Unconditional

How does love become unconditional? Or is love always unconditional? If you love with conditions, then is it really love?

For me, I know that I will love my family unconditionally. Despite how much I dislike mother and her … everything, I know that at the end of the day, I will still love her. If I could choose differently, I would, but I can’t. From the moment my niece was born, I loved her. Anybody who is tied to me by blood, I will love. Perhaps that’s based on the values of family that have been instilled in me since birth and as demonstrated by my family.

Then there comes the love that you have to create with others – with your friends, with your significant other. Can those be unconditional? Are they ever unconditional? Will I always love my friends no matter how we change throughout the years? Or do I get to pick and choose which ones to love? If I pick and choose, is it therefore now based on condition? What helps me define which friends I shall love unconditionally?

With a partner – I admit, I’ve said those “I love you”s to a few folks throughout my years. If I had to think about my feelings for the former beaus, I could probably tell you that I loved them once upon a time. But the conditions changed and I no longer could continue loving them.

As I am now older, I know I can change my definition of love. I would like to think that I love my current beau unconditionally. I’d like to think that unless this man were to begin to intentionally hurt me, I would still love him no matter what would transpire.

But how does this happen? Does this happen with time? Is there a marker during which you can finally say, “Yes, I love you unconditionally.” Or do you just wake up one day and realize that this is it? “That no matter what may happen, whether we are together or apart, I will always love you.”

This is also not to say that an unconditional love is always peachy. But it’s to imply that when big, rocky things happen, the love motivates for change, reconciliation, forgiveness, etc. That the love encourages us to stay together instead of apart. That when you love unconditionally, that you accept all – warts, farts, snores, bad habits, etc included.

So… how do you know? If there are deal breakers – do those count as conditions? Or are they just conditions for the relationship and not conditions for the love?

Just some thoughts on which to ponder…

Imminent

I feel like something terrible is coming and it’s all going to smash the world away from me. I feel as if there is a darkness that will come in full force and I am powerless to stop it. Even more so, I feel as if I have, and have had, the means to stop it and yet, I haven’t. It’s this constant dilemma – we are all our own people and are responsible for our actions and at the same time, I tell my clients that there are times in which we haven’t been able to do so.

How can you tell an anxious person to stop worrying? A depressed person to be happy? They all know that they should be happy. In a way, they know how to get there to be happy, and yet, that doesn’t happen.

And that’s me. I don’t know if I’m unhappy but I know that there are things I know I should do and yet, they are not done. And then I beat myself up for not having done them. It’s a terrible cycle and I’m terrified to wonder or find out if I will ever stop perpetuating this cycle.

Quality Over Quantity

I am learning – slowly – not to hoard. These were tendencies I picked up from mother who had lost everything in my family’s journey to the US after the Vietnam War and did what she could to be as resourceful as she could – just in case we would need it some day.

That’s what happened to me. I “collected” things because I’d need them some day and most importantly, were on sale, free, and/or gifts. I tried to part with many things as I tidied up my living spaces, but sometimes it was hard for me to get rid of things. The hardest were gifts from others. Not necessarily because I’d need them some day, but because I valued that they were gifts to me from another person. That someone else had taken the time to think of me and to select something that would be fitting of me. If I were to throw them out/donate/sell, I would feel as if I am disrespecting or dismissing their efforts and their time to build a relationship with me.

Then I had a “collection” of nostalgic items – items that held no other purpose except to remind me of how nice that person had been to me once upon a time. I had clothing, stuffed animals, trinkets, jewelry, etc that I hadn’t worn, read, or touched in a long time, if ever. But I kept them just for that nostalgic piece. How do I choose which nostalgic item to keep or not keep? What will be important to me? I don’t have a rubric to fall back on. Do I keep the gifted origami $20 bill or unfold it and spend it?

That collection grows. It grows to where I have so many pieces, I don’t know what to do with them all. Soon, I have the very unfortunate task of trimming, of deciding which I keep and which I don’t. What stays – what goes? How do I determine the quality of this item? How can I measure how much this item means to me? When can I look at it, cherish it, and say, “It is okay. You served me a great purpose once upon a time, but I have changed now and I don’t need you in the same way I once did and I know you can’t change with me. You are free to go.”

While I know that I must trim, must not hoard, it doesn’t hurt nonetheless to say goodbye to these items. But I can’t keep them. We’re too different now and that’s okay. It’s not about making room for other nostalgic items, mind you. I don’t remove things just to add more things – or I try not to – but it’s about determining the quality of my life. I need to evaluate if what’s in it at the moment is a right fit for me and if it is not, do what I must to make it so we can fit.

