To be, or not to be…assertive. That is the question I pose to you.

My hospital room when my assertive  appendix demanded its release.
The view from my hospital bed on Memorial Day.

Being assertive is a challenge for me, but apparently not for my appendix, which choose Memorial Day to demand its freedom. That evening, I happily complied, and a surgeon put my appendix, and me, out of our misery.

(BTW, I’m perfectly happy without that little wormlike appendage to my colon. I’ve recovered quickly, thanks in part to the many doctors over the last century who contributed to the development of laparoscopic procedures.)

The day after my surgery, an interesting dilemma presented itself–to defend myself, and risk offending my surgeon, or to stay quiet. I choose a middle ground, and I’d love to know what you would have done.

To be assertive may risk causing offense.

In my memoir, which is written and soon to be agent-ready, I explore the roots, manifestation, and consequences of my excessive agreeableness. I own the sad truth that my inability to stand up for myself made it difficult to stand up for my son Matthew during his long rumble with a childhood brain tumor.

For many years, I was well aware of my reticence toward speaking up. There were times I tried to be assertive, but mostly I stayed in my comfort zone where others’ needs took priority over mine.

Being assertive is outside my comfort zone.

But with my uncomfortable truth ready to be laid bare to the world on the pages of my memoir, I’ve been making a concerted effort to be stronger, more assertive, to speak my truth.

Part of what makes it hard for me to speak openly is my fear that I’ll offend someone. That’s what happened with my surgeon.

The morning after my appendectomy, the diminutive man with thinning hair, square glasses, and nutmeg skin stopped in to check on me, and give me my discharge instructions. In a thick accent, he sped through the dos and don’ts. I caught a few snippets–showering was OK, swimming was not, no lifting, call his office if I had any problems.

“So I don’t need to schedule a follow-up appointment with you?” I asked when he finished.

“Yes, you do!” he said with a laugh, “I just told you that.” His laugh didn’t hide his derisive tone.

What I wanted to say, also with a laugh, was, Well, you have a very heavy accent and you talk too fast, so don’t blame me.

But that seemed rude. I was afraid I might offend him. I didn’t want to sound prejudiced.

So what I said, with a smile, was, “Well, you gave me a lot of information, and I’m just trying to take it all in.”

This was growth for me. In the past, I might have said, I’m sorry, I must have missed that. Or I might have been too embarrassed to say anything.

I took a step in the right direction by not taking the blame, and not feeling the shame. But I regret not being more assertive, and I don’t know how I could have responded without offending the person who had held my life–or at least the life of my inflamed appendix–in his hands.

I regret not being more assertive.

The dilemma is, when you want to stand up for yourself, but you don’t want to offend someone in a way that is antithetical to your beliefs, what do you do?

Since I’m learning to navigate these new waters of assertiveness, I’ll ask you–

What would you have done?

I’m in mental health therapy. It’s no big deal.

Photo courtesy Pexels.com

I have a therapist—a mental health counselor—who I see regularly.

It’s no big deal.

I’m not mentally ill. I don’t have drug or alcohol addictions. And I’m not in the middle of a big transition like divorce, serious illness, a loved one’s death, relocating, losing a job, or starting a job.

And yet, I see a therapist.

My point is that you don’t have to have a specific diagnosis or life-altering crisis or HUGE problem to engage in counseling. It doesn’t have to be a big deal.

Mental health counseling doesn’t have to be a big deal.

I’ve been in counseling many times in my life, starting when I was an overweight 16-year-old, my self-esteem in the toilet. In college, and as a young adult, I also sought help. And then again in 1997, when motherhood overwhelmed me because my 10-year-old son Matthew was falling apart from what would later be diagnosed as a brain tumor. (OK, that WAS a big deal, but we didn’t know it was first.)

Recently, three life events sent me back to my therapist:

  • Writing my memoir, and re-living the challenging years of parenting Matthew through his brain tumor.
  • The pain and isolation and frustration of my chronic illness, year six.
  • Growing pains. Sigh. Yes, still, at 60.

Mental health counseling is more than a bandaid.

My husband has strong shoulders to cry on, and my friends have ears open to listening, but sometimes I need a neutral, skilled party to help me weed through the surface shit and find the core of what’s bothering me. Friends and loved ones are sometimes just bandaids–very caring and soothing, but bandaids all the same. Therapy is like open-heart surgery–it gets to the source of the angst.

Some people don’t “do” counseling.

Earlier in my career, when I was a student assistance counselor in elementary schools, if I assessed a student who could benefit from counseling, I would ask the parents to consider it.

“I don’t DO counseling,” I often heard.

