Unshackling from people-pleasing and codependency
On March 10th, 2023, I hit a critical threshold in my recovery from people-pleasing and codependent tendencies. Knowing my beliefs and values weren’t going to be universally accepted among my colleagues during professional development at work, I still stepped into my power and spoke my truth in a very direct, public way.
Something in my body knew nothing would be the same after that conversation. Prior to my chance to speak, my leg shook like crazy. My heart beat rapidly. I couldn’t focus.
I excused myself to take deep breaths and watch the snow fall through the school entrance. I channeled my “Rebecca-from-Ted-Lasso” energy and made myself ferocious in the bathroom, silently roaring at myself in the mirror.
I quit shrinking; I made myself big to advocate for the change our students need and deserve. And for the first time in almost a decade at my job, I didn’t know where I stood with every person in the room.
Immediately afterwards, I felt shell-shocked. My mind didn’t know what to tell my body to feel. I went to debrief with my soul sister work wife and ended up sobbing hysterically. The breakdown was about so much more than humane, equitable grading practices – it was knowing I lost my most coveted survival mechanism at work, and that I could never go back to shrinking myself to prioritize the comfort of other adults.
After carrying me through the most intense stretch of my breakdown, she shepherded me to another beloved colleague who helped me unravel and re-ravel the chaos in my brain and body. She listened non-judgmentally and helped me recognize the feeling that came up: anger triggered by a feeling of urgency.
Anger? That feeling I never let myself feel for long before slapping a happy face sticker on it and sweeping it under a rug? What was it doing at work?
I’ve always been triggered by others’ showy anger and couldn’t believe that mine had made some of my colleagues that I love, respect, and admire uncomfortable. I couldn’t shove it back in the box though. She’d been freed from her shackles, and I knew we would be walking side-by-side for a long time.
Wiping tears away, I asked my colleague where she puts her anger when it becomes too much. She simply opened her palms wide and simply said, “In God’s hands.”
I stopped crying and set down my lovingly prepared cup of calm tea. Nothing ever resonated so deeply in my soul before.
Since that conversation, that’s what I’ve done. When my anger takes over, I cry. I find a quiet place, get on my knees, and beg God to carry it for me before we burn up together. And it works.
I’ve found myself shattered and on my knees more times than I can count since reaching that critical recovery threshold, but I love the me that’s rising from the ashes on the other side.
She’s empowered, strong, and activated. She feels her feels and calls out injustice every single time, not just when it’s safe and convenient.
I trust her. I trust us. I trust me.
I am not my mind
I’ve been in many dysfunctional relationships, but none more so than the relationship between my mind and body.
I was the tallest first grader in my class. We lined up on risers in the school courtyard, perspiring and squinting under the midafternoon island sun. I was an awkward giraffe standing between boys in the back row, a full head taller than every other girl in my class. I bent my knees and dropped a few inches right before the camera flashed.
My nickname through second grade was Skinny Minnie. I liked seeing myself as Minnie Mouse – my parents’ cute, adorable sidekick. One day while giggling through multiplication flash cards with my mom, she made an offhand comment that the nickname no longer fit, that I wasn’t so skinny or mini anymore. Even at the age of 7, I knew I lost something shiny. I grieved the loss of my thin privilege.
In third grade, I hated my teeth. With every baby tooth lost, its adult counterpart came in like a crooked, decrepit fence post. My face had zero curb appeal thanks to my teeth. If I caught myself smiling, I closed my lips.
In fifth grade, a classmate made a comment about mouth breathers. I didn’t realize a person could breathe the wrong way, and I was repulsed to discover I was one of them. My inner critic shamed and berated me through entire class periods while I practiced intentionally breathing through my nose, struggling to adjust to less oxygen.
Puberty made every day feel like tiptoeing on thin ice in front of an audience. Naked.
Overnight, my thighs thickened, my breasts budded. Stretch marks spread like a cracked windshield between my thighs, to my calves and hips and breasts. My body stopped feeling safe – my wayward mind equally lost.
