How Your Surrounding Space Can Help Improve Your Mental Health

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Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash

Whenever there’s an opportunity to make yourself feel better, seize it! The world is a hectic place, but your life doesn’t have to be.

Therapy isn’t the only way to improve mental health. There are some things you can do on your own to make yourself feel better – the space around you plays a big role in that. 

Do you know that feeling after cleaning up the house or decluttering your desk? That’s exactly what we mean by making yourself feel better. That feeling of motivation and positivity proves to what extent our surrounding space impacts our mental health. 

Here are some tips that can inspire you to improve your well-being and make meaningful changes to your space (and hopefully your inner and outer peace). 

Declutter regularly

“When my house is not in order, I don’t feel in order.”

Clutter can feel like your worst enemy. Picture yourself at the happiest you’ve ever been. Now imagine entering into a cluttered apartment. That feeling of disappointment that you are feeling only at the thought of clutter is proof that your surroundings play an enormous role in your life. The good news is that it doesn’t take that much effort to bring a positive change and to make yourself feel better. Decluttering requires a little will power and a couple of hours of your life (weekly or monthly depending on your desired level of decluttering).

Redecorate

Everybody enjoys a change here and there. Redecorating and changing your space can have a positive impact on your mental health. Those changes don’t have to be immense. Even the slightest update in your living room can put a smile on your face.

Why don’t you consider adding more plants to your space? You probably already know how healthy they are for their air-purifying elements, but they have some healing powers too. Plants will create a more natural atmosphere that will be more pleasant to be in.

(Caitlin’s note: I recommend Wild Interiors and Just Add Ice for indoor plants!)

Apart from adding green to your surroundings, you can bring more colors to your life by painting the walls. Colors can influence moods, so you should choose them carefully. For example, the blue color is known for its calming and soothing power, while yellow can boost your energy and put you in a better mood. 

Rearrange the furniture

While redecorating might require some time and money investment, rearranging the furniture definitely takes less effort but has a big role in elevating your mood.

My mum used to do this a lot when I was a kid, especially when she was feeling blue. A different living room set-up would always brighten up the house. Since my childhood, this was my go-to method for making myself feel happier.

Eventually, which furniture set-up works the best for you and your family depends on, well, you and your family. Try more options until you settle for the one that fits you the most and supports your daily activities in the most productive way.

Spruce up your workplace

“We are defined by where we spend our time.”

For most of us, our workplace is where we spend the majority of our time. There’s no denying that our job and office highly impact our mental health. So how do we turn this to our advantage? 

1) Add more plants

Plants are a must-have for every office space for health reasons and productivity. Even if you’re not working from home, but in a shared office space, there’s no way your colleagues or managers will object to having plants in the office. 

2) Clean and organize your desk 

Your desk needs to be taken care of regularly. Try to tidy up your office desk as soon as you are done for the day. Avoid keeping unnecessary documents or paper on it, that’s what file cabinets are for. Your desk should be fully optimized and free of clutter. Office tools like binders can also be very practical and can help you keep your space organized.

3) Let there be light and air

Good lighting and fresh air are crucial for every workspace. Nothing like those sun rays to make you feel productive and alive! 

Bonus tip: Leave the window open while you are on your lunch break. There is less chance that you will feel sleepy after eating if your office is well-aired. High temperatures can also cause you to feel sleepy, hence not productive, which is another reason to let air circulate.

4) Get a pet

A pet-friendly atmosphere will lift the mood of any workplace. If you are working from home, why don’t you consider getting a pet? If you are managing a workplace, definitely consider getting a pet for your employees. Not only that you will have a beautiful distraction from work, but you will also give and receive so much love, which will eventually make your work blossom.

5) Get inspired

Different people get inspired by different things. Your office space should reflect your personality, your desires, and your goals. You’ve surely noticed how some parents put framed photos of their children on their desks. It is what keeps them going, what makes them feel good and productive. It can be anything, from photos of your close ones to vision boards, places you’d like to visit, anything. What makes you good at your job? What’s your goal? Feel free to frame it and put it in a visible place so that you can get daily reminders of your path.

6) Add some colors

You will hear quite often that employees complain about the lack of color in their workplace. If you are one of them, share this constructive feedback with your managers so that they can consider adding some colors to your office. 