So thank you, birthday gift of 1999. You served me well and now you must find a new home.

Losing Weight

I came across a post the other day where a woman’s photo that was used to illustrate the effects of anorexia was misused in a “listicle” for photos of successful weight loss. There was a lot of commentary about how people who suffer from emotional dysregulation (e.g. depression, anxiety, anorexia, bulimia, etc) are often “celebrated” for their good looks. They would often get comments such as, “Did you lose weight? You look great!” In reality, their weight loss was very unhealthy, yet still rewarded and showered with compliments on their “good looks.”

That got me to thinking about how one could approach another who has had a change in weight. Can you come from a place of concern? “I noticed you’ve lost/gained some weight recently, is everything okay?” Or can there be a neutral ground? “I’ve noticed you’ve lost/gained some weight recently, has something changed for you?” Or is there another way?

It’s definitely got me to reevaluate how I view others’ weight loss/gain. I can’t assume that others’ weight changes are done in a healthy manner. In order for me to stop rewarding or complimenting bad behaviors, I must reframe my commentary and/or not comment at all.

But for now, here are some examples of things I will not say:

“You’ve lost a lot of weight. You look great!”
“Please tell me how to fit into your pants!”
“You look so skinny!”
“Your face looks skinnier!”

Saving

Fuck.

That’s what I want to say. I am going through my friend list today on FB for a class assignment and I run into an account for a person who passed by suicide. I perused his FB wall and I read a few notes he had written a few months before passing. It tore me up inside because here was an individual who was open about his pain, someone who willingly shared how he felt and how difficult he found his life to be. But he still didn’t feel heard. He still didn’t feel understood by his closest friends and family, even the professionals he spoke to.

It was so disheartening to read all of that. That he felt people didn’t believe him, that he was over-dramatic, or that “his life wasn’t as bad because other people have it worse out there.” These were all the things that I would have challenged had I been given the chance to do what I do now for him.

I would have said that no matter how big or small your problem can be compared to another person’s problems, that doesn’t make your problems any more or less important. How you feel in, deal with, and process your world is important to you and is valid. There’s no right or wrong way to feel or do things. Well, not necessarily if I am saying this creed.

You deserve to be heard. You deserve to be recognized. You deserve to be validated.

Most importantly, you deserve to have someone in your life who will love you unconditionally and always hold you in the highest regard. No matter how you may falter, no matter what you may do, you should be loved and cared for. Not blamed, shunned, or neglected.

That’s what I would say. But I can’t tell him now. And it wasn’t my place to “save” him. And I can’t “save” everyone.

But I can try.

Parents

In the line of work that I do, many frustrations when working with children who present with behavioral concerns almost always lead back to the parents. It’s common that parents will send their kids to therapists thinking their children are the ones who need to be “fixed” while they, the parents, don’t have to do anything to modify their behaviors. “My kid is behaving poorly and that’s my kid’s behavior, not mine.” Trying to help parents understand that their behaviors and actions greatly impact how their child behaves sometimes can feel like trying to teach my cats to give me hugs. Not impossible, but very challenging.

But once in a while, you get parents who totally get it. They understand access to mental health interventions is as important as modifications to their behaviors as a parent. Those parents are awesome. And parents who can respectfully and calmly advocate for their kids? Even better!

A few years ago, I had my first dose of working with young school-aged children. When I think back on how I behaved as an “adult,” I am quite embarrassed that I wasn’t able to treat them better. I know, those things are learned, but I still feel awful sometimes, especially to the kids who were the “trouble kids.” There were a few who had “behavioral issues.” I found those kids to be particularly challenging and “stressful.” Despite how I was choosing to respond to their “bad behavior,” I always tried my best to be good, kind, and caring nonetheless.

I was cleaning out some things and came across a letter a parent had written to me. I knew her well – her kids were the “trouble kids.” She was aware of their behaviors, but she loved them dearly and always tried to teach them better. (Trust me, those kids were scared of their momma.) Anyway, she wrote to me stating that at the end of the day, when I would say to the kids, “Go home” she found that particularly hurtful. While I may have intended it to be a joke, the impact was not the same. It was one of the first times where I needed to be mindful of my speech. It was also very helpful that she delivered her message in a way that was not only well written, but came from a place of honesty. She didn’t attack or make assumptions about me; she explained why she felt what she felt. That’s what I loved about her letter. I didn’t feel the need to be defensive; I felt sad that I had caused pain.

