My teen had a somewhat tumultuous weekend. The ups, the downs, and the in-betweens. Usually, during low times, she clams up, goes to her room, and doesn’t share what’s bothering her. Later, she may share but not until it’s resolved.

My child, like a lot of teens, has had trouble finding a niche. However, she’s had trouble for some years and the trouble she has now is more than typical. She is sensitive, emotional, and outgoing. She is passionate about her friends and loves belonging to groups whether it is band, her circle of friends at school, or members of her choir. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of stability in her connections.

Yesterday, she told me that she felt sad. She didn’t tell me why but she was also asking me a lot of questions, which gave me hints into what might be bothering her. Talking to my kid is like talking to a butterfly as she flits in and out of the conversation as well as in and out of the room. I am no mind reader but I am a pretty good guesser. Nonetheless, a lot of the things I say to her are not taken well. We’d had a couple of good talks over the weekend and I thought I’d take a chance. Also, I decided to discuss things generally, instead of personally, something I know as a professional works better with teens, but I often forget to do as a mother.

I asked her to sit down on the couch beside me and this is what I said, “It is really hard in life to find a group in which you feel you belong. Sometimes, you discover a group and it seems perfect and wonderful. As time goes by, you form relationships and there are conflicts. People can try to exclude you. Then you can feel like you don’t belong anymore. This is really hard.” She nodded her head in recognition. I continued. “You will always belong in this family. No matter what.” She smiled, reached for my hand, and squeezed it. “Thanks, Mom.”

I said the right thing at the right time and place to help ease my child’s pain. It is the bittersweet spot of parenting in which I rarely find myself. I am grateful for this.

I have lived in the state of Washington for 40 of my 49 years. My parents loved camping and hiking. My husband and I love camping and hiking. Subsequently, I have spent a fair amount of time in the forested areas of Washington and our neighbor to the south, Oregon.

The trees of the Northwest are powerful, long-lived, and majestic. The inspire us with their appearance and are downright useful. They provide habitat for many animals, oxygen, shade, and prevent erosion, among many other things.

There are many uses for live trees. There are also uses for dead trees. The Northwest is a major supplier of lumber. Even nearby Tacoma, has the nickname, “Aroma of Tacoma” due to the odor of pulp mills, which is a perfume that no one would ever dab behind each year.l

Dead trees are incredibly useful. They are used to make paper, cardboard, and lumber. Lumber is used in construction. Lumber is even used to make toothpicks. We use a lot of wood in our lives.

Live trees are beautiful and useful.

Dead trees are useful.

Both statements are true.

There are also hard truths that accompany these truths, of which I was reminded during a trip to Oregon state last week.

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The brown areas? They used to look like the green areas. This is what the forest looks like after a clear cut. Every tree is cut down within a particular area. Are there other ways to log that don’t involve taking down every tree? Yes, there are. But clear cutting still happens and from what I can see looking up at the mountain sides, it is still a common way of logging.

While in rural NW Oregon, I spotted about seven logging trucks just like this one in the span of about an hour while killing some time in the small town of Vernonia, which has a population of just over 2000 people.

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Those logs are on their way to being made into useful products that we use on a daily basis.

But remember, there’s this.

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The forest is alive with many living things, both flora and fauna, not just trees. And yet here, I just see a whole lot of dirt. There was an entire mini-ecology alive there. Now it is not.

Even clear cutting is not clear cut.

There are so many things in life that are not clear cut. Many truths are afoot in our lives, even truths that seem at great odds with one another. One term in psychology for this is “dialectic”, which is a foundational principle of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). There are a number of definitions for dialectic going back to ancient times. In DBT the dialectic is more closely allied with eastern philosophy, specifically dualism. I am no expert in this model but my understanding is that instead of looking at the world in terms of right and wrong, one looks at disparate positions and considers both to contain truth. To make a long story short, this can help people from getting stuck, move to acceptance, and get on with their lives. It does not mean not having an opinion or agreeing with everything.

I have been trying to engage more in dialectical thinking. Dialectics come up frequently in the breast cancer community. Cancer sucks! (True) Cancer is a gift. Lots of us have trouble with statement number two. But there are many people who do see their cancer experience as being a gift. From a dialectical perspective, I would work to accept both of those realities. I don’t have to agree. Both statements do not have to be true FOR ME. But I can accept that there is truth to both positions. For me, that is freeing. I can just be who I am and think the way I think without trying to convince anyone or feel invalidated by someone else’s seemingly incompatible truth.

