What the Hell?

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So, I teach Sociology at our local community college, and now that the nation is practicing social isolation, I am working hard to get all of my on-campus classes switched to online learning.  This isn’t necessarily a big deal for me, since I’ve taught online classes forever, but as I’m working on lectures and content for my Sociology of Deviance class, I am getting a bit angry…perplexed…wondering about what we consider to be deviant in our culture.

First, deviance is an act or behavior that goes against societal norms (rules) we have in place; and it isn’t always an easy thing to recognize since it’s dependent on so many variables like culture, context, place, etc.  Also, a behavior/act isn’t necessarily considered deviant even if it goes strictly against a societal norm; instead, we take into consideration the ‘label’ society has placed on it; for example, does this behavior cause anger in people?  Scorn?  Disgust?   And finally, sometimes you don’t even have to ‘do’ anything to be labeled a deviant.  You simply ‘are.’  People with physical or mental disabilities are often considered deviant.  Labeling people like this as deviant stigmatizes them.  It connects them to negative stereotypes which can cause them to be ostracized ; looked down on as outcasts.

Now, think about this.  SOCIETY can ‘say’ a person is deviant simply because the person is ‘different’.  Or simply because the person ‘is’.  Because they exist.  Because they are them.   “Holy crap, Batman…what the hell is this?”

“Let me tell you, Robin.”  This means that ANYONE can be labeled deviant…have a stigma put on their head…and be treated as such at anytime in their lives.  Right?  First, let’s take a look at age, simply because (God willing) we will all experience this eventually in our lives.

Oh, Lord…I hate talking about age.  As a woman who is (cough cough) 53 (I know…that’s a really BIG number!), I have seen the way I’ve been looked at over the last 10 years or so, and can’t believe the difference!  When I turned 40, it was a celebration!  “Girl…you are in the prime of your life!!  40 is the new 30!”  Actually, it isn’t.  40 is 40.  30 is 30.  And so on…you get my point.  But when I turned 50?  I was almost ashamed!  What do you say to a 50 year old?  “Ummm…you look great FOR 50!”  That’s about it!  And what a horrible sentence to hear!!  Let me translate it for you:  “Kristi…I don’t know what else to say, so I’m going to tell you that you look OK for being 50…but if you were 40, you’d look like hell!”  Hmmmm…what a compliment.

Look in ANY women’s magazine.  Know what you see?  Products that work from the ground up to make sure nothing on you looks old.  Nothing.  We’re talking younger looking feet (which I rarely show off)  to younger looking hair.  And face creams?  If I tried everyone that was advertised AND that promised to wipe away my years, I’d go broke.  Quickly.

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But why would I want to ‘wipe away’ my years?  Why is it deviant to get old?  Why does society tell us our worth is less as we grow up more?  Why is a natural aging process a bad thing?  And why, because of these messages, should us older people (more so for women than men in our society…much more so) feel guilty if we have wrinkles?  I don’t get it.

Mental illness is considered deviant too.  Because face it, being mentally ill makes others feel uncomfortable.  We’ve all heard the words.  At least I have.  People use crazy or nuts as a synonym for bipolar all of the time.  Even Katy Perry, in her song Hot and Cold, says “…love bipolar” for a crazy type of unhealthy/game playing love.  So, I’m deviant because I’m mentally ill too?  Because I have a brain disease I did absolutely nothing to get?  Because I might cry?  Or be angry?  Or be depressed?  Or be manic?  These make people uncomfortable?  Scornful?  So I’m LABELED deviant.  LABELED.

Guess what labels do?  Labels make us see ourselves through that mirror.  Like sociologist Charles Cooley described in his “Looking Glass Self” theory, we see how we appear to others, and reflect back what we’ve perceived.  Don’t believe me?  Then why are so many people ‘ashamed’ to talk about their mental illness?  Reluctant to let their friends know how much they are suffering on the inside?  Hesitant to tell people they’ve dated for a while because they fear it will negatively affect their relationship?  Afraid they will be treated differently by colleagues?  Worried they might be passed over for promotions?  Embarrassed to say their Dr.’s appointment is with their psychologist?  Humiliated when words like ‘psycho’ are used to describe behavior tied to their own mental illness?

And for people who have cut…have attempted suicide (2 other groups I fall into)?  Wow.  The stigma is fierce!  How dare I have been in so much psychological pain, that I felt the only relief came from using a razor blade on my legs.  How could I have hurt myself, even though the physical hurt took away some of my mental hurt?  AND, what an awful person I am that I was in so much pain and so much anguish, that I truly felt, at that time, being with my grandma and grandpa in heaven was better than my life on earth.

These labels…this stigma…is something we have to endure.  Not because of what we have.  But because of how we’re seen through the attitudes people have.  Opinions.  Reactions.

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Dammit.  I don’t know about you and what you might endure in terms of stigmas, but I’m tired of feeling ‘less than’ over issues I can’t help.  Yes, I’m old.  Yes, I’m mentally ill.  And that’s just to name 2, or this blog post would be so long, I’d have carpal tunnel after all the writing (and probably be stigmatized for that as well).  And NO.  I will NOT be made to feel demeaned because of these things.  I refuse too.  I will continue to talk about being bipolar.  About why I used to cut.  About why I took a handful of pills.  About all of my struggles, and all of my successes.  I will do this again and again, because until we all speak out against stigmas (and in my case, mental illness stigmas), we will never see them gone.  Until we all learn to accept everyone for who they are…what they might have…how they might be ‘different’, we’ll never see the change I think we need to see most in this world.

Acceptance.

Kristi xoxo

Living with Me.

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So, my son lives with now.  He’s 26 years old and is a professional photographer (who, by the way, is freaking amazing!) and needs to put his money into his equipment which means living on his own isn’t possible right now.  Previously, he lived in Texas for 3 years, and even though I went down to see him a few times a year, it wasn’t the same as having him close by.  Having him here right now is special to me…it’s like we’re catching up on lost time.

But.  And there’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there?  We are 2 adults, with very different personalities, who are sharing a house, kitchen, shower, food, etc. and there’s bound to be difficulties.

