Shame: How it Affects us, and How to Overcome it

It’s Not “Just” Depression

Something that I hear a lot, and often from people that should know better, is “well, it’s just depression.” I hear this in many different contexts, for example, a woman who has been having GI issues goes to see her doctor, who tells her that there really isn’t anything wrong with her digestive track, “it’s just depression.”

According to http://www.dictionary.com, the word “just” has several meanings, but in the above context it means, “only or merely.” That doctor could have easily substituted the word “merely” for “just,” as in “there isn’t anything wrong with your digestive track, it’s merely depression.” Then, said doctor refers the woman to see a therapist, and thinks that the problem is resolved.

Only, it’s probably not resolved. In these cases, people often continue to have health problems. If they do seek help from a therapist, they get suggestions about handling stressors, but therapists can’t treat physical symptoms directly. It’s possible that with time and work the symptoms will resolve, but it’s also quite likely that the patient will continue to struggle with health problems.

Unfortunately, after having their symptoms dismissed as “just” depression, people are unlikely to seek medical attention again because it’s too embarrassing to be dismissed like that. If they do seek medical treatment, they’ll likely see a different doctor, and the first one never learns that the referral to a therapist was unhelpful in resolving the symptoms.

It’s true that emotional symptoms can manifest as physical health symptoms, but the unfortunate fact is that doctors jump to this conclusion much too rapidly, without testing, and make a diagnosis based on opinion instead of on evidence.

If the physical symptoms are truly caused by mental health issues, there are often things that doctors can do to alleviate symptoms while the patient works on underlying mental health issues. However, due to their own inherent bias that it’s “just” mental health problems, they choose not to treat. In my own case, it truly was a physical problem, but since the doctors couldn’t easily fit my symptoms into a tidy box, they told me that the symptoms weren’t medical, and were “just” anxiety, and told me to see a therapist. It took me months and multiple doctor’s appointments with different doctors to get the anti-emetics that I needed so that I could keep food down. That’s months of illness that could have been avoided if doctors had simply taken me seriously enough to even treat my symptoms.

While all of this is bad enough, the medical system’s dismissal of mental health symptoms as not being worth treating bleeds out into the public attitude that mental health symptoms are made up and imaginary, leading to advice from well-meaning loved ones such as, “Well, you just need to get over it,” or “just focus on the positive more. You’ll be fine.”

That’s not how it works. People with mental health symptoms aren’t stupid. They’ve tried taking walks, thinking positive, remembering that the weather is nice, and all of the other too-easy fixes that people suggest to them.

Depression is complex. It takes work and time to overcome, and acting like it’s not serious or is easily conquered makes people with mental health problems feel even more alone than the depression tells them that they are already.

The truth is that depression is a serious disease with a death count. People die of depression in alarming numbers. According to the World Health Organization, more that 264 million people worldwide suffer from depression, and “close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15 to 29-year-olds.”

This idea that it’s “just depression” is a serious barrier to sick people getting the care that they need. An alarming number of patients with depression refuse medication saying that they “don’t want to be dependent on a drug to feel happy.” They wouldn’t refuse other life-saving medications for physical health problems, but they refuse medication for depression because of the idea that depression is something that they “should be able to overcome on their own,” and isn’t really serious.

It is extremely serious.

When people suicide, the big question that as themselves is, “but why would they do that?” People point to the fact that they had everything to live for, and seemed happy.

The answer to this question is that people suicide because they are depressed. It really is that simple. Depressed people can fake happiness quite well in order to get by in the world, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t depressed.

Conventional wisdom says that depression means that the person is “just sad.” People think, “well, I’ve had the blues before too, and it went away.” Depression doesn’t work that way. Often people that are depressed don’t feel sad at all. Depression often presents with anxiety or irritability, but there is one underlying truth with depression–it tells you that you’re terrible and people don’t care about you. In severe cases, depression says that the people in your life would be better off without you, and might even be relieved that you’re gone.

