My word for 2019 has undoubtedly been “healing.” It’s hard for me to think back on this year without crying tears of both pain and pride.
I put in the work this year. After spending a lot of time thinking about what I could be doing to address my internal world, I threw my hands up and took action. What did I have to lose? The answer to that question is baggage, in every sense of the word. Except for the literal baggage I use for travel. Didn’t lose that. I need that.
The year started out pretty rough. I shared in this blog post how I finally made the decision to start depression/anxiety medication and regularly see a counselor. I believe this was the biggest game changer for me. From the moment I got connected with the wonderful providers I see at Unity Point, things I continuously struggle with in my life really started to shift.
Putting my foot down to address my mental health was very empowering for me. Caring for a mental illness takes maintenance. Frequent doctor appointments and every other week appointments with a counselor. All during work hours. I have put off so many doctor appointments over the years because I didn’t want to miss work. That changed this year. I scheduled my doctor and counseling appointments in advance so I had a thorough list of dates and times to give my boss. I didn’t ask permission, I told her I would be out at these appointments and would make up the time. She trusts me, supports me, and all she keeps saying is that she’s there for me when I need her. I’m beyond grateful for that.
Alongside getting professional treatment, I was taking what I was learning from my doctors and diving deep internally on my own time trying to navigate the heavy feelings I carry with me. There are some specific feelings I’ve had for 10+ years, others for 20+ years. I knew just what they were and what caused them, but I didn’t know how to get through them. I knew deep down there had to be a way.
I will say that getting through the negative feelings I was having tied to certain experiences and events relied heavily on forgiving myself (more self-acceptance) and setting boundaries without carrying guilt about it. I’m such a people pleaser and needed to let go of the self-expectation that everyone needs to like me. I don’t have the capacity to please everyone. With many of the choices I make, I’ll be letting someone down. But, in turn, I won’t be letting myself down by putting myself into situations that aren’t good for me. It’s a self-respect thing. Something I’ve never had a lot of as a person who is constantly bending backwards trying to meet everyone’s expectations of me 100% of the time. Doing this made me tired. So putting in the work to avoid letting this drain me any more than it already has in the span of my lifetime was key.
In doing this, the interactions I have with others has changed a lot. I increased my time and effort with those who helped keep me grounded, build me up, and fill my heart with love. I decreased or changed the way my time and effort looked with those who have continuously torn me down, belittled me, or don’t value me. I had to get real about my relationships and prioritize who I give my energy to, again, without carrying guilt about it.
This alone has been very freeing for my spirit. I have felt so much better taking more control of the commitments I do or don’t make. If there has been a commitment that caused me a lot of strife and anxiety for many years, I’ve had to listen to myself, back up, and start asking, “How can I show support and express love for others in a way that is more comfortable for me?” Maybe it’s keeping in touch on social media, sending a text, mailing a card, meeting for coffee, or inviting others into my space where I craft the environment. It’s a little more work, but it’s worth it. I have felt a lot happier showing up in my own way. And accepting that that’s OK. I connect with others differently, but that doesn’t make me a bad person, a person who doesn’t love her people, or a person underserving of reciprocal love.
Of course, all isn’t perfect and there are weeks, especially during this holiday season, when my schedule has been insane. Running from commitment to commitment. Some welcomed. Some not so much. But in these times, I still keep my well-being at the forefront. As I transition from one event to another, I force myself sit down for five minutes for meditation. To get my head right. To get my heart right. To release whatever I’m holding on to so I can start the next thing as fresh and ready as possible. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND TRYING THIS. It’s just five minutes. Five minutes. We all have five minutes. Even if it makes you five minutes late, give that time to yourself. If you’ve got a little more time – MOVE. An hour on a treadmill puts me in a completely euphoric state-of-mind. Everything that happened before I stepped foot in the gym is yesterday’s news. What I’m getting at is – put your oxygen mask on first!
The change I’ve seen within myself is palpable. I feel it. I see it. I appreciate it. I’m proud of it. I feel very much healed. Because I finally gave myself permission to feel that way. I’m not the victim if I don’t allow myself to be. I can be the person certain traumas end with. I'm willing to do the work.
The way we live our lives is completely up to us. And as I know I’ve said before – as long as we lead with love and kindness without malicious intent – that way of thinking is OK. Putting yourself first is not selfishness if it saves your sanity!
