Thursday, May 2, 2013

Self-Esteem, PCOS and All That Flab: Part 7

* This is part 7 of a series of posts that explore my struggles with self-esteem, weight, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and the very difficult task of trying to be my fullest self in a world that constantly demands more than what I am. Because this subject is so vast and most of my life has been spent swimming in its waters in some form or another I thought it best to break it up . . . also so as to not bore you to death!

Some of you may not be able to relate, but I hope that you will find it interesting anyway. And perhaps you will be better able to understand someone in your life. Some of you may be able to relate and I hope that you will know that you are not the only one -- that the journey may be long, but progress is progress. Remember that no matter how small it may feel, you still are not the same person that you were yesterday. And that is something to celebrate!

For Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 please scroll below . . .

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So far in this blog series I have written chronologically about different time periods of my life and what was happening with regard to my self-esteem.  Today, however, I am breaking the format.  Like rules, formats are also meant to be broken now and then.

It is a gorgeous spring day, and what am I doing?  I'm self-reflecting.  Well, I might as well just put it like this:

"It is a ________ day, and what am I doing?  I'm self-reflecting."  I assure you that no amount of adjectives will change my answer.  Even in my best moods I am still performing some level of self-reflection, no matter how minute.  I have been wondering whether I have an unhealthy compulsion to self-reflect.  Perhaps I think that if a day is missed I will wither away into The Neverending Story "nothing."  Maybe I would feel so detached from myself that my identity would cease to exist.  Whatever the reason, I spend a lot of time in my own head, thinking about being in my own head.  Yeah, it gets that ridiculous.

During my drive home this afternoon I was thinking about all of the negative self-talk I express on a daily basis.  I have been doing this for many years, probably since I was about 11, which was when the self-esteem issues began.  It's amazing how quickly you can learn that you are not good enough, and how quickly you learn to reinforce that belief through the different interactions or activities you experience throughout the day.  And on some days, worst of all, you learn how to do this with no outside influences whatsoever.  Once you have had enough external forces propose that view, you eventually don't need any outside help at all.  It solidifies.  And it grows as you store up every moment you can, like a squirrel storing nuts for winter.  Only, the winter never comes, and you just keep storing . . . storing . . . storing.

During this car ride I concluded something . . . I'm a real bitch to myself.  That's not a word I take lightly.  And it's not a word with which I have ever aspired to be described.  I don't find it empowering to take the word and make it a thing of Women's Strength and Decisiveness, the way I see some ladies do.  Seriously, this is a real thing.  Some women are actually turning it into a compliment!  Who knows, maybe they have the right idea.  But I still can't stomach the idea of using that word to describe my female relatives or friends.  So why I am I willing to use that word toward myself . . . and on a blog post, no less?  Because it's the truth.  If I thought or talked about other women they way I do myself I would be a real Queen B****.  If I witnessed the same behavior in another person, talking terribly about someone else, I would pretty much think they're a big, fat jerk.  So the funny part is, I keep doing it.

Well, maybe not so much "ha-ha" funny, as ironic.  Or stupid.  Or just plain mean.  I know I'm not the only woman who does this.  I don't mean to leave out men.  I know enough men who are incredibly hard on themselves too.  But I do think there is a sad epidemic with women to constantly self-brutalize.  You wouldn't know that if your only experience with women was by watching reality television.  They have pretty much perfected the act of blatant narcissism.  But regular and real women (most of us) are walking the tightrope of self-hate and self-acceptance.  We know that we should accept and be kind to ourselves, but somehow that is a very difficult thing to do.  When you're in the heat of the moment it is easier, in a way, to self-criticize.  It doesn't feel better, but it's easier.  Sadly, the hard thing to do is to forgive yourself, accept your humanness and believe that you are worthy of good things. 

The ultimate goal is not only self-acceptance, but self-love.  Psychologist, Abraham Maslow created the hierarchy of needs -- a pyramid of universal human needs, beginning with the foundational need of survival, all the way to the peak, which is self-actualization.  This is sort of like nirvana.  Once a person has reached self-actualization they have achieved complete self-acceptance AND self-love.  A person achieving this believes that they have intrinsic value, not for what they do, but simply for who they are.  They strive to grow in character and goodness, while allowing for mistakes.  They acknowledge their humanity, their flaws.  And they see the beauty in the imperfections.  We all have them, no matter how hard we try to forget or prevent others from seeing them.  It doesn't mean that we should relinquish striving to be better, but we should not do so with a punishment waiting for us with a clenched fist when we fail.

I am ridiculously hard on myself.  Maybe you are too.  If you are, I'm sorry.  I know how you feel.  I know how exhausting it is every day trying to live up to impossible standards that you would never place upon someone else.  I always feel as though I need to be improving myself, every second.  And if I'm not improving, I'm failing.  This actually makes me sound like I'm Type A, which is very far from the truth.  Perhaps just my mind is Type A.

Even though I have been on a healing journey for over half my life, I have been paying even more attention lately to the aspect of self-talk.  I'll admit, I'm better than I used to be with that; I have made improvements.  I'm a bit more gentle with myself than I was a few years ago. But it's not enough. I need to be gentle with myself every day, because it's a good possibility that the rest of the world won't really care about this.  I have had many unkind things said to me over the years, been left out and ignored and felt judgment that has at times been debilitating.  But I have also had much kindness and concern and love.  Unfortunately I have given more power to the negative and have mimicked the behavior toward myself.  Jerk, right?