It doesn’t matter how much external proof there is that these thoughts aren’t true. When someone is depressed, these thoughts feel like truth, and anything that contradicts them feels like lies. This is why people die of suicide. It’s not that they’re selfish or weak. It’s that they truly believe that the people in their lives will be better off when they’re gone because depression says they are terrible people, and it feels like truth.

Another ironic truth about depression is that one of the main symptoms is a lack of motivation. A person suffering from depression might not feel sad, but will likely have a difficult time getting motivated to do things. If they are able to accomplish things, depressed people get very little enjoyment out of what they do.

This makes treating depression complicated. It may be that the sick person has seen a therapist and gained knowledge of skills and behaviors that would help, but can’t seem to get enough motivation to perform those behaviors. They are not being lazy. Lack of motivation is one of the most common symptoms of depression.

When motivation is an issue, the best approach is often to start the patient taking antidepressants in order to get the small amount of motivation needed to start applying the skills they are learning in therapy. Antidepressants are important in the treatment of depression in order to increase motivation to do the work to get well, which is why it’s so important to remove the stigma associated with taking them. Antidepressants truly do save lives, and a combination of medication and therapy is often the most effective approach.

If there is a depressed person in your life, the best thing that you can do is reserve judgment and refrain from advice giving. Simply sit with the person if that is all that they are able to muster the motivation for. If the depressed person speaks, just listen. Don’t tell them that they aren’t thinking correctly, and please don’t tell them to get over it or just get outside or be more social. A little-known truth about depression is that hearing unhelpful advice makes the depressed person more depressed. It confirms their depressed thoughts that they are alone, nobody understands them, and people would be better off without them.

So what can you say? Express your willingness to be with them even thought they aren’t happy right now. Tell them that they are loved and important. Encourage them to seek professional help, but stop there with advice giving.

Here is a list of great things to say to depressed people:

  • What you’re going through right now is really hard.
  • I’m here for you.
  • I love you.
  • What can I do to help?
  • What do you need right now?

If they don’t know what they need, that’s OK. The fact that you asked is what’s important. It shows them that you care about them and that you’re willing to listen. Being present with a depressed person is probably the best help that you can give.

Remember, it’s impossible to talk someone out of being depressed, and trying to do so makes the depressed person feel alone and misunderstood, so don’t try.

If you are a depressed person, I urge you to seek professional help. I know that it feels like you shouldn’t have to, but that’s the depression speaking. When your therapist gives you skills to learn and homework to work on, give it your best shot. It may feel silly or like a lot of work, but there is a good reason for it. Your therapist is helping you to create new pathways in your brain that are healthy and move you away from the pathways of depression that are so well worn and easy to walk down. Remember that small movements forward are progress, and give yourself credit for every baby step.

If you are feeling suicidal, know that what depression is telling you about yourself and the people around you is a lie. The people in your life do love you and care about you and will be devastated if you are gone. You are worthy of love and belonging simply because you’re human. You don’t have to do anything to deserve it. Immediately take yourself to your nearest emergency room, or call a suicide helpline. If you can’t muster the motivation, call 911 and professionals will come to you.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number is 1-800-273-8255, and it is available 24 hours a day. Call.

Let’s all start treating depression as the serious and life-threatening illness that it is. It’s not “just” feeling sad. It’s not fake, selfish or weak, and changing the public attitude towards mental health problems will save lives.

Here are some resources for more information:

Doing Harm Website

Compassionomics TED Talk

TED Talks on Depression

World Health Organization’s Depression Page

Let Us Put Light Around it: A Way to Cope with Pain

It’s only dusk and I can already hear fireworks going off in the distance for Independence Day–the day in which citizens of the United States celebrate winning the war against England for the right to govern themselves.  It is seen by many as a day to celebrate the independent spirit, the rights of the individual, and freedom of religion and thought.  And yet, many do not have the freedom that the United States claims to value.

This lack shows up in many ways; some large and some small.  This past week I was reminded that I don’t have the freedom to make my own decisions about how I handle my work because I am an employee of a large corporation.  The reminder left me shaken,  and with an anxiety in my chest that took my breath away.  Whenever an emotion creates an overwhelming sensation in my body, I remember a line from a book in Margaret Atwood’s Madd Addam series.