If you are lucky enough to be working from home, you should definitely do some research on colors that would fit you the best – not only can the right colors do wonders for your productivity, they can also improve your well-being and lift your mood. No need to paint your home office walls if that’s not your cup of tea; there are other ways to add color – rugs, paintings, photos, ornaments, etc.

The most important advice I’ve ever received was to always listen to myself. You should do the same. If it makes you feel bad, get rid of it. Experiment with your home, office space, walls, and furniture as much as you want until you get it right. Create a space where you will feel peaceful and happy – what more could a person ask for?

About the author

tess

 

Tess Cain loves being organized. If she is not working at office.eco, then she’s dedicating her time to staying clean, clutter-free and organized. She also likes the outdoors, working out and volunteering.

An Open Letter to the Person Who Isn’t Ready to Leave

Woman looking down

Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

Do you suspect that there’s something amiss in your relationship?

Whether it’s with a romantic partner or a friend or a family member, it doesn’t matter. But something feels wrong and you think maybe if you had better boundaries or could stand up for yourself this wouldn’t be happening. You might be wondering if you should leave, or make an ultimatum, or put your foot down. You might be considering going on strike with your household duties until your partner realizes how much you do.

You might be scared to do any of those things.

Your fear is valid. Your worry is valid. Your shame, anger, sadness, and loneliness – all valid.

You are going through a lot right now, and you might not be ready to make a life-changing decision.

And that is okay. 

It takes an average of seven times for an abuse victim to leave the relationship.

Seven.

If this is the first you’re realizing your relationship is not healthy, it is not only okay to not be ready to take that step, it’s normal. 

There are so many factors that go into leaving.

Do you have kids? How old are they? Are you financially and socially secure enough to be a single parent? Are you prepared for a custody battle? Are you pregnant? Will you lose your health insurance if you get divorced? Do you have a place to stay? Can you afford your housing payments on your own? Do you have a job? Do you have childcare? Are you ill? Is your partner physically abusive? Do you have an advocate? Do you have a religious or cultural background that shames divorce? Do you feel responsible for your partner’s well-being?

The factors of leaving a traumatic relationship are innumerable and overwhelming. Especially when you don’t have the means to make such a huge decision.

I was incredibly privileged. 

My husband and I had separate accounts, and I had enough income from my job to easily pay a deposit and rent in a new apartment, without him knowing I was saving money. I had friends who helped me move. I was able to move when he was out of the country, which allowed me to not get sucked back in by his promises and gaslighting. He was never physically abusive and I did not fear for my physical safety.

So many people do not have these privileges, and leaving is an even more delicate dance.

He found out my plan because someone leaked my posts from a private Facebook group where I had discussed my abuse. He had someone stalk the house while I moved out. My father took his side when I left and now I have two estranged parents instead of one.

I am absolutely traumatized from my relationship with my abuser and it has affected every relationship since. It took me two tries, but I got out.

If you cannot leave right now, that is okay. 

It is okay for this to be a process.

You are worthy and valuable and deserve better, even if you are not ready to leave today.

For help identifying or leaving an abusive relationship, please contact the Domestic Violence Hotline. 1-800-799-7233

http://www.thehotline.org/

 

Why you need to go to therapy, and why you probably can’t

therapy

In theory, every single person would benefit from regular therapy. Just like you get an annual physical to check your blood work for issues you can’t see, like cholesterol, blood sugar, inflammation, and more, a regular check-in with a therapist can help you maintain healthy levels of psychological self care.

When I meet with my psychiatrist, she goes through a depression and anxiety inventory and scores it. From the time I went on medication in December 2017 to my checkup in February 2019 (and quarterly follow-ups between), my scores consistently dropped. It was a quantitative way to check in and realize I was making strides in my mental health that could not have been noticed by just considering if I was feeling “less depressed.”

We developed a plan to wean off meds, and I’ve been off them entirely since May 2019 (the same month my book launched and I broke up with a boyfriend of over a year — it was a great time to go off meds! Sarcasm!) The moral of the meds story is that once I was out of an abusive marriage and actively working through my trauma in therapy, I was managing my mental health without the use of medication. If it turned out that I still needed it, I would have gone back on.

However, even if you don’t see a psychiatrist for a diagnosed mental illness like depression, anxiety, bipolar, borderline, OCD, C-PTSD, etc., and even if you don’t take meds, mental health care helps everyone.

