Mental Health Awareness Month: Self-Care as a Priority

Today is the last day of Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States.  It has been a long May for me personally, with lots of waiting and lots of personal boundaries pushed.  I have felt tons of pressure to always be present and always be helpful and it has left me feeling drained.  Completely drained.  That’s the life of a “helper” – there’s this crazy internal belief that says that I have so much to give that I’ll never run out.  And while on one level, one may know that this is absurd and simply untrue, there’s another side that continues to OK the testing of your limits until you’re feeling so physically drained that you’re sick or you’re flipping out unexpectedly at some poor, undeserving (or maybe deserving but not that deserving) subject.

Self-care seems to be the hardest to do when you’re convinced that the whole world needs you to be on “100” all of the time.  Self-care is the hardest to do when you are convinced that you must personally save the whole world.  Admirable intent does not equal honorable action.  In order for one to stay in the position to “help” one must first help oneself.  This is the reason why on airplanes they ask that you place the oxygen mask on your face first and then attempt to be of help.  Saving others is naught if you drown under the waves first.

While there are so many things that could be discussed on this last day of Mental Health Awareness Month 2017, I felt it was important to emphasize the importance of caring for oneself and how that does not make one selfish, rude, or lacking in care for others.  In fact, if one is to truly love one’s neighbor as oneself, it is necessary to start with oneself.

So when you think of self-care, what comes to mind?  For me, I used to think I had to buy something or do something grand in order to care for myself (and for some people, that is the case).  However, self-care can be simpler than that. It can be setting a necessary personal boundary, saying “no” to over-extending oneself, intentionally setting affirmations about oneself and one’s life to state over and over until they become beliefs.  Self-care can be deciding to leave work on time, listening to your favorite music over and over again, or meditating/doing yoga to start your day off.  Self-care is whatever it is that you have to do that will put you in a better position emotionally, spiritually, or physically.  It’s taking care to take care of you.

Mental Health America gave 31 tips for implementing self-care.  These tips range from drinking a cup of coffee and getting a good night’s sleep to disconnecting from social media in order to do something fun face-to-face to fitting in some more foods rich with omega-3 fatty acids.  These 31 tips are great every day, practical things cost little to no money and can give you just the boost you need in those moments.

Take a few minutes to check out these suggestions.  What are your thoughts?  How do you exercise self-care?

mham

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Approaching Reciprocity, Part 2: Why I Still Struggle with God

I am going to be very honest.  I don’t know the last time I spoke to God about things concerning my life.  The big things.  The things that scare me.  The things in my heart to do.  The things that I struggle with God about in some major ways.  I just…haven’t had the words, per se.

This is not new, though.  I’ve gone through a few periods where I have what can only be described as a mental block about talking to God.  I can and do pray for others without hesitation, I say small prayers for safety and for strength in those particularly stressful or high anxiety times.  The loss doesn’t seem to be in my belief of who God is but rather what God feels about me.

Growing up, there were tons of different theological ideas thrown at me.  I recognize that a lot of how I conceptualize God to be is filtered through my experience with those who call themselves God’s followers.  I’m not unique in this regard.  So it shouldn’t surprise me the ways in which I still find myself side-eyeing things but I’m stuck and can’t seem to get past this.

I’m sure some of my apprehension still comes from my recovery from the Good Girl Club.  In my mind, I’m still working through the ways I was let down by the indoctrination of being a “good girl”; I was told that if I do all the right things, things would just fall into place.  Once life really became life, all I knew about those promises went down the drain to my dismay.  There are still remnants that I am working through – I still struggle with perfectionism, I want to be perceived in the best light, I am actively working to break down the superiority complex that comes with constantly being shown off as an “example” while working through the cognitive dissonance because I know I am not happy with where I am right now.  So in the middle of all of that, and the shifting of the faith of my youth to a fully-owned faith/spirituality of my adulthood, there are so many questions about what I can still afford to believe about God and what I simply cannot.

