Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ashes to Ashes




One year ago today Kevin and I had to put our dog, Miko to sleep. She was just about to turn 14 years old. We never did know the exact day . . . just that it was around the 20th of February. Some of the time we would get her a birthday gift, usually special dog treats of some kind. But we never did that very consistently. Sometimes I really wish that we had. I suppose it would quell a bit of the guilt that I feel for this and for that -- for not paying her enough attention in those last weeks. I could soothe myself with the fact that, "Well, at least I never let her birthday go by without a celebration." But I cannot. I can't change what has already been done. But I often wish that I could.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, and as usual it put me in a very reflective mood. Although, I must say, it is a rarity if I am not overly introspective on any given day. But Ash Wednesday brings an extra-special sort of introspection. I often think about what I need to change about myself -- what I need to do better. The usual conclusion is that I need to change A LOT!

My dad has always performed Ash Wednesday services to mark the beginning of Lent. I feel very lucky for this because I know most Protestant denominations do not recognize the season of Lent very much, more of in passing. And I feel as though you cannot fully appreciate the meaning of Easter, unless you go through a sort of journey through Lent. During our Ash Wednesday services my Dad would always have the portion of the service in which he would place the marks of the cross on our foreheads (or hands if desired) in ashes.

This is done with the ashes of the burned palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday service. It is to represent that from dust we came and to dust we shall return. The symbolism of this simple activity is rich and full. There are so many things for us to ponder during Lent . . . mortality, the suffering of Christ and what he endured for humanity, our personal faith journeys, compassion, wisdom, and the kindness or lack of with which we treat people. I probably haven't even touched the surface. And everyone is going to approach this differently because everyone is on their own individual faith journey.

When I was little I didn't fully understand the purpose of the ashes; I just thought it was kind of cool, and I'm not sure why. It seemed so interesting to get messy in church! There was something comforting even then about getting the cross of ashes on my forehead. I felt safe. I felt claimed (in a good way). I felt as though I was protected. Today I still carry some of that with me, but now I see the ashes and wonder when I will become part of them. That both upsets me and comforts me. I'm of course not anywhere near ready to die. But when the time comes, I find some solace in knowing that I will be part of the earth. I will be physically tapping into the connections that exist amongst all of God's creation.

Today I find some comfort in thinking that our dear Miko is now part of that. She was buried beneath a tree in the yard of my brother and his family. They very kindly offered to let us keep her there since they have no intention of ever moving. And that way, she would always be laid beside our family. I find comfort in that as well.

The last couple months I have thought about her a lot more again, knowing that the one year anniversary was slowly approaching. It is hard to believe that we have been without her for an entire year. I never knew how I would get through it. But as people say, "Life goes on." The pain is still here, sometimes quietly slumbering deep below, and sometimes loudly parading on the surface. Lately I've had several good cries, remembering just how very much I miss her still. I had the hardest cry a few days ago, while watching an episode of "Celebrity Rehab." The actress Mackenzie Philips suddenly had to go home to have her dog put to sleep. He was blind and diabetic, and the time had come. She sobbed over even thinking about having to say goodbye. I understood what she felt. I knew that pain. It's not just a dog . . . it's a companion. Like her, I have had very close connections to each of my dogs. Losing them is like losing a best friend that knows all your secrets.

In a way, I think part of me was buried with Miko. Just as the birth of my nephew Jakob a couple years ago made me feel a rebirth in other parts of myself. We are all connected. When one passes we feel that loss as a passing of something inside us, reminding us that all things must change; nothing lasts forever. And when new life arrives, we have the honor of being reminded that all things will come again, nothing lasts forever. Life and death is cyclical, just like the ashes. From dust we came and to dust we shall return. To me, that is beautiful. If you think about it, life is a journey and death is just like going home.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Self-Esteem, PCOS, and All That Flab: Part 3




* This is part 3 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 and 2, please scroll below . . .