Dialectics come up a lot in parenting a teen. My child has truth underlying wants and beliefs.  My husband and I have truth in our wants and beliefs. We work toward what is called in DBT, The Middle Path, the way that honors both sides of the dialectic. It is not a simple compromise but often includes compromise. It often includes a lot of creative problem solving, knowing when to flex, when to stay firm, and when to provide opportunities for growth and change.

Dialectics come up a lot in American politics, seemingly every single second of the day!

Last week, two amazing things in the U.S. occurred. The first was a national outcry against the continued display of the Confederate flag in public places in the South, particularly on government buildings. Personally, I hate what the Confederate flag represents in my country. I am glad to see that public opinion is impacting states to take it down.

The other amazing thing that happened was that the Supreme Court of the U.S. ruled that marriage between same sex individuals is not only legal in all state and territories, but that it is illegal to bar individuals from obtaining a marriage license. I am very happy about that ruling. It is a monumental step in civil rights legislation. However, there are many people, a vocal minority in the country, who are very unhappy about it. There are some who are even calling for acts of civil disobedience to defy the law. I have seen a number of people arguing against this. People should follow the law whether they agree with it or not, is the argument.

Meanwhile, an African American teacher was recently arrested for her act of civil disobedience, which was to take down the Confederate flag flying atop the SC state capitol building. She has been hailed by many as a hero. I actually agree that it was a courageous act of civil disobedience. It could also be argued that she could have waited to see what happened. Legal wheels and public opinion, were arguably already in motion to get rid of the flag. On the other hand, she kept the topic alive and that is of some value.

However, why is one act of civil disobedience okay and the other not?

We could say, “Well, the majority think the flag should come down so then it’s okay.” Well, when Harriet Tubman was illegally freeing slaves from the South, lots and lots of southerners were not okay with that.

We could say, “Well, I’m just right and the other side is just wrong.”

Our legislative branch has held this stance for awhile. The people we like keep saying things that we agree with. “Yay! I agree with that!” The other side keeps saying things we don’t like. “Boo, what a bunch of idiots.”

Meanwhile, very little decision-making is getting made and the decisions that are being made are being done in a very inefficient convoluted manner.

Trying to be right all of the time is just a bunch of talk and no action. There is not clear cut path. There is no absolute truth at least one that we can fully understand.

Working under the assumption that truth is absolute is not very useful.

The Middle Path actually goes somewhere.

 

My husband and I are on vacation on the Oregon Coast, just the two of us. We are having a marvelous time. We’ve hiked on the beach, in the forest, and along cliffs above the coastline. It is just the break we needed. An ideal vacation in an idyllic location.
It only makes sense that 100 percent of every moment of the vacation should be positively perfect, right?

If you’ve ever traveled or even lived for more than one minute, you know this is untrue.

It seems that during nearly everyone of our vacations, I am irritated with someone in my family, including myself.  Yesterday, I had hiked seven miles along the coast. We drove to little towns and through amazing farmland. I was tired and in need of getting out of the sun. We got back to our hotel on the beach. If we hadn’t already made plans to eat on the picnic table overlooking the beach near our room, I would have changed into my nightgown. My husband said, “Hey, let’s go fly a kite!”

I am a person of inertia. Once I am at rest, I have trouble changing gears. The day before, John had convinced me to go out at night to see the sunset after I’d already collapsed for the day. I got myself going and was so glad that I did. So in the spirit of being a good sport, I said, “Okay”, put on my shoes, and followed him to the beach. My husband asked me to hold the kite while he walked away, un-spooling the kite string. As he was getting farther and farther away, drowned out by the sound of the ocean, I thought, “What does he want me to do? What is HE doing?”

I have flown kites in my day. He was doing it “wrong”. The first attempt failed. Then I asked him, “What do you want me to do?” He explained the game plan. Communication, yes! Now we had a plan. I was game, so I thought, despite the fact that he was doing it “wrong”. I’m not unreasonable. The kite flying was his idea. That made him in charge and me, the helper.

We made our second attempt and it failed. Then I did something I rarely do. I accepted that I was too cranky. I didn’t tell myself, “You are being silly. It’s just a kite. You have no reason to be annoyed.” I told my husband, “Honey, I’m tired. I’m going to go rest for awhile.”

