I Just Yelled at a Stranger!

I yelled at a woman last week.

 

She was unkind.

She was controlling.

She wore an ugly mustard-colored crocheted hat.

 

But she did not deserve the words out of my mouth that made her speechless.

 

I returned to my apartment, sat down for a bowl of cereal at my kitchen table, and knew something was wrong with me--very wrong.

 

My two kids cannot remember the last time I yelled at them.

My co-workers have never heard me raise my voice at them.

My form of yelling at my husband, Nick, involves my voice becoming stern and a decibel louder than usual.

 

One thing was clear: I had managed to contain a hidden, inner tornado from the people I loved, and let it rip on the unexpecting stranger in the yellow hat.

 

As I sat mindlessly spooning a combo of bran and milk into my mouth, I easily began to justify my actions.

1. I was sick. My head was throbbing with pain.

2. I had just finished the busiest and most stressful work week of the year.

3. It was early in the morning and I was desperately tired.

4. And if those things were not enough, I unknowingly had PMS.

 

Though all true, there were other signs of hidden inner cracks.

1.     Five pounds (2.5 kg) weight gain in the last two months.

2.     No matter how busy or exciting the day, I dreamed of just crawling into bed and escaping to the land of silky sheets, down-filled blankets and pillows.

3.     Mindless facebook and internet browsing--hoping that I could find something to give me peace and rest. Life was incredibly busy and successful, and I still felt restless and bored.

4.     I had broken one of my personal codes to remain patient and kind with those around me. I wished I could somehow chase down the unknown woman, gift her with a new stocking cap, and apologize for the way I acted.

"Please forgive me. If mustard is your color, this is for you :)."

"Please forgive me. If mustard is your color, this is for you :)."

 

I have spent the last 37 of my 38 years convincing myself that I am most generous to others when I train certain emotions to remain silent. I can be better, stronger, more unselfish than the emotions I feel. If I don’t speak them, then they will eventually disappear.

 

Unresolved hurt, disappointment and anger never vanish. They just cluster together silently under the surface. They gain secret strength in the hidden war room of the soul. One day they emerge with their own unexpected Pearl Harbor of the self--destroying you and everything in its path. Hidden emotions never create the generosity we had hoped for; they create destruction.

 

To avoid any further annihilation, I started the following process.

 

Step #1: I got curious.

 

Rather than justifying or hiding my behavior, I started to investigate. As I dug in, listened to my inner self-talk and the knot in my gut, I discovered I was very angry. As I took the time to listen even more, I knew the reason why.

 

Step #2: I communicated.

 

In the past, I would have just kept quietly working and hoping that all would be okay. What I thought was being generous, was actually being quite selfish. I was not allowing my life to be shared, and I didn’t give those closest to me the chance to help make it all better.

 

Later that day, I sat with Nick in our cold, frost-covered Volkswagen van outside the brick walls of the church we started two years ago.

Focus Church - Tallinn, Estonia -  www.focuschurch.ee

Focus Church - Tallinn, Estonia - www.focuschurch.ee

 

“Nick, I am so mad. I realize I probably have a bad attitude and am being selfish. I pray about it, that I find peace, but I am angry. It feels like I make everyone else’s dreams come true. I work hard and I give so that others can follow their dreams, and in that process mine become impossible to obtain. And no one cares.”

 

To many of you who do not know me, you could see this as a selfish temper tantrum. But I was talking with the one man who sees it all—what I do in public and private—and he knew that there was some truth in my words. I still kinda expected him to get defensive or try to convince me that I was actually living my dream and merely blind to it. Nick did the opposite. He listened and simply said, “I am so sorry, Liv.”

 

Yesterday Nick left for two weeks of work in America. As I stood brushing my teeth in a steamy bathroom, he called out from behind the shower curtain.

 

“Liv, I am going to try to meet with some people in America who can give me some good advice on how to move forward. I want to do everything possible to help your dreams come true.”

 

He didn’t see it, but tears rolled silently down my red cheeks. Thankful--as if I had just somehow escaped a bit of personal hell.

 

 

 

Step #3. I take small steps, no matter my circumstances, to become the dream.

 

I never make New Year’s resolutions. This January 1, however, I am pushing a reset button.

 

I am 38 years old, and I no longer want to suffer from “WTH” {What the Hell} Syndrome. I know what I was made to be, and I can no longer keep living as any one else—even if it is easier or justified.

 

  • I am meant to be physically strong and healthy.