If you’ve never heard of Margaret Atwood, you probably have heard of one of her most famous books, The Handmaid’s Tale, which has become a hit series on Hulu as well as a symbol of the importance of combating misogyny.  The Madd Addam series tackles a different social problem–the human destruction of the earth.  Some of the characters end up becoming members of a fictional group known as God’s Farmers, who form an earth friendly and sustainable commune.  Whenever things go wrong in the story, the leader of the God’s Farmers says “Let us put light around it.”

Let us put light around it.

Those words stuck with me long after reading Madd Addam, and I started using them in my own life.  As I struggled with anxious chest pains last week, I closed my eyes and imagined the pain surrounded by a healing, white light.  Slowly, the pain began to shrink, and eventually nothing was left of it except for a ball of white light in my chest.

While this technique is highly effective inside my own body, putting light around it doesn’t necessarily change things out in the world.  However, it does change how I feel about them.  So, I thought I might devote this blog post to putting light around the intensely difficult experience of the world in 2020, in the hopes that it might change how we all feel about it.

First, let us put light around a deadly global pandemic that has killed over 500,000 humans throughout the world.  Let us put light around those grieving for their dead family members and friends.  Let us put light around the sick.  Let us put light around health care providers who risk their lives every day to help those suffering from this deadly disease.  Let us also put light around the people who have lost their jobs due to the quarantine, and those who are afraid about how they are going to pay their rent or mortgage, and how they are going to feed their families.  Let us put light around the lonely people who haven’t had any true human contact for months.

As I write these words there are tears in my eyes for so much suffering, and yet imagining light around these problems does seem to ease the pain a little.

Let us also put light around a social system that doesn’t offer the same opportunities to everyone, and that often works to block people from succeeding based upon the color of their skin, their gender, or their sexual orientation.  Let us put light around George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, and so many others who were killed due to the racism inherent in the system.  Let us put light around the families and friends of those who have been murdered.  Let us put light around a police force that is having to face itself and ask hard questions about how to change.  Let us put light around the people who have risked their own safety to go out and protest the injustice in the system.  They have been heard, and we are grateful for their voices.

Let us put light around those who are dealing with sexual harassment, rape, domestic violence and sex trafficking.  Let us put light around a social system that is biased towards the abusers–a system where rape kits–representing the most horrible day in thousands of women’s lives go unprocessed.  Let us put light around a system where rape victims find it almost impossible to get justice–a system where, instead, these victims often find themselves accused of lying, or of trying to get attention.  Let us put light around a society where women who are beaten by their partners are asked what they did to deserve it, and told to stop provoking the beatings.  Let us put light around 16-year-old Chrystul Kizer, who killed the man who was sex trafficking her, and now faces life in prison.  Let us put light around the abusers, the misogynists, the traffickers, and the rapists in hopes that they can see the error of their ways.

Let us put light around a medical system that often seems to be more about profit than about treatment.  Let us put light around the patients seeking help who are turned away because their ailments aren’t easily diagnosed.  Let us put light around medical providers who lack compassion for the sick.  Let us put light around the people of color who are unable to ask for pain medications without being accused of drug seeking.  Let us put light around the women who are unable to ask for care without being accused of having mental health problems.  And let us put light around the medical providers who are doing their very best to help people in spite of being overworked and under-supplied.

Let us put light around a political system that divides a nation, divides families, and divides friends.  Let us put light around those who want to vote, but cannot.  Let us put light around the bullies that assume they know better.  Let us put light around those that hold their thoughts to themselves in order to keep the peace.

Let us put light around the LGBTQ+ community.  Let us put light around a society that condemns people for their sexual preference or gender identity.  Let us put light around the victims of hate crimes.  Let us put light around Matthew Shepard, who was brutally murdered because he was gay.  Let us put light around those who hate gay and transgender people, for surely they suffer too.