I rested for about a half hour and then we started to make a beautiful fresh seafood dinner. When I brought the food outside, I saw the kite flying, tied to the arm of a patio chair. We had a wonderful dinner. I don’t think John even knew that I was getting cranky. I let me be me, I didn’t invalidate my feelings, and gave myself the space I needed to return to being an excellent traveling companion.

This may seem like a small thing but I know that small irritations can turn into a bad day and bad behavior on my part. Invalidation, makes emotion bigger, rather than smaller. All emotions are understandable even if we don’t like them.

I know that my life is going to contain upsets, big and small. Sometimes I will make things better, sometimes I will  make them worse, and sometimes, nothing I do will change anything. But I am grateful that yesterday, I was able to take a step away from my expectation of perfection and just gave my imperfect self what I needed.

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In my work as a psychologist, I work with children and teens who have disorders considered to be primarily genetic in cause. Environmental factors play a role as well, but according to our current understanding, they are mainly factors that maintain or exacerbate symptoms as well as the pervasiveness and persistence of the resulting impairment in carrying out life’s activities and responsibilities.

About 90% of my patients have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the primary treatment for which are stimulant medications, which can make an enormous positive difference in an individual who is responsibly diagnosed and treated. However, even with medication, ADHD can make what we typically see as moral and responsible decisions much harder to make. Environmental supports from parents, teachers, and other professionals can help and as children grow into adolescence, individual psychotherapy can also be useful in helping an individual who has trouble internalizing rules that are good in the long run but not salient right now and to use strategies to promote life skills and success. Nonetheless, based on current longitudinal evidence, individuals with ADHD, even treated ADHD, have a much higher rate of high school drop out, only a 5% college completion rate, and a higher rate of accidental death as well as suicidality, among many scary possible outcomes.

This is why these kids, teens, and young adults are the “it takes a village” kind of people. Actually, I believe that we all belong to the village and as social animals, we rely on one another and impact one another for good, for ill, or for nil. But these individuals are particularly vulnerable. They do not tend to be resilient. They need particular parenting and educational strategies that are often inconsistently or not available. They need effective healthcare that is often in short supply.

I consider myself to have been very fortunate for many aspects of my life that just happened to me. I inherited a strong mind, a basically happy personality, grew up in a loving family, went to good schools, and had my basic needs for shelter, food, and belonging more than amply met. I take responsibility for cultivating these gifts very seriously but I don’t for a minute take responsibility for having receiving this gifts in the first place. I got very lucky and have made very good use of what I have.

Consequently, I have a great deal of love and compassion for the individuals I see, even the ones who are honestly, not very likable. Some of them are not even very nice. Sometimes they are very likeable, nice most of the time, but do really impulsive awful things. A common characteristic of many, but not all, individuals is a lack of consistent self-awareness and a very difficult time connecting their actions to negative consequences. This is a neurological issue and it results in difficulties taking responsibility. It is made worse in that when they are aware of short-comings or consequences, they often respond with very harsh judgement of themselves. This lack of self-compassion makes it harder to own up to personal responsibility. All of this is compounded with the fact that medication often makes a big positive difference because it fuels the belief that control is external.

A common way of framing this tension is by saying, “It is understandable that x, y, or z is really hard for you but it is not an excuse. You are still responsible for your decisions and behaviors. We realize it is hard and that is why we are all part of your team to support you. But you are part of the team, too.”

Yesterday, another heinous racist hate crime, an act of terrorism against African Americans was committed in our country. Many of us are angry, grief-stricken, and overwhelmed with sadness and helplessness. We are trying to make sense of this.

I think we need to stop trying to make sense of it, at least in the usual way that we do. The easiest way to explain something horrible is to put it under someone’s control and the easiest way to do that is by laying blame at a particular person. Another easy way to deal with these kind of events is to distance ourselves from them, the “I am not that” approach. Another way we can deal with this is to feel really sad, angry, and anxious for a day or two, or even a week, and then move on to the next horrible news story, further cultivating cynicism and passivity.

