Of Being Happy and Mindful

I am happy today.

I am so happy that my anxiety, and depression are temporarily gone from my awareness. It’s different.

Something else is different too.

For the first time in my life, I am not afraid to say that I am proud of the fact that I am happy. I don’t have to make excuses and downplay my happiness, like I’ve always felt like I had to in the past. I could never tell people positive things about me because of how afraid I am of others judging me for being happy as a depressed person.

In group today, I told Jenny and Brandon that I love them so much that it hurts me tremendously to see them both in the darkness, still struggling to climb out of the pit of depression. I told them that I felt really sad that Jenny have been victim shamed so much in her life that she can’t even bring up the topic of sexual assault or even believe that women are right to talk about their survival with her significant other, and that Brandon felt that he can’t feel okay with who he is. I recognized their pain because I was just a few months ago, steeped in it. I’ve been through all the shit, and muck, and though I still visit the pit from time to time, I’ve also been spending a lot more time in the sun lately.

I told the two of them (because only 3 of us attended group today) that I didn’t want them to misunderstand me – that for a moment, I didn’t want to tell them how I felt because I was afraid that they would judge me as ‘hypocritical’. I felt hypocritical because back when I was in the thick of depression, many supportive people have told me that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. That there is hope. At that time, I had scoffed at every single one of them and in my mind, had resolved that none of them knew how I felt. I refused to believe them because I didn’t think that they’d understand. That no one would.

Now I’m more stable, and can cope with my difficulties better. And I suddenly realized that I now know what those well-meaning people had been saying to me. I knew now that they weren’t just saying words to make me feel better but rather they really believe it.

I said, “I decided to say what was on my mind anyway even though a part of me felt like a hypocrite but I trusted… Or at least, I hoped that you two would get what I was saying, and where I was coming from. You both have seen, and experienced me at my lowest. You know how much I’ve struggled. So I hoped that you’d hear my message and see it as coming from someone who did go through shit and who did do all the hard work to come to this sunny side. And it is my hope, I am so so hopeful that you two can feel this way too because it hurts me so much to see you two struggle. I want so much good for you guys!”

Of course, I cried. I got very emotional and I explained that I didn’t know why.

T offered an explanation, “Jules, when you said all those things to Jenny and Brandon, I could tell that it came from your heart. That you genuinely wanted good things for them. And in saying those things, telling them that their issues are valid, that they’re worthy to feel the way they do despite what others have told them, is also in the same way, self validating. You were also talking to yourself, Jules. You told yourself that you were worthy, and that you were valid…”

What he said struck me. He was right. I was validating myself too. And that’s why I got emotional. I still have trouble telling myself good things without crying. It’s so emotionally impactful for me that I can’t do it without the tears.

Later, I shared with Brandon how I’ve been able to climb out of the pit – it was that I had built a support system around me who would remind me from time to time that I’m doing well, and that I’m heading the right direction. I told him that it’s all and well to be able to self validate, but to also receive such recognition, and encouragement, is huge. I told him that I felt so much stronger now because I have recognized who my people are.

I then told him how much of a privilege it’s been for me to watch him grow, and to see how much he’s grown. He used to be high strung, philosophical, cold, distant, and so stressed out. Today, he sat there with an even temper, and was able to participate in the conversation without even once going to the philosophical arguments. He was vulnerable, and allowed himself to be, and he was accepting of all the feedback he was given. I felt so proud of him. When T asked me how I felt towards Brandon, I said, “I feel so good. I feel so privileged to have seen such a huge change. It makes me extremely happy that you are reaching that point, and are working so hard yourself. I feel so much affection for you right now. It’s almost like you’re my little brother, and you’ve done so much good work!” I wanted him to know that his hard work is being recognized. It made me feel so happy to be able to say that because not only did it impact him, it also rebounded and hit me with the fuzzies.

Just before group, the Director of the Office of Health and Wellness said to me,

“When you learn to love yourself, those who love you will come back around to you. You don’t have to acclimate to others. You are a square trying to fit in a round hole. You’re not meant to fit!”

The Health and Wellness Promotion Coordinator then added,

“Those who are for you can’t go. Those who are not for you, can’t stay”.

Those two things have changed my life today. The words reverberated through me and I felt the anxiety that has been holding me back all this time ebb away. I was so afraid of losing people, and losing good times, that I was willing to settle for mediocre just so that I don’t have to rely on only myself. When I heard all that, I learned that I could let go, and the world will still revolve… And somehow, that helped me let go today.

It helped me stay uplifted, and positive.

So much so that I went and watched Power Rangers at the theater by myself. I was giddy with excitement because I felt like a child again, and Power Rangers was one of the more positive aspects of my childhood. I remembered how hopeful, and strong I had felt every time I watched the show. Watching the movie today reminded me of that. I also felt that the interaction between the characters to be similar to what I’d felt for Jenny, and Brandon today. It felt good. They feel like family.

I also was able to learn that when I love myself, it makes me love my partner, Cherie, even more than I already do. It made me secure in our relationship, and I am not worried about a thing right now. I confessed to her, and to group that my relationship has been going well – despite some fights – and it’s been going on so well that I have consciously caught myself thinking, “Wow. This is going well. Now what can I screw up so that I can go back in the pit again? What can I do to make it so that I feel depressed again?” I’m so used to being in the dark that being in the light feels strange, and uncomfortable. I know that now.

Today has been one of those really mindful days for me. I’m just so aware of my life, my speech, my actions, and my feelings. I don’t know if it will last or not, but I am hopeful that even if it doesn’t, that I’ll be able to handle it and turn the negatives into good growing experiences.

Thoughts from Group – The Pain of Admission

When J asked where we’d like to start, I said that I would because I wanted some feedback. So I started to explain some context about my selves – about how I have a conflict between the Adult and the Child selves. I also talked about something that I’ve found too embarrassing and even shameful to say – that I feel like I should be entitled to getting help from people, that I think that this world is so unfair, and that because I’ve had many traumas in my life, and that my life has been so difficult and painful, that I deserve to get help, that I deserve people to cut me some slack, and that I deserve a better life. I talked about how financial strain has caused me to reflect on how angry and bitter I am at my life – to be left with a $10K credit card debt, to not have money to do anything I need to do (and now that I don’t have any shifts at the restaurant, to feel like I’m going to be homeless as soon as I run out of my savings), to not be able to focus all that well in school because I had other adult responsibilities, and so on. I told the group how ashamed I feel and how guilty I feel for saying that I want attention. That I sometimes do things to get attention or to elicit sympathy and empathy.