And finally, let us put light around ourselves.  Remember that you are always your first priority because you are a member of the human race and inherently deserving of your own love.  Embrace yourself, for your relationship with you is the most important relationship in your life.

 

Are the “Bugs” in Your Life Trying to Help you Let Go of What You’re Holding On To?

I had my heart cruelly broken at the end of 2018, and spent all of January 2019 sick in bed, and I’m positive that the two are related.  While I eventually became physically well enough to work, go grocery shopping, and clean my house, I performed these tasks with only my body.  My mind was off trying to alternately figure out how I could have chosen so poorly, and also what was wrong with me.  Maybe you can relate.

As I cycled through the stages of grief again and again, I looked for ways to heal myself.  One of my go to strategies is to make myself super busy, so I started taking piano and Spanish lessons.  That was helpful, and I’m a more accomplished person now as a result, but I was still a complete emotional wreck.  I needed something more.

One morning I was scrolling through my email and got a message from the universe in the form of an email from HeatherAsh Amara, a spiritual teacher that I follow, inviting me to join a trip to Teotihuacan, Mexico, a place I’d wanted to go since my high school Spanish teacher showed us photos of the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon located in the Teotihuacan complex.  I opened the email.

Here’s HeatherAsh Amara’s website for more information on what she has to offer: HeatherAsh Amara’s website.

If you’ve never heard of Teotihuacan before, please look it up, because the photos will blow your mind.  It’s a pre-Colombian pyramid complex northeast of Mexico City with three beautifully preserved pyramids along what’s known as the Avenue of the Dead.  As I read the description of the trip, my heart spoke up and said, “I want to go there!”  Since it was the first time my heart had said anything except, “I hurt” in months, I pulled out my credit card and booked the trip.

It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, because Teotihuacan turned out to be powerful medicine for my grief.  Every day at the pyramid complex felt like I’d been transported to another world so majestic that my heartache seemed petty and unimportant.  I climbed to the top of both pyramids, descended into the Temple of the Butterflies, and bonded with an incredible group of women, but there is one experience that I particularly want to share with you today.

Each day, we all gathered and walked out to the pyramid complex for ritual.  On this particular day, the instructions were to walk the grounds gathering stones.  Each stone was to represent a loss.  I didn’t know yet what we were going to do with these stones, but I had losses and I was ready to represent them. So, I went out and, with the determination that I give to most tasks, gathered two heaping handfuls of stones.  Then I went to the assigned meeting point and waited for the others to finish their task.

The only other woman at the meeting place was the co-leader of the group, Emily Grieves, who has an amazing personal story and is an incredible painter.  Here’s her website for more information: Emily Grieves’ Website.

Feeling a little bit shy and star-struck, I said hello to her, but then waited quietly for the rest of the group to arrive.

The longer I stood still in the sun, sweating, the more bugs began to take interest in me.  When a particularly nasty bug landed on my arm and bit me, I jumped, dropped all of the stones in one hand and swatted the bug.  With the danger over, I sighed and proceeded to try to identify and re-gather the stones that I’d been holding on to. Emily Grieves watched me, saying nothing.

When another, even more enormous and hideous bug landed on my other arm, I dropped my stones and swatted it away again.  This time, however, instead of staying silent as I began to pick my stones back up, Emily said, “Maybe those bugs are trying to help you let go.”

I froze.

What an incredible idea!  I looked around myself at the swarm of bugs, then at my empty  hand, and then at the stones strewn around my feet and thought, “Maybe the bugs ARE trying to help me let go.”

Then, just as I’d decided not to gather those losses back to myself, the biggest blue-green dragonfly I’ve ever seen circled my head a couple of times and flew away.

I looked at Emily Grieves and said, “Did you see that dragonfly?”

She smiled and said, “Yes.  I did.  Dragonflies symbolize illusion.”

Then I had the epiphany.

All of those stones–all of those losses–they were just illusion anyway.  I had been holding on to those stones waiting for someone to give me permission to let them go in the proper way, but those losses were in the past and they could only touch my present if I continued to hold onto them.  

