Long Overdue

It’s been so long since I’ve put letters to screen… Since I’ve written, period, really. I got so caught up in making it to the weekend, I lost months. It’s a reminder to live each day. I feel like I’ve been in hibernation until recently. I did a Whole30 in November-December and it was a lesson in discipline. It’s an amazing feeling, realizing you are stronger than you ever thought. (For those who are not familiar, Whole30 is a 30-day paleo challenge – no sugar/processed foods, dairy, legumes/soy, alcohol, or grains). I made it all the way and am currently doing a second one. It makes you feel healthy and powerful. I love it. It also reduces inflammation, which has helped my pain.

I’ve been focusing internally, because I looked in the mirror (literally and figuratively) and I didn’t like what I saw. I’ve gotten lazy and stressed out by my job. I’m not sleeping well at night. I started feeling anxiety, again, and I just want peace. So, if I don’t make any changes, nothing will change.

What has encouraged me to get back to writing the most is that I realized earlier this month that 30 is just around the corner for me – about 4 months from now. So, in panic-mode, I threw together a pre-30 Bucket List… Now, I’m going to make myself accountable for the following things by posting them on the internet. That makes everything real, right?

Things to Do Before I’m 30:

1) Simplify my possessions – clean up, get rid of what I do not need, pack
2) Go camping without help (i.e. without an adult haha)
3) Try the Rejection Therapy game (see http://rejectiontherapy.com)
4) Write every day – no matter what it is
5) Actually finish a Coursera course
6) Actually finish a book
7) Go one week without TV/Netflix/Hulu, etc.
8) Volunteer
9) Join and actually attend something on meetup.com
10) Explore what I really want to do with my life
11) Don’t say anything negative about other people for one month
12) Re-read The Alchemist. Again.

I may add more. TBD.

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I’m a Bully

I’m not one to speak on this subject, really. I’m my own worst critic and an expert self-bully. I’ve spent years and years perfecting the art of belittling myself. What a shitty thing to be good at.

I caught myself doing something yesterday that I do almost every time I look in the mirror – and decided it had to stop. As I stood in front of the bathroom mirror at work, I ran through a mental list of my physical flaws. It’s a quick and compulsive response to seeing my own reflection. The entire process takes about 20 seconds, which, oddly enough, happens to be the exact amount of time needed to destroy my self-confidence. I walk away feeling something between numbness and hopelessness.

On this occasion, I actually said aloud, “Wow, you look horrible” to myself (before double-checking that I was alone). Here’s what the rest sounded like in my head:

“Yep, those deep, dark circles are still under your eyes – worse than ever. You need to go to bed earlier. Your hair is a mess. Why can’t you get your shit together? This shirt doesn’t suit you. It makes you look pregnant. What were you thinking this morning? Your hips are huge! You need to workout more.”

Now, I will admit that if another person had said that to me, I would be outraged and angry. I would be hurt and immediately remove them from my life. I can’t even imagine saying just one of those things to someone I love, or even a stranger. So, why is it OK for us to say these things to ourselves? Why is it OK for us to objectify ourselves?

These poisonous sentiments have become my mantra. Negative, horrible words I throw at my own disappointed face every day without thinking. No wonder I lack confidence and conviction. No wonder my voice sometimes comes out in little more than a whisper. No wonder my head is full of self-doubt and anxiety. I treat myself as though I have little value, and as if my value is derived from my physical attributes.

The condensed version: I’m a bully.

I wasn’t born with these beliefs about myself. As a young child, you don’t notice the differences; you embrace all people. Hate (even directed at yourself) is learned.

I learned cruelty from other children, growing up as a chubby kid. I learned failure from all of the diet plans I tried. I learned embarrassment from looking like a stuffed sausage when I tried on my skinny friends’ clothes in high school. I learned self-doubt by always watching the confident girls and never really taking the lead. I learned self-criticism from watching other girls in front of the mirror at school, most likely emulating their mothers or what they saw in the movies (see “Mean Girls”). I learned the impossible standard of beauty as it is portrayed in the media as “normal” on TV and in movies and magazines. When I was older, men reassured me through their actions that they agreed that my value was indeed connected to the physical.

My insecurity is the perfect outcome for the media. Their advertisers have the solutions to all the problems I’m eager to fix: weight loss, anti-aging, hiding all my “wobbly bits,” and cleaning my kitchen with little effort. It makes you wonder if it’s all some grand design… Maybe that voice in my head is just some old, male advertising executive.

Did you know that the current media ideal for women is achievable by less than 5% of the female population in weight and size (Katie Fox)?

The current media ideal for women is achievable by less than 5% of the female population in weight and size (Katie Fox).