A couple of the group members chimed in and told me that I shouldn’t feel ashamed for being who I am. That I shouldn’t be ashamed to feel like I deserve the things that I’ve mentioned. Brandon talked about how his life had been similar and how he could relate because of how horrible his life has been as well. Then he said that he got over it by learning to love himself better – that he was able to come up with reasons why he does deserve to be treated fairly, that he does deserve to be loved, and that he should never have to be ashamed of himself.

One of the new girls, let’s call her Kayla, told me that she’s a realist and that the way she sees it, that I shouldn’t expect so much from people because then I set myself up for disappointment. She also said that no one is entitled to anything except to be accepted as a human being. Beyond that, we are to make our own life. That we are not to expect help from anyone. She said that she will admit that she comes from a supportive middle-class well-off family and have never suffered from anything traumatic in her life so she didn’t know if her views are just her being a realist, or if it’s her privilege talking. I didn’t feel mad at her though I did feel a slight pull to argue, and to point out that she isn’t even trying to empathize. I refrained myself because I didn’t want to derail our current conversation and get into that. I wanted to get to the bottom of my issue first. I was being selfish.

About 45 minutes into the session, we were still analyzing my situation, analyzing my thoughts and emotion. J, the lead facilitator, chimed in and said, “I don’t know about you guys but I’m currently feeling like you’re not present. Like the things that you’re talking about are not here in this room but rather somewhere out there… Correct me if I’m wrong but does anyone else feel that way?”

I nodded because I realized that I had been distancing myself from the subject. That the way I had expressed my issue and how I’d asked for feedback had been devoid of emotion. I didn’t have any emotion in my voice except for one where I was playing an analytical scientist role. At that point, I knew that I was consciously doing it. I didn’t want to go near the emotions that was related to me feeling like I’m entitled to some attention, care, love, and help from others. Those emotions were messy because aside from the shame (which in itself is already a huge beast to slay), I also had feelings of guilt, anger, bitterness, betrayal, sadness, and confusion all mixed in.

I admitted that I didn’t want to feel any emotion.

Kyle, the guy that I had had a conflict with a while ago, offered his opinion. He said that the group had been dancing around the issue, and no one is really going to the root of things – that people are content to hear my issues, and then just analyze them and find out what they can do to help fix things. He talked about how he’s noticed this happening a lot more with group lately. That we are no longer willing to do the hard work of feeling the emotions we need to feel.

J asked, “How are you feeling towards Jules right now?”

I prepared myself to feel angry at Kyle because of how in the past, he’s never been willing to connect to me. I thought about how I knew what he would feel – that for sure, he would just dismiss my feelings the way he’s always done.

He didn’t. Instead he said, “I can see why you would feel like it’s a shameful thing. I mean… As you were talking, I realized that I do this too… That I also don’t want to feel that. That I wish people would just see my situation as well. How I’m just trying so hard and nobody realizes what I struggle with… I do it too…”

J encouraged Kyle to explain what ‘that’ was.

“Admitting that I want care and concern. That I want that too…” He said, after some hesitation.

I felt my heart fill with emotions. I started to cry because as I’d explained it to the group moments later, “My emotions are catching up and I’ve been keeping them at bay. But what Kyle said has unleashed them…”

I told the group that I felt the connection that Kyle was trying to make. That although I appreciate hearing the more philosophical, and more analytical arguments/suggestions from the others because I am myself so analytical, that I really did appreciate Kyle’s empathy. I didn’t expect it. I felt a warmth emanating from him.

J then offered how she felt that Kyle had come such a long way. That initially when group had started, he had seemed very stand offish, and that he didn’t care about emotions. That he wasn’t at group because he wanted to feel anything. She then pointed out how much he’s grown and how different he is now.

I then agreed with J because I was going to tell Kyle the same exact thing too – that I see a difference in him. He definitely has changed his perspective. I felt a little tug of anger, and jealousy as I said so. I didn’t like that J always paid him compliments like that. I wanted some of that too.

A little later, Kyle took over the topic because we had beaten the dead horse with mine. He talked about how he feels like he’s not cared for, that his friends don’t understand him, or try to empathize. He said that his friends just give him quick answers. And that he recently had been having a pull to feeling like he needs to get back together with his ex. As I listened to him, I realized that what he was saying isn’t too far from what I feel. I wanted to blurt out, “You’re going through something very similar to me!” but didn’t.

J then told Kyle how she felt like Kyle had a good way of bringing the group back to the processing piece of group. That somehow every week, he was just so good at doing that. It was interesting that J had mentioned that.

I said, “I agree with you, J!! I was just going to say that. That he’s the last person I expected to do this. I mean, judging from how he was in the beginning, I really didn’t think he would be the one who would be bringing everyone back on track every week. I think it’s so awesome!” I said. I started feeling empty. That what I was saying was just so forced. That I was trying to find some positivity instead of showing my grudge and bitterness towards him. “Although, a part of me does feel jealous. I mean, not jealous in a bad way, but envious I guess… I’m envious and I wish I could be good at that too”

“What’s that?” J asked me.

“Um, to be good at bringing the group back to processing. To be able to process and to know what that’s like…” I said. I felt myself burn with envy. And how I wished that J had told me something so powerful too – that I play a pivotal role in creating a positive time for group. “You know, Kyle, I feel like we are both going through so much that are similar. As you were talking, I thought to myself, ‘You know… You’re not that much different from me at all…’ and I realized that we really aren’t… I guess that’s why in the past, when we had that conflict, I felt so upset because I felt like you were just constantly pushing me away. I was trying to connect but you weren’t letting me. So I felt like I was getting the impression that you just didn’t want either of us to be the same. Like there’s something wrong with us being the same…”

Kyle reacted in a surprised manner. He looked like he was going to disagree.

The new girl, Kayla, interrupted.

“Can I just say just how much I loved that? That interaction was amazing! It was so sweet to see that. Wow… That was so cool how you were able to tell him all those things!” she’d said.

As she spoke, I felt a huge tug in my gut. I realized that I needed to recant my words. I needed to be truthful and I felt that it was time. I had been carrying the anger and bitterness around for 3 semesters now. It’s time for me to let it go. So I mustered up all the courage I had, and threw caution to the wind.