“I believe. Help my unbelief.” – paraphrased from Mark 9:24

So.  I can’t pray about myself.  There’s a part of me that doesn’t trust that God isn’t just this big bully in the sky who will get what God wants anyway so what does it benefit from praying anyway?  There’s a part of me that doesn’t trust that it’s worth it because of previous seemingly unanswered prayers. It all boils down to trust and the ability to actually speak to God about the issues on my heart in an uninhibited and honest way.  I have had a hard time believing that I really can ask things of God and speak in terms of what I’ve put in and with faith that God can build, expand, and complete.  Why can’t I believe that just as God is waiting for us to listen, that God is waiting to listen as well – and not with the intent of changing my life into all of these things that I don’t want but with the intention of relationship, first.  Why can’t I believe that God actually wants to hear those desires of my heart and that as I sow seeds that God is willing to grow them into the harvest that is necessary for my life.

As one of my new favorite people, Whitney Bond, ministered within our shared group, it is really OK for us to ask God things concerning ourselves – who taught us that it wasn’t?!?! It sounds simple enough but y’all…when you have struggled with it, sometimes the simple truths crack the door to freedom.  Prayer is used for so many different things so it makes sense that prayer would be used for us to not just “seek God” about things regarding our faith or spiritual walk but that we would be able to talk to God on those things that affect us at our core.  I want to believe that God is big enough to care about all the things that concern me.

What have been your experiences with this?  How have you dealt with mental blocks in communicating/praying/talking to God?  I would love to hear from you!

 

 

Approaching Reciprocity.

I’ve always been one who has bent over backwards to support other people.  Perhaps it’s the way I was raised, perhaps it’s natural bend of my personality.  At any rate, I try my best to be there for the people in my life, especially when they are doing the good work to start a movement or push an original idea.

The predicament I find myself in is that the support is not reciprocated in a good number of cases.  To be clear, to me reciprocity isn’t blind support nor is it being at/there for every single thing I’m doing.  Reciprocity is the assurance that the seeds I sow into the lives of my family and friends will be received back in those times of need…in those times where it really matters.

And to be honest, once one has set an interpersonal tone or pattern, it can be really hard to change gears.  For years, some of the people I can depend on for reciprocity have lovingly advised me to look at the way I operate and make some necessary amendments.  I have nodded, said the “yeah I knows”, and have continued to pour out myself to help others and support others in their journeys, whatever those journeys have looked like.  And generally, it really hasn’t bothered me all that much…but there is something about approaching 30 that has things clicking.

“You need to get you a ‘no’ in your spirit!” – My First Lady Mama

A few weeks I was sitting in solitude thinking, which I tend to do a lot.  I’ve been looking at this year as such a big year and had begun this year working toward some nice plans to get some of the things in my heart out in a tangible form.  But as I sat in thought, I realized that I haven’t made much progress in any of those things.  I realized that by the time I got through doing the things that I’m supposed to do, and then by the time I get finished helping/supporting others, I’m depleted.  Completely depleted.

So I’m just now getting to the point where I’m doing something about it.  I may be a little late to the party but I’m here, dammit.  As wonderful and great as we think it sounds to be there for any and everybody at any and all times, the wonderment and greatness won’t last long – you’ll have nothing else to give.  There are a million reasons I can give for not making the necessary adjustments, but none of those compare to the feeling I now have about it.  That feeling is: What I give out, I am worthy to receive.  I am making it my mantra and adjusting my life accordingly – fears, tears, and all.  There doesn’t even have to be a lot of fanfare; it’s simply knowing how to allocate my energies and time and pouring inward predominantly in order to pour outward.  That’s what I’d like to think of reciprocity within self.

So far I’ve done a photo shoot, I wrote on here for the first time in over a month, and I have commenced a major project that I’m hoping to release by year’s end.  I have started to dream again in real life and action.

I am thankful for my parents and the few friends and online community who have attempted to help me clarify this concept within myself.  The satisfaction of this “it’s finally clicking” moment has pushed me more than I can say.

On the next blog, I will discuss how this idea has extended to my relationship with God.  I hope you’ll join me.

 

 

A Note to You on Valentine’s Day (By You I Mean Me)

There’s always something in me that breaks around this time of year.