All of these pieces blend together to paint a picture of the person I “should” be, but never possibly could be. And, why would I want to, anyway? In our society, the perfect woman is one that has been carefully crafted to be pleasing to a man. To quote one outspoken lady I admire, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

We tell young girls to stand up for themselves, but, then, let them watch us criticize ourselves in the mirror. It’s time to stand up to ourselves, showing nothing but kindness. The voice in your head should be your biggest cheerleader, not your biggest critic.

I realize now that the “perfection” I grew up trying to attain is just some Hollywood magic; it doesn’t exist. I’d rather look at myself as a work-in-progress. There will always be something about myself that I will want to work on and some way that I will want to grow as a person. That’s the way it should be.

Fuck perfection.

You are who you are, not who someone else wants you to be. So, the next time you look in the mirror, see only how beautiful you are.

 

Honey vs. Vinegar

A Life of Comfortable Agony, Part I

“Waiting is painful. Forgetting is painful. But not knowing which to do is the worst kind of suffering.” – Paulo Coelho

This took almost two weeks to write. Not because it was particularly challenging writing, but it was soul-work and I’ve been avoiding it. So much is going on in my life and, yet, not enough. I’ve been making small, but noticeable steps forward. Those seem to be the most infuriating; I wish I could just shake myself into action, but I’m just slower than I used to be.

I had a cleansing cry in the car, driving home. I wasn’t sad. It was relief and excitement and exhaustion from all I’ve been going through in the last 6 years. Waiting for your life to start is soul-crushing work. Sometimes it takes a long time for you to heal, but the trick is to figure out how to help heal yourself. You can’t live your life with an open wound, physical or emotional. I kept telling myself I wasn’t going to be scared anymore, but that’s not true. I’m probably going to be terrified most of the time, but I won’t let it stop me. I won’t let it hold me back anymore.

I keep reminding myself that “the best way out is always through” (Robert Frost). I need to go through this to get to the other side. I have to feel what I’m feeling, because “it’s better to feel pain than nothing at all” (Lumineers). Anyone who’s ever been in an antidepressant haze knows how true that is… Well, any substance-induced emotion-extinguishing haze, really. It won’t be easy, but I don’t want easy. I want to experience it all.

Things are clearer now that I’ve made a concrete decision about the direction my life is going to go in. It’s made me realize I’ve been focusing on the wrong things. I’ve been saying I’m the same person I used to be under all the chronic pain and suffering, the traumatic brain injury, and the depression, but I’m not. I won’t find my old, outgoing, happy-go-lucky self under it all like I’ve promised myself before; I don’t think she lives here anymore. I realized that I don’t want to find her, anyway. She let herself be walked all over, used up, and manipulated. She let herself be cheated on and gave too many second chances. She let other people make her feel like she deserved less than she does. She accepted excuses from others and herself. She fell and just laid there; she didn’t even try to pick herself back up. She may have been happy at some point, but it was ignorant bliss. She was weak, just a layer that needed to be peeled away. She wasn’t able to deal with everything that has happened in this life (bad decisions, the accident, the loss, change, etc.), so she abandoned me. And, the truth, as cliche as it sounds, is that if I hadn’t been through all this, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I don’t really know who that is, yet, but I like her already. I’m looking forward to getting to know her better. She looks to the future and doesn’t dwell in the past.

I’ve always been someone who clings to rules and craves a set of instructions. I always felt the burden of expectations placed on me and obliged. After high school, you go to college. You start a career (that’s as far as I got before my car accident) and marry before 30. Then, comes kids. What happens if you fall short, something unexpected derails those plans, or you don’t even want those things? I’ll tell you what happens: you just become increasingly disappointed in yourself. It builds and becomes despair. The chasm between what I’ve wanted for myself and what is has seemed insurmountable most days. As a result, I moved through life since being derailed with the enthusiasm of a zombie. I’m ready to reject all these expectations and write my own story. I don’t know if it will have a happy ending, but knowing that there will be happy days is enough for me to want to try. 

“To live would be an awfully big adventure.” – Peter Pan

I’ve depended too heavily on other people and self-help books for support, advice, answers, and even decisions. Maybe so I don’t have to face the constant fear I’ve been living in. Maybe it’s just so I don’t have to expend the energy required to make the decision myself. Or, maybe it’s so I can avoid taking responsibility when things inevitably go wrong. Regardless, in doing so, I’ve lulled myself into a life of comfortable agony. I stopped growing as a person the second I got comfortable and stopped challenging myself. I see now that life doesn’t come with a set of instructions and I will only learn by doing; I must figure it out myself. No one can draw me a map of how to pull myself out this grave I’ve dug for myself. The only way to figure it out and ‘get through it’ is by approaching it in my own way. Figuring it out on my own will allow me to experience it in a way that I can truly understand. It’s a life of trial and error, and always of learning. I can’t depend or wait on anyone else, because they’re not coming. And, that’s kind of a reassuring thought to me, because I know now that it’s up to me.