I said, interjecting Kayla as soon as she stopped, “Actually Matt… I want to take back what I said. I just realized, as Kayla was talking, that I want to take it back… The part I want to take back is the part where I said that I felt like you were constantly pushing me away because you don’t want to be like me” I hesitated. I was trying to find the right words but couldn’t. I didn’t want him to be mad at me. But then the other part of me said to myself, Just go for it. The worst that could happen is that he’ll stop talking to you.

So I did. “Kyle, I realize now that the reason why I said that is not because you were trying to push me away, but it’s because I was. I didn’t like you. I mean, not 100% didn’t like you because we do have good interactions, but I think in general, I just didn’t like you. I felt that your point of view was different than mine and how you approached empathy was so jarring for me that I felt like you were attacking me. I was wrong to say that and to put it on you because I realize now that it’s on me. I was projecting all these things on you because I didn’t want to change my views to look at yours. I wanted you to conform to me but since you didn’t, I was angry and bitter. I have been holding a secret grudge against you since we’ve met. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but I have. And I know that it hasn’t been overt but I want to apologize. It wasn’t right. And now I feel differently towards you. Today, when you reached out to me, I felt a connection. I felt like you were really trying to feel how I felt. I realize now that I had been bitter for no reason. I didn’t want to tell you this because I was afraid too. I was afraid that now that I’m being real with you, and telling you exactly how I’ve always felt, that since this is the beginning of a better relationship, that it would end because you’d be mad at me for saying all these things. I’m afraid of potentially losing this relationship because now I actually like you. And I realize that we’re not that different after all. I think the reason why I had not liked you before was because of how I realize that we are not actually pretty alike. And I hated that because I don’t like myself. So seeing how you are just like me, I hated you because I hated myself. I get that now. I’m expecting you to be mad at me…”

Kyle looked extremely shocked. J gave me the impression that she was smiling on the inside, and that she had not expected that either.

“How do you feel, Kyle? To hear that from Jules?”

Kyle was flabbergasted. He couldn’t speak for a few moments. When he finally did he said, “I feel… A happiness in me. I feel happy that she said that to me. I never knew she had a grudge on me. I feel happy… This is what I’ve been wanting all along. I want people to be this way…”

“To be brutally honest?” J asked.

“Yeah! To just tell me how I really am. How they perceive me. I am happy because she told me exactly how she’s been perceiving me. I mean, I don’t know how to react to it yet… I’d have to think about it… But yeah… Wow… I didn’t know that at all. I’d rather someone tell me something like this than to pretend to like me!” Kyle said.

“How did it feel to hear that, Jules?”

“I’m glad that you didn’t take it badly, Kyle. It wasn’t my intention to start a conflict. I just felt a strong pull to say that. To let you know that… I also feel relieved because I’d been holding on to that for so long. That being real makes me feel better. I no longer feel the anger, and grudge the way I used to. And I hope that we can now be real friends. But I understand if you wouldn’t want that because I did say some horrible things…”

“You don’t seem to trust Kyle’s words…” J said.

“Well, not fully. I mean, part of me is hopeful that going forward things will be better, but at the same time, another part of me thinks that he’ll be angry. I mean, if someone told me something like that, maybe I’d be angry at them…” I said.

Then our attention turned to Brandon. I don’t know how we’d transitioned but we did. I wiped up all my tears, felt so much relief. It felt like I had let go of a heavy burden and now I’m able to walk better.

We started to talk about Brandon. He kept talking about the presidency issues, the civil right issues that are going on right now, and about how the world and society is just messed up. How he wishes he could just fix everything. He talked about how angry he is at the idiots who support Trump, and how paranoid he feels of his life now because of his LGBTQ+ status. I empathized. I knew how he felt. It’s painful. He also talked about how misanthropic he feels – how he just wants to withdraw and stop connecting with anyone. He also talked about how depressed, hopeless, confused, and desperate he was. He told us that he just doesn’t think that he can ever find such a vulnerability. He said that he was jealous of the vulnerability that both Kyle and I had showed each other. “I’m like an outsider looking in on that interaction, and here I am wishing that I could have that too… I don’t feel like I can feel that way. I’m just so unable to feel any kind of vulnerability…”

Kayla interjected and told him that she doesn’t believe that such a thing could ever be lost. Brandon snapped back at her and told her that he’s hard a difficult traumatic life. That his vulnerabilities had been beaten away by his rageful alcoholic father. That he just can’t feel anything a normal person can. I felt his pain. I realized where he was coming from. Brandon was standing in his own little island – wanting desperately to connect with people but also at the same time, vehemently denying that he wants anyone to care for him. He was concerned for humanity and the way we’re headed. He talked about his philosophies of life and how there are just so many simple solutions that if man were smart enough, they would realize how to fix our shitty lives. He started to float back into the upper strata of philosophizing this life, and society, etc. It was a good intellectual discussion topic, but J insisted that we stay down on Earth where all the feelings were.

Brandon was angry that J kept asking him how he felt and made him reconnect back to his emotions every time he floated up into the world of philosophy. I felt so bad for him. I see how hard he is working – how much of his passion is expended on trying to make people see the truth. How disappointed, and disillusioned he is with life, and with people. I get it because I used to be the same exact way. I felt a tug to tell him how I really felt about him though.

“I have something to say. And I wasn’t going to tell you at first but I figured since I’ve already been negative and said such horrible things to Kyle, why the heck not?”

Jenny sighed loudly and said, “Oh no…”

“Well as you were talking, I thought about something. And this might make you really mad but uh… I was thinking about how you sound like all those preachers who come to campus and tell people they’re going to hell. But instead of those things, you’re telling people they need to be vegan, and that they need to be awake to the political things that are happening… You’re out there screaming at people and no one gives you any care. And all you want is some recognition that you’ve worked hard. That you’ve done so much. It’s so lonely being there by yourself screaming at people who don’t care. It’s so painful… I totally see where you are and feel how you feel. It really really sucks…” I said.

“How did you hear that, Brandon?” J asked.

Brandon looked angry.

“It was painful. It was painful to hear that because I now have a similarity with the people I hate. The preachers I hate so much. I don’t like that. It’s definitely so painful…” Brandon said. Then as he mused some more, he started to philosophize again.