 

No more of this: “Well, I am trying to live sugar-free, but I already ate two scoops of ice cream when I shouldn’t have. So, WTH, I’ll just finish off half of the container.”

 

 

  • I need to be rested.

 

No more living on the edge of burnout: "I promised myself that I would not work on Mondays or after 5 p.m. everyday. But, if I don’t do the work, who will? WTH, it’s only one night. I can get more work done.”

 

  • I need to be bored. Creativity comes when we are bored.

 

No more filling myself with mindless trash that steals the time and energy required to make my dreams a reality: “I am just so emotionally tired, I will rest a bit by checking what is on Facebook. WTH, I already wasted 30 minutes on that, why don’t I just settle into world wide web hibernation and keep jumping from site to site.”

 

  • Maintain the disciplines to get back my shine.

 

No more waiting to be discovered {as a singer or writer}: “Well, I have this website. My stuff is out there. I already am so tired. I am a mom. I work full-time. So WTH, I might as well give up. There is not time left for my dreams.”

 

“We are all meant to shine, as children do. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone, and as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” - Marianne Williamson

 

Step #4: Work a daily plan!

  • Go to bed every night at 10:00 p.m.; wake up at 6:00 a.m. {before kids awake}

  • Use one hour every morning to center myself on God and a greater purpose through prayer/ meditation/ reading. Write for 30 minutes every single day.

  • Live the simpler life of the 1990s. Only look at social media/ internet for a few minutes two times a day. Remove apps from my phone. Use extra time to read, make music, just think, listen to the creative muse, and be the best darn mom and wife I could possibly ever be.

  • Rest. Take days off; don’t work in the evenings. I will never get these years back with my kids or my dream. I can only thrive and pour into others if I am rested and whole.

  • Don’t give up and expel “WTH” from my vocabulary. I will fail in this new routine. It’s ok. Keep my head up, eyes to the sky, and start again tomorrow. My dream is achieved one percent at a time. Every day I succeed is one percent closer. Every day I fail is a day to learn from.

 

”Somebody once told me the definition of hell:

'On your last day on earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.'"

 

Join this journey with me. You know who you were made to be. Make the hard choices. Get the light of your purpose and dream back. Aren't you tired of living anything less?

WTH, let’s escape this hell together!!

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If you want to join me on this journey, drop me a line so we can encourage one another throughout the month of January. Write me HERE and I can add you to a private "WTH" Facebook group that we can only check two times a day ;). Don't try to shine alone.

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"Just went to the Doc to renew depression meds. Makes me feel..."

My Friday, which is sure to be full of text messages between family members, friends and work colleagues began with this:

I had just dropped my kids off for their school day. Oliver rode the tram to school in a Star Wars storm trooper costume. His hair stood frazzled above the white mask he wore across a hidden, proud face. He loved the extra glances and somehow felt more confident baring his neon green and orange nerf gun in hand. I kissed him goodbye, and he entered his turn-of-the century school building somehow inappropriately dressed with orange and black balloons for Halloween.

I walked up Toompea hill to Ava's Estonian kindergarten. She smiled as she showed me the pumpkin she had just carved in her image- a huge smile with just one tooth.

"I love it, Ava. Better go now. I have a doctor's appointment to get to." She blew a kiss and ran into her class's group of six year olds, nestled together on the carpet for their morning circle time.

My pace slowed and my feet seemed to dread the path to my appointment. It was cold and grey. The trees had lost their leaves and looked as if they had somehow chosen to become sinister for the Halloween holiday.

"Puccini." The Estonian accent that clouded the pronunciation of my last name had not caught my attention.

"Puccini!" Her more stern and loud voice made my name undeniable. I hurried through the waiting area and followed her to a back, corner office sparsely decorated in white, body diagrams and a few blue chairs.

"How can I help you?"

"I am here to renew my depression medication." The words left my mouth, and I felt shame.

I was telling a secret to a stranger. And I knew she suddenly saw me differently.

I had felt somewhat pretty today. I wore a nice denim dress with black tights. My hair was down (somewhat of a rare occurrence) and wavy. My eyes seemed bright and rested. I looked like a sharp professional- a woman with a good head on her shoulders.

Then I sat down and said the word "depression," and I suddenly became someone else. Sad. Weak. The doctor's eyes tried to be kind, but they were veiled in a curtain of pity.

"So how long have you been on this med?"

"Two years." The excuses began to roll effortlessly off my tongue.

"Well, I moved to Estonia three years ago, and it was so dark here. I am from a place with more sunlight. My work is very stressful, and I'm trying to manage a family outside of my home culture..." and yada, yada, yada.

