What happens when all you have ever wanted in life turns out to be someone else’s joke?

For me it has meant turning around and moving on with my plans. While that sounds pretty simple, easy and straight forward it generally feels anything but.

Sadly, I think we all have someone in our lives that is a pessimist, perhaps it is also someone who gaslights1 to some extent. For me this was the case. I had a family member who always knocked (gaslighting) what I had to say and what I wanted to do from ballet (that’s for wusses) to the migraines I had (that’s just something made up in your head).

This person would tell you he was trying to challenge me because what I wanted to do/be just wasn’t right for me and that I needed to think harder and be better. I grew up believing a lot of what was said, including that I was never good enough. Having a huge amount of self-doubt, I am sure meant I came off as a bleeding fish in a tank of piranha. I appeared weak to others whether I was truly weak or not because I believed I was less than.

Even though I believed I was insignificant, I still tried as hard as I could to live with the gusto I felt in my heart. I didn’t give up ballet. Being reminded that I danced before I could walk fueled the fire in my heart that I knew dance was meant to be a part of my life. Even when I got a bit chunky as a pre-teen (thank you baby fat taking forever to go away) I still persisted because I felt that dance was how I was meant to express myself. What ended up smashing my dream of being a ballet dance wasn’t my ever-increasing ample bosom, no it was a freak accident and a broken ankle. Multiple doctors told me I would need pins/rods and dancing (full-stop) was out of the question.

My third “opinion” was my family doctor and we went with what he said. No pins or rods but rest and yeah ballet was out of the question but dance wasn’t. My family doctor told me that I would never wear toe shoes as a professional because all that pressure and hard work that was needed, and he knew I could do, would cripple me. Instead he encouraged me to try other forms of dance and see if something else sparked (ignited) the fire within me the way ballet did. In High school I tried modern dance and loved it. Not enough to pursue it as a career but enough to continue my life-long love of dance and realize that even if I didn’t become a professional dancer, dance was still in my soul and nothing would stop that.

I wish I could tell you that this story of gaslighting and being someone’s joke was a one off. That this family member learned the errors of his ways or was not a part of my daily life growing up but that wasn’t what happened. The gaslighting continued and didn’t really stop, not even now as an adult. I have heard things like “I told you that you couldn’t do that”2 when what was said was that this person could never do what I do; and worse “If I had that condition, I would just kill myself” knowing that I battle with a hidden disease that could steer me towards the condition we were talking about. No, the gaslighting has not stopped and in some cases has just gotten worse as the years have gone on. This person still treats me as if I have no value or worth in the world. 

Growing up, what helped was having supportive parents who tried to remind me I had worth no matter what others said. While I have better control over what I listen to and how it impacts me, the gaslighting and toxicity still exists. As an adult, distance has been the best way to combat the hold and influence this person has over me. Having a good support network helps too. Even when self-doubt rears its ugly head, I know I can turn to friends and other family members that will be honest with me about my fears.

My life may be a joke to this family member, or to a million strangers, but that doesn’t mean I should just stop what I always wanted or even dreamed of doing. While we should always evaluate what we want to pursue (such as a pros and cons list), how others see us and value (or devalue) us should not be part of that consideration. We all have worth, something we are good at, and just because someone else doesn’t see that worth does not take it away or make it non-existent.

While the formula of “what makes us successful” has been defined by hard work (or capabilities) + luck, I personally have always thought we define our own success. If what makes me successful is having a happy life then it doesn’t matter if I am not rich, have no powerhouse job, no mansion… because I am defining my own success. Success to me is having a roof over my head, food in fridge (that I like) and people I love and care about in my life.

What do I do when someone makes a joke of what makes me happy?

I smile.

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1.In another recent post I talk about my childhood trauma and gaslighting fits in to that trauma.

2. This specific conversation referred to here was about fostering.

Fostering is something I always wanted to do since I was a child. As a teenager wondering about life and love, I wasn’t sure I would find a life partner that would share this dream but I was lucky. Rent-a-Dad may not have grown up with the thought of fostering but my passion inspired him and became a dream he wanted to share with me.

When the potential to foster was mentioned to our family members we received mixed reviews but mostly encouragement to see where it led us. The family member involved in this conversation fit into the skeptical but encouraging box (or so I thought) but that is not what happened. This family member was waiting until Rent-a-Dad and I failed so he could point out just what an awful idea we had.

