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!

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.

Weekend Madness

I have some very interesting insights from a walk-in session that I forced myself to go to on Thursday as well as from group therapy that I went for this afternoon. Unfortunately, this is the weekend and I work all weekend so I won’t have time to do any blogging until next week.

I’ll definitely share some of the things that I’ve learned on Thursday and Friday.

For now, I need to get some sleep so that I can function well tomorrow at work when I go back in at 10am! Weekends are crazy for me – I get maybe a total of 10 hours of sleep from Friday to Sunday; and I’m at work from 10am to 2am or sometimes 3.45pm to 4.30am. It’s nuts! The things I do to earn a living…

A Night Of Firsts

Tonight, for the first time ever in my life, I not only went to a nightclub/bar, but it was also a gay club. When I got off work at 2am, I joined my lesbian friends at the local gay club. I was curious as to what a gay club was like – and my two friends had been wanting to get me to a club with them for a while now as well. They were definitely keen on me exploring my sexuality.

Since my work place was on the same street as the gay club, and since they were giving me a ride home, I figured I could spend some time with them at the club. What was interesting was how rambunctious the club was and how it was just packed with sweaty bodies.

It was somewhat like the rave scene from The Matrix 2. Writhing bodies, grinding against each other – people of all ages and ethnicity and obviously, sexual orientation. My friend grabbed my hand and pulled me to the corner that they had made their spot at and there, they encouraged me to dance. I’m a bad dancer but I decided to give it a go anyway – I ditched my jacket and backpack on the corner and “danced”.

It wasn’t hard to let go of my self-consciousness though because not only were everyone else just enjoying themselves and moving around, most of them were also too drunk to care what other people looked like anyway. Pretty soon, I was able to loosen up and moved my shoulders and hips a little more.

The energy on the dance floor was infectious and it was easy to get into the dancing mood even if you don’t particularly dance. Not long into my dancing, people started grinding up against me. It was a foreign sensation to me, something I’ve never experienced before. It wasn’t unpleasant, far from it – it was just something that took me by surprise.

I had a pretty good time experiencing a new thing tonight – I’ve always been a fan of gaining new experiences so I definitely had an enjoyable 45 minutes at the club (they closed at 3am). I learned that I am very uptight and need to loosen up a little once in a while – just let go of my control-freak nature.

Speaking of new experiences, tonight was also the first time I’ve ever bumped into a psychologist from CAPS outside of CAPS. As I wasn’t expecting it, the whole thing left me flustered for a while. The most ironic thing was how she was seated at the table in my section. Initially, her two friend were standing by the rail (a bar-like counter area) that was part of my section. I got the two people a beer as they had requested and when I came back, I found that they had been joined by another couple. I asked the man if he’d like a drink and he named a beer, then I turned to the lady and she said that she was fine. I didn’t think much of the encounter even though I distinctly felt like the lady was trying to avoid eye contact and avoid speaking to me.

When I came back from the bar area with the drink for the man, I realized that the hostess had seated the party of 4 at my table. So without thinking much about it, I went up to them and said, “Oh wow, this really worked out that they sat you at my table!” as I set the drink down. Then I looked up at the lady that had been trying to avoid eye contact with me and thought to myself, “Hmm… This looks like JS, the leader of the group therapy that I just started today…”.

Before I continue, let me explain that I’m actually very bad at recognizing people outside of the context that I usually see them in. It’ll usually take me a few takes before I realize who the person is. That’s why I often seem like I’m rude because initially, I don’t actually know who you are if I see you outside of the context of our usual contact until my mind gets to process it.

JS is the first psychologist I’ve ever met at CAPS. She was the one who had administered my ADHD tests for me and had written the ADHD report. I’ve also seen her a couple of other times before for walk-in sessions. She had always been very nice to me and I had immediately taken to her when I first met her. So when I found out that she was going to be the leader of the group therapy that I had signed up for, I was pretty excited to get to work with her more. Today happened to be the first session for the “Understanding Self and Others” group therapy session too so I had seen JS just 3 hours prior to seeing her at the restaurant that I worked at.

Anyway, by the time I realized who she was, the moment to say, “Hi JS! So glad to see you here” had passed and so I started feeling awkward. I think she sensed my awkwardness because she started acting a little awkward too. I think both of us were just caught by surprise. I don’t actually mind seeing my psychologists outside of CAPS but since I hadn’t made the initial contact, JS wasn’t allowed to make any indications that she knew me. At that point, it had been a little late and I was too embarrassed to say anything in the middle because I knew that I should’ve realized who she was sooner if I had wanted to say hi.

Despite the little hiccup, I was actually very pleased to see her. Seeing her made my night a little better and it helped that her significant other was such a gentleman and a great tipper too. I had a good time taking care of her and her friends because her friends were very friendly to me as well and we were able to have some good brief conversations. I really liked seeing JS outside of CAPS because it is again, a reminder that psychologists and therapists are just as human as we are. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that – at least I do – and idealize them. I know I for one do put S on a pedestal. A fact that I had admitted to him more than once before.

