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It’s Hard to be Human

After my last post, urging you to write, hoping you would, an old and dear friend sent me a message, essentially saying, “I’ve never put myself out there, but after your last post, I was inspired to write.” And so she did. I don’t think there’s a single person out there who will have trouble relating to what she wrote. Her writing is proof that we don’t have to consider ourselves “writers” to be a writer. The way in which she conveys her experiences is so uniquely beautiful.

And so, I give you her heartfelt words.


It’s Hard to be Human (posted anonymously)

I was a psychology major in college. I read the textbooks. I listened to the lectures. I know that humans are incredibly complex and that our cognitions often can’t be explained. We’re controlled by an electrical grid of neural connections that fire this way and that, sending us into overdrive. The same systems that allow us to run, laugh, love, causes us to freeze, cry, hate. I know to avoid catastrophizing and all or nothing thinking, and to calm my anxiety by trying to release the things I can’t change and focus on what I can. I have a loving family who talks openly about our genetic history of anxiety and depression and shares tactics for coping. I have a therapist who listens. So I must be doing well…right? Not quite. Having all the tools doesn’t mean I successfully use them. Having all the tools doesn’t equal relief. Having all the tools doesn’t stop the day to day moments of intense panic, sadness, or inadequacy. The hardest part is that I do consider myself a smart, successful person who is so blessed. Sometimes I remind myself that I am doing my best. I am human. But sometimes I decide that I’m therefore not allowed to be depressed, or feel helpless, or struggle, and that’s not fair. Ups and downs, highs and lows. Frustration turns to anger because any glimpse of a silver lining can become dark in an instant. Happiness can become loneliness. Pride can become self-consciousness. Innocent thoughts can become obsessive thinking. I’m trapped, trying to make sense of it, but the harder I try the more out of control I feel. It’s hard to be human.

How can one person experience different extremes so close together? I don’t understand it, I don’t like it and I resist it. It’s an out of body experience, as if I’m watching helplessly from the sidelines. I’m standing on the set watching a scene. I am the actress and she is me, but I can only watch, not do or say. But I feel her emotions. All of them. The director sets the scene and yells, “action!” and I watch her recite her lines. One with ease, then one with anguish. A back and forth between the positive and the negative, the confidence and the uncertainty. Both equally as strong and equally as real. And I can’t look away. It’s hard to be human.

[Scene] Morning mirror
First: “I love my eyes, I love my hair, I look happy. I look healthy.”
Then: “I hate my body. I am fat. I feel sluggish. I’m not good enough. And I never will be.”

[Scene] Breakfast
First: “I’m so lucky to be able to afford food. This tastes good. Nourishing my body is important.”
Then: “I have to be more restrictive. Less carbs. More nutrients. I’ve been eating too much. I’m going to start binging again. I won’t be able to stop. I have no self control.”

[Scene] Office
First: “That event was amazing because of me. I’m good at my job. I’m reliable. I’m valued. I learned something new today. My company is better because I’m a part of it.”
Then: “I messed up. I failed. I should be doing more. I should be making more money. I’m wasting my time and theirs. I’ll never find my passion.”

[Scene] Gym
First: “I’m so strong. I’m impressed with what my body can do. I feel empowered. I can do anything I set my mind too.”
Then: “I can’t do this. I’m too weak. Everyone else can go farther. I’ll never get my body to where I want it to be.”

[Scene] Cuddling with him
First: “This makes the hard times worth it. I love him. I’m safe in his arms.”
Then: “This only feels good because it’s rare. It won’t last. A fight is coming. I’m unsure. Why can’t this be simple? Maybe it’s my fault.”

[Scene] Phone
First: “I’m glad my best friend is happy. She’s finally found someone who treats her right. Maybe I deserve that too.”
Then: “She has it so much better than me. Why can’t he be that way with me? It’s not fair. She judges me because I’m not as happy. Will I ever have what she has?”

[Scene] Bedtime
First: “I had a good day. My family and friends are happy and healthy. I am grateful.”
Then: “I am not okay. This is too hard. Why am I the one struggling? When will it get better?”

Getting this out may do nothing. Admitting how trapped I feel might not make a difference. But all those psychology textbooks say acknowledgement is a necessary step. So maybe, just maybe, sharing these scenes will allow me to eventually accept the actress as she is, even if I can’t intervene yet. Sometimes she is troubled and sometimes she is content. Sometimes she is soaring and sometimes she is sinking. But she is human, and it’s hard to be human.