So enough is enough!  As Susan Powter once said, "Stop the insanity!"  Hmm, that was pretty perceptive, Susan.  In the last couple years I have worked much harder at stopping myself from thinking or saying negative things.  And in the last few months I have posted positive mantras in a couple places at home that I read every morning.  I don't know how much of an effect it has had on my self-esteem so far, but it can't hurt, right?  And my hope is that the more I practice all of this the better I will get at it, and the more I will begin to believe it.  It will take practice, and time and a lot of grit.  Some days I will succeed.  Some days I will fail.  And on those days I will try to not punish myself for being human.  I will instead try to laugh at the silliness of it all, let it go and be kind.  I have to remind myself that God would never want me to treat myself with so much hatred or abhorrence.  He loves all his creations.  And honestly, who can argue with that?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Of Passages and Blooms

 Today our niece, BryAnna, has had one of her greatest wishes come true . . . she left Riley Hospital without her trach for the first time in her life.  For the first time she will breathe through her nose and mouth, rather than a tube inserted into her throat.  After 10 years of wishing, hoping and waiting BryAnna can now enjoy what most of us daily take for granted.

Bry has endured a couple dozen surgeries in her short time, and done so with an immense amount of sass and spunk.  She has Treacher Collins Syndrome.  But I hesitate to leave that as such a simple statement, because I don't want  her to be defined by her syndrome, by her limitations.  She is so much more beyond that.  And she has constantly fought to not allow those limitations to control her.  Today she won . . . for those of us who are her family and friends, we all won.

But today has been preceded by many other days -- some won, some lost, some neither won nor lost, but were the in-between spaces where we just lived and enjoyed what we had.  This journey has been long and rough.  I have passed many hours angry and frustrated with what, not only my niece has had to endure, but also what my brother, sister-in-law, and our other wonderful niece have dealt with.

The pain I have felt has not only been my own; I have felt the hurt of my family, like a tulip near a watered rose.  I may not feel the drops descending directly upon my brow, but as they melt into the earth they transform, they spread, and I begin to feel their tingles in my roots, shifting ever upward until I feel it become a part of me.

This is no occasion to be disheartened, however. The pain can be good.  The pain can be beautiful . . . because the pain is real.  And in it there is growth -- growth of the most wondrous kind.

Bry, you are the watered rose, rained down upon, with years of wish and hope.  Through your pain you have grown.  You have become stronger with every drop, more courageous with every dew, and more beautiful than the sun could ever hope to have illuminated.

And with all your pain, Bry, you have made all who know you grow as well.  We have seen your stem grow strong, your petals dance in vibrant colors, no matter the severity of the wind and rain.  Your spirit has spread into us all and has made all of our blooms a bit brighter.

So while I have shaken my proverbial fist toward the sky and furiously asked, "Why!" in many prayers, I am reminded again of God's mercy and grace, and how he never leaves us even when we think we are abandoned.   And I am humbled . . . very, very humbled.

BryAnna, Jeremy, Mary and Nikole . . . I think you know that none of us know how you have done it.  We are all amazed at your stamina and faith.  No matter what other challenges you will confront in the passing years, at least you can be comforted with knowing that you were given strength and courage to overcome all the trials so far.  And you can feel relief for conquering such a monumental struggle. 

But today I will just be thankful . . . thankful for all of you, thankful for moments of brightness amidst the dark, thankful for growth and beauty and grace.  And most of all, thankful for God's pure love for us all.  Thankful . . .

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Swing Under the Tree

I just read a blog entry on letting go.  The author related the need to let go in yoga to letting go in life, instead of fretting and focusing on obvious strength and success.  Having participated in the yoga from P90X I can certainly appreciate the literal implications as well as the figurative.  You should read it; it's a wonderful post:  On Strength and Letting Go

It was a very appropriate read for me today, as I am finding myself getting more and more wound-up and fretful in the last several months.  There have been a lot of struggles and stress in my life in the last couple years . . . things I don't necessarily have to expound upon, because frankly, I'm not sure how much it matters.  Everyone has their piles of worry.  I'm no different.  I'm no more special with my grievances than the next person. 

I have been stretched very thinly, trying to take care of myself, my family, my husband's family, friends, work, and trying to make significant changes to my health, my career, and our living conditions.  And for some reason, during this same time as when I have been working drastically on myself, everyone else has needed me more than ever before.  Murphy's Law, I suppose?

For the most part, I have been keeping it together quite well.  In fact, I've found that my threshold has grown immensely.  But recently it seems that things are beginning to unravel.  People are getting upset and I'm starting to lose it.  I'm making more mistakes, thinking less clearly, and feeling more anxious.  I'm feeling more dread than joy.  This isn't supposed to happen when you work so hard.  But it does, no matter what.  It does when you work too hard, and forget or refuse to let things go. 

One of my problems is that I care too much, which therefore sets the worry bugs a runnin'.  I don't worry about everything, but there are a few areas in which I worry enough for a few people.  I can let myself get so bothered that I almost feel as though I have an outer-body experience, lasting a couple days or more.  Nothing feels real or normal when this occurs, but instead feels unsettled and difficult to grasp.  Most often these qualities are brought about by conflict -- something with which I am not terribly good.  Much of that comes from my struggles with social anxiety.  Life is easy for no one, but it introduces special challenges for people who can have a hard time socially.

You know what it's like to feel like you can't win?  I'm sure you do.  That's how I feel most of the time.  But I'm sick of even being concerned about the game.  Because no matter how hard I work to do the right thing all the time, say the right things, support other people, grow my skills and character, sometimes (and maybe a lot of times) shit is going to happen.  And no matter how frustrated or down I get about this fact, it's still going to happen.  So I might as well accept it and stop working myself into a frenzy.  (I can hear the cheers right now from my husband and parents.)  It's time to just let things go.

My dad is a minister, and many times during church he will begin a prayer session by saying, "Take off your shoes and go to your special place . . ."  That special place for me is always my swing under the tree in our back yard.  I spent many hours there not only playing, but dreaming and thinking and just being.  It was my own little pocket of Utopia where I could be myself and let everything flow in and out of me without any worries or filters.  That swing is long gone, but the state of mind can still be brought back.