The serendipitous circumstance that I find myself in is that if I had lived up to those expectations and was married with children like so many people my age, I wouldn’t be standing here, ready to head out on my own (excited out of my mind). So, ironically, my failures in the realm of adult relationships were a blessing in disguise. I think that most of the time we go through life, focusing on the negative (i.e. the bad decisions we’ve made and their consequences), but every now and then, the universe conspires to give us a glimpse of the grand scheme of things. It’s so rare and you have to be looking to catch it. But, if you do, you’ll see how everything that has happened is connected and those decisions you made in the past got you to where you are today. And, on occasion, the universe may reveal to you a path. You have to be ready to jump in, feet first and follow it. That’s where I am standing: at the beginning, once again. This is me, officially announcing that I am moving to California this year!

I will keep writing, because it’s when I’m writing that things are clearest. It allows me to dig through the muddled, lazy thoughts, and put the pieces together. As I write this, like I said, I’m standing at the beginning, and that’s alright with me. I have everything to look forward to. I need to throw myself into a situation that strips away my obsession with doing things ‘the right way’; like going out on my own. I know there is a lot ahead of me and that genuinely excites me for once. I just hope it’s messy, uncomfortable, and wonderful.

Part 2 will follow today or tomorrow.

Song playing as I press “Publish”: Hall of Fame by The Script.

I’d love to have half the enthusiasm for anything in my life that a female my age reserves for wine

Can you imagine waking up every morning, knowing that you have broken parts, but your warranty has expired, so you just have to learn to function around them (or buy suspiciously cheap Chinese knockoffs on eBay. I’m kidding; that’s not an option.)? It’s more difficult than the inspirational stories you see on Extreme Home Makeover make it seem. Because, be honest, TV is your main exposure to people dealing with traumatic experiences. They don’t show you the day-to-day struggle on TV, only the triumphs. That’s why I wish my life were a movie trailer, because despite being short, at least it would be only the best bits.

I used to love rainy days.  I would get excited when I saw the dark clouds rolling in. There’s nothing more beautiful than a drive after a summer storm with the windows down. The gray sky hangs lower than a clear blue one. Raindrops lazily fall from tree branches. The roads become dark and shiny from the rain, street lamps reflecting off the pavement. I even love the sound of my tires as they kick up water. I’ve never told anyone, but I used to go out in the yard in the summer, barefoot and just let the rain fall on me. Or, go for a walk, as long as it wasn’t pouring. Nothing clears your mind faster than a walk in the rain. And, for me, nothing put a smile on my face faster.

Now, dark skies bring dread with them. I know that the rain is going to exacerbate my back and neck pain in the way you’ve heard you grandmother complain about. I don’t normally like to complain (but, I’m about to), but it really sucks to be a 28-year-old surrounded by so much life in the people around me, only to be exhausted by them. I’d love to have half the enthusiasm for anything in my life that a female my age reserves for wine, especially if it’s wine with her friends. Don’t get me wrong. I love wine, and I especially love wine with my friends, but things have lost their luster through my eyes. At least I can acknowledge and appreciate the life and beauty in the people around me. I see that some people can’t.

So, if you see me, and I’m not myself…

♦ Maybe my smile looks fake or my laugh sounds insincere.
♦ Maybe I’m impatient or short with you.
♦ Maybe I leave much too early.
♦ Maybe I don’t say much and look uncomfortable.

… know that I don’t mean anything by it. I want to be there with you, or I wouldn’t be. And, know that I appreciate you, and it breaks my heart that I can’t be myself for you. I’m in here somewhere, the person I really am; not the one in constant pain and drowning in fear. I’m finding my way out, little by little. But, as sure as I am that I will have good days and bad days, I am sure that there will be setbacks. The difference is, now, I am determined.

This song calms me every time I hear it. And, that’s something… Also, the video is beautiful: “Old Pine” by Ben Howard

Things We Lost in the Fire

I am a little behind on the Zero to Hero challenge, but I am determined to complete it. So, here goes Day 16. I didn’t like the prompt about reputation, because I see reputation as largely substance-less. Someone’s true value isn’t contained in or defined by their reputation. I honestly haven’t thought much about reputation since high school, so I chose another prompt. The one for today: Your home is on fire. Grab five items (assume all people and animals are safe). What did you grab?