You would benefit from therapy

Yeah, you. Whoever you are and whatever you’ve been through, even if you think you’re fine.

We live in an extremely stressful society that is not set up for our well-being. We are over-worked, minimum wage doesn’t cover rent prices anywhere in the U.S., we’re drowning in student loans, and we have concentration camps. That’s just one country. Globally, there’s genocide and rampant homophobia/transphobia and the Amazon is burning and the ice caps are melting.

Watch the news for five minutes and you could benefit from a therapist.

Some of my readers who attend (or have attended) therapy said:

  • “My health insurance is good about covering therapy and visits to a CNP who can prescribe medication. I absolutely needed therapy almost three years ago and it’s led to me rising high above much of my depression and anxiety, and to just see more of my own worth. All of it was hard. Making appointments. Going to appointments. Having my therapist tell me things that were hard to hear. I don’t regret any of it.”
  • “For an hour I slow down. It isn’t deadlines and juggling, it’s take time, process, feel, reflect. As a single mom, there’s very little time for that. It’s always putting out fires and juggling other people’s needs. My therapy is my one self indulgence, the one thing I completely do for me. It’s like the bare minimum of self care and it still feel selfish for it when I’m doing the schedule shuffling to make our weeks work.”
  • “I have been going to therapy for three years now and it’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever done for myself. I went from being on 7 different medications and still unable to function as a human with C-PTSD and DID and now I take one medication and have a full time job with normal to low anxiety.”
  • “It’s been amazing for me and helped me leave my emotionally/psychologically abusive marriage, start healing the trauma from that and from my childhood, improve lots of areas of myself that also have helped improve my parenting. I recommend it to others every chance I get.”
  • “I go to therapy to find myself again. After so much abuse I’ve gone through I’ve lost the real me. My therapist has helped me so much. I’m so very grateful for him and would recommend therapy to everyone.”
  • “I used to go to therapy. It helped me process some stuff that I desperately needed to work through, like realizing just how abusive my parents truly were. I’m tempted to go again because I’m barely functioning again, but I worry they won’t help, just use me as a lab rat to satisfy their curiosity.”
  • “My therapist is always calling me out, and, don’t tell her, but I like it.”
  • “Finding the right therapist is key and worth being patient.”
  • “Without therapy I would never have identified I was being abused.”
  • “I have been to multiple therapists in the past. The only one I’d say had a real impact was my PTSD specialist (EMDR therapy). The others… by and large, I usually left sessions feeling more confused than I did when I went in.”
  • “I have been in and out of therapy since I was 5. I go because while I have figured out how to process and unpack my trauma on my own, I currently and desperately need to undo some learned behaviors and deal with my most recent bout of abuse and deal with my PTSD. It helps to have a space space to break down or soundboard once a week. I personally think everyone can benefit from therapy. EVERYONE.”

The key is that everyone would benefit from a therapist with absolutely no biases that preclude proper supportive care, and that’s not always possible.

When you can’t go to therapy

There is a huge problem with access to therapy. Many people are without insurance, transportation, or income to be able to access a therapist. More, it can be difficult and daunting to find an inclusive therapist who is open and accepting of all gender identities, sexualities, relationship styles, ability levels, etc. or who is informed in a specific need if you have one. As a result, marginalized people face even more hardship because they cannot even access the services and tools to help them cope.

I asked readers to chime in if they go to therapy or not and why. Here are some of the negative responses:

