Everybody Panic

**Note to the Reader: I started writing this post a couple of weeks ago, while in the throes of a severe episode of anxiety. Ultimately, I found writing the post at the same time I was experiencing these symptoms too triggering, so I set it aside. I finished the post just recently.**

In the last 72 hours, I have felt more anxious, uneasy, fearful, on edge, [insert additional synonyms for anxious here] than I have felt in months, maybe even since I left treatment. We’re talking, “Hold please, I think I’m going to have a panic attack now . . . uh, okay, I guess not, that’s a relief. Let’s . . . wait, I think it’s really going to happen now; I just need a minute to sit down, maybe lie down actually . . . ,” kind of anxiety. Every single waking moment. I have been so eager to be alone in my bedroom the past three days, I have gone to bed directly after tucking in my four-year old.

I don’t know why this is happening. I mean, I know I have a mood disorder, so duh, I have crazy mood swings, but usually there is some sort of identifiable trigger — like it’s the weekend.

I remember when I used to love weekends. I would be so excited for that two-day break in my work-week to exercise, hang out with friends, go out to eat or see a movie. After our oldest was born, weekends become more complicated but my husband and I managed to maintain most of our prior activities, by taking turns with the baby or having one of my husband’s parents babysit. Sure we went out less but we still managed one or two dates a month, including dinner and a movie, if we could stay up that late.

Weekends are now the hardest part of my week. They involve two adults trying to keep three very mobile, loud and irrational toddlers from maiming themselves or each other, shattering eardrums or eating things that are not food. For me, it is the perfect storm of wanting to keep everyone safe and happy and nobody being safe or happy (at least not at the same time). While I constantly feel like I need to do something, I also feel like I can’t do anything right and that it’s going to be this way forever because we will always be outnumbered and the kids will only become more willful and unpredictable. Basically, I get super freaked out, am no fun at all and spend most of our family activity time wanting to run home and hide in my bedroom closet until Monday.

So weekends are a trigger. But the last three days have been a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. These days are usually pretty low-stress for me (unless I have to go to the pediatrician’s office three times or find out my husband is flying to the Middle East for work next week). I have gone running each morning, to therapy and to visit a good friend. I have spent time outside in the warm weather, played with the twins in the backyard and taken them for walks. We went to baby swim lessons and watched the Muppets during lunch (yes, I am raising my kids to appreciate the classics). I even sat down and finally made a list of potential book projects.

But none of this self-care, socializing or meaningful activity has helped. I am jumpy, my heart races constantly and I am always too hot. My hands shake and I have trouble sitting still. I am impatient with everyone, including my children, so I find myself spending as much time alone as possible. I don’t want to eat. I don’t want to listen to anyone talk. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t want to make any decisions. Every single thing feels like too much.

Living with this level of anxiety for the past three days has been particularly frustrating because I saw my psychiatrist a few weeks ago and we tweaked my meds to specifically address my anxiety symptoms. And I felt better. I really did. But now I do not. Definitely not. So I suppose it could be a meds thing, maybe we tweaked too much, or not enough. Medicating a mental illness involves a great deal of trial and error and, unfortunately, the errors affect your brain, which is a pretty big part of who you are and how well you function.

Another possible reason for this spike in my anxiety is that my mom and step-dad are here to help out while my husband is out of town. Last year, when I was still misdiagnosed and improperly medicated, I would often have my most severe panic attacks and most debilitating episodes of depression when my parents were in town. I was spending most of my days holding on for dear life, trying to manage work, a household of six and mothering three small children. My husband works a billion hours a week, so I was responsible for the lion’s share of household management and parenting-related stuff. But, when my parents showed up, there was suddenly, magically two additional people whom I trusted to do much of the work I was doing. And once that safety net was in place, I couldn’t help but let go.

It wasn’t that their visits made me more sick; the anxiety and depression had always been there, I just held them in as best I could because I had to take care of my family and perform well at my job. Once I felt my most important people, my children, were safe without me, I could stop trying to hold it all together and instead fall apart. My parents’ visits were like a safety valve for my sanity. So maybe having my parents here now, despite all the positive changes in my mental health, weekly schedule, self-care, etc., is triggering a relapse to the anxiety symptoms I had before; a sort of pavlovian relapse (because clearly I wasn’t enough of a science experiment already).