How could I even begin to explain to her the truth - my story?

Depression runs deep in my family. I am the third generation to wrestle with it. Others have tried to do so, without medication, and have seen decades of their lives and dreams dissipate under its constant cloud cover.

I have seen counselors. I have successfully retrained my thinking through the pain-staking steps of cognitive therapy. And yet, depression was still shadowing me every where I went.

In my mid-20s, I sat in a chilled, hotel conference room in Chang Mai, Thailand and thought I had finally found the key to overcoming depression. Our organization's main psychologist presented a seminar billed: "Seven lifestyle habits to overcome depression and burn-out."

Nick and I sat together and anxiously took notes. The doctor quoted well-researched studies that proved that we could take real, actual steps to combat depression. He passed out a sheet of paper with the following advice (and one that we have kept safely filed away for the past decade):

  1. Do cardio exercise for sixty minutes every day. After approximately 25 minutes of heightened heart-rate levels, our body starts to produce serotonin- the happy hormone.

  2. Take Omega-3 supplements daily. Omega-3 is the building block for serotonin.

  3. Expose yourself to sunlight {or a sunlamp} 20 - 30 minutes a day (without sunglasses on).

  4. Reduce the amount of bad animal fat in your diet. Be sure your diet is filled with healthy fats found in olive oil, nuts, fish, lean meats.

  5. Do not ruminate. Rumination is when you allow yourself to constantly think and worry over disturbing thoughts or past occurrences. Every time we think about these things, our body relives the same stress response. A way to stop rumination is to find a hobby that keeps your mind busy and can give your mind time to rest.

  6. Sleep eight to nine hours a night. Try not to have any light on in your bedroom- nothing from TVs, phone, computers - as they disturb deep sleep cycles.

  7. Have intimate conversation with at least one person daily. This kind of conversation is not merely small talk or recounting the day's activities. You must share something deeper- your feelings, fears, joys.

We returned to Armenia equipped, and I did EVERYTHING prescribed on the list {and still do}. A year trickled past, and my long companion of sadness still stood closely by, watching my every move.

Often in life, we do everything possible to fight for our future, our families, our lives. But eventually we get to a point when we have exerted everything we have- sweat dripping, exhausted muscles aching from the constant fight. And just as we feel we can no longer stand, a new path opens and we can finally find rest.

By chance, a year later, that same staff psychologist sat at our dining room table in Yerevan. We chatted over a hot bowl of chicken chili. I told him everything, and concluded with a simple question. 

"What do I do now?"

Grace often waits for us in the most unexpected places.

"Olivia. I can see that you have tried everything. For most people, those lifestyle changes are enough. But there are those who have a very strong genetic component of chemical imbalance. And, no matter how much they try, it will be a life-long battle. I think this could be you. Why don't you give medicine a try?"

I took his advice and began to take a medicine I didn't want to take for a depression I believed I could have been good enough to beat.

That medicine changed my life. Within a few weeks, the change was noticeable. But, I am a stubborn person.

After eighteen months of happiness, I decided I was healed and now strong enough to live life without the "happy drug." I stopped taking the medication, and slowly... unnoticed... over the course of a year, I found myself inwardly begging, once again, to just leave it all.  

People often think depressed people are egocentric- all they do is think about their own problems and self.  But, many of them are some of the most beautiful, self-sacrificing humans I have ever encountered. 

Sometimes they even give too much away. They don't follow their dreams, but give everything to the dreams of others. And once they can't even imagine a day without the despondency, they begin to believe they would be giving their partners, children, friends and co-workers a gift by simply no longer being in their lives. To them, it is the ultimate gift of loving sacrifice.  

The last time I visited a psychiatrist in America, he really challenged me.

"Look. You have a strong genetic history of depression. You don't have any big side-effects to anti-depressants. You have a husband, wonderful children and a great career. You are beautiful woman. Why even mess around and let depression eat away years of a great life? Stay on the medicine. Let it help you. You deserve it, and your family deserves you."

I cry when I even remember those words. He sat in front of a large wooden desk. He was an older Indian gentlemen who swiveled back and forth in his high-back leather chair. I may not have a doctor's diploma on my wall, and I certainly can't fit that huge leather chair behind my tiny corner desk, but I have my fingers to type and my journey to share.

Don't give up. Don't feel shame. Do whatever you HAVE to in order to remain the treasure you are - to yourself, to your family, and to the world that surrounds you. 

