Banishing Guilt

This past year has brought up a lot of intense emotions. Of course there's been a lot of joy from finally being a hoMEOWner, and making new friends and exploring the new opportunities that we have.

There's  also a ton of anxiety related to moving your family across country- who'da thunk it?  With the stress of living in a construction zone for months longer than anticipated, having to figure out a brand new job and the obvious soul crushing amount of things that need to be figured out for the kids (schools, doctors, dentists, clothing, not killing them, etc.) there was a mountain of pressure on us.

Add to that the pressure of choosing from the selection of shredded cheeses in a midwest grocery store!

I'm absolutely unashamed to have sought help from a counselor on a regular basis throughout difficult times in my adult life- and if ever I needed one, it was during this time. It was good to have someone who validated my feels and tried to help me come up with strategies to cope. The counselor I found here in town though was also the kind that wanted me to not just "cope" but actively work on "healing".

I've had a fair amount of trauma in my life and have come out of it feeling pretty freaking strong- but from a certain perspective, it may also seem like I have continually distracted myself from these traumas and pushed them deep down until they festered into a major anxiety disorder. But who am I to say what reality is!

In any case, this counselor was very much a "face things head on" type of gal and proposed that we try EMDR (eye movement desensitization & reprocessing ) to work through the various traumas in my life. I am very much the "I can do anything, and I won't know I'm not ready until I try it" type of gal and so I went along with it.  Long story short- I was not ready.

After crying every single day for over a week, I let the counselor know that I was not going to move forward with the EMDR and in fact, with the holidays upon us, I was going to take a break from counseling all together because I needed to stuff all the feels down to be there for my family for all the celebrations and visits. Plus I needed to stop crying for a few minutes or I was going to die from dehydration in the cold dry Michigan winter.

Add a little dress-up and the champagne of beers and I can suppress anything!

Knowing it was our last session for awhile gave my counselor the chance to give me a takeaway at the end of our session. She told me: "You have a lot of guilt. Way too much guilt."

She really nailed the true source of a lot of my anxiety. I did feel guilty. ALL. THE. TIME.

I felt guilty that I put Jerome in a school that didn't have a great reputation, but was only 2 blocks from our house. I felt guilty that I wasn't more patient with Bucky. I felt guilty that I didn't help Jerome with his homework much. I felt guilty that I had ADHD and never actively tried to find ways to address it until my livelihood could be at stake. I felt guilty that I wasn't a more supportive wife sometimes. I felt guilty that I got this awesome job opportunity and didn't know what I was doing and whether I deserved it. I felt guilty about drinking wine at night. I felt guilty that I basically ran away from Oregon because I couldn't handle the stress of being there for people when they couldn't be there for me when I needed it. I felt guilty about every single conversation mistake, real or imagined, that I have ever made.

That's only the tip of the iceberg of reasons I felt immense guilt.

So December was rough. I did do a very natural thing and slipped into a significant depression. After all the anxiety and uncertainty with the house. And with some interpersonal issues that I don't want to air out here, it was a very normal thing for me to need to just stay in bed way too much and do nothing but the barest of minimums. I like to think of this as the cocoon stage of my mental health. I was wrapped in weighted blanket, seemingly dormant while I transformed how I thought about myself.

Cats are an integral part of being able to stay in bed long enough for the numbness to set in.

During that time, I thought a lot about guilt. I literally had to google "Guilt Antonym" because I couldn't quite wrap my head around what the opposite of feeling guilty was, even though I'd started reading Brené Brown books with all her shame research.

To the best I could figure, opposite of guilt is pride. Well pride can be a good thing, or it can be a bad thing- right? If you're too proud, you can fail to see your own shortcomings and never grow. That was definitely not my problem though. I had a major pride deficit.

I came up with some baby steps that I've done virtually every day since the new year that have helped immensely to build up my pride and overcome my guilt:

1. I start every morning with a meditation. I don't put any pressure on myself to do more than just lie in bed and take a few deep breaths and let my mind wander if it needs to, but I try to be present and listen to the positive stuff. Insight Timer is a great app that has tons of meditations to choose from. I have a few go-to 10 minute meditations that all involve positivity and speaking kindly about myself.

2. I journal every morning. The focus of every entry is what I did yesterday that I am proud of. It doesn't matter how big or small it is. I can be proud that I was able to get everything checked off on my daily work list or that I was able to navigate somewhere in town without GPS. I will add things I'm grateful for as well and occasionally I do sneak in some other stuff about potential concerns I have about what's going on for the day, but no guilt spirals allowed.

3. I snuggle Bucky every morning. This starts both of our days off as positive with each other. We share our dreams if we remember them, the tickle monster may attack or we may just talk about what's going to happen during the day. Sometimes he'll even join me for a couple minutes of my meditation until he gets bored and wanders out of the room.

His epic morning hair adds more joy to the day as well.

4. I drink a really nice cup of coffee. We have a super fancy coffee machine and for that I am grateful. I don't just push the buttons though and wander off with my cup of joe. I am thoughtful about what can make this cup of coffee special and get creative sometimes. This morning, for instance is a marshmallow latte. Other favorites include a borgia (an orange mocha) and a honey almond latte macchiato.

5. I drink water. I try to drink a full 16 oz bottle of water when I take my morning medication so that I can start the day off with at least a little hydration. I bought myself a nice water bottle that I like and enjoy drinking from so that I can feel excited to drink more water throughout the day.

Having this routine sets me up to wake up every morning thinking about the positive things I'm doing in my life and treating myself well - and it's been working!  I have felt a significant change in the way that I'm feeling about myself and my overall mental wellbeing. Starting the day with a good positive experience with Bucky has also given me more patience with him and he's gotten better at working with us instead of against us throughout the day.

As the day goes on, I also find myself recognizing things that I'm doing that I can be proud about. When I do get into a guilty kind of mindset, I'm more aware of it and able to ask myself whether the guilt I'm feeling is actually appropriate (it rarely is) and am able to move past it much easier.

The biggest change was that my overwhelming anxiety- with it's terrible stomach aches and panic attacks-  is almost imperceptible most days. There are a lot of external and situational things in my life that have changed to help with this as well, but I attribute a fair amount of my anxiety over the guilt I had over everything all the time.

These improvements were not overnight, but looking back from where I was mentally in January to where I am now, I can see a dramatic difference. I am getting so much more done most days- and on the days that I'm not, I am giving myself the permission to rest and relax. I am able to find more joy in the good things that happen in my life because I am letting go of the worry that they are coming with some kind of price. I am also able to be more present for the people in my life as I'm not just putting on a mask of being functional and focusing so hard on just holding myself together.

Don't let Bucky fool you- we were all having a genuine good time at the butterfly exhibit.

So big long post all to say- guilt can be an invasive and all consuming scourge on one's mental well being and finding ways to minimize it can help you do even more things to be proud of.

Like this super golden selfie- very proud of this!

Please share in the comments how you deal with guilt and what routines you have to help build yourself up!


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