If things get left undone, if people are left to take care of themselves a little more, if I don't change all the things about myself that need changing . . . so be it.  I'm trying.  And that's all anyone can do, right?  And if someone expects more than that, well, it's nothing that I can control.  But that doesn't mean that I have to allow them to make me feel as though I am not enough.  Even though I may not fully believe it yet, I am going to tell myself that I am enough.  And where I am is okay.  I just have to breath and let things fall where they may.  Sometimes all you can do is swing.   

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Super 80's: An Analysis of One Awesome Decade

Our 12 year old niece said something that truly touched my soul one night recently.  We were playing a game with her, her 8 year old sister, and their parents (my brother and sister-in-law).  It was an 80's version of "Name That Tune."  I, being eternally in love and deeply obsessed with all things 80's, was of course more than happy to play a board game that revolved entirely around answering questions about bands with big hair, singers in spandex, and music with enough synthesizing to rock the sweatbands right off of you.

Somewhere in the middle of identifying songs from The Pet Shop Boys and reminiscing about how I forgot what Mr. Mister looked like, our niece said to me, "The 80's seems like it was a cool decade to live in."  As I wiped a single fallen tear from my cheek I had to refrain from squeezing her like a grandmother hugging a tiny two year old whom had just said, "I love you" for the first time.  I couldn't believe those words had just come from, not only ANYone that age, but that it came from MY niece!  Oh the heavens doth shone down upon me that evening.

I felt so very proud at that moment and replied with, "You know, I think you would have loved growing up then."  And you know, I really do think that's true.  But that's because our niece is a special kind of girl who often appreciates things in an old-soul kind of way.  Not to mention that the 80's were a very colorful decade and Nikole, like me, is a girl who appreciates a broad spectrum of hues. 

I wouldn't be surprised if people get tired or bored with my compulsion to go on and on about the decade in which I grew up.  Hopefully I'm not too annoying.  Luckily though, I married someone who has an equal compulsion and not only "gets" my love for it, but shares it in full.  I won't knock other decades or say that the 80's is the only magical time.  Afterall, I'm an old soul myself and have much love for past decades, especially wishing that I had been around in the 60's or the 30's and 40's.  But I will say that there is nothing quite like the era of neon, hairspray, and jelly shoes.  And by golly . . . it really WAS magical!

 Kevin and I talk often about how we had the best toys and cartoons growing up.  We look around us today, seeing the annoying, loud, and fame-obsessed shows all over the Disney channel, cartoons that were created solely for extreme ADD cases, and toys that assume all kids are lacking imagination and require constant technological consolation.  We see all of this and sigh . . . it's just not the same.  Everything to us seems to be too brash, too fast, too costly, and just . . . too, too much.

We had He Man, Transformers, Care Bears, the Lite-Brite, Rainbow Brite, the Spirograph, Mr. Mouth, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  We had Mad Balls, Mad Libs, The Mad Magazine Game.  Atari, Nintendo, and Sega.  Jelly shoes, slap bracelets, and scrunchies.  Okay, well maybe that last one isn't anything to brag about.  But everything else is pretty damn cool, and I haven't even begun to mention the movies and music yet!

We were very fortunate to be kids in the 80's.  We got to experience childhood with a perfect balance of innocence and awareness.  Somehow back then kids were still able to be kids, but not be completely naive either.  Now kids grow up so much more quickly, either by the pressure of society or their own desires.  Either way, it's kind of sad.  I'm sure our parents thought the same about us, and their parents the same about them.  I suppose some things never change.

But one thing that has: now just about every kid wants to be famous.  Now most of them think that they're supposed to be singers/dancers/clothing designers/night club owners/etc.  And all of this by the time they're 16.  It's not really their fault . . . this is all IV'd into their brains by pop culture at every waking moment.  I'm sorry, but the Disney channel infuriates me these days.  They glorify tweenagers, making them all pop stars who are more intelligent and more cool than their slow-minded, bumbling, lame parental counterparts.  Maybe I'm just getting old . . .

I look back at how kids came across when I was little, in movies like The Goonies, E.T., or Stand By Me.  Kids seemed to have a certain depth to them while still remaining kids.  They weren't too mature or too juvenile.  They were just right.  And movie makers didn't treat us (the kids in the audience) as too grown up for our own good nor too stupid to understand adult type things.  It's a rarity when that happens today.  And when it does, I get a good feeling deep down that maybe just a little bit of that magic we had back in the 80's is still alive and, perhaps will one day, once again flourish. 

This last summer Kevin and I went to see Super 8 in the theater.  When we first saw the trailer for it we had this instinctual feeling that it might hearken back to our wonderful movies from childhood.  And boy,  were we ever right!  We spent an hour and 52 minutes shrinking back into our 8 year old bodies, feeling like there was fun and magic swirling around us once again, this time taking the shapes of (semi spoiler alert!) magic cubes and homesick aliens.  Even though this movie was directed by J.J. Abrams it felt just like the Spielberg of the 80's; it had the same tone.  And I have a feeling that Super 8 is sort of Abrams's love letter to Spielberg as well as to the 80's.

The kids in it were remarkably deep, with plenty of humor and just the right dash of quirky edge.  It really made us feel as though we were watching one of our childhood favorite movies for the very first time.  It was sort of like a new group of Goonies.  I would have given anything to be one of the Goonies.  I wanted to be a boy so badly because of that movie . . . so badly, that if I were offered the chance today, I would consider very strongly giving up being Emily so that I could become Mikey and go on a Goonie adventure of my own.

The sad thing is, now kids want to be like the fast-talking, overly 'pop'pified, self-absorbed child-adults that they see on TV.  And the sickest thing about it all: adults are not only winking at it, but encouraging it!  Every time one of our nieces or nephews flips on the Disney channel Kevin and I look at each other mournfully, shaking our heads and rolling our eyes.  It's as if a tiny piece of our souls die.  Not to pick solely on Disney, it just happens to be the easiest way to encompass the phenomenon of this culture.  I could just as easily go on a tangent about Nickelodeon, the CG movies with talking animals, numerous reality shows, and every music TV channel ever. 