So. I got married.

I’ve realized the joy of my wedding day is mostly beyond words. But I want to capture it, and so, the key points of what I’ve been thinking about over and over again:

I loved every minute of the day.
I really did. And honestly, I wasn’t sure if I would. I didn’t know what to expect, how I’d react to a busy, emotional day. I generally prefer to not be the center of attention, and try to deflect attention off on me. But on my wedding day, I embraced it. And I actually really liked it. There is something so special about knowing that every single person in a room is there because they love you.

I wasn’t unbearably anxious.
In the two weeks leading up to the wedding, I was. I was overwhelmed, there were a million appointments and details and things to finalize. But once the weekend was here, it all melted away. I had butterflies, but not anxious stormy harmful ones. Just springy, happy ones. The morning of my wedding, when texting with a close friend, I told her that I was oddly calm. She replied, “I don’t find that odd. I think you are in the moment.” and that was exactly right. I was so present during the entire day.

I felt beautiful.
Historically it’s been hard enough for me to feel neutral about my body, let alone positive. But on this day, I felt gorgeous. The entire day. I loved my dress, I loved my hair, my makeup, jewelry, shoes. And I was in love and I was happy and I was excited and all of that combined made me feel angelic and light and just…beautiful.

I ate everything.
So many people had told us that you don’t get to eat at your own wedding. Well, a certain husband of mine was not having that! We had selected the food, we loved it at our tasting, and he was determined we would enjoy it. So I tried all of the hors deorves, I ate my salad, my dinner, and my cake. And it was damn delicious.

I am so in love.
One constant comment we got from guests at the wedding is about how we looked at each other the entire evening. People said it was so clear how much we love each other, so clear that we were so locked in and focused on each other. And I love that. We talk about our love all the time, but to be such a big love that it emanated from us into the room was an indescribable feeling. In looking at the pictures we just got back, I can see it too, in our eyes, and in the ways we hold each other and look at each other. We are so, so lucky.

And now, a rare picture:
jen-jeremy-w-1237

Shame

When I discovered Brené Brown’s work on shame, specifically her most recent book, I grabbed hold of it (literally!), thinking, this is IT. This is what I’ve been trying to put into words. This is what I’ve been trying to understand. And it was almost a sigh of relief; I don’t have to spend my life figuring it out, because she did the research and put it to words.

And so over the last however many months, or maybe a year, I’ve been thinking about shame and compassion even more than ever. I’ve tried to express my own thoughts on the subject. I’ve written a poem about it. I’ve jotted down notes. I’ve tried to briefly explain that the fear of shame is what makes us lack compassion for ourselves.

During this time, a friend and I have had countless conversations on this topic. Over and over again, we wonder: why do we think the worst about ourselves, but highly of each other? Why do we feel nothing but deep compassion for each other’s experiences and thoughts, but feel shame for our own? Why do we think we are the outlier or the exception?

And after thinking a lot, (I know, you’re shocked), I have a tentative conclusion: shame is (sometimes) somewhat of a self-protective mechanism.

I always used to say that I was pessimistic and didn’t get my hopes up about things, because that way I didn’t have to worry about disappointment. The fall is a lot less painful when you never left the ground, versus when you’ve climbed to the top of the tree. I think shame is similar. We preemptively shame ourselves so that if others shame us, it hurts less.

Have you ever gotten up the courage to share something with someone, something that was important to you, for whatever reason? And have you ever had their response be to tell you that you’re being dramatic, exaggerating, or just looking for attention? Boom. The shame response is born. From that moment on, we expect that the next time we share something, we will face the same response, which we can’t bear to experience. So we protect ourselves. We pre-shame ourselves, if you will. We preface our stories with, “I know it’s not a big deal, but….” or “I’m sure this isn’t what you want to hear, but…” or “This is really f***** up, but….” It’s protection. It’s setting the bar low, so if we are met there, no harm done.

(By the way? Even if we were being dramatic or exaggerating or whatever. The first thing we learn in our fields of work is that behavior=communication. It’s a principle we are taught to apply to all of our kiddos. And it applies to us, too. So there was a reason we once said or did what we did. We needed something from it; we were trying to express something, trying to release something. Even if at the time we weren’t sure what. And in the same way that we help our kids learn to express what it is that they truly are trying to say, we need to help ourselves. It’s a process.)