I’ve been actively expecting this day to roll around this year, as with every year, always resolving to be stoic and to put others before myself in order to achieve some worth from this day.  I thought I’d do the same this year but I’ve decided against that. 

Somewhere down the line, I convinced myself that I constantly have to keep it moving emotionally. And that has caused years of pent up frustration all because I felt no one had space to let me grieve. Grieve for the dreams that did die. Grieve for the life I planned for. Grieve for the life that I was the consummate good girl for and still didn’t get. Grieve for the plans that continue to be pushed back. No one held the space for me to grieve, but they held the space to coerce me back into a fake wholeness. And that’s what I didn’t want this year.

All I really want to say is that wherever you are in your thoughts of today, the best thing that you can do is be genuine about where you are and not allow people to brush over you with a broad stroke. It’s popular to call people bitter on this day (yes, in some cases, bitterness has taken root) but rarely do people stop to think of why people are hurting to the point that they refuse to speak good over themselves and of others on this day.

All my life I’ve been the smart friend, the responsible friend, the counselor friend…never the pretty friend. This message was reinforced over and over again – from the teasing, to the ways some guys only were comfortable with “talking” to me if we were the only ones who knew about it, to the years of feeling invisible. So I struggled through the years with Valentine’s Day, even with a loving family that showered me with affection and a village that tried to instill in me self love. But they couldn’t make me love myself.

I grew up being socialized to believe that marriage was an ultimate goal of sorts. “Save yourself for your husband”, “You have to learn how to do [whatever] so that when you have your own family, you can do it well”, “Take care of yourself; men don’t like [whatever]”, etc. So much of what I was taught to do or how to be was connected to the notion of me eventually getting married.  How, then, can you fault people (me) for grieving something I’ve been consciously and subconsciously groomed for and can do very little honestly to attain it? How?

I’ve decided to not wait for anyone to answer that question for me anymore. I’m well aware of my age and am well aware of the possibilities of what could be ahead for me but in the right now, it hurts. If we can’t sit with people in those hurting spaces, we are not dedicated to their healing and well-being. I don’t need another person to usher me past the pain I feel with verses and empty clichés; I need room to grieve. And in that room to grieve, I’m convinced that I can eventually find hope, not a hope forced onto me by someone too in love with their comfort over my reality, but a realistic hope that allows me understand what has been lost yet see what can still be found.

So however you spend this day, I hope you make it a day to love yourself by being OK with acknowledging wherever you are. You don’t have to stay there (and I encourage you not to) but it is essential to confront and process in order to break the cycle.

May those who are happy, be happy and enjoy! May those who are grieving find the room to process, and may it begin within.

Xo!

#NuancedExposures: We Are Not One

It’s been a crazy ride over the past 12 days. It’s been a crazy ride since before that if you belong to certain groups, to be honest.  This country has always been the land of the free for some and our current administration seems to be tightening those terms and conditions on what “free” feels like hourly.

It’s been a particular predicament to be a Christian, in my opinion.  It’s been a particular predicament to be a Black Christian.  I have watched people that I genuinely have loved and respected say some of the most tone-deaf things regarding race and faith.  It’s been maddening but it’s not new.

The one thing I have struggled with for a long time with my Christian journey is how much it is described as freedom for all but how nuanced that freedom is.  The nuances of that freedom always reveal themselves in times like this, where what “God” is saying and what “God” is doing is based largely and pretty sharply along racial lines…along socioeconomic lines…along “multicultural church” and Black church lines (there are always exceptions, of course).  Maybe I’m new to having my eyes this wide open but I don’t remember a time in my life where I “heard” “God” say so many different and polarizing things about the same events.

Beyond the picky and convenient theology, I think it is important on this first day of Black History Month in the year of our Lord 2017 to remind folks about a few things.  There has been a succumbing to the temptation to wash everyone under the “we are one” banner.  We are one sounds much tidier than what it actually is.  We are one doesn’t take into consideration the real-life implications of differences in race, class, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status.  We are one doesn’t take into consideration people’s comfort in privilege and how that drives more decisions than “Christ in your heart” will ever drive.  The drive many who call themselves Christians have to support many of the policies of the current administration is less about the persecution that they experience; there is no such thing as persecution for American Christians.  It is more about protecting a privileged status and while that may make you think you’re being persecuted, it does not make it real.

