The Stories We Tell

Each line tells a different story, their histories equally unique and identical. Without them, who would I be? I could tell you who or why or what was the root for every line.

It started soon after I hit my teenage years. I felt I had no ability to voice what I was feeling. Life was scary and confusing (it still is, at times). At that time, I believed I had no way of speaking up. Many of you understand that feeling, and lived that in a deeper way than I.

The first time I did it, there was a momentary internal sigh of relief. The tension in my neck loosened. My forehead no longer wrinkled in confusion. While the weightlessness was fleeting, it was real and exciting.

Over the space of a decade, these moments started off few and far between. In times of internalized crisis, I found solace in this secret time with myself. That momentary rush of endorphins got me through the night. Just like an addict, that chemical reaction in my brain was a quick fix to a deeper problem.

Over the years, the time between each moment grew shorter. Finally, I found myself focusing on seeking relief most of the time. While I was in the throes of it, I was acutely aware of how damaging my behavior was. But, I was addicted. During that time, the only coping mechanism I knew and had was my behavior. At one point, I was able to count 37 fresh marks on my body. That number scared me and the palpable guilt was hard to shake.

It took removing me from the environment I was in and being physically near people who I felt I could give permission to monitor me. Another decade passed. During that time, the desire to seek out temporary moments of bliss melted away. It is rare for me to have that desire, and if I do, I have learned how to cope in healthy ways.

Twenty years of learning how to love myself and finding my voice has left me with scars. Each one happened for different reasons; ultimately, they are all rooted in the same place. At 34, I embrace my scars. They are a part of who I am, and the shame I attached to them no longer exists. With that lack of shame, I’ve found that people no longer ask about them. I used to tell some people I was a highly adventurous child and teenager. I would tell others I couldn’t remember how I got them. And, there were some days I’d simply say “I get that you’re curious, but we’ve never met before and asking me about the scar on my wrist isn’t very polite,” because, really, it isn’t polite to ask a stranger about scars that are clearly self-induced.

So, I am happy to talk about my scars. But, I have to be in control of the conversation. It has to be on my own time and in an environment that lacks judgement and full of compassion.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing any kind of self-harm and/or addiction, there is a multitude of resources available. A couple posts back, I listed some sources for mental health help. There are so many more options, including (but definitely not limited to) the following:

National Alliance on Mental Illness: Self-Harm
HelpGuide: Self-Harm
Self-Injury Outreach
S.A.F.E Alternatives
Selfharm.co.uk
Harmless
The Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury & Recovery

This only skims the plethora of online resources. But, this short list is a great starting point. Remember, we all deserve care and compassion. We deserve to find our voices and speak our truths. Be kind to yourself and share love with others.

Scars

Don’t Ask If You Don’t Want To Know

There is a subject women in the US will get spoken to about infinite times in her life: children.

That’s perfectly acceptable, as (biological) women are the humans equipped to grow other humans for nine-ten months. But, the thing is, not all of us want children. On top of that, asking if or when one will be having children is like asking how much money one makes in a year. All are incredibly personal. Emily Post would suggest you avoid asking strangers if and when they are having kids.

Simply, one should never impose their preconceived notions of what makes a person complete. One should never impose their idea that a standard issue 2.1 children, 1 dog, two car family is what makes life fulfilling.

Yesterday, I just finished a sociology class titled “Marriage, Family, and Intimate Relationships.” It wasn’t what I expected and was definitely history heavy; however, I did learn a lot and was able to become more interested in learning about non-standard American values regarding family.

After three months, I remembered why I considered being childfree for such a long time. Sure, I get the occasional pang of maternal desire. But, the desire to learn, travel, and own land seem like much more interesting things. Coming up on 34, my biological timeframe to have kids is dwindling at a rapid rate. Ideally, I’d need to have kids in the next three years if I want to be an active mother. If I adopt, that gives me a couple more years. Essentially, I have a 3-5 year window to save a good chunk of $250k-$500k. And, to make things easier on me, a partner would have to be introduced into the mix. I’d rather not be a single mother and would enjoy having an extra set of hands and an extra source of income to alleviate the emotional and financial costs of having kids.

What it all boils down to though is that a woman doesn’t need children to be complete. I am an entire and whole being without children, and will remain so until the day I die. Not using my ovaries and uterus for their main purpose does not make me any less of a person.

