The Hardest Person to Forgive


Today’s blog post explores an idea that is certainly not original by any stretch of the imagination but it’s something I believe is very much worth exploring nonetheless.  Regardless of what, if any, religious affiliation you associate with (or associated with in the past), we hear a lot of talk about the importance of forgiving others & not holding grudges or allowing ourselves to become bitter toward those who have hurt us.  These ideas are of course very important because we cannot have peace in our own minds when we are not at peace with others, at least as much as is possible.  As hard as it can be to forgive others, when given some thought I believe most people would agree that oftentimes the hardest person in life to forgive is yourself.  Today I would like to explore why that might be and why it’s so important to learn to forgive ourselves no matter how difficult it can be at times.

forgiveness

If you have ever taken any kind of basic psychology course you probably discussed the well-recognized phenomenon in which victims of child, physical, or other types of abuse very often blame themselves for the abuse which they have suffered.  At first glance this may seem extraordinary & impossible to believe.  But delve a little deeper & one can reason that perhaps it is easier to believe that you made a mistake or somehow provoked the abuser to hurt you than to believe that someone, particularly a family member, romantic partner, or friend (indeed someone who should have been protecting you, not hurting you) actually CHOSE to hurt you & is thus truly a very screwed up individual.  Rape victims often are also perfect examples of this phenomenon.  Indeed society does a great deal of blaming the victim as well because frankly it is easier to believe that a woman (or man) provoked such a horrible thing to happen than to believe that there are such evil, disgusting people in this world.  This of course only serves to perpetuate the cycle of victims blaming themselves & being unable to forgive themselves for something which in reality is not even their fault.

However, we certainly don’t have to be abuse or rape victims (actually, I don’t like that term; let’s say survivors) to struggle with self-forgiveness.  How many times a day do most of us berate ourselves for not eating healthily enough, weighing too much, not saving enough money, or countless other things?  I’m not saying these aren’t worthy goals, they surely are, but sometimes I think in our haste to berate ourselves for our poor decisions we actually hinder our own progress.  Sometimes in our quest for perfection we miss the beauty of life that is right before our very eyes.  Indeed, we focus so much on our mistakes that we have no energy left over for actual self-improvement.

One of the greatest lessons I think we all have to learn in life is that there are going to be days when we just don’t like ourselves because we simply aren’t as “perfect” we want to be.  For example, as a nurse I know I have had to come to terms with the fact that I am not going to feel 100% compassion for every patient every time.  Naturally I want to, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen because I am just as human as everyone else.  And I have had to learn to forgive myself for this & to know that as long as it doesn’t prevent me from providing excellent care it’s ok.  Learning to forgive myself for not being the perfect “angel of compassion” at all times actually helps me to more quickly recognize my own prejudices & then set them aside & provide the best care possible at all times.  For example, when I have a particularly trying patient who is rude & dissatisfied with her care no matter how many times I bend over backwards to try to meet her needs, I have to remind myself that it’s ok to be annoyed with her.  It’s ok to mentally roll my eyes at these things.  I just have to possess the self-control to not allow these feelings to come across to the patient & to not allow those feelings to so overwhelm me that I become bitter & angry toward that patient or anyone else.  I have to see beyond the annoying behaviors to the hurting person inside.  Having come to these realizations has actually helped me to have greater satisfaction in my nursing career &, though I have no scientific way of validating it, I truly believe it has made me overall a more effective nurse.

I believe this idea is also very important for parents.  Though I am not a parent yet I hope to be one someday, & I know when that day comes there will be times when I look at my children & wonder “What the hell was I thinking?!”  And I will have to learn to forgive myself for those thoughts, to remember that every parent feels that way at times.  AND IT’S OK.  Similarly, in marriage or any serious relationship there are times when you look at your partner & wonder what you are doing with this person.  AND THAT’S OK TOO.  Being frustrated or upset with your partner or your child doesn’t make you a bad person.  It just makes you a PERSON.  The important thing is to be able to recognize these thoughts when they occur, handle them as objectively as possible (by that I mean not beating yourself up over them, just recognizing them for what they are: a sign of your own beautiful humanity), & moving on in the knowledge that as long as these thoughts don’t become the overall theme of your life, they’re not a big deal.