There is also the fact that their visit has completely thrown off my weekly structure. My brain, like all Bipolar brains, really, really benefits from structure, structured days, structured weeks; we just like knowing what’s going to happen next. But my parents really, really like helping, so they basically took over 90 percent or more of my regular, daily tasks. While this sounds lovely and was certainly done with the best intentions, it definitely threw me off my game. The tasks they were doing were part of my daily schedule and my contribution to the household. Suddenly, I had nothing to do and having nothing to do is a very bad thing when your mind is your enemy. I ended up spending far too much time in my mind, which, as Anne Lamott once quipped, “. . . is like a bad neighborhood, I try not to go there alone.”

Another possible factor is that my husband was away for almost a week. His absence can be hard and anxiety producing, especially in the evenings and at night. Being the only parent in the house, even when there are other adults present, feels like so much responsibility — sometimes more than I can bear. At night, every cry, every bump, every “mommy” makes me jump out of my skin, and the quiet feels even worse because I can only anticipate the next noise. It’s excruciating. When my husband is home, even if I am the one on night duty, I don’t experience any of this agitation or fear. Having another parent present makes me feel like I can screw up and someone of equal responsibility and love for our kids will be there to fix it. Also, our oldest child will freely harass me with bedtime-related requests for hours and won’t stop no matter what I say or do or refuse to do. But my husband shuts that kind of thing down like a boss. Particularly on days when my anxiety is really high, knowing I have a human hammer when it comes to bedtime is a huge relief. And after my husband got home, I did start feeling somewhat better.

I talked with my therapist the following week and we agreed that the lack of structure, or the significant, unanticipated change in my structure, was likely the biggest contributing factor to my anxiety attack. Although I’ve known for some time that I feel better with structure, I did not realize, until now, that lack of structure or a significant change in structure could be so devastating.

It seems I will need to create alternative structures or schedules for any visits, vacations, schools breaks, etc., of sufficient length to throw my brain into its unhappy place. In other words, my life is now, in large part, an administrative project. Fortunately, I enjoy making tables and spreadsheets more than the average bear. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are also nice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

20 Reasons why parenting with mental illness is hard

Many of these reasons are not limited to parents with mental illness but apply to parents generally. This shit is hard, whether you are certifiable or not. So I present to you, in no particular order, the following 20 reasons why parenting with mental illness is hard:

  1. Even when you wake up knowing it is going to be a shit day, you still have to get out of bed.
  2. Crying in front of your kids.
  3. Having to explain to your kids, in a non-scary way, why you are crying.
  4. The screaming (mostly theirs).
  5. The guilt (all yours).
  6. Feeling scared and incompetent, which leads to acting irritated and impatient with your kids and your partner.
  7. Medical need for consistent, uninterrupted, 7-8 hour sleep periods vs. teething, illness, nightmares, diaper fails, thirst, scary noises, heat, cold, etc.
  8. Feeling afraid of spending time with your own kids, especially when there is no other adult around to help in case you mess up or break down.
  9. Not being able to chase a tough day of parenting with a glass of wine.
  10. Having weekends become a trigger.
  11. Missing good parts.
  12. Wondering whether you have passed on your illness to your child; and wondering whether it will pass on to one of your grandchildren.
  13. Being hypomanic at your kid’s birthday party.
  14. Feeling socially dysfunctional and/or terrified at all the other birthday parties.
  15. Having to ask your spouse to carry the parenting load alone when you just can’t, not for one more minute.
  16. Being the overzealous, annoying safety patrol person at the park, because you can’t not say something.
  17. Feeling overwhelmed with love and anxiety, simultaneously, every waking minute of your day and knowing this feeling will last for years, if not forever.
  18. Being very, very organized (e.g. meals planned, bags packed, weekly schedule on paper), but inevitably becoming increasingly unorganized until you can barely remember what day it is. Repeat ad nauseam.
  19. Wondering whether your struggles as a parent are truly related to your mental illness, or if you’re just not very good at parenting.
  20. Questioning your decision to have children at all, given the hereditary nature of most mental illnesses and the likelihood that you would be less debilitated by your illness if you were not a parent.

*Credit for awesome card pictured above goes to Emily McDowell Studio

 

I am afraid of trying but more afraid of not trying 

If you have a mental illness, any mental illness, you learn to shape your life around it. It is a part of you, sometimes a small part and sometimes a very large part. Regardless, you cannot ignore it. Sooner or later, it will not be ignored. At the same time, you should not allow it to define you. For instance, I am not bipolar; I have a bipolar disorder, just like other people have major depressive disorder, an anxiety disorder or cancer.

