Archives for May, 2012
When my daughter was born, I wanted everything to be perfect. Her room was painted in a nontoxic soft lavender. Tiny clothes hung on tiny hangers. Childproof locks were installed on everything that could open. The day that I came home from the hospital after giving birth, my husband, new daughter and I stopped for lunch. After eating, I told my husband to meet me out front, I was going to use the restroom. I came out, and saw my husband, but not my two-day-old baby. He had forgotten her in the restaurant booth.
Erica* had a lot going for her. She had a good job, a solid group of friends, and was engaged to be married. One night, after having some drinks with friends, Erica accepted a ride home with Mark. Mark walked Erica to the door, then pushed his way in and raped her. After the sheer terror of the assault had passed, Erica sat sobbing. Despite having done nothing wrong, she felt an intense sense of shame. She questioned herself: why did I stay out so late? Why did I take a ride from a guy I barely knew? If I hadn't had that last drink, I could have fought back more. The more she thought about it, the more she blamed herself, and the deeper her sense of shame grew. She didn't tell anyone, because in the end she had convinced herself that the rape was her fault.
Have you ever felt your emotions getting out of control, and later wondered why? Maybe you became completely enraged when you found out that your child lied to you. Or when your spouse forgot about your lunch date, you felt rejected and unloved? At times, the level and intensity of a person's reaction doesn't match the level and intensity of the event. It's completely normal and expected for children to lie at times. People who love each other forget about lunch dates, anniversaries, and birthdays. But sometimes things happen that feel much bigger than they really are. Often these feelings come from experiences in childhood. In the moment, it can feel as if you're reacting not like an adult, but a fearful, angry, or scared child. This is emotional baggage.
When you think of bullying, what comes to mind? Elementary school? The pack of big kids who hung around at the park and wouldn’t let you play basketball? The huge 8th grader who stole your money? When most people think about bullying, they think of a time in their lives when they were growing up. They think of the past. Like many problems that exist throughout life, bullying doesn’t end at a certain age or level of maturity. Bullying does exist in adulthood. Sometimes it looks different or is called by different names: sexual harassment, stalking, workplace aggression, or scapegoating. But, like in childhood, bullying is one person controlling or harming someone else by use of power. Bullying is harmful. In the workplace, it can lead to job loss. It can break up friendships and alienate family members. It can occur in person or online through Facebook, internet groups, or email. It can happen through texting. Although someone who is bullied may feel powerless, there are things can be done to effectively deal with bullies.
For over a year and a half, the local coffee shop I frequent had an empty black frame hanging on the wall. And for all of that time, I wondered what the owner, Mo, was thinking. Was he being cheap? Lazy? Maybe he had walked past that frame so many times he simply didn’t see it anymore. Then last week, I noticed something. The once empty frame now contained the words “Think Outside the Box.” After a year and a half of hanging empty on the wall, an artist named Giovanni captured what Mo had wanted to portray with the empty frame all along: there is power in being able to see beyond what is readily apparent. The phrase “think outside the box” means to consider things in a new and different way. Everyone sees the world through their own frame, or box. Early on in life, people are given labels, told who they are and what is expected of them. They are ‘put in boxes.' A teacher may label a student as gifted or slow. Parents see one child as the athlete, one as the smart kid, one as the comedian. Peers give the labels of stupid, ugly, dumb, fat, or loser. But boxes, no matter how ornate or beautiful, are limiting.
Being a parent is tough. Add to that depression, anxiety, personality disorders, mood swings, or psychosis, and you can multiply the difficulty of parenting by 100. Sleeplessness, a change in hormones and the increasing demands on a person’s mind and body that come with parenthood often make an existing mental illness worse. It’s rough! There are some things that new parents who struggle with mental illness can do to help themselves adjust to parenthood.
I was five years old and living in Seattle when Mount St. Helens, an active volcano in the Pacific Northwest, erupted. My memories of that day are sketchy. I recall ash on our car, and graphic pictures of the disaster shown in the newspaper and on TV. Plumes of soot and smoke darkened the sky, trees were blown down like toothpicks. A mountain top was replaced by a huge black crater. What sticks out in my mind is not the mountain, though. I remember an old man named Harry. Harry Truman lived at the base of the mountain. Prior to the eruption, he was informed that Mount St. Helens was showing signs of impending explosion. Harry refused to leave. He had lived on the mountain for over 50 years. It was his home, his work, his life. On a spring morning in 1980, Harry and his 16 cats perished under a rush of ash, rock, and debris. Did Harry die because he felt so tied to the mountain that he couldn’t fathom living somewhere else, even it meant death? Ever since she was nine years old, Amy wanted to be a lawyer. But now she’s 23 and failing law school. If she isn’t a law student anymore, who is she? How will she tell her parents? What will her friends think of her? What is she going to do with her life? She becomes depressed to the point of considering suicide.