I realize that this all may make me sound really old, crabby, or possibly ridiculous . . . but I guess I still think that childhood should be inundated with magic and nonsense and colors and a degree of innocent ignorance, no matter how the world has changed over the generations.  But my generation and my predecessors have slowly become more egotistical.  We are creeping into the spectrum of loud-talking, impatient, narcissists.  And kids are being raised to think the same way, under the intention of good self-esteems and materialistic comfort.  Every parent wants to give their kids more than what they had -- more of everything, including a sense of worth in this world.  But while announcing to their kids that they are the smartest, funniest, most beautiful, most talented, most, most, most everything, they forgot to teach them the gratification of silence and solitude, the fulfillment of humility and subtlety.

I hope that when Kevin and I have children that we remember ourselves to live up to my own expectations.  I hope that our kids will have a tenderness, a simplicity in contentment, and a quirky, whimsical mind.  We've joked before that we should start a colony in the woods somewhere and raise our kids as if it is the 1980's, a la M. Night's The Village.  And every time I am forced to endure the Disney channel I am convinced that I was never joking in the first place. 

Parents, please don't try to make your kids no longer kids.  That will happen naturally on its own.  Let them enjoy a few more years where they don't have to constantly worry about wearing socially revered clothing or thinking of a snarky, clever quip for the kid taking their favorite truck in the sandbox.  Let them breathe; let them believe in the unbelievable . . . let them watch Labyrinth.  


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Night Before the Beginning

Tomorrow my niece, Nikole, has her first day of seventh grade.  And for her, that means her first day in a new building  . . . the high school.  She's spending her first day of seventh grade in the exact same building as I spent mine, which makes the nostalgia all the more easy . . . and all the more indigestion-inducing.  There is no great revelation here that my time in junior high was, shall we say, unpleasant for the most part.  I was a nerd, I had horrible self-esteem, I was "meaty," and I had social anxiety.  It doesn't take AP Math to understand that the answer to this equation is bad . . . very, very bad.

Starting something new has always been a tremendously difficult chore for me when it comes to things that are nerve-wracking.  Every single year I would spend the last week of summer vacation not only being depressed that the break was about to end, but also fretting over homework, impromptu math problems on the chalk board, what to get in the lunch line (yes, I actually worried about this in junior high), and making friends/keeping friends/understanding the fickle follies of my friends.  I might as well not have even had that last day of vacation because the entire time I had an outer body experience, with my mind floating somewhere over Impressionism paintings of large crowds and the maze of staircases in Labyrinth

I recall the night before the start of seventh grade being a particularly scary event.  I was terrified.  And as was common for me, I was so nervous that I made myself sick.  I inherited from my mom the inability to sleep the night before a first day of school.  I used to also have this problem the night before my first day at a new job too, but now that I seem to have transitioned into the old-fart-I'm tired all the time-can I PLEASE just take a little nap phase of adulthood, I don't seem to have this trouble anymore.  Back in the day though, I would ask my mom to lay down in bed with me until I fell asleep.  Unfortunately for my mom, that sometimes meant a couple hours or more. 

When I talked to Nikole earlier this week I asked how she was -- whether or not she was nervous.  I already knew the answer before I asked because I know my niece.  And my niece is a lot like me in many ways.   While I usually love that, in this case, I wish she were different, for the simple fact that I don't want her to have to go through the same feelings I did.  Kevin and I talked to her briefly tonight also to let her know that we'd be thinking about her and praying for her.  I asked again how she was doing.  I could hear the shake in her voice when she responded quietly, "I'm so nervous!"  I let her know that I've been there and understand what she's going through.  And then I told her that it was going to be just fine and she would be okay.  Whether or not that did anything to help her, I'm not sure.  If she's indeed like me, it didn't.  I'm a person who is not easily influenced, and that also means that I'm not easily comforted either.  That latter part of which rather sucks.

I wish so much that I could take away her fears and anxiety -- that I could make life just a little bit easier for her.  Obviously that's impossible.  But even more than that, if I did take it away I would also be taking away an opportunity for her to grow and become stronger.  Despite hating the feelings I experienced during these moments of debilitating fears and stomach-churning nerves, they allowed me to become more adaptable and thicken my skin.  It took an awful lot of those moments to make a substantial amount of progress in those areas, but it was all worth it.  Yes, even the times I got made fun of for being too quiet and the times I got lost wandering in the hallways, searching for my first class.  So if Nikole must be cursed/blessed with the anxiety gene, then I hope that her moments will be worth it in the end too.  I hope that eventually she'll be able to use them like proteins building her emotional muscles.  I hope that they will be obstacles transformed into wisdom.  But first, I just hope that she remembers her locker combination and manages to eat a decent lunch.  Love you, Nikole . . . you'll make it through.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Self-Esteem, PCOS, and All That Flab: Part 6

* This is part 6 of a series of posts that explore my struggles with self-esteem, weight, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and the very difficult task of trying to be my fullest self in a world that constantly demands more than what I am. Because this subject is so vast and most of my life has been spent swimming in its waters in some form or another I thought it best to break it up . . . also so as to not bore you to death!

Some of you may not be able to relate, but I hope that you will find it interesting anyway. And perhaps you will be better able to understand someone in your life. Some of you may be able to relate and I hope that you will know that you are not the only one -- that the journey may be long, but progress is progress. Remember that no matter how small it may feel, you still are not the same person that you were yesterday. And that is something to celebrate!

For Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 please scroll below . . .

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As I talked about in Part 5 of this series, the second half of my ninth grade year was a mess.  My life was a mess, my head was a mess, and I was a mess.  Luckily, I made it through and was relieved to have a few months of summer to lick my proverbial wounds.  I did not yet know just how much things would be changing in the next few months.  If I had known, it probably would've been a lot easier to get through those last couple months of school that year.  But as it is with most things in life, I was completely unaware of what was yet to come.  Before you jump ahead of me, I didn't suddenly see the world through rose-colored glasses, my body didn't morph into the thinner, more beautiful version that I had ached for, my loneliness wasn't quarantined to the unusable cellar, and I didn't suddenly love, unlovable me.  No, it wasn't quite the dramatic changes I may have liked.  But they were changes, nonetheless.  And any change, no matter how small, counts.