My hope is to live my most meaningful, joyful and satisfying life, while giving my illness the respect it is due but not one bit more. I have yet to figure out how to create this balance. I worry that, because of my experiences last year, I give my illness more respect than it is due. I have not gone back to the job I left in October or begun to search for a new one. I have not started writing a manuscript, registered for a half marathon or done anything else that might be considered a mid-to-long term goal. Absent the (more than) occasional bout of the plague among our three children, my days are pretty low-key. I am busy from early morning to past my bedtime, but I am not doing anything particularly challenging, or not intellectually challenging.

I miss the intellectual challenge of my old job and, at times, I feel confident that I could return immediately with little to no need for a catch-up or re-learning period. I worked as an Assistant Attorney General for six years and never once felt unable to perform my job at the highest level, until last year. Now that I have been properly diagnosed and am taking the correct medications, what is stopping me from going back? I’m not an invalid; I’m just someone with a mental illness. People with mental illnesses work. They work really challenging jobs. Why not me?

Honestly, I am afraid. I am afraid that if I go back to my old job, or on to something new, I will fail to recognize the line between challenging work-life balance and triggering overload of responsibilities. Or worse, that I will recognize that line but choose to cross it because, despite all my bluster, I will be unable or unwilling to admit I can’t do it all.

There is also the fact that sometimes, even on the easy days, my brain decides it wants to totally freak out and I have to dunk my face in a sink full of cold water so I don’t have a panic attack right as the twins wake up from nap. And the times when my hands shake so badly it is impossible for me to thread the elastic band through the side of my son’s nebulizer mask. There are nights of insomnia and weekends of heart-pounding anxiety and sudden tearful outbursts that I can’t explain, to myself or my family. These kind of mood swings make me question whether a regular office job is feasible.

Yet, I am an intelligent, well-educated, skilled and resourceful woman. I am (was?) a very good attorney. Though I feel like I should have been back at work months ago, I am thankful nearly everyday that I am not. I don’t know what the right choice is when it comes to work. And I never imagined that whether to work or not would be a difficult decision for me. I worked hard for my degree and I always intended to be a model of working-motherhood for my children. At the same time, I never intended to have three toddlers. And I need to take care of myself so that I can be healthy and safe and so that I can take care of my family. It feels so unfair to have to make this decision at all, that my illness has essentially changed the course of my life. Sometimes I start to trace back the winding path that resulted in my breakdown, but there are so many potential factors and certain events I would not change even if I could. Nobody did anything wrong, including me. It just happened.

While I knew there was some risk of postpartum illness as a result of a multiples pregnancy, I had no idea that it could contribute to late onset bipolar disorder. My doctors did not discuss it with me, despite my postpartum anxiety after my first son’s birth. My husband knew I had struggled postpartum before, but he had no reason to expect such different and more extreme consequences from a twin pregnancy. Moreover, even if we had all talked about it, there would have been no way to know whether the possibility of postpartum bipolar would actually affect me.

Would I have made a different decision if I had known what would happen?Absolutely not. L and C are my children. I love them. I would die for them. End of story.

My diagnosis and treatment have also had many unexpected benefits. I now have strong boundaries and a definite set of core values. And if either my boundaries or values are not respected, I am one hundred times more likely to refuse to accept such disrespect. In other words, I am no longer afraid to stand up for myself, even when it might hurt someone’s feelings, cause a fight or threaten a relationship. I will not pretend to be anyone other than who I am and I will not apologize for being myself. Ever. Again.

So yeah, I am afraid of what might happen depending on what I choose to do with my life. But I have my safety plan and my safety people. There is no guarantee that things will be okay, but there never really was. I might always be afraid of falling apart, but I can’t not live my life. I am afraid of trying but I am more afraid of not trying.

 

I wanted to be a poet

Throughout high school and college, I wrote a lot of poems; journals full of poems; many journals full of poems. I still have the journals and looking back at them I can honestly say that the majority of my poems were fair to poor. However, there are a few poems that seem to me to be fairly decent, good even. Those few poems suggest I had at least the potential to write a poem, or even a book of poems, that other people may have wanted to read. Getting to that place would have taken a great deal of practice and rejection and starting over, graduate school, writer’s retreats and more rejection. But I might have done it.