I still look forward to the day that I bump into S outside of CAPS. Since I work in the restaurant industry, there is a high chance that I’ll eventually bump into him – it’s a matter of time.

So, this had been a day of firsts for me. It’s 5am now and I should probably rest up for my double shift tomorrow (er, today). I’ve had a great time going to the nightclub and serving JS and one can’t have too much excitement in one night!

 

Group Therapy – Session #2

Group therapy went really well today. As it was only our second session together, we were all still pretty hesitant to talk about the more “hidden” stuff in our lives (the things that are more “real” and the things that we feel more intimately but are too afraid to really share with others). We spent about an hour talking about things that were still quite safe and we dipped our toes a little into things that bothered us like how people perceived us and not being heard.

Eventually, I asked the group what would be too much information or what would be something that would be too intense to be shared in the group. I’ve been struggling and still am but I didn’t want to be the person who not only is the “downer” of the group but also didn’t want to bring to the table something that might be too intense and too soon for the group to handle.

After getting affirmations from the group that they were willing to hear whatever I had to share, I took a deep breath and dove in. I decided to share with them that I’ve been struggling with my suicidal thoughts and that my week hadn’t been good (everyone else had said that they had a good week). No one spoke as I shared – words just came tumbling out of my mouth.

I told them how my week had been bad and how a fight had triggered my negative downward spiral. I told them how I felt like I was all alone in my struggle and how I felt this terrible pain that I wanted to be rid of. Despite all the people who love and support me, I felt like I wasn’t being taken seriously or that I was heard.

I said that I obviously didn’t do anything but I felt scared that my thoughts were getting more active – that I had contemplated writing a note whereas in the past, my thoughts have always just been more passive.

When I stopped talking, all the members offered their support in their own way. The first one to speak told me that I wasn’t alone. That though he wasn’t able to relate on my level that he still understood how terrible my situation had been. He told me that he had a friend who had tried to kill himself and related his experience on being on the other side of that situation. He told me that sometimes life really sucks and that he feels for me. Another offered advice on using the crisis phone numbers during my low moments and also offered encouraging words about me – she told me that I’m a very positive person and that she finds me very encouraging. She said that it’s hard to believe things for ourselves sometimes but that she hopes that I can believe that I am a positive person for others. Another member, who’s very quiet and tells us that he almost never speaks unless he needs to, told me that he was sorry to hear that I was struggling and that he wanted me to know that he is happy that I didn’t go through with my plan to end my life. He said that if I did, then the group would miss me. The last member who is also very quiet finally spoke up after a while and said that he himself had sat in the parking lot of a grocery store a month ago and had planned to end his life that night. He said that had circumstances been a little different, he would have done it that night. He told me that he might seem like it now, but just a month ago, he was where I am too. He said that he understood how I felt and that things will get better. He said that it’s hard to see that now but for me to trust that it will.

Hearing all those things from the group made me feel better. I felt a lot calmer after I had shared that. The psychologist who facilitates the session asked me if what they said helped. I told her that I think what I really was to be heard first and they gave me that. They sat there and listened. I just needed to feel like I was able to do that. To be able to express that life really sucked at this time and that it was ok. I didn’t need anyone to help or save me. I just needed people to hear me out. I told her that on top of that, the group offered me more than that – they not only gave me a safe space to say what I needed to say, they also supported me with kind words, and helpful advice.

I told the last member that I was thankful that he shared his experience with me. And it made me remember that all of us have some kind of a part to play in another person’s life. I told him that I’m glad that he didn’t end his life either because if he had, he wouldn’t have been able to share his experience with me and helped me today.

I shared with the group that sometimes, when you feel so alone and isolated, it’s easy for negative things to stack up and push you to the edge. I told them that that’s exactly what happened to me and though things are better this week, that I need to remember that I am not alone. At the very least, I know that I have my group therapy members who will be there to offer me this safe space.

I told them that I hope that I didn’t scare them from future group sessions. They said that they will keep coming back if I promise that I would too. It was very uplifting. I was very thankful and so encouraged. I didn’t think that I would get that from group therapy. I was always so adamant against going. Now I’m glad I made the decision to attend.

I also told the group that I hope they didn’t mind that I had decided to take the leap and jump into the deep end. I said that I felt this sense of hesitation from everyone to share something serious because they don’t want to be the downer. So I made the leap and took a step to share something extremely serious so that they can now share whatever they want without feeling bad or like that they’re bringing something too intense to the group. The psychologist told me that it was a brave thing to do – to open up so much that others could too.

The group then thanked me for taking the leap and for breaking the barrier. The first one to offer me support said that now he’s able to share what he had initially wanted to share but was too afraid to.

I’m glad things turned out the way it did. I’m glad I had enough courage to speak up and finally feel like I was heard.