An Open Letter to My “Toxic” Friend: It’s Not You, It’s Me. #selfcare

Dear “Toxic” Friend,

I had to block you on all of my social media accounts and step away from our friendship last week because, well, I care about myself. And, really, in light of the explosive multi-pronged social media salvo of accusations and insults you directed at me, you gave me no choice. Let me explain.

First, I want you to know that I love you and I care about you. Your mind is probably tricking you into thinking that I don’t. Maybe those words cause confusion and, perhaps, thoughts like these are coursing through your mind:

How could she care about me if she shut me out of her life? If she loves me, why is she throwing our friendship away over a stupid fight?

If so, I get it. I know those discombobulating moments.

Please try to remember that I love you as you read this letter.


In the midst of our argument last week, you told me that my training as a therapist didn’t mean I was more aware. I disagree.

Here’s why: I used to be a “toxic” friend.


“Toxic” people have difficulty trusting others. Their parental role models never taught them to trust. They’ve not experienced trust before. In fact, their childhoods tend to be wrought with instability, neglect and abuse.

“Toxic” people live with a deep pulsing insecurity, well into adulthood, because their caregiver’s circumstances were such that they weren’t able to nurture a supportive, loving and stable relationship with their children.

“Toxic” people tend to lash out when they feel slighted and when they fear abandonment — which is, pretty much, all the time.

“Toxic” people tend to be defensive and manipulative — and are completely unaware of it.

“Toxic” people are adults who didn’t have life mentors as children. Their childhood circumstances seeped toxins into their sense-of-self and into their understanding of relationship.

It stands to reason that “toxic” people have a mixed up understanding of relationships (relationship with self and others).

Children in “toxic” environments tend to grow into “toxic” adults.


Adults are products of their childhood and you had a tumultuous one. You did what you had to survive. You had to use your defenses and manipulation to endure the loss, heartache and abuse you lived through.

As an adult, you use subtle yet persistent passive-aggressive and gas-lighting behavior to test your relationships. I feel like you were testing our friendship.


We’ve been friends for over 10 years. We met as teens and lived in the same town for a year. Since then, our paths have taken us to different cities. We would touch base on occasion and get together for a bit when we were in the same town.

We were Honeymoon Friends — showing our best selves and relishing the limited time we shared together. It was always hugs and laughs with us.

About two years ago, you visited Seattle more often because you started to date one of my good friends. We saw each other often. We were finally getting to know one another, as adults.

A few months later, we had a big blowout that unraveled into a slew of vicious emails from you. I was shocked by what you wrote. Your accusations and insults hurt me to the core. I ended up blocking your emails and stopped responding. This was a side of you I hadn’t seen.

A few months later, you used a different address to email me about how you had a dream that we were hanging out, and that you wished that it could be true. That was it.

I wished that you had acknowledged our fight in the email. I was hoping for an apology and some semblance of accountability in taking responsibility for what you wrote to me. If you had, I would have been open to communicating again.


Two years passed and we reconnected. We grabbed a beer, grabbed each other’s hands and told one another, “I’m sorry and I love you.” That was a couple months ago.

At first, you were so considerate and mindful in our friendship but, within a couple of weeks, I noticed similar behavior as before. I realized your jealous and passive-aggressive tendencies.

I didn’t like the way you treated your partner and I didn’t like the way you treated our friendship. I realized that the amount of self-growth you and I had gone through in those two years were lightyears apart.


Recently, you shared that you like brutal honesty, so I decided to share my observations with you about your relationship patterns. I was hoping that it would be an opportunity for us to bond through similar experiences.

I wanted to tell you that I recognized your behavior because I used to treat my relationships similarly. I was hoping that our conversation would bring us closer. It did not.

Instead, here we are again. After another onslaught of scathing and unkind messages from you, I’ve raised the social media iron curtain, again.


I have always held you in my heart as sweet and caring; I still believe you are. I also believe that you have deep wounds that keep you from trusting people.

I know that you can get to a place where you can trust. I’ve done it.

It’s taken most of my lifetime — through therapy, medication, yoga, meditation, journaling, writing music, blogging, poetry, practicing vulnerability, and a heck of a lot of persistence and grit.