It is understandable to feel overwhelmed by this, to be enraged, to feel impotent, to wring our hands in perpetuity. It is even understandable to feel paralyzing and unproductive self-recriminations about the ways that we have acted unkindly to others. It is understandable to criticize the behaviors of others, to join with others in demonizing people we don’t know who have done wrong things; with social media, we join in with the professional media in shaming people in a very intense and protracted way. It has become brutal in a way that makes me fear for our culture. The stockades of the Middle Ages come to mind. Stoning. Throwing acid in a woman’s face.

These are actions that understandably fill our need for agency at times when we can think of nothing else to do. I have participated in these public shame-fests. I have participated in cynicism in the place of effective action. I have participated in judgment that is inconsistent with compassion toward myself or toward others. I have participated in racism, some of which I am aware, and likely some that I have done without self-awareness.

I believe that I am a good person in the way that most people use the term “good person”. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t done harmful things to myself or others. It doesn’t mean that I have not contributed to a hateful culture either through action or inaction, the latter because I was either “busy” or clueless.

As a psychologist, it is understandable for me to see yesterday’s terrorism as a mental puzzle to solve. But none of these understandable beliefs, actions, or conditions are an excuse for not taking my own portion of personal responsibility for being a part of a culture that can be hateful, cynical, passive, selfish, violent, and oppressive.

I am not responsible for the whole problem but I can take responsibility for my contributions to it. These are the steps I have decided to take:

1) I do not consider myself to be a racist person as a trait. However, I accept that as a human being, aggression and dominance are part of me and that I am not immune to the socializing impact of institutional racism. I accept that I can be a good person and person who has done racist things.

2) I accept that I have benefited from institutionalized racism due to the privilege afforded members of a dominant race

3) I will exercise self-compassion despite my moral and ethical failings.

4) I will work to be less judgmental, of people I know and of people I don’t know.  In terms of social media, this means objective criticism of ideas or behaviors but not of people and that said criticism needs to fuel a positive purpose.

5) I will work to help children and families be healthy.

6) I will work to maintain my own mental health.

7) I will work to treat cynicism as understandable, but as being incompatible with compassion and effective change, nonetheless.

8) I will work to promote unity instead of division in my culture.

9) I will work to elect individuals who promote unity and fairness instead of division.

10) I try to listen to others with different viewpoints and life experiences with an open mind.

11) I will accept that complexity is common in the very situations during which I feel the urge to simplify to make myself feel less overwhelmed.

12) I will expect myself, despite my best efforts, to fail from time to time. I will work at these times, to keep trying.

I may be wrong in my arguments, in my beliefs, and my actions. That does not make me a bad person. My imperfection and the limitations of my own mind to understand all of this is understandable. But it doesn’t take me off the hook.

It is understandable but it is not an excuse.

Stop making sense.

Start making change for the better.

I was walking around my neighborhood the other day, as I do nearly every day. I don’t always take the same route and I don’t always plan it out in advance. But this was a route I’d taken many times. When I am walking, I typically keep my eyes on the trees and the flowers as well as watching out for cars and for uneven pieces of side walk that stick up. (I have tripped many times.)

It was a clear sunny morning. I happened to look up along the horizon. There was the top of Mt. Rainier looming above. I don’t remember ever having seen it on this route. But perhaps, I was not looking at the right time. I have spent 40 of my 49 years living in this part of the world. It is only a 30 minute drive to the house in which I grew up. I have seen Mt. Rainier many many times, thousands of times.

I couldn’t even see the whole mountain. Nonetheless, I gasped and reflexively put my hand to my chest. The mountain itself, though about 100 miles (160 km) away, is incredibly majestic, even in partial view. There is some disagreement, but standing at 14, 409 feet (4392 meters), it is the highest mountain in the U.S. outside of Alaska. Even from my neighborhood in Seattle, I could see the sun glistening on the ice of the glaciers. America, the Beautiful, right in front of me.

I have been working pretty hard lately, working more hours than I had planned to at least for the next couple of years. But I have my reasons and some of them, like the fact I am having to work more to cover a marked decrease in my collection rate for my business, are not pretty.

Some of the reasons, however, are pretty. I am working more to help pay to take more vacations. This month, my husband and I will spend a childless five nights on the Oregon coast. Next month, we will drive across the border into Canada to visit parts of Vancouver Island that we have not previously visited as well as reconnecting with the city of Vancouver, which is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been. I take another couple of days off to go hiking with John’s aunt and uncle, who will be visiting us for the first time in Seattle. In August, I am taking time off to visit with dear friends from out of state. In September, my family travels to North Carolina for a much anticipated wedding and a celebration of our kid’s 17th (!!!!) birthday!