I get it. Some people would rather have a tooth pulled than to bare their souls to a stranger. Some people don’t feel the need to dig deep into their personalities or lives to figure themselves out. Some people won’t air their “dirty laundry” beyond family or friends. There’s no judgement here.

But if you had a recurrent pain in your calf or elbow or any there body part, when it got to be too much to bear, wouldn’t you see a doctor to treat it?

If you had a toothache, wouldn’t you see a dentist to stop the pain?

If you’re confused or sad or angry or don’t know how you feel, but you know you feel something and you want to feel better, why wouldn’t you reach out to get that help?

I reach out for help from a mental health professional because I love figuring myself out. I feel and think very deeply about just about everything…as my husband would attest. I’ve got more layers than an onion, more sides than a prism. Counseling helps me understand myself and my relationship to the world. We all have just one chance at this life, and I want to be my best self as I fumble through.

Mental health counseling is like running a marathon.

I love counseling in the way that some runners love marathons. It’s hard work. It’s usually painful. It challenges you to push through fear and self-doubt and find your inner strength. It makes you a better person in the end. For me, it’s all about personal growth, and counseling is the ultimate fertilizer.

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness month, I’m sharing my “no big deal” story in hopes that it will normalize counseling. I hope to de-stigmatize asking for, and receiving support from, a professional to help you obtain, regain, and/or maintain your emotional health.

Despite my convictions, I’m nervous about this disclosure.

In spite of my conviction that counseling need not be hidden because there’s nothing to be ashamed of, I’m still a little nervous about “outing” myself to the world on this topic. It just goes to show we all still have work to do.

I hope you’ll do the work with me. If you want counseling, I hope you’ll get it. If you’re in counseling, I hope you won’t hide it. If you’d like to “out” yourself here with a comment, go for it. I’m with you 100%.

Together, we can make caring for our emotional selves no big deal.

Resources:

How do you find a therapist? Click here, and below for some resources.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/in-depth/mental-health-providers/art-20045530

Also, many states and local governments have departments of mental health, or behavioral health, and may help you find sliding fee services.

Personal growth—before, during, and after.

Personal growth. C.S.Lewis quote.
Personal growth wisdom from C. S. Lewis.

I’m at a lull in my memoir manuscript. I’d been tackling the After section—the two decades or so since my son’s 1997 diagnosis with a brain tumor. It’s this time period–after the climax of the story–when most of my personal growth occurred. 

Most of my personal growth occurred in the After.

Before and During are in semi-final draft form; writing their dramatic scenes was easy compared to wrangling the life lessons of After onto the page. That’s why After is still partially in the “shitty first draft” stage (per Anne Lamott). And The End has not yet been penned.

One of my followers on social media wondered recently if she had missed any posts here on my website, since she hadn’t seen anything lately. Another follower who subscribes via email made a similar comment.

Nope. They, and you, haven’t seen new posts here because I’ve been working on the “business” side of my authorship trajectory. I’ve been trying to make a name for myself in the writing world, trying to get “found.” In the process, I’ve spread myself thinner than gingerbread cookie dough. 

For me, maintaining the business side of a writing career requires personal growth daily.

I wish I could clone myself or at least grow another pair of hands, but until that technology is invented, I’m stuck with fitting all my to-dos into the same 24 hours that you have.

But I do worry that some of you are missing out, so I’ll share some “business side” insider info.

Here’s the inside scoop:

If you follow or like my Facebook writer page, you’ll get to know me better, not just as a writer, but as a person. My page is strictly non-political (how often does that happen nowadays)? In fact, I strive to post only messages that bring people together, rather than tear them apart. Recently, I’ve told some stories of Christmas tree ornaments I made when I was first married. The message is not about Christmas per se, it’s about the lessons we glean from the mementos we save. 

You can follow me on Facebook by clicking here.

And if you subscribe via email, you’ll get in on some action coming up in 2019! For example, I’d love your help in tweaking my new header design for this website. And I hope to create a guided meditation audio with your input. It will be FREE to email subscribers only! If you’re not sure whether you’re on my email list, don’t worry–you won’t get duplicate emails if you sign up twice. 

Just scroll over or down to the “Enter email” box, and sign up to get in on the action in 2019!

There. Business commercial over. Back to my manuscript…

As hard as it is to write the After section of my memoir, the final chapter makes it all worthwhile. I’m blessed to have that reality. So many sad stories don’t have happy endings; mine does. My journey of personal growth was long and arduous, but I survived. As did my son. In fact, we are both thriving.

In fact, The End is so surprising and uplifting, I’m thinking of naming the final chapter 

“And then a miracle happened.”

Tis the season for miracles, is it not? I’ll be looking for moments amidst the holiday hoopla to create a miracle of words on the pages of my memoir. 

And as soon as After becomes Finished, I’ll be sure to let you know.