I’ve been processing my childhood since I was a teen. In grad school (Masters in Psychology at Antioch University Seattle), I spent almost five years addressing my insecurities and fears. I wrote paper-after-paper about my childhood. It was a heck of a lot of difficult work that required tons of vulnerability and trust.

So, when you tell me that my experiences and training don’t mean I’m more aware, it’s a major insult. It’s disrespectful and invalidating.

But I know that trying to hurt me is the toxic part of you. I know you don’t mean it. You were lashing out.

The thing is, I don’t want to be on the receiving end of your — or anyone’s — verbal lashings. I love you and want our friendship “to work” but I don’t need to be a toxin target.

I was hopeful that we could build trust in our friendship but we can’t. Not now. Perhaps never and that thought saddens me.

What saddens me more is that your childhood ghosts will continue to sabotage and stir-up “drama” in your relationships, and it doesn’t have to be that way.


I realize that describing you as “toxic” lacks endearment. I’ve been pondering a non-stigmatizing and non-blame-y term besides “toxic friend.”

It’s not the person that’s toxic but their childhood experience, so I’ll say “tender friend,” instead.

Adults with difficult upbringings are tender and protective. You could say they’re in emotional survival-mode most of the time — ready to fight or take flight.


So, my tender friend. I’m sorry for my part in our conflict. I reacted and hurled a couple of texts your way, too. One text read, “You have bad energy and I don’t want that in my life.”

While I can’t say that those words aren’t not true for me, it wasn’t a compassionate way to communicate with you.

I’m finally in a place where my depression and anxiety are manageable, so self-care is paramount. In this instance, creating distance is part of looking out for myself.


Though this letter is rife with “you this” and “you that,” I want you to know that, ultimately, it’s not you, it’s me.

It’s me stepping away for my wellbeing.

Your Ex-Tender Friend

***

Originally posted on medium.com/@odawnialezena

A broken brain: Trauma, abuse, neglect in childhood

A paraphrased conversation I had with a friend a few months after –

losing someone special to me in a drunk driving accident,

then losing my belongings in a house fire two weeks later:

(It sucked. A lot)

Friend: “How are you?”

Me: “Not so good. I’ve been really depressed and sad about what happened.”

Friend: “Still?!? That was four months ago!”

Me: “….”

(…Now feeling really shitty about feeling shitty.)

True story.

———

This dynamic sums up my emotional experience as a child.

There are reasons why I and people who’ve had similar experiences are:

“depressed all the time”

“so emotional”

“dramatic”

“so sensitive”

“moody”

———

Experiencing trauma, abuse, neglect as a child —when your brain and sense of self are still developing—fucks with your head, people. It feels like your brain is shattered.

You don’t need to study psychology, neurology or any kind of -ology to understand that some of us have had really stressful, lonely, intense, fractured childhoods.

So, as adults, we’re going to be/feel really stressed, lonely, intense and fractured sometimes.

The impact of trauma is permanent. Memories, thoughts, and emotions of the trauma regularly circle in your head. Forever more.

This happens every day. This is what we carry and what we fight through, regardless of how we appear on the outside — Every. Day. !!

It doesn’t mean we can’t also be happy and funny and easy going. We go through life’s regular stresses like everyone else; at the same time, we’re expending as much energy on regulating our internal worlds.

Yeah. Exhausting AF.

We’re trying to keep the bad memories, thoughts and emotions from distracting us from the lives we’re trying to live. Sometimes they break us down.

——

The next time you see someone who looks, sounds or acts “crazy,” I ask that you consider what they might have experienced in childhood. Try to tap into the compassion and empathy you feel toward people you love and send them to this “crazy” person.

What happens in childhood doesn’t stay in the past. For as many fond and fun memories you may have, there are some of us who can match your stories with shitty ones that we spend so much time and energy trying to forget. The mere topic of childhood in conversation can elicit PTSD.

So, when you think someone gets “soo upset” when you say or do something seemingly innocuous or mundane, there’s a reason for it.

All you have to do is put your judgement down, ask and listen.