I used to have nightmares about fire as a child, so you better believe I knew what I would grab in case of a fire. Assuming everyone else was safe, it included my favorite teddy and blanket. I have amassed so many possessions in the decades (well, two) since, but I don’t feel the same emotional attachment to things that I used to. I’ve learned that objects may remind you of people or places that are gone, but they don’t contain any part of those people or memories. So, there’s no obligation to keep the things that are just there as reminders, as long as you remember without them. When I finally get to going through all of this stuff, I plan on recording the things that I give away or trash, so I don’t forget, because I don’t have the best memory since the accident.

I’m not sure if I would have the mind to grab anything if a fire broke out, in reality, because I would lose my mind. In fact, I wouldn’t be that surprised if it started in my room. It’s that level of messy. However, if I did grab five items, the first would be (1) my laptop. Aside from being the second most expensive item I own, it has a lot of important information on it, as well as photos. I would ditch my iPad and even my phone in favor of my laptop. I think I would actually feel some relief if my phone were destroyed in a fire. Although it’s attached to my hand half of the day, it’s like a heavy boulder weighing me down. I feel like I miss a lot with my eyes glued to my phone; don’t we all?

With laptop beneath my arm, I would grab (2) my purse. This is mainly a practical necessity. It contains my wallet with money and ID’s, and a couple of other things I wouldn’t want to lose. Maybe, if I’m lucky enough, even my phone! With my purse over my shoulder, I would grab (3) my box of old photos. It contains photos I don’t have the negatives for that were taken back in a time when negatives were used to develop them. Pictures of old friends, places, events and even family photos, which are rather rare in my family. We hardly ever take photos. I’m pretty sure the last photo of us is from my brother’s wedding almost 2 years ago. So, I’d make sure I had those. At this point, I’d probably be scanning the room frantically, trying to come up with something else to grab, until my eyes fell on my (4) jewelery box. I don’t have a lot of fancy jewelry, because I’m not really a jewelry person. Almost all of the pieces in my jewelry box were gifts that I honestly never wear, because I have nowhere to wear them, but they are absolutely irreplaceable. There are pieces from my grandmothers, grandfather, uncle, mom, dad, and even a couple of really pretty things from exes that I wouldn’t wear regardless, but they’re pleasing to the eye.

Lacking the room in my arms, but determined, the last item I would grab would be (5) my Winnie the Pooh book collection; mainly my classic Pooh book. The cover has worn and torn places and the spine is coming apart a little bit, but I’d like to be able to share it with my nephew, and maybe someday, my own kid(s). It goes to show you that the value of something is in who is looking at it. I would then hobble as quickly as possibly out of the house, balancing my last possessions in my arms.

Oddly appropriate song… “Things We Lost In The Fire” by Bastille

POLL: What should I write about next? Suggestions encouraged!

Thank You for All the Support

In the spirit of honesty, I’m going to be share my experience over the last few days… After my short-short story, “Heated Argument” (https://themagzee.wordpress.com/2014/01/14/heated-arguement/), was “Freshly Pressed,” I watch the number of followers of my blog climb with growing anxiety. I was proud, encouraged, and felt supported, but the anxiety literally blocked it all out. It’s the reason I’ve almost completely avoided my blog since I heard that “Heated Argument” was going to be Freshly Pressed. It’s kind of ridiculous, because, let’s be honest, writers love the feedback. We love to know that our words are being read. And, all of the likes and the words you’ve shared with me have been nothing but encouraging. I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t appreciate all of the support, because I genuinely do! I feel the love, under the deep layer of anxiety. Haha.

I’ve mentioned the problems I have with anxiety before, and that’s the thing about anxiety, like fear, sometimes it’s just not all that logical. And, the best way for me to deal with it is to just post something, try to use the anxiety to push myself forward (plus, I’m really behind on the Zero to Hero challenge now), and not look back. I guess I feel the pressure to say something of substance, now that it’s more than 10 followers. Of course, maybe I should have felt that pressure all along…

I look forward to checking out all of your blogs and thank you, again, for all of the encouraging words you’ve all shared. You’re all awesome!

Also, I’m at a loss for what to do for my new challenge this week. I went to bed Sunday night, fully intending on not watching TV for a week, but woke up Monday, unable to function without watching a some with breakfast. Try again the next day, you say? I did. Same thing happened. I may try one more time, but since the week is halfway over and my hometown is now covered in snow for the next few days, what else am I supposed to do?

Song I’m listening to as I press “Publish”: Skinny Love by Bon Iver – a song that calms me (give it a listen)