I know I’m not easy to live with.  Sometimes I hate living with myself!  Having bipolar means I’m very unpredictable.  I don’t care how ‘stable’ one is with this illness, there is still ups and downs, and I’m sure it’s very hard for my son to know what ‘ma’ he’s dealing with day to day.  There are days I’m laughing.  There are days I’m crying.  There are days when I’m so tired or crazed or impulsive that figuring me out is probably next to impossible.  I get that.  I really do.  And I admire him for being able to adapt to what woman I happen to be that day.

Yet sometimes my son isn’t easy to live with either.  He’s a 26 year old young man, who has lived on his own since he was 18.  He’s used to his independence and being able to have his home his particular way.  He’s also starting a business that requires so much marketing, web site work, along with mastering the use lighting, film development, and editing.  In addition to all of this, he’s scared.  Scared of taking this chance and making this work.  So much is riding on making this business a success.

I’m so proud of him for doing this though!  Taking this risk and putting everything he has in it – money, time, energy – is stressful, and I tend to forget that.  I forget that this stress affects him, which can make his mood unpredictable as well.  Like me, he has great days when things seem to be in place, and hard days when he questions his work and wonders if he’s made the right decision.

Together, we can be awesome!  There’s no one I’d rather spend time with and his sense of humor, his ideas, the way we can joke about things is so fun!  On the flip side though, we can also be volatile!  Two different adults, with different ways of communicating, different ways of dealing with conflict, different ways of seeing the world.  When this happens, there are hurtful words exchanged with feelings damaged and tears flowing.

But you know.  That’s OK.  We can’t grow as adults without resolving these issues.  Without using conflict as a way to move forward in our relationship as grown ups.  With our contrasting personalities, and my mental illness, conflict is inevitable.  But it doesn’t have to pull us apart.  Conflict can aid in more understanding of one another, more compassion towards one another’s needs, more depth in our connection.  Something I think we both want.  And need.

All I know is this:  my son is my heart.  Truly.  Having this time with him, watching him build something that’s uniquely his using a talent I could see in him when he was only a few years old, and experiencing his growth as a man is worth any arguments we might encounter along the way.

Kristi xoxo

The Battles We Fight.

So…!

Wait.  I need to stop here first and admit something:  I’ve always hated it when people begin paragraphs with so, and I get on my students all the time about this!  And, I just read an article about how using the word SO undermines how people see you.  BUT, it just seems SO handy and such a good intro, that it’s now going to be my signature move!  🙂

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SO, I went to a new psychiatrist this week; he is the over-seer of my counselor and she wanted me to have a ‘med check’ since this f%^&ing depression isn’t lessening at all, despite better personal circumstances AND being on my meds.  I liked him right off;  he was much more thorough with me than another I had seen, and really took his time explaining my options.  First, he told me that the anti-depressant I’m on now isn’t well indicated for bipolar.  I was put on this since Effexor is indicated for fibromyalgia (which I also have…go figure), but since that’s not as serious as the bipolar, he wants to change it in 3 weeks.  He did put me on a mood stabilizer which I am a bit nervous about.  I’ve been on Depakote and Lithium at times, and both gave me thoughts of suicide and self-harm.  I was too scared to try another, but he put me on Lamotragine which doesn’t have that particular effect.  He believes that getting on a stabilizer, as well as a new anti-depressant, will really help me with both my cycles and the depression.  He said I’ve basically been fighting this depression by myself…with no real ‘help’ at all in terms of my meds.  I can’t wait until I start feeling the benefits of the Lamotragine and once it’s had a chance to build up a bit, that’s when the other will be switched.  I’m optimistic!

You know, using the term ‘battle’ is an interesting choice of word, and one that fits for all of us at so many different times in our lives.  For some, the battle can be won and for others, it’s never over.  But we all fight them, and sometimes we forget that.

As much as I hate having bipolar, I also know how very lucky I am.  Things could be so much worse for me.  My mom’s bestie has Primary Lateral Sclerosis, a diagnosis that came after much testing at the Mayo clinic.  Prior to this, docs believed her to have Parkinsons.  This poor woman has suffered, and is suffering so much.  Her speech, her ability to eat, her physical dexterity and abilities, her pain, her weakening…everyday she faces challenges.  Here’s the thing though:  she is the most optimistic, positive woman when it comes to this disease, and she sends me messages all of the time offering ME support!  How does she do this?  How can she be fighting such a battle, and still be concerned with someone else?

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I think I know.  Because giving support is just as important in receiving it, no matter what you are facing.  After I post things on Facebook regarding issues I might be having, I get a ton of support, which boosts me and makes me feel better and less alone in whatever it is I’m going through.  Then, I get dozens of private messages from people who share their own struggles and issues with me, and I talk to them and help them the best I can.  Even if it’s just being a listening ear or validating their experience, or making them feel less alone.  More cared about.  Loved.  Important.  And the best thing is this:  doing this makes me feel better as well.  Not that that’s the purpose of me helping them, but it’s a nice extra consequence of doing so.  It reminds me how much we all deal with, whether it’s known or not.  That we are never alone.  There is always someone else out there struggling.

Sometimes I don’t know what to say, beyond “I care and I’m here.”  And I used to think this wasn’t enough.  I wanted to have answers for everyone!  I wanted to fix them!  I wanted to wave a magic wand and POOF, their lives would suddenly be OK!  But I realized that all I want when I’m needing support is hearing those words of care and concern myself.  I know my mental illness, or issues I might be dealing with won’t be fixed with some words.  But those words are still comforting to me.  Are still important to hear.  For all of us, at anytime.

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A drawback to recognizing and supporting others who are struggling is this:  guilt.  How can I talk about depression or being bipolar, when others are looking at painful, progressive, and potentially deadly diseases?  How can I lament my loneliness at not having a partner, and the grief I still feel at losing him, when others are embroiled in contentious divorces in which they could lose their children?  How can I cry over things in my life, when there are those being beaten regularly.  Raped?  Are homeless?  It makes me feel so small to think I make my problems sound important next to these.

But does another person’s suffering mean ours isn’t valid?  Who defines what constitutes suffering and what doesn’t?  Should I feel bad…for feeling bad?  Well, I do.  Then, that guilt and feelings of selfishness make me feel even worse about myself.  Talk about a circular pattern to get into.

