I wanted to share my latest coping skill – memory on my fingers. Ever since my drawing Spots of Self-Compassion I’ve been using my pink Sharpie to remind me to have self-compassion. I put dots on my fingers or the inside of my wrist or up my arm. When I see the dots I hear “self-compassion” and, even if just for the moment, I soften my stance against myself and breathe. I choose what’s best for me.
A friend got me a collection of a bunch of new nail polishes and I’ve had designs running through my head for weeks – literally. What I really wanted to do was way more complicated. In my mind I saw white with pink dots on my left hand with “BE” on two fingers instead of dots. I wanted my right hand to have a different color on each finger and for the fingers to spell out “CHOOSE” in black letters with an infinity symbol on my middle finger instead of the letter Os. That was way too complicated for me to pull off right now and I’m pretty sure it would cost way too much for me to ask for at the nail place. I decided to go with just white and pink dots.
Yesterday I had an appointment with my doctor in the morning and I was actually on time, except that she forgot I was supposed to be there so I didn’t get to see her. That gave me some extra time to pick up my shoes from the cobbler and sit in the car marveling at the rain. I had time, which is new to me. I sat in the car listening to piano music and started the process. I’d hunted down some cheap white nail polish. This has been on my mind for weeks. I didn’t try to make it pretty. What’s the use if I’m not finished? I needed to be on time for David’s anyway. I finished the white, which honestly looks like white-out, and went into my appointment. He was quite unkind about the messy nails. I think he should be more appreciative of coping skills that live on my hands.
That night I finished them. I tried making dots with nail polish but it was nearly impossible to make circles so I switched to Sharpie. Tip – If you put a top coat over Sharpie the color runs a little. I put glitter over the top of that and the parts that ran are less noticeable. I left the two fingers with nail polish dots as somewhat of an exposure. Each time I look at them I choose to accept that they don’t match and to keep them that way.
Are my nails perfect? No. Neat? No. Will the polish last a long time? Not likely. Do they look great? Not really. Will anyone else understand without an explanation? Not likely. But you know what? I don’t care. These dots on my nails have already proved majorly helpful in redirecting me from intense emotion or self-judgement or shame to self-compassion, to moments of breathing, to small reminders that in every moment I get to choose. I am grateful for the coping skill that lives on my nails right now.
I challenge you to put a coping skill on yourself somewhere you look often. Where could Sharpie spots help you?
© Michelle Routhieaux 2018
© Michelle Routhieaux 2017
© Michelle Routhieaux 2016
© Michelle Routhieaux 2016
© Michelle Routhieaux 2016
My Phoenix Rising therapist said the most powerful thing anyone’s ever said to me today – “I have acceptance of you just as you are right now.”
© Michelle Routhieaux 2015
I was thinking about my life today while driving to Eastlake for a pickup. My doctor says I’m making so much progress, that he knew I had potential but never expected me to come this far. But where am I? Where am I going?
I’m not headed in any particular direction. It’s a day to day struggle to stay alive. I’m not in school pursuing a career. I don’t have a husband or kids. I’m floating, stagnant, goal-less. Well, I do have 2 goals but I’m not doing very well on them. I’m temped to starve to death or maybe just walk in circles. When I think about it I freak out. (deeep breath) Is this the end of the yellow brick road?
The word incubation came to mind followed by hibernation. I have stopped almost all events and responsibilities. I am tired. But I don’t think I’m hibernating. I am largely motionless but I am being nurtured and growing. This pause in my life is productive. My mind is catching up to me.
I feel very nauseous, head pain, weak.
I am incubating. If I don’t die, I’ll hatch. I will arise into my new life and follow the path wherever God leads me.
I’m scared to leave this place. I’m not moving forward. I am being carried. The angels are around me. My breath…
Incubation is painful like physical therapy. I am stretched and molded and melted, filed and rearranged. My body is trying to kill me. Maybe I need to die to live.
I really feel faint.
I need to lie down.
And see Dr. Collan.
Right now I feel panic like last night. I’m hovering on a subject so painful, raw. I want to go back to USC.
WHY did you take that life from me?
Why even show me or care?
My life is over. I want a new one. I want to die.
FG – If the new life was different but as fulfilling as the old one, would you stick around?
