Friday, May 4, 2018

The Idol of Perfection

The Warren Gresham Family at the Elbert Christian Church 100th Anniversary in August 2016

Last night four generations of the Gresham family prayed for unity in our families at the National Day of Prayer event in Kiowa. The event was an awesome time of prayer. We were so honored  to be invited. And I am so blessed to be a part of this family, to sit together on Sundays with my in-laws, children, nephews, and grandchildren in the same church where previous generations worshiped together, too.

When it was my turn to pray, I prayed for the wives, mothers, grandmothers and daughters to break down the idol of perfectionism. That is how I've come to see it - an idol. If I can be the perfect wife, mother, grandmother, daughter or Christian, then I am doing what God wants. And, if not, then I have failed. Even when I am falling short of perfection or not even trying because I can't do it perfectly, the idol still stands before me.

Somewhere along the way I got mixed up about God's love, thinking he loves me best when I am perfect. And he loves me less when I am not. 

Somewhere along the way I thought I could be perfect if I just worked a little harder, wasn't so lazy, could be a better wife or mother, and was a better housekeeper. My idol of perfection stood before me. When I read the Bible, I only saw how I would be perfect if I did all of these things. And, since I didn't do them all, I wasn't perfect. Pretty soon I stopped reading the Bible.

And I know I am not the only one. In 2012, the Barna Research Group reported that 50% of women stated that "disorganization" is their greatest struggle followed by 42% listing "inefficiency." That tells me that many women idolize perfection. And worshiping before this idol does not make the family stronger, it tears away at it piece by piece.

The thing about having an idol before God is it doesn't make you better, it only keeps you from God.

My clinical depression (which I viewed as a journey with God) and three years of therapy helped me to understand perfectionism. And perfectionism isn't about doing everything well. Brene Brown defines perfectionism (in part) as "Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgement, and blame."  (From The Gifts of Imperfection, p. 57)

What I know today is only the blood of Christ makes me perfect. There is nothing I can do to be perfect or live perfectly. And when I try to live in this way, then I am making Jesus' sacrifice out to be meaningless. It is as if the Law of the Old Testament is in effect today. What better idol could the enemy put before us to separate us from God?

My perfectionism is overcome by God's love and grace and learning to Love Myself and give myself grace and compassion. I seek God and spend time with him in silence. In silence, I am not trying to control anything through prayer, just listening to him, trusting him, and knowing him. When silence is part of my day, I move forward from a centered place, a place where I know I am loved and cherished by God.

I trust God and talk to him throughout my day. I ask him to Order My Day. I live in the moments, rather than being overwhelmed and escaping in a book or being perfect and controlling everything. 

Will you join me in praying for women to break down the idol of perfection? Will you offer grace and compassion with loads of encouragement to the women in your life? Will you reach out to the mother who is hanging on by a thread as her toddler has a meltdown in the grocery store? Will you stop your judgmental thoughts and words when someone isn't doing something just the way you would? 

Wouldn't we all be better off if we look at others and think, "She is doing the best she can." And don't forget to apply that to yourself, too.

Monday, April 16, 2018

When It Is Time To End Therapy

Three years ago, I started a journey—a journey through depression and anxiety. Like any journey, it has a beginning and an end. Well, maybe they are important way-points rather than a beginning and an end because the journey started many years ago and will continue for the rest of my life.

My journey to healing and life started with awareness. “Gayle, are you depressed?” my friend, Victoria, asked. I answered, “Yes, maybe I am,” after I thought about describing my day to her which included trying to decide whether to go to the grocery store or not.
The awareness of depression prompted me to seek counseling. I realized I was living in a box and I didn’t know how to escape it. My world had shrunken to my home and my family. I felt alone, ostracized and hurting. I knew that if I didn’t get help, I was on my way to becoming agoraphobic and never leave home.

I began seeing Dr. Anna and she gave me the tools I needed to move forward. She taught me how to deal with the depressive and anxious thoughts in my head and so much more. I am so thankful for Dr. Anna and her work as a therapist.

Over the past three years, I have:
·         Overcome a phobia of driving across bridges
·         Let go of perfectionism
·         Turned off the “you should, you need to” taskmaster in my head
·         Learned to give myself grace and compassion
·         Received the love of God, who loves me just because he loves me
·         Learned that life is uncertain and sometimes all we can do is accept it
·         Learned to say, “I trust you, Lord,” instead of trying to control
·         Connected authentically to my family and friends
·         Connected with people who have different backgrounds and beliefs than me
·         Embraced this crazy thing we call life

Today, at the end of the counseling session, Dr. Anna pulled out her phone and asked when I wanted to set the appointment for next month. I said, “I don’t think I want an appointment next month. I think I am ready.” She smiled and said, “That is the goal of therapy.”

I know I can call for an appointment any time and I probably will during the winter months. But, I also think I have the skills to cope with life’s ups and downs and my Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I also have a great support system with friends and family. And I know how important is to keep connections and communication open.