But ultimately, a battle you fight is your battle.  It’s your pain.  It’s your life.  And that pain is valid.  Always.  It may not be as severe a pain as others feel.  But it’s still pain.  Your pain.  And it’s OK to acknowledge it.  OK to ask for support with it.  OK to reach out.  Just remember the others in the war as well.  They too need all we do.  Support, guidance, validation, love, help.  And by giving those, we help to get more to fight our own battles with;  and we become more compassionate, more understanding, more open.  Things that help us all.

Kristi xoxo

 

 

The Coronavirus and Mental Health.

So, we’re in the midst of this pandemic and there is so much information on the virus itself and the importance of social distancing and staying at home to contain it’s spread.  Of course I think that any measures taken to reduce the spread of this are necessary, but I do worry that the mental health issues associated with this isolation, for everyone and not just the mentally ill, aren’t being addressed as much as they maybe should be.

We are social creatures, aren’t we?  We need people and the groups around us (family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, etc.) to provide needed benefits – most importantly, meeting our emotional and social needs.  And since the isolation (both physical and emotional) and distancing we need to practice for at least the next couple of weeks is in place, I believe we are going to suffer mentally because of it.

Isolation and loneliness are 2 big concerns right now, particularly for the elderly and those who are already experiencing these issues.  And, I do believe we will see even more of an influence of these now.  You can be isolated and not lonely, and lonely and not isolated, but for many, these 2 things go hand in hand.  Choosing to be alone, and enjoying that time, is much different than being forced into isolation!  And people choose to be ‘alone’ among ‘groups’ often times anyway.  Going to the store, getting to the library, working out at a gym.  These might be done ‘alone’ or by yourself, but there are still people around who you can interact with to a degree.  Home-bound isolation is a different thing.  People can go from alone to lonely pretty quick in this circumstance.  Take a look at this article published in 2019 on social isolation which states:

There is…”evidence linking perceived social isolation with adverse health consequences including depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function and impaired immunity at every stage of life.”  “In addition…(it was) found that social isolation increases the risk of premature death from every cause for every race…”.
Obviously, this is for more long-term isolation, but the implications are clear.  Isolation has a huge consequence on people and their health.  

Families are also suffering.  My mom lives by herself and has a very active social life.  With so many fears of the virus regarding the elderly, mom and her friends have cancelled their weekly activities.  I know this is going to affect her mood, and I worry she’ll go out to a store or something, just to be around people which can put her at risk.  As much as my sis and I tell her not too, she’s very stubborn.  Since I was in Florida for a week and flew out of Tampa which is a ‘hotbed’ of the virus, I don’t want to be around her just in case I have the virus without showing signs yet.  So, we are isolated from each other too.

My sister is worried about her grandchildren as well, and looks forward to seeing them often during the week.  Missing out on that interaction is hard for all of them.  Plus, one of my nephews has a serious condition which could require medical attention at any time.  How scary that hospitals might be over-run and medical attention is delayed.  Not being to be around our families is a great hardship for so many! 

And then you add other factors into the mix:  fear, anxiety, stress, confusion, helplessness, and powerlessness to name a few.  We all, I think, are feeling these to some degree.  As much as the news upsets me regarding all of what’s happening right now, I don’t want to stay away from it either since I need information to keep myself and family safe!  It’s a Catch 22!  The news makes us more stressed and fearful, but the info provided is important! 

Anytime you see stress increase, you see a greater likelihood of domestic violence and child abuse.  Will this time increase the already huge numbers of victims of family violence?  And, we know that high levels of stress can cause physical sickness (high blood pressure, heart disease, etc.).  Furthermore, the stress isn’t going to end after the isolation is lifted.  Businesses are losing customers or closing down for a period of time, and economists are saying we’ll suffer a strong recession which will continue this stress for an extended period of time.   And, I know that stress over money is one of the BIGGEST stressors a couple faces in their relationship. 

I really worry that for the mentally ill, these issues can exacerbate their conditions.  Making anxiety disorders worsen, depression to deepen.  Also, will counselors or behavioral health centers stop seeing clients?  Will meds get filled on time?   Will AA and NA meetings be able to continue? Then what about people who are schizophrenic and have paranoid delusions?  Will this worsen their thinking with all of the conspiracy theories circling around right now? 

Finally, I also wonder how our world, our own society, will be changed because of this time.  Will we continue more isolating behaviors out of fear another virus could be around the corner?  Will people start getting more and more of their needs met through non-contact ways such as social media?  Will students, who have never taken online classes but are now forced to work online for at least a couple of weeks, find the classes to be more convenient and our on-campus students numbers decrease?  Will people become disgusted with society because how some are behaving, and come to see society as a more dangerous place than they had perceived it before?  The questions are endless.

So, what do I think we can do to lessen some of these effects?  Here’s my list:

  1. Stay on a schedule.  Get up at a regular time, have a daily plan with meals, work, etc. and structure your time accordingly.  
  2. Get outside!  Sidewalks, parks, hiking trails…none of these are closed and being outside, and especially around nature, can be comforting and uplifting.
  3. Do some cardio!  Those of us with depression know that cardio actually increases the production of endorphins and neurotransmitters, and improves sleep too!  All of this can help alleviate feelings of depression!
  4. Keep connected to family and friends.  This is a great time to use social media for connection (but be careful, too much social media use can backfire…particularly with so many loud opinions being broadcast!).  Also, instead of calls or texts, video chat for a more personal experience.  
  5. Help others.  Reach out to your older neighbors and let them know you are willing to run errands for them or get their refills picked up.  Let them know you are around if they need something done!
  6. Tackle yard and house chores.  I’m going to use some of my time to get my darn closets cleaned out and then get my yard all raked for spring.  Things I have trouble finding time to do!  Put these chores on your calendar to keep you on track!
  7. Take breaks from work.  Working remotely, as some of us are doing, is very different than being in an office or around students.  Make sure you take breaks from the computer often, and don’t try to do 8 hours of work in 3 just to get done!  Spacing out your time can help relieve the tediousness.
  8. Try a new hobby.  You don’t need to go to the store to get a pencil and paper…watch a youtube video on drawing and see what you can do!  Or, if you have some supplies (paints, crayons, glue, yarn, fabric), learn to crochet or knit…watercolor…decoupage!  
  9. Give yourself a break!  This is important…being around kids, family, etc. in a close environment can be stressful, and taking a short walk, nap, or just a time-out might help with these situations.  
  10. Keep your kids structured and engaged as well.  There are so many places publishing free content for kids right now, and doing these activities together can be fun!  Here’s a great website to give you some activity ideas, and then a fun e-learning site with a ton of lessons.  And, take a look at this:  

There are so many questions we have…and not a lot of answers.  But I do believe these issues are going to have a huge impact on everyone’s mental health, and possibly worsen those already dealing with an mental illness.  Let’s all take care of ourselves and families the best we can, and reach out if we need help.  Stay healthy and safe and if you have any other ideas to share, please comment below!