  • “I’ve been told by basically everyone I’m close to that I need to go to therapy, and I want to, but I can’t afford it and I’ll never be able to at this rate.”
  • “Every therapist seemed wholly overwhelmed and some cried”
  • “Not anymore. They spend more time studying me than helping me. ‘Oh you’re nonbinary, I have a lot of questions.’ While some of them never mention ‘the autism’ some brought it up to congratulate me for being so functional. And some were really helpful – that’s the bitter pill.”
  • “No insurance, so no. Probably not once we have insurance, because nothing I can find that we can afford covers it. When I did, I found it largely unhelpful due to the profession being dominated by people who don’t think people with breasts can possibly know their own mind. Never mind trauma-informed, educated on chronic illness, accepting of autism self-diagnosis, etc. When I’m having to educate my therapist constantly, it doesn’t make for a good relationship.”
  • “Even if I had insurance, it would be near impossible to find a non-racist, trans inclusive, queer positive, non Christian therapist with a good praxis on ableism here. When I have had therapy it was not helpful because the therapist could not understand my life experience and was not comprehending of the support I needed, which resulted in me being gaslit and given harmful advice that increased my abuser’s control over me.”
  • “I have insurance but I have phone anxiety and anxiety about not knowing how to set up appointments. I also have some trauma related to bad counseling I’ve had. That’s not getting into being a neurodivergent creative weirdo and also accidentally stunning them with my trauma. It honestly feels like having to translate a deeply personal internal language with other people outside myself for every basic communication.”
  • “No. Because the stigma means that if anyone knew, they would think less of me. Like there’s something wrong with me.”

Others who are able to go to therapy can only do so because of special access programs.

  • “The only way I can afford to go is because I signed up with Open Path. I go because I finally realized last year that I needed to talk to a professional about my past traumas and talk about my depression and anxiety issues that stemmed from them. My therapist has helped me totally reframe the way I think about my past and change the way I talk about it. It’s gonna be a long process, but I feel more optimistic now than I ever have before.
  • “The only reason I’m able to is because of a local organization of therapists who volunteer their time for the uninsured. I chose to go when I was having daily suicidal thoughts, but I should have been going for the last 20 years. I’ve been going for 8 months now and so far it’s been extremely helpful just to be able to talk without fear of judgment and without feedback or bias. The entire experience has been extremely validating and I think absolutely every person on this planet should see a therapist regularly.”

This system is letting people down

People don’t have access to safe, inclusive, reliable, affordable mental health care — and that means that people are not safe. We are letting down trans people, domestic violence survivors, veterans, and everyone else including people who just need a safe space to unload their mental burdens. We are mainlining stress and gating the resources to manage it in a healthy way.

In a new study published in 2018, researchers found that “mental health services in the US are insufficient despite more than half of Americans seeking help. Limited options and long waits are the norm, but some bright spots with 76% of Americans now seeing mental health as important as physical health.”

Barriers cited in this study include:

  • High cost and insufficient insurance coverage
  • Limited options and long waits
  • Lack of awareness (not knowing where to go for service)
  • Social stigma

We’ve created a world that is too stressful to bear, limited the access to mental health care, and stigmatized those who seek or use it. Not to mention we raise boys to avoid emotional expression, thereby ensuring a huge chunk of each generation doesn’t even know how to express that they’re feeling stressed or angry or hurt without violence, lest they be seen as weak.

We need to do better.

Read more from me!

If you enjoyed this post (enjoy is a strong word, it was kind of a downer), you might also like my book, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the book, so please give it a read and leave a five star review on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to Amazon, I have some other links here.

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There’s no timeline on healing or love

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When I turned 25, I made a five year plan. Become debt free and a mother by 30, in April 2018.

I am now 31 and neither of those things happened.

In fact, as 30 approached, I was facing a lot of other huge life circumstances. In August 2016 I got married and immediately started trying to conceive a much wanted baby. In January 2017 I stopped speaking to my mother, until February 2018 when I unwittingly made contact with her through my stepdad’s phone. She tersely let me know he had cancer, and through speaking with my siblings I came to understand that she had deliberately kept the news from me to punish me for cutting her out of my life. (I wrote about this experience here).

Within a ten day span in March 2018, I left an abusive marriage, packed everything I owned and moved into a new apartment, endured transatlantic cyber bullying at the hands of my husband, and watched my stepfather die of lung cancer. Oh, and accepted a book deal.

Life did not give one iota of a shit about my five year plan. I still have student loans and I never did get pregnant (thank goodness).

The timeline of healing

After I left my abuser, I committed to only casual relationships on a non-monogamous basis for at least a year. And then I fell in love. And I fought it. I didn’t want to be in love, I wanted time to be single and to heal.

My sister gave me some sage advice: There’s no timeline on healing or love. You’re allowed to fall in love whenever you fall in love.

I decided I could work on healing from my abusive upbringing and marriage at the same time I was enjoying a relationship. I continued going to therapy and reading books that helped me process my trauma, and I had fewer panic attacks and C-PTSD episodes as time went on. I was healing.

