Monday, March 12, 2018

Along for the Ride: Being the "extra" in a group of couples

I've written many a blog about being the third, fifth, seventh, or 21st wheel in a group of couples. 

Truth be told, it used to really bother me because I hated being single. A rectangular table on Thanksgiving where you're the only one who's sitting on one side is nothing short of excruciating when you're newly widowed.

But part of my journey into established singledom has been about coming to terms with it and - dare I say - actually being comfortable with it. I don't get anxious when I go out with another couple because I'm grateful they invited me. More often then not, I'm able to sit back and relax in a group of couples while at least two-thirds of them argue over petty little things and I'm able to just peacefully sip my wine. Seeing other couples around me no longer makes me feel uncomfortable and exposed.

I'm just me. And I kind of like that right now.

However, there is one area of single life that I think I'm not all that great at.

Standing up for myself.

Don't worry. I'm not being bullied or anything and, in most cases, I do speak up when I feel like I'm being screwed over (especially these days. I think I need to get my hormones checked). But a friend of mine recently brought to my attention that I might not be doing everything I can to act like the strong adult I believe I've become.

And that has me a in pickle.

I was raised in a no-conflict zone - at least for the most part. Yes, my parents had little squabbles when I was growing up and there were many times when I'd want to shave my older sister's head...but for the most part, I grew up in a pretty calm environment.

Sounds like hell, right?

But something that I've noticed about myself lately is that I've become kind of a doormat as an adult, particularly when I'm around other couples. The men speak up when they want something, their wives either agree or feel it's worth the fight, and I just sit there and wait to hear what's been decided.

And when it's something I don't agree with, I rarely say anything and now I'm questioning why. And I think it's this:

I don't want to rock the boat when I don't have someone else to rescue me.

Out to sea

There is no doubt in my mind that if Brad was here, I would be speaking up a lot more. It's true that there would be times when he would probably side with someone else, but for the most part I would feel a little more confident in speaking out. If anything, I would have that other adult I could go to and say, "Should I say something about this?" or who would take the brunt of my frustration and temper it a little before I went off on someone else.

The bottom line is that I would feel like I had some support.

So, while I've gotten more comfortable with most aspects of living on my own, this is one that has me feeling a little "out there" - like I'm just dangling on my own without any back-up. It's frustrating to feel like such a grown-up in most other areas and like a child when it comes to this ONE THING.

Here's the REAL problem

When I spoke to my friend about it, she did bring up something that I'm always concerned about: How does this behavior affect my kids when they witness it? Because no matter how frustrating the situation is, I AM participating in it by being so complacent...and many times, my kids are watching.

Have I confused the "maturity" of going with the flow with being somewhat bullied? In my effort to set the right example, have I actually done the wrong thing? Are they not learning effective communication skills...because I'm not communicating about it at all? And, worst of all, are they learning that what you should do in these situations is just shrink back when something happens that you don't agree with...and not do anything?

None of this is going to get solved right here, right now. I'm in the "awareness phase" of this new discovery. When I truly ask myself what my biggest fear about speaking my mind is, it's that I would be risking relationships that actually matter to me.

And that's no small thing when you don't have back-up.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Putting the "Illness" Back in Mental Illness

I consider my communication with my kids to be fairly open. I mean, I don't delude myself into thinking that they tell me everything...but I think our dialogue is pretty free. I often joke that my junior in high school might actually be a sophomore because I rarely check her grades.

"I don't have to," I'll joke with friends. "She'll walk in the door, cursing that she screwed up on a test. My kids tattle on themselves."

Communication isn't just something that I encourage only between us; I'll often tell them that if they don't feel comfortable talking to me that's okay - as long as they have someone to talk to. I'm open about the fact that I've been to counseling and they've groaned through enough podcasts with me to know that I'm constantly searching for inner peace. When their father died years ago, I immediately put them in group therapy...probably before they even really needed it.

The bottom line is: Communication is very important in our family.

That's why it's never really occurred to me that I should have a conversation about depression. I've always felt like they should just know if they're not feeling good and I'm maybe a little too confident that they'll come to me if something feels off.

The problem is that I'm not really sure that kids these days actually know what depression is - especially during the teenage years when they're surrounded by hundreds of kids who are all in a big hormonal flux. There's the usual drama during the day (many times exacerbated by social media) and it can be hard to determine whether a friend is truly depressed, just going through a hard time, or has a flare for the dramatic.

As open as I think we are with each other, I had what Oprah would classify as an "ah ha" moment about teens and depression recently. I was watching The TODAY Show as I was making breakfast for the kids when a story came on about pediatricians being more involved in the diagnosis of depression in teens.

With the new guidelines, pediatricians are being asked to more carefully screen their patients ages 12 and over during their annual checkups. It's the first update to the guidelines in a decade and comes amid a disturbing rise in suicide rates among adolescents,especially teen girls.

Ah HA!

I don't know why it took that story for me to get to this point, but I realized that even though we have what I would like to think of as a close-knit family, I haven't really been talking to my kids the right way about depression.

I haven't been talking to them about the disease that it is. 

That it can be hereditary. 

That, with our family history, it's something they should watch out for.

That night I briefly spoke to them about it. I didn't want to go into so much detail that they would think depression was inevitable for them - but I wanted to start the conversation and remove any shame they might have, should they start feeling like something wasn't right.

"Just as I would talk to you about a history of heart disease or cancer in our family, we need to talk about the history of depression," I said. "It's no different. I believe that your father had moments of depression that, unfortunately, went undiagnosed, and that other family members have struggled with it, too."