The Church says we want to talk racial reconciliation but in the same breath, you are telling me that my skin color doesn’t matter to Jesus…or that it matters but his red blood covers all of that difference.  This is also the same Jesus that has modern day American Evangelical Christians defending and advocating a certain people – a culture – because they are favored by God.  So if I understand correctly,  God cared about the Jewish people, chose that culture to be the bearer of God’s likeness in the flesh, and that God will bless those who bless [Israel] and curse those who curse her…but God sees us all as one.  I take issue with that.  There are people who based their choice for the presidency a good amount on the current president’s promise to side with Israel.  Don’t tell me that we are all one.

The basis of this stems from Galatians 3:27-29, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”  As I perceive it, this is the way that maybe things should be.  However, things are a lot different.  There’s no male nor female but just look at how many churches still don’t allow women to preach and how many women are subjected to various types of abuse because “The Bible says…”.  There’s no slave nor free but look at how many Christians justified slavery. Also, see how the Christians in your life reacted to the recent actions of the current president to further stereotype and vilify a whole group of people based on their faith and country of origin.

I am a Black woman.  I did not choose this identity for myself and I have no intention of changing my identity as such.  I chose to be a Christian; therefore, I will not lose my God-given identity for the one I chose by free will.  There is no reason they cannot co-exist and asking people to choose one over the other, I believe, flies in the face of the God who created those nuances.

To be clear, I’m not questioning God’s intent.  I’m questioning our ability to live it out.  I’m questioning the ways we do not hold ourselves accountable to those who are trying to explain how our lived expressions are hurtful and oppressive, and not just because they want to “justify” their sins.  American Christians have so much blood on their hands and the blood is crying out from the ground.

We are not one. Perhaps that is the goal that we should be working toward. And I don’t believe for one moment that God, the great Creator, intended for oneness to mean carbon copies all over the place.  That’s not how this works.

As it stands, American Christianity is a fractured unit, spotted and wrinkled and torn.  As much as we preach about God not caring about our comfort but God caring more about our holiness, our actions prove over and over again that God is used as a comfortable facade for our love of ourselves and our comfort.  May God help us all.

 

#NuancedExposures: Mental Health with Lisa Gilliam

Today’s VLOG is a discussion with my good friend, Lisa Gilliam, about mental health.  She is a counselor by profession, a licensed minister, and founder of Celebrate Life – an annual event that uses the creative arts to spread a message of hope and educate about mental health. We had great time talking and sharing about our experiences. I hope you enjoy!

2017 is Already Flipping My Life Around.

In my life, the beginning and the ending of years always contain the most amount of turmoil for whatever reason. The end of 2016/beginning of 2017 has been no different, and it’s almost taken me down.

While I don’t consider myself to be a naturally optimistic person, I’m not a pessimist either. Sometimes when life starts throwing things with record blind-sides, it’s hard not to consider what has been as a sign of things to come. But I can’t afford to look at things that way. I’ve got too much to do.

So I’ve spent the past two days thinking through lots of stuff and trying to understand what is beyond my scope of understanding. I think that’s the most maddening part of the whole process of grief and recovery from life’s setbacks. What hurts the most sometimes more than the actual circumstances is trying to keep yourself reasonable in your thoughts and perceptions. It is damn hard to do. And if you love thinking yourself into hard places like me, you find yourself vascillating between “I’m OK. I just need to keep breathing” and “Nothing good will ever happen to me again because everything is conspiring against me being able to be happy.”

Yes, that sounds dramatic but if more people were honest about how they are when life hits them, it sounds more similar to their own experiences than they would want to admit. Getting caught off guard by life is a common experience, even if you have your own special way of dealing with it.