And then our relationship imploded, as did another year-long relationship of mine, and I found myself newly single again.

But I noticed something important. While it had taken me years to realize my marriage was harmful, it took me only months with my boyfriend and mere weeks with my girlfriend. Of course, looking back, I can see that there were signs of the unhealthy patterns long before I realized them, but it was proof of my healing. I was doing the work. I wasn’t putting up with unhealthy behavior once I realized it was happening.

The timeline of love

Letting myself feel my feelings and fall in love was important. Fresh out of an abusive marriage, I really needed to feel loved again. I am a big fan of taking time to be single and focus on self-love, but I’m also not upset that I spent my first year away from my ex feeling loved and supported by two partners.

When those relationships ended, I was much more able to take time to be single. Seeing that I had fallen into similar behaviors (serving as one partner’s sole emotional support to my own detriment, allowing the other to continually violate my boundaries and forgiving them because each time seemed individually like an honest mistake) as I had in my marriage, because on some level I was still scared of being seen as too hard to love, was something I needed to realize. And now that I’ve had those experiences, I have realized them.

This has given me new targets for therapy.

Your responsibilities in a relationship

Some fundamental truths I’ve stumbled upon in therapy include the following:

  • I am not responsible for making my thoughts and emotions comfortable for other people. How many of us do this? We feel hurt or upset but keep our pain internalized until we’ve either ignored it or whittled it into something tiny and non-offensive that we can bring up to our partners apologetically and hope to stand up for ourselves about it. The trouble is, when we’ve been taught over and over again that our hurt feelings aren’t valid, we just start invalidating them ourselves. “I won’t talk about this with him, I’m probably just overreacting.” No, we’re not doing that anymore. If you feel hurt, tell your partner. The discomfort of this conversation is important: if the discomfort gives way to healing and repair, then that’s a sign of a healthy relationship. If it gives way to invalidating blame, then that’s a sign you aren’t with someone who values you and wants to treat you well.
  • Managing my partners’ behavior is not a normal part of a healthy relationship. I’ve always been the PR spinner in my relationships. With my abusive ex, I would post cute stories about our conversations on Facebook and my friends fawned over how sweet we were. “Get a man who makes coffee in the morning and does the dishes!” I’d say, to a chorus of “He should teach a class on being a husband!” and “Can I borrow him so he can teach mine??” But the man only had three regular chores and didn’t do any of them completely. If I wanted to continue getting coffee in the morning and have him washing dishes at 50% competency, I had to put on the happy face and brag about him in a public way so he rewarded me instead of punishing me. I also had a habit of staying mentally two steps ahead of partners’ behavior to make sure they didn’t do something problematic. I also did this with my parents: I’d have to watch to make sure dad didn’t harass a waitress with a sexist comment or keep an eye on mom’s mood to warn my sister to behave. I have always had to stay aware of everyone around me to reduce the risk of danger/abuse. Turns out this is not a normal part of a relationship.
  • I give my love away freely so people never feel like they have to earn it. Realizing this was hard. I have always felt like I had to behave properly in order to receive love – I had to earn it. If I was a bad kid, I didn’t get love. If I was a bad wife, I didn’t get love. Subsequently, I wanted to make sure no one ever felt like that’s what I was doing to them. I didn’t want to paywall my affections and make someone earn them… so I had no boundaries because I always wanted people to have access to my love. This is unsustainable. Love is unconditional, but access is not, and sometimes I have to say no to something or someone in order to take care of myself and avoid burning out. Boundaries are a form of love too.
  • I am not responsible for making other people love me and treat me with value; that is their job. Seriously. If you are in a relationship with me, I shouldn’t have to convince you I’m worth loving, appreciating, or being with. Having to perform at this level with so many partners has been exhausting, and I don’t do it anymore. If you don’t want to be with me, stop being with me. I should not have to earn your time and attention.

Single part two

As I mentioned, after these two breakups I’ve been spending time being single and casually dating, but I’m not in any serious relationships. I still consider myself single. But I’m also feeling like I may be ready to start dating a little more seriously soon. My plan is to stay single until the new year, but we all know that life laughs at my plans. And if I end up feeling ready before then, that’s okay too. Because I decide when I’m ready, and it doesn’t mean I can’t dial things back if I find I still need single time later.