Kayla and Jenny jumped in to try and fix things for Brandon. I felt like it was too soon for them to do so. I felt like no one was pointing out the obvious.

“Okay, I have something else to add. It’s another bad thing. I mean, I hope not… But it kinda is, I think…” I said. I started to tremble.

“You seem like you’re having a hard time, Jules” J said.

“Yes I am! I’m shaking!” I said. I took a deep breath and just said it. “You know, it definitely sucks being there by yourself. To see others and to see the whole picture but no one else does. When no one else agrees with you. Yeah, it’s super hard… But… Uh… But…. Have you ever… I mean… What would it be like if you stepped down from the pedestal? I mean, yeah, I know it’s scary. It’s super scary because you don’t know what’s down here. But what if you tried? If you step down from the pedestal, then you can stop seeing everyone from just the perspective of someone really high up, but rather, face-to-face. Right now, all you see are everyone’s heads. How is that connecting to anyone?”

“That’s vulnerability!” J exclaimed as I said what I said.

Tears sprang to my eyes again and I started sobbing in my seat. I was terrified of saying that – to tell Brandon to get off his high horse and join us down here.

“Yeah!” I exclaimed too. I was afraid that this was the last time I’d speak to Brandon again.

“Well, it’s painful to hear that. And I don’t know if I can do that anyway. If I were to go to an activism group, no one would know me. I make things awkward for others. I don’t have any social skills. What if my friends don’t want to go with me? Yeah, I’ve also been doing meditation. You know, trying out some self-love because I know that will help…”

I was a little disappointed that Brandon didn’t catch my meaning – or perhaps he did and was trying even more to not feel it. To not feel my hand reaching out to him.

Jenny tried to help. She told Brandon that it seems like he’s just speeding off somewhere and that he’s not stopping to see the signs even though both Kyle, and I have been trying to reach him. That he’s not willing to pull over and get the help he needs.

Brandon’s anger flared up and he snapped, “What would you have me do?! I’m stressed, shut down, angry, depressed, not feeling anything… How can I do what you’re asking me to do? I told you I can’t!”

J said, “I want to take this opportunity to bring it all back to the beginning when Jules said, ‘You just want some recognition that you’re working your asses off’ and you are!”

I took a deep breath and spoke again, “Yeah. I see you, Brandon. I see you working hard. I see that you’re standing there yelling at people and you’re working so hard to have people look at you, and stop to listen. You are working so hard. I recognize that. And I know how hard it is to take that first step. I know it feels unreacheable right now. But at the same time, I can’t help but ask you if you could take the hand that I’m offering you. I’m reaching out to you. Let me help you take that first step. Let me help you get down from the pedestal so that you can see my face, and reconnect with people… I see you, Brandon…”

“I think instead of asking Brandon that he just needs to do this and that, that maybe we need to be on Brandon’s speed. I mean, it takes both sides to do something. And we’re all just telling him what to do. Maybe one of us needs to get up on the pedestal with him. And then help him down. We need to meet each other halfway.” Kayla interrupted.

I didn’t completely agree with her because I felt like I wasn’t trying to tell Brandon to do anything. I am already offering my help. I am already offering my love and care for him. All I wanted him to do was to hold the hand that I was offering. I could sense a reluctance.

“I have a lot I definitely need to think about. I want to get there. I do… I just don’t know how…” He said.

J then had to wrap up the session because we had gone 5 minutes over.

“You all did hard work today. But unfortunately we have to stop here because we’ve already gone over time…” J said regretfully. “We’ll meet same time next week though, right?”

We all nodded our assent.

I felt light as I stood up and collected my coat. Sure, I still was recovering from all the crying I was doing but I was definitely feeling a lot better than I have. Lately, I’ve been disconnected from my feelings and it felt good to feel them again. There were a lot of uncomfortable feelings today but at least, I had embraced them instead of pushing them away as I’ve been doing a lot lately.

I felt a lot more love for my group members than I’ve ever had. I realized that this was more evidence that just because you’re real with someone, or that if you call them out, or say something negative, that the relationship not only can continue, but will continue in a better, and stronger way because it means that we are all being brutally honest with each other.

I felt so proud of myself as I walked out of group today. It was incredible how I was able to stick through the uncomfortable, and terrifying feelings as I spoke my mind (something that I rarely do). I realized that this is how it feels to stop protecting people – to stop making excuses for them, or to just shield them from pain. It means to say tough things, and hope that the other person doesn’t blow up on you, and that you’ll be better friends/partners/colleagues/family/etc in the future.

I learned so much today in just an hour and a half. It was such an incredible session!

Group Therapy – Conflict of Communication Style

Last Friday, I had a difficult group session. Every time I go to group, I get triggered and I often leave feeling unsettled or sometimes even outright upset. It’s just that the things we talk about are very difficult things and a lot of the times, we bring up issues that everyone identifies and relates with.

The Friday before the week of Thanksgiving, I ended the session by saying that there is something important that I want to bring up in the next session. What had happened was, just moments prior to that, Kyle had shared something that had upset him. Like always, I jumped in to offer my empathy by relating to him and showing him that he’s not alone. When asked what his response was to my show of empathy, he told me that he wasn’t listening – that he couldn’t. I felt invalidated at that moment. So I brought up at the end of the session that it seems like every time I try to empathize with Kyle, he rejects my efforts. I talked about how I thought this wasn’t a big deal but since it’s been coming up more and more, and because I had been keeping it buried inside, that perhaps it was time we talked about it and processed it.

So, last Friday, after some hemming and hawing, we finally got to that point of opening up about the issue that I had brought up. We’ve had 2 weeks to process it because we were all on Thanksgiving break so group didn’t meet. Kyle confessed that he had been very nervous and stressed about the topic – he said that he had wished that he didn’t have to talk about this topic.

Since I was the one who brought it up, I was given the onus to explain what was so upsetting. I provided some context – some of the past things that had happened in group. I talked about how every time Kyle is upset, I would try to empathize by showing him how I relate to his story and how it’s affected me, in hopes that he’ll see that he is not alone and that I totally get it. I said that it was how I’ve always related to people whenever they’re upset or distressed. I explained that it was how I would like others to relate to me because I want to know that I’m not alone in how I feel (because I fundamentally think that I am a legitimate outcast of society, and that’s why it’s so important to me to feel like there are others on my “side” too).