The interesting thing is I don’t think foster parents “quit” or “stop” because they failed. I think foster parents get burned out, need breaks, and don’t always know how to cope because support systems just don’t know how to handle the trauma foster parents go through.

In our situation this family member told us we failed because we were still involved in the lives of three former foster children. The system has seen this as a success not a failure. We see this as a success because these children get the best of all worlds and haven’t had to say goodbye to anyone that has an impact on their lives.

Another point that was made was that our grieving over the reunification of the children we have fostered for any length of time just is not normal. Therefore, once again we are failures as foster parents.

There is no one way to foster. Grieving is a part of the process. Don’t ever let anyone tell you differently. The key here is to remember those who wish us to fail will find fault with anything. Gaslighters can pick the smallest of details and try to get you to focus on that one small narrow view. This way they can get a toe hold on changing your view to how they want you to see things.

How does one survive chaos, or rather trauma*?

How does one move past the bits of life that you so desperately want to leap over? 

These are just a few of the many questions I have been asking myself for going on two years. 

For me it is no secret as to why our blog posts have slowed down to near non-existent. It hasn’t just been a combination of bad timing, a heavy work load, and kids. I suffered a traumatic blow to the structure of my life as well as the resurfacing of childhood trauma I had packaged tightly away. Nor was it just one small change that undermined life as I knew it or the addition of multiple small new things. Rather it was the culmination of big life changes, bad timing, kids, and trauma all at once.

Still I tried to keep up an appearance of life just tossing lemons my way and me trying to figure out how to juggle them.

The appearance of holding my life together helped keep me moving forward without feeling truly lost. But lost is how I felt when no one was looking.

I knew that I couldn’t maintain our blog while I felt so lost. Rent-a-Dad was busy with helping pick up the slack in other areas of our life that blogging was the last thing on his mind.

While I didn’t give up writing in general (journals, poems… starting a family cookbook) I felt like anything I shared on our blog was somehow tainted by what I was experiencing, and feeling. More than a few times I would start to write a blog post but either I didn’t finish; they felt non-authentic; I felt like my writing style/voice wasn’t represented; and worse… they all felt either too emotional or very watered down. Suddenly I felt like what I had to share had no value. I was struggling with the topics that I felt comfortable making contributions to as well as with feeling what I had to say was relevant, and the thought that I was a fraud (as if suddenly I was “less than” and unworthy to write/share).

Instead of burying myself in writing and coming out the other side through self-expression in blogging, I felt further lost. So, I put blogging on hold, always the thought in the back of my head of returning when I felt more like me.

I needed to find myself.

Looking back, it hasn’t been a journey about finding what I lost. I know what was lost and what changed me. The journey was really about finding a new “normal”/way of life that I could be comfortable with, and found joy in.

Suffering trauma was not new to me. The new factor that spun me around and rocked my foundation was drastic shift in my support system. This shift caused me a lot of pain, both physically and mentally. I was questioning everything I was doing including how much worth I had. 

For all mental health professionals, I am sure this is setting off alarms.

Between good friends and a supportive spouse, I knew I needed help. I talked to my doctor about my physical health and sought counseling from a mental health professional as well as from our pastor so I was taking care of my mental and spiritual health as well.

After a few counseling visits, my diagnosis was given and I wasn’t surprised. I knew I was depressed. Also that I have severe anxiety issues and lived with high amounts of stress. The only thing that really surprised me was being diagnosed with PTSD and that the counselor felt this was something I was living with since my childhood trauma. That the new traumatic event and shift in my support network was making me re-live some childhood trauma that had never really been addressed.

To the world at large I was still presenting a good face while inside I felt like my world was crumbling. Seeking help was what I needed to do. It made me feel better talking about what was happening and the ways I was trying to move forward. My counselor didn’t even feel I needed any kind of medicine to help me move forward. For me that was a relief on several levels but mainly that there is a history of alcoholism in my family tree, and therefore always a fear in my head of a hereditary gene for addiction.

Were there hiccups in all this? Yes, yes, and yes.

For months I only shared my journey with a select few. I had a hard time reaching out and confirming my new support network/structure.

