The Names We Give Ourselves, Part II

The Names We Give Ourselves, Part II

When I imagine Seuss writing, I picture him enjoying the art - flowed out of him. It was not forced. But, until I was in my late thirties, that concept evaded me. Self-compassion was not winning.

For a good 3 years, I ignored internal feedback like stress headaches, stomach aches, fatigue, stiffness, the sense of impending doom and feeling disconnected from myself and others. Instead, I warriored, I thought “sticking it out,” “rising above,” skipping sleep, and long to-do lists was normal for people. 

It took about ten more years to learn that is called survival. Forcing it led to health problems, including Depression, and a distorted view of the world. Surviving, settling, ignoring internal feedback, distracted by to do lists. Today, flow is the name of the game for me. But, it took decades to elevate dreams, imagination, strengths, attachments, or faith above ugly words or naysayers; whether my own or someone else’s.

In my last two posts, Life After Depression and The Names We Give Ourselves Part I, I shared about overcoming psychological stress and thriving regardless of diagnosis, name or label. If you take one thing away today, I hope it is this: meaning doesn’t come from being good at something. Meaning is what we attach to the thing, the memory, the event, the person, whatever. It’s not what happens, but the meaning I give it. Flow is triggered when a challenge, concentration, self-efficacy, enjoyment and learning meet.

Much like Viktor Frankl’s words in Man’s Search for Meaning, “For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue… as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater than oneself.” Consciousness, self-awareness and change occurred when I got out of my own way. Forcing myself to do a thousand things was an anesthetic. 

In my early twenties especially, I saw the world as though “there wasn’t enough.” So, I did more. And more. And more. It was not sustainable. I was on a self-imposed crash course. 

I was born Colleen Clark. I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. I was labeled as “too young.” I could add a lot more labels. But, none of them are relevant to me. I’ve noticed some find labels relevant. 

But, usually that person who feels small, stuck perpetually disappointed, suffering from FOMO and the insecurity is masked by microscoping someone else. It’s easier to focus on someone else. We’ve all done it. Yet, for some, distraction is a survival mechanism, an art, a past time that results in brooding. 

Bullying, voyeurism, harassment, insult and abuse are at new levels since screens and their interstates and boulevards became something for people to use as weapons. When I let any of those in, it’s a choice. And it is like sugar for cancer. Toxic shame is learned. 

Those who engage in bullying (especially cyber), voyeurism, harassment, insult or abuse are heavily laden by toxic shame and they are dealing with their own diagnoses, names and labels.

The names we give ourselves can be impermanent. In other words, a diagnosis doesn’t have to change everything. A bad act doesn’t mean the end of professional or personal feats. A label can dissolve faster than it was adhered to. But, it takes an antidote each time. 

Here are some common reasons why we accept a diagnosis, name or label and ways I persisted beyond a season of survival:

  • Doing is More Prized than Being. I tripped over lots of self-limiting beliefs. At the core of them, I didn’t think anything I did was enough. So, in my late twenties until now, 39, I redefine enough every day so I do not put myself on any treadmills. I let my body give me feedback. I can tell when I prize doing more over “being” when: my expectations exceed my bandwidth, my joy wanes, sleep is broken and when I’m hyper vigilant. Checking in with my basic needs like food, water, rest or human connection are a few ways I ease myself back to flow. A diagnosis, name or label can push me to force something (emotion, circumstance, action, etc.) if we allow it. But, the meaning I attach to these can also free me.
  • Self-Doubt. A vessel without flow. The easiest way to avoid this is to take inventory of my small circle. I press to keep it small because life is loud. Voices and opinions creep in without invitation and one thing about my personality is I need to keep things simple. Boiling something down helps me come back to my faith and reliable people who will reflect back to me when I am off and together we take on challenges and new ideas. It’s a choice to allow high intensity. It’s a choice to live in flow. Neither one is easy. But, one leads to deep, abiding comforts. While high intensity dilutes pain, it does not deal with the source. I’ve found out that self-doubt had more to do with 20 some years of looking more at the symptoms than looking at the cause. For me, Depression led to being disconnected from myself. Self-doubt has a way of doing that too. Today, one way I cure self-doubt is to look at the history of God’s faithfulness. 
  • Perfectionism. Growing up Catholic, I thought I was earning God’s grace. I was going to do my best to be His shining star. That was the thinking that led to some incredibly insincere actions and depressed emotions. It was not feasible to achieve the goals I set. It was like a torture chamber. If I reached it, I must have not set it high enough so I must now move the goal post. When I earned a DUI in 2009, facing criminal charges scared me frozen. I did not want to be a criminal. In fact, this can’t be true. I went through all of the stages of grief. Perfectionism told me I am no one if I earned that misdemeanor. With time, I noticed that every standard will be broken. When I break one and I acknowledge it, learn from it and have stillness through the process, I am no longer defined by a label. I noticed that when others want me to be defined by a label that’s their own issue. I am responsible for recognizing the standard and where my actions led. The meaning I attach to that event is not about civic law, media, or bored people. Candor, authenticity, and curiosity have been closely linked to prayer and classical music for me. I love to insert Pavarotti or Paul Cardell in my day.
  • Fear. As much as hope is a skill. Fear is one too. I can ruminate or I can act in the direction of my hope. As I practice hope, I have noticed that awareness, acceptance and compassionate action are flowing today. I do not skip past any of them. It’s a habit. A diagnosis, name or label can evoke great fear. Two years after my DUI, a political image consultant suggested I change my name. I liked the name I saw on a water tower and the name I saw on a street so I did it. Fear was driving. While I had already spoken publicly about the DUI to hundreds of thousands of people via my 3 professional roles, it sounded resourceful. Now, in the age of google and any number of white collar crimes, it gets attention. For me the name and the labels are of no value, pure noise from those who are in survival like I once was.

Names are not everything. But they are names. So, as news anchors, authors, public figures, creatives, artists, musicians, or men and women of the Bible live under a new name, we can all extend a nod and a hand when they live life freely, openly and curiously. 

In Oh, the Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss told us about that hope:

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

Seuss gently curated friendly ideas with the welcome mat of color and character to help us slow down and live life on life’s terms. He doesn’t tell us to make the impossible possible, but to be and to connect within (intrapersonal) so we can connect on the outside (interpersonal) too. Suess found flow. Just look at what he created. Incredible flow.

By grace and design, I experience flow. But when I had it backwards, I was taking notes. As I go back and read them, I see where the wisdom of the ages and creativity place light into my mind and calm into my gut - like waves.

The biggest part of my journey has been allowing self-awareness to exist without its former kin, toxic shame. 

A couple of the books that helped me treasure the ebb and flow are:

  • Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
  • Healing the Shame that Binds You by John Bradshaw

Suffering has the potential to make us sensitive about what human beings go through. My own diagnosis, name and label included some suffering. But, in a few years, I was given tools to replace what I call reactions. My old self-limiting beliefs led to reacting with a narrowed perspective. Today, I want to share any tool I know to work … with others… as a friend, daughter, sister, clinician, neighbor. Being sensitive is part of where the Depression seeped in. 

Not all bad! Today, I look at being sensitive as a self-regulating practice. The consciousness and depth of emotion that comes from living in the present far exceeds what I could have imagined God doing for me. He brings me back to candor, authenticity, curiosity, green pastures, vistas, dear friends and a security that has nothing to do with warrioring.

Seuss reminds me that the names we give ourselves are like, “I can read in red, I can read in blue. I can read in pickle color too” Meaning is everything.


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