Kyle then offered his perspective of the issue. He told me that whenever he’s upset and he’s sharing his story, he is often in such a distressed mindset that he can’t even listen to anyone else. He also said that he doesn’t want to – “It’s off-putting to me,” Kyle had said. “It’s off-putting because here I am telling my story of why I’m upset and another person chimes in and says that they’ve gone through the same thing, and that they know how it feels. At that moment, it’s like they’re trying to steal the spotlight from me! I’d rather someone just say that ‘things suck, the situation is bad, and I’m sorry’,”

Another group member, Sam, chimed in and called him a hypocrite for saying that because in the first few sessions of group, he had said that he didn’t want people to relate to him that way. Kyle’s defense was that over the course of group (we have been at it for 2 semesters now) that he had changed his mind about how he wants others to relate to him and how he wants to relate to others.

As I listened to him, I had a smile on my face. I didn’t want him to think that I disliked him or anything, although I felt a little offended that having someone share their story was like having them steal the thunder from him. It offended me because my purpose was to comfort – not to steal anyone’s thunder. If I’d wanted to steal the spotlight, I’d be the only one talking and I’d not let anyone else talk.

When it came to my turn to speak again, I decided to go with the truth. I said to Kyle, “You know, as you were speaking, I have to say… What you said made me angry. It made me feel angry at least… I felt angry because I didn’t like how you didn’t take into account that everyone communicates differently. Everyone has their own way of showing their empathy and for you to say what you said, made me feel like how I did it was wrong and that the only way you want anyone to relate to you is through your own way. That the ways others relate to you aren’t good enough… If all you want is for me to say, ‘Well that sucks, I’m sorry, man’, I could do that. However, that’s just not how I relate to others. To me, saying that sentence is very insincere and I hate hearing people tell me that things suck and that they’re sorry because to me, it feels like they didn’t even try to understand how I feel in that moment. It’s like they didn’t even put in any effort but rather, they just say, ‘Oh that’s tough shit’ – what it implies then is that I’m supposed to just move on…”

J, the lead psychologist, then said to me, “Jules, I want to challenge you on that… I want to challenge you on what you said about how all Kyle wants to hear is ‘Oh that sucks, man. I’m sorry’ because I really don’t think that’s what he’s saying… That’s not how I interpreted it”

I looked at Kyle, and said, “Well, that sure sounds like what he’s saying to me…” because I truly did interpret it to mean that.

Jenny, another member, chimed in and said, “That’s how I heard it too… That all they wanted was to hear that simple sentence and that’s all they need. I want to apologize too because like Jules, that’s also how I relate to others. I tend to tell them how an experience has affected me and how I’d like to relate to them…”

I felt a little relieved to know that I’m not the only one who empathizes with others this way – in lengthy expression of sadness, and relating my experiences to them.

I then said that I wouldn’t have known what Kyle needed – that I wouldn’t know what anyone needs.

Brandon said that as he was talking, he was thankful that I showed him empathy and that he takes empathy from anyone and in any form. “But if I were honest,” he said, “I think I’d much rather have just heard you say, ‘I’m sorry but that’s really rough’ and be done with that because my mind was at such a turmoil that I couldn’t even think straight anymore, so it was very hard for me to follow what you were trying to say. I tried very hard to listen to what you and Jenny said but it was just so difficult to do so…”

“But I wouldn’t have known that!” I said, feeling my anger rise again. It was so hard for me to accept that I can’t always fulfill what others need because I really can’t read people’s minds. “How can I change who I am at my core to fit others? I can’t always be on my tippy toes and try to act differently than who I really am. This is how I show others empathy. Why should I have to change myself to fit others?”

Sam said, “Now I want to challenge  you on that. You’ve been in relationships before, right? In relationships, don’t you change how you communicate depending on how the situation is?”

“I’m not saying I won’t change my tone or how I say something, but that I won’t change who I am fundamentally. That I’m not about to change who I am to suit others…” I defended.

Jenny then offered, “Well, I think maybe what Sam is saying is that sometimes we just need to know when to back down and put our own ego aside. That we just have to say simply to the person, ‘I validate your feelings’. I know it’s hard because I struggle with that too, but I think that might be what is needed at that time…”

I shrugged. I felt defeated – I felt like my point wasn’t being made and that no one understood what I was trying to say.

“Jules, it sounds like things are so black and white for you – that either you help a person feel better, or that relationship is over…” J said, gently.

It was hard for me to look at her in the eye, the way she was doing to me.

“Yeah… You’ve just talked about how you always try to empathize with others. But you take it all on yourself. It bounces back to you and becomes a negative thing. You can’t anticipate what others need but it seems like if you can’t, then you must not have done enough. You’re so hard on yourself, Jules!” Sam said.

At his last statement, I started tearing up because it hit me that I do take things on myself and that I take so much responsibility for others, even when it’s not necessary. I articulated this through sobs because I couldn’t control my cracked voice and my emotions. I tell the group how I feel like everything’s my fault, or that everything’s my responsibility because that’s how I’ve been raised – that was the model of behavior I was shown. I was always punished for my brother’s sake and because I was never given affirmation, I never knew when what I did was ever enough. So I have never felt enough. Not for anyone.

This feeling creeps into other aspects of my life – and right now, it’s something that I feel with Cherie sometimes. I often ask her why she would fall in love with me, when I don’t think I can ever give her enough. She would chide me and tell me that I’m silly – that I’m worthy, and that I deserve to be loved. She would always say things of that flavor to comfort me.

T then asked me if I felt like the burden had been taken off me now that we’ve talked about how I don’t have to take on everyone’s responsibilities in communication. At that time, it did feel like a load had come off my chest. I did feel a lot calmer knowing that I couldn’t have anticipated how Kyle needed to be comforted.

After group ended, I felt fine for a little while but then later, as I shared with Cherie about what had happened, I started to feel unsettled again. She gently shared with me that sometimes, some people just need someone to sit there with them without saying anything. That sometimes saying things make things worse. She shared her experiences in her training as a pastor that sometimes, all people need is someone there. She reasoned that perhaps Kyle is one of those people, but then also added that she thinks that Kyle is also someone who doesn’t want empathy and that I should not keep pouring in energy and effort to comfort someone who doesn’t want to be comforted. She told me how big of a heart I have and how I feel so deeply for everyone, and everything. She also told me how painful that is for me and how painful it is for her to watch me suffer through so much anguish for others.