For my own history, my kids have had a ringside seat for my own issues with anxiety during the last few years - something that I have been honest with them about and feel that I've actually had since childhood. They watched as I tried to work through it organically - meditation, yoga, increased self-care - and then ultimately had to find help with medication.

"Doctors often say that anxiety and depression go hand-in-hand," I told them. "And I don't feel depressed, but I want you to be aware of that."

So, why did I feel like this was such a pivotal moment for us?

Because at the end of the conversation I was able to say to them, "Depression is the same as getting strep throat. If you're running a fever or you're truly sick, you wouldn't think twice about coming to me so that we could make a doctor's appointment. This is the same thing. The bottom line is that if you don't feel good, come tell me so that we can do what needs to be done to feel better."

I'm hoping that this is the start of even more open communication about our family history and a change in the way we view depression. While I DO think that the generation we're raising is more accepting of mental illness, I think that more emphasis needs to be put on the word ILLNESS and that sometimes these things can't be helped - the problem could be chemical and beyond their control. 

It's time to put the "illness" back in mental illness.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

ALONE: The Peace and the Power

This is going to be a difficult post; I mean, difficult for me to write and say what I mean in a way that doesn't make us all want to run screaming out of whatever room we're in.

This has to do with being alone, finding peace with it, and finding the power within it. Because, ultimately (and this is where I don't want you to run screaming out of the room), we all are.


In Confessions of a Mediocre Widow I wrote, "There is a big difference between being alone and being lonely. Alone is something you choose. Loneliness is not." 

I remember the moment I wrote that; it was something that just popped up on the screen as I was feverishly typing away and I recall thinking, "Did I just think that??? My God. It's so true!"

I don't ever remember actually thinking that about loneliness before I wrote it and now that I look's funny that I had that epiphany when I did. I was in what I thought was a stable relationship, so that really shouldn't have even been on my mind.

Believe me - you don't to venture into this labyrinth hidden under my highlights. It's a scary place to be.

Little did I know that being in a relationship has nothing to do with being alone. After all, it doesn't matter if you're in a rock-solid're still alone. You alone interpret each moment of the day that happens to you and only you. Yes, I realize that being married or having an amazing support system means that you have people around you. But, again, only YOU are living with you.

You are alone.

Stick with me. Really. Because this isn't meant to be an "oh, woe is me, I'm all alone" moment. Coming to terms with your aloneness and truly embracing it is incredibly liberating. Why?

Because by realizing this, you'll know that you have 
all the tools you need to keep moving, regardless of outside influences.

My Podcast Addiction

My kids are really sick of this, but I have been on such a podcast kick lately. And I don't really
care what they think because I'm tired of listening to Ed Sheeran 24-hours a day (I would venture to say that he's probably pretty sick of himself as well). Anyway, I've been through professional podcasts, historical, how things are made, and podcasts that string a series of "mindful" words together that really don't make any sense, but the tone of the host lulls me into a stupor that makes me think that they do.

My favorite series has been Oprah's SuperSoul Sunday. (As an aside...don't you miss Oprah???? Ugh. I do.) She's picked fascinating people to interview and the exciting thing is that I'm years behind on the series, so right now I have a never-ending supply of podcasts cued up (much to the irritation of my children).

I recently listened to her discussion with Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun I'm vaguely familiar with because she's quoted everywhere and every therapist I've seen (and I've seen my plenty) has shared her wisdom.

In the interview, I was shocked to hear that our young adult lives (in our 20s) were a little similar: She had gotten married as I had at the age of 20 - straight from her parents' house to her husband's house. Now, beyond that our stories deviate (she's been divorced twice), but she said something that truly struck a chord with me.

That until her second marriage failed she said she had never realized how "attached I was to having somebody else confirm me. In other words, it didn't come from inside me. It came from someone else's view of me." That from the time she was 20 until she was 35 she was "somebody else's person." And that now she doesn't have that "need to be confirmed by someone from the outside."

And that's where our stories come together again.

Being Alone Completely Changed Me

Now, I'm not a Buddhist nun (never say never), but that truly resonated with me. And the more they talked about being alone - but not in the way we've come to label it - I realized how truly empowering it is.

I think that anyone who has truly been through something catastrophic has had a sense of this, but most don't actually embrace it as they should. I came to this realization years after Brad died in the throes of a grief spell.

As I sat on my bed, sobbing so hard I could barely breathe, I mentally ran down the list of people I could call. I'm fortunate that my support system is wide and deep, but as I thought about all of those wonderful people...I realized that they couldn't help. No one else could work through this, but me.

That's not a defeatist attitude. Really think about it. Yes, we go to therapy (and we should. I LOVE THERAPY), but what that is is someone asking the right questions for us to come to terms with and work through our own personal solution. If we've had a physical injury, we have people around us who will help us with healing and physical therapy, but it's our own body that's doing the work.

What I'm trying to say is that, while we have countless means of support and help...we alone carry the tools to get through what we need to.

It is within us.

I was talking to a friend about this the other day. He was feeling helpless, trying to support another friend and not knowing what to do. I gave him suggestions - meals, listening, all the good stuff - and then ended with, "But really - he's going to have to just go through this. No one else can do it for him. Be there and be present. But understand that what needs to happen is beyond your control. It's his process."

There was a silence on the other end of the phone. "That's the smartest thing you've ever said," he replied. "You should write about that."

"Oh, for crying out loud," I said, rolling my eyes. "I wrote a whole book about it!"