Every evening I fill my favorite green glass with water and take three pills - one for a slow thyroid that haunts all the women in my family, one for the PCOS I inherited from my European Jewish ancestors, and the little white anti-depressant I take to reclaim my life. 

If you are dealing with depression, know that you are very far from being alone. For many, the seven lifestyle changes are revolutionary. Please do everything possible to instill them into everything you do. Rearrange your life to make room for these habits and then hold on tight- never let them go!

And once you've given it time, walked through every open door possible, and

still 

find the future dark, do whatever necessary to find the light. We all need you. 

Seconds after I wrote my husband, Nick, that text message, he responded without hesitancy:

I take an anti-depressant because that 10 year old boy in the Stormtrooper costume deserves a mom who can get out of bed every day. 

I take it for that front-toothless six year old girl who will hopefully always blow me sweet, bright-eyed kisses. 

I swallow it down for my husband- so I can continue to make every day of his life better. 

I take it for God. He created me with a gift and a purpose. And, no matter the stigma or shame associated with the little white pill, I will let absolutely nothing take that beauty away from me. 

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How I Finally Forgave Myself and Learned How To Spit

Lake Maurer campground was not a hidden pearl in the green countryside of Missouri.

 

The boy dorm was known for a fragrant ghost that roamed its bunkbed-filled rooms. Forced to survive the hot and humid Missouri summers on “Monkey Island,” the boys swore it was he who exhaled the stench of dirty underwear and musty socks throughout the cinderblock corridors.

 

Camps in the 1980s often had dress codes that reflected a stricter time. Lake Maurer camp’s lawn was covered with huddles of laughing girls--all wearing regulation shorts and skirts that hid every inch of their curves and thighs. No mixed swimming allowed—even in the hot midday sun. Young boys would peep through holes in the pool’s tall privacy fence to catch a glance of young, one-piece bathing suit clad beauty.

A picture of a group of campers at Lake Maurer Campground in Excelsior Springs, Missouri.

A picture of a group of campers at Lake Maurer Campground in Excelsior Springs, Missouri.

Despite all the rules, I loved my yearly week at Lake Maurer Campground. I met my husband, Nick, at this camp when I was 14 years old. The first time I noticed his smile, he was following me across the wobbly white wooden bridge over Lake Maurer.

 

The bridge's painted skin was peeling off bit by bit and swayed back and forth, defying all safety codes. Underneath the bridge was a gurgling cesspool that belonged in some great Lord of the Rings adventure novel. It was a motionless lake—nothing flowed into it and not a drop escaped. As with all things stagnant, it stunk. Covered with a film of dead leaves and trash, Lake Maurer’s few fish inhabitants were desperate for something fresh. They would battle one another in the quest to devour the spit wads our mouths hurled into the water below.

 

Ever since those early years, I despise stagnant bodies of water. Lifeless. Putrid. Repulsive. Worthless.

 

I never realized that I had built a Lake Maurer in my soul.

 

After years of enclosure, there was a stagnant pool of hidden thoughts, wrongdoings and desires. I didn’t speak a word of them to anyone, and I did not allow anyone to speak of them to me. I believed that a strong person could embark on a new course in life while burying the unspoken darkness and secrets of the past inside.

 

This cesspool consumed my heart’s free space and devoured my mind’s ability to create something new and fresh. The one gift I have always possessed—the ability to sleep easily and peacefully—was taken away. Stagnation never simply disappears.

 

It grabs a sleeping bag and pillow, climbs a ladder to one of your private room's top bunk beds and declares itself a permanent resident. Inviting his friends for one continuous sleepover, they devour your once pristine and beautiful living space--bed by bed; room by room.

 

I believed I was strong enough to battle this alone. I would win the battle, move into a better rhythm of life choices, spit a few times a month into the water to keep the fish happy; simply move on. There was no reason to tarnish my reputation or to hurt someone else by revealing parts of my dark side. 

 

Keeping my inner Lake Maurer alive ultimately meant I had built walls between me and others. Fortified deep inside that fortress resided a feeling of rejection. After all, if I told someone the stories floating in my lake, I would gain their rejection while simultaneously losing their respect. Therefore, at my core, I deemed my true, flawed self as unacceptable—unworthy of being forgiven and loved despite my weaknesses.

 

You and I were never meant to live with a constant inner foundation of rejection. Created for the opposite, we long to be loved and accepted for who we are. This is what each human spends an entire life searching for.

 

When secrets stay trapped inside our inner reservoir, we defy our most desperate of needs. We have made the choice that our actions and thoughts have made us what we fear the most—truly unknown and undesirable.