Before we ever moved to Warren, I had been there a couple times to a wonderful, small community theater named The Pulse Opera House.  My dad had gotten involved there in a couple productions through a long-time, family friend.  My family has always been in love with the theater, and I was no exception.  I inherited the love of the theater from my parents, who have been heavily involved with community theater for a good, long portion of their lives.

The summer after my ninth grade year The Pulse Opera House was putting on a production of The Pirates of Penzance, for which my dad was going to try out and my mom was going to play piano.  The idea was thrown around of me potentially auditioning as well.  The idea was certainly intriguing and I entertained it with much internal pomp and circumstance.  The only problem was . . . even though I had been involved in a lot of productions in school and at churches, this was different.  This was a community theater, in a community that I barely knew.  This was a theater of adults, of "theater people," of very talented people, of people who took their theater pretty seriously.  The problem was . . . I was terrified!  And terrified + a room full of strangers + singing in front of that room full of strangers = Ain't gonna happen!

My parents did convince me to go along, however, I had no intention of auditioning, even though I desperately wanted to.  That's the thing about a bad self-esteem and debilitating fears: they cause you to miss doing all the things you really want to do, all of the things that are so good for you.  So I sat awkwardly in the back of the rehearsal hall with my dad.  He was thoughtful enough to not parade me to the front of the room, even though he would have been perfectly comfortable with it himself.  I watched intently as each person went to the front of the room and sang their prepared audition piece, all seeming quite confident and relaxed.  All the while my dad kept prodding me to try-out as well, telling me how much I would enjoy it.  He knew he was right.  I knew he was right too.  But my terror was far too amplified for me to push it aside.  I was on high alert and I honestly thought that I would crumble into a pile of worry and nerves if I were to stand up in front of all these people.  I sat back, trying to act indifferent, when in reality I wanted nothing more than to be a part of this musical.  I was jealous of everyone else -- jealous that they weren't afraid, or if they were, that they were able to overcome it, and I was not.

There was a moment in which I almost felt my body begin to lift from the chair, when I had nearly gathered enough courage to step outside of myself and throw caution to the wind.  But, as it usually always did, that moment passed.  The moment passed and so did the try-outs.  We went home, and I left feeling . . . ashamed.

That little part of the story may have had a not-so-happy ending, but a nice turn of events came about a couple weeks later.  The director was still in need of more females for the chorus.  Being that my dad was in the play and Mom was playing, she generously offered me a part in the chorus without auditioning for it.  I was cast as Isabel, one of the Major General's daughters.  The Major General, ironically, was played by my dad.  The production became a family event, as my brother, Jeff, was cast in the chorus as well, once he found out that they still needed more men.

It was truly a great summer; being in The Pirates of Penzance helped me begin to find more of myself, more of my voice.  I met people that were a little bit more like me . . . quirky, loved the arts, understood certain references to Rocky Horror, Labyrinth, and Monty Python.  I began to feel a bit more comfortable in my skin, at least in that environment.  Don't get me wrong; I was still incredibly self-conscious.  But I had made a little progress, and it felt wonderful.  I had at least found a place where I could express myself.  Normally most of my self-expression occurred in private while writing, drawing, painting, etc.  Now I was at least able to share some of that self-expression with other people doing the same thing.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Once the summer was over I made another big change -- a different school.  When things were going poorly at my last school during ninth grade, there were talks between my parents and I about what to do to change the situation.  They knew I was miserable there; they knew something had to be different.  The option of home-schooling was presented and I quickly turned it down.  What made me say no so unequivocally, I'll never know.  Everything about my self-esteem should have jumped at the chance to completely avoid the school social scene.  But despite my fears and worries I knew that it would be running away.  I knew it was the wrong thing for me and would only make my problems worse.

I've run away from a lot of things in my life . . . enough to make me ashamed for a lifetime.  But there have been some moments in my life when I chose to face my fears -- when I could have easily passed.  I told my parents that home-schooling wasn't an option for me, and we began to search for the right answer.  The answer turned out to be a very small, Christian school in a nearby town, that was so new that it had only been open for a year.  Community Christian School was in an old elementary building, and ended up being the perfect next step in my journey toward self-actualization. 

Stepping into CCS, after having been at my previous school was a drastic transition -- going from 2,000 some kids (grades 9-12) to about 100 kids (grades pre-K - 12).  Yeah, I'm actually serious.  The only time I'd heard of something that small was back on the 1800's prairie, in a one room log cabin.  In addition to the drastic change in size there was also a change in they type of school -- going from public school to a private Christian school for the first time in my life.

My time there was irreplaceable and the people I met there are still dear to me.  There could not have been a better solution for me at that time in my life.  Again, my problems were far from solved; my self-esteem was still unfortunately far from being repaired; but it was yet another step toward healing -- toward becoming my fullest self (a phenomenon that I am still, in fact, in the process of achieving).

Because CCS was a Christian school, and a predominantly on-the-more-conservative-side Christian school, I often found myself in disagreement about spiritual and political matters.  I was even quite liberal back then, and have only become more so the older I have gotten.  I distinctly recall one particular discussion about capital punishment.  It turned out that the entire class (and teacher) were for it.  Not that they took joy or glee in it.  Far from.  They simply believed that it was a just act under certain conditions and circumstances.  Well, the entire class was for it, except for one . . . . . . me.  The teacher asked if there was anyone who was against it completely and my lone hand lifted.  I quickly felt my face flush and realized that I was going to have to talk.  The teacher (in a non-judgmental way) asked me to share why I was against it.  Knowing that I was the only one on this side of the issue -- that I was essentially the token goose flying north for the winter -- I was scared to attempt to explain my position.  I knew how I felt.  I knew that, for me, it was the right view to have.  But my convictions weren't enough to outweigh the anxiety of being singled out.