The same is true for you. You can’t heal on a timeline and you can’t control when something happens off your plan. But you can choose to lean into your vulnerability and your love and let something wonderful happen. (And you can also choose to pull back and say no, I’m actually not ready yet. It is up to you!)

Read more from me

If you dig my brand of encouragement, you might like my Patreon page, where supporters receive a weekly pep talk post! You can sign up at varying levels for different content access, starting at just $1 per month.

You can also support my work by purchasing my book, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the book, so please give it a read and leave a review on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to Amazon, I have some other links here.

 

 

Can emotional abuse be sexual abuse?

woman looking away

A black and white image of a woman covering her face with one hand and looking downcast. Her dark hair covers her shoulders and part of her face. Photo by Juan Pablo Arenas via Pexels

I got divorced last May, and in the midst of Justin Timberlake memes and shorts weather and anticipating my upcoming book launch, the anniversary of my divorce date looms near. And I am still mad at my abuser, which is frustrating because I thought I would have overcome all my trauma in a neat, tidy package by now.

The more I process out loud, in therapy and in online support groups and in conversations with my friends and in posts to my social media, the more the shadowy puzzle pieces of the seven years I spent with him click into place and are illuminated for what they really were.

It was not “irreconcilable differences.” It wasn’t “communication issues.” It wasn’t anything like that. He orchestrated our relationship, and my submission, from day one, and unpacking that level of abuse feels like a punch in the gut. It wasn’t love, it wasn’t happiness, it wasn’t anything I thought it was. I was preyed on, targeted, groomed, and controlled, and when I left, he was so angry about it that his entire facade fell apart.

I was scared of him for years, and went to therapy to figure out what about ME was wrong, was preventing me from trusting him, was causing these conflicts and doubts in my head about our relationship. I wish I could hold my former self and tell her that there was nothing wrong with her, and that the reason she didn’t trust him was because it wasn’t safe to.

When I first left him, I knew that he had been manipulative. I caught on to the cycles of treating me nicely, lots of sex and affection, lots of praise… followed by reminding me I was a lot of work, difficult to be with, and that he was the only one who would love me like that, whenever I expressed an interest in, say, sex without him watching porn the whole time.

When I was upset or doubtful about our relationship, he would say things like, “How can you think so little of me? There is a version of me in your head that you’re upset with that’s not the real me.” And I would go to therapy and ask what I could do to not be so anxious and distrustful. I wanted to be a good wife.

When mental abusers use sex to control

There are so many facets of our relationship that I’ve become more clear about since leaving. But the one that recently gobsmacked me is the sexual aspect of his control.

When I moved into his house, our sex life disappeared overnight. He always had a good reason. First he was upset about his divorce being final, then he was stressed at work, then he was not sleeping well, etc. And I was patient, and reassured him I loved him, and waited for him to feel better, for our drives to sync back up like they had when we had been dating.

According to him, me talking about our mismatched sex drives was pressuring him, me asking him to not fantasize about group sex or watch porn while we had sex was shaming his fantasies, and me suggesting we table the idea of getting pregnant while we worked on our issues was a slap in his face and the assertion that if I wasn’t sure NOW, we may as well never try.

He started Viagra to help things along, insisting that he had the mental desire for sex but just had some physical issues with the execution of it. He took 1/4 of a Viagra before bed, with the hopes that it would “be in his system” when he woke up and he could have sex with me in the morning. Spoilers: This is not how Viagra works.

Other reasons we did not have sex included:

  • He hadn’t slept well
  • He didn’t want to prevent me from my morning workout routine
  • He didn’t like evening sex, only morning sex (but see #1)
  • He felt I was punishing him by not providing (unreciprocated) oral sex

Finally, desperately, in an attempt to not totally screw up my life by having an affair to satisfy my carnal desires, I sat him down, told him I loved him, told him that I did not want to pressure him into sex, and asked if we could open our relationship.

He absolutely blew up in fury. He said things like:

  • If you get pregnant and it’s not mine, your options are abortion or divorce.
  • If you get pregnant in the next six months, even if we don’t open the relationship, I will demand a paternity test.
  • How could you risk our marriage by getting pregnant with another man’s baby?
  • How can I trust that you will use condoms?
  • For fuck’s sake, you should have had an affair.
  • You know this means I would be able to have another partner too.

