I began Mental Health Matters with the acceptance of my own mental health issues, and so, as I shift to share how I’ve developed healthier coping mechanisms, I’m returning to acceptance.
Accepting my adoptee status has been no easy feat. I was ashamed for a long time that I didn’t know who my parents were. Everyone around me seemed to be raised by their biological families. Why wasn’t I? Also, I grew up in the 70s and 80s, where we watched TV shows like, Diff’rent Strokes and Webster and movies, like Annie. Each depicted adoption by wealthy benefactors. My mother was a woman who went to dialysis three times a week and received a disability check; my father was a pharmacy technician at Northwestern Memorial. Many times, I questioned why I got the seemingly short end of the adoption stick.
Accepting my mother’s death and my father’s abandonment has been challenging. I frequently wish that I had “regular” parents and a typical situation. I understand that many families are dysfunctional, but I also know that some familial relationships function with what most would deem normality. Some people have two living parents who call, visit, and have healthy relationships with their grandchildren. I know this exists because I’ve seen it with friends and other family members. Again, I believed I’d been gypped.
Accepting I don’t belong with my biological family has also been tricky. While I didn’t think each would hold me in a long embrace, I did think most would recognize me as part of their “family” and attempt a relationship. I figured they’d want to know what I’d been up to the last forty or so years. But I was wrong. I ignored the fact that I was entering the middle and end of their lives. With my father, specifically, it seemed I’d disrupted the carefully crafted
lie man he’d constructed himself to be. For his wife and three of his children, my existence symbolized indiscretions and his flawed human beingness. It was too much for any of them to face.
But by the time I’d found my biological father, I was too grown to be ashamed of anything else.
Years ago, I began unravelling who I was and how I got here as a way to accept myself and my narrative. We…all…have…a…story. And each one is different. My story includes a schizophrenic mother. I mention her mental illness a lot because it’s a part of acknowledging her existence as a part of my own. Without my mother, Joyce, I wouldn’t be here. Equally important is my father, Jerome. During our initial phone conversations, he apologized profusely for inviting my mother up to his apartment that day. I assured him just as many times that there was little reason to feel regret. Without his lust, I wouldn’t be here.
In 2011, I decided to stop interacting with my adoptive father. He’d never understand my point of view or be the father I thought I deserved. Before I ceased communication, I created a ritual to forgive and accept the way he cast me aside during adolescence. A year later, he developed Stage 4 throat cancer. Two years before he actually died, he offered a face-to-face verbal apology. Accepting his “I’m sorry” helped me to accept our circumstances. My adoptive father was who he was, with his own set of challenges, and our lives had intersected and happened the way they were supposed to. In kind, I accepted my adoptive mother for who she was. She wasn’t always physically fit or financially secure, but she was mentally sound. And who am I to judge anyway? The same way I bore children with my imperfect an unhealthy self, she chose to adopt and raise me as her own with her imperfect and physically unhealthy self.
Accepting each of these parental parts has made it easier for me to accept myself. Additionally, acceptance for me has meant acknowledging my origin story. It doesn’t mean I have to like it, but I do accept the reality of it. Every now and then, I relapse into dream-like thoughts of the “perfect” family. But the majority of the time, I now know being me is nothing to be ashamed of.
It was 1993. Dwight and I had just figured out that we were in mutual adoration of one another. Smitten, really.
I was working at a pre-school, called Sara Swickard, which was affiliated with Western Michigan University, our alma mater. I knew I wanted to be a teacher and working at the pre-school made perfect sense.
One summer’s day, I left work to find a flower and a note attached to my car’s windshield. I don’t remember what the note said, but I remember how I felt, surprised and loved. It was a welcomed break from the booty calls I’d participated in and the unsuccessful partnerships I’d called “relationships.” He liked me. He actually liked me.
Dwight says I mention this memory often. He’s probably right because I can still conjure the butterflies that fluttered that summer if I think on it long enough. I know the depths of the shock of someone leaving a rose with a note on your windshield feeling. But the reality is I’ll never have it again. That was yesterday. He was different and so was I.
And that’s part of my challenge. I always want yesterday’s emotions.
For example, I remember my youngest daughter’s joy during her first conscious Christmas.
“For meeee???” she exclaimed when she realized all those shiny wrapped gifts were hers and hers alone. “Thank yoooouuu Mommeee! Thank yoooouuu Daddeee!”
Her face was indescribable. She’d never looked like that before and she’d never look like that again.
Christmas would become commonplace and sometimes obligatory. Gifts would be expectant, so much so, that when Dwight and I paid over $3k for her to visit England with her English teacher, she’d forget that Christmas 2018 was wrapped up in those sacrificial dollar signs and grimaced at the idea of having no tangible present. Her disappointment was palpable.
I want yesterday’s memories, the ones from over a decade ago.
I wish my oldest daughter was still an adolescent, taking selfies with her sister and me, complaining about how horrible my angles are, snatching my phone, while making it social media presentable. But she’s not. This past Christmas, she brought her boyfriend, who was seemingly attached to her physical being. Private conversations rarely existed because he was always around.