Another situation in which I believe we struggle with self-forgiveness is with regret.  I feel fortunate to say I truly do not have a lot of regrets in my life, but I do struggle with forgiving myself for those few I do have.  However, what I am slowly learning is that self-forgiveness is an absolutely vital step in preventing myself from repeating the same old mistakes.

I guess my point with this post is that I truly believe that we cannot move forward in life without self-forgiveness.  As long as we wallow in guilt & self-hate we are stuck in a self-perpetuating negative cycle.  Life would be a lot easier if we could just magically forgive ourselves (& others), but that’s just not the way life works.  As with almost everything in life, self-forgiveness is a process.  It’s an everyday event that requires conscious awareness & effort.  I hope that as you’re reading this you don’t think I’m making excuses for bad behavior or encouraging you to not feel guilty for things that you know in your heart are wrong.  Of course not.  What I am saying is that we cannot truly improve ourselves without self-forgiveness.  We hear so much in society about the importance of showing compassion to others & there’s no doubt that this is indeed most vital.  But just as vital is showing compassion to yourself.  There’s a fine line for sure between being compassionate toward yourself & making excuses for yourself.  But the line is there & it’s our job as human beings to stay on the former side of it.

To be perfectly honest this post feels quite like word vomit to me at this point.  There’s so much I want to say & the words just aren’t coming to me tonight.  Though I have fumbled through the words, I hope the passion I feel for this matter has somehow come through & that at least one person who reads this will be encouraged to begin the process of self-forgiveness & moving toward a brighter tomorrow.

I’d love to hear what you think on this matter.  Am I speaking to the wind or does any of this make sense?

A Student of Life


Essentially my entire memorable life I have thought of myself principally as a student. Being a student is what I have always been good at. I was one of those really weird kids who actually enjoyed school & not just the part about seeing friends or playing kickball in gym class. Actually, I usually hated gym class unless I got lucky & had some good friends to suffer through it with me. But that’s a side note. I actually really liked going to class, reading my textbooks, & sometimes even writing papers.  My point is I have always loved learning. It’s what inspires me & feeds my insatiable curiosity about life.

books

So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that since graduating from college & no longer officially being a student I often find myself feeling a bit adrift in life. Of late I see more & more of my friends going back to school including many of my nursing school classmates. When I see these things I hate to admit it but I am quite jealous for I fear that I am falling behind. After all I graduated at the top of my class in both high school & college, so I always thought I would be the first person (or one of the first I should say) to go back to school for an advanced degree.  After all I went to nursing school with the sole intention of becoming an NP, preferably within five to ten years of graduating. Well, here I am two years into my nursing career & I find that the last thing I want to do right now is go back to school & that I have no idea if becoming an NP is what I actually want. Yes, bedside nursing is far from the perfect world that nursing school tries to portray, but I am pleasantly surprised to find that I really do love this career, more than I actually I anticipated I would. And I am really quite good at it! As much as I often doubt myself, deep down I know I’m a great nurse. I wouldn’t be serving as a charge nurse and a preceptor if I weren’t.  I don’t want to be a bedside nurse forever but I don’t want a “desk” nursing job either, so basically I have no idea where my career is going which is both scary & refreshing.  Is it even normal to think about such things at 24?

I like to think that since I am no longer an official student at any school/university, I am now a student of life. And I guess what life is teaching me right now is that life isn’t a competition, at least not with anyone other than yourself. And if in my heart I don’t feel this is the right time for me to go back to school, then it isn’t the right time. And it’s ok. Yes, I still may feel a twinge of regret when I see colleagues or friends “advancing” beyond me in their careers, but no, I do not have to wallow in guilt over feeling that way. So many people have told me “Go back to school before you have kids. Do it as soon as you can!” In so many ways I know that would be the easier path, & yet I find myself day dreaming much more often about becoming a mom than about becoming an NP. This is quite jarring for me because even as a kid I always fancied myself as more of a “career woman” who might eventually “settle down into mommyhood.” Indeed it’s only in the past year that I have started truly desiring to have children at all. And it’s still a pretty far-off wish. I know I’m not ready right now, & yet the idea of going back to school even in the next few years strikes fear in my heart. That sounds ridiculous in light of how much I really do love learning. But it’s the truth. I spent so many years of my life devoting myself so fully to school & I have no regrets over that (well, no serious ones). Thus I am inclined to wonder if perhaps my mind is just seeking a different path for a while. So I am writing this as a way of trying to make peace with myself over the idea that “just” being a student of life for a few (or maybe even a lot) more years is more than adequate.