He kept me awake past midnight, demanding to know why I had dared to ask him for this. I told him, “I can’t have this conversation right now, I am so tired and I need to sleep,” and he said, “You’d better wake the hell up then.” He wouldn’t let me end the conversation. Finally I said, “I guess I didn’t think it through,” and that was the only thing that made him relent and forgive me.

To my knowledge, he remains convinced that I was already seeing someone else when I left. The introspection it would take for him to realize that he pushed me to a breaking point with his sexual manipulation tactics is never going to happen.

After a year of distance from being in this day to day minefield of affection, I realize now that he had no issues having sex with me when he needed me to feel better about our relationship. When I was in my lowest lows, he managed to rise to the occasion. This was such a pattern that, when I finally told him I was leaving, one of his legitimate grasps at the straws of our relationship was, “Did our weekend of great sex confuse you?” To be clear, our “weekend of great sex” consisted of me setting a five minute timer for oral sex, asking him to continue after my five minutes was up, and then him telling me that I didn’t understand limits and boundaries, and this was another reason we couldn’t open the relationship. Because if I couldn’t be satisfied with five minutes of lukewarm cunnilingus, how could I be satisfied by protected sex with a new partner?

Realizing I was used

This part, the realizing that our sex life was never a fun and spicy time of physical affection and mutual desire, but rather a means to keep me on my short leash and happy about it… feels disgusting. I feel used, I feel dirty, I feel gross.

I struggle to call it sexual abuse. I don’t know if it qualifies.

But if I had known? If I had known that I was consenting to sex for the sole purpose of making my brain trauma-bond to the good times so the bad times seemed less painful? If I had known that sex was being used as a weapon to keep me in line, denied when I wasn’t performing my wifely duties of shutting up and looking pretty but freely given when I was at the end of my rope? I would have left him years earlier. And that feels awful.

You aren’t alone

In the year since I left my abuser, I’ve been sharing stories from survivors on my blog. Sometimes they’re mine. Sometimes they’re not. But I share them, and I continue to speak out loud about my experiences, because there is power in the story. For anyone reading this who has felt used, abused, and controlled… you aren’t alone. And you can be okay.

For help identifying or leaving an abusive relationship, please contact the Domestic Violence Hotline. 1-800-799-7233

 

 

 

 

Emotional exhaustion is as real as physical exhaustion

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Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash

This week is full of anniversaries for me.

In 2012, my first divorce was finalized on March 19.

In 2018, I began the process of leaving my second marriage on March 17.

In 2018, my stepdad died just after 1:00am on March 22 and it was the first time I had seen or spoken to my mother in fourteen months.

In 2018, I last saw my mom on March 24.

In 2018, my ex-husband berated and harassed me via text message, Facebook messenger, and phone calls on March 20, March 26, and March 27.

In 2018, the last time I pet the five cats I left behind was March 27.

In 2018, I packed and moved all of my belongings in a matter of days, moving into a new apartment on my own on March 27.

At some point around this timeline last year, I also saw my dad for the last time in person. He came to visit me after I moved out but wanted me to explain the ways I was abused before he would believe me. I had no patience for this and stopped returning his calls.

I think my body remembers all this trauma, sadness, and honestly hard ass work.

I have been nothing short of exhausted all week. I even emailed my boss that I’d have to work in the evening on Tuesday so that I could take a nap during my normal work hours. (Props to me for not forcing myself to work when I seriously had no spoons).

When I say all this to my friends and ask why I am so tired, they remind me that emotional exhaustion is as hard on the body as physical exhaustion.

I’ve been focusing on rest for the past month and a half. I try to get nine hours of sleep each night. I take baths almost daily to relax my muscles so my legs don’t hurt. I eat what I crave and no longer restrict myself, which has really opened up a lot of space in my brain that used to be filled with arbitrary rules and self-loathing.

It’s all happening at once, so fast, and I am tired.

I am, without a doubt, healthier and happier than I was a year ago. But I was also running on fumes, and my body remembers. I wasn’t taking the time to process any of my emotions then, because I needed to haul ass and survive. And I have done more than survive.

I have been unapologetically running my mouth about my abuse, my experiences, my loss, and my grief. For a year. They are mine, they belong to me, and if the people who mistreated me are upset about their portrayal in my story, they should have thought of that before they hurt me. I own everything that happened to me, and it is my right to share it.