(A hug is nice, too.) 🤗

Kate Spade Would Be Alive if We Took Care of Our Minds the Way We Take Care of Our Hearts

How the culture of silence around suicide and mental health is killing us

I don’t recall where I came across a portrait of Kate Spade yesterday morning. There was no headline or descriptor but I had a feeling that she had killed herself.

There’s something about the photos selected for news articles about famous people who end their lives. They’re usually a portrait. A portrait of just them, by themselves. Alone.*

(Why not use a family photo or one in which we can see Kate Spade in a joyous time of her life? Just a thought.)

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*Google image search results for “Kate Spade.” Portraits.
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Kate Spade and family. Photo courtesy of @GettyImages

Mental Illness is Not Like Other Health Conditions – Not.

I’ve known of Kate Spade but don’t know much about her.

When I saw the photo of her, I thought,

She’s a celebrity and in front-page news…suicide, I bet.

People are born fighting to live, to thrive. Our will-to-live is in our DNA.

So, why would someone choose to end their life?!

That’s a big question and one that can’t be fully explained nor understood with words.

***

I’ve been fighting to manage depression and anxiety for over 25 years; in that time, I experienced a series of traumatic events, so I can tell you what it’s like to live with a mind illness (AKA mental health illness). I prefer to use the word “mind” vs. “mental” but I use them both.**

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**Repost from my Instagram account @lady_archivaion

Having a ‘mind illness,’ no mater the diagnosis, makes you feel CRAZY.

Think about it, when you feel heart palpitations, you notice it, acknowledge it, you tell someone — they worry and make you go to a doctor, hopefully.

You break a bone. Everyone — whether or not they’ve broken a bone — can see that you have a broken bone and that breaking a bone fucking hurts.

Or, you acquire a cough that lasts for weeks. It’s your body telling you that something is up and you should probably tell someone and check it out (please!)

But (!) when

you experience
anxiety,
depression,
bi-polar disorder,
body dysmorphia,
bulimia,
Flip through the enormous Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and pick a diagnosis.

…your actions and words, e.g. sleeping a lot, eating a lot or very little, canceling plans all the time, yelling random things in public etc.

These are the parts of your mind illness experience that are detectable, tangible. These are what we call “symptoms.” These are the ones we can see.

But these kinds of symptoms don’t tend to elicit empathy or compassion from others.

People walk away.

They stop sending you invitations.

They are angry and annoyed with you for always being late and/or grumpy.

You get written up at work for ‘problem behavior and performance’ (true story for another time.)

You’re called any combination of “lazy,” “crazy,” “nuts”, “insane,” “immature,” “weird,” “overly dramatic,” “attention-seeking,” “unfocused,” “hopeless.”

These are the things people with mental illness tend to experience on the outside.

On the inside, inside our minds. That’s where the pain lies. Invisible to everyone else but yourself.

And your culture tells you to keep your invisible pain a secret.

Yeah. Carry it with you fully on your own shoulders. Don’t be a burden on others.

Ssssh. Keep a still tongue and hide your pain. No one is going to understand you, anyway.

Pretend to be OK and exhaust yourself more fully trying to act and appear “normal.”

While you’re at it, feel shameful and guilty about having a mental health condition.

Seriously, What is Wrong With Us?!

In an article in The Kansas City Star, Kate Spade’s sister shares some insight into Spade’s history of internal turmoil:
“Kate Spade’s older sister [Reta Saffo] told The Star on Tuesday that her famous designer sister suffered debilitating mental illness for the last three or four years and was self-medicating with alcohol.”

She shares how her sister was fixated on the news of Robin William’s suicide and speculates that her sister began planning to kill herself at that time.

Yet, in the next breathe, she says about Kate Spade’s suicide, “[it] was not unexpected by me.”

Huh?

This seemingly conflicting response is a symptom of our inability to talk about mental health issues, including sharing our personal experiences with mind illness.

We’ve come a long way since ‘lunatic asylums,’ but we still ostracize and oppress “insane people.” We stigmatize mind illness through assumption, judgement and silence, and it’s reflected in our disappointingly inept mental healthcare system.

I digress.

Is the Image of Being OK More Important to Us Than Our Own Lives?