Ever since I can remember, I’ve supported the LGBTQ community. I don’t have any memories of a time when I didn’t. It’s probably because I didn’t think about it much until I was exposed to the community in my early 20’s. I know that’s late, but in the very small town I was from, if someone identified as LGBTQ, I may have suspected but it wasn’t a topic that was discussed, probably for several different reasons at that time.
My first real submersion into the community was when I started going to Kings and Queens, an LGBTQ friendly club in downtown Waterloo. From the moment I stepped in the doors I felt welcomed and comfortable. To this day it is still one of my favorite bars. The happiness inside is contagious because you’re surrounded by a bunch of people who feel like they can truly be themselves there. That not only applies to those who identify under LGBTQ, but also to cis gender, “straight” women like me. I felt like it was a safe space.
What made me most joyful was looking around and feeling glad that everyone seemed to be presenting their authentic selves. Outside the doors of that club, who knows what they had to hide, interact with, endure. I wasn’t naïve enough to think that the joy we felt there together followed everyone out into their day-to-day lives.
I was reminded of the hard truths of being part of the LGBTQ community at a training I recently went to for work. It was hosted by OneIowa (please check them out – they are competent powerhouses on this topic). I’ve never listened so intently to a training in my life. I had really been looking forward to it, but the topics covered were so valuable and interesting and heartbreaking all at once. By the end, my heart and mind expanded in ways they haven’t in a long time.
My number one takeaway was how much I take my privilege for granted. Although I am pretty sensitive and empathetic to the struggles I know so many people have to deal with every day, I don’t know if I fully realized how little I don’t have to “struggle.” From day-to-day tasks all the way up to finding and keeping a job. For the most part, it’s smooth sailing compared to what others have to think about and experience.
Here’s an example that seems small but is actually really huge in the long-run. I don’t have to think about where I can go to the restroom. For a non-binary transgender person who does not identify as male or female, not having unisex restroom options causes stress. One of the presenters at the training mentioned how they have to think ahead when taking a road trip, trying to remember or identify rest stops/gas stations they could go to that have unisex restrooms. If they stop at one that doesn’t, they have to consider whether going into the male or female restroom will cause them the least amount of “trouble.” Because if they choose incorrectly, it could cause an uncomfortable situation and potentially negative confrontation from others. It’s happened to this person. Yeah. Just because they were trying to do something as simple as go to the restroom.
Barriers in place for the LGBTQ community only increase from there (depending on the state). There are laws in place in some states that allow people and businesses to discriminate against this group. If a man marries a man and your job finds out – you could get fired. For who you love and what you do in your personal life. Yet another thing, among many, I don’t have to think or worry about. If I want to move out-of-state, I don’t have to look at the laws in place ahead of time that might change the way I’m able to live (or not live) my life.
I hope with more education and advocacy, peoples’ minds will change about this group, and we start seeing more acceptance/compassion/empathy with less barriers.
Here are a few graphics that I think are really helpful in better understanding different sexuality, gender, and orientation spectrums:
In addition to the spectrums shown above, at the training we also got into gender pronouns, which was fascinating and I’m so glad I was educated on the topic. See table below. I think more and more you’ll start seeing and hearing other peoples’ preferred pronouns. Because it’s not just he and she anymore. The trainers realize that it will take time for people to learn how to use these pronouns, and offered some good advice if you use the wrong pronoun with someone. 1) Acknowledge that you used the wrong pronoun; 2) genuinely apologize; 3) tell them you’ll try to do better in the future. Simple as that. Don’t make the LGBTQ person feel guilty because you did not know or forgot. They’re going through enough and are probably misidentified multiple times a day. You were the one in the wrong. Respect their choice of pronoun and move on.
I could literally write about this all day because I’m learning so much, it’s very fascinating to me, and there’s so much to share. But to wrap things up, really what I was reminded of at the training is that seeing and respecting others for who they are is key.
As the world continues to change and people feel more comfortable sharing who they truly are (which I think is beyond wonderful), it is up to us to hold space for all of the different identities and to be advocates for the LGBTQ community. Allowing others to express themselves authentically and use language to describe themselves in an affirming way is something we all deserve.