I’m a big believer in technology & the ways that it enriches our lives. For example, one of my dearest friends lives in England & if it weren’t for the Internet we would not even know each other at all, much less communicate on an almost daily basis. But the downside to modern-day technology is that things like Facebook & Pinterest (the latter of which I refuse to join for this very reason) make it very easy for us to get caught up in comparing our lives with everyone else, everything from our hair & clothes to our homes, careers, & children. Such comparisons inevitably lead to depression, anxiety, or general dissatisfaction with our own lives. It’s the rat race on steroids. I’m not suggesting we need to forgo these technologies in order to be satisfied with our own lives. But I do have to remind myself often that the only person whose opinion of my life truly counts at the end of the day is ME. And I cannot base my life decisions on what other people are doing or what is right for them at a certain point in their life.

When I think back on all of the major decisions in my life (where to go to college, getting married, applying for & accepting jobs, buying our house, etc), I’ve always had a certain inexplicable sense of just knowing that I was making the right choice at the right time. I wish I could explain it scientifically but I can’t. With that in mind I am slowly learning to rest in the knowledge that when I’m ready to go back to school I’ll just know. And when I’m ready to become a mom I’ll just know. And it doesn’t really matter in what order those things happen for one of the greatest lessons I have learned as a student of life is this: There is no one right path for everyone. And that is what makes life so beautiful. As my Psychology 101 professor once said “Some things in life are not good or bad, better or worse. Only different.”

Inexplicable Anxiety


Chaucer on his first ever beach trip back in July at Jockey's Ridge St Park in Nagshead

Chaucer on his first ever beach trip back in July at Jockey’s Ridge St Park in Nagshead

I don’t really know why I’m posting this.  I’m not sure that it will be interesting to anyone else.  But writing is one of the best ways to temper my anxiety & I figure there are probably other people out there who can relate to my struggles.  So here goes . . .

Today started out with me getting up early with Jared & feeling really content with life. We went to the farmers’ market & got breakfast at the restaurant there which we had never been to before. It was a fun way to start the day & I was in a great mood for no particular reason. And then, for no particular reason, that mood crashed & burned like a rocket falling out of the sky. Some days my anxiety just comes around a corner & chokes me before I even realize it’s happening. It’s maddening to say the least. My therapist has been helping me to slowly identify some of the triggers for my anxiety which has been very therapeutic for me. After all, if you don’t know the cause of a problem, how can you hope to cure or treat it? But I still have days like today when I am just inexplicably anxious for no apparent reason at all.

I have often said that I am the best version of myself when I’m at work because as a nurse I get to focus all of my obsessive tendencies onto caring for other people, including my patients & their families as well as my coworkers. I love helping out my fellow nurses as much as I love caring for patients. I’ve always known that I feel a very urgent need to have a job that is important & meaningful, which is one reason why nursing is such a great career choice for me. So even if I have a bad shift, which is inevitable from time to time, I can always leave the hospital knowing I in some way made someone’s day a little better.