Now, I would love to tell you that I put the rest of those stones down and was immediately and miraculously healed of my broken heart, but that wouldn’t be true.  What is true is that I changed my mind that day, and it was the beginning of true healing.

Now, my question for you is this: Are there bugs in your life that are trying to help you let go of your stones?  

They may look like annoying problems, but perhaps they’re trying to show you that what you’ve been holding on to is only an illusion that is keeping you from seeing the reality of your life unfolding in this present moment.

For instance, maybe your difficult boss is the “bug” that is trying to show you that you’ve been holding on to the illusion that you need this particular job even though you don’t like it, and by letting go of that illusion you could move into more fulfilling and meaningful work.  Or, perhaps, that difficult partner is the “bug” that’s trying to show you that you’ve been holding on to the illusion that this is the relationship for you, and by letting that go you could either grow more fully into your relationship with yourself, or move into a healthier partnership.

When I realized that the bugs were telling me to let go of the illusion that the relationship I’d lost was the one for me, my relationship with myself blossomed so beautifully that I’m not only still taking piano and Spanish lessons, I started a blog and a podcast and wrote a book.  

Perhaps if you let go of that thing that you’re trying to force, you’ll find that you bloom in new and wonderful ways.  I encourage you to give yourself that chance.

The Process of Examining and Changing Your Worldview

This isn’t what I was planning to write about today, and I’m feeling extremely nervous about what I’m about to say.  I’m worried about accusations that I’m a privileged white woman who can’t understand what the African American community has gone through at the hands of some of the police force, and those people would be absolutely right.  I admit that I am privileged as a white person in the United States, and I feel ashamed of it.

Yet, events in the news recently, including the murder of George Floyd by police, and Amy Cooper consciously weaponizing a call to 911, make me feel ashamed and helpless in the face of murderous hate by people who look like me.  If the world were not in the middle of a pandemic, I would be looking for a march to join, and creating picket signs, but things being as they are, I feel compelled to use my blog to make a statement.

As I thought this morning about what I wanted to say, I considered how I could possibly say something insightful about a criminal justice system that is not truly about justice because the people in it do not apply the rules evenly.  Then, I thought about the rioters in Minneapolis and what they must be feeling at this time, and what they must want, and I found my answer.  Please bear with me while I connect the dots.

One of my heroes, Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson, the celebrated astrophysicist earned my devotion when I saw a clip of him answering the following question, which was posed by a gray-haired white man:

“What’s up with chicks and science?”

In the film clip, the room erupts in nervous titters of laughter, and the man smiles, smugly.  The mediator asks if anyone wants “to field if maybe there are genetic differences between men and women that explain why more men are in science?”

Neil Degrasse Tyson speaks up and says the following wondrous thing:

“I’ve never been female, but I have been black my whole life.  So, let me, perhaps, offer some insight from that perspective, because there are many similar social issues related to access to opportunity that we find in the black community as well as the community of women in a white male dominated society.

When I look at–throughout my life–I’ve known that I wanted to do astrophysics since I was nine years old–a first visit the the Hayden (sp?) planetarium . . .  So, I got to see how the world around me reacted to my expression of these ambitions. And, all I can say is, the fact that I wanted to be a scientist, an astrophysicist, was hands-down the path of most resistance through the forces of . . .  society.  Any time I expressed this interest, teachers would say, ‘Oh, don’t you want to be an athlete?’

I wanted to become something that was outside of the paradigms of expectation of the people in power. And, so, fortunately, my depth of interest was so deep, and so fuel-enriched that every one of these curve-balls I was thrown, and fences built in front of me, and hills that I had to climb, I just reached for more fuel, and I kept going.  And now, here I am . . . one of the most visible scientists in the land, and I want to look behind me and say, where are the others who might have been this?  And they’re not there.