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


It's taken me many many years to begin piecing together the array of events and people that influenced my struggles with self-worth. I'm still trying to find those last few pieces to make the picture complete. I suspect that I will always be searching for just one more. I was reminded of some of those key pieces that I had forgotten, as I was perusing through a journal of mine the other evening. My journals are very random and scattered in their frequency. I have never been consistent in that area. I tend to write a lot more the darker I feel. Writing has always been a tremendous release for me -- a great comfort. This particular journal that I was reading through was from the end of 2004 and beginning of 2005, which is when I finally began making significant strides in pulling myself out of the filthy and adamant rut that I had been in for about 12 or 13 years.

In July of 2004 I had a couple major revelations of some aspects of the causes of my low self-esteem. One of my cousins and his wife and kids came to visit my family. We were having a great time. I was hanging out in the kitchen with my mom and my cousin's wife. The two began talking about one of my other cousins, whom is a few years younger than me. It suddenly hit me that, contrary to what I had always thought of as my first blow to self-worth (getting dumped by my first boyfriend in 5th grade), I had repeated blows earlier, which involved my cousin and my grandparents.

I have always felt, that in the eyes of my extended family, especially my grandparents, she was the perfect child. And I equated that as meaning she was better and more valuable than me. It was easy to play the comparison game because we are the only two granddaughters on that side of the family. I don't believe that anyone ever meant to make comparisons between the two of us. They maybe never even thought about who was better than the other in different areas. I know they loved us the same and still do. But I always felt inferior to her. All I ever heard about, especially from my grandparents was how wonderful my cousin was . . . how smart, how talented, and these days, how spiritual and godly. I didn't hear anything similar about myself. Perhaps they talked about me the same way to other people. But I wouldn't know. I never heard it.

This has made me realize just how important it is to make sure you tell people how you feel about them -- tell them directly, rather than to someone else. It has made me work harder to try to always tell my nieces and nephews how much I love them and how wonderful I think they are. And this is something that I will try so very hard to do with my own children, when the time comes. It was not so much the things that were said to me that built my empire of self-hatred. It was the absence of things that I needed to hear and didn't.

One of my most powerful memories was when I was about 7 or 8 years old. The whole family was staying with us for Christmas. My cousin and I, along with my aunt, gathered in my parents' bedroom, planning out the performance that we were about to debut to the rest of the family. Once we were ready we filed out into the living room and did our rendition of "I'm a Little Teapot." I don't remember anything specific that was said, only that it was all about my cousin. They praised her up and down for how cute, adorable, and talented she was. Granted, I understand that that is what happens with a toddler, in comparison to a kid in middle-childhood. That's the norm and it's human nature. But it still hurt. It hurt because I didn't feel like they cared about me or that I mattered. I felt as though I might as well have not even been there.

It was pretty much always like that. My cousin lived in Minnesota, close by to my grandparents, so obviously they saw her with much more frequency. It's no surprise that they knew her better and were closer with her. But somehow not being surprised didn't seem to lessen the pain. I have never had that close of a relationship with any of my grandparents. One of my grandfathers died a few months before I was born. And the remaining three all lived out of state, which meant that visits were few and far between. There is an immense void in me because of the lack of closeness . . . one that is still quite painful. And now, only one of my grandparents is still living.

While I was growing up I felt as though my grandparents didn't seem to try tremendously hard to reach out to me and get to know me. That hurt . . . to feel as though my grandparents never really cared that much about me, or were very interested. To think that I wasn't worth their time or effort. That is a pain that I didn't really understand or know I had until that July afternoon. In my heart I know my grandparents loved me deeply. I just needed them to show it a little more. I truly believe that they did all that they knew how; they would have never purposefully tried to make me feel these things. They would probably be heartbroken if they knew the negative impact some of their inactions had on me. I'm not trying to make anyone feel bad about having a hand in my struggles. No one had a greater hand in that than me. I hate, in some ways, to even write this and put it out there into the public forum. But in order to fully reveal my issues I have to be honest about all the factors that have contributed. I have to be prepared to share some of the uglier and more private stories. But it's not with the intention to hurt; it's with the hope of helping.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Self-Esteem, PCOS, and All That Flab: Part 2



* This is part 2 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 Part 1, please scroll below . . .