The interesting thing is, we expect to be shamed, but we would never shame others in that same way. Which is why we preface our stories that way, but if a friend were to tell the exact same story, or share the exact same idea, and preface it that same way, we would say things like, “Of course it’s a big deal” or “I do want to hear anything you want to say” or “It’s not messed up, tell me.”

If we were to tell our stories, to share our thoughts, without that preface, we’d be putting ourselves at risk. Which isn’t inherently something we want to do. We’d be standing on the edge of a cliff and trusting we aren’t going to fall. Which is terrifying. Even just writing this post, I want to put a whole long list of disclaimers, like, Feel free to disagree with this and I’m probably wrong but I’m just trying to share my thoughts and it’s fine if you think it’s stupid…..etc. But I won’t, not this time.

Part of it, I believe, is our culture. We live in a shame-filled society. If you think about the news, there is stigma placed on so many things, so it’s no wonder why we expect shame as anyone’s response.

I think the solution is to practice little bits at a time. And it’s HARD. A friend and I have a rule that we never apologize for texting the other. We’ve established that if the other person is busy, or not in a place to text or chat, they won’t until they’re ready; so we never need to apologize. But we find it funny that without a doubt, when we’re in a vulnerable place and text the other, we apologize. We say, “Sorry, I’m sure you’re busy, but….” and “Ugh I’m probably stressing you out more.” And then the other person says, “No apologizing!” So I’m certainly not saying it’s always doable. Especially when we’re vulnerable, or spinny, or anxious, or just out of balance.

But find that person with whom you’ve been vulnerable, with whom you’ve shared something, something that you worried would have a shame response, and didn’t. And the next time you talk with this person, try not to preface your stories. Just say them. Trust that you will not be shamed. Trust that this person is not going to suddenly think less of you. Trust that you trust this person for a reason. Trust that you’ll be met with compassion. Oh, it’s hard. But I’ve done it before, with a handful of people. And the feeling of just talking, just sharing, without those self-shaming or self-deprecating comments, is so liberating.

You deserve to release shame into the wind and breathe compassion in.

Finding myself

When I put out a survey a while back, asking people to vote on what they were interested in reading about, one reader wrote, “liking yourself, being comfortable with who you are, finding a sense of self”. I have slowly been mulling that over in my brain, trying to piece together some words that make sense. This is what I’ve come up with.

I didn’t always love myself. I felt awkward and out-of-place for a lot of my childhood years. So I did what I could to try to feel normal. This included: reading teen gossip magazines, even though I didn’t like them, so I could be up on the latest celebrity news; watching TRL on Fridays, even though I couldn’t care less about music videos, so I could discuss them with peers; buying a shirt from Abercrombie and Fitch, even though I didn’t really like it that much, because that’s what everyone did. As I got older, it became: staying out late and going to a lot of parties; buying Uggs and other “trendy” clothing; pretending I liked watching football and other sports; the list goes on.

During my sophomore year in college, I hit a turning point. For various reasons, my life shifted a bit, and when that happened, some pieces fell into place. It’s funny how once a certain filter is removed, you see things differently. Once the shift happened, I realized: I didn’t like football. I didn’t like staying out late every night. I didn’t like bars. I craved my routine. I liked studying and spending my weekends studying with a friend and a coffee, and my evenings curled up on the couch, watching Grey’s Anatomy with my roommate.

So it was progress. I was realizing what made me feel good, and what made me, well, ME, but I still didn’t always do anything about it. Because honestly, I was terrified. If I showed the world who I was, what if they rejected me? Wasn’t it better to play it safe and at least know I sort of fit in? For a while my answer was yes. I knew some of what made me happy and what made me feel good, but I didn’t always act on it. I kept my mask on. I wanted to belong. And sure, I often felt happy and content. But it didn’t fill me up. It wasn’t as authentic as it could me.

When I started grad school, I started over. For the first time in years, I had a fresh start. I was feeling good, positive, and full of life. I no longer had illnesses or disorders standing in my way between me and happiness. I only had ME. I was my roadblock. So, I began grad school as my true, authentic self. I didn’t always wear makeup to class. I didn’t hide my perfectionism or anxiety. I talked to all sorts of people. I geeked out over things we were learning. I embraced awkward moments. And the result? I made friends. True, wonderful, forever friends. People liked me. They liked me for me. And the funny thing is – making friends and being liked was the easiest it had been, up until that point.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this was when I fell in love – and even more so, when a man fell in love with me. When I met Jeremy, and as we began dating, nearly four years ago, I was determined to be me. Enough was enough, I had told myself. There was no point in faking it, in hiding who I was. If he didn’t like me for me, then that was okay, it just meant he wasn’t the one for me. I raised the bar, and told myself that I would not settle. I embraced myself and so somewhere out there, was someone else who would embrace me, too.