In the battle between trusting my body or mind, puberty divided them further. My mind committed numerous sins against my body throughout adolescence and early adulthood.
I verbally abused her. I shamed her and ridiculed her and starved her. I lectured her and patronized her and treated her with general contempt. I traded her away to avoid disappointing others just to end up disappointing myself.
I ignored her, denied her, silenced her, disassociated from her.
One time, I tried to protect her. I said no, but a boy took her anyway. Even while he assaulted her, while I froze on that bed and stared at that wood-paneled ceiling, dust particles dancing in the sunbeam shining through his window, my mind blamed my body for freezing, for not fighting harder.
But my mind was wrong.
My mind was wrong.
My body’s quiet wisdom never deserved to be silenced, her curiosity and calm crushed by my misled mind. She deserved to be honored and cherished.
And even after all these years of betrayal and abuse, she never gave up. She’s still here.
I’m still here.
And every day for the rest of my days, I vow to value and nurture this body who steadfastly endured so much. Never again will my mind gaslight her gentle intuition.
The most profound realization in my healing is that I am not my thoughts.
No, I am strong legs swinging higher, higher and the wind in my hair. I am the belly rush of letting go.
I am closed eyes, a spontaneous smile, cheek to the sun.
I am a beating heart and raised arms on a dance floor. I am music and movement and magic.
I am the nose nuzzled in my boys’ hair, the soft hand they slide theirs into.
I am healing.
I am peace.
I am here.
I’m a mom with no maternal instinct
While pregnant the first time, I carried a lot of worries about what life as a mother would look like. I logically knew there would be less sleep and more expenses and, like, diaper changes and stuff, but I didn’t stress too much about the parenting part. Our culture fed me this idea that once I became a mom, this “motherly instinct” would kick in and I would just inherently know the right thing to do in any given situation. After all, mother knows best.
I took comfort in this. It lulled me into a sense of safety knowing this instinct would kick in once the baby came and all would be well. I mean, this parenting thing couldn’t be that hard, right? Lots of people became parents.
And then I became a parent. And I held this child I’d been growing in my body for nine months, and my skin prickled, and I sobbed with joy, and I knew my life would never be the same again, and I was so, so okay with that. I felt a lot on the day I met my child, but not some lightswitch of parental instinct. Maybe it would come?
When they sent me home from the hospital, I remember pretending to be prepared and confident while on the inside I was a torment of worry, wondering how in the hell I was going to keep this baby alive when I hadn’t even managed to work brushing my own teeth twice daily into a routine.
What were these people thinking, sending me home with a human? Couldn’t they see I had absolutely no idea what I was doing? Where was this instinct I’d been promised?
It didn’t get any better. Everything was hard. Everything was learned. Nothing was automatic.
Childbirth? My body may have instinctively gotten the process going, but my babies came into the world with skilled professionals and modern medicine in the form of a glorious, glorious epidural.
Breastfeeding? Latching? Trigonometry to me.
Thank god for diapers with convenient labels like “Front” and “Back” so I didn’t look completely incompetent in front of the nurse I felt like I had to prove myself to.
Even bathing my newborn at home for the first time was hard. His soft skin became dolphin-slick once wet, and I worried I’d fumble him like a football. I kicked myself for not taking notes while the labor and delivery nurse bathed him so adeptly in the hospital sink.
Getting my kid to sleep literally anywhere besides my arms and the car seat became a complicated scientific process of independent and dependent variables – maybe the fleece pajamas will help, let’s try white noise, maybe if I set him down so, so gently, like a bomb…
At one point, I remember googling “help i am a mom with no maternal instinct what do i do”
I felt a lot of shame about this. I really, truly believed I wasn’t a good mom because it was so hard for me and none of it felt natural.
But I’m thinking differently now.
Maybe parenthood feels so hard because parenthood is so hard. And what I believed was supposed to be instinct actually just ended up being really, really hard work on my part. And, like, a lot of love and commitment to do best by my kids.
