Being real

Erik told me months ago about a powerful blog post, “The disease called Perfection,” on SDL (Single Dad Laughing).  In the post, the author (Dan), writes of the pain-inducing illusion of Perfection which permeates our society and causes us to 1) compare ourselves with others (at least the persona of perfection we perceive in them), 2) assess (erroneously) that others are much better than we are, 3) feel ashamed to show the  real, flawed parts of ourselves (since the ideal of Perfection shuns weakness), and ultimately 4) to isolate ourselves emotionally from ourselves and others.  In a heart-wrenching plea, he asks us to start being real by telling others how perfect we aren’t.  He writes:

“This is me, weeping as I write, asking the good people of the world to find somebody to put their arm around and be ‘real’. This is me, wishing that people would realize how beautiful they are, even with all of their imperfections. This is me, sad and desperate for the girls in this world to love themselves. This is me, a very imperfect man, trying to help others feel a little more perfect by asking you to act a little less perfect.

“Will you help me spread ‘Real’? Tell us below just how perfect you aren’t. You never know who might be alive tomorrow because you were real today.”

In an act of great courage, Dan listed 7 examples from his own life of things he hadn’t wanted people to ever know.  He called it his “dose of real.”  (I invite you to read his article.  It’s very touching!)

Well, folks, I’ve decided to take his challenge.  I’ll allow myself to share with you my own “dose of real,” with the hope that it will help even one of you know that you are not alone.  [Note:  Feeling extremely nervous even thinking about this.  Hmmm . . . Why is this so hard?!]

Here goes:

* I’ve been talking with a therapist because I can’t figure out who I really am and why it mattered that I be born. (My spiritual life with God and buddies was a pretty sweet existence before, I bet–assuming as I do that my soul is immortal.)  Why the need for mortal life and its temporal concerns and complexity?  And who am I, ultimately–a set of genes, an immortal personality, the product of my education/early environment . . .?

* For years I domineered my husband, tyrannically making most family decisions and controlling our money (his income!) with an iron fist.  He didn’t even feel free to run over and grab a hamburger, lest I berate him for that “unnecessary expenditure”!  My husband went numb over time, in our marriage.  (Glad he’s back!)

* Some days the seeming incurability of my depression has made the idea of life after death (the immortality of the soul) sound like a perpetual hell: ‘I’d rather cease to exist than suffer like this in the next life!  If I can’t overcome my depression here, what guarantee is there that my mind will be free of it there?!’

* I have not valued nor enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom, even though it was my choice (duty-bound, for sure) to become and remain one.  I’ve been tormented for years with illusions of grandeur, which have robbed me of contentment in domesticity and simple living. (Don’t ever tell your kids ‘They’re smart!” as they’re growing up; it’ll torment them as adults!)

* I had homophobia as a teen and secretly worried at times, ‘What if I’m gay and don’t know it?’  Almost never being invited on dates made me question whether I was desirable/feminine.  (Thankfully I met a gorgeous hunk, Erik Andersen, my first day at college, and he flirted with–and kissed me–a lot that semester.  Thanks, Babe, for being the answer to my insecurity at that time!)

* After our first child was born, I lost my libido for a time.  Being exhausted and depressed, I’d deny Erik, with the excuse: “It’s not my need.”  We’d go weeks between, and my homophobia caused me to again worry, ‘Does my lack of interest in sex suggest I’m gay?”  (Oprah featured the subject “When Women Don’t Want Sex” on one of her shows that year,  which helped me to learn that many other heterosexual women suffer from lack of libido as well.  I wasn’t alone!)

* I’m not a very good friend: I get wrapped up in my little world/mind and make little to no effort to keep in touch with or care for my friends.  Those whom I don’t see regularly (in the current context of my life) I tend to neglect.

* My insecurity has caused me to want others to be like me, but not quite as good as me, so I can feel important.  I’ve judged others harshly who were not like me.  I’ve had a hard time throughout my life admitting my mistakes out loud, or valuing others for the good people they are despite their human weaknesses.