I listened carefully to her – as I always do. I realized that she’s right. That really, I invest so much into people that don’t want my efforts. That I also don’t know when to keep quiet. That hit me the hardest because I know that it was something that I had been trying to practice in the first group I had joined. I had since forgotten that. Cherie gently encouraged me to start practicing that again.

“I know it’s hard for us people with ADHD to do that. To sit still. To be silent… But sometimes, that’s what is needed, my love,” Cherie had said.

I will definitely try to practice that more.

After all this, another feeling had also come up – it’s the feeling that I don’t really want to continue with this group any longer. Initially the reason I had even joined this group was because it’s an ongoing group – an experiment of sorts by CAPS to see how a group that doesn’t change in terms of who the members are would work and if that would be beneficial for other groups to do the same. I wanted to be able to talk to the same people without establishing prior context – however, lately I’ve been feeling jaded by everyone’s contexts. It doesn’t seem like anything’s changed in terms of what brought us to group and that to me, is getting stale. I’m hearing the same stories repeatedly and I’m getting tired of it. That said, I’m sure if I bring this up to S, he’ll ask me what I can challenge myself to do in this situation – how can I make this something that will benefit me in the long run… Perhaps the experience of being “called out” and experiencing people’s challenges really is at the core of this issue (of me wanting to leave), and perhaps I really am just stretched too thin with group… I’m not sure what the real reason is.

All I do know is that I definitely have to talk to S about this to see what his views are. For now, I’ll deal with the uneasy feelings myself and see what comes next.

 

 

Crawling Out of The Rut

It’s been quite a while since I’d written and I do apologize but life has been a roller coaster lately.

Since I started crawling out of my post-divorce rut, I had taken a misstep and had fallen back into another rut – the school/academic rut. As I am slowly recovering from the post-divorce rut, I realize how badly I’ve been doing in school lately.

I’m doing 3 classes officially with the fourth class being a supplemental 1-credit hour class and despite only doing 12 credit hours, I’m floundering really badly. I am failing Discrete Computational Structure (which is essentially just Discrete Math) and can’t keep up with the class. I am not doing well in Calculus despite this being the second time I’m taking the same class (the number of homework and tests/quizzes for this class is truly relentless!) and I’m also struggling really badly with Computing 2 (mainly because the midterm project has crushed all motivation that I ever had in me).

All this has led to an unfortunate amount of stress and tension. I kept backing myself into the corner again – telling myself that I am so weak, and that perhaps I need to reconsider my dream of being a computer scientist. That perhaps, I had made a mistake in thinking that I was smart enough for this venture.

Thankfully, through all this, Chérie has been steadfast in her encouragement and commitment to me. Despite all the whining I’ve been doing about school, she has been very supportive – she even sat me down (figuratively since we’re almost 400 miles apart) one day to help me reorganize my schedule. She and I both successfully helped me cut out 8 hours of work from the restaurant as well as 3 and a half extra hours from private tutoring. Just having her sit with me and discuss my plans was very useful. It calmed me down considerably. It allowed me to refocus.

We’ve only been together 2 weeks so far and things have been going really well for us. It’s interesting how well we’re doing and how much we’ve planned and discussed. I suppose that since we’re both in our thirties, it’s not hard for us to be mature in our outlook and steadfast in our decisions. I truly am fortunate to have found such an amazing person to share my life with.

Group therapy had been very interesting on Friday. The issue between Kyle and Brandon came up again (see: A Most Intense Group Session for context) and I pointed out that since this came up again, that the issue must be pressing enough to warrant another look.

This time, the gloves were off as both Kyle and Brandon got heated with their ideas and opinions. Brandon still didn’t understand why Kyle would not empathize with him or just show him some compassion while Kyle didn’t understand why Brandon is so “fanatical” in his beliefs. Brandon took offense to Kyle’s w0rd choice. Kyle responded that he had no idea why Brandon would so arrogantly presume that everyone should see things his way.

As the conflict got more heated, J was good to jump in and diffuse things before they escalated even more. She cut in a lot and mitigated the conflict very well. At one point she said, “Okay, the content of the disagreement is not what we’re trying to discuss here. We’re trying to discuss how we can approach each other when something like this happens!”

She was right. The content of the argument was not important at all. As both men continued to argue, I interrupted them and jumped in. I didn’t think that I would ever have the guts to do something like that but I did.

I said, “Okay guys. I hope you don’t take this the wrong way but I can really see both sides here. I can empathize with both of you and I do. Brandon, I am part of the LGBTQ community too now and I understand how you feel. I get how angry you are and how much you just want to punch everyone who even utters a tiny homophobic comment. I get it. It makes me mad when a Christian acts like total assholes. At the same time though, I see Kyle’s point – I see what he means by how the Westboro people are just lunatics – it’s because they are. No matter how much we fight them, we’ll never win because they are not only brainwashed to hate people who are different from them, they are also delusional! Doing nothing sucks but sometimes we just need to have compassion for these misguided people. That said, Kyle, I feel like you’re not really empathizing with Brandon. I mean, this is what I perceive. I perceive that you have a great reluctance to just say that you care for Brandon. There were easy outs and you refused to take any of them. J asked you if you cared to be here and your answer was ‘Well if I didn’t care I wouldn’t be here’. Brandon asked you if you could just give him some empathy while T flat-out told you that Brandon just needs to feel some connection from you. Yet you refuse all three offers to let you off the hook. It makes me wonder then if you’re just afraid to show yourself to us – that is to be vulnerable and humble. I have two theories. One it’s that you’ve invested too much into this argument between you and Brandon that if you don’t get any resolutions from it, then it would make the last year for us to be pointless. All I’m saying is that, I feel like you could also be a little less judgmental toward Brandon and just reach out to him, offer some support, and just be there!”

I felt my heart hammer in my ribcage as I spoke. I was afraid of how I was going to be perceived. This was why I didn’t like conflicts. I was afraid of the fact that Kyle and Brandon could both hate me because I was being blunt.

It turned out that what I said opened up the conflict into smaller more manageable chunks. We were able to mostly sort through our emotions and reactions toward the conflict. When asked what we learned from the experience, I talked about how fearful I was to share my opinion and how uncomfortable it was to be amidst the conflict. T pointed out that he was glad that I came to that realization and reminded me that through this experience, we’re able to see that just because we’re not directly involved in the fight, we are actually still a part of the conflict as it still affects us “bystanders”.