It’s when I’m at home on my days off that my anxiety is often the worst. As I’m typing this I realize how ridiculous that must sound to anyone who doesn’t know what it’s like to suffer from some form of anxiety. But it’s true nonetheless. I don’t know how to explain this without sounding like some miserable frump who doesn’t know how to have fun & enjoy her life. I promise I’m not like that at all. I love music, books, & spending time with my friends & family. I love the feeling of a crisp fall breeze, the smell of sweet potatoes baking in the oven with cinnamon, the thrill of hiking in the Blue Ridge & marveling at the majestic mountains, the heart-melting experience of cuddling with an adorable puppy, & so many other little things in life that truly are the very essence of our existence. Yet may I just say that there are days like today when I feel like the world benefits from my overly driven but caring personality while I sit here wondering what the heck I’m getting out of this deal? And may I just say that I already feel incredibly guilty for even thinking such a thing much less actually writing it? But it is what it is nonetheless. As I’ve said many times before, emotions aren’t sins in my book. Emotions are what make us alive. As long as we’re feeling, we know we’re living. It’s what we do with our emotions that matters.

So for now I’m going to play with my puppy (Chaucer) who follows me around the house constantly & insists on sitting in my lap just about every waking moment & thus clearly thinks I’m the world’s best puppy mommy. And I’m going to listen to music that inspires me & reminds me that though I may be struggling with my anxiety more today than yesterday or the day before, I’ve walked this road a thousand times before. And, as it has a thousand times before, it will end. I will always have my “bad” days like this, but I will always have my good days too. And even on the bad days I can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. And I know that my anxiety doesn’t own me. It doesn’t define me. It’s just a part of me. Just one small part. After all, if Chaucer thinks I’m awesome I must be.   🙂

A Window Into My Brain


Because all blogs posts are better with pictures, I've included this photo taken on the Neuse River Trail in Raleigh on July 4th this year.

Because all blogs posts are better with pictures, I’ve included this photo taken on the Neuse River Trail in Raleigh on July 4th this year.

For as long as I can remember I have always been “Miss Responsible.”  I have always been the girl who did her homework early, finished her papers well before the deadline, created study guides for tests & shared them with classmates, & packed too much for every out-of-town trip because I always imagine everything I could possibly need.  As a nurse I always have my patients’ lab values & test results written down at the beginning of every shift & I always make sure to update my data & give the latest lab results in report to the next nurse.  I obsess over I&O’s so much that I often have to remind myself that I’m not a patient so I don’t need to measure my own I&O (yes, you can laugh WITH me for that).  I like to think that this makes me detail-oriented but also capable of seeing “the big picture.”  Unfortunately underneath all of this responsible behavior lies a great deal of anxiety.

The first time I saw a psychologist was about a year and a half ago when we were still living in SW Virginia.  I was concerned that I might be OCD because of how detail-oriented I am & the anxiety that this sometimes causes me.  The psychologist quickly assured me that my life is far too organized & controlled for me to actually have OCD (anyone else think that’s an ironic truth?), but that I do have “OCD personality characteristics” which he insisted actually make me a great nurse (I’d like to believe that!).  I continued seeing him maybe once a month until we moved to NC just so I could have a place to vent to someone who wouldn’t go home & worry about me or be offended by anything I said since he had no emotional connection to me.

The first few months in the Raleigh-Durham area were difficult.  Growing up in a place that had four stop-lights in the whole COUNTY makes moving to an urban environment like this an exciting but sometimes daunting challenge.  I hoped it would be easy to meet people & make new friends, but it was nothing like college where I could just walk down the hall or go to class & meet all kinds of interesting people.  (My first year out of college I still had friends in the area who were either still in college or who had graduated but, like me, still lived in the area.)  Sometime around my birthday last year I was feeling quite depressed & lonely especially as the holidays approached & I knew that, being a nurse, I would not get to spend much time with my family due to work obligations.  I decided to once again try a psychologist who turned out to be a very nice older man.  I told him how much I love music & missed playing my flute with a group, so he, a musician himself, told me about a music store downtown where he was certain I could get information about a local flute group.  I took his advice, got lost in downtown trying to find the store, eventually found it, got the information about the flute ensemble, & joined the group in January when their new “semester” began.  I didn’t end up making any great friends in the group but just the experience of making music in a group again brought me great joy.