Imagine if infertility didn’t exist. Imagine if every single woman wanted to be mothers. If women lived up to the expectation that our ultimate purpose is to bare children, the world would be a disgustingly overpopulated (even more so than it already is) and resources would cease to exist rapidly.

So, don’t assume all women want to have kids. Don’t randomly ask strangers when they are going to start having kids. You never know the situation you are walking to. You might be talking to someone who isn’t physically able to have kids of their own. Some people simply don’t want children, and have other amazing aspirations that are valuable contributions to society. [*Ahem* Starting a non-profit that directly helps hundreds of thousands of children who come from broken homes or are orphaned is far more admirable than popping one or two kids out while not doing much else. Just sayin’.]

Some of my favorite notable people happen to be childfree women. I like them for reasons other than their choice not to be mothers. Their childlessness has nothing to do with why I appreciate them.

  1. Gloria Steinem. I mean, look at what she’s done for feminism and human equality. She is an amazing example of the fact that a woman can be childfree and remain compassionate and caring.
  2. Stevie Nicks. DUH! If you can’t get down with Stevie, then you’re silly. She’s an amazing lyricist and singer and, again, a wonderful example of a woman being maternal without having kids.
  3. Helen Mirren. She’s played Elizabeth II twice, and has an amazing artistic range in the roles she plays. She’s got an amazing sense of humor, and I bet she is a hoot to hang out with.
  4. Betty White. If you don’t like  or can’t appreciate Betty White, I might not trust your creative judgement. She is a perfect example of a woman who chose her career, and made an excellent choice. Everything she does is pure gold. Plus, she has incredible compassion for animals. She’s sharp, highly motivated, has had an incredibly successful life, and gives a damn about animals.
  5. Margaret Cho. Sure, she’s not everyone’s cuppa. But, here is a woman who has had a successful career, is witty, and in the side she has shown to the public, has proved to be highly compassionate and in favor of equality and human rights. She has chosen to be childfree and maintains a complete life.
  6. Oprah. I might not be Oprah’s biggest fan, but I am a fan of any successful woman. Especially if said woman’s success is entirely hers. She’s never married and never had children and is one of the richest people in the United States. I stand behind any woman who chooses to do what she can to be autonomous and satisfied in life.

There is a conversation that regularly happens in my life:

Stranger: “Do you have kids?”
Me: “No.”
Stranger: “Soon, right? You’re going to be an amazing mother.”
Me: “Thank you, but I probably won’t have kids.”
Stranger: baffled, “Well, um, you might change your mind, right?”
Me: “No, I probably won’t.”

After that, some people will look stunned, trip over incoherent sentences and walk away. Other people will continue on the “kids, kids, KIDS” rhetoric. A few will tell me I’m selfish. On very rare occasions, some people will say “I respect that” and move on.

If I haven’t made my point clear enough: women do not need to have children to live a complete life. We are all as complete as we choose to be. We don’t need social norms (that are 30+ years behind) or gendered rhetoric to make us complete. So, please, just be polite. If you assume all women want to have kids, keep that thought to yourself. Simply, that idea is antiquated and unnecessary.

Incomplete

It Always Takes Time

All of this will be old news to many people by now. But, sometimes, the world needs a little help remembering important things. Right now, Earth has approximately 7.4 billion* people roaming her (the world’s birth rate is just over twice the rate of deaths), and a sizable number of her inhabitants live with some sort of mental disorder or illness.

“Just snap out of it” and “do something about it already” are two incredibly insensitive things that one can say to a person living with a mental illness or disorder. We’ve heard it countless times, and often from loved ones.

One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing from family members that my depression will pass and that I’ve just got to get over it. There seems to be a lack of understanding or compassion when statements like these are given to me. Yes, they might feel like they mean well and it might actually be coming from a place of love, but the choice of words often can do more damage than good. Another thing that bothers me is that I can be, at times, treated with hostility, rather than love. When that comes from strangers, I am not effected. But, if and when the hostility comes from someone in my circle, naturally, I hurt.