After all, you don’t become a good parent by simple instinct. You become a good parent by showing up again and again. By trying and failing, learning and unlearning. You tap into your village and resources and commit yourself to raising the next generation to be braver and kinder and more prone to grace than judgment. Biology shouldn’t get the credit for the hard work – that was all us.
So, I proudly affirm: I have no maternal instinct.
But I am still a good freaking mom.
My Divorce Fantasy
They say each marriage goes through seasons, and mine is currently in transition after a biting, years-long winter that neither of us could say with certainty would ever end. Each storm brought the same predictable pattern of conflict, and by the time we could shovel ourselves out, a new blizzard was already in the forecast.
Our cycle of conflict was frozen on repeat, our patterns so deeply rutted, that salvation from the bitter cold felt impossible. He yelled at the sky. I went into hibernation.
He chose fight. I chose flight.
The problem with flight is that eventually you have to land, and when I did, I crashed right into my therapist’s office. I wasn’t hibernating anymore. I was jarred awake, grappling with the reality that my coping mechanisms of denial and repression had me in a perpetual state of survival mode and escape. I couldn’t stand to be present in my own home.
In the safety of my therapist’s office, I experimented, attempting validation and acceptance instead. I admitted aloud that at gut level, I believed my marriage was destined for divorce. That terrible truth, that secret shame, was exposed to the light of day for the first time.
The condemnation of my marriage came out calmly and succinctly, nothing like the emotional tornado that had been wreaking havoc inside. I thought the state of affairs was so ugly that even speaking it would destroy me, my family, and everything around me.
Instead, the opposite happened. The winds exhausted, the danger dissipated, and I was left staring at a debris-littered field, able to clearly acknowledge my reality for the first time.
In that stillness following truth, I could get curious and begin sorting through the wreckage.
Denial and repression led me to this mess, so I leaned on acceptance and courage to guide me home. Disclosing my suspicions of our doomed relationship to my spouse became my next right thing. This time, from a place of vulnerability and humility rather than blame and self righteousness.
I set my ego aside, brought my truth to the kitchen counter, and painted my imagined life after divorce for him.
In my divorce fantasy, I answer only to myself. I prioritize making my own dreams a reality and bad vibes are checked at the door of my small, lovingly curated apartment. I have consistent solitude to prioritize my mental and physical health, and I parent with patience, instilling the values and boundaries I find most important, without compromise. After divorce, I never find my “other half” because I’m already whole. I don’t ask permission to have needs, they live inside me guilt-free.
I pause at this point and turn inward, and it’s like someone hands me glasses and I can finally see from a different perspective. With this new vantage point, I realized that those ideals I spoke of – answering to myself, taking times of solitude, setting boundaries with my kids, pursuing my dreams, feeling whole – were all needs I could fulfill in my marriage if I stopped trying to control the reactions and perceptions of those around me and took responsibility for taking care of myself.
Divorcing him didn’t have to be a prerequisite to finding me. I could prioritize that right here, right now.
Twice now, I’d spoken honestly and directly despite the voice inside whispering, “here comes rejection.” Instead of destruction, I found liberation. The oppressive grip of codependency around my throat relaxed.
After two months of learning, unlearning, and consistent truth-telling, I’m feeling more connected to my Self. The eggshells no longer shatter under my feet and I catch myself looking longingly at my husband across the room for the first time in a long time.
Falling in love the first time was a euphoric rush of fizzing chemistry and grand gestures and naive promises of unconditional love. It’s different this time. I’ve learned unconditional love doesn’t mean unconditional tolerance and that I can only love and respect someone else to the extent in which I love and respect myself.
That never ending, bitter winter of our marriage wanes, and I can now feel the sunshine of hope upon my cheek with the promise of a stunning spring. His healing looks different from mine, but together we shelter from the tornado of our own egos. The earth thaws, exposing fallow earth, fertile and ripe for new growth. We begin cultivating it – together.
We are done “should”ing
I inherited many beliefs about what makes a woman “good.”