From the same article, ““Spade seemed concerned how hospitalization might harm the image of the “happy-go-lucky” Kate Spade brand, [her sister] said.”
I’m here to tell you that emotions and moods aren’t black and white. You can be “happy-go-lucky” and live with depression; they’re not mutually exclusive.

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A Kate Spade quote. Photo courtesy of @Pinterest.ption

I’m saddened — and pissed off, frankly — that people choose to end their lives because they’re worried about how the public will view them, how their friends and family will view them.

Our cultural stigma around mental health is so disgustingly powerful. Do we really value holding up the image of feeling OK over taking care of ourselves?

No. I don’t think so either. So, let’s do what we can to change the culture around mind wellness. Brain health. Mental health. Whatever you want to call it.

Sometimes it’s not enough to have a support system and resources. Kate Spade had a loving family who were attentive and caring of her mental illness. She also had the means to afford top-notch treatment.

“…in the end, the ‘image’ of her brand (happy-go-lucky Kate Spade) was more important for her to keep up. She was definitely worried about what people would say if they found out.” — Kate Spade’s sister, Reta Saffo


Saffo went on to say, “Sometimes you simply cannot SAVE people from themselves!”

I disagree. I think we can. But it’s going to entail saving people from our culture of judgment and prejudice against mental illness.

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A Kate Spade quote. Photo courtesy of @Pinterest

Enough of losing lives to the concern over public opinion. No more treating heart issues with worry and understanding, and treating mind illnesses with fear and alientation. 

We can absolutely change the culture around mind wellness through compassion, curiosity and openness.

I have hope that we can support and save people like Kate Spade, who have been victims of an antiquated and out-of-touch societal and systemic stigma.

Kate Spade, thank you for bringing fun fashion, vibrant color and glittery sparkle to this world.

And thank you to the many individuals, groups and coalitions out there who are promoting or providing advocacy and support of mind wellness. And thank you to those who make yourselves vulnerable by sharing your mental illness stories. You are saving lives.


Are you experiencing thoughts of suicide?

Having suicidal feelings or thoughts is normal but they’re a frightening and a sign that you need care and support — and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!

Do you suspect someone may be suicidal?

Often, people make vague worrisome statements or gestures alluding to ending things.

Connect with them.
Be direct.
Ask if they want to kill themselves.
One question could save their life.


Suicide Prevention Resources

Find a list of suicide hotlines around the world here.

In the US, Canada and United Kingdom, you can text a trained Crisis Text Line counselor.

(I volunteered with the Crisis Text Line and can vouch for their thorough counselors training and compassionate approach. These are people giving up their time to support strangers in need. Use them. They want you to!)

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Originally posted on Medium.com.

Creatively coping since 1993.

Creative coping for mind wellness

I’ve realized that I absolutely need to be creating if I want to maintain my sanity. I’m sure you know what I mean.

As a teen, I wrote to deal with my moods. I didn’t know I was dealing with depression and anxiety at the time but I had a natural inclination to spill ink on pages. Poems, journal entries, short stories, random lines of stories never fleshed out.

My ‘creative coping’ practice moved on to music –playing guitar, singing, covering songs, writing songs– then photography, digital art…

I think humans need to create to survive.

For some of us, survival means surviving mental illness. Not a fun or easy thing to do.

What do you do when depression haunts you? What helps you when anxiety rears its ugly head?


Senescence: A sci-fi about teen depression

21041127_525814914426494_8362697742203486208_n(1)One of my current projects, a sci-fi mental health story, Senescence, is a passion project that incorporates multi-media.

It started out as snapshots of the story. Now, I post longer story segments with original music.

Chapter 2: Shatl Sphere is up!

***

Synopsis: Senescence Space is a 16-year-old hum-bot (half-human, half-robot) and it’s 2117 in Seattle, WA (now called Shatl*Sphere).

Their human mom (Hugh ) and robot dad (Data) are splitting up, and Senescence is going to live in a new sphere with their mom and brother (Gravatar.)

They’re moving from Belle*Sphere, where most humans live, to a robot city called Shatl*Sphere.

Senescence is nervous about moving to a new city and leaving their partner-friend Styron, a human living with depression (The Dark Cloud).