So I share it.

Another driving force behind my continued storytelling about abuse and the self love that grew from my own personal forest fire is the fact that countless people have let me know that my story has helped them realize they were in toxic relationships too. They have left abusers, they have done the impossible.

The more we talk about it, the more we help others see that they can do it too.

But damn, I am tired.

 

The Holiday Obligation Bill of Rights

christmas catIt’s that time of year again. It’s only the first week of December but the flames on your holiday stress fire have been getting hotter since mid November. I’m prone to seasonal affective disorder, which starts as soon as the time change happens and the clocks roll back an hour. Suddenly it’s pitch black when I’m driving home from work, everything is gray and overcast, and the deadlines are rushing at me like something out of a Final Destination movie.

Personally, I’ve got a book deadline, three blog commitments (I have a new website and I’ve started publishing on Medium, though I may adjust the frequency so I’m not tripling my workload with a weekly piece on each platform), and social plans all vying for my attention. Luckily, the whimsy of the season and the thrill of shopping for the perfect gifts for my loved ones gets me through the first couple months of fall/winter, but after the new year starts, it’s just three more months of slush and snow and darkness and existential angst.

As I’ve been working toward a lower impact life (both physically and mentally), I’ve found that I naturally have created guidelines for how to spend my time. Ever the minimalist at heart, it’s important for me to remember that minimalism isn’t just about physical stuff and clutter. It’s also about a healthy schedule and mental clutter so that I make time for the priorities.

Since the holiday season is usually stuffed to the brim like an overfilled stocking with social and family obligations, I want to remind everyone that boundaries and taking care of yourself are still important and valid, even when it feels like your time is more necessary elsewhere.

Here are ten rights you have this holiday season.

  1. You have the right to stay home. Seriously. Even if it’s Christmas at your mom’s house. Even if you haven’t seen your second cousins in fifteen years. Only accept plans you WANT to do and have the ABILITY to do.
  2. You have the right to limit your budget. While “gift giving” is one of the five major love languages, the price tag is not a defining characteristic. Don’t go broke (or into debt) in an attempt to show people how much you care. If you’re close to your budget limits and still want to give more, consider handmade gifts or writing heartfelt notes, especially if the recipient is a “words of affirmation” love language person.
  3. You have the right to leave early. If you’re at a holiday party or family gathering and you’re tired, uncomfortable, or otherwise just don’t want to be there, it’s okay to say your goodbyes and head home early.
  4. You have the right to eat what you want. Love your body, eat a cookie, don’t punish yourself.
  5. You have the right to ask for what you really want. Nobody has to give it to you, but you have the right to create a wish list and be clear about what you want. One year, my sister asked for cash to help fund an alternative break trip she was taking with a group in college, and family members deemed it inappropriate to ask for cash. Unless it hurts somebody, it’s okay to ask for what you want.
  6. You have the right to reschedule social plans. Some of my closest humans probably won’t be able to get together until after Yule and Christmas have actually passed. It’ll still be a great time. You can literally reschedule your holiday festivities to a later date, or celebrate early!
  7. You have the right to call it whatever you want. Celebrate Yule, Christmas, Hannukah, or any other of the myriad winter holidays happening within this timeframe? Rock on and celebrate it your way. Pay no attention to the grumps arguing about the war on Christmas. That’s not a thing.
  8. You have the right to not call people you don’t want to talk to. I am estranged from my parents, and the holidays are one of the toughest times to be estranged. I still feel a little tug that says I should call or reach out. Nope. I do not have to open myself up to emotional abuse, and neither do you.
  9. You have the right to return or re-gift. If you receive a gift that isn’t up your alley for any reason, you are under no obligation to keep it. Don’t stress out by finding a place for it or worrying about what Great Aunt Edna will think if she never sees that sweater in your selfies.
  10. You have the right to not hug people. Neither children nor adults are obligated to hug or otherwise show affection to anyone if they don’t want to. This is especially important to impart to children, who are learning about bodily autonomy. If a little kid doesn’t want to hug and kiss grandma, make it clear to everyone that it’s not okay to force it.
  11. BONUS: You have the right to decorate as much or as little as you want. I hung my favorite ornaments on a potted palm tree. You make the rules!