And that someone was Jeremy.

He loves me for my quirks. He loves me for my weirdness. He loves me for my personality. He loves me for who I am. He fell in love with ME. Not a shadow version of me, not a fake version of me, but just the real, true, authentic, unique, me. I am a person who was worth falling in love with. I am a person who is worth marrying. I am the happiest, truest, most real I have been in my entire life. He has not only accepted who I am, but embraced it, hugged it, nurtured it, and encouraged it. I blossom with him. I am the luckiest.

And so – I do love myself. I have embraced myself. I know that I love wine, but I don’t like beer. I know that I am a hardcore introvert. I know that despite being an introvert, I have wonderful friends. I know that I still wear mismatched socks. I know that four stuffed animals sit on our bed. I know that I make up words and songs as I go about my day. I know that I’d prefer reading to watching sports. I know that I prefer a few, true, forever friends, over a bunch of casual friends. I know that I love a handful of t.v. shows, but I don’t like reality t.v. I know that I love deep, intense novels, but dislike chick lit. I know that I am sensitive and often tear up. I know that I squeal when I’m outside in nature. I know that I kneel down to take pictures of snails, frogs, and worms. I know that I look up to take pictures of skies, trees, light. I know that I don’t really care about fashion, and often just reach for whatever colors feel right. I know that all of these things make me who I am. And I know that I am okay. That I am enough.

Embracing myself does not mean always being happy. Those things couldn’t possibly be synonymous. But embracing myself does mean accepting all parts of me. Working towards acceptance of where I’m at, in each moment. Having compassion for myself, in a variety of situations. Knowing that despite the external circumstances, I am at peace in my core.

On being where you’re at

There is something powerful about being real. And raw.

About answering “Not good” to one of your truest friends who is asking you, and really truly wants to know, “How are you doing?”

About having your friend and teacher ask you, “What’s wrong?” because she just knew you were “in it.”

About cuddling up next to your fiance and saying your thoughts and fears, and having him pull you closer and making you laugh.

About telling a trusted co-worker exactly where you’re at, and having the response be, “You can always come to me. There won’t ever be any judgment.”

About just allowing yourself to BE, wherever it is that you’re at, without hiding, without pretending, without faking. No matter what that means, wherever that is for you.

We’re afraid to be judged, we’re afraid to be seen as “dramatic”, we’re afraid we’re complaining too much. We’re afraid.

But the fear makes us think that we have to BE in ourselves, as ourselves, BY ourselves. And we don’t.

p.s. There’s also something powerful about writing this blog post, and knowing you’re being real and raw in it, and knowing people will read it, and knowing they might have thoughts about it, and that they’ll make assumptions, but also feeling okay about that, because being real and raw is what you believe in, and you’re brave, and part of having this blog is to be true and honest, so knowing it will resonate with people and maybe not with others, but it’s all okay.

Body shaming and fat talk: they need to stop.

As always, this is a post that’s been brewing in my head for some time. 
No time like the present to babble, right?

So here’s the thing. Body shaming and fat talk NEED to stop. I don’t think there’s a single person out there who would disagree. But there’s a problem, a disconnect. Because despite everyone agreeing – it’s not getting better. It’s getting worse. Fast. 

I could get into the statistics of eating disorders, of body image issues, I could tell you real-life stories and point you to news clips and articles. And every single one of you will nod your head, agree that this is a huge problem, that it needs to stop.

But very few of you will do anything. The majority of you will go to work tomorrow and talk about how many “points” you’re eating during lunch. You’ll talk about how you want a piece of candy mid-morning but that you shouldn’t. You’ll compliment your co-worker on how she looks, which will make you think about what you don’t like about yourself, and more likely than not, she will dismiss it with a, “yeah right, I wish.” You’ll then start the back-and-forth of well at least you fit into a size ___ and well that’s only because I went to the gym last night and yeah, I wish I could eat anything I want. And the funny thing, that’s not so funny? It’s pointless. It will leave you feeling worse than you did before. And maybe you’ll realize that, maybe you won’t. But it fuels the fire. And my god, this fire has got to be put out.