I need. I just don’t know what.
I’ve walked right out of my shoes. Now I walk on air – off-lifing. Where am I headed, running in circles in an incubator. I’m not ready to leave. But I’m close. I want a better life, to be free. That’s progress. In hibernation I shut down and rest. It rarely involves conscious growth.
I’m helping S- tonight. I’d rather be working on the Comfort Drive. I need to prepare for my mom’s trip and I need someone to help me improve my backing.
I feel overwhelmed but I’m here, incubating. I will be here as long as it takes. God help me.
© Michelle Routhieaux 2013
I didn’t feel like sitting in traffic so I walked 3 miles after the fireworks tonight. Fireworks make me cry.
As I walked I talked to myself and God, enjoyed the cool night air, the freedom to move and to be me. I was thinking about a DBT lecture note in my journal:
Acceptance allows gentleness – making room for something in our lives without approving or judging.
I thought about Mom and Don and about independence. I’ve been thinking and planning and dreaming lately about what I want and what my future could look like. It greatly raises my anxiety. So as I walked and talked to God I tested out some positive affirmations, things to say to myself to make it less scary. I came upon this one that hits the spot:
I can do grown-up things without losing me.
(breathe…) I can do grown-up things without losing me. Growing up scares me. I don’t want to do it and thinking about it freaks me out. Like someone trying to kill me. But I can do grown-up things without losing me. Or killing me. Or changing me. I like me. I love me. I need to keep loving me.
© Michelle Routhieaux 2012
(a conversation between me & a voice in my head after hours and hours of writing)
I am alive.
I am alive.
If I have no control over what happens to or around me and what I do doesn’t matter…
If there is no such thing as should or real…
If I’m the only one my importance matters to, why am I here?
‘Cuz I like it.
I said because I like it. And I always get what I want. You can’t have hugs and the ocean without pain. Face it. You fear life.
No shit. I know that.
Yeah. But you don’t know that you love it too. You can’t see that in order to feel joy, you must know pain. The music comes with heartache. The ocean comes with pain. The dancing comes with a loneliness that pushes you to death. There are no substitutions. You can’t get away. You can’t strain off the bad. It is one.
Michelle, you don’t want to die. You want not to feel the pain. The fire inside and the physical stress of your body melting away. But it’s not going away. It’s here to stay. What you do with it is your choice. But, like you said, you have no control.
There is no anti-life pill. You can’t strain out the seeds. Can’t sugarcoat it. You have pain.
You also have music. And hugs, and flowers, and writing and what you see in your head. You have God and the pirates.
You have me.
But it hurts so much.
I’m so scared.
Like Jim said, you don’t have to understand right now.
I just have to be.
I love you, Mom.
I love you too.
Acceptance is realizing the pain is an entry fee, a price of admission, to the theme park of life. Non-refundable. It’s your choice if you have fun or not.
© Michelle Routhieaux 2012
Someone asked me tonight how I accept all these crazy versions of reality I experience and am not freaking out all the time. Have I done ACT or some special kind of therapy? No, not really. I’ve just lived through it.
The first time I experience something new it freaks me out and if it gets bad enough I usually end up in the hospital. Like this last time in July when I was talking gibberish and then not talking at all and then talking all weird. Freaked me out, understandably. But it happens now and I’m fine with it. I have a category to put it in. I know what it is. Or maybe I don’t know what it is but I know that it won’t kill me and it will pass.
I seem to have more and more of these things. These things that I know are bizarre to the rest of the world but have become quite normal to me. So when the universe is orange and I’ve been poisoned and there are people following me I am more able to approach it as an experience than an attack. Some strange experiences can be quite fascinating. I am always hesitant to stop one with medicine too quickly. I lose some of the beauty. It’s not something I can just get back. I enjoy the parts that aren’t super scary, the writing that flows through me. It doesn’t last. I keep it ’til it’s dangerous.
I think dealing with all the physical stuff has made that easier. When there aren’t answers I come up with my own. My own systems of coping, my own reasons, my own rules. My own way of accepting. I may not like what’s going on but there’s no one who’s gonna save me so I might as well enjoy what I can and throw the rest to Hell…
I’m so tired tonight. My brain is foggy and the words aren’t here to write. There are pauses in my mind where thoughts go. It doesn’t sound right and nothing rhymes.