Then the plan is for the work-a-thon to end. No worries, I am already scheduling patients in September and I am taking care to go back to my old ways of not working full time hours. My energy level typically drops in late October, anyway, as the daylight hours grow shorter. Today, we will have 16 hours of sunlight. I’m not coming home from work in the dark. I have been gardening and doing home projects, like getting my home organized again!

But it is true that when I work more hours, I tend to live less in the present, to keep my head down, shoveling. These are also times of greater stress, when it is easy to borrow trouble in life and to expect bad things to happen.

It is good to look up to the surprise of a mountain’s majesty. It is important for me to remember that there are good surprises in life.

My husband and I took a three hour drive to get up close and personal with Mt. Rainier a couple of weekends ago.

My husband and I took a three hour drive to get up close and personal with Mt. Rainier a couple of weekends ago.

One of my favorite classes while an undergraduate at the University of Washington was, “Ideas in Art”. We learned about visual art from different time periods and cultures along with the poetry and philosophy associated with each culture and time period. One of our required reading for the part of the course that covered the early modern art era in Europe was Marcel Duchamp’s, The Green Box. Duchamp was one of the founders of the Dada movement, an avant-garde style that stood with one foot in the absurd. “Dada” after all was named after the babbled phonemes that infants make before they learn to utter full words. Each of the 320 original Green Boxes contained 94 scraps of paper, notes, sketch studies, and more. What we read was an English translation of these items.

The Green Box contained a lot of information about Duchamp’s approach to art. He was a painter, sculptor, and art discoverer. Examples of the last category was his “readymade” art. This consisted of a manufactured object that made into art by calling it art. The infamous of Duchamps’ readymade art was, Fountain, a urinal that he displayed upside down and signed with the pseudonym, “R. Mutt.” Duchamp also made modifications to readymade objects, which he called, “readymade aided”.

As you might expect, the art world was not greatly enamored with Duchamp’s readymade’s, aided or not. Duchamp was provocative, to be sure. But he was trying to test the meaning of art with absurdity and to make his own meaning for art by using found objects. Aesthetics are, after all, highly subjective.

A lot of my experience of breast cancer has been about making meaning of it. I know that as a psychologist, this is a common process in dealing with loss, grief, and for many but not all of us, trauma. Meaning, however, is not something that has already been manufactured; it is a process. Maybe that is a piece of the resistance to labels like “survivor”, cancer metaphors like war, or traditions like wearing pink feathered boas. I have also seen the tradition time and time again of resisting all established traditions by attempting to make a new paradigm.

Cancer research and treatment needs objective standards in order to make discovers in a systematic way and to deliver treatment in a way that makes objective sense. This doesn’t mean that everyone is treated the same but the focus is on standards and protocols. And the things that people consider “unscientific” like rapport and responding to a cancer patient in an emotionally competent manner, are not unscientific. They are included in the science of psychology!

The meaning I make from breast cancer, however, is more about my individual identity. The meaning is subjective; it’s personal. Psychology can study the typical course of grief and loss and it has. I can read about the process and it may help me understand what I am going through. But I still have to go through it. I have to experience it for myself.

There will most certainly always be labels in our culture. To have no labels would make any chance of shared meaning and connection impossible. But labels, used inflexibly, like cookie cutters is not healthy. Language and labels are dynamic because cultures are dynamic. And within every culture, we have many individuals.

In my professional life, I provide information and guidance based on objective research and my subjective experience. A gift of my blogging is that most of the time, I only have to speak for myself. This is a vital part of my self-care and healing.

Just as there are many types of art, there are many types of people. Personally, I prefer to go to museums that feature more than one vision. Before we became cancer patients, we were individuals. There’s no reason for us to stop now! The objective similarity among individuals who have been diagnosed with breast cancer is that we have all been diagnosed with breast cancer at some time in our lives. The meanings can differ but still exist as truths.

Meaning is not readymade.

 

 

You can call me a “survivor”. If I am alive, I consider myself to be surviving. I hope this is true for a long long time. I know that for many, it is not.

You can call me a “warrior” but I’m not fighting anyone. I am a pacifist, after all. War is a battle fought between peoples.

