Saturday, June 19, 2010

Self-Esteem, PCOS, and All That Flab: Part 5

* This is part 5 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, and 4 please scroll below . . .

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A very significant phenomenon ocurred when I was in ninth grade . . . the church in which my dad was ministering asked him to leave. That in and of itself is a story for another day -- a very difficult story that helped shape the contours of my life. But it is far too long to include within this topic, and deserves to be fully explored on its own. Once my dad was asked to leave he began searching for a new church in which to work, and in turn, a new home for us. Unfortunately, the parting with this church was not at all harmonious. Like thick, sticky cobwebs, bitterness and callousness clung to walls and doorways, distorting foe and friend alike. My dad was deeply wounded there, and I will always probably harbour a little leftover anger for not only what they did to him, but what they did to all in my family. I was uprooted because of their insufficiences and selfishness. And an uprooting at fifteen is a most difficult tide to wade. I did the best that I could. And sometimes, that wasn't very good.

Within a few months we learned that we would be moving to another small town, only about twenty minutes away. While there was some comfort in that, it wasn't quite the panacea that I had hoped for. No, this move would prove to be a very tumultuous and tender time for me, more than I ever expected. I distinctly remember my parents giving us two options: 1. we could wait till after Christmas to move or 2. we could move before Christmas . . . two days before. I wanted to leave. I wanted to get away from the connotations that only reminded me of the pain and hard-heartedness that had battered us down for so long. As much as I hated that we had to move, I wanted to leave it all behind and start over. I wanted some peace.

I think it was mostly me that wanted to go ahead and move before Christmas, but the rest of my family agreed, and so on December 23, 1995 we moved into our new home, new town, new life. We worked hard to unpack as much as we could that first day and night. And the next day, Mom and I frantically scrambled to launch every possible Christmas decoration so that the holiday would not come and go without the usual pomp and circumstance. There was some excitement . . . it was fun learning all the nooks and crannies of the new house and the new church. I still love that house, even though it's been a few years since I last set foot in it.

After a couple weeks it was time for me to begin my educational life in a new school. I was half-way through my ninth grade year. At my previous school, grades 7-12 were housed in the building, while at my new school only grades 9-12 existed. So once again, I was shot down to the bottom of the totem pole. Even though this school had fewer grade levels it was nearly four times as large in terms of the number of students in attendance. I was nervous – nauseatingly nervous. I have always had a problem with severe nervousness in new social situations, and sometimes even old social situations. I’ve never been diagnosed, but I have probably been dancing along the line of social anxiety disorder for a long time. It has only been in the last couple years that I have been able to calm the internally frenetic storm. Now my social anxiety doesn’t completely terrorize my mental and emotional states like it used to.

I remember that first day of school . . . I woke up in the bleak darkness of an early January morning, with a soft, warm glow of the multi-colored Christmas lights that outlined the perimeter of my ceiling. I turned on the soundtrack to Aladdin, which I had just received that Christmas. I thought it might comfort me, but with the fears that I had of getting lost, being ignored, being thought of as a loser, allowed no comfort to be had that morning. My mom drove me out to the middle school on the north end of town, where the buses gathered and collected all the high schoolers, like prisoners being transported to the state penitentiary. I lugged my tired body onto the bus and let my loneliness drape over me as if it were a heavy sheet used to protect the body from an x-ray. It was one of the loneliest sensations I have ever felt.

I spent every lunch hour sitting in an orange chair along a wall of windows in the commons area. I was so afraid of looking stupid and interacting with people that I never ate lunch. I would sit in the orange chair, doing homework, trying to look like I was content and confident -- trying to look as if my solitude was purposeful and painless. I am sure that I failed miserably. Every day I would try to look like I didn’t give a shit, when in reality, I cared all too much. Those were quite possibly my most pathetic moments.

This school was difficult in which to attempt to ingratiate myself. The students there had been in school with many of their peers since kindergarten. I was coming into the party awfully late. Cliques had long been formed and I was not going to be a part of them – not with my shy, quiet nature. I interacted little and tried to fill up the emptiness with diligent academics. Late into the semester two kind girls took pity and befriended me. They sat beside me on my orange chair and started a conversation. After that they frequently made it a point to offer me some company. Sadly, I don’t even remember their names or what they looked like. I couldn’t really tell you anything about them, except that they had much kindness and compassion in their hearts, and that I will never forget what they did for me in those weeks. It didn’t solve all of my problems, not even a few of them. But it made me feel as though some people cared, and some people perhaps understood what it’s like to be alone.

Despite the few kindnesses I received it was one of the worst times of my life. I missed many days of school from a panic of not knowing how I would make it through. On one particular day, the day after I had attended a Michael W. Smith concert, I had a breakdown. I was at my utterly lowest point when I stepped out of the shower that day. As I walked back into my bedroom I accidentally bumped into my trash can and tipped it over, scattering all of the contents across the floor. When people talk about hitting that “last straw,” that was mine. It was the absolute last thing that I could take. It may seem silly, but how often does a minor spill or mess send you into an outrage on a particularly bad day? Well, that’s what happened to me, only I didn’t yell, I wept.

I crumbled to the floor beside the trash can, laid my head on my knees, and I cried . . . harder than I ever had before or after. I had one of Michael W. Smith’s cd’s playing at the time and right after I fell to the floor his song “Breathe In Me” came on, acting almost as an audio reel to my in-the-moment biography.

Breathe In Me:
Words & music: Michael W. Smith & Wayne Kirkpatrick

You breathe in me
And i'm alive
With the power of your holiness
You breathe in me
And you revive
Feelings in my soul
That i have laid to rest

Chorus: So breathe in me
I need you now
I've never felt so dead within
So breathe in me
Maybe somehow
You can breathe new life
In me again

I used to be
So sensitive
To the light that leads
To where you are
Now i've acquired
These callouses
With the darkness of
A cold and jaded heart


Many people are going to think that I imagined this, but as I sat huddled on the floor, almost sobbing myself onto another plane of existence, I softly felt a touch on my back, as if someone had gently laid their hand in comfort. The touch was like warm water running through me, quietly surging through my legs and the tips of my fingers, soothing every cell and sigh. And suddenly I felt peaceful. I don’t know why; I couldn’t tell you what happened. All I know is that there was no one else in the room with me. There wasn’t even anyone else in the house. Perhaps it was my own creation, in an attempt to comfort myself. I know that the mind is a powerful self-corrector, and anything is possible. But I’d like to think that, in whatever way, God was there for me in that moment – that he felt compassion and love for me, when I had none for myself. I’d like to think that my pain was his right then, and that for that moment, he took it away.

No matter the catalyst, I was comforted. A deep emptiness was abated and somehow I no longer felt quite so alone. My problems still weren’t solved, but I felt stronger. Somehow (and I really didn't know how) I felt as if I could make it through this dark time . . . and . . . I did. My experience that day helped give me strength to finish out the semester. It was difficult. It was dark. It was messy. And I still screwed up. But as the wonderfully wise and insightful Iyanla Vanzant once said: “It doesn’t matter how you do it. It doesn’t matter if it’s ugly. All that matters is that you make it through.” Believe me, I’ve achieved many cuts and bruises along this journey, and I’ve made an awfully ugly time of it. But I’m making it through . . . and, I think Iyanla would be proud.