© Michelle Routhieaux 2011
There are 3 trees and a daisy bush that I watch from my back stoop. They teach me about life. (pause)
I’ve been watching them lose their leaves and wondering what they must be thinking.
Why are you leaving me?
Oh my God, what’s happening?!
No! No! Please! That one is my favorite!
He’s my best friend!
Why isn’t anyone helping me?
Then humans come in and cut off branches completely out of their control and haul off their leaves on the ground.
It’s much like our lives. And it happens in seasons. But do they know? Do they understand? Is the tree freaked out by this major loss or does it understand what is happening, why? Is there an innate acceptance that this is what is and any attempts to stop it are futile?
Each of the trees is in a different stage of unleafing. I wonder if they compare themselves to one another and feel jealous or proud.
Why does HE still have leaves?
Haha! Sucker. I have more than YOU do.
You all lose. I’m leafless first.
What do they think of the nonshedding trees? Is there grief over the loss? It got me thinking about the cycle of grief.
Life has cycles, like trees, but not Kubler-Ross’s five cycles. I believe there are four, matched to the seasons. Love (summer), Loss (fall), Grief (winter), and Acceptance (spring). They can change at any time for any reason but in my life they tend to go in this order.
Love (intense feeling) could be a person, a project, an idea or ideal. Loss (involuntary action) is its fall from dream-state, it’s emerging reality of flaws or its actual loss. Grief (reaction) is the processing of loss, reaction to a lack of control, and reassessment of who we are without this and why we are still here. And Acceptance is the freedom to move on openly knowing we will lose again but embracing the moment anyway.
Some days I look in the mirror and am surprised at my leaf count. I thought there were 3 left. I was sure of it. But today they are gone. And it’s cold. And the daisy bush is dead. I know just on the outside but that is all I see.
What are your tree seasons?
© Michelle Routhieaux 2011
S-’s grandma died tonight. It’s got me thinking about storms. Helps that it’s raining. I texted, “I know right now it’s a tornado. Just remember I’m not afraid of the storm.” She took it as me thinking she was afraid. It had nothing to do with that.
I like storms. All kinds of storms. Most people hate them or are afraid. But I don’t mind getting wet. I also don’t mind putting myself in danger most of the time for a good cause. I stop on the freeway to help people who are stuck. I talk to homeless people. I give money to strangers. I salt the chickens and empty the whitehouses. I search for people who are in danger. I listen. Instead of running from the fire or crisis, I walk towards it.
When I am in crisis or someone I love has died and I am devastated I find that most people are afraid of the storm. They mean well and say things like “they’re in a better place” or “I’m here if you need anything” or “I’ll pray for you.” But when it’s 3am and I’m pissed at God ‘cuz it’s not fair and I haven’t showered in a week and am a mess from crying, calling them will not yield support. I don’t need to hear that it will all be okay or that time heals or that they know how I feel. They don’t. And it makes me mad.
I do my best to be the friend who brings an umbrella for you but is not afraid to brave the storm. To sit with you in the rain until you’re ready to come inside. I’m no stranger to hospitals, 3am phone calls, people crashing on my couch, safety missions, long text or IM conversations. And I don’t bullshit. I choose my words carefully. Silence is often more powerful than words.
I know what it’s like to walk alone in the rain. To have someone who walks with me for awhile, who listens, who’s not scared of my plight and respects me – that is a Godsend, a gift I pay forward.
I may be terrified of my own storm, but holding hands through yours makes me stronger.
© Michelle Routhieaux 2010
I said a prayer yesterday. I’ve been sick for a week and I was laying on my mom’s bed staring at the ceiling. It started out a standard prayer – thank you for this, please help me with that. But then I stopped and it changed. And I just said to God that I don’t expect any of it. I don’t expect any of these things I ask for and I know they are out of my control. I know and I ask for help accepting that none of this is up to me. I am part of a plan too big for me to even imagine, serving a purpose I might never comprehend.
When I’m supposed to understand, I will. Until then, I’ll wait and know that my life is in His hand.
© Michelle Routhieaux 2010