 

One day, I invited a friend to my home. I sat, covered by my favorite turquoise blanket in a comfy living room chair. I looked over at her, and I felt the inner voice of God whisper to me, “It is ok. You can tell her.”

 

Of course, I had already told God all of the mistakes, but I needed to feel the love of a fellow soul--one with flesh and bones to wrap around me as I bitterly cried. I told her everything, and it was the day fresh water rushed into my soul. It wasn’t a trickle; it was a cleansing waterfall.

 

 

She accepted me. She loved me even more, because I gave her a rare glance of the true me—often strong and sometimes broken. I confessed, and through my words, I was finally able to do something God had done long before—forgive myself.

 

Some say forgiving others is one of the greatest challenges of life. But forgiving ourselves is the true pinnacle of difficulty. I believe confession is one of the crucial outposts along the climb.

 

Sure. You can continue to live all of your years with secrets. You can also build your own private home on Monkey Island. Take your personal row boat out on a spit wad-filled lake, where the stinky ghosts of the past will demolish your peace. While rowing alone, sing out the lyrics of your negative self-talk. Who would ever want to share this life with you?

 

Step out of that boat. Stand on one side of that shaky bridge, and take steps to leave that stagnant pool behind. Tear down the crumbling banks of the lake, it is time for fresh water to flow.

 

Step 1: Create a habit of confession in your life.

 

Confession is an old word that we often associate with priests seated in dark, wooden booths. Although that is one way to confess, it is not the only way. You can pray directly to God. Then take a step further—tell someone. It will be one of the scariest and most healing things you will ever do.

 

Tell a trusted family member, a spiritual leader, a counselor or, as psychologist Brene Brown says, a "MTBF."

 

Step 2: Identify your life’s MTBF.

 

MTBF {“Move the Body Friend”—If there was a dead body that you needed to secretly move and hide, whom would you call? This is the one you love and trust.}

 

MTBFs are not easily found. We are considered fortunate if we find one in a lifetime.

 

How can you test and see if someone is a MTBF? A counselor once warned me to not trust everyone. We need to find those who are worthy of sharing our story. 

 

We can do some simple “trust tests.” Start by sharing something with them that is important to you but holds minimal threat if shared. Wait a few weeks and listen. Did they tell that secret to someone else? Did they change the way they interact or care for you?  If not, tell them something of greater importance and once again observe.

 

Some of us have yet to find our MTBF. Never believe the lie that you are somehow unworthy of one. Sometimes our MTBF can be a parent, a sibling, a childhood friend that lives thousands of miles away, or has yet to walk into our lives. Do everything possible to maintain or rekindle that relationship. Any investment will be worth it.

 

If you don’t have a MTBF, it is not an excuse to remain silent. We cannot wait for the perfect friend in order to develop an openness and vulnerability with people. Find a counselor, a pastor or spiritual leader. The power of physically speaking out your shame and struggles will be the first step to setting you free. These trained professionals will help you realize that you are not alone.

 

I cannot deny that there is always a palpable risk when we expose our true selves to people. Sometimes we share with someone who does not deserve our story, and there are painful repercussions. Our confession and vulnerability are always more valuable to us than the pain of what people do to us with it.

 

Step 3: Confess everything: the big, the small, the hidden past, the feared future.

 

Many of us do not have big hidden secrets, but even our small mistakes, if buried, slowly gather and create a lake of unworthiness inside. It is a daily fight to keep the fresh water flowing; stagnation happens so quickly.

 

If I feel like I am jealous of someone, then I share it. When I review my actions and see that I spoke poorly of someone, judged unfairly or even am losing hope for my future, I speak it out to my MTBF. My words lose their power to condemn and rob my peace once they are no longer silent.

 

Step 4: Be courageous.

 

The bravest among us let themselves be completely seen. There is nothing that makes you unworthy of love. Nothing. You’ve tried your best, and no one's best is ever perfect. Are you finally ready to forgive yourself?

 

Forgive yourself and be free. Your freedom will also liberate others. Every one of us is created to be an agent of love and acceptance. To those we love and share our lives with, we are "soul cleaners;" ready to listen. We can never do that if we are paralyzed by our own cesspool.

 

What is holding you back?

 

We are waiting on the other side for you. Take a step on to that creaky bridge, leave Monkey Island behind, spit one last time into the lake, and jump in the fresh pool of water.

 

Just be sure you have a conservative swimsuit on. The magnificence of a freed soul is undeniably beautiful and is sure to draw a few forbidden stares.

 

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