Some close family wanted to call me crazy, messed up and worse. These specific family members were not interested in me as a person getting better let alone the length of time it might actually take. Sadly many people apply a pre-conceived idea of how long they think it will take someone to heal… Healing doesn’t work that way. We all heal differently and in our own time.

No one seeking to better themselves should ever be put down. 

Another truth, I owe no one an explanation into what caused my depression or what traumatic event set off my PTSD. Does not mean I didn’t, or don’t, want to talk about it. I am just a bit more closed off right now then I have ever been in my life. I am protecting myself better, and re-learning who I can/can’t trust; how that looks; and how that feels.

The problem that has existed with some family members is that because I have always appeared to be an open book with others, I was suddenly expected to continue with the same level of openness with the very people who caused the trauma. Those family members were not very happy with the boundaries I was trying to set into place and may never be happy with these boundaries, but they are necessary.

In addition to affirming my new support network and setting up boundaries, it has also been important to recognize the toxic people in my life, what their toxicity looks/feels like, and learning how to section that off from my daily life. Doing all of that while trying to keep pace with kids and other parts of my life has been a challenge.

Some days moving forward is not as easy. I have my setbacks and am still re-learning who I can lean on and for what. Even at the worst point of struggling with depression I still smiled and found joy. What I needed help with was not feeling ALL the feelings ALL the time. Time doesn’t heal all wounds but in my case time, and talking about my problems, has helped me find my perspective again. And in time, in finding my new normal, I am hoping my voice will reemerge.

My backstory and Take-Away:

In college I was blessed with having a good group of friends who openly talked about mental health. It wasn’t something to be shied away from, packaged up or hidden. I went to college in a small Midwestern town and because of the location many of the student body dealt with seasonal depression. January through March were some of the hardest months to deal with for seasonal depression. Not only do those months follow the holidays/joyous times with family/friends, but it also meant a return to school life. For many that alone brought on a heavy sadness. Added to that were wintry conditions that meant staying inside more and evening/nighttime descended upon us by 5pm. Many of us would enter the dining hall on the last few glimmers of sunshine, when it was present, and exit on full darkness. Talking about mental health was important to our daily life.

Leaving college, I found that mental health was not something people easily or readily talked about. It was once again something to be buried away, hidden, stigmatized… People couldn’t be depressed without the worry of being involuntarily committed for a psych evaluation. People fear how others will perceive them as if they are less or not worthy. Fear is as powerful as depression (perhaps more so) as it can hold someone hostage in their own personal hell incapable of seeking help.

Mental health should not be treated that way. The stigma needs to go. We all need to be set free from the fear of others knowing about hidden diseases and hidden struggles.

Everyone suffers from trauma and loss at some point in their life. It is why there are support groups. Counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists are there to help be sounding boards so we know that what we are feeling does not drive us to isolation and darker places. Mental health should not be boxed up and hidden away. It needs to be taken from dark places and light to be shown on it.

We all have our struggles. Talking about those struggles in safe places is what helps us move forward and be over all healthier people.

While everyone at some point feels that they are struggling alone, none of us are without struggles.

Reaching out is hard. If you are in a good place don’t forget to check in on your friends to see how they are doing. Reaching out does go both ways. If you aren’t in a good place don’t suffer alone…


To learn more about the crisis text line, click here

And remember… emotional distress doesn’t mean you are thinking about suicide right this minute, you could just feel isolated, alone, like you have no one to turn to and not sure what your next step should be… but it’s no reason to keep it all caged inside. Feeling isolated and alone can feel like a personal hell with no end in sight. A problem shared can make someone feel like their load is lightened so they can make clearer decisions. I have been reminded recently that humans are not meant to suffer alone or in silence. Call. Share. Lighten your load.

I have been reminded recently that humans are not meant to suffer alone or in silence. Call. Share. Lighten your load.

A problem shared can make someone feel like their load is lightened so they can make clearer decisions. I have been reminded recently that humans are not meant to suffer alone or in silence. Call. Share. Lighten your load.

* Keep in mind, trauma takes on many forms from the loss of a loved one, having to make an unexpected move (residence, schools, even jobs) to surviving events like a robbery or sexual assault. Trauma doesn’t take on one simple form like being a survivor of a war but can also mean you survived your own personal battles that have left you traumatized.