Kristi xoxo

The Importance of being Honest.

So, I’m cycling through a pretty bad depression right now.  It started in the Fall, and it’s been hanging on a long while.  Hopefully, I’ll start to be back up again soon, but with bipolar, you can never tell.  And depression is a hard fight, because so much of it is out of our control.

Depression (and mania) aren’t ‘moods’…they are states.  And there’s a big difference there, one I wish was recognized more because calling ‘depression’ a MOOD disorder isn’t technically correct.

Moods are temporary feelings of whatever emotion is there:  happiness, sadness, grieving, gloomy, cheerful, energetic, and the list goes on.  And we all experience a huge range of moods!  We have happy days and sad days, but those days don’t last.  The SITUATION underlying the emotion (which causes the feelings that are ‘saturated’) doesn’t last, because for the most part, that’s what they are based on.  Getting a raise makes me feel happy.  Getting rejected makes me feel sad.  But, these moods pass as others take their place.  That’s why people will say to those who are sad:  “Cheer up…this will pass.”  And they are right!  It will pass.  Although I think saying “Cheer up” nullifies the person’s emotional mood and makes it appear to be insignificant, I get what they are saying.

But states are different creatures.  They aren’t place dependent.  People dependent.  Money dependent.  They are simply there.  And they are more than just the feeling that’s being projected.  For example, people who might be sad for a while may not experience anything else but that sadness.  Whereas people who are depressed also have trouble sleeping, have changes in eating, are restlessness or lethargic, have slowed thinking and memory issues, experience trouble making decisions, entertain thoughts of self-harm or suicide, and the list goes on.

The causes of depression are different too.  A major life event can trigger depression in someone, but there are underlying issues at work as well that go along with that stressor:  According to Harvard Medical “Certain areas of the brain help regulate mood.  Researchers believe that, more important then levels of specific brain chemicals, nerve cell connections, nerve cell growth, and the functioning of nerve circuits have a major impact on depression”.

So once again, like we see with so many mental illnesses, depression is in the brain.  Not in the situation.  That’s why for depression, meds are needed to regulate this brain chemistry and function, as well as counseling in order to learn better ways to cope with what is happening.

Last night, I was feeling extra down, and put on Facebook that I was really struggling with depression.  So many people reached out to me, and just knowing there is so much support and care out there really helps.  It doesn’t make me ‘less depressed’, but it does make me feel important and loved.  Anyone can use that anytime!

A couple years ago, I never would have posted anything like that because I was still trying to pretend my way through life, and hide the pain I often experience with bipolar.  But like I’ve said before, how can I expect to work against mental health stigma if I’m not genuine myself?  How hypocritical that would be!  When I was in Florida, I posted about how people on the beach were looking at the scars on my legs from when I cut myself.  Once again, if I can’t put issues out there that are related to mental illness, what am I preaching ‘lessen the stigma’ for?

I bought this artwork, created by the Chariho Youth Task Force for their Mental Health Awareness Campaign.  Digital copies of this art can be purchased here for $5 and all proceeds go to mental health programs and information.

BUT, maybe there are people who think it’s OK to talk about depression.  That’s not ‘ugly’.  However, how can you even mention that you’ve cut?  That’s bloody and gross and scary.  Here’s the thing though, cutting does go along with my illness.  It just does.  I hate that I’ve done it.  I hate my scars.  I hate how people look at me when I’m at a pool or my shorts ride up a bit.  Even more though, I hate having an illness that has made my brain so confused at times, that cutting is the only outlet given for any type of psychological relief.  I know how hard that is to understand.  I don’t understand it.  But I know it’s a demon to fight when it rears it’s ugly head, and that at times, I’ve lost the battle.

This reminds me of my Human Sexuality class and what we were discussing the other day.  I was lecturing about development from pregnancy through birth, and when I got the part about what pregnant women often suffer, everyone was OK until I said the word “hemorrhoid!”  EVERYTHING  else was met with nods…but this??  Shouts of UGH and looks of horror!  WHY?  Because hemorrhoids are ‘icky’…nothing we really want to think about!

There are a lot of things about mental illness that are ‘icky’ too.  But we need to hear it all.  The way it really is.  That’s the only thing that will help people speak up and out about mental illness, and then get the support and help they need.

The mentally ill should not be living in a society where there is shame in having a disease/disorder/illness that’s out of their control.  We have the control to get help for it (if it’s available and affordable…2 BIG ifs), and learn better ways of coping with it.  But it’s always there.  Always.  Just like diabetics can be medicated appropriately and watch their diet.  Even if the diabetes is controlled though, it’s still there.  It’s a lifelong disease.  It’s not going to disappear.

The mentally ill don’t have diseases that will just disappear either.  And, the mentally ill won’t disappear, no matter how much we try to NOT talk about the issues that aren’t easy to face.  Don’t we all have the right for care, support, and understanding, regardless of where our disease or illness originates?  Don’t we all have the right to talk about our illnesses?  Our struggles?  Without stigma or shame? I believe we do.  And I’m going to keep doing it until everyone can do the same.

Kristi xoxo

A Personal Buffet :)

So, how do we know what we want in a mate?  It’s almost an unconscious thing, isn’t it?  Like going to a buffet where we look over the food and say, “Oooooooo…yum!”  or “Blech!”, without even really thinking about it.  Isn’t that true about people as well?  You can see someone and think, “Wow…OH YEAH!”  or say, “Uh, no!”  Either way, our choices are clear even if our reasoning behind them isn’t.

At counseling the other day, A (my therapist) asked me what I wanted in someone since working on relationships is one of our goals.  I didn’t have an easy or fast answer for her.  But I think it came to me last night.

