Perspective & Mental Health; Maslow's Hammer

When all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.  

This is my coming out story about trauma, anxiety, and unhealthy coping mechanisms.  It is not a request for praise or sympathy, it is my own way of processing, admitting, and putting my intentions (and supporting actions) out in to the universe.  I’m fond of saying, “there can be no Truth and Reconciliation, without first having Truth.”  And this is my truth.

Those of you who know me, know that my adult life has been dotted with traumas.  Perhaps no greater or lesser than anyone else’s, but they impacted me nonetheless.  I developed coping mechanisms, I did what I felt I needed to in order to survive them, and I did not always do so in a healthy manner. 

I was recently approached, at a breaking point, an intervention of sorts.  It didn’t go well.  Or perhaps, it went exactly as it needed to.  And in that moment, and in the aftermath, I have heard things about myself like, “you act like a cornered animal, all the time,” and, “it’s like you put the bag over your head and just start swinging,” "it's always something with you."  Why would I listen to people who said things like that to me?

 Well, because they’re true.

 I have been constantly defensive, isolated, often looking for a fight where there wasn’t one, and ultimately running from one disaster to another blaming others and seeking shelter anywhere I could.  This is not healthy.  It is not conducive to long-term relationships of any kind, success in life, or feelings of security.  It’s harmful to myself, my family, my friends, and all of the things I want out of life. 

When you’re afraid of everything, always fighting, and always running, the hardest thing you can do is sit in a room with people you believed to be your allies, faced with every fear you already harbor about yourself, it feels a lot like the worst-case scenario. It definitely elicits a keyed-up fight-or-flight response. And that keyed-up response is my whole problem in the first place.  So, this group of people, presumably tired of my shit, but loving me anyway, enough to undertake the inescapably wild response I would give, set out to confront me with my behavior.  It went about how you’d expect.  At the end of that day, I was raw, in pain, I felt betrayed and alone.  But somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew I didn’t want to keep living the kind of life I had been living up to this point.  I don’t want to run from everything, and by god, I am so tired of fighting EVERYTHING.  I see the possibility that the rest of my life doesn’t have to look like the last twenty years.  It’s possible to have a life, that while not always sunshine and rainbows, Is not constantly painful and frightening. And I want that.  I want that badly enough to stop doing the things I’ve done my entire life and try new things, things that are strange and disorienting and don’t yet feel natural.  I am (back) in therapy.  I am dealing with social anxiety, trauma, and aspects of PTSD. I don’t like looking at myself and seeing that there’s that much work to be done.  I don’t want to admit that I’ve been that wrong and failed that much.  It makes me question why anyone would stick around me to begin with.   But I do have the opportunity to change that.  I know I’ll always have to be vigilant about these things.  I know I’ll always be prone to overreaction and unnecessary freak-outs.   But now I can at least name them, I can address them, and also that there are people who have seen and experienced those things and still love me anyway. 

This is exhausting work, but I believe it will be worth it.  I believe I can create a sense of stability and security for myself. And I believe that my family and my relationships will reflect that.  I’m scared and sad and tired a lot of the time, but I’m consistently hopeful.  I have the opportunity, the support, and the power to change something I thought would never change. And as I come to the end of my college tenure, ready to approach life and work in a completely new way there, it seems a fitting time to leave behind this old shell of myself that no longer serves any useful purpose.

I’m sharing all of this because my intention is to be open and honest about mental health in a real, tangible way.  I know I am not the only one who has a struggle.  I know that other parents of kids with CF, people who have had toxic relationships, traumas, anxiety, and depression, have been here.  I know that I am not an outlier, and I know that my openness and ability to put these things in to words is a gift I am both inspired and obligated to share.   Admitting that I have a problem with these things is the first step, right?  So here’s my admission.  I own this issue.  Going forward, I’ll talk more about my particular mental health struggles, trauma, anxiety, therapy, and my successes and failures.  There’s no need  to keep our human experiences shrouded in shame and secrecy, and I’m nothing if not a mouthpiece.