I did not.

I don’t remember exactly when I stopped writing poems but I think it was towards the end of college or around the time I started law school. Yep, that’s right, I went from would-be poet to future attorney, because that seems like a logical progression. In fact, my decision to become an attorney marked a (then un-noticed) shift in my professional and personal ideals. I studied my ass off for three years so that I could become an attorney like my father, get a good, well-paid job and live a comfortable white, upper-middle class life like everyone else (everyone else being people from college, law school and television).

I practiced law for over a decade, as a law clerk, biglaw associate and Assistant Attorney General. I left my job as an AAG this past fall and have yet to decide whether I will work as an attorney in any capacity again. So basically, at 37, I am trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

As part of that process, I wonder frequently about the parts of legal practice that I truly enjoyed versus the parts that I merely tolerated (or actively avoided). So far, I can say for certain that I enjoyed the writing part: creating and weaving a theme throughout a brief; telling my client’s story in a truthful and persuasive way; the unraveling of opposing counsel’s arguments in a compelling, yet concise reply brief. In short, I enjoyed legal writing that pushed me to truthfully, completely and compelling describe an event or series of events pertinent to the case. This, my friends, is poetry.

A good poet can truthfully, completely and compelling tell you the story of their loved-one’s death, their own years of captivity and sexual assault or the greatest romantic relationship of their life in less than half a page. Their words are precise. They use them skillfully. And the result is beauty, just as a painting or a sunset may be beautiful.

I don’t intend to become a poet now, but remembering that I sincerely wanted to become one when I was younger helps keep my search for what to do with myself in proper perspective. I don’t have to be what I was or anything close to it. There are so many more possibilities.

The feminist ground floor

I have worked a paid job in some capacity since I was 14-years-old. I worked summer jobs through high school, work-study and summer jobs during college and the same during law school. Since graduating from law school in 2006, I have worked as a law clerk, big law associate and an assistant attorney general. However, I have not worked a paid job, legal or otherwise, since October 2016 when I entered an intensive outpatient treatment program (IOP).

When I first left IOP in November, the idea of returning to my old job, or any job, was unimaginable. While I doubted my ability to make wise choices about pretty much everything in my life at that time, I was confident that returning to work so soon after leaving IOP would be harmful to me and my family.

It has been around three months since I told my supervisors I could not provide a date certain for my return. During that time, I have felt less anxious, less depressed and more able to care of myself and my children than I have in years — certainly since the twins were born in August 2015. For many weeks, I didn’t think about work or returning to work; how we would manage the logistics of three kids with two working parents; how, despite having 1,001 things to do each day, we could ensure enough time for me to take care of myself per IOP protocols. Recently though, my husband, my therapist and I have touched on the topic as in need of discussion.

My therapist asked me to come up with a broad list of potential work options, including the reasonable, the impractical and the practically impossible. My list included, among other options, returning to my previous job, full-time or part-time; returning to the legal profession in some other way; becoming a yoga instructor; working at a bookstore; writing a book; starting a non-profit to support parents with mental illnesses; staying home until the kids start elementary school; and staying at home indefinitely.

Since leaving IOP in November, I have spent more than half my time each day working at kid and family related tasks. We have a four-year-old son and 18-month-old boy-girl twins. I drive our oldest to school every morning and volunteer at his school one day a week. While we have an au pair to care for the twins during the day, I often work with her, including helping with feedings and naptimes, going for walks and taking the kids to music class and swimming lessons. I take our oldest to his swimming lesson on Saturday. I do the grocery shopping and everyone’s laundry. I spend an inordinate amount of time at our pediatricians’ office because my two boys have an uncanny ability to turn the smallest cold into a major respiratory illness. I read and I play and I dance with my children. I kiss their bumps and bruises, sit through endless steamy shower sessions and give them medicine when they need it. I lay down in their beds or hang over the side of their cribs to rub their back during the night. Basically, I do the same amazing amount of things that all moms do.

When we had only one child, doing all of these things while also working a full-time job was overwhelming at times but mostly manageable. Once we had three children, doing all of these things while also working (together with my family medical history and postpartum hormonal swan dive) caused me to have a mental breakdown.