In my Marriage and Family classes, we talk about mate selection and see that there are many theories out there to try to explain how this works.  For example, Siggy talks about how we are more likely to choose a mate much like our opposite sexed parents (this was written in the Victorian era where heterosexual relationships were the only focus) in order to finally resolve the Oedipal and Electra complexes.  This is what kids experience around the ages of 3-6 or so, where they really want to possess their same sexed parent, while rejecting the other.  Obviously, this causes much family stress, and the kids start to emulate their same sexed parent so they can eventually, as adults, win a mate like the opposite sexed one.  PHEW!  Sounds crazy, right?  BUT…I have to say this:  research does show that we are more likely to marry someone more like our parents than not!  (This scares my son to death!)

There’s also the Ideal Mate Theory in which we create an image of what we want through early childhood experiences and then seek that person as an adult.  Maybe that’s why so many women want their prince to ride on their white horse and swoop them up!  And, maybe that’s also why when we meet the one we think is our mate, we say, “I think this is Mr. or Mrs. Right!”

Other theories exist too…like how we pick mates that complement what we need or lack.  Or ones that have just enough similarities that we have an instant connection that brings us together.

But these theories don’t take practical things into consideration, things I happen to think are pretty important.  Like, how many kids does this person want?  What’s their political stance?  Their criminal history?  How many times have they been divorced?  Is their extended family supportive?  Do they drink excessively or use drugs?  Do they follow your religion?  And the list goes on.

However, here’s another wrench with all of this:  you would think by now I have a type, and that couldn’t be further from the truth!  All 4 of my mates (3 hubbies and 1 partner) couldn’t have been anymore different from each other!  Hubby 1 was a metrosexual, well dressed, higher class guy, while Hubby 2 was nerdy and a very hard worker.  Hubby 3 was an Outlaw biker (literally) and my last partner was a younger veteran.  What a variety; perhaps I should practice polygamy to get everything I want??  🙂

So, when A talked to me about what I wanted, I knew it was more than what can be explained by the above, but I couldn’t put into words what ‘soul’ (for lack of a better word) I was looking for.  And then it hit me last night.  Simply stated, I want a man who is just as willing as I am to work and fight for the love we have.  That’s it.  Just one sentence.  But a very powerful one to me.

See, I used to think I was clingy.  And to a degree I might be.  But maybe that isn’t really what it is though, because I’ve always been financially independent and very capable of doing anything and everything that’s needed around the house, yard, etc.  I was the one my spouses would often turn too, instead of the other way around!  I was the rock.  The fixer.  The one who built back up whatever had been broken.

But when I was broken.  Or needed something fixed.  Or needed a rock, that’s when problems started.  The help wasn’t there.  The understanding.  The support.  While I was willing to invest everything into the relationship, they were willing to only invest a bit.  So, them pulling out of it didn’t ‘cost’ them as much as it cost me.

Maybe it’s because I’m “extra sensitive” (another wonderful trait of bipolar) that I simply can’t understand this.  How people can love you one day, and say the next that they don’t.  How you can spend years with someone, building them up, forgiving them for transgressions, supporting them through their pain, but when it’s about you, they turn their back.  And then, you’re the one that’s wrong.  Wrong for reaching out.  For trying.  Why do some people think relationships are easy?  And when there’s an issue, just drop them, because fixing it might be work?  Really?  Having problems means there’s no love?  No foundation?

I don’t think there’s any relationship that requires more work than that of a parent and child.  I remember when Oliver was a little guy…he’d wake me up in the middle of the night, and I’d have to force myself up on 2 hours of sleep after a 14 hour day.  When he was around 4, Oliver, who had asthma, got pneumonia.  And I did too.  But, I had to ignore mine and hold Oliver upright 24 hours a day for 4 days straight, giving him breathing treatments every 2 hours which the poor guy fought.  Just me, alone, because his dad had to work at his business.  It got to the point where I was so tired, I was in a hazy fog that enveloped me.  I didn’t know if I could keep going but then he started to get better and I could nap.  And all of this time, I kept thinking that if I didn’t do this, he could literally drown in his sleep.  Was that work?  OMG, yes!!  Did I begrudge him of it??  NO!!  Because that’s what parents do.  Period.

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Why can’t that same commitment be made in terms of mates?  Holding the person up.  Allowing them to breathe with your help.  Making sure they get through the next day?  Giving all that you have, and a little more, to make things better.I do that.  To a fault actually.  And I used to think it was wrong.  But is it?  Why is it wrong to be the one who won’t let go of the rope when they still believe there’s a danger of the other falling?  Why is it bad to say, “I forgive you.  Again.  Because I love you.  Still.”?  Someone once told me this was weak.  Really?  To me, it’s freaking strong.  Because like I did with Oliver, you have to dig down, find resources you don’t know you have, and use them to make sure what you love is preserved.

I guess I’m old fashioned, but I think maybe my way, instead of the way relationships are disposed of so easily in our society today, is actually the right one.Once, when I was a teenager,  I asked my Grandma what held her and Grandpa together.  They were the ONLY couple in my family that had never been divorced and I needed to know why.  After all, they were married just a short while before Grandpa served 3 years in the Navy during WWII.  I’ll never ever forget what my grandma said when I asked how they made it through all they did:  “Because we’re married.”  That’s it.  That was her answer.  And when you think about it, what more needs to be said?  They made a commitment.  They honored it.  They worked at it.  They invested in it.  Through everything.  Period.  Maybe I get my ideas about relationships from her.  And if so, I think that’s a very good thing.

Kristi xoxo

Breathing Lessons.

I absolutely adore Anne Tyler.  She is my favorite author ever and if I could only read 1 author for the rest of my life, it would be her. 

For some reason, 1 of her books really resounds with me and as I listened to the audio this last week over vacation (for the umpteenth time) I started making notes on my phone as I walked to it.  I realized that so much of what I was hearing was ‘me’; that it expressed things I maybe didn’t see, or couldn’t put into words. 

In “Breathing Lessons” a man and his wife, Ira and Maggie, take a day trip to go to a funeral.  As the day progresses, you get a glimpse into their lives and histories, and meet others along the way.  The entire book takes place in a 10 hour period, and the insights that are revealed about this couples’ lives are so impactful.

Maggie reminds me of myself.  Awkward.  Wanting to always please.  Wanting to hold onto things that may need to be let go of.  Worried about her looks.  Not always confident in her worth. 