I learned that a good girl should be compliant at home and school. She should be ambitious but not too ambitious. A good woman goes to college and gets a steady, practical job to support herself and her future family.
More important than work and education, though, a good woman should dedicate herself to attracting a financially stable partner with “would be such a good dad” potential. She should change her body, her words, her identity to attract someone who checks all the boxes. She says “I do.”
Then comes motherhood, where a good woman should be fulfilled by her family alone. Infertility is the ultimate shame because good women procreate. Of course, they would never, ever choose childlessness. That would be selfish, and a good woman is never selfish.
A good woman shrinks. She does not want. She does not need. She gives.
A good woman disappears.
I absorbed these lessons. I got the husband, the house, the kids, the job. I performed and pleased my way to this so-called American ideal, only to look back in a moment of breaking and wonder if I ever wanted any of that in the first place.
I felt confused. I had it all. I should be happier. Why was I so unsatisfied?
Earnestly, desperately, I asked myself: Do I even want to be married? To have kids? To teach? What else have I been “should”ing? These roles I’ve built my entire identity around – do I actually even want them?
A good woman shouldn’t ask herself these questions, I thought.
But maybe I’m done being a good woman.
I want to be married. But I want to be whole – not another half.
I want my children. But my dreams don’t belong permanently on the back burner.
I want to teach. But with boundaries.
I want to be a good woman. But not under its current functioning definition.
Sisters, daughters, mothers, friends – we must dismantle the narrative of what makes a woman good. These cages are getting cramped.
Let’s forgive ourselves for “should”ing and pursue our joy shamelessly. We are done settling for being liked – we demand belonging, as our needy, imperfect selves.
Women with the audacity to ask themselves what they want and the courage to answer honestly are the changemakers, the patriarchy shakers, the cycle breakers.
We are here. Change is coming.
Anxious. Excited. anxiousexcited
My body reacts predictably every single time I have a lot of attention on me. My pulse quickens, my foot jiggles, my chest tightens, and I get increasingly sweaty. Like, even behind my knees. I would rather be anywhere but in my own skin and try to retreat into my brain, but the situation there is just as dire. This unavoidable pattern happens every single time I feel scrutiny.
I never over thought it before because inevitably, I could always force myself to armor up, get started, find a rhythm, and brown the whole thing out.
Yeah, I said brown out. Like, not a full blackout because bits and pieces are still there. They laughed at something I said! I can’t REMEMBER what I said, but I remember the laugh!
The physical sensations that come along with the attention honestly suck. Nobody likes sweating their face off right before going in front of an audience. I hate the mental loop. “What do they think? Do they like what I’m doing? I just stumbled on my words. Did they notice?”
I perform a LOT.
I’ve always auditioned for the play, went for the solo, given the speech. A large audience isn’t a prerequisite to prompt the performing. Even something as simple as meeting someone new brings up those same uncomfortable physical sensations. My body gets hijacked, my extrovert self takes center stage, we “fake it till we make it,” and… showtime.
I tried something different the last time I was in the spotlight. This time, I took a deep breath, cast aside my toxic “fake it till you make it” armor, and started talking about my real feelings. I admitted to 100+ of my colleagues that every time I stand in front of them, I feel anxious.
I then shared how anxiety presents itself in my body and disclosed some game changing information I read from Dr. Brené Brown’s newest book Atlas of the Heart. Those uncomfortable symptoms that anxiety hijacks our bodies with? Those are the same sensations in our bodies when we experience excitement.
Read that again. Anxiety and excitement feel exactly the same in our bodies. The difference is mindset and how we interpret those feelings.
According to Dr. Brown, when we label these sensations as anxiety, we are more likely to have negative experiences. If we flip our mindset and reframe it as excitement, a positive overall experience is more likely to follow.
I don’t know about y’all, but if I’m going to be saddled with sweaty pits and a skyrocketing heart rate, I might as well try to get excited about whatever is coming next. I have zero control over my sweat glands, but I CAN disrupt old thought patterns and control my mindset.