Senescence and Styron decide to stay together but their feelings start to get muddled when Senescence meets a mysterious transgender robot named Stymphalian.

Brain chemicals bounce around.

Every now and then, I go thru a —what I call— creative blitz.

I think it’s part of what we call “mental illness,” depression, anxiety.

Creating is survival when my brain chemicals bounce around, as they do on-the-reg.

Creating is survival for me and many others.

For some, incessant creativity is how we got through childhood.

It’s how we get through now, as well.

It’s how we(‘ll) get through life.

To smile at people. awkwardly

It took me 8-or-so years to finish undergrad.
I was in-and-out of university numerous times.

Over that period,
I experienced multiple:

  • bouts of depression —if it ever really let up—
  • a few suicide attempts
  • counselors (one of whom fell asleep as I was talking) Um.  #YESway
  • doctors, shrinks, medication (I couldn’t tell you what all of them were, off-hand)
  • quick starts-and-ends of relationships
  • friendships in limbo

…packing in and out of dorms, apartments, houses, Fairfax Hospital in-patient, a house on fire, stranger’s beds.

In that time, I cut my wrist with a Cutco knife while fighting with an ex.
My words didn’t feel like they were able to carry what I was feeling.
I was a #fRacturedGirl. living with a dizzying head on still shoulders.

I clawed through most days;   barely surviving,

just:

to open my eyes.

to get up.

to go outside.

to be normal.

to do work.

to smile at people.       awkwardly

to act unafraid.

It took me 8-or-so years to finish undergrad.
I was in-and-out of university numerous times.


And, now?

I’m trying to figure out where to hang my framed diploma from Antioch University Seattle for a master’s degree in Psychology. I couldn’t be more proud of me.


If you’re struggling and the future seems hopeless.
If you feel like there is no end to the excruciating battle.

I beg of you, please. DO NOT GIVE UP.

Reach out. You’re worth it. People love you. People care. I care!

All of those things that the trickster voice in your head tries to get you to believe – they’re lies.

You, my friend, are a fucking warrior.


This freewrite was inspired by a post that popped up in my Instagram feed:

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Image source: @Instagram screenshot of a repost by @mentalillnessquotesinfo

Note: Links to mental health resources are within text, i.e. “depression” hyperlinks to the 24-Hours Crisis Clinic site.


Bonus:  13 Mental Health Resources That Are Absolutely Free (Huffpost)

Buckle Up with Seattle’s Alt-Rock Band, Gypsy Temple, at The Funhouse Tonight!

I think you can’t have a conversation about powerful artistry without including one about mental health. For me and Gypsy Temple, music is an outlet for our physical, spiritual, and most critically, mental health.  — Cameron Lavi-Jones

Cameron Lavi-Jones
Gypsy Temple Frontman, Cameron Lavi-Jones. (Photo courtesy of Gypsy Temple website.)

Gypsy Temple
is the second

fantastical teen Seattle band

I’ll be hanging out with for my

Teen Music & Mind Wellness

project, &

they have a show TONIGHT!*
Wed., Feb. 7
6:30-10pm

Tix avail @ the door still! $12

@ The Funhouse
109 Eastlake Ave.

Gimme Directions!

 


Frontman, Cameron Lavi-Jones, reached out to me to participate in this project with an enthusiasm that inspired me.

I texted Cameron yesterday to ask if he could send me a quick line or two about mental health for this announcement.

Within minutes, he busted out a thoughtful, badass response that made my heart jiggle.

I’ll tease you with an excerpt.

You’re going to have to come back to read it all when I post our upcoming interview.  😉

“Our songs are based on negative emotions and experiences, but through the process of songwriting, performing, producing, and playing the music, those negative emotions become the guide for positivity. Those negative emotions become something we are proud of and something that makes us unique as artists.”


BUCKLE UP!

I have no doubt that this show is going to be fun as heck!

Come say hi, if ya like.

I don’t bite.      usually.

Psssst!  I’ll be streaming a bit of the show live on my Instagram @lady_archiva.

 



 

*The forthcoming post of my interview with Cameron Lavi-Jones will include more details about the other bands. This show is part of the Love vs. Logic West Coast Tour with AMOR.