I’ve spent twenty years dealing with depression. This clearly should tell my loved ones something. One does not just “get over” depression, nor can one “snap out of it.” If it was that easy, I would have been free of it 19.5 years ago. Mental health is a daily task for every human. It is in everyone’s best interest to check in with themselves every day, whether mental illness exists or not. For those of us who live with any kind of mental health issue (depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, PTSD, obsessive compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, dissociative disorders, etc.), we do have to be diligent about monitoring our environment, our nutrition, and our moods in order to maintain our health. When we don’t, the disordered mental health we live with can take over.

For the last three months (maybe four?), I’ve been going to a therapist. The time I’ve spent with her has been incredibly helpful. Not only am I learning a lot about myself and humanity in general, I am learning how to live with the mental health of others. Someone in my life has finally gotten the DSM diagnosis he deserves. An actual licensed psychiatrist said “you fit the criteria for this mental disorder and these are things that can be done to help manage it.” It’s a relief that he now has an official diagnosis and seems to be, at the bare minimum, attempting to manage it. Frankly, I feel that this person could benefit from weekly counseling sessions and other mindfulness based therapies, but I am not a licensed therapist or psychiatrist, so I can’t (won’t) consistently urge him to follow through.

It’s not my place to tell a person how to manage their mental health, especially if they don’t ask me how they should. I have always believed that it’s improper to hand out advice willy-nilly to people without being asked. If someone wants advice from me, I am happy to give it.

So, I am learning how to live with a person learning how to live with their own mental health concerns. I am also learning how to be mindful when I am given unwarranted or unnecessary advice (that is often lacking compassion, empathy, or validity). And, I’m learning how to let go of any hurt that may have previously been caused or continues to be caused at the hands of someone’s altered mind. One person’s experience usually doesn’t reflect my own, nor does it need to dictate my own. How I choose to react in a situation is my responsibility, and the reactions of others are theirs.

We should all be treating each other with kindness and compassion. It can be difficult at times, especially for those of us who sometimes find it difficult to feel love for ourselves (or even understand love and care).

Mental illness is rather common. This is why I am a huge supporter of mental health advocacy. [I’m also a huge fan of preventative and holistic health care. I’ll talk about my favorite places for healthcare, Northern & Western Europe, in another post.] If you or someone you know lives with any kind of mental disorder or illness, there is a wide array of information out in the world for you. By doing research, not only will you become better educated, you will be able to care for your community with compassion and an open mind. We appreciate people who are willing to take the time to understand where we are coming from and how we live our lives. Receiving compassion and love does actually alleviate a lot of stress we deal with. The less stress we experience, the easier it is for us to focus on being as healthy as we can be.

Here are some great resources to get started with:
Bipolar Disorder: Effects on the Family
NAMI: Mental Health Conditions (I love NAMI. It’s a fantastic resource for everyone.)
National Institue of Mental Health: Topics & Info
NIMH: Depression
NIMH: Borderline Personality Disorder
NAMI: Borderline Personality Disorder (Again, a great resource, especially for something that is under diagnosed, but more common than people realize.)
NEWSWEEK: How Colleges Flunk Mental Health (An interesting read, and has light a fire under my bum. I’d love to finish my college education with Social Work and do advocacy on college campuses for students.)
An Open Letter From Those of Us… (This is a go to piece for me; it might be BPD specific, but the soul of it can be applied to many mental health experiences.)

There are so many other resources out there, but these are trustworthy resources that can get you in the right direction.

Seriously, if you or anyone you know is experiencing any kind of mental health issue, help is out there. I promise, it doesn’t matter how large or small the issue is. There are a lot of trained professionals and support groups out there in the world. Utilize them! You and your mental health are essential and important! I know, first hand, that one can never just snap out of their mental illness. It takes time, care, compassion, and love.

*Worldometers: World Population

Wait. Stop.

Here you are, you beautiful, bright eyed babes. I applaud you for dreaming big and wanting the world to be your oyster. And, I’m not lying when I say that the world is everyone’s oyster. Most of you will go on to be successful in your careers. You’ll fall in love and create a beautiful family in a wonderful house. Your lives will be rich with all of the important intangible things.

But, let’s be real for a moment. Not everyone is that grain of sand that will produce a smooth, creamy pearl. In fact, many of us aren’t. Ouch. That’s intense…

With that said, I urge you to be the best pearl making grain of sand possible. Try your hardest. You’ll have days that knock you off your feet. There will be moments that make you feel like you’ve conquered Everest. Sadness is inevitable. Happiness is common. Joy is something we all deserve. Laughter is essential.