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *



Sixth grade proved to be an even more difficult year. I still liked my "ex-boyfriend" though he had obviously moved on to other "relationships." I was beginning to notice the differences between me and some of the other girls. Our elementary was becoming intertwined with the other elementary that we would eventually merge with into the junior high and senior high school, which meant that my place on the popularity totum pole was slowly descending. Boyfriend/girlfriend dealings shifted from a fun side-game to full-fledged, center-of-the-universe way of life. It was now impossible to avoid the messy confrontations of feeling like there was something wrong with me.

I began noticing how I was "meaty" and many other girls were not, who just so happened to be the most popular. Up until I was around 9 I was a very spritely, thin little girl. When I turned 9 I started to really develop quite a bit of muscle, which I believe I inherited from my father. Once I turned 11 I started fleshing out even more. I got that dreaded stomach, which my mother described as "baby fat." Really, can I still have "baby fat" at 29? I got glasses at 11. My teeth became crooked, due to crowding. I have a very small mouth that didn't allow enough room for all my teeth. Plus my teeth are so strong and stubborn that I didn't lose all of my baby teeth until I was 15! I distinctly remember removing my last two by 1.) pushing it out with a car key, and 2.) extracting the last one with wire cutter plyers. So since a few teeth kept hanging on for the apocalypse a couple adult teeth grew in behind the baby ones.

It's amazing how much a crooked smile can alter your self-worth. It's also amazing the monumental effects that acne can have -- as if it was a natural disaster, wiping away all your belongings and scourging the land with its violent flames. And why is it that there were always some girls that never ever seemed to have a blemish throughout their entire years of puberty? How did they do that? I thought we were all at least briefly plagued with a few spots during adolescence. But I swear to you that I saw more than one that seemed to escape its wicked grasp. I'm still confused by that. I'm still dealing with some adult acne.

There were always those girls that never seemed to go through an awkward stage like the rest of us. They were always beautiful, they probably still are. And though they may have had it rough in other ways, they never had to deal with the pain of being an "ugly duckling." They never had to wonder why boys didn't like them, and why people would whisper and giggle about them behind their backs because they weren't cool enough. I don't want to discount whatever pain they did have in their lives (because everybody has some). This just happens to be one pain they were lucky enough to avoid.

I spent many a year nurturing my hatred toward these girls, and everyone who seemed to worship them. I was angry because I wanted what they had. I wanted to be beautiful. I wanted all the boys to like me and all the girls to admire me. I wanted to bask in the bright and beautiful confidence that they always seemed to exude. Well, let's be honest, enough of it was cockiness. And I hated them for that. Some of them were such mean people and they didn't deserve all that they had, in my opinion. It wasn't fair. It wasn't right.

Seventh grade came . . . and I can probably accurately say that it was the worst year of my life. Suddenly I was thrown into a much larger school with much older kids. And of course, I was just a peon now. It was terrifying. It was . . . is "soul-crushing" too extreme a term? I made some new friends that had come from the other elementary, and lost a couple from my own that were taken into the rich and glorious folds of popularity, while I remained behind in Class B, or maybe Class C, I'm not really sure. I remained "friendly" with them, but that was all. It was obvious that the tides had shifted. I hung back like an animal licking its wounds.

I began to feel quite lonely at times. I had my family still, which I have always been extremely close to. I had some good friends. I had my faith in God. But there was always this gnawing feeling . . . this sadness that would creep slowly out of the cracks and crevices of my spirit. I would sit with it awhile because there was something that felt comforting about that. It was painful trying to hide the insecurities and vulnerabilities all day long around everyone, that sometimes I just wanted to bathe in my depression, because at least it felt real and I didn't have to pretend. No one really knew all that I was going through. My parents, who knew most everything about me, didn't even know the depths I reached until I was in my 20's. I don't think they fully understood where it all came from. And quite honestly, I'm still trying to figure that out myself.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Self-Esteem, PCOS, and All That Flab: Part 1




* This is part 1 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!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It's not easy being a woman. It's not easy to be a man either, but considering I am of the female persuasion, I will only expound upon the trivialities of the former. From appearance perfection and maintenance to work/home-life balancing act to female medical issues, we really have our hands full. If there is a single woman out there that isn't often exhausted by all these demands then I'd really like to meet her! I'd like to meet her and tell her that I don't believe her.