I had constant panic attacks followed by days of debilitating depression when I simply could not leave my bed or even imagine doing so ever again. I could not stop crying, ever. In beween the panic attacks and days in bed, I pretended everything was okay but it was not. I was terrified of letting anyone down, at work or at home, and I felt like I was letting pretty much everyone down everyday. I went to my doctor but none of the antidepressants we tried helped. My therapist was basically in crisis mode, focused on keeping me safe and making sure I had people around me who could help (i.e. drive me to the psych ward and give my kids a non-scary explanation of why I had to leave for a little while).

Despite this trauma (which is not an exaggeration, I am traumatized by my experience last year), the idea of not returning to the job I left in October, or rejoining the paid workforce in some manner, unsettled me. It felt like a wrong or imperssible decision, a betrayal of myself in some way. It is only in the past few days that I have attempted to figure where these feelings come from. My conclusion: the idea of not return to paid work, particularly legal work, discomforts me because it means exitng the feminist ground floor, rather than continuing to climb up and up towards the glass ceiling.

There has been so much effort and struggle in the past, and even now, to guarantee women the same rights related to work and wages as men. Feminists who came before me built a floor so that women like me could start our careers on relatively equal footing with men. Not returning to my job as an attorney feels like a betrayal of that work and those values.

I realize there are many options other than returning to a full-time position as an attorney, but I already have a full-time job. Three small children is no joke. I am on my feet from 6 AM to at least 10 PM every day, not to mention the two to four times I am usually up during the night. I realize we could outsource some of what I do, but not all of it. And despite the fact that I often want to scream, hide, runaway or do all three at once, I sincerely find my work as a mother fulfilling; hard as hell, but fulfilling.

So the question is, can I exit the feminist ground floor in a direction other than up without feeling like a traitor, a failure or a coward? I believe the answer is yes.

While equality may be the primary precept of feminism, choice is also a major principle. Feminism includes a strong belief that a woman has the right to choose: to choose what to do with her body; to choose her life partner regardless of gender; to choose to marry or not; to choose to have children or not; to choose any field of study; and to expect equal treatment all along her chosen career path. Given this emphasis on choice, it seems reasonable to conclude that choosing to exist the feminist ground floor by leaving the building entirely is consistent with feminism, so long as I make that choice by and for myself.

As one of my most beloved legal role models, the Notorious RBG, has said: “It is essential to a woman’s equality . . . that she be the decision-maker, that her choice be controlling.”

If I decide to leave the paid workforce because that is what I want to do for myself and my decision is controlling, then it is not an affront to feminism. Rather, it is consistent with an essential element of women’s equality. In short, it is not the content of my choice but my freedom and authority in making it that matters most.

Much respect, RBG. And deuces (I think).

We can do better.

My mother graduated from high school in California in the mid-1960s. She was a hippie. She took college classes. She worked at a technology company and lived on a commune (at the same time). My mother lived independently and non-traditionally.

My mother married my father when she was 26 years old. My father was older than her but not old-fashioned by any means. As an electrical engineer, he was certainly not part of my mother’s usual crowd but they met, fell in love, moved to Idaho, started living together and were eventually convinced by some friends to get married in their backyard during a brief visit back to California.

My parents were not conventional people, then or now. Still, as far back as I can remember, their roles in our family were exactly that: conventional. Generally, my father worked five days a week at his office or in court, while my mother worked seven days a week, mostly at home, taking care of me and my younger brother. (Note: my mother did return to work when I was 12 and my bother was 9). My parents’ division of household work also followed custom. My father mowed the law, took out the trash and grilled. He also cooked big breakfasts on the weekends. My mother did everything else: the cleaning, the laundry, the grocery shopping, the cooking, the school shopping, the lunch packing, the doctor appointments, the dentist appointments, the birthday party planning, the presents from Santa wrapping, the listening, the tear-wiping, the holding on and the letting go.

I am sure some of you had very different childhood experiences, but I would bet many of you had parents a lot like mine: kind, loving, intelligent, funny, progressive people who provided their children with a not-so-progressive model for the division of labor at home. And, as all of us parents know, children do what you do, not what you say. So, regardless of my parents’ non-traditional lives prior to marriage or their progressive dinner-table talk about everything from abortion to the Vatican (my father was raised Catholic), what I saw them do was generally adhere to the same gender-based division of roles and responsibilities followed since post-World War II.