I shared Dr. Brown’s emotions research with my colleagues and communicated that I was doing my best to reframe my anxiety as excitement. I’m no expert, but the accompanying nods of “me too, same” were reassuring. I made it through the presentation without faking it, and sat down afterward feeling damn good.
I want to keep showing up for myself and people in my life this way. I want to recognize the early stages of this bodily response coming on, stop that downward spiral, and pause…
“Does this have to be anxiety? Or can I self talk my way into getting excited about this instead?”
And even if I only succeed some of the time, hopefully the people around me are picking up a little more excitement from me and a little less anxiety.
“a little bit gay”
It’s time ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜🖤🤎🤍
emperor penguin parenting
recovery friends 05.22.23
Drove down to Sheboygan today with a crisis center friend to visit another at his sober living. Lighthouse walks, beach talks, bird watching, rock snatching, and crab rangoons.
I discharged from the crisis center two days ago and got the keys to my new apartment. I’m learning new skills and so proud of this little space in the world I’m making for me and my kiddos ♥️
Hi, my name is Bobbi.
And more than likely, I’m not bipolar.
Mmmm. Deep exhale.
While institutionalized at Winnebago Mental Health, I did not have a doctor, let alone a psychiatrist, assigned as part of my care team. The bipolar diagnosis came from two court-appointed evaluators who sat down with me for forty minutes and drew their conclusions.
Dr. Bales, who should’ve retired fifteen years ago, looked at my file the entire time, barely listened to me speak, vaguely pointed at the list of potential medications, and said, “You need mental health help.”
Okay, bro. I’ll tell that to my therapist and outside psychiatric care provider I willingly sought out on my own for a psychiatric evaluation before being chapterized.
Dr. Thuman, a psychologist, at least listened to my story. I believe she drew the same conclusion of bipolar disorder, but she wasn’t called to speak in court and I’ve yet to see her notes.
Two forty minute conversations.
One nervous breakdown.
That’s all it takes for the court to seal your fate with a chronic diagnosis and an order to take medication that’s been making me sick.
When I started the Abilify, I began on a 5mg dose for three days before being bumped up to 10mg. Aside from sleeping better, I didn’t notice any other differences in my thinking, mood, or behavior.
Upon discharge at Winnebago Mental Health Institute, a locked facility with some of the most severe mental health cases in the state, I wound up at the Winnebago County Crisis Center where I started experiencing some concerning side effects with the medication.
I have a restless feeling in my limbs, particularly in my fingertips and feet. I can’t sit still long enough to watch TV or read. I’m experiencing unspecified anxiety, a tightness in my chest that no amount of breathing or yoga can dissipate. I’m waking up with headaches consistent with interrupted breathing in my sleep.
The county psychiatrist took me up as a patient and is currently titrating me down on the Abilify. My 10mg dose was reduced to 5mg for a week, and now I’m down to 2mg. He prescribed medication to abate the restless feeling.
I’m getting help.
I’m feeling heard.
I’m supported and will be long after discharge tomorrow as I continue to meet with Dr. Vicente.
So, if it’s not bipolar disorder, then what is it? That’s the magic question.
I can say nothing conclusive has been decided. According to my psychiatrist, my symptoms are consistent with a nervous breakdown followed by four days of major insomnia and extremely limited sleep while on vacation with my family over spring break and that the behaviors mimic C-PTSD.
This feels much more nuanced considering this is my first breakdown. I haven’t experienced highs and lows consistent with a bipolar diagnosis, so I’ve been hesitant to own it as mine.
Signing off from the messy middle.
Love and Light,
My Separation Reality
Last September, I posted a piece titled My Divorce Fantasy in which I got really honest about the state of affairs in my marriage. I concluded it hopefully, truthfully, authentically. I’m going to start this one the same way.
My husband and I are currently going through a separation. I could give a wagon full of reasons why we made this decision, but even typing that ignites that bittersweet tingle behind my eyes and warmth in my chest.