I've written before about my dark and dangerous romps through low self-esteem. "Romps" is a deceiving word. "Romps" implies something enjoyable and delightful. And my many years struggling with self-hatred were anything but. I know I'm not in the minority with my self-esteem issues. I certainly don't mean to make mine sound unprecedented. But it's an important part of my story . . . in fact, it's one of the MOST important because a person's self-esteem is connected to every part of their life. And when it's bad, it affects EVERYthing.

My issues started when I was in fifth grade, which also happens to be the year I got my first "boyfriend." Imaging that. Just a small dash of sarcasm here. I vividly remember sitting at the long desk in the computer lab as several of my friends descended upon me like vultures, circling their prey. "He likes you, you know!" "Yeah, he does! He wants to go out with you!"

"Huh? What are you talking about?" I asked. After a few more puzzling exclamations and questions I found out that one of the boys in my class liked me and wanted to "go out" with me. Which in fifth grade terms that means being linked to another in a boyfriend/girlfriend sense, without the dates, without the kissing and hand-holding (well it did at least in my fifth grade world), and without even talking to each other. Basically it meant that you would shyly glance and smirk at one another across the gymnasium while your friends giggled and shouted compromising remarks in their direction.

It felt pretty cool being liked. And better yet, I really liked him too. It was, in my 11 year-old mind, perfection. Life could not get any sweeter. I had never even considered having a boyfriend until that day. I honestly even wrote in my diary that I wasn't sure if it even made sense for me to have one, being so young. I knew most other girls had already had one at some point, but I was never one to follow suit and conform. I was also never one to try to grow up very quickly. I have a slight bit of the Peter Pan Syndrome, which manifested in not getting my driver's license until 8 days before my 18th birthday, having my first "real" date at 17, and having my first kiss at 21 (don't laugh!).

Everything was going swimmingly until just a couple short months later . . . when to my surprise, my "boyfriend" was crushing on another. "Don't worry," I was told, "He wants to go out with you AND her. He'll go out with her for two weeks, and then you for two weeks." Come again?! What's this . . . a pimp-daddy in elementary?! "Hell NO!" I didn't actually say that . . . I didn't use any curse words yet at that age. But that would be the current equivalent of what I said then. I'm proud to say that even at 11 I had self-respect enough to not go along with that plan. I was incredibly offended by the thought of it and so . . . lost my first boyfriend. That was the day that things changed. That was the day that I had a realization: Something is wrong with me.

From that day on, though it began very gradually, I started thinking that I wasn't good enough, that I was deficient and unworthy. I began to take any instance possible in which I could reiterate these beliefs and I ran with it. Psychologists always talk about the "tapes" that you play over and over in your head -- tapes that reinforce your beliefs about yourself. These were my tapes. Up until this point I was a very secure and confident young person. I knew who I was and I liked it. Once I began to seriously doubt my value everything fell apart. Oh, it wasn't some cataclysmic disaster. Everything seemed exactly the same . . . only, it wasn't. I internalized everything. I suddenly felt too stupid and too scared all the time -- too scared of feeling stupid. This began a whole new set of problems, the likes of which I am still struggling to overcome today. I began to have a lot of social anxiety. Nothing that could technically get classified as a disorder, but still definitely a problem. I can't tell you how many things I never did because of anxiety, fear, depression, and feeling stupid. I would've done many more activities in school, maybe gone to a few more dances. More than that though, I would have been more myself.

Because I hated myself, I tried to stifle it in some ways. More commonly, however, I simply avoided any situations that made me scared or uncomfortable. I had played sports in elementary, basketball and track. When I was young I really enjoyed doing that, especially since I had two older brothers who also both enjoyed them and were athletic. I never joined any sports activities after sixth grade. In junior high I had strong urges to play, but never did, for fear of everyone thinking, "Ugh, she's so stupid . . . and fat . . . she completely sucks." It may sound ridiculous to someone that's not really struggled with any self-esteem issues, but those are real thoughts that go through your head. And there is not a soul who can talk you out of what you believe will happen.