So today’s post is the blogging version of #tweetthroughit. I’ve allowed myself to cry and there will be more tears undoubtedly. I’ve thought through all types of scenarios that have ranged from total despair to nothing is wrong and this is not real. Neither of those extremes are accurate and keeping that in front of myself is my biggest task at the present.

So. What I’ve learned…

1. Though it seems impossible, keep your eye on what’s true versus what’s assumed. – That line gets SO blurry when life happens and when you don’t have acceptable answers, your mind will try to make sense of things with some crazy scenarios. Try to remind yourself of what you know for sure versus what you don’t know, what you have seen versus what you are perceiving, what you can control versus what you can’t control. As hard as it can be to do that while your emotions are doing backflips, it’ll help you keep perspective.

2. Watch your mouth. – Sometimes we flirt with ideas or we say things, not understanding what we’re saying, what we’re flirting with, or what we’re asking for. And life will give us what we want in the most unnecessary (or so we think) ways, leaving us speechless with the “I was just joking!” face. If you’re praying for something, if you’re saying you want to change something or you’re tired of something, don’t be so surprised when it really changes. And that change isn’t always going to look pretty.

3. Keep breathing. – Deep, intentional breathing has been keeping me going. It literally helps me to feel better physically, especially since my stress presents physically (shortness of breath, chest pains, etc).

4. This is not the end. – No matter what life presents, there is always a chance for things to turn around if you keep going. It’s hard and the process will look different for you. Don’t let anyon guilt you into doing something like them. Find your peace and start taking the necessary steps to rebuild or move on. 2017 is just beginning but even if we were at the end, it would still be a perfect time to look at this unforeseen detour as an opportunity in disguise – an opportunity to grow, to re-evaluate, and to see new options. Allow yourself to grow to that point of being able to see things that way, no matter what that growth process looks like.

Prayers are appreciated. Keep breathing.

#NuancedExposures: Responsible Theology

Over the past few years, I have undergone a faith shift of sorts.  The faith of my youth has shattered under the pressures of life, the convictions I refuse to let go of about God, and the dogma that has weighed me down spiritually.  Throughout this process, I have learned (and am still learning) to ask those necessary questions and I have been beckoned to come to terms with what I know about God through what God has revealed, not through charismatic traditions and legalistic nuances.

From this, I’ve come to love what I have termed to be “responsible theology”.  This theology – this study of God and God’s character – is a relentless checking to make sure that what I believe about God and what I reveal about God to others is actually God, not simply what I’ve been taught or what I want God to look like.

The social scientist in me is always looking to understand people and how their environments affect who they are and how they view life.  I always try to consider worldviews when informing what I know and what I believe.  This is no different with religion.

I have been spending time thinking in response to the most recent events concerning Kim Burrell and her words about those who are LGBTQIA+.  I’ve been thinking about her specific calling out of certain people.  I’ve been thinking about how it all continuously spoke death and marginalization, not life and belonging (which Christ Himself said He came to provide, no?).  Here’s the thing – if Christians are to represent God, how do we always find ourselves in a position of speaking death?  What life, exactly, are we offering when we do things like this?

It seems to me that condemnation is part of the fabric of the Church as we know it, and that we are throughly confused on the difference between conviction and condemnation and whose job it is to do both.  Everyone wants to talk about God and what the Word of God says but no one is studying. Very few people are doing the work to understand how we ended up where we are with our beliefs, how many of our current beliefs used to be “unacceptable”, or how culture has always shaped religious landscapes (even when we swear it hasn’t).  All that most of us know is how to regurgitate what has been told to us with no due diligence to study or understand or actually ask God what God meant.

I get it – people tend to be more invested in what they feel the most powerful.  This is the precise problem I ran into in seminary.  It was easy for men to agree with and pass along theologically irresponsible information about women and their roles in the Church and home because it benefits them.  It’s easy to constantly badger and police single people because somewhere along the way, someone said marriage is THE standard. It’s easy for straight people to agree with and place theologically irresponsible information on those in the LGBT community because somewhere along the way, someone decided that we cannot afford to look at the Imago Dei within them.  The Church has thrived off one-upping the next person, whether we admit it or not.  The Church has thrived off of putting the binoculars on others and conveniently skimming over our stuff…and the people we like.