Now. That’s a huge generalization. I realize that. I’m trying to make a point. And yes, there’s commiserating. There are absolutely days that I complain to a co-worker or a friend about how I’m bloated or don’t love my outfit, or just feel uncomfortable in my body. I might make a comment and move on. Because I’m human. And in that case, it’s beneficial. But the opposite? Where that turns into the constant back and forth that truly is less about comfort and commiserating and more about who has it “worse”? Pointless. Ineffective. Makes everything worse.

Ask yourself. When you’re sitting at lunch with your co-workers, does it REALLY make you feel wonderful inside to engage in 20-minute conversation about who ate more or less, who is or isn’t losing weight, who has the worst body image, who has or hasn’t gone to the gym for how many hours? Really? Or does it make you feel better if you have a pleasant lunch, talk about work or your families or the news or LIFE, and allow the food to go into your body to nourish it without consciously or unconsciously making yourself feel guilty for it?

Body shaming and fat talk need to stop because they don’t accomplish anything positive. And, they need to stop because as they continue to be present in our day-to-day interactions, they’re ruining our relationships. Sometimes if I’m around certain people, I almost feel like I can’t contribute to their conversations unless I engage in body shaming conversations. It’s all people talk about. I’ve sat at lunch before, silent, because I have absolutely nothing to say other than “for the love of god, PLEASE stop talking about this.” Somehow, our relationships have become largely about competition, about dragging each other down, about focusing on flaws and negativity and spiraling it further and further for each other. 

I know this isn’t going to change anything. You’ll nod and silently agree. And then, most likely, nothing will change tomorrow. But maybe? Just maybe…you’ll hold back those comments tomorrow. Maybe you’ll talk about the weather, about work, about a book you’re reading. Maybe you’ll notice what someone else is eating and silently acknowledge it without focusing on it. Maybe when you find yourself wanting to tell someone how “lucky” they are, for whatever body/food reason, you’ll let that thought float out of your head. And maybe you’ll realize – you’re happier that way.

On habits and resolutions

When I read Gretchen Rubin’s book,  The Happiness Project, it was over a year ago and I was entranced. I had so often thought of things I wanted to do (uhh, like, blog) but never did. Maybe because I wasn’t super motivated, but more likely because I didn’t hold myself accountable, and got stuck under, “I’ll do it soon.”

And for a while I kept it in the back of my mind, kept a “think of resolutions” note in my to do lists, but nothing came of it. Then, a few months ago I started listing resolutions that I would have, if I ever did this. I thought of realistic, specific, attainable, important to me ones. I phrased them like Gretchen would. And I thought about them, and that helped.

Then I brought in technology. I found a habit tracker app. Something about that motivation, about getting the reminder pop ups and being asked “did you do this yesterday?” worked.

My current three resolutions are:
1. Clean one thing. (counted as anything other than the dishes and making the bed. I often get overwhelmed with cleaning our apartment, but also get noticeably anxious when the apartment is a mess. And I’ve found that in allowing myself to just clean one thing, I usually actually end up doing more than one.)

  1. Move your body. (which has coincided with me returning to yoga, which I am so glad about. Power yoga with a wonderful teacher is incredible for my body, the amount I sweat is amazing, the strength I’m gaining is wonderful, and the mood change in me is good for my soul. But, this counts as hiking, yoga, gym, a walk. My mind and emotional state is so much calmer when I’ve moved my body. Also, check out the book Spark.)

  2. Keep in touch. (this is the hardest one. I am an introvert by nature, which means that even though I feel perfectly okay with going longer periods of time without checking in with friends, I do, very much realize, that my friends don’t feel the same way — and their extroverted selves aren’t satisfied with that. So, it’s a give-and-take. Plus, I realize that I have gotten very black-and-white about this — like, either I had to go out every night and have long phone conversations each day, or nothing. But I’m giving myself a middle ground. So, Keep in Touch means that I send a text, an email, g-chat, see a friend, make plans, or have a phone conversation with a friend. I give myself permission to not do this every day, but the knowledge that it’s one of my resolutions keeps me doing it more than I might otherwise. And it’s meeting loved ones halfway. Which they deserve, and so do I.)

And…it’s going well so far. And I don’t feel internal pressure to do it like Gretchen did, where I change my resolutions each month or devote my entire month to them. Just having them in the back of my mind keeps me cognizant that they’re there — and let’s be honest, meeting them feels really, really good. Because ultimately, they’re all about self-care, and that’s the whole point, right?

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