I wonder, what is the blood on the tracks that I happened to survive that others did not because of the forces of society that prevent it at every turn–to the point where I have security guards following me as I go through department stores presuming that I am a thief.  I walked out of a store one time and the alarm went off, and so they came running to me.  I walked through the gate at the same time a white male walked through the gate, and that guy just walked off with the stolen goods, knowing that they would stop me and not him.  That’s an interesting exploitation of this–what a scam that was!

So, my life experience tells me that when you don’t find blacks, and when you don’t find women in the sciences–I know that these forces are real.  I had to survive them in order to get where I am today.  So, before we start talking about genetic differences, you’ve got to come up with a system where there is equal opportunity. Then we can have that conversation.”

Neil Degrasse Tyson’s Statement about Women in Science

Neil Degrasse Tyson’s comparison between the forces that oppress African Americans and the forces that oppress women resonated with me, as did his description of the barriers that are put in front of both of these groups of people to keep them from realizing their dreams.  So, I’m going to talk about this issue from that perspective–from the perspective of a woman in a white male dominated society.  While I realize that this isn’t perfect, and I do recognize my privilege as a white person, I feel that it does give me some insight.  I’ve never been African American, but I have been a woman all of my life.

I grew up in a conservative, Christian, white family.  Every Sunday, we would get up early, get dressed up, and go to church.  I went to Sunday school, was an acolyte, and was confirmed as a Christian before I really had any life experience.  One of the messages that I absorbed from this upbringing was of strict, traditional, 1950s style, gender roles.  I have no idea if my parents meant for me to absorb this, but I did.  In my mind, the perfect woman was married and took care of her husband and their home by cooking and cleaning.  She also stayed home to raise their children.  In return, the perfect man worked outside the home, payed the bills, and benevolently loved his family.

When I married my high school sweetheart at age 18, I had every intention of becoming this mental picture of the perfect woman.  As I write this, I cringe a little at my 18-year-old naivety, and I know now just how ill-suited I am for the type of life I thought I was supposed to live.

The first week of my marriage, my beautiful mental picture was destroyed by an act of domestic violence, although I didn’t recognize it as that at the time.  The man I’d married became angry with me over a minor issue that I offered to fix.  Instead of allowing me to fix it, he started screaming at me, calling me names, invading my personal space, and pointing his finger in my face threateningly.  Terrified, I backed away from him until I came up against the living room wall, where he pinned me and screamed at me for what felt like 20 minutes.  I was certain that he was going to hit me, and I braced myself for the blow.  It never came, and I told myself that the incident was a fluke.  It wasn’t.

The same scenario repeated over and over, escalating in severity and frequency.  I began to dread my husband coming home from work, and at the same time I tried to fix the situation, and create the life I’d expected to have when I married him.  I told him that the way he was treating me was wrong, and that he needed to stop losing his temper and threatening and berating me.  Instead of listening to me, he took my confirmation Bible off of the bookshelf and turned to Ephesians 5: 22 through 24 and read to me:

“Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as to the Lord.  For a husband has authority over  his wife just as Christ has authority over the church; and Christ is himself the Savior of the church, his body.  And so wives must submit themselves completely to their husbands just as the church submits itself to Christ.”

While my husband looked at me with triumph in his eyes, my entire worldview crumbled around me.

As far as he was concerned, he could do whatever he wanted to me with impunity because it was the will of God.

Now, you’re probably saying that isn’t the intention of that verse, and coming up with all kinds of reasons why what he said was wrong.  And you have a point.  If someone could use the Bible, which I’d always believed was a tenet of kindness and compassion towards fellow humans, to justify abusing me, there was something terribly wrong with this foundation. In that moment it sunk into my soul that the world I’d been raised in was built on a foundation of misogyny.

I wonder how many African American people have had this moment of realization that their world is built on a foundation of racism.  My sense is that most of them do considering this country’s history.

Eventually, that man left me for another woman.  Sometimes I worry about her, but I’m glad that he left because I don’t know how much longer I would have stayed with him, or how much more damage I would have allowed him to do to my psyche.  The damage was bad enough as it was.  After he left, I went through a terrible depressive episode where I couldn’t stop crying.  As a Highly Sensitive Person, it doesn’t take a lot to bring me to tears, but that depressive episode was way over the top.  I once cried over a pair of slippers in a department store.  It was so bad that I went to the doctor thinking that something was medically wrong with me, and he had to explain that this was depression.  I’d had no idea.

