Money can elicit so many different emotions depending on the circumstances. If I’m receiving it, I’m “happy”–if I need it but don’t have it, I am “fearful”—if I lose it or owe it, I am “unhappy”. Money and how much I earned always determined my sense of self-worth and emotional well-being. That phrase that, “money can’t buy happiness” does not hold true for me because as far as I’m concerned, it does. It may not be able to buy “inner peace” but you can use money to travel the world in search of it. But, my biggest mistake is getting discouraged when a creative endeavor does not lead to an “expected” windfall or at least point to progress. When I submit photos to the Stock sites, even if I get one or two accepted, my focus is still always on how much money I could possibly earn if they sold. I do feel immensely proud that the photo was at least deemed good enough—and they are extremely fussy regarding what they will accept—but that pride is always tempered by knowing that in actuality, I will probably not make one red cent unless people are looking for that subject and find it amongst the probably thousands of photos in the Stock site’s picture library. My friend always says that I am focusing too much on the monetary aspect, and that I should just enjoy the creativity, with the money being secondary. I think it all really comes down to expectations, even though I think that I don’t have them, I still do. I think it is impossible to not want recognition for your work, and for me it appears to be money. I guess if I were independently wealthy this would not even be an issue. I know my money issues come from my childhood insecurities, but it is time to let this go. I measure my success on the amount of money I generate, so now that I am literally not generating anything (unless you count $32 in book royalties, and $2.74 on my Blog earnings) I feel I am not very unsuccessful. I have come to the realization that I just want to enjoy writing and photographing what I want, even if nobody else in the whole world thinks it is any good. At this stage of my life, I don’t want to answer to anyone, yet I am still enslaved by money. Until I can actually believe that my self-worth lies within myself, and not base it on others’ opinions of my work, I will never be free. That is a very tall order, but I must try.
Lost and never found so often describes the life of the chronically mentally ill. It can apply to their lives as well as to their personal belongings. One of the hallmarks of the mentally ill is that they seem to be unable to hang onto their possessions and are incapable of “thinking” in logical terms the way a “normal” person would. They are unable to think past the day, not thinking of the consequences of their actions. They drift from situation to situation, on or off their meds, sometimes homeless, sometimes working, sometimes in jail. There is no predicting what their situation will be from week to week, or day to day, and sometimes moment to moment. It is agonizing and infuriating all at once for the person who desperately loves someone in the throes of mental illness. I’m not talking about garden-variety neurosis (many of us are neurotic, in some fashion) but the gut wrenching, all consuming, disease of psychosis, such as schizophrenia, where rational thinking is impossible. It is a never-ending merry-go-round where you are always waiting to exhale; where when the phone rings, and you see the area code, you hold your breath and say a silent prayer before answering—wondering out loud, “What Now?” It is a world where no matter how many clothes or personal items you buy or send them, these meager possessions will disappear into thin air eventually. It is a world where they live in fleabag motels, and when they end up back incarcerated, they don’t think to ask anyone to store their belongings, so everything they had acquired (when you thought they were making progress) is lost, yet again. It is a world where there is no monetary limit to what is lost—be it clothes, phones, and even cars. When I remember that a diagnosis of mental illness does not define a person and that mental illnesses are brain disorders, I am more tolerant. But, often it is so hard not to be angry when your life is continually disrupted and have the anger turn to guilt at even being angry. We are all human and must give ourselves the grace to be so, which means accepting the emotions that are elicited from the constant stress of either waiting for the “other shoe to drop” or dealing with a current crisis. The definition of “insanity” is “doing the same things over and over and expecting different results.” The average person learns (eventually) that banging your head against the wall over and over will give you a concussion and maybe they should not do it anymore. But the chronically mentally ill have short-term memory and seem to be doomed to repeat the same destructive patterns over and over. It is just so frustrating to see this happening, and be powerless to change it, just waiting around for the next crisis. It is a never-ending battle that just cannot be won and it is so heart breaking because you see the train wreck coming but you can’t get out of the way.
