned by her birth and adoptive parents, I constantly wondered why? Why was I left? What was wrong with me? Because I’m analytical, the conclusion that made sense was…I guess they didn’t love me. To establish a higher self-worth, I had to separate my parents’ actions with how much they valued or loved me. Like all adults, each of my parents had their own reasons for how they lived life. And although their actions negatively impacted me in some ways, it had nothing to do with my worthiness but, rather, everything to do with their own issues and rationales. There is no reason for me to take any of my parent’s choices personally and there is definitely no reason to assign my value to their decisions.
Enact Self-Love. The other day, I was listening to Dr. Shefali Tsabary. Loosely paraphrased, she suggested that if four basic needs weren’t met by aged two, then you’re not going to receive them unless you give them to yourself. My experience tells me she’s right. Once I realized I had low self-worth, I knew one thing I had to do was love my own self. So, six years ago, I visualized myself as a five-month-old abandoned baby. Being a mother, I knew a baby needed physical contact, food, and security. In my imagination, I picked up baby kg, hugged myself, and told myself: I love you. You matter. Just last month, I learned that you can also give yourself a hug as a way to show yourself love. This month, I’ve continued my self-love work practice by reading and enacting Louise Hay’s mirror work. Self-love, for someone who hasn’t had it, can be ongoing work. But it’s worth it. I mean, who else is better equipped to remind myself that I’m worthy of love than me?
I AM Statements. A therapist once pointed out that I used the phrase I’m not important a lot. Whenever a family member or friend didn’t do something I’d asked, then I concluded it was because I wasn’t important. The therapist suggested a homework assignment: Write I am important, repeatedly. I’d already been keeping a gratitude journal, so I began writing it there. After I realized I had to love myself, I added I am love to the list. I also write I am adequate as a way to remind myself that I am fine just the way I am…today…in this moment. Whether I have achievements, people, or neither…I am adequate being who I am. I’ve written these statements at least four times a week for almost ten years.
So, what does this have to do with codependence? Although Beattie only mentions self-esteem, I firmly believe that low self-worth can also lead to unhealthy, codependent attachments. For me, each relationship, including my marriage, served to prove that I was lovable and worthy of love, that I mattered.
These three strategies have helped me to know my worth, and consequently, have made me less likely to develop relationships to prove my value.
If necessary, I hope what I’ve shared works for you, too. And if you have more suggestions to add, please feel free to do so in the comments.
Perfectionism also used to dictate how I showed up in personal and work relationships. There was a time when I did things because I wanted to be perceived as the best fill-in-the-blank person. For example, I wanted to be the best co-worker, so I overextended myself, attended meetings that had little value, and was always the first to complete a task. I wanted whatever director or department chair over me to see me as “the best.” Oftentimes, I functioned similarly with family. I wanted to be seen as the person whom everyone could count on, the person who my cousins could call no matter what. So, I visited for holidays even though it wasn’t ideal; I showed up with my family in tow, no matter how it impacted my household. This was due in part to the perfectionist identity I’d unconsciously developed.
But functioning like that bred resentment. There were many times when I would be the “best co-worker” and when it went unnoticed, I took it personally and grew bitter, wondering why no one acknowledged my extra efforts. Or better yet, I’d be mad because someone who’d done less received accolades for minimal activity. When we drove our family out of state year after year, I grew angry. Few family members ever planned holiday visits to my home.
Around 2015, I stopped worrying about being the best co-worker, best family member, best friend, or best anything and started just being the best version of me for me. In action, this simply means that instead I focus on being present and doing the best I can in that moment. I avoid doing things that don’t physically or emotionally feel good or that cause my family or me distress. And the last thing I think about is how the other people to whom the answer is sometimes, “no” may feel.
Functioning this way takes practice and sometimes I lapse. For those times, I pause and become more conscious. For example, the chair of a committee I’m on sent an invite on a Sunday evening for a meeting that began at 5:00 PM on Monday. Not only was the meeting scheduled at the last minute, but it was also 20 minutes farther from where we typically meet, which would add on to my already hour and 45-minute commute. My first thought was to rearrange everything so that I could make the meeting. But then I stopped and asked myself why? Why am I doing this for someone who scheduled a meeting at the last minute? The only reason I would is to appear like the “best co-worker.” It had nothing to do with the value of the agenda. Instead of acquiescing, I simply told her I couldn’t make it. And you know what? The world did not end. I’m not fired. I’m still on the committee, and I saw them the following month.
I hope this isn’t confused with the idea of “doing your best.” No matter what I do, I give 100%. I’m fully present and invested. I’m just no longer concerned with being perceived as the best.
Remembering anything is possible has been one of my goals since 2017. It’s the first sentence on my list of goals that sits on the right side of my bathroom mirror. I remind myself of this because it keeps me not grounded. It reminds me of life’s possibilities.