You can call me, “victorious” over cancer. The best I can be at this point is “no evidence of disease”. That is a gray area, to be sure. A victory is not the same as, “no evidence of defeat”.

You can describe cancer with other human metaphors, a thief, a rapist, a robber. To me, it is a disease, a natural disaster that works from the inside. It is a disease that is very good at reproduction. It is not sentient. It has no will, just a way.

Words are powerful. Cancer is more powerful than words.

But people have a will, people have a way, science. People have compassion and drive to help others.

When there is a cure for breast cancer, you can call me anything you please. Because the only words that will matter are, “Thank you.”

May was not a good month for me. It was a roller coaster ride of anxiety and trying to keep myself centered. I often didn’t feel like myself and there was a spell during which I was tearing up on a daily basis.

Yesterday I looked at my calendar and saw that it was the end of the month. I thought, “May, don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out.”

The weekend was actually pretty good. Hubby and I took two long walks during which we made a lot of progress on our family game plan. I always feel so much better connected and less isolated when problem solve together. I like us very much as a team.

This morning I woke up and felt so much more relaxed. I was actually eager to take on my work week even though I had to work over the weekend to catch up on report writing.

I was reapplying my lipstick this morning using my cell phone camera in “selfie” mode as a mirror. I thought, “Hey, I look well rested, happy, and relaxed.” So I snapped a photo.

Today is a new day in a new month. Summer starts in three weeks. We are getting little birds coming to our new deck fountain. Yesterday, a hummingbird took a bath in it. I am looking forward to more close encounters!

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As a mother of an almost 17 year old girl, I try to keep my mouth shut when it comes to what she chooses to wear. What girls and women “should” wear. Yikes, what a thorny question. As a feminist, I hate the way clothing is so sexualized even for young girls. I remember seeing a two year-old wearing a sundress with darts sewn in at her chest, as if she had breasts. Maybe it’s a small thing but seriously, why would a clothing manufacturer make the extra effort involved to do this? On the other hand, I understand that for teens, dressing in different ways is an important part of identity development and part of that development is sexual. As a feminist, I hate the way girls are shamed by adults and peers about what they wear because it is “distracting” to boys or is “slutty” or “whorish”.

Another thing I keep my mouth shut about is her weight. Yes, it is true that 1/3 of adults are obese, that she eats an unhealthy diet, and that she no longer exercises regularly. However, there are so many messages to girls and women about what they should way and how they should look that it is nearly impossible to have a conversation about weight. I admit that up until a few years ago, I would nudge the scheduling of my annual physical by a couple of months every year so that I could lose weight in time for the appointment and not get “THE TALK” from my internist. And honestly, she gives “THE TALK” in the best way possible. But I still dreaded stepping on the scale. And for the record, I never managed to lose weight during those couple of months between my scheduled and rescheduled appointments.

As I’ve written many times before, I have struggled to maintain healthy weight since my teen years. Although I am not a person who people typically think of as overweight, my BMI has entered into the obese range twice in my life, once in my late 30’s and the second time in my mid forties. Each time, I lost 40 pounds. When my weight was either declining or in the healthy weight zone, I typically felt good about my body. When I was not, I had some pretty horrible things things that I told myself every day, like a tic. And when I was at a healthy weight, I still had a habit of comparing my weight to the people around me, even people I encountered while walking down the sidewalk.

As I wrote in the post, The Skin I’m In, the tic stopped after I’d done a lot of work on my body image, a natural thing to work on after breast cancer surgeries. At the time, I was at a healthy weight. I told my psychologist that I was concerned that if I were to gain weight again, that the tic, the tape in my head that told me “you’re fat” and other messages would come back. She told me that it might not come back.

By March of this year, I had gained back 25 of the 40 pounds I had lost between May and October of 2012. This was also, incidentally, at the time I went to The Second Chance Prom with my husband. We had a wonderful time. As I looked at the photos of myself from that day, I thought, “Yes, I’m overweight but I look beautiful.”

I realized that although a substantial amount of weight had returned, the tape in my head had not come back. I intended to write about this in my blog. Then I found that it was really difficult to write about. I was ashamed of how badly I had judged myself. I was also too ashamed to admit that I thought I was beautiful. Women are only supposed to say that about their young selves, after all.