Catastrophizing is defined as an irrational thought that some event in your life (either big or small) is way worse than it actually is. It is probably not a real word, but it so describes what many of us do. Although I am aware that I catastrophize, even having insight into why, and recognize it when I do it, I seem to be powerless to stop the downward spiral once it starts. It is basically an extreme overreaction to a situation that doesn’t warrant it. The problem with catastrophizing for me is that I don’t seem to be able to differentiate between large or real problems vs. life’s little annoyances. My reaction seems to be the same whether or not I’ve just been diagnosed with a severe illness, or my printer is on the fritz. A perfect example of this skewed thinking is the following: I had an infection of the big toe, which I tried to treat myself for a few days. Then I took off the bandage and it was painful, an angry red, swollen and obviously much worse. My initial reaction was panic–thinking that it was a “flesh eating” virus, and my entire foot would have to be amputated, if not my entire leg. I promptly made an appointment with the doctor, who diagnosed it as a paronychia (nail bed infection), drained it, prescribed an antibiotic, and sent me on my way. It is much improved today. Although I see it coming, I seem to be powerless to control it and my catastrophizing seems to have been integrated into my psyche at this point. I think I have always been prone to the dramatic when life doesn’t go my way, but this extreme overreaction to minor events is troubling. One problem is that I seem to view life in two shades—-black or white, never gray, the way life usually is. So, either everything is good, or everything is horrible, nothing in-between. I seem to constantly be waiting for the proverbial “other shoe to drop” when I have a period of time without the sky falling in, which is what I seem to think will happen. I keep asking myself, “OK, things are going alright, so WHAT NOW?” I can guess the origin of this feeling. Years ago, I took a course called, “Abnormal Psychology” in which they described what it is like to be in a constant state of “alarm.” This is caused by stressors, which include major changes or situations in your life, such as divorce, marriage, moving, new job, death of a loved one, serious illness, etc. When you are bombarded with a number of major life events in a short period of time, you develop a state of constant alarm. I believe the combination of my serious unrecognized, crippling illness for so long, then subsequent surgery, running concurrently with the acute mental illness, homelessness, and ongoing problems with my adult child, has taken a huge emotional toll on me. Prior to my second spinal surgery to remove the tumor, I was utterly hopeless, about myself, and my child. I do believe that I would have benefited greatly from counseling after my surgery. Unfortunately I never sought that much-needed counseling, and the saga with my child continues to this day. I also think there is an element of PTSD–not in the traditional sense–but I feel like I have been through a trauma (both medical and mental) due to the never ending pain I endured, plus the treatment I received from the doctors who never took me seriously, along with the mental health system who continually failed my boy. Consequently, I am like “Chicken Little” proclaiming, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!”, when maybe it’s just a little bit cloudy.
Teacher—that is what so many little girls answered when asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. I don’t even think any of these children realized how that profession could affect a child’s view of themselves. We’ve all had teachers in our life that are fondly remembered as being nurturing counselors, or who have guided us when we were lost; often providing a much-needed boost in confidence that might have been lacking at home. For those that went to Parochial Schools, the teachers were often nuns. But the same thing applies: some people were just not equipped to be shaping young minds and have sometimes inflicted great damage. Just like parents, careless or cruel words can have an impact on a developing psyche. I still remember that I was a “dreamy” child who often “checked out”, choosing to look out the window or daydream during class in First Grade. My First Grade teacher assigned a name for me—“Molasses.” This was because I seemed to move in slow motion, apparently and the implication was that I was dumb. At my age, to this day, I still can feel the sting I felt when she called me this and it succeeded in making me feel inferior and stupid (a feeling I was bombarded with at home too). I later found out that I had anemia, which made me draggy and sleepy, but regardless, that “name” or “label” stuck with me. My Third Grade teacher was a bully and incited such fear in me because she seemed to have an actual hatred for me. This caused me to shut down, stop doing my homework, and slowly draw into myself. The nastier she was with me, the worse I became so that I was actually in danger of getting left back. Luckily my mom took charge and helped me get my work up to date. My father actually wrote a letter to her, calling her an ogre, which made things worse. I finally ended up being referred to the school psychologist (Miss Mack) who used to tell me to just “forget her” and got me through that rough time. My Seventh Grade math teacher was a carbon copy of the Third Grade one and ridiculed me in front of the class incessantly, to the point of tears. Nuns can sometimes be just as bad too. My friend, who went to Catholic school, told me about constant daily cruelty inflicted upon a poor boy (most likely autistic), which one day ended up with a basket being overturned on his head (much to the enjoyment of the rest of the class). My friend was horrified and I felt the same way when she told me what happened. The point I am trying to make is that some people, although wonderful in every way, may not have that special quality that makes a great teacher. If we were able to run a survey that spanned decades, I wonder how many children had their dreams and spirit squashed by the very people who should be inspiring them. I wonder how many people did not pursue their dreams or lost confidence due to a supposedly casual name such as “Molasses”. Teachers can be inspirational and uplifting mentors—and many are—but it is too bad that so many of them don’t realize that.