Recently this statement was reinforced. One of my colleagues contacted me and asked if I would be the keynote speaker for a session at our national literacy conference. Their original speaker was Laurie Halse Anderson. Laurie…flipping Halse Anderson! If you don’t know who she is, then click here. She had a scheduling conflict and had to bow out. Because my colleague knew that three other women and I have an edited anthology coming out October 2020, he thought showcasing our work would be a good fit.
I had zero hesitation. I knew I could deliver the keynote because my co-editors and I have a strong message about marginalization in sports media and a desire to highlight how we talk about or don’t talk about issues of diversity and representation. Think Megan Rapinoe, Serena Williams, Simone Biles, and the most obvious, Colin Kaepernick. But I digress.
My point is never in a million years would I have thought I’d be replacing Anderson or giving a speech about this topic in November 2019. But anything is possible. All you have to do is be open to the anything and maintain alignment with what you value.
If you have 14 minutes to spare, here’s what I had to say:
August 12th was a beautiful day. We’re in Florida so it was 98,000 degrees, but it was a beautiful 98,000 degrees because my friend, Tarra had just returned from China. She’d been singing in a Shanghai nightclub for the past eight months.
WhatsApp kept us close. Text messages, videos and voice-recordings preserved our relationship.
“Plan a day for us,” she texted before her arrival.
I agreed, but I forgot to tell her that I rarely plan things anymore, not entire days at least. She’d find out soon enough.
We began that Saturday with breakfast at our favorite spot, Another Broken Egg.
“Do you mind if I invite John?” she asked.
I didn’t mind. I’d visited John’s home with her last year. Blue crab and conversation permeated the air and left me with a fondness for him. It was fine.
We talked and laughed over fried green tomatoes, lobster and Brie omelets, and shrimp and grits. Tarra’s overseas stories captivated my imagination, and reminded me of every other artist’s story; the opportunity to sing in another country was fascinating, but underhanded business practices seem to be the norm.
Once breakfast was over, a girl outside agreed to photograph our mini photo shoot:
Tarra by herself.
Tarra and me.
Tarra and John.
John and me.
Tarra, John, and me.
I’m grateful for younger people who understand the importance of documenting events. She didn’t ask questions or look annoyed.
A few weeks prior, I’d asked Tarra if she wanted to do a wine tasting.
“I’d love to,” she responded. “I’ve never been to one.”
Doing things that someone has never done before excites me. I dusted off my Cooper’s Hawk wine tasting gift card and we headed ten minutes up the street. My friend had only had an African Shiraz and hadn’t been very impressed. Now, we were on a red wine mission.
As the sommelier poured and explained each glass, I laughed as Tarra’s former educator-self shone through. Check + for Rosé. Check – for Lux Pinot Noir.
We talked about over-40 lady issues, her relationships, and my children. I shared my latest writing projects with her. We high-fived and toasted to achievements and marveled at how we’d attained them in the first place. That’s the type of friend she is. We’ve deemed one another Dream Partners. She was there when I completed my PhD and I was there before she stepped into her calling. Everyone needs someone to say, “You can do it,” especially when you’re not so sure you should, much less can. She’s that friend.
I checked my phone. It was two o’clock already.
“I have a confession,” I began, “I know it’s not like me, but I didn’t plan the rest of the day. I’ve changed quite a bit…not as anal as I used to be. I figured we’d just find something to do.”
“You know. That’s not like you at all, but we can do whatever.”
A thought popped into my mind. “Let’s take a riverboat tour!”
She agreed. Twenty minutes later, we were downtown and looking for the loading dock. We’d also lucked out and could do an hour tour with another group.
By now it was 158,000 degrees outside, plus those eight tastings were slowly taking effect. I fell asleep about 15 minutes in, so much so that when Tarra woke me up just in time to take this picture, I didn’t even remember that I was on a boat. My photog instinct kicked in just in time. And I’m grateful because this is something I’ve only seen from the water.
“You’re welcome!” She said. “I thought you wouldn’t want to miss this.”
“Thank you,” I said, wiping my forehead with the toilet tissue the tour guide had handed me when we first boarded.
Our water taxi lasted much longer than an hour. The captain’s and tour guide’s shifts ended, and somehow, we ended up taking another lap around the St. Johns River with the new crew.
We disembarked by five o’clock and headed to her friend’s get together. There, three other women welcomed Tarra back to the States. One of the lady’s husbands had made blue crab, shrimp, sausage, and eggs, a Jacksonville staple. We sat around the round, glass table and reveled in Tarra’s growth and presence. It’s hard not to leap spiritual bounds when you’ve been living independently overseas.
My phone read 9:00. It was time for me to hug Tarra good-bye and head back home.
I reflected on the twelve hours we’d shared. They were easy. They were calm. They were relaxing. They were exactly how I would expect spending the day with a friend should be.