My voice didn't waiver, however.  Even though I've had mounds of social anxiety through the years, I have always managed to pull myself together for any kind of performance, even one as small as an oral book report, or a teenage expose on the immorality of capital punishment.  I spoke my piece, they had a few follow-up questions -- some, "Well what if . . ." and "What about . . ."  And then . . . they accepted my answers.  Just as simple as that.  They all still disagreed; I didn't change anyone's mind.  But they listened and accepted this as a valid point of view.  It felt pretty damn great.  

There were other times such as these during my three years at CCS.  I was frequently the lone liberal voice.  Even though there were days when I felt like a heathen, like an inferior person or inferior Christian, I wouldn't wish those times into non-existence.  Those moments helped to strengthen me -- my cognition, my spirit, my skin.   They helped to shape my so far 30 year old self, and someday my 60 and 80 year old selves.  That's the funny thing about all of the darker or more stressful times . . . if they hadn't existed, how would I be different?  And would the change be for better or for worse?  Perhaps without them I wouldn't have, and wouldn't still be struggling with loving and accepting myself or not being ashamed of myself.  Maybe I would have gone through a much more carefree and effortless adolescence and adulthood thus far.  Maybe I would never have harbored thoughts of suicide just so that I wouldn't have to feel anymore.  But really, would I still be the same person?  Would I have as much compassion and empathy for other people struggling and living in pain?  Perhaps not.

The years between 16 and 18 were very important ones.  I began to learn that there were people in the world who were more like me and who would appreciate me, just as is.  I began to see that I didn't have to hide away in the cave of my room always, for fear of looking like an idiot with every scratch of my arm and every turn of my head.  I began to see a glimmer of hope, that maybe I could be comfortable in my own skin one day.  That was about 14 years ago.  I wish I could say that I've completely arrived by the age of 30.  I have not . . . but the good news is, that day is getting close.  And though long, the traveling is worth it.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Curly Is, As Curly Does

I'm a curly head.

It's a little bit scary just how much of my identity, through the course of my life, has revolved around having curly hair.  Not only do I associate so much of myself with curly tresses, but others do as well.  It makes me easily identifiable in a crowd, especially since I also color my hair a fairly bright red hue. 

I've never been what you would call, a conventional person.  I've never had what you would call, a conventional look.  I'm not that eccentric by any means . . . I'm not goth; I'm not a bombshell; I'm not overtly and hip-ly modern.  I'm just not the average girl.  I look as if there's a real possibility that I was born in the wrong era -- that I would sit more comfortably in the Renaissance or the Medieval periods.  I have what many would term as the "classic" look: small, petite features, fair skin, plenty of meat on my bones, and . . . of course, the curly hair.

When I was growing up curly hair (natural curly hair) was not the popular do.  I was born in 1980, so I was around for the somewhat disturbing era of pom-pom perms and tsunamis of bangs.  But during my teen years, mostly the preferred look was straight hair -- something with which I was not naturally endowed.  Sure, I suppose I could have purchased a hair straightener and squeezed and forced my way into mainstream, but I felt an innate resentment for the pressure to fit inside of a mold.  Molds and I don't go too well together.  I made a conscious decision, like with most other things in my life, to go against the grain.  It's not because I see myself as some sort of warrior of the outcasts, some champion of the different . . . I just hate being like everyone else.  And fortunately (I guess) for me, I've never had to work very hard at that.

Let me share with you, for those of you who have not been "blessed" with the curly gene, the number one issue with curly hair.  Like a willful monarch, curly hair has a mind of its own; it is the ruling master over the kingdom called my head.  Example 1: no matter how many times I carefully separate the curls so that they look full, it will never fail that as the day goes on certain ones around my neck will pool together out of exhaustion? confusion? revenge? and morph into an inferior looking Shirley Temple lock.  Example 2: numerous mornings with hair shooting off in every possible direction, as if they had lost their way through the night, and after debating long and hard over which way to venture, each hair grouped together in 10's, yelling obscenities at the others, breaking off from the general population, and taking off on their own way with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove.

This is what we curly-heads deal with on a daily basis, no matter what type of curl it is -- small and kinky, all the way to loose and big.  Mine are more on the looser and bigger end of the spectrum.  My hair is also very fine, and therefore enjoys going flat on me at whim.  The issues are endless, just as endless as the types of curly hair that exist in the world.  And we curly-heads are still wandering in the wilderness for all the right answers to our curly plight -- some manna for our hair hunger.

Let me just lay it all out on the table . . . many parts of me HATE my curly hair, especially when I was growing up.  I hate how temperamental it is.  I hate that I can't control it . . . EVER!  I hate that I still haven't mastered the art of styling it.  I hate that it taunts me, mocks me, laughs violently at me at night, while plotting the next day's follicle failure.  Yes, I realize that I'm being a bit over-dramatic.  But I suppose that it just comes with the territory; curls are a bit more on the dramatic side, right?  Although, all of my drama has been saved for the stage . . . and apparently, hair.

I've talked with other curly-heads, and they all share at least some level of this same frustration.  We all have a strange dichotomy of often hating our hair, but not being completely willing to give it up, had we the opportunity to do a hair swap.  Why is this?  Could it be that we are all secret masochists? Are we hell-bent on making sure that we never have a stress-free start to our day?  Definitely not.  But we (at least most of us) realize that the frustrations and annoyances are part of who we are -- the curls, no matter how laden with extra work, are a strange and wonderful aspect of our character. 

There aren't many days that go by that I don't complain about my hair, at least in my own head or that I hurl at my own reflection whilst begging the mirror for a little mercy.  But truly, I don't want straight hair.  I have nothing against it, nothing bad to say about it.  Straight hair is beautiful. But it's just not me.  I'm not meant to be a straight-haired girl, which is apparently why God planted nothing but curls upon my head.  I wouldn't look right with straight hair.  Honestly, I think I'd look rather stupid, awkward . . . and, well, fatter.  The curls at least help my "meatiness" look a bit more proportioned. 

