I urge you to challenge your own biases where mental illness is concerned. As you read this, you may be thinking you’re not biased. If this is actually true, you’re amazing.
If you have a loved one who suffers from major depressive or bipolar disorder, anxiety, BPD, PTSD, c-PTSD etc., and they may even be suicidal or have suicidal ideation, I have compiled a list of things said to me by well-meaning loved ones who sought only to support me. With their words, I was left feeling even worse than I already did. So, I’m giving mere suggestions here in this blog post, based on my own personal experience.
Cyclic Supercell: A thunderstorm that undergoes cycles of intensification and weakening (pulses) while maintaining its individuality. Cyclic supercells are capable of producing multiple tornadoes (i.e., a tornado family) and/or several bursts of severe weather.
Sick-lic Supercell:A storm that undergoes cycles of intensification and weakening (pulses) while not caring about individuality. Sick-lic supercells are capable of producing depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, PTSD, bursts of mania, overeating, undereating, recovery, tentative single-parenting, severe guilt, financial stresses, perfectionism, people-pleasing and a buncha other stuff.
In 2019, one of my daughters seemed really down about something. Like most moms, I worked hard to help her get to the bottom of it. After incessant (and “very annoying”) prodding on my part, my daughter finally shared that she was devastated to realize I wasn’t the pretty princess heroine of a mother she once thought I was. The jig was up — She knew the real skinny; I was actually just a human being with all sorts of imperfections, quirks and challenges. She was most obviously disappointed to learn of this truth. My other daughter was also grieving “the old me,” and I was grieving my daughters’ idyllic perception of me. All of this inspired a blog post titled, “The Practice for the Panicky Parent.”
After the dust of this harsh news settled, I assumed we’d all get on with our lives per usual. It never dawned on me that we might remain in a storm that at times, became increasingly more unpredictable and severe.
I could rattle off a whole slew of reasons as to why our family has been in a cyclic/sick-lic, perfect/imperfect storm. I’m not going to do that here. Instead, I’d rather focus on how, as a family, we are learning to take shelter. What really matters is getting okay around co-existing with and accepting a sometimes brutal storm system that will likely hover and surge in perpetuity. On occasion, it may pelt us with thunder, heavy rain, and hail damage, for good.
Even still, I am grateful for the peace, love and hearty laughter that occurs when we find ourselves in the calm eye of the storm. Sometimes, we can even hang in the eye for a good chunk of time. When there are signs that the wind is shifting and precipitation may increase, my daughters have learned to take care of themselves. They must. Oftentimes, this means leaving me to contend with my own storm surge, without them. Then, it is up to me to reach out to the meteorological masters who know best how to help me brave the harsh elements.
I’m not going to lie. As someone who has been coined, “Supermom,” (even though I have NEVER thought of myself that way,) I have walked through an almost unbearable amount of shame and self-judgement. On the upside, I have learned a whole new level of forgiveness of self, the understanding of and forgiveness of others and effective methods of course adjustment. Naturally, all of this wavers. I am, however, deeply grateful for my commitment to daily practice. I do not always succeed and I will neveralways succeed. The acceptance of this fact is a welcome gift for this perfectionist.
Through practice and A LOT of practice, I am starting to figure out ways to make it through inclement weather, erosion, sinkholes and other unforeseen circumstances.
For some time, (which felt like an eternity), there were no breaks in the cloud cover. I was nearly sure I’d never see the sun again and while I want to write an inspiring blog post about how I rose from the darkness and emerged into the light, the truth is, sometimes I do and sometimes, I don’t. I never stop trying and practicing and I can’t do it by myself no matter my level of tenacity and will.
Some good news is that I do understand a bit more about how my cloud patterns move and where the breaks might be. This may not sound like much, but it’s improving my personal weather forecast and in turn, benefits my beautiful family, friends and colleagues.
Several years ago, I was taking a walk with someone and she said, “Pam, It’s like you have a dark cloud over you or something!” While I was taken aback and couldn’t believe anyone would ever say this to someone, I responded, “No I don’t have a dark cloud over my head and I don’t ask why certain things happen. I mean, we can’t REALLY know why, right? Asking “why?” doesn’t help.”
Today, my response wouldn’t be that different except that sometimes, I really do have a dark cloud over my head and even inside of me. I still don’t ask why it is. I just do what I can to remember that I am enough in any kind of weather and may my kids know they’re enough no matter what. NO MATTER WHAT.
Through action and a commitment to practice, I find myself capable of believing there will eventually be a break in the clouds. In absolutely any kind of weather, the sun is above and bigger than the clouds.