I learned a few things from group this week – one was that I don’t always have to follow my instincts and pick a side (I’ve always felt like I had to pick a side. Otherwise, both sides will hate me…) because chances are neither of them were right and choosing a side merely makes everything even more petty. I was able to resist my instincts this time and was able to overcome the discomfort of not knowing what to do. I was also able to sit through the discomfort of being in the middle of a conflict and not run away. I was able to do this without having a meltdown. I was also able to realize how brave I was to say my thoughts and perceptions.

At the end of the session, I called Chérie excitedly on the phone and conveyed everything that had happened in group. She was ecstatic to hear that I was able to do what I did – “Good job!” she had said.

“I actually feel kinda proud of myself,” I said, feeling the same kind of embarrassed shame creep in to my cheeks. I was proud of the fact that I was proud of myself because self-validation has never been my strong suit. I think I’m really moving forward towards a mentally healthier me with my improvement in self-validation, self-pride, and self-encouragement.

So that’s been my week so far. I hadn’t had time to really write any Thoughts From Therapy posts either but as assignments pile up, I barely have any time to be online anymore, much less spend time writing blog posts. I hope to be able to post more thoughtful posts when things start to cool off for me. Until then, I’m just grateful that I still have people I trust here in the blogverse and people who care enough to come back and check to see if I have new posts.

 

A Most Intense Group Session

Wow… I just walked out of the most intense group therapy session ever. I’ve got stress muscle soreness all over my shoulders and neck – the trademark physical sensation I feel when I’m extremely stressed and anxious.

What caused this? – you might be curious to know.

It started out innocuously enough. (Since I’ve been using so many initials and it’s starting to get confusing who’s who, let’s give my group members actual names – of course, they’re not going to be their real names).

It started when Brandon said that he was upset over the Westboro Baptist Church showing up on campus. It was unsurprising seeing that Brandon is gay and that he had been raised in not only a conservative but also abusive household. He was forced into conversion therapy and somehow managed to survive it – albeit he was broken and traumatized from it. Brandon is an intelligent guy – and I relate to him in many levels – so I was unsurprised when he launched into a tirade about how despicable people are to not be empathetic towards him, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in general. He talked at length about how he felt like nobody cares to listen to his views – that nobody cares about him.

I added to his line of thought by talking about how I felt when I was at the counter protest and about how despite the fact that I was only there for 10 minutes, that it had impacted me in a way that I never thought it would – it made me wonder if God hates me and is therefore punishing me for my sins. I told him that I related to him and how he felt. I told him that he is right in saying that people so cruel to want us to die just because of our orientations.

When J (the lead psychologist) asked Brandon how he felt when I expressed my empathy and agreement, he told her that he felt good to know that someone understood him, his position, and how he felt. He expressed that he hadn’t felt the same from any of his friends or even family. That no one truly understood how he felt.

I chimed in and told him that no one truly will understand because unless they’ve been through something similar, it’s a very difficult concept to address. After all, how many people can say that they’ve had to grapple with ideas of their faith and their very being? How many people can say that daily, they wish that they were normal, or that they weren’t judged for who they can’t help but love? Not many people can say that unfortunately because people like us are still in the minority.

From there, that was when it happened.

For the first time in 2 semesters, our group walked into a conflict. It wasn’t on purpose.

Kyle meant well. We all knew that – he was always someone who is very kind, and honest. We’ve promised each other that we would all be honest with each other while we’re in the safety of the group therapy room. We promised we would say what was on our minds. And Kyle did that. He told Brandon that he felt that he could understand what Brandon felt but that he could also see why the WBC protestors feel the way they do. He told Brandon that he just simply can’t pick sides because both sides are right in their own way – who is he to say that one is more right than the other.

Brandon was upset because he didn’t understand why Kyle could say that. He didn’t understand why Kyle felt that the WBC could be right in their beliefs. J intervened and asked Kyle what he felt. Or why he said what he said. Kyle explained that he just always thinks that way – that that’s his opinion and that he can’t take sides.

“Kyle, in this case, Brandon was asking for some empathy. That you feel for him…” J said gently.

“Please, just be empathetic for me. Feel empathy for me. Just feel empathy for me,” Brandon pleaded.

Kyle didn’t understand what Brandon was asking for. In his mind, his opinion that he should be impartial was his way of communicating his empathy. He didn’t understand why Brandon was upset and why J was pushing him. I decided to speak.

“I’m curious, Kyle… Where did that come from? I mean, did you pick the impartial side because you feel like you can’t be judgmental of either side? Is it because you don’t want to feel empathy for Brandon? Or is it just because you can’t reach that emotion?” I had asked. I was genuinely curious. I didn’t mean anything cruel by it at all.

Kyle responded negatively, “Why is everyone saying that I don’t have empathy? I feel like everyone’s just focused on me right now. That you’re all on me…”

J intervened again, asking Kyle what he was feeling at that moment. Kyle couldn’t answer. He tried to answer, several times, but kept coming up short. He told us that he was just so stressed out that his thoughts aren’t being articulated and that we were all just misconstruing his true meaning.

The exchange continued and I started to feel extremely distressed and uncomfortable. I started getting the stress-related muscle soreness that I often feel when I’m stressed out and anxious. I knew that we were in the middle of a conflict – I didn’t like it and I wanted to withdraw. I caught J looking at me several times, like she was keeping an eye on me or something.

J managed to get Brandon and Kyle to a point where they were both able to express how they felt rather than what their opinions were on the political issue. J stressed that we weren’t interested in the political issue, however important they may be, but rather that we wanted to know what Brandon and Kyle were feeling instead.

That was when Kyle just broke down and cried. When J asked, “Kyle, do you often feel this way? That people don’t understand that despite you having shown empathy, that people would say that you didn’t?”

He said that he has experienced that numerous times – that he didn’t understand why people would think that way.

Moments later, he started sobbing.

“Is this why I always feel so alone? Like no one cares? Is it because I can’t show my empathy? Is it because my friends, family… My ex… Thinks that I’m just brushing them off and not showing them empathy? But that’s how I’ve always communicated. There’s little difference between opinion and how I feel…” Kyle said, between sobs.