Even more than all that, I want to keep the curls because they are a physical manifestation of my quirkiness.  They offer a certain artsy, creative, offbeat stamp upon my persona.  And well, that is me.  I am a free spirit . . . always have been.  I think for myself (often thinking the unpopular ideals) and I follow my own path.  I've never been a follower.  But I've never been a leader either.  I've never had the desire to fall into either of those roles; I have just always simply done my own thing.  My favorite quote of all  time is from Thoreau: "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." I don't think there is a single quote that could sum my parts so eloquently.  Thoreau may not have had curls in mind when he penned those words, but in a silly sort of way, I feel that they are an extension (really, no pun intended) of his thought.   

My curls are not the summation of me, but they are a part.  And over the years I have made my peace with them, and have slowly, but surely, learned to embrace them.  Don't get me wrong, I'm still going to hate them sometimes.  I'm still going to raise my metaphoric clenched fists to the air and ask, "Why hast thou curs'd me?"  But once the frustration cools and the curls mellow, I will accept them and even marvel a bit at their beauty.  I will let my hands course over them and feel the smooth curves, the dipping and rising of their lines . . . until, I start the whole process over again tomorrow.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Unfamiliar Territory

I thought of something intriguing today . . .

So far I've spent all of my adulthood trying to slay a few different dragons, different but related:
1. Stomping out a bad self-esteem and nurturing a good one up from the musty basement.
2. Telling fears to go screw themselves and find new boundaries for my comfort zoning map
3. Figuring out how to make the seven year old and the seventy year old in me fuse into one cohesive person.
4. Be happy.

Basically numbers 2-4 stem from issue number 1 -- the mischievous, little . . . no, exasperatingly huge thorn in my side.  Each of these dragons has, at one time or another (and occasionally all at once), kicked my ass.  Obviously they have been somewhat dominant, hence the "all of my adulthood" part.  And unfortunately, my name being drawn out of the Goblet of Fire was not the reason behind it all.  Unfortunately, the blame is on me.  
Little by little I have been chipping away at my Berlin Wall of issues, slowly seeing some daylight and breathing in some fresh, unfiltered air from the other side.  Each glimpse, each breath has been both encouraging and depressing.  Each has given me hope that the lousiness is only temporary and that "this too shall pass."  But if it were only that simple.  Nothing is.  (Or maybe it is.  Perhaps my underlying issue is turning everything into a paradox.)  While some hope seeps into my pores, there is always that bit of sadness that fleets out -- sadness that the journey is not yet through and that so much time has been wasted in allowing the issues to manhandle me.

I realized something today . . .
I realized that right now, more than any other time in my life, I feel the most "together" that I have ever felt.  Right now I feel like nearly all the pieces of my life are coming together and functioning properly, like they were always meant to do.  

Then I had another realization . . . 
I realized that that is kind of scary.  Scary, you ask?  Why?  Well, I'm not quite sure why just yet.  But there was definitely an intrinsic and cautionary, "Hold on just a minute" that emerged just after the revelation of "togetherness." 

Maybe the caution comes from the fact that for nearly 20 years I have harangued my worth into a docile ball of fright hiding in the corner.  I have become so accustomed to, become so familiar with, grown so attached to my deficiencies and inferiorities that to part with them, no matter how negative, is terrifying.  They're what I know.  They're part of who I am, though an ugly and cancerous part they may be.  A world without them, though better in the long run, is at first, a bit alarmingly foreign.  

It's sad how we can so easily get used to the pain we hold in our lives.  If we deal with it long enough we may not even notice that it's still there.  And getting rid of it is not as easy as it maybe should be.  Once the door has opened and we begin to usher it out into the cold a new pain comes knocking and asking to stay in the guest bedroom.  But this pain is temporary . . . I suppose you could call it growing pains (it's not just a show about the Seavers!).  Eventually, once the newness has worn off, the pain eases, and a new normal has been formed.

My new normal is in transition.  I'm working on fashioning it into not only what I've always wanted to have, but what I was always meant to have.  I often have to remind myself that I, that none of us, were meant to live in pain, or in fear, or in apathy.  Those are just things we get used to because, well, sometimes we have to.  Sometimes we do it to survive.  We all do the best that we can -- trying to find that slice of happiness amidst a lot of bad, bad things.  Sometimes though, I wonder if, instead of just a slice, we are all meant to have the whole, damn pie!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Today . . .

My age says I should no longer hold lengthy conversations
about the greatest moments in The Muppets repertoire,
consort with Smurfs,
or linger over trinkets in a bargain bin 
marked with Mr. Men and Little Miss.  

My age implies thoughts should angle 
toward savings bonds, health insurance, 
mortgages, property value.

My age insists the time to feel care-free and fresh 
is past -- now is time
for my childlike soul to run on fumes until
it just gives out, pulls over, and waits to hitch another ride, 
eventually the first part of the trip 
disappearing in the distance of a rear-view mirror.

Today I am 30.  
And what once made me a tad anxious, 
now makes me proud.  

Three decades under the belt, a fourth
just beginning.  The first three were practice anyway . . . 
the fourth offers a chance to take what was good 
and polish it up for the next run.  
The chance to take what was bad, hold it close and nurture
out the pain 
and failure --
hold it closer,
until a soft wash of peace gives it wings
it no longer needs me.

Today I will not hate myself for the things I should not have done,
the things I have yet to do.  
Today I will love myself 
for all that I am, all that I have been, and all 
that I have the opportunity to become.  

Every other day is a day of
But today I will quietly celebrate myself 
with silent songs of praise and subtle 
adulations, keeping the embers
of my childlike soul burning,
with no fears of childishness.