What’s more egregious to me is that we’ll emphatically say, “there’s no sin greater than the next.”  But.that.ain’t.how.we.be.actin’.  It’s never been how we’ve been.  God has increasingly become made in our own images, taking on our prejudices and biases, loving all of the things we love, and hating the things we hate.  Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

Before you are tempted to throw Scriptures at me, understand that just like data and numbers can be manipulated to tell the story one wants to tell, so can Scripture.  So has Scripture.  The purpose of this post to simply say that I want us all who call ourselves Christians to do better.  I’ll be sure to start with myself first.  And I welcome all of the Scripture you’d like to throw, which would speak to the problem as we prefer to use the Scripture as a weapon with no training and we’re wounding everybody.

As a pre-K teacher, I’ve learned that yelling and screaming at [little] people is rarely effective.  Sure, you have some who will jump in line because that is their personality.  But I get the best results when I listen first and when I take the time to dialogue.  I get the best results when I remain open to being constantly teachable, even from my little 4 and 5 year olds, and they respond to me the best when they sense that from me.  As with [little] people, so with [big] people.  We’ve got people out here trying to get people to eternal life by constantly speaking death over them and to me, that’s hustling backwards.

Terms & Conditions Apply

2016 is quickly approaching its end and I think most people are ripe and ready for the new year. December has been a very weird mixture of good things and “why can’t life just cooperate?”, but that has been the whole of 2016 for me. One moment I’m singing The Wiz’s “No Bad News” and the next moment I’m singing “You Can’t Win.” They tell me that’s life but sometimes even people who enjoy the thrill of rollercoasters like being on solid ground for a little bit.

Around the end of the year, I try to think more in terms of what have been the major lessons I learned over the past year…or at least what have been the major lessons that were introduced and reintroduced to me in grand fashion over the past year (my annual top 10 lessons post will be posted some time this week). Today’s short post comes in the form of a short story.

Picture it – early, early Christmas morning 2016. My eyes are glazed over and I’m aiding Mrs. Clause (my Mom) by mechanically wrapping the last of the presents with A Christmas Story faintly playing on the television in the background. It’s easily about 1 am and I’m exhausted. My text notifications go off and I check my phone. In my inbox is a message from one of my “goodest” friends thanking me for the present I gave to her for Christmas.  I always try to gift something to the most important people in my life during the holiday season, even if it’s something small. My response was typical me, “Yay!!! Merry Christmas! It wasn’t much but it’s the very least I could do for you because you’ve been such an unbelievably great friend to me! 💜” And, in her typical sniper fashion, she proceeded to get me together by telling me that in 2017, I need to learn how to take a compliment or statement of affirmation. If someone says that they love something I did or something I am, I should say thank you confidently and take pride in what I contributed in that moment.

We have built in Terms and Conditions that we apply to ourselves in these situations that others don’t necessarily apply to us.  And instead of being able to just rest in who we are and what we have done, we are constantly placing asterisks on ourselves and our actions that denote a falling short.

I did not put her exact message because the sanctity of some rebukes should be preserved, but was worth sharing. There are many of us who do things and we’re always apologizing because it’s not bigger, not better, not more grand, not expensive enough, not cheap enough, not as good as the next person. There are many of us who make decisions concerning ourselves and we’re apologizing to others because it doesn’t meet their expectations – both perceived and real. We have built in Terms and Conditions that we apply to ourselves in these situations that others don’t necessarily apply to us. And instead of being able to just rest in who we are and what we have done, we are constantly placing asterisks on ourselves and our actions that denote a falling short. This robs us of our ability to not only enjoy the joy of giving but it robs us of our ability to appreciate who we are and the beauty of growth. And that keeps us in that perpetual hamster wheel of unreasonable expectations and the ugly cycle of self-wounding.

terms-and-conditions

It was harmless, you may say. But a few harmless comments have jaded the best of us. A few harmless suggestions have convinced too many of us to not go after things and to not change things that we want. A few harmless looks at others’ lives have convinced enough of us that who we are and what we bring to the picture doesn’t matter because it’s not big, not expensive, not flashy, not catchy, not viral. Most of the ways we slowly kill ourselves inside and constantly degrade ourselves and our efforts are made up of a series of harmless events.