The doctor prescribed antidepressants and referred me to a therapist.  I was terrified of therapy, but with my doctor’s encouragement, I went anyway.  Therapy helped me to build a new foundation for my world.  Ever since my now ex-husband had shattered the foundation I’d been raised with, I’d felt un-moored.  My therapist helped me to release the internalized misogyny of my upbringing, and I was so relieved to feel solid again that I decided to become a therapist myself so that I could help others going through similar experiences.

As I went through the process of getting my Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology, and then getting the 3,000 supervised hours of treatment that I needed to have under my belt in order to take my licensing board exams, I happened to get an internship at a domestic violence shelter.

My faith in God had already been shaken, and I no longer attended church, but I hadn’t released my faith yet.  However, my experience in that shelter moved me all the way out of Christianity.  One after another, these horribly abused women, who had severe and chronic physical problems from the abuse they’d suffered, told me that they had gone to their pastor, rabbi, or priest for help, and had received the same message: “If you were a better wife, he would stop abusing you.”

This message is bullshit.

I can tell you first-hand that nothing a woman does in an abusive relationship leads to the abuse stopping, because the abuse is not about the woman’s behavior.  I did everything I could think of.  I made elaborate meals.  I cleaned the house with a toothbrush.  I feigned interest in things my ex-husband cared about.  It made no difference.  Later, I learned the truth.  Abusers abuse because of their own internal state, not because of anything the victim does.

I think this is true of racism as well.  Racists hate because of their own internal state, not because of anything that their victims have done.

While I worked in the shelter, I started my own personal survey course in religion.  I read about the major Middle Eastern religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism.  I also read about Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism and Taoism.  For a while I suspended choice, but over time I settled on Buddhism because it seemed to be the kindest of the major religions.  Still, it didn’t quite fit.

Recently, I’ve been exploring the history of the ancient goddesses, and I’m in awe of their power.  I’m in awe of a society that revered such powerful females, and I want to live in that society.  I think I’m a pagan.

I haven’t told my family how I feel about Christianity up to this point, but they read my blog. (Perhaps only they read it).  So, in a way I’m outing myself, which is a bit terrifying for me.  So, why am I telling you this?  I’ve been holding these feelings secret in my heart for years.  Why now?  And what do these experiences have to do with what is happening with the Black Lives Matter movement and the riots in Minneapolis?

Well, I’m telling you this to illustrate the process of changing one’s mind and worldview.  I went from being raised in a conservative Christian family to being a liberal feminist because of a series of experiences that showed me that what I’d been raised to believe didn’t fit the facts of my world.

It takes time and pain and a willingness to talk to those that you wish to understand, just as I did with the women in the domestic violence shelter.  It also means a willingness to experience the rejection of the people in your life who wish to maintain the status quo, just as I’m now risking the judgment of my family.

Even when the status quo is shameful and cruel and unjust, separation from people with a different worldview, and fear of being ostracized by your social group, can often keep people from admitting the wrongs right in front of their eyes.  Even if they do admit them, often people will say, well, racism is terrible, but I can’t do anything to stop it.

I’m here to say you can.  If I could confront the inherent misogyny in my culture and my religion and choose to turn away from it, you can take the great leap of attempting to understand why someone whose world shows them nothing but hate and violence might choose to tear that world apart in a riot.  You can talk to those who have experienced hatred and hold space for their pain.  You can shut down people who tell racist jokes.  You can do your best to examine your own bias and admit that it is there.  You can see that the world that you live in is not the world that others live in.  Changing yourself is the first step, and it spreads from there.

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man [or woman] changes his [her] own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him [or her]. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Washington Post Video of George Floyd’s Death. I’m breathless after watching it.

Trevor Noah’s Commentary on George Floyd. I wish I could be so eloquent.