Today I will focus on the creation God has always meant for me 
to be and love.  Today I will see the promise
that exists beyond my own "knowingness."  
Today will be a day for remembering
all that I have, not all that I lack.   A day for recalling
the fullness, not the emptiness.  

Today will be a day of thankfulness . . . . 
a day to see God's graces, 
no matter how small.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Thirty Something or Other . . .

In less than a month now I will be hitting a bit of a milestone.  I will be turning 30.  I will have officially expanded my journey into four different decades.  I'm not completely sure how I feel about this.  It's a mixed bag -- part sadness, part eagerness, and part reluctance.  When I first started thinking about the upcoming September 30 (it's my golden birthday this year, by the way) I began to feel anxious.  30?!  But what have I done in 30 years?  What have I accomplished?  Aren't I still just a kid?  Shouldn't I have a house, and kids, and a career?  In your 20's it's common and perhaps even expected that you haven't done or do not have those things yet.  20's are all about transforming yourself into your adult skin, finding who you are outside of childhood, school, and parents.  30's are . . . well, aren't they . . . well, aren't you supposed to be who you are meant to be by then -- settled, stable, done with figuring things out?  At least that's what it feels like.  Maybe that's because when I was 10 I thought that a 30 year old was someone who had it all together.  They were an adult.  And well, now that I'm almost there, I realize just how very silly that was.  Now that I'm almost there, I realize that I still feel like that 10 year old in many ways.  I guess I'm trying to figure out whether or not that is a bad thing.

Turning 30 has made me think that those childhood and shifting-into-an-adult years are officially over -- that it somehow distances me from those parts of myself that I still feel and hold onto so strongly.  This thought has given me moments of mild anxiety in the past year.  I know, it's stupid.  A number doesn't actually mean anything.  Just another boring statistic to give to your doctor or the cranky, unapproachable woman at the DMV.  But are other people going to look at me differently when I'm 30?  Are they going to expect more from me beCAUSE I'm 30?  Does being 30 give me an automatic to-do list that must be fulfilled ASAP?  I sure hope not, because I'm afraid that I'm going to fail miserably.  Well, at least it wouldn't be the first thing I've failed miserably at.

Most women my age, at least around here, already have at least one kid by now.  Don't get me wrong, I've chosen to not have kids yet, my husband being in full agreement.  Neither of us have been ready.  I've heard some women say that they want to be done giving birth by the time they are 30.  My response has always been, "I'm not ready to start giving birth until I'm 30."  

Even though it's my choice, and really, I don't regret it, I am starting to now feel that pressure that is spoken of.  I have started to worry about being "old" parents or our children missing out on time with their grandparents.  The latter is the one thing that makes me begin to want to start sooner rather than later.  But I know that I can't use that as our sole reason to conceive sooner than what we are ready for.  It would be a mistake to do it for any other reason than that we are both ready for the drastic life-change, knowing that the joys will outweigh the hardships.  Until then, I think it's going to be just us.  

A lot of people my age also have a house by now.  We're still in an apartment, and we love it here.  It's roomy enough for the two of us, quite private as apartments go, and in a nice location.  But of course we'd both rather have our own home, if we could afford it.  I think we both have daydreams now and then as we drive through the "nicer" neighborhoods, drooling over the sprawling homes with lush and spacious lawns.  Seems as though you're not a complete adult nor a complete American until you own a home or, more accurately, reside in a home that is owned by a bank. 

The final major missing factor in turning 30 is a lack of a career.  Oh sure, I know maybe most people don't have an official career by the time they enter their 30's, or even 40's, or even retire before they get one.  Most people just have a job, something to pay the bills.  But all the years I was growing up, all through college, I always expected myself to have a career, and at least be well on my way to one by the time I was finishing out my 20's.  Since I've known what career I wanted (writing) since I was 9 years old, I guess I just assumed that I'd get there.  Hmm, newsflash!  I'm not.  And, in fact, I'm in between regular jobs right now as well, other than doing freelance work.  It can tend to make me feel like a complete failure.  

The closest I've come to achieving this goal is ghostwriting an e-book within the last year for someone, which was at least a paid-for job.  But I can't say that this is an actual career as of yet.  Maybe with a second paid-for writing job I'll feel like I've started something tangible.  At least within the last couple months I've finally started working on a book of my own, a work of fiction.  At least I started this before I turned 30!  Hey, I've got to give myself a gold star when I can, no matter how small the accomplishment.

Hmm, well I'm not sure what conclusions I have come to through the course of writing this little blog post . . . perhaps that no, I'm not exactly where I'd like to be at 29 years and 11 months, or where other people think I should be.  Perhaps I'm exactly where I'm meant to be.  And perhaps it doesn't really matter.  I'm turning 30 . . . so what?  I didn't feel any different when I turned 16, or 18, or 21.  Just another year, and I'm still me.  I'm still a 7 year old coupled with a 70 year old, only now it is inside an almost 30 year old body.  I still love fart jokes and coloring in my Garfield coloring book when I've had a stressful day.  I still love the smell of Play-doh.  I still love imagining that I am a Gelfling in "The Dark Crystal."  

The thing that I am most looking forward to about getting older is that little by little I will shed my silly, juvenile inhibitions and become more and more my true self, unafraid of what everyone else is seeing and thinking.  That is a beautiful thought, and one that makes me not fret about getting wrinkles, saggy body parts, and an increasingly strong urge to talk about my physical ailments.  If my 20's were a decade of transformation -- working through the confusion of being a child-adult and trying to find my voice, my way, myself; then maybe my 30's will be a decade of overcoming -- feeling peaceful with who I am, where I'm at, and where I'm going.  Maybe they will be a time of saying, "Screw you!!" to all of the worries, anxieties, and fears that I have allowed to dominate me in my 20's.  Hmm, that could feel really good!  Even though I have a sneaking suspicion that my 30's are going to come with their own challenges; I also think that it will defeat some old ones that have held me down for far too long.  And that doesn't sound like such a bad thing.