One of the biggest struggles Maggie has is saying goodbye to her daughter who will be leaving for college the next day (her son already lives on his own), and wanting to reconnect with her 7 year old granddaughter who she hasn’t seen for years.  She wants to start over; be needed by a child again.  Have the family she reveled in.  Not hear the silence when she walks in her door.  I feel for her.  I know how difficult it can be to want to take steps backwards and not forwards.  To be back in that time when Ollie was young and I was the most important thing on the earth to him.  I remember subbing in his Kindergarten classroom, and he couldn’t stop holding my hand throughout the afternoon and calling me “MOM” in a voice that told every other kid in there, that I was HIS mom and only their sub!  There was another time when he went to a sleep-away church camp (at which I cussed when I found out he forgot his Bible, then cussed again after I cussed…it was obvious the leaders felt Ollie really needed them, growing up with a mom like me!) to spend 4 nights.  This seemed like forever to me but like every mom, decided that having those days to myself would be heaven.  I got a call the morning after his first night…it was Ollie telling me he threw up and I needed to get him.  I raced to the camp with a bucket in tow, and he was really quiet during our drive home.  I plopped him in bed and told him I’d fix some Jello and check on him while he was napping.  About an hour later, he came into the kitchen, with tears streaming down his face.  He said “Mom…I LIED TO YOU!!!  I wasn’t sick!!!  I just wanted to be with you!!!”  I laughed and said he never had to lie about wanting to be home!  And we went to the pool and had a great day!

Ollie lives with me now after being on his own for 6 years, and we have fun together, but he’s not my boy anymore.  He’s his own person with so many centers in his world now.  And that’s the way it should be!  Of course!  But like Maggie, I wish I could rewind and do it all over again, and savor those moments even more.  Why does growing up happen so fast? 

In another part of the book, Maggie is trying desperately to get her son and his ex-wife back together so she can be with her grandchild.  The problem is, their relationship was horrible from the start, although Maggie can’t seem to accept that.  Or even see it.   Her son was just too immature and self-centered to be a good husband, and her daughter-in-law was too demanding and childish.  One of my favorite quotes from the book is Ira talking about Maggie to their son: 

“She believes it’s all right to alter peoples lives.  She thinks the people she loves are better than they really are, and so then she starts changing things around to suit her view of them”.  ~ Anne Tyler
I had to listen, and then finally read, that quote so many times because it resonated in me.  Is that what I do?  Particularly in relationships?  I’m thinking yes.  
I had my weekly counseling appointment today and I love my counselor.  She is someone I really click with and I’m surprised by how much I’m able to share and how vulnerable I allow myself to be with her.  We were talking about my last relationship, and I told her I was still reaching out to him because I wanted to save him.  From himself.  He’s the one with PTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) who really hurt me so many times during our 3 years together.  He told me how he had given up on things; how he is just going to be alone and miserable for the rest of his life.  And I tell him how wasteful that would be.  You see, he’s living DOWN to his diagnosis of BPD, as if having this is a death sentence.  A slow death sentence.  I told him how a diagnosis needs to be used for understanding, and how you learn to recognize what the disorder or a mental illness is doing, and find constructive ways to cope.  It’s not a death sentence.  The diagnosis should be a map.  
My counselor asked me why I had such a need to show this to him, particularly since he really doesn’t listen to what I’m saying.  I told her because I felt guilty.  Ashamed.  Like I didn’t do enough to help him during our years together.  Didn’t have the right words to say.  Wasn’t enough for him to want to work on his issues.  Like I was to blame for when he lashed out, because I was the one that triggered it.  She looked at me and said this:  “But Kristi, he has Borderline.  That’s what they do when they don’t get help or try to learn how to cope.  That’s who they allow themselves to become.”  
I don’t know what it was, but I felt a relief after those words were spoken.  A weight dropped.  It wasn’t my fault that he kept abandoning me.  That he put his hands on me.  That he cheated on me.  That he told me he left this last time because of what I said.  It was the disorder.  The fucking disorder.  I tried for so long to not see him as having these issues…I wanted him to always be the great guy who put me on a pedestal and made me feel I was the center of his world.  But I wasn’t.  As much as I want to rearrange things and make them right…good…to suit how I want them to be…who I want him to be, I can’t.  And he didn’t do these things out of maliciousness.  Or because of something I did.  It was because of an un-diagnosed disorder.  I still want to help him .  But NOT out of guilt now.  But out of compassion and love.  My counselor said the words I guess I needed to hear about a lot of things:  “It’s not your fault.”
This is my favorite scene in Good Will Hunting.  
I think a lot of us need to hear the words: “It’s Not Your Fault”.  
And I think Robin Williams does it better than anyone.
And I realized something else.  I don’t need to be the center of someone’s life to be important.  Needed.  Worthy.  I’m a center already.  My center.  My Florida trip showed me this.  That I can be enough for me.  That I can have a life with me.  I don’t need to rearrange people to make them something they aren’t just to have them.  I don’t need to pretend they, or me, are something we’re not. 
It was a pretty cool thing to discover all of this.  That I’m not always to blame for things.  That I can’t make people take my help unless they want too.  That I don’t have to be driven by guilt anymore.  That I can make mistakes and I’m still a pretty OK person.  That I don’t have to have everyone’s acceptance.  That I can give myself the validation I need.  That I don’t need to take steps backwards; because moving forward is journey enough.
I’d say, all in all, that Florida was really good for me.  
Even despite being burnt. 😉
Kristi xoxo

Hello Florida!

So, I’m in Florida, a little over half-way through my ‘me’cation, and have had a lot of ups and couple of downs!  I found the Clearwater Beach Library and just needed to write.  I try to journal, but I’m very undisciplined at it.  Having this blog makes me write for some reason, and I like it!

I had a bit of a panic/stress attack when I got to the hotel on Friday afternoon.  I called my son and my mom and said I wanted to come home the next day and cried to them.  But, after sleeping like a log in my hotel (more about that in a bit), I felt much better!

The hotel isn’t QUITE what I expected when I book with Expedia.  And, that is a major understatement!  I think the last update it had was 1970 or so, and the carpet, walls and bedding show it!  My pillows (they gave me 6…I guess I’m supposed to stack them) feel like someone took a pillow case, shoved a handful of toilet paper in it, and called it a day!  I killed a few bugs, and their friends have now taken up residence.  From what I understand, that’s pretty normal in Florida, but I’m not crazy about crawlies when I’m trying to sleep! :/

Yeesh!!

