I want to be Translucent


“Thick skin doesn’t work anymore. I want to be transparent, and translucent. For that to work, I won’t own other people’s shortcomings and criticisms. I won’t put what you say about me on my load.” This is a quite from actress Viola Davis in an interview Brene’ Brown did with her for Brown’s book, Braving the Wilderness.

I’ve listened to this quote over and over again. “I want to be transparent, and translucent.” To not have thick skin. Because, as Davis says, thick skin keeps everything from getting in, but it also keeps everything from getting out. Love, compassion, tenderness. It’s much harder, really, to be willing to let things pass through than to keep that skin nice and thick. Again, it’s that willingness to be vulnerable, to “brave the wilderness” that Brown talks so much about.

I want to be transparent and translucent. I want to see and be seen. After all, if people can’t see you, they’re never going to show themselves to you. I want to be real, and vulnerable. I want to be like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, when he says, “I’m a crybaby. I cry all the time.” But he also laughs all the time. In The Book of Joy, where the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama are discussing creating true joy in the face of adversity, the first-hand account by the author, Douglas Abrams, describes every interaction with these two very holy men as being filled with laughter. Unbridled, side-splitting laughter. Yet, they are moved to tears by the slightest little thing. I feel like this represents a total lack of fear. These men have seen it all, and they are unafraid to face any emotion that comes upon them. They are completely transparent, translucent. They have no need for thick skin. Whatever comes to them, they feel it, and accept it. And they are free to let unfettered love, compassion, kindness and a gentle, gentle tenderness for every human on earth flow through them.

I had a panic attack this morning. It was hard. Especially since I had two classes to teach today. Such great irony, having to recover from a panic attack so I can go teach people tools to be calm and soothe anxiety. Worse, I had it in public. At my kids’ school. Fortunately, I was able to go to an uninhabited corner to ride it out. And my husband was there to help me, but still. It makes you raw. It’s like sandpaper on your thick skin, if you let it be. Smoothing out the roughness, making it clearer, and you more translucent. It brings you back to your humanity, and reminds you of the humanity of everyone else. It takes an immense amount of bravery, I think, to say, “This is me. This is what is happening, how my humanity is being felt in this moment.” It’s not really possible to have a thick skin when you can’t breathe and don’t have control of your body. It’s a moment of complete transparency. You can’t be anything other than you are in that moment. So you can either shut down, to keep the bad stuff out, or you can open up, and as Mama Odie says “Let the light in, Children!” (Sorry, y’all. I’ve watched the Princess and the Frog waaaay too many times.)

I’ve made part of my mission to be as real as I can. I share everything I can in an effort to be as transparent as I can be. Partly because I want to share my story, but also because I want other people to share theirs. And I don’t share everything. There’s just some stuff I’m still too scared to but out there. In The Book of Joy, the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama talk at great length about our “shared humanity”. His Holiness the Dalai Lama likes to consider himself, “Just one of seven billion.” They consider forgetting our shared humanity as one of the greatest obstacles there is to cultivation lasting joy. These little posts of mine are my was of reaffirming my humanity.

I tell my clients, and my kids, all the time, “We are all new. We’re all learning to be human. We aren’t born knowing how to do this.” Well, I guess we probably don’t die knowing how to do it either, so there’s that. All we can do is try. But that’s all of us. Nobody know how to do it, except maybe the Dalia Lama. But he gets up at 3am every morning and meditates for five hours, so maybe we could all try that. But, even that guy says, “I’m human, just like you. Just one of seven billion.”

Let’s not hide our humanity. Let’s not forget that we’re all learners. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that everybody else has their stuff together, because I’m pretty sure they don’t. Even if we can’t meditate for five hours every day, we can open up our windows. Let the light in. And don’t forget to laugh. Apparently, that’s a very holy thing to do.

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I Did Not Fail


We, as a whole, haven’t been talking about mental health all that long, have we? I mean, even with my writing all the gory details and struggles and putting them out there for the world to read, there are some people who haven’t so much as mentioned it to me. And that’s really ok. I mean, it’s hard to know what to say, I guess. “Hey, how’s the crippling anxiety today?” Or possibly they’re afraid to say anything to me for fear I’ll burst into tears for no discernible reason (this is a real and valid possibility, I’m afraid). But I have to wonder, were I suffering from a different sort of illness, would the response be different? If I had a broken bone, or a grave injury, would people have shown up to offer assistance? To be clear, there have been some, and I’m forever and eternally grateful.

But if you had a broken bone, or a grave injury, you wouldn’t be able to do the things you needed to do, right? That’s different, isn’t it? You wouldn’t have been able to clean, or cook, or do more than the bare necessities, if you were really ill or injured. If you think having a mental health struggle isn’t being “really ill”, you have clearly never suffered with a mental illness. Not only is mental illness a “real” illness, but it has a huge mortality rate. That means people die from mental illnesses. A lot. Every day. Veterans choosing suicide over living with PTSD. People whose depression convinces them the world would be better off if they weren’t in it. People who are too ashamed to seek treatment for mental illness, because they don’t want to be labeled as “crazy”.  People who suffer from eating disorders, a mental illness that is more fatal than any of the ones mentioned above. I could go on.