Shame is a powerful emotion and it results from a sense of having violated society’s rules. One reason women and girls have a lot of body shame is because we have failed to achieve perfection. We also fail to stay young. But another one of society’s rules is that women and girls are to be dissatisfied with their bodies.

What a trap. What a no-win situation, if winning is defined as having a healthy body image.

A couple of months ago, I started following Weightwatchers again. It was the first time I’ve gotten myself back on an eating program without “hitting bottom”, that is, being motivated by shame and disgust in myself. I started referring to Weightwatchers as “wise-minded eating”. I do watch my weight to reduce chance of cancer recurrence since my cancer was highly estrogen and progesterone responsive and adipose tissue (basically body fat) has glandular function and produces female hormones. Also, a healthy diet is just good fuel for my body. I feel better when I eat well. I am also losing weight at a slow, but steady pace. My motivation, instead of eliminating shame is instead, seeking health.

One of the antonyms for shame is honor. I like that.

I honor my body for getting me this far in life. I will continue to do my best to treat it well.

Many years ago, I was working on a research study evaluating the efficacy of bullying prevention program for elementary schools. To do this kind of research, schools must be recruited for participation. I was placed in charge of the task of contacting schools and districts as well as making presentations onsite. If memory serves, I made over 50 presentations. (In perhaps another post, I will write more about this. I enjoy public speaking but this was a very high pressure situation. Basically, I threw up about 2o minutes before nearly every presentation though I think I did a good to excellent job with everyone. Looks can be deceiving. A person can be funny, informative, and relaxed, and still have thrown up 20 minutes earlier. You just never know about another person’s life, just by looking.)

One of the presentations was to all elementary principals in a particular school district. After I was completed, there was a bit of time for one on one conversations. There was one principal who made a bee-line for me. She gave me the kind of handshake that starts as a firm “how do you do” and turns quickly in a seemingly never ending grip. Meanwhile she was earnestly telling me about her school. My co-worker, Truc, was also there. Truc observed this action intently; Truc is an excellent observer as well as being very funny. Later Truc said, ‘Elizabeth, she was saying, “Please, Elizabeth you must help our school. You ARE THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN HELP US!”‘

School principals have very demanding jobs with a lot of rushing around. That principal had a story to tell me and she was going to hold onto me until she had a chance to finish and could see that I understood.

Back in days as a researcher, that kind of poignant social interaction was rare. In my clinical life in private practice, especially as a psychologist with a specialty in diagnostic assessment, it is a frequent occurrence.

Everyone has a story, a life story. Families in need, need to tell their story. Some of them do not know where to start. Some of them don’t know how to stop. Both of those extremes keep me on my toes. In particular, parents and their teen children who engage in self-harmful and life threatening behaviors carry an incredible urgency in their stories. This is not my treatment specialty but within my diagnostic specialty, suicidality is much more prevalent than in the general population, especially for girls. So I encounter this situation with some frequency and help families secure appropriate services, which unfortunately, are in short supply.

Parents of suicidal teens are some of the most isolated people you will ever meet. They have a story that they are afraid to tell for fear of being judged harshly, among other reasons. Given the way that many people judge teens and their parents, it is a realistic fear, unfortunately. Sometimes we see another person’s tragic situation and blame them for it. To believe that they have control over it makes us feel safe.

I have heard many stories from parents, so many in fact, that I can tell you one that story is based on many.

I am incredibly alone. My house is full of people and each of us are shell shocked and alone. The loneliest moments are when we are yelling at each other.

I have met many many healthcare providers. I have gotten anywhere between 10 and 50 minutes to tell my story. There is so much to say, much more than I ever thought there would be to say in my life, ever.

You are a stranger to me but I need to tell my story. I will trust you with my helplessness. I will trust you with my failures as a person and as a parent. I will trust you with my shame at times for the unspoken regrets I have about ever choosing to be a parent. Bringing this child into the world has been painful and ungratifying but I will try to move try to move Heaven and Earth to save him.

I will trust you the best that I can. Sometimes I may not do a very good job. Three seconds later, I may do a good job again. My emotional life is like that; it is lived three seconds at a time, either dealing with, waiting for, or trying to ward off the next crisis.

I will do this because it is my job, to put myself second when my child is sick, so very sick that she may take herself from this world before she really even knows who she is, where she is, or the things that can heal with maturity.

Please help us.

We want a different story to tell.

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