Confidence–how is it that some people seem to have it and some don’t? I think it comes from your upbringing and either it was instilled in you at a young age or maybe you acquire it. But, some people just have that hutzpah it takes to move forward in life, to take chances, to be brash, and to hell with the consequences. Others hesitate because they don’t want rejection or don’t have faith in themselves. I know that I have always been shy—something I hoped and thought I’d eventually grow out of when I got older. But, even though I did make friends as a child, I still lacked that confidence to initiate a conversation (and still do). I never felt that I was especially good at many things, or was particularly pretty, or talented. I know that parents play such an important role in building confidence, and ultimately the success or failure curve of their children. When you have a nurturing family, you feel invincible and are willing to take the chances that will move you beyond the mediocrity of most people. It seems that successful people—in whatever field they are in—have a parent, teacher, mentor, or someone who takes a special interest in them and gives them the ever-important confidence it takes to succeed. Yes, there are exceptions that we hear of—where someone came from a horrible environment and rose above it to become someone amazing. I can think of several celebrities who fit that description, but more commonly, that is not the case. I know that growing up I was told repeatedly that I was “stupid” each and every day, I was told that I had a “horseface”, and on and on. I think when a parent explodes or yells at you and says something hurtful once or twice, it does not have that much of an impact. But, when done over and over, throughout your childhood, it breaks you down and you begin to believe that you really are dumb and ugly and not talented. A very vivid memory I have was when I did a drawing of a princess (and I definitely have artistic talent) and I was so proud, but when I showed it to my Dad, he announced that it was “very juvenile.” I was so very hurt and crushed that I ripped the picture that I was so proud of into tiny pieces and threw it in the basket. I can still feel the sting of disappointment and rage I felt as if I was still a small child. Confidence was not something that was instilled in me as a child and I consequently grew up not being brave and not just going for it, because I always felt I was not good enough, and didn’t want to take the chance of rejection. Confident people don’t worry about rejection, because they know their value. People who lack confidence are constantly searching for others to give them value, because they don’t have it themselves. I think to this very day, I still feel I am never good enough and consequently, feel immense jealousy whenever someone branches out into success and I am left in the dust because I lacked the confidence to do what they did.
Perfection–what is it and how do I achieve it? I get up every morning, and dread looking into the mirror because I don’t like what looks back at me. I quickly put some Noxzema on my face, which serves two purposes; one is to hopefully get rid of the puffiness under my eyes, and the other actually hides all those imperfections. The older I get, the more imperfect I become in my eyes. When did I get that saggy skin around my mid section? When did I get those droopy jowls, or how come my face has become so thin and lost that youthful volume? In an age when many imperfections can be “fixed” if you have the funds, it is easy to go overboard. I somehow think I will finally achieve Karma if I could just get rid of the fat on my thighs. But, I know for sure that the minute I get a tweak here and there, some other complaint surfaces. Oh, no, my breasts are uneven, or my foot is on backwards. I know that no matter how many surgical procedures I had to “correct” my many imperfections, I would never be satisfied. So many people go through their life with an ideal image of what they want to look like. It is so easy to get caught up in the plastic surgery game, getting one thing, then another, and another, until you don’t even look human; more like a doll or mannequin. I have seen people with real deformities, which, when corrected can transform the quality of their life. But, that is different–I am talking about the obsession with youth or beauty that causes so many people to devalue themselves even when they look fine, just not “perfect”. I know that I could go to the doctor and say, “Look just fix everything that is wrong with me”, and after he did, I’d find something else. It could be never-ending and unfortunately brings momentary “happiness” but it is not lasting. Happiness does indeed come from within, and by continually focusing on that coveted ideal we all see with celebrities, we will forever be chasing a ghost that will vanish in a wisp.
Labels; humans have a need to put these on people to categorize and make assumptions about them. I know it is so hurtful yet I have been the perpetrator as well as the recipient. It is so prevalent that most people don’t even realize that they are guilty. I think it is so very common in families, and can form your personality; often affecting the choices in your occupation, school, spouse, financial decisions, your level of happiness, and virtually every aspect of your life. We all know that family dynamics dictate that everybody in a family has a specific “role” even though it is not officially assigned. Among siblings, there is usually the “smart one” or “studious one”, the “athlete”, the “lazy one,” the “trouble maker”, the “fat one”, the “pretty one”, “the drinker”, etc. Whatever the role we play in our family, it often sticks with us, so that if as a child, we were not expected to excel in anything, whereby our sibling was the “golden child”, we often live up or down to that label. Never mind that life and people change as they grow, and the label may not fit someone anymore or the “roles” have been reversed. It is no wonder that so many people dread family gatherings because no matter how hard they have worked to shed their “role” in the family, they still feel like time has stood still and the same old childhood insecurities come to the surface. But outside of the family, the mentally ill, disabled, physically ill, older person, or anyone that is not “perfect” (young and able) has a label stamped on them too. I used to see an ad for a hospital that said something like, “We treat John like John, not “cancer.” As soon as we find out that someone is “paranoid schizophrenic”, or “borderline personality” or “autistic”, we immediately make a judgment about them; that they are violent, or out of it, or that they are not even a person anymore. I’ve heard it said that “your illness does not define you”, much like the ad I saw so many years ago. The same holds true for age as well. I know people assume you are a doddering old fool, with no goals, or dreams or anything to contribute to society once you reach a certain age. I know when I fill out forms at the doctor’s office, listing my age, the staff get a mental picture of what I will look like so when they call me they are surprised at how “young” I look. You get an invisible label stamped on you which affects how people treat you and unfortunately too often how you view yourself too. This “label” can apply to race too, thinking that all black men are violent, or all Asians are “smart” or whatever preconceived notions you may have. Labels are a way to perpetuate assumptions, which are usually just prejudices in disguise. In this celebrity worshipping society, focused on youth, perfection, wealth, beauty, and glamour, people who don’t fall into those categories get lumped together with a “label” and are deemed throwaways–less worthy and valuable in this world.