I know the popular thing now is to bash resolutions but this is how I look at it – call it whatever you want but making a personal stand to change whatever is not working in your life is never out of style. Of course, it always helps to have friends who call you on your BS, and that can be the difference between a resolution and a lifestyle change. Whatever the case may be, start now to make it a habit to lose the Terms & Conditions on your life and your actions. Be intentional with your actions, trusting that anything done with a pure heart is acceptable AND good. You don’t have to begin it today or even on January 1st but make sure you make this change before it’s too late and all you see in your life from your perspective is a bunch of asterisks.

Grieving on One’s Own Terms: An Interview with Michelle Miller

Michelle Miller lost her husband to suicide in 2014.  In the months since his passing, she has been processing her grief and the complications around it through various ways, particularly on social media and through writing a book.  I chose to interview Michelle because she captured my attention through the vulnerability and authenticity of her posts.  Everything about the loss of her husband was complicated – the circumstances beforehand and the circumstances afterward – and she was not afraid to tell the truth about her grieving process and how she has been handling it all. Some might call it unconventional and a bit of turn from what I usually post on here but I hope you can take something away from her words and have a better understanding of how grief does not affect all the same way and some things that perhaps one shouldn’t say to someone who is grieving.

xo,

Ash

1)     What have been the predominant emotions you have dealt with since your husband’s death?
Immediately after the shock of my husband’s death subsided, murderous, blinding, all-consuming rage took over; and even those words minimize the level of hatred I experience daily since my husband’s death. My children were robbed and traumatized, and the life that I felt was promised to me was taken away. The rage feeds me boundless energy and keeps the depression at bay. I lived on nothing but rage for the first month combined with liquor and the occasional Diet Coke or Oreo cookie. Eventually I began to eat and drink normally, but the rage never really went away, it just became balanced with other emotions.
The guilt has been more debilitating. Where the rage feels like freedom, the guilt feels like oppression. It manifests into parts of my life and my personality that I had not anticipated. It has made me insecure and suspicious of people; a trait I did not have before. For instance, I am surprised when people are sympathetic and kind to me when they find out I am a suicide widow. My assumption is that they are thinking, “Why didn’t she stop him from killing himself?” or “What did she do to him to make him suicidal?” because the guilt that lives in me asks me these questions all day long.
Then there is relief. Admitting that relief is a part of my grief experience makes me an insensitive b****, yes I know, but I have thankfully lost the ability to care about how my honesty makes me look to other people. Yes, I experience relief. To live with someone who has a declining mental health is exhausting, and at times, terrifying. I feel relieved to not have to wonder where he is at night. I feel relieved to not be spending hours a day researching his peculiar and erratic behaviors trying to find out how to help him. I feel relieved to not have to beg and manipulate him to go see a doctor or a psychiatrist. I feel relieved to not have to explain to our children why we can’t do or say things around daddy that would trigger him into an outburst. I feel relieved that I don’t have to watch him pace, and sob, and glare, and shake, and eat boxes and boxes of Little Debbie snack cakes and bottles of Pepsi for dinner. The level of pain I have now is more than the pain I carried when my husband was alive, but the level of energy I expel to get through the day is less. Being relieved does not mean that I don’t miss him, or love him, it just means that I no longer have to carry his burdens in addition to my own.  
2)     How did you learn to give yourself the room to process his death and the circumstances around it in the way that was best for you and your children?
Like everything else in my life, I did not learn how to give myself room to process my husband’s death until I hit rock bottom. God forbid I ever do anything the easy way! In the book I describe an incident in which I ruin a friendship by having a one night stand with my friend’s ex-boyfriend to alleviate the pain of my wedding anniversary. This incident made me evaluate how far I had fallen and became the catalyst I needed to make a physical move to a new city.
Once the kids and I moved three hours south to San Diego; away from the physical memories and the people who had been destructive to myself and my husband, that’s when the real work of making our home inside of the grief began. The move became a metaphor for our new lives, a fresh start, and seeing my husband’s suicide with a fresh perspective. The kids flourished immediately and were able to share things with me about their pain that I believe they would not have, had we remained living in the chaos of a small town after a tragedy.
3)     What are some of the worst things people have said to you regarding death and grieving in the aftermath of your husband’s passing?
After my husband’s suicide there was of course the usual, “He’s in a better place,” “Time will heal you,” and “Don’t worry you are young and can remarry,” comments that only serve to downplay the mourner’s feelings while relieving the discomfort of the person saying it. On top of this though, I can recall some more specific comments that caused me physical pain when they were said to me in addition to the emotional pain. These comments have hardened me in good ways and in bad. They have made me more self-assured about the ways I have expressed my grief and they have made me very distrustful of people.
One was, “Well he never did believe in God, so I guess now that he’s dead he knows the truth.” I felt that one in my stomach-the image of my husband now residing in the pits of Hell for a brain chemistry he had no control over, felt like a stabbing motion in my stomach.
Another one I got was, “It’s not okay that you are so vocal on social media about what happened, it’s really going to have a negative effect on your children.” This one I felt in my chest-like the air had been taken out of me. I had finally found something other than alcohol and sex to express my pain and it had taken on the form of writing on social media. To be told this was wrong and to insult my parenting on top of this hurt me deeply at the time. Now the kids and I just laugh about it.
I was also told that I, “Seemed happy” that my husband was dead because we were, “just going to divorce anyway”-this one I felt in my back. I remember feeling instantly heavy because it triggered the guilt I had about the feelings of relief I was experiencing. It also created a lot of anxiety about what others were thinking and saying about me. Yes my husband and I were separated, but just three days before his death I had canceled our appointment to meet with the divorce lawyer. I believed we would reconcile. Even if this hadn’t been the case, even if I was three days away from the judge making my divorce final, that person had no right to say what they said. No one should be allowed to dismiss your pain just because you appear to be happy.
                                                                                                          