“It’s hard, Kyle. It definitely is. I mean, it’s so much easier to push people away with a well-intentioned but intellectual comment, than it is to tell us how you feel at any given time. I recognize that because I know that I do the same exact thing myself. I mean, it’s hard… It sucks. It makes you feel so vulnerable… And I get it, you don’t want to be vulnerable. But that was why I asked the question I did earlier. That was why I was curious. I was wondering if you were doing what I usually would do myself. It seems like you do…”

It was quite a breakthrough because Kyle stopped sobbing and became thoughtful. He started to realize what we were all trying to say – that none of us felt his emotions whatsoever. We heard his opinions, but that was it. We didn’t know how he felt.

“Do you think this is what you need from the group? That in the future, you want them to help you recognize that you’re not showing your feelings?” J asked, “Now I know it’s been hard and you can say that you’re done… But, if you’d like, do you think that’s what you need?”

After some thought, Kyle said that he sure did. He said that he felt that he had been stagnating for a while now. That it was because he didn’t want to keep doing this anymore – this hard work. He said that he felt the same with individual therapy as well.

We continued to process a few other thoughts and emotions from the group about this interaction for a few more minutes. I admitted to the group that I felt so distressed that I had wanted to withdraw but I was glad that I stuck with it, no matter how uncomfortable it was.

J then said, “This is hard work!” She sounded almost triumphant. She sounded proud and impressed at the same time. “You did hard work!” She said loudly, looking around the circle.

She was right. We did. We didn’t shrink away. Instead, we pushed each other to the precipice of a breakdown. We pushed Kyle harder than we’ve ever done.

J admitted that she was pushing very hard. That she was doing it because she knew that we would benefit from it, that Matt would benefit from it. T – the co-facilitator – spoke up and said that he felt that the group had been teetering on the verge of a conflict for a long time now but that we’ve never really been ready to embrace that. He was right. We have been close to conflict many times but we’ve never really followed through with it. Somehow, one of us would break away and that would be the end of that.

Today though… Wow… I’m proud of us. That was impressive. That was hard work. I’m still left reeling from the session – an hour after it’s ended, I’m still feeling like I could curl up in a ball and cry. I still have the stress aches… Unfortunately, I have to put that in the back burner and go to work now. I have to stop here. I have more thoughts about today – about how J had been courageous herself for pushing because I noted that she had looked like she was emotionally struggling with the decision to push Kyle as well…

I am just so impressed by the people I interact with – especially these people that I trust my life and secrets to. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this group!

 

Difficult Weekend

It’s been a difficult weekend but I’m still here.

I promised my group that I would be back next week despite the difficult thing I shared with them during group on Friday. I had initially been silent – I kept quiet for the first hour of the 1 1/2 hour session. I didn’t want to say anything despite the fact that I was getting triggered and reacting to all the things that the other members were saying.

Finally, after about an hour, J – the lead facilitator – asked me what I was reacting to and what I’m thinking. I had been abnormally quiet in my corner of the room.

I hesitated. I didn’t really know if I wanted to take the attention/focus away from M, who had been sharing his experience being abandoned by friends that he thought he was close with. He didn’t think he would be betrayed like that and was expressing his anger, bitterness, and sadness over that. I reacted to all that he had said because I have experienced betrayal, and abandonment as well.

When I finally spoke, I unleashed a floodgate of emotions. I was overwhelmed as I spoke – my voice trembled and tears streamed freely. I tried to control my outburst but it was difficult. I talked about how distressed I was last week when we had cancelled group because half the group didn’t show up and how that had led to self-harm. I talked about how abandoned I felt when that had happened. I had had a bad week (dealing with the aftermath of my divorce and my ex’s remarriage), and thought that I could be helped at group – I also thought that if I was at group, then at least I can focus on helping someone else. That usually gets me out of my rut. But since the group therapy session got cancelled, it really triggered feelings of hopelessness in me.

Inevitably, that led to me opening up about how I felt about my divorce and the remarriage. As I started to speak about my divorce, I had to quickly stop because I was going to start sobbing really hard had I continued. “I’m sorry, guys…” I said, as I tried to compose myself again. When I felt a little more composed, I continued and gave a short summary of all the things that I’d been feeling the past 2 weeks. As I spoke, M, who is also experiencing a break from a 7 1/2 year relationship also broke down. I felt bad for triggering that and I apologized to M for making him break down too.

With 10 minutes left to the clock, I said I’m at the point in my relationship with the group that I start to withdraw because I’m starting to feel like a burden again. S noted that it seems like I have been starting to do that again. That I am being more withdrawn than usual. I said to the group that I felt like a burden and that no one should have to help me with this shit that I have to deal with.

T, the co-facilitator, told me that he hates that we have to end at such a point in the discussion, but that we were running out of time and he wanted to check in with M to see if he was okay first before we ended. M said that he was okay, but that he was experiencing the grief that he has been having over his own break up. Then unexpectedly, R spoke up (he’s the quietest member of the group but always has something valuable to offer whenever he speaks). He addressed me, “Jules, I don’t think you’re a burden. I hope you keep coming back here and keep telling us your problems. At least on my side, I don’t think that you’re a burden at all. We’re here to support you. And that’s why we’re all here, right? I just want you to know that so that you don’t beat yourself up…”

I started crying again. I thanked him and told him that it was a very genuine gesture that really touched me. Then the other two members also offered their support and kind words. We actually went over time by 5 minutes but after group had ended, and the facilitators had left, 4 of the members hung around to give me more support. It was very touching.

I felt touched to know that if nothing else, I have this group of people who actually know me better than people I’ve known for 10 or more years, because this group of people knew the core of me – all my problems, all my genuine and truthful opinions and thoughts. We are in this together and we’re all working hard to help each other. I really liked that about group.

On a different note, financially, I’ve been struggling badly as well. I’m not making the tips that I need at the restaurant that I work at and often, I feel like I’m wasting time at work when I could be working on my programs, assignments, and Calculus homework. However, when I get home, I am too tired to do any of those and I feel bad too.

I’m pretty stressed out about having to work so much while going to school full time, but I don’t feel like I have a choice at the moment. I have way too many credit cards and bills to pay for and my situation just looks really bleak.

It’s hard to get out of my rut sometimes. Also, my computer – the one I take to school to program with – just broke so I just had to spend $150 getting a refurbished Chromebook to replace that. 😦

So yeah, I’m still here. Still struggling. Still trying hard to do better, to BE better.