Rereading that letter today reminded me of how far I had come. I still work with kids every now and then and there is a almost always child who could easily be labeled as the “trouble kid.” I have since learned to give all kids the benefit of the doubt. A “trouble kid” isn’t “troubled” – it’s a kid who has yet to learn the “appropriate” social responses to their emotions and impulses. Providing a positive space for that learning to happen in a safe manner will greatly benefit everybody involved. I’m glad that I’ve been able to modify my own behaviors and be more inclusive with parents. If I could re-do that year I did, I would in a heartbeat. Nonetheless, I’m still grateful to have learned what I’ve learned and to continue learning.

Touched

I need to write this now to capture what I feel and use this post as a reminder of why I choose to do the work I do, or even be the person I want to be.

Last month, I attended a 3-day training for WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan). There was an individual, R, in one of my groups. We were writing our responses on a topic on a large piece of paper. R shared with us that he had some difficulty writing due to his anxieties and fearing that his handwriting would be judged. I remember acknowledging him and his courage to share such information with us. From there, I remember I did what I could to support him, whether it was asking if he wanted  someone to write on his behalf or encourage him to share out to the large group. It was a short 3 days, but I remembered him and I remembered how much power he had in the sharing of his vulnerabilities.

This week, I started the 5-day training for the same program. Lo and behold, R was here too! This whole week, I have been utterly amazed by him. He has been sharing more during large group discussions, he’s been sharing in small and large groups, and today, he wrote in front of the large group on the poster paper. He even signed up for a role playing part and I was just so blown away by how much he was challenging himself to do things that made him uneasy. I am amazed and inspired.

Today (Thursday), as we were both leaving the training, he shared with me how he felt. He said that I would forever be in his mind as he is continuing his growth process. He said that when we make eye contact, he feels warm, he feels good. He told me that he was appreciative of me and what I had done for him. In that moment, I felt so much joy for him. I felt so much pride that he had pushed himself so much, even with sharing his feelings and thoughts with me. I felt so touched, so deeply touched, that I had been able to play a part in his life, a part I didn’t even realize I was playing.

I want to capture this feeling. I got to my car and I cried a little out of joy and out of happiness. I felt so validated in being the person I want to be and doing the work I want to do. I have this really good and really warm feeling in my heart because I get to be a part of this process, I get to be a part of his process. I don’t know where life will take us, but I’m glad that we were able to share these moments together.

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As I am continuing this post today (Friday), I am again touched by the warmth of others. Yesterday, one of the training participants was having a really challenging day. I had serendipitously walked into a space where she was visibly and emotionally upset. I offered my support and stayed with her for a bit before she requested time for herself. Today, she shared her appreciation for my actions and gifted me a rock she had painted. I’m usually not one for touchy-feely gifts, but this one really touches my feelies.

With any large group, I am usually apprehensive and reluctant to throw myself completely into the group. I still am and I acknowledge that is my piece and when I choose to show up and participate, it is meaningful and part of my own process. But the gifts, physical and not, that I have received this week have really touched my heart. I am so deeply moved to be here in this space and so deeply grateful that I was given the opportunity to be in this specific group. I came into the training thinking that I would be learning about the material, how to facilitate, etc – all the mechanics of the program. Instead, I am left with the warmth and kindness and while sometimes it totally bugs me that everyone is so positive all the time, I am grateful for the unconditional positive regard everyone has for one another.

This week was a great example of: You won’t remember what was said, but you’ll always remember how you felt.

Feeling Loved

There is something really magical about that. It’s such a simple feeling: to feel loved. It can come from just about anywhere.

This week, I have been definitely feeling it. My little cat, Lily, who was brought in as a stray when she was 4 months old, slept on my lap. Granted, it was uncomfortable for me since I have to cross my legs while sitting on a computer chair, but she did it anyway. This is a cat who used to run away from me, hide, hated hugs or closed quarters, still runs away from me, and hates strangers (and babies). But she loves me enough, trusts me enough, to know that my lap is a safe and warm space for her.

Kayla, my cute little niece, developed stranger anxiety. She would cry or feel uncomfortable if I held her or took her away from her parents or my mom (caretaker). This morning, she raised her arms toward me even though my mother was feeding her.

Nate, is a million miles away in Japan and even though we talk and connect a lot less since he’s been gone, not once did I ever wonder or feel insecure about our relationship.

Work has been amazing and such a great learning space. I really feel like I can be a part of this space and be encouraged to grow and make my blunders a learning opportunity.

Friends, while I haven’t seen some of them in quite some time, I’ve appreciated all of their presences’ in my life. Everyone had a place and a space in my life and I could not be anymore grateful for them and the experiences I’ve shared with people.

Maybe it’s just today, but that’s how I’m feeling. And it’s amazing and I wish everyone would be able to feel as loved as I feel.