4)     What is the best piece of advice you have for someone who might find themselves in a similar situation?
To some degree we will all be in a similar situation to the one I have had. We will not escape this life without pain and loss and tragedy in some form. My advice for others, especially in the early stages of loss would be to grieve in a way that feels natural to you. Give yourself this gift. Some people grieve quietly with black garments and physical memorials of their loved ones. Others grieve loudly seeking attention and outlets for their feelings. There are billions of people on the planet, each with their own personalities, belief systems, and cultural norms, so it is fitting that we would each have a unique way to grieve. Give yourself permission to discover what works for you instead of holding to ideals of how grief should look. Oh, and learn to give the middle finger to those who criticize you for it.
5)     You just released your book, Boys, Booze, and Bathroom Floors.  What can readers expect from this book?
Well first of all, readers of my book can expect to see a lot of curse words! I did not hold back with my language nor did I hold back with the descriptions of some of my sexual conquests. This book is intended for mature readers. I wanted the book to be a visual experience as well, so I added pictures of my online dating profiles and hope everyone gets a good laugh out of them. The reviews on my book so far have all used the word “raw” to describe it and more than a few people have admitted to being brought to tears and to laughter while reading.
6)     Where can people find your book?
For now, my book is available through amazon.com in paperback and Kindle edition. In December it will be available at Mystic Galaxy books in San Diego as part of their local author event.
7)     I, thankfully, connected with you through your Instagram page.  In addition to that, are there other ways for people to connect with you and your story?
Instagram (@Mouthy_Michelle) really is the best way for people to see my story other than my book. I write a lot about my experiences with grief, in the captions of the pictures I chose to post. I work hard to make sure all areas of grief are represented on my page, not just suicide, and not just the loss of a husband. You can also follow me on facebook (Michelle Miller Oceanside, California) and on twitter (@Mouthy_Michelle).
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