I was happy that she would be alone during our last Thanksgiving because that meant we could be like we were, pre-boyfriends and pre-adultood. Just the four of us. For once, I understood the difficulties of accepting your child’s significant other. It’s hard. You want to be welcoming, but at the same time, you wish things were like they were before they arrived.
But that’s impossible. Things can never be as they were before. Time moves on and changes occur.
So, I do the best I can accepting what is.
Dwight no longer believes people should use flowers the way that they do, so if he buys them and brings them home, the meaning is different. Desi knows Christmas is a social construct, so when she buys and receives presents there’s now an underlying awareness of societal conformity. Kesi brought her boyfriend home for the holidays. He will forever be etched in 2019’s holiday photos.
One day, I’ll stop chasing yesterday’s memories. One day, I’ll accept what is because to do otherwise is to invite suffering. And who wants to do that?
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:
A week or so ago, I revealed that there was some anxiety surrounding my upcoming visit with my brother and sister-in-law. For months, and all the way up to the moment we drove to their home, there were three specific things I did to prepare.
#1: Let go of all grievances! Like many people who have had challenging relationships, I had a list. The list was mainly comprised of interactions with my brother-in-law. They spanned from 1993, when Dwight and I first met through 2015. Everyday leading to the visit, I thought of each act where I felt mistreated. I actually saw the sentence in my mind on a piece of paper, until there was a list. Next, I crumpled up the list and threw it in a fire (in my mind). Because I believe that we’re all energy, I knew that I couldn’t possibly go into their space with a twenty-five-year-old list of everything I was angry about. I couldn’t bring that negative energy with me because it would be disruptive and it would cloud how I engaged. I’d be speaking and functioning from a space of hurt, pain, and suffering, instead of love, which was my ultimate intention.
#2: Love them the way I would anyone else! Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that if I like, love, or care about someone, then I interact differently. For example, if I care about you, then I look you in your eyes, ask you about your well-being, and fully participate in conversation. If I don’t, then one of those actions is missing. For this trip, I knew it was my sister-in-law’s birthday, so I decided to act as I would if I was visiting a friend and it was his or her birthday. Dwight had already planned to buy a bottle of wine, but I also suggested bringing enough gourmet cupcakes for her and her family of six. We’d also chosen a beautiful card to accompany her gifts.
#3: Visualize positive interactions! Law of attraction and creative visualization have undergirded the last two decades of my life. If you’re not familiar, at the base of these teachings is the idea that emotion and images create the life you want or the life you have. As I mentioned before, I intended to bring love to the situation; accessing that emotion was no problem; however, visualizing it in their space was challenging sometimes. I imagined myself ringing their doorbell and both of them opening the door. I created an image and a dialogue where I was very excited to see them.
I’d planned to say, “Heeey Happy Birthday!”
She would then say, “Thank you so much.”
Then, I would hand her the box of cupcakes and she would be very appreciative.
I’m sure there’s some scientific name for this, but visualizing positive interactions was hard to do because my brain kept reminding me of the old story. It goes like this: even if they knew it was my birthday, they would probably never bring me a gift. Then, my brain reminded me of something on the list: one year my brother-in-law convinced his father that my birthday was two days later, which was hurtful. When that happened, I reverted back to strategy number one, removed the act from the list again, and continued visualizing. I imagined holding an in-depth conversation with my oldest nephew, and even though I didn’t really know my younger nieces and nephew, I saw us laughing and playing games.
These three things worked for me, and as promised, I will update you on the actual visit tomorrow.
Written for Debbie’s blog and #ForgivingFridays.
About two years ago, I created this kwote. If you’ve been following my blog, even for a little while, then you know this is one of my personal mantras: Live your life, unapologetically. People generally agree with this sentiment. I mean really, not many disagree that following your heart and doing what you want with your life is a positive way to function.
The challenge comes when it’s other people’s lives. Sometimes, we want the freedom to be and live how we want, but we want to confine and judge the choices that other people make about their own lives.
Allow people to live their lives unapologetically.
I’m not exempt from this. Sometimes I get the urge to share some sage wisdom I learned when I was in a similar situation. I can see the “missteps” people make with jobs, relationships, or children because I’ve been there before. Or have I? I have children, but I’ve never been a single parent. I’ve been married for 20 years, but my marriage is set up quite differently than other married couples’.
How can I advise someone of next steps when they are a different person, with his or her own experiences, living in a different time period? I cannot. And I usually do not. Any friend or family member gets the same answer if they ask me what they should do about fill-in-the-blank: You already know what to do.
Let that sink in for a moment. You already know what to do.
For me, this is true for everyone. I know it may feel better to ask three or four people if you should take the job offer, but deep down, if you’re quiet enough, you will know if you should shift positions. Here’s the question: If you already know what to do with your life, don’t you think the same might be true for your child or brother?
Listen. I hate to sound like Polyanna. Trusting yourself and your intuition is hard if you’re used to relying on other people’s opinions. But there’s a beauty in it. Once you’re able to trust your own guidance system, then something magical happens. You’re able to allow other people to live their own lives, without explanation too.
*This Monday Note is brought to you courtesy of someone providing me with unsolicited advice about how I choose to live. Instead of participating in an argument, I simply wrote responses in my Notes section 😉 Let me know what you think.