*With unrealistic expectations, I’ve judged nearly everything in life for what it lacks.  I’ve viewed the cup as half empty.

Writing these things makes me want to shrink up in a ball and go away.  But perhaps acknowledging my problems  is a necessary step to begin freeing myself up from emotional bondage.  It’s hard for me to accept the idea that I’m limited as a person and that making mistakes and learning through trial-and-error is not only understandable but ultimately beneficial–because of the practical wisdom and humility such a process (and expectation) produces.  The vast emotional realm of feelings can be scary, and never admitting mistakes or fears feels safe.  But I’m beginning to understand that that safety is just a prison.  Being real is being open to our feelings and being free to explore them and their roots.  I’m excited I’m in therapy and am hopeful it will help!

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Effort versus externals

Lying in bed this morning, the thought came:

Happiness doesn’t depend upon circumstances.

I kid you not when I say that the theme song of Star Wars immediately started ringing through my head, as if to indicate this was a major mystery solved! I smiled–marveling, then wavered–wondering, ‘Is it true?’ Could it be true, when the reality is that sometimes horrible things happen that hurt, hurt, hurt? Could it be true, when worries and fears about [current greatest concern] consume all of one’s emotional reserves, blocking the vital energy called happiness? Could it be true, when depression is real and a huge stumbling block to joy and hope?

‘But wait!’ I caught myself in the thought. ‘My depression happens despite my blessed circumstances: great spouse, financial security, good physical health, plenty of diversion, strong church community, supportive friends, etc. Could it also be that happiness is not contingent upon circumstances?’

The image of a glorious, eternal soul came to me–the Inner I that is not touched or damaged by the challenges and circumstances of life. The I that came from God, passes through mortal life, and continues from everlasting to everlasting. Surely that Soul’s happiness does not depend upon the externals of this life. Yet why is it so difficult for the conscious self, the Mortal Me that is the collective experience called [Shaunalei Boyer Andersen], to experience sustained happiness?

Then it struck me! Happiness (exhilaration) comes in purpose-filled doing (effort), no matter the outward circumstances. Depression (feeling stuck) remains during hope-sucking inactivity (wallowing), no matter the externals, either. In a nutshell,

“The key to happiness is effort.”

I’m excited to test the hypothesis, to see if indeed “working with a purpose” helps create “happiness on demand.” What do you think?

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Dealing with the pain of dissapointment

A while back I was talking with my husband Erik about the pain of disappointment–whether toward ourselves or the actions of others. I mentioned that there are many ways to deal with that pain:
* eating to excess (not healthy),
* exercising (typically beneficial),
* taking drugs (usually harmful unless necessary for mental stability),
* talking it over with a trusted friend (often helpful),
* planning and/or taking action (perhaps helpful, perhaps risky if done in the heat of the moment),
* etc. etc. ad infinitum.
I mentioned to him that it had occurred to me earlier that the simplest (and perhaps best) way to soften the pain of disappointment is to forgive people, including ourselves. We are where we are–emotionally, mentally, physically, politically, religiously, financially, pet-peevishly, TV-preferencely–in any given moment. The way we act in specific situations is simply a product of our state of being in that moment–determined by either our current emotional terrain, our well-traveled [i.e. habitual] synaptic highways, our internalized beliefs–whether conscious or subconscious, our fears, our passions, etc.. Rather than condemning ourselves or others, rather than feeling hurt by people’s choices and actions, we can forgive them–remembering, “The reality is, this is where they are” or “In their shoes (having acquired all of their past experiences, present circumstances, personality traits, and established thought processes), there’s no doubt I would act identically to them.” That’s called empathy, and it’s the greatest skill (and potential personal trait) one can acquire to try and improve relationships . . .

It is easier said than done, for sure. But the opposite, i.e. judging others and/or trying to force them to be “like we are” in this present moment—in the (sub)conscious hope of feeling validated—is an exercise in futility as well as disrespect. Being more self-aware, we can stop ourselves from judging, stop ourselves from feeling pain in human behavior, and instead ask, “How can I be of help?”

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