I appreciate all of your support through this journey. Your stories have encouraged me. I will continue this blog, sharing things I’ve learned and what works for me in this life Beneath A Dappled Sky.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Monsoon Season

Today I called my therapist. "I know you're not surprised by this call with this rainy weather," I said on her voicemail. "I need an appointment."

She once told me my diagnosis should be "weather-affective disorder" instead of "seasonal affective disorder." She could tell by looking at my face when I walked into her office whether it was sunny or cloudy outside. It's a good thing I live in Colorado.

It is monsoon season. We've had at least 5 inches of rain the past couple of weeks. Heavy, moody clouds cover the sky and rain comes down as though poured by the hand of God from a pitcher. And it kind of feels like this whole year has been a monsoon season for my family. One crisis after another has fallen.

Last weekend I escaped with my husband to the mountains. I took photos of the moon over Pikes Peak. I sat in my rocking chair reading and soaking in the sun when it chose to appear through the clouds. Silence. Nature therapy. Stillness with God. It helped.

Today I felt the sadness descend on me. Now, I can accept a sad day, knowing the next day doesn't have to be that way. But I realized it's more than just one day. It's time to get some help with it.

I am grateful for the understanding I have about depression and thankful I don't have to handle it by myself. It's hard when you think you are doing so much better - and I was - to feel like you are taking a step back, but that's life. We all do the best we can. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Vulnerability = Eating Alone At Taco Bell Without Looking At Your Cellphone

If you had asked me a year ago, “What is the definition of vulnerable and how does it make you feel?” I could not have answered your question. Really, I had no clue.

But today I can tell you that eating alone at Taco Bell without looking at my cellphone makes me feel vulnerable. And I know I am not the only one, judging by what other people do while they eat alone.

Brené Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. It has taken a while, but I can recognize when I am feeling vulnerable.

Going inside to eat by myself at Taco Bell is hard. I’d rather go through the drive-thru, order my Burrito Supreme and small Mountain Dew, and find a place to park and eat with the windows rolled down. (Yes, I am an introvert.)

Sometimes, though, I think I’ll just go in to eat. I order, find a place to sit, and pick up my phone to look at Facebook before I take the first bite. Before cellphones, I always carried a paperback book to read.

I loved the day I walked in and saw two of my friends eating there. They invited me to sit with them. Courage has its rewards at times.

Last week, I realized I felt vulnerable when I walked in and ordered. And, because I felt vulnerable, I decided to sit at the table and eat my burrito without looking at my cellphone. I made the choice to stay in uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure without avoiding, shutting down or numbing the emotion by reading Facebook. I leaned into the discomfort and sat with vulnerability.

The first person I noticed was a man in work clothes intent on his cellphone while he ate. He was the only other person there by himself. A woman sat at a table with her elderly father while he told her stories. An employee brought out their order and gave it to the woman and her father. They looked up in surprise, saying they hadn’t heard their number called. I know she didn’t call the number, just cared enough to deliver it without so they wouldn’t have to interrupt their conversation. Two women engaged in excited conversation as they caught each other up on their lives.

Nothing dramatic happened. Just life. Life I would have missed if I hadn’t chosen to spend a few minutes in vulnerability.

I am learning that staying in vulnerability when I feel it makes me more open; open to people, open to circumstances, and open to life.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Re-discovering Creativity

I spent last weekend in Santa Fe for the Women Writing the West Conference. I looked forward to connecting with old friends, meeting new friends, and being inspired to write again. What I didn’t expect was to re-discover my creativity.

The first speaker on Friday was Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. Julia and her book were completely new to me. This is the 25th anniversary of the first printing of The Artist’s Way. She explained “Morning Pages” – basically, writing three pages first thing in the morning of whatever comes to mind. (I finally understand what all of my writer friends are doing when they mention morning pages on Facebook!) I bought The Artist’s Way and began my own journey of morning pages this week.

Through reading the book and writing morning pages, the first thing I’ve learned is how I have shut down my creativity. Perfectionism and all-or-nothing thinking have boxed me in. My realization – Wow! I have really closed myself off to the things that matter most to me.

When I decided to write “The Book,” the project I am ten years into now, I made it my focus. I heeded the advice of other writers: write every day; get up and write first thing in the morning; keep your focus “You don’t have time for that.”

I let go of things in order to write. I started writing the book as nonfiction, changed it to creative nonfiction at the suggestion of an editor, and finally ended up at historical fiction. Historical fiction feels right. It is what I love to read. But I had never written fiction. So, I had some learning to do. I created a story arc. Other events in my life affected me and I became depressed. The pressure I put on myself for the book to be perfect began to get me and I became blocked.

Therapy helped not only my depression and anxiety, but with writing my book. In fact, that is the reason I am still seeing my therapist once a month. I am not there yet, but I know it is within reach now; especially after last weekend.

Julia Cameron writes about filling the artistic well. And I know that is where I got of track. I kept letting go of creative things I love doing because “You don’t have time for that.”