Also, the sun is patient.
It’s just waiting there, excited to shine once again.
…when kids asked me if I was Jewish, I usually told them I was French and Catholic…
In the 50+ years I’ve been alive, I’ve kept my own internal turmoil over my Jewish journey, pretty close to the vest. It was buried deep within my kishkes for a long time.
I was adopted at birth from the Jewish Children’s Bureau (JCB, now known as JCFS.) Even though I was adopted by Jewish parents from a Jewish organization and attended Jewish preschool, I had this idea that I wasn’treally Jewish.
As a little girl, when kids asked me if I was Jewish, I often told them I was French and Catholic. (Just for a frame of reference, I also told them I had an elephant living in our family room.)
It’s not that I didn’t want to be Jewish or was ashamed of being Jewish, I just didn’t believe I was Jewish. At the tender age of five, when my parents told me I was adopted, it hadn’t occurred to me that it didn’t matter if I was Jewish via my bloodline or not.
Like so many adopted kids, I felt really confused.
disclaimer: My parents did an excellent job of telling meI was adopted.I felt loved, special and taken care of... andalso, confused.
As I grew, I didn’t believe I could simply choose to be Jewish. My parents were obviously raising me Jewish, in a Reform temple that I went to for what seemed like an eternity. (I was confirmed at 16.) Why in the hell didn’t I think I was Jewish? I wanted to tell my mom I didn’t feel Jewish. I thought about telling my rabbi I didn’t feel Jewish. I was so ashamed of not feeling Jewish. So, I just kept “acting” like I felt Jewish.
I grew up in Skokie just north of Chicago. Skokie was once coined, “The World’s Largest Village.” Back in the 1970’s when I was a kid, Skokie was home to approximately 7000, Holocaust Survivors. I vividly remember the incident that made Skokie famous. I was there and they even made a movie about it… — Neo-Nazis wanted to have a rally and march in my village.
I was terrified; worried for my family, friends and all of the Jews who lived peaceful lives in my little, “big” village. By now, antisemitism, racism and other inequities infuriated me. I remember yelling when The Phil Donohue show had Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen on his show…ON HIS SHOW!!! I screamed at the TV at the top of my lungs at how wrong it all was. (I imagine my mom still remembers this. I was 12.)
Between the Skokie Nazi rally fiasco and that “Donahue” show, I quickly learned that injustice mattered to me and that it was my obligation to do all I could to fight injustice, racism and antisemitism. I had no idea how “Jewish” that was at the time.
Over the years, I rarely dated Jewish boys. It just didn’t seem that important as long as I was in love! (insert eye roll.) Ultimately, I went on to meet the non-Jewish man I would eventually marry and after two kids, divorce.
Before I got married, I made a decision to hire a private investigator to find my birth family. We didn’t have much information and I wasn’t very hopeful I’d get any answers to health history, who I looked like, and….. was I Jewish?
Three days after I hired the private investigator, my birth mother and family were found. “WOW!” followed by, “EEEEK!”
I was fortunate to meet my wonderful birth mom and from her, I learned that she’d converted to Judaism from Catholicism when she was pregnant with me.
I embraced and celebrated my Jewish-ness except, I still didn’t know if I had any Jewish BLOOD in me. Why this mattered, I will never understand.
Maybe you have to be adopted to totally get this, but not knowing what other blood relatives can know so easily, was hard! And, even though I knew my birth mother, I didn’t know anything about the other half of my bloodline. No one else in my birth mother’s family was Jewish and by the time I met my birth mother, she wasn’t Jewish.
Was my birth father Jewish? For reasons, I won’t get into here, I do not know who my birth father is and probably never will.
So, this past year, once and for all, I decided to take a DNA test to find out more about my ancestry. When my results arrived, I glanced at my surprising and unique genetic combo…
As a reader, you might be thinking, “Why in the hell does this even matter to her?” I can’t explain it. When I saw that I had genetic Jewish roots, I cried tears of joy. To this day, I can’t explain why it mattered so much, but it mattered to me and that’s all that matters.
I know in the deepest core of my kishkes, I was born Jewish, have always been Jewishand will always be Jewish. For much of my life, I didn’t know I had Jewish genetics or a converted Jewish birth mother. As I obsessed about “not feeling Jewish,” through all of my questioning, I lived Jewishly and still live Jewishly today.
And like most Jews, I have personally experienced both blatant and “subtle” antisemitism; not just from strangers, but from friends and family who could really benefit from a commitment to education on what is simply NOT kosher to say or do.