On Saturday, I walked the beach early in the morning, and found a sand dollar!!  I’ve never found a whole one before!  There are tons of shells, and the beach is fantastic…talcum like sand with amazing views! 

I’ve been sorting through a ton of shells trying to find a sharks tooth. 
I’m just going to buy a damn one down the street and call it a day! 🙂

I’ve watched the sunset on the beach every night I’ve been here.  It’s so beautiful and a really big thing here!  After it goes down, everyone cheers!  BUT, watching EVERY single person on the beach take pics with their partners, while I’m slogging on alone, is a little tough!  It’s very romantic.  For them! 

The food around here is great, and Pier 60 has live entertainment and tons of cool things to do.  You can walk around all day and not get tired of all that you see!

Entrance to Pier 60 Park! 

Grouper Tacos! 🙂

Yesterday, I went to the Scientology Spiritual Headquarters in Clearwater.  I tottered a few miles there over a huge bridge, and it was a bit of a trek but worth it!  I wasn’t allowed in that particular building, but ventured to the Scientology Information Center and saw a bunch of videos, displays, and reading material and had a great conversation with the Scientologist manning the front desk.  She was very sweet, but her answers seemed extremely programmed.  Also, there are a lot of Scientologists walking around and to be honest, it looks a bit creepy!  Everyone wears a white shirt, dark blue pants or skirt, and a blazer.  No one smiled or talked to me, UNLESS I did so first. 

The building is HUGE!  

I teach a lot about Scientology in my Sociology classes, and I’ve read so much about their abuses and how families are destroyed when 1 leaves and becomes an apostate.  It’s so sad that something that COULD have been really helpful to people is used so abusively against them.  Money taken, physical abuses, mental manipulations.  There are too many ex-Scientologists out there for me NOT to believe them.  I also don’t know why they call themselves a church.  In the videos, you hear the word ‘spiritual’ a lot, but never the word God.  Hmmmmm.  I was also surprised by how compelling the info center videos are and how someone could be persuaded to join!  They make it sound like ‘going clear’ will literally give you new life and remove every bad memory you’ve ever created so your brain can start fresh with only good in it.  For someone struggling, this is a powerful message!

This is the information center…I was the only one there for the hour I stayed.

I got a copy of L.Ron Hubbard’s Way to Happiness (which you can read here), where he outlined 21 precepts (rules…I had to look this up!) that we should all live by.  I pretty much agree with most of them (and in the parantheses I wonder if the Scientology org really does it):

  • Take care of yourself
  • Be temperate
  • Don’t be promiscuous 
  • Love and help children (but you separate families if one leaves…they aren’t allowed to have contact again!)
  • Honor and help your parents (see above!)
  • Set a good example (Hmmmmm…)
  • See to live with the truth (another Hmmmmm is necessary here)
  • Do not murder 
  • Don’t do anything illegal (think they have….)
  • Support a government designed and run for all the people
  • Do not harm a person of good will (but you can if you believe they are of bad will
  • Safeguard and improve your environment
  • Do not steal (but you ‘swindle’ people out of their money all of the time!!!!)
  • Be worthy of trust (Hmmm…)
  • Fulfill your obligations
  • Be industrious
  • Be competent
  • Respect the religious beliefs of others (so if someone leaves you…it’s ok??)
  • Try not to do things to others that you would not like them to do to you (so you would like to be stalked, threatened, and harassed yourself?)
  • Try to treat others as you would want them to treat you (see above!)
  • Flourish and prosper
So, the info sounds good on the surface, and makes sense.  But really, L. Ron took Freudian principles along with his weird ideas in terms of science fiction, and put them together to create this ‘religion’ he could be the king of.  L. Ron…why didn’t you use your apparent talent for writing and philosophizing for GOOD???
Today isn’t going so great.  I traipsed to the Clearwater Aquarium which is all about rescue, rehabilitation and release.  It was really cool…I saw sharks, sea turtles, otters, dolphins, sting rays etc.  But I’m having a down day…my depression is bothering me and it’s hard not to share all of this with someone.  There were so many times I wanted to turn to someone and say something about what I was seeing but I couldn’t.  Doing everyday stuff alone isn’t bad…doing fun vacation things alone can be.  
These 2 sweeties are Winter and Hope…the stars of Dolphin Tale!  I got to see them fairly close up but not like this!
So anyhoot, just wanted to write a bit and am going to get to the hotel, kill my new bugs, get ready for the beach, and enjoy the water for a couple of hours.  Just relax.  That sounds pretty good to me. 
No tan yet!  Sigh… 🙂
Kristi xoxo

Alone or Lonely?

So…I’m leaving for Florida tomorrow for my spring break.  I’ll be basking on the beaches and the ocean is my favorite place on earth!  It ‘centers’ me and I hope I’ll be able to really relax and de-stress!

But, here’s the thing.  This is my first trip ever traveling by myself, and I can’t believe how many people have told me they have never vacationed alone.  I’m feeling all sorts of things right now.  I’m excited to have this opportunity and really do love the sub-tropical climate.  I can take the heat really well and love being outside and in the sun.

I have other feelings going on too, though.  Part of me is scared to get on that plane tomorrow.  I won’t have anyone with me in case something happens with the flight…if I get turned around at O’Hare…if I get sick or sunburnt (!).  It’s just going to be me dealing with anything that might come up.  It sounds silly, but sometimes having that back-up with you helps.

I’m also feeling sad that I’m traveling alone.  I’m not doing it by choice…I’m doing it because I have too!  I don’t have a partner to vacation with anymore and I don’t want to not travel when I have the opportunity.  I’m using this trip as a type of experiment.  If I feel really comfortable and have fun with this experience, it will open me up to traveling more!  I want that!  There are so many things I want to see here in the states…and I do want to see Europe someday as well. 

I think being lonely is the last feeling I’m dealing with.  To me, alone and lonely are 2 different states of being.  I feel like being alone is a choice…a chance to be with yourself and reconnect with that person.  I did so much of that last summer.  I distanced myself from my partner (at that time) and spent a lot of time alone.  I walked, hiked, sunned, did yard work, napped, read.  All of the things you can easily put off when you are with someone.  But, the consequence of that was losing my partner.  I gave him way too much distance while I was reconnecting and he just couldn’t wait for me to get through what I needed too.