After having a nervous breakdown and spending 17 days institutionalized in a prison dressed as a mental health facility, the old Bobbi died. Flat on the concrete floor of that solitary confinement cell, hair in twin braids, sunflower seeds scattered around, my soul briefly left my body. And when I floated back into my body, I leveled up. There was no going back.
And like my diagnosis, my marriage felt constricting and tight, a skin I needed to shed.
I can’t go back to the same cycle of disagreements and conflict, the same stormy patterns. I owe this new self the space to discover who arises from the wreckage of my old life without the responsibility of shepherding his healing journey.
Our futures look like a lot of therapy – individual and couples – while we shelter our babies in the eye of the hurricane. And this will be the most amicable, healthy separation because of the mutual love we have for those boys.
In four days, my divorce fantasy becomes my separation reality. I get the keys to my own small, lovingly curated apartment. I answer only to myself. I prioritize making my own dreams a reality and bad vibes are checked at the door. I have consistent solitude to prioritize my mental, spiritual, and physical health. I parent with patience, instilling the values and boundaries I find most important, without compromise. After separation, I never find my “other half” because I’m already whole. I don’t ask permission to have needs – they live inside me guilt-free.
I feel sad. I feel happy, angry, optimistic, guilty, scared, proud, confused, terrified, but ultimately hopeful. Because I know this is the right decision.
Love and Light,
freedom ride 05.10.23
Channeling wicked witch of the West on a too-small bike vibes, I found some treasures while cycling through Winnebago County Park.
“loyalty” – a slam poetry piece
You can now find me tik tokkin’.
BEAUTY in crisis 05.07.23
With the right presence and eye, true, wild beauty can be found in your own neighborhood. Here are some iPhone snaps of my first solo nature walk on 05.07.23 now that I have liberty to leave the crisis center grounds.
My shiny, new diagnosis
Hi, my name is Bobbi.
And I’m bipolar.
Yikes, even typing that sentence has me feeling like I’m wearing giant clown shoes or spilling out of a bra two cup sizes too small. The diagnosis doesn’t resonate or fit, but according to the court-appointed psychiatrist and psychologist for my involuntary commitment, it’s mine.
Disclaimer: I’ve spent more time researching and debating which toothbrush to buy than I’ve spent researching bipolar disorder. My future, far more informed self is already cringing reading this. However, Struggle Bus Confessions has always been my place to heal messily and in real time. Here’s the messy middle, y’all. I apologize in advance for my ignorance.
According to the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5, bipolar disorders are described as “a group of brain disorders that cause extreme fluctuation in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function.”
I’m diagnosed with Bipolar I specifically which “is a manic-depressive disorder that can exist both with and without psychotic episodes.”
Additionally, bipolar disorder falls between “depressive disorders and schizophrenia spectrum disorders. People who live with bipolar disorder experience periods of great excitement, overactivity, delusions, and euphoria (known as mania) and other periods of feeling sad and hopeless (known as depression). As such, the use of the word bipolar reflects this fluctuation between extreme highs and extreme lows.”
If I’m being completely honest, I hate the term itself. “Bi-” signifies a binary which feels like you’re either one or the other without a lot of gray in between. In this case, manic or depressive. For the majority of my life, I haven’t felt either one of those ways chronically.
I hate that it’s mine, too. With one single event of manic-like thinking and behavior, I’ve managed to secure a diagnosis. I’ve felt the euphoric high but have yet to experience the low. There has been no crash. My mood has never been dramatically swing-y until having a spiritual awakening several weeks ago.
So, yeah. It’s complicated.
I’m court-ordered to take medication and am currently initiating my nightly med disbursement of 10mg of aripiprazole (Abilify) and 5mg of melatonin at night.
And they’re fine. I just don’t know if they’re necessary. Time to start researching, I guess.
Truschel, R. (2020, September). Bipolar definition and DSM-5 diagnostic criteria – psycom. PSYCOM. Retrieved May 8, 2023, from https://www.psycom.net/bipolar-definition-dsm-5