But we can’t talk about it? Bullshit. I know I’m not the first one to say this, but if it were any other “disease” killing all these people, we’d be shouting it from the rooftops. There would be foundations set up. Folks would be running 5K’s and having colored powder tossed on them to raise money for  – therapy and psychiatry, or whatever. But there’s not. People are still afraid of being judged and labeled. In addition, it’s hard to know a lot about a person’s genetic mental health history. If someone actually had a diagnosis, it was never talked about, except in hushed tones as though it were something to be ashamed of. I think, more likely, most people were just not diagnosed. They were the lazy ones, the ones who didn’t do all the chores that needed done. The ones whose children weren’t cared for well because they weren’t able. The ones who became dependent on alcohol or other substances to medicate themselves for an illness they didn’t know they had. I don’t know a lot about my genetics as it relates to my mental health. I have some suspicions from observations I’ve made, but very little hard data to work with.

This is how I feel about all that. If you want to give me a label, please do so. Diagnose me with something, and do it as accurately as you can, so I can get back to my life. Please, help me feel human again. I’m working so hard. The shrink tells me, “You have some bipolar tendencies, let’s look at treating that.” I’m like, “Awesome. Tell me more. Let’s kick its ass.” My therapist tells me I need to meditate and talk to my inner child. Done. I’ve been having daily conversations with seven-year-old me for two weeks now. I can only stick with it for about ten minutes at a time because usually I cry like a baby the whole time. I figure there must be something there I need to work out with her. Also, she has pretty hair.

I want to talk about this. I want people out there who are suffering in silence to be unafraid to get help for themselves.

Last time I saw the psychiatrist I started crying in his office. “I don’t understand. I was so good for so many years. I did all the stuff. I yoga’d. I meditated. I ate the vegetables and drank the smoothies. And I was ok. Why now? Why did I fail?”

This is what he told me. “All that stuff you did, it’s still in there. All the years of work you did, it still worked. Because you need help right now, it doesn’t mean you failed.”

I looked at him. “It feels like I did. I feel like I failed. At being strong. At caring for myself. At being enough.”

“I know,” he says, “That’s why I’m telling you – you did not fail. Keep trying and working and you will get better.”

I don’t know why that helped, but that’s what I keep telling myself. As I move through the good days and fight through the bad days. I did not fail.

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What Happened?


Well, that seems to be a question that has been asked a lot lately. I haven’t posted in a while, but I’ve been writing. I’ve been writing copiously, constantly, every chance I have.  My notebook is my constant companion, carried with me everywhere. I’ve been writing instead of reading, looking at social media, even showering on some days. I’ve been writing down every thought, feeling, everything I can think of, to try and figure things out. I’m not really sure I’ve made any real progress. It’s been a long couple of weeks, with some small setbacks and one major setback. A lot of days, I’ve been struggling to keep moving forward. I want to say that I’m working to care for myself and work through whatever I need to work through. It’s hard, though, because new stuff keeps cropping up for me to deal with. And there’s life. Some stuff I have to do, though all but the absolutely necessary has been pushed aside. And I always wonder, as I sit wrapped in blankets, writing furiously in my notebook, or curled up in bed because I’m just too tired to move – am I taking care of myself and doing what I need to do, or am I using this as an excuse to be lazy, and not do the things I actually need to do?

In some ways, I am a little better. I don’t want to cry quite every minute of the day. Sometimes I feel like I don’t want to scream, so that’s a bit of a change. Writing this makes me wonder, why did I let it get to that point? Why did I wait until I felt so bad that all I could do was cry or scream before I took action to help myself? But I tried. I did more yoga, I meditated more. I increased and changed my nutritional supplements several times. I talked to friends. And I felt like a hypocrite, a feeling I’ve explored before. I didn’t want to admit that my tools weren’t enough, and I dreaded the thought of being on medication again, after working so hard all those years ago to get off all the medications all the various doctors I had seen put me on. Considering how the medications ended up making me feel worse, and eventually I was the one who treated myself and was responsible for making myself feel better, I didn’t have much faith in the medical community. In fact, I still think they generally do more harm than good.

But here I am. Using two different medications to help myself. Believing that that’s what I need to help myself feel better, at least until I get back on my feet. But I want to know why. I want to know why I broke. Because that’s what I feel like has happened. I was going along, carrying all this weight. And eventually it got too heavy. It became too much, and eventually – I broke. I collapsed under the weight. Let’s be very clear. The fact that I feel like I broke does not mean that I believe I am broken. I do not believe that there is fundamentally something wrong with me, or that I’m in some way inferior. But I need a minute to get back on my feet.

But what happened? What led to the point where I collapsed? Partly, I think, that I have a genetic predisposition toward depression. As the shrink I saw a few weeks ago put it, I have depression with mixed symptoms. Or, as he delightfully elaborated, it’s like, “depression with a splash of bipolar”. Meaning I occasionally have manic episodes similar to those that characterize bipolar disorder, but they aren’t long enough or severe enough to put me in the bipolar end of the spectrum. Mostly, I tend toward the depressed side. I pretty much knew all this, but it was helpful to have it described so clearly. As I’ve said a million times by now, I managed all this for years with exercise, yoga, nutrition, all that stuff. So why did it quit working? Why did I break?

I’m getting a little older. Maybe I got a new batch of hormones. Maybe I have a bunch of old traumas that my body decided I needed to work through before I can be whole again. Maybe I can’t carry the load of managing my household, raising my children, and doing the majority of the chores, shopping, planning, etc. Maybe it’s just too much for me. I don’t know, and maybe it doesn’t matter why, but that’s who I am. I want to figure stuff out. So I’ll keep going to therapy, and writing in my notebook, and trying to do better and be better.

So there it is. That’s where I’ve made it so far. I’m in here, doing the work, trusting in the process, and having faith that I’ll be better, hopefully sooner rather than later.

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