By the time January-February came around I had started making more friends at work & generally feeling a lot happier with life, so I never went back to see that psychologist until one fateful day this summer when I was talking to one of my best friends online.  She was telling me about her struggles with bipolar disorder & I suddenly realized that my own struggles with anxiety were far from controlled, especially in light of the fact that I have started thinking a lot more about having children someday.  I felt such a relief in knowing that I wasn’t the only “crazy” one out there & also in knowing that if she had the strength to seek treatment I could too.  With her encouragement, I immediately called the psychologist I had seen in December & booked an appointment for that very day.  As it turned out, the psychologist told me I should see a psychiatrist in case I needed actual medical treatment for a possible anxiety disorder.  I was both devastated & relieved.  It took quite a few phone calls to find a psychiatrist who would accept my insurance & once I found one I had to schedule my appointment for a month in the future.  In the ensuing month I considered canceling the appointment so many times.  On good days I would tell myself, as I have so many times in my life, “I’m fine.  I’ve got this.  My life is so ‘perfect’ in so many ways.  I’m 24 years old, married to a wonderful man with whom I own a beautiful house in a gorgeous neighborhood, I have great health, & I’m about to train for charge nurse at my job.  How could I possibly need to see a psychiatrist?”  But on bad days, I couldn’t wait for the appointment just so I could hear what the psychiatrist had to say.

Well, finally the day of the dreaded/highly anticipated appointment arrived & much to my relief the psychiatrist was extremely friendly & put me immediately at ease.  She assured me that I do not have any true mental illness & definitely do not need any medication.  However, she suggested I start seeing one of the counselors in her office to work on some of my anxiety & self-esteem issues which, though they may not be “significant” enough to warrant the title of a true disorder, are still serious enough to bother me.  She applauded me for being so self-aware & for caring so much about my future children that I want to be the best, most stable version of myself before I seriously consider becoming a parent in the next couple of years.

As it turned out one of the counselors had had a last-minute cancellation right at the time my visit with the psychiatrist ended so I was able to start with a counselor that very day.  The counselor was very gentle, caring, & quickly made me feel comfortable in her beautifully decorated office.  I left the office that day feeling “lighter” than I had felt in God knows how long.  I had my second appointment with her last week & I already can’t wait to go back.  I honestly think everyone can benefit from counseling with a good therapist at least a few times a year.  As a friend of mine used to say, we ALL have issues from our childhood, our families, our friends, & just LIFE in general & we all can all benefit from having a caring but objective person to vent to who, as I mentioned before, isn’t going to go home & worry about you or be offended by anything you say (because they have probably heard MUCH worse) & doesn’t have any real emotional connection to you anyway.

It may sound strange to say I am excited about being in counseling, but I really am.  I’ve known for most of my life, even as a kid, that I am a very sensitive, perceptive person.  As my middle school English teacher, wise woman that she is, told me, I am both highly intelligent & highly sensitive which makes me feel things, both good & bad, more strongly than perhaps the average person does.  I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant but I don’t know how else to put it.

As much as I would sometimes like to trade in my brain for one that just doesn’t THINK so darn much about EVERYTHING, I know at the end of the day this brain is what makes me who I am.  I do think it makes me a good nurse; as I have told both psychologists, the psychiatrist, & my current counselor, I often think I am my best self at work because I have something important & meaningful on which to focus all my nervous energy & obsessive tendencies.  And I’d also like to think this brain makes me an empathetic human being who makes a consistent effort to recycle everything possible, donate to charities, & buy water bottles for homeless people who are stuck outside in the heat.

In the near future I hope to post more about my struggles with what one might call “sub-clinical anxiety.”  This isn’t a comfortable topic to discuss & I’ll admit that I feel like I have taken the easy way out by writing about this as a blog post instead of just telling my family, friends, & coworkers in person about my issues.  But as my counselor told me this past week, we all have to start somewhere.  In the meantime, I hope this post will encourage even one person to seek counseling or treatment for their own issues with anxiety or depression.  And for those of you who are lucky enough not to struggle with such issues (though I daresay we all will at some point in our lives), I hope this post will encourage you to be more considerate & compassionate of those who do.

Also, please check out my friend’s brilliant blog (who inspired my own) at http://doesthatmakemecrazyblog.com/