In all fairness, I had no idea at the time that my parents were modeling a distinctly non-progressive approach to creating and sustaining a home together. It is only now, after ten years of marriage and three children, that I see my parents’ dynamic for what it was. I am able to see it because I recognize it as the same dynamic in my own life, maybe not exactly the same but close enough to be unsettling.

We have two sons and a daughter. I do not want a single one of them to grow up thinking that dads take care of the lawn, trash and bbq, while moms take care of everything else. I want my sons to learn how to do their own laundry from their father. I want my daughter to learn how to break down a box and take out the trash and recycling from me. I want to teach my boys how to bake and run the vacuum. I want my husband to teach my daughter how to grill a great burger and flip the perfect pancake on Saturday morning. I want everyone to clean up after him or herself, whether that means toys, shoes, clothes, wet towels, or toenail clippings.

I refuse to continue to operate in accordance with the unwritten, unspoken agreement that  the women (i.e. the wives and the mothers) will be responsible for the  majority of the family/household shit (in some cases, actual shit is involved). Everyone, no matter their age, should do for themselves as much as they are capable of doing. Obviously there is a lot children cannot do, at least at first. As to these tasks, we parents need to make sure that we share them (as much as is practically possible) equally and without regard to role or gender.

 

To those of you who (like me) grew up in a home were your father worked outside of the home five days a week for money and did some chores around the house, while your mother worked inside the home every minute of every day for no money doing all the things your father did not, I say: We can do better. We cannot be perfect. We cannot ignore reality or attempt to force our families to function in an unworkable system. But we can focus more on what we do rather than what we say. We can consciously model for our children what an equal, neutral division of labor looks like for our particular family. And we can hope that, by doing so, our sons and daughters will move forward in life expecting such equality in their personal relationships, their professional pursuits, and from their government.

 

 

 

Allow me to reintroduce myself

There was a time I would write down my list of resolutions/goals for the coming year and attach it to our refrigerator; that way I would see it frequently, including the satisfying strike through of something accomplished. I am not exactly sure when I stopped making these lists – probably after H was born. Having a three-month-old tends to narrow one’s ambitions to things like getting more than three hours of uninterrupted sleep and leaving the house (or the couch). H was not yet three when L and C were born, so personal resolutions remained a relic of my pre-child life, much like extra long runs on the weekend and going to the bathroom alone.

However, given all that has happened over the past year and a half, I decided 2017 should be a year for personal resolutions — for aspiring to changes and working towards goals in support of my own satisfaction and happiness. My over-arching resolution for this year: be more open, honest and direct in all of my interactions with other people but especially with the people most important to me. This might not sound particularly revolutionary, but for me it is. Being open, direct and honest requires that you have a firm sense of self. It requires vulnerability, daring and the willingness to lose someone rather than lose yourself. Until recently, my life involved very little of these traits.

Through the years, I have been myself, just not in a very thoughtful or determined way. I have let the people and events around me circumscribe much of the path that led me to where and who I am today. I have made some of the most important decisions of my life based on who I thought I was supposed to be; significant soul-searching was not required because who I was and what my life was like had already been decided (although by who exactly I couldn’t say).

Things might have gone on like this forever had it not been for the birth of my twins, the significant deterioration of my mental health and my decision to step away from my regular routine and take time to learn how to be well. Turns out a huge part of sustained mental health is knowing and loving your self, a self defined without regard to any role or responsibility to another person, a self that stands alone (like the infamous cheese).

Months have gone by since I learned in treatment about the absolute necessity of having and maintaining a separate sense of self regardless of life circumstances, like having children or a very long-term partner. As is often the case with personal change, implementation has proven far more difficult than understanding the need for change.

Even so, I have made significant progress. I have been vulnerable in asking for what I need and want from my support people. I have dared to stand up for myself: to assert my health and happiness as equally important to that of my husband and children; to tell people I will not do something simply because I don’t want to; to express my opinions even if they may not be welcomed. Most importantly, I have started to see the outline of my self. While all of the content — the values, preferences, desires, and limits– are not yet clear, the boundary that separates me from the other people in my life is set. I now know (or remember) what it is like to simply be me and I am willing to lose someone else rather than lose this feeling of individuality ever again. In short, the ground I stand on feels firm and safe enough for me to be open, honest and direct with all of my people. I deserve my own perceptions, my own opinions, my own truth. You may not agree with any of them, but I still get to say them out loud. And if that causes you to walk away, so be it.