When I worked in Jewish social justice, in accordance with the organization’s mission and values, I was loud and proud about working to fight racism, poverty and antisemitism in Chicago. I loved this work and the organization, (JCUA,) and still do.
Today, I am still that same girl who was yelling at Phil Donahue on the TV in 1978. We must continuously fight poverty, racism and antisemitism, together. If you’re not doing anything on Monday, April 4th at 5:00PM CDT, I urge you to attend, ORT in Conversation – Combating Antisemitism Through Education: A Global and Local Perspective. (It’s being held on Zoom and is a free event. Once you register, I will personally send you the link.) I want you to be there and ORT wants you to be there. If you think this is an invitation for Jews only or Jews in St. Louis, think again. More than anyone who makes it into this virtual event, I want my non-Jewish readers to join. It’s only by working together, through our differences, that we can chip away at antisemitism, racism, poverty and really, all societal inequities.
It’s fully impossible for me not to notice AND acknowledge that when I reflect on my *smorgasbord of feelings over the past five months, it’s almost always associated with food. (see aforementioned reference to *smorgasbord)
Okay, it’s more than a casual food association. It may not even be “almost” always, but ALWAYS. My moods and feelings are like a vulnerable-loving-forgiving-physically-stagnant, casserole of emotions, covered in crispy french fried onions, located on an all-you-can-eat buffet of mostly unpredictable, hungry/foody/full feelings.
It’s so interesting, because these days, I am generally peaceful. In many ways, I have never actually liked or loved myself (and others) more than while this pandemic has been going on. P. S. I am thinking about food right now… cheddar cheese on an egg bagel with honey mustard…
Okay, I’m back.
If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you’ll see that my daughter, Charlotte, has been baking and creating decadent treats on nearly a daily basis. A key fact is, I am not overindulging in her amazing culinary creations.
Bearing witness to Charlotte’s visionary process has helped me understand myself better. My imaginative and often funny thoughts of food – casseroles, carbs, KETO, vintage gelatinous “aspic-tacular” platters, buffets and canteens are all really healthy ways of coping with:
Craving human touch
Concerns about money and being able to provide for my kids
My worry over other people’s health
Wearing pants inside out and backwards
Simply wearing pants
Wearing pants that, once fit and now feel like medical-grade compression wear
Seriously though… I’m not going to list everything. This is the last bullet point. You catch my drift.
Like you and most everyone, I’ve had to sit (long stretches) alone with myself. I never, ever forget that we’re collectively in this trauma together and not being alone, even though I’m physically alone sometimes, is incredibly comforting.
Also, even if I’m a little more than slightly flabby, I’m really not too shabby. I imagine the same is true for you.
So, even though I ate two dinners last night, (and thought of food even more), it’s not the end of the world. I mean, it doesn’t happen every night and in evaluating what transpired in that extra meal, one could say that I just had a really early breakfast. (Three hours after my original dinner.)
On a physical front, I KNOW I have to move my body more. I haven’t been too into “getting physical,” until I decided to start dancing at least 45 minutes per day.
Today, I danced for 90 minutes. As I moved my body, I thought about the aforementioned, vintage gelatinous “aspic-tacular” platter. I laughed as I danced, because the committee in my head was entertaining. It was hard to breathe, but I just kept going.
I even danced a “Can Can,” that I think seemed more like a “Can’t Can’t.”
But, it’s all okay. I mean, everything I mentioned in this post is okay.
Sure, I hope I eat only one dinner tonight. I pray that I’ll dance as hard tomorrow as I did today.
And all the while, I hope I can continue to laugh at and enjoy all of my food associations, my temporary flab and life on life’s terms in general.
I’m sending you so much love and virtual hugs. Please be gentle with yourself. You are a gift and very brave to be walking through this surreal time.
Stay safe and healthy. I hope we can have dinner together, (just one) soon.
I became discerning, but my “man-picker” was still in question. Had my “man-picker” become so picky it was like picking a gnarly scab?
For the better part of the past decade, I have dated myself far more than I’ve dated anyone else. After my departure from my marriage, I made an intentional choice to hang out with myself. I did this for several reasons I was aware of at the time, and some I learned along the way: Continue reading “Dating Myself, & the Dog Who Doesn’t Beg”
Let me begin by wishing all readers and non-readers, a meaningfulChristmas. While it may look different from person to person, and place to place, my prayer is that each human being, and our collective human community, give and receive healing, love and joy. May it wash over us and repair this world.