To fill the well, Julia Cameron suggests an artist’s date once a week. The first one she mentions is going to the dollar store and buying silly creative things. So, today I went to Walmart thinking I would buy a coloring book and colored pencils. I know adult coloring is the rage, but it feels silly to me. And, I know I can’t do it perfectly. Oh, just the right thing to open myself to creativity.

After finding the coloring book and pencils, I walked down the sewing aisle.

And there, on the bottom shelf, lay the most beautiful skein of royal purple yarn. 

I learned to knit when I was a child in 4-H. My mom taught me at first, later I rode the bus after school to go to my best friend’s house. After eating a peanut butter and honey sandwich, Donna and I sat knitting while listening to Waylon Jennings and other country music playing on the radio. Donna’s mother helped us when we made mistakes.

I enjoyed knitting and eventually received a grand champion ribbon for a vest I knit. I taught knitting to some younger girls in 4-H, too.

 I continued knitting off and on through the years, but half-finished projects started to wear on me. Finally, after making a mistake on a baby blanket for a friend and never finishing it, I gave up knitting twenty years ago.

Until the skein of royal purple yarn called to me. My mind flashed back to knitting with Donna, teaching others to knit and knitting during blizzards. I picked it up and caressed the soft yarn and knew I wanted to knit again. Maybe a scarf? I found knitting needles and rushed to the checkout with a smile.

At home, I found a pattern for a scarf on the Internet. It took a couple of times to get it started right. The first time I added an extra stitch and ripped it out to start over. But soon my fingers flew into knitting as though they had never stopped.  

Creativity, texture, color, memories, connection. Ahhh.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

It’s That Time of the Year – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

It’s fall! It’s fall.

Fall is one of my favorite times of the year – going to the mountains to see the vibrant gold aspen, drinking hot apple cider and enjoying beautiful fall days here in Colorado.

But, this week I could tell it was fall for another reason—the cloud I can feel descending on me. It surprised me because I didn’t expect to notice my Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) until late October or November.

At this point, the symptoms are pretty subtle:
  • It’s harder to get up in the morning.
  • I am sleeping longer.
  • I could eat cookies and chips all day long.
  • Feeling more blah.
  • And, once in a while, feeling plain depressed.

Really, on certain days it feels like a cloud hovering over me that sometimes descends and I realize, yep, I am feeling depressed.

The good news is I now know what to do for it instead of wallowing in it or worrying about it.

My plan of attack:
  • Be aware of my mood and emotions. Don’t shut down. Accept it when I can’t change it.
  • Increase my Vitamin D. I cut it back over the summer when I am out in the sun more.
  • Exercise. Getting outside for a walk does wonders for my mood.
  • Think about what I eat. Probably time to clear the house of cookies and chips.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Take time for things I enjoy. Writing, music, playing with grandbabies…
  • Connect with friends and family.
  • Take time to connect with God.
  • Give myself lots of compassion and grace.

My action list is pretty much my daily practice anyway. But I know to be much more intentional about it this time of the year.

Bring it on! I am ready for fall!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The "Wow! Look What I Did Today!" List

My to-do lists drive my daughter-in-law crazy.

I make a list on Monday and cross a couple of things off during the week. Then the next Monday, I make a new list that starts with the carry-overs from the previous week.

Yes, I can make anyone who adheres to the daily to-do list crazy.

Part of my problem, I’ve learned, is the pressure that comes with something being on the to-do list. Most people see it as a prompt to get something done. I see it as a threat. A threat to send my psyche straight down the shame-drain because I can’t do it or won’t get it done today. I now see that as “all or nothing” thinking. If I don’t do it all, I’ve failed. So I’ll do nothing.

I no longer write to-do lists. I may write down some things to remind me, but without the pressure. And, I still don’t mind if they carry over.

However, I still fall into the “all or nothing” thinking when I have something in mind to do for the day and it doesn’t get done. I’ve failed. I can’t even do the one thing I wanted to get done today. I am a failure…

I catch myself doing this most when my goal is a creative process like writing. Something that is important to me. I didn’t write a scene. I didn’t get the website copy done. I didn’t...

Yesterday, I caught myself going down the shame-drain because I didn’t write. I have decided I want to write something to move the story forward in my book every day. It is important to me. As I started down the spiral to shame, I stopped. I remembered writing a list a while back when I was feeling the same way. Instead of a to-do list, I had written a list of what I had done. Starting with making breakfast, I had written down everything I did during the day.

What surprised me is I went from thinking I had done nothing all day since I hadn’t done what I intended to do to thinking, “Wow, I was really busy today and got a lot done.” Looking at the list, I could see it was a series of choices. I had done some important things throughout the day that needed done.

When I made my list of “Wow, Look What I Accomplished” last night, I found the same thing. Most importantly, I realized I was busy, had some things that really had to be done that day and I accomplished them. Other unexpected things came up, too, which took time away from writing.

And, so I gave myself some grace and self-compassion. Tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow you will write. Something, anything, even if just a few words. Writing is a process where all or nothing has no place. Trust the process. Trust yourself.