So now I feel lonely too.  I miss having him.  A partner.  Someone I can call and say “You aren’t going to believe this!”  Someone I can text and say “Get your ass over here!!  That new movie is on Netflix!!”  I drive through town and there’s very little I see that we didn’t do.  Restaurants, activities, stores.  So many memories that make me tear up.  How much I want someone to hug.  To hold hands with.  To cuddle and snuggle with.  I’m a toucher.  A feeler.  Having that void in my life is hard.

Being alone.  Experiencing loneliness.  I guess it’s all just parts of our life experience we have to deal with.  Get through.  Learn from.  Maybe even embrace.

Kristi xoxo

Discussion on Domestic Violence Victims

In one of my classes, we are currently talking about Domestic Violence and a discussion ensued yesterday regarding whether or not victims love themselves prior to getting into a relationship with the abuser.

Some of my students said you can love yourself, but still fall for the abuser because of their manipulation, idolization, and mask they wear.  Others said that only someone who didn’t love themselves would fall for that…would be vulnerable to their attention.

But, here’s the thing:  abusers are smart.  They are predators.  They know how to bait their hooks and trap their prey.  NO ONE would stay with a person who beat them on the first date!  Of course not!  All of my students say they would never ever stay with an abuser, but the truth is that many of them might do just that because what they don’t realize is how insidious the abuse is.  Abusers start out by idolizing you.  Making you feel like you’re the most special person in the world who can share anything and everything with them.  They are your soul-mate and once that’s felt, the hook has been set.  The next step is chipping away at what confidence, esteem, and love they have for themselves; slowly these things are chiseled away and the abuser is getting you to a place where you aren’t who you used to be.  They are devaluing you…making you feel less than…and eventually, your emotional/psychological boundaries have been compromised.  Also, that stuff you felt you could share with them?  That’s being used against you now.  They know your ‘weak spots’ and will use them any way they can.  Then, physical boundaries start to be tested.  A grab here.  A push there.  All the while seeing what your reaction is.

Have you ever heard the myth of a frog in boiling water?  It goes like this:  put a frog into a pot of boiling water and he’ll squeal and do anything he can to hop out.  BUT, put him in tepid water and turn the heat up very low to where the boiling is a process.  Because it’s so slow, the frog never fights it.  It’s in an environment that slowly becomes natural to them.

Now, even though I truly believe that anyone can be a victim of abuse by an abuser, I do believe that vulnerability to abusers can be attributed to different things.

  • First, I do think situations we go through can make us more needful of attention.  Partnership.  Togetherness.  It can validate someone who’s been rejected.  Abandoned.  Although we all need our own internal sense of self and self-love, external experience of this is important to us too.  
  • I also believe certain emotional traits can be seen in victims.  In this article, by Dr. Toby Goldsmith, he says that women of DV often:
    • have a poor self image
    • have low self-esteem
    • believe, unrealistically, they can change their abuser
    • feel a sense of powerlessness
    • believe that jealousy is ‘proof’ of love
  • Along with this, I believe personality traits can be tied to victimization too.  For example, people who are highly empathic have more sensitivity…they can align themselves with people more and feel with everything they have inside of them.  It’s more than just their heart that feels…it’s all of them that feels.  They are capable of giving so much in a relationship, and might believe that their care and love will ‘fix’ an abuser.  A great book to read regarding this is: The Empaths Survival Guide by Judith Orloff.
  • I’m a huge believer in the MBTI (You can take a free, online test and learn more about this assessment tool here: Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and feel there are some aspects of personality as described by the MBTI that could be correlated to DV:
    • Extroverts – extroverts often have difficulty with boundaries and let people in more easily than others.
    • Introverts – are often more isolated which is something attractive to abusers.  Also, they are more prone to depression and may also take on more blame because of ruminating over the situation and seeing blame in themselves.
    • Intuitionists – although you would think people with strong intuition would be BETTER at determining someone could be abusive, I believe (based on my own experience) that the gut feelings instead say things like this:  “But, I know there’s a good person in there!”  “I can tell they are suffering too, and I just need to figure them out.”
    • Feelers – feelers tend to make decisions based more on a personal, emotional level (thinking with their hearts more than their heads) and tend to personalize situations which can lead them to feeling guilt or culpability in abusive situations.  
  • In terms of mental disorders/illnesses, I think the following can be tied into victimization:
    • Borderline Personality Disorder
    • Dependent Personality Disorder
    • Bipolar Disorder
    • Depression 
    • Anxiety Disorders
  • I also study a lot about attachment.  The attachment babies make to their first caregiver, usually their mothers, makes the ‘framework’ for all other future attachments.  This attachment can be secure or insecure:
    • Secure attachment makes the baby, and then later adult feel that:  
      • They’re lovable as they are
      • They are important and valued
      • They are worth protection and understanding
      • They are safe
    • Insecure attachment makes people feel that:
      • They’re not good enough to protect and keep safe
      • They have little value and are unimportant
      • They are not worth soothing and understanding
      • Because of these, insecurely attached individuals feel unsure of themselves in relationships and live with feeling that they aren’t worth their partners love and effort.  
    • Obviously, my belief is those with insecure attachments (one being the avoidant type and the other being the ambivalent type) don’t see the value, worth, and loveableness they have and will stay with an abuser out of insecurity and perhaps the feeling that they don’t deserve any better.
    • Lastly, we can’t ignore the fact that people who grow up in abusive homes have a much higher chance of becoming abusers, or victims, themselves.  In the PBS documentary No Safe Place, it’s said: “We (also) know that women who come from a family in which they witnessed their mother being battered are more susceptible to developing what is called ‘battered women’s syndrome’.  Such women may come to believe there is nothing they can do to get out of an abusive relationship.”  

So, the answer to understanding the ‘whys’ behind women and abuse are complicated, and can be a combination of everything above, or circumstances unique to the victim themselves. 

The take away is this:  abused women and men should never be judged for being, or staying, in a domestically violent relationship.  The dynamics of power, control, physical/verbal/psychological/sexual abuse, isolation, financial issues, threats, using children as tools of manipulation, ownership of weapons, lack of family/social support, etc. can all make it difficult through impossible for the victim to leave safely, even if the abuse is severe.  No one deserves to be abused.  NO one.  But every victim deserves our compassion. 

    Kristi xoxo
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