I was chatting with a young lady yesterday who has undergone gastric bypass surgery and lost an incredible amount of weight. Surprisingly, she shared that she has never been as self conscious about her body image as she is right now. I told her that it was because people are watching her carefully. We are curious, and proud of how she is changing her life to take better care of herself. All eyes on are her as she makes this personal, yet very obvious journey.
I get it. I too, live in a fishbowl.
I’ve undergone some major changes myself, over the past few years. Mine haven’t been quite so obvious. Mine have been mostly on the inside, unseen and barely noticed by the layperson. It has been a very personal, painful journey for about 10 years with some very significant valleys. It has left some very deep scars from wounds that are easily reopened, leaving me fragile and weak.
The enemy wants me to feel afraid, lacking confidence, whispering all sorts of lies into my soul. But with a whole lot of prayer, studying, and coaching, I am slowly and carefully taking my life back.
I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned. Maybe it will help you in your walk.
For those unfamiliar with my journey, my husband was diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia in April of 2013, at 47 years old. To be honest, we have seen significant behavior changes for about 10 years. It is a terminal diagnosis and on average, the life expectancy is 7-8 years from diagnosis. The good news is that he is able to stay at home during the day, under the watchful eye of our youngest daughter and our youngest grandchild. He would really like us to just leave him alone, but our resident 2-year old, insists that she be by his side at all times. They are two peas in a pod, and share a similar schedule. We attribute how well he is doing, to her. She won’t allow him to retreat, and as hard as it is, she forces him to stay in the present. He deals with chronic unmanaged pain, with a torn rotator cuff, varicose veins, and a body riddled with arthritis.
I have just begun my 30th year of teaching. I’d love to tell you that it is “old hat” by now and that I do my job on autopilot, but that is not the case. The demands of teaching have increased to an almost unmanageable level, with excruciating expectations surrounding constant curriculum adjustments and changes, test scores, standards alignment, observations and evaluations, goal setting, and behavior management. I love teaching, but the high stakes demands make it the most challenging part of my life. It makes the dementia journey feel like a cakewalk.
Welcome to my fishbowl.
I know I’m being watched. Some are curious. Some are sympathetic, and some want to be in the ring with me. I know there are a lot of people who are quietly and faithfully praying me through, one storm at a time. For that, I am truly grateful.
I too, am working on self care. Brene Brown and Lysa Terkeurst have been my “go to” books of the summer. I read THE GIFTS OF IMPERFECTION and UNINVITED over the summer, along with a couple really great devotionals. I’ve learned a lot about myself.
I’ve been in a shame storm for a very long time. I am a self reflector by nature, and I have a strong sense of right and wrong. There truly is no one harder on me than me. When I am corrected in any way, I hear: “You are bad,” feeling less than, not enough, and small. This has left me feeling inadequate and like a failure in areas where I once felt confident.
What am I doing to get out of this storm? I’m talking about it and making a plan. Shame cannot survive being spoken.
First, I have been actively leaning into JOY by practicing gratitude and forcing myself to be part of the human race. I want to love and forgive, helping others to see their self worth. I want them to feel loved and lovable. I am not allowing negative self talk with myself or others.
In my classroom this year, I am focusing on what we have control over, especially kindness and gratitude. I want a shame resilient classroom, and I want to teach the little people that I work with to make the world a braver place. I want to teach them tenacity and perseverance, and to be scrappy. I want to teach HOPE and live JOY. My plan is to help them by creating boundaries, consistency, support, and to tolerate disappointment, because that is a life skill.
I want to develop trust-filled relationships and have a forgiving spirit. This has been huge for me. I didn’t realize that I was harboring such resentment, and that in order to move past it, I needed to forgive those who have hurt me deeply. Lysa Terkeurst reminded me not to resist forgiving because God made me For Giving. When I decrease, God has room to make big things happen. I want to be an example to others.
It takes great vulnerability to feel JOY. I cannot carry around past burdens. I need to let them go, lay them down, and keep walking. I cannot live, waiting for the next shoe to drop. I need to practice gratitude in the moment, one day at a time. According to Adela Rogers St. Johns, “Joy is a step beyond happiness. It is a light that fills you with hope and faith and love.”
Shame loves perfectionists. That’s me. According to Brene Brown, it’s easy to keep people like me quiet. We are people pleasers. That’s a problem, because it often leads to self blame: “I’m not good enough.” I am working to recognize shame, and talk to trusted supporters when I feel like I am entering a shame storm. I am working to develop courage, compassion, and connection. I want to resist destructive behaviors when backed into a shame corner and turn it into gratitude.
I want to be courageous and authentic. I want to have self compassion and change the course of my life. I want to be so kind to myself that it overflows into others. I want to set reasonable goals, be flexible, and believe in myself because with God, all things are possible.
I want to add quiet into my life and just be still. I want to read, lay in the sun, watch the waves lap against the rocks, and take a nap. I want to feel alive again. I want to live like I matter and I want to love with my whole heart. I want to be brave. I want to allow Jesus to speak intimately to me because silence allows me to hear the voice of God (Ecclesiastes 3:1,7).
I have been reminded that God loves me and will protect me from trouble. His angels guard me and lift me up with their hands. He will save me from my enemy who has set traps to snare me. He will cover me with his feathers and under his wings I will find refuge. When I draw close to God, he is there. I am not alone. His shelter and shadow comfort me in my loneliness. he lifts me up so that fear no longer has access to me. (Psalm 91). I’m not set aside. I am set apart. I am important, valuable, and secure.
Lysa Terkeurst reminds us me that God isn’t afraid of my sharp edges. He doesn’t pull back. He pulls me close. He is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18) If I allow it, God will use my heartbreaks to make me stronger and take me further. Emotions will ease over time and I need to remember that God is protecting me through my rejections even though I may not see it. I need to remember that rejection is not a projection of future failures. It doesn’t label me. I need to adjust and move on.
Rejection piggybacks on physical pain pathways in the brain. Neurologically speaking, that’s why it hurts so much. For me, it’s when I don’t feel like I belong and that I am invisible, which impacts my health and happiness. (A suggestion is that when I’m headed for a shame storm: take Tylenol. I’m going to try it.)
I am committed to practicing empathy. Empathy is an attitude of “me too.” EMPATHY is not having the answers, but having the willingness to sit beside a friend, and lovingly listen. No, “You should…” or “You could…”, just “Me too”. I want to be transparent and show people my troubles, so that they can trust my advice. Sometimes it’s nice to know that someone else has “been there and done that” and lived through it. I want to speak with honor, with peace, and good things. I want bitterness, resentment, and anger to have no place in my heart because what consumes my thinking will be the breaking of my identity. I want to live loved. I am my own exact brand of beautiful and I want to help others to feel that way too.
Come join me in my fishbowl. I’d love the company.