Let me tell you a story.

When I was young, I was overcome with a depression seemed to have no exit route. My entire high school career could have been much different had I gotten the help I needed. I would have succeeded in my classes, instead of barely scraping by. I would have gotten into more than one college I had applied to. And, I probably would have been far better equipped to handle going off to college.

I was a confused teenager. My only focus was wondering why I was angry and sad, and wanting to be the opposite. This isn’t new. It certainly isn’t unique. Millions of people in the US have experienced similar emotions. Listen to this, approximately 12.5% of adolescents in the US are clinically depressed. That number doesn’t sound big, but that’s one in eight adolescents.* These people have gone weeks, months, even years feeling lost, confused, sad, and hopeless. My situation wasn’t unusual, but like plenty of people experiencing depression, I remained silent out of fear that I would be judged or wouldn’t be taken seriously.

Twenty years and plenty of mistakes and wrong choices later, I have finally figured out what I want to do with my life. Also, I know what I need and deserve. Like every human existing, I deserve to be nurtured, not only by myself, but by my community. Remember, a nurtured person is a caring person.

I am going to be that 38 year old taking undergraduate classes with people like you. I’m proud that I plan on finishing my Bachelor’s degree (some point before I turn 40). My journey has been rocky. It hasn’t been pleasant and it definitely hasn’t been remarkable. The last decade of my life has been an interesting experience, and one that I’d love to take back and redo. But, I am where I am now and I don’t regret anything. As long as I am alive, I strive to keep learning about myself, my community, and the world that I live in. I’m aware of the fact that I won’t be the next Gloria Steinem or Eve Ensler or Hillary Clinton. I’m one of billions on this planet. I might not be a trailblazer or innovator or leader of the free world. But, I can make an impact in my community. More so, feeling good at the end of the day means that I am being the best person I can be.

Some of you might find yourself in the same boat as me. For those of you who are feeling blue, lost, or confused, please know you are not alone. The world is yours. Live in it. Experience it. Know that the hurt can be temporary if you allow yourself to find the help you deserve. Remember that therapy is an amazing tool. Also, finding a group of your peers allows you to build a safety net. Call your friend(s). Tell someone you’re hurting. A true friend will listen and help.

Plenty of you have a plan set out for your lives. I commend you for that.

When I was 18, I had a plan. I wanted to be a stage actress, churning out quirky roles in Off-Broadway indie pieces. That hasn’t happened… Yet. I also wanted to be a writer. I still do, and I am a writer. At 34, my plans have changed. I want to help people. I want to make one person genuinely smile every single day. I plan on giving back to whichever community I am, and that includes all of humanity.

Some of you with plans will stick to those plans, and that is a beautiful thing to do. You are the future of medicine, arts, law, athleticism, and all around world domination. I’m proud of you and wish you great success. And, some of you with other plans, please don’t get discouraged if life throws curveballs your way. Bumps in the road are inevitable. We cannot avoid them, nor should we ignore them the moment the appear. Also, plans change. It is incredibly natural to not have things set in stone. The world we live in and our lives would be very boring if plans didn’t change or get upended.

Take this time in your life and enjoy being young. This is an awful cliche, but you really do have the rest of your lives to live. Relish every moment. Laugh. Love the ones you’re with. Hug someone. Say “thank you” five times a day, even if it’s to yourself for waking up that morning. Wait a minute and think before doing something dangerous. Go slow, unless, of course, you are competing in a sporting event that places a lot of importance on speed. Don’t make a hasty decision, especially if your gut is telling you not to. Listen to your gut; we have instincts for a reason.

We all can be successful in our own right. Remember, money isn’t the only factor in success. A lonely, unhappy billionaire is less successful than a joyful sanitation worker who has a huge circle of loved ones.

Do what you want in your life, as you only have one. Let your actions create positive reactions. Be kind. Smile. Go forth and be the best pearl producing grain of sand you can be.

*Depression Statistics – DBSAlliance

Alma Mater

When Time Stops

It’s been sixteen months since I created this blog. I started it with the intention to document my journey with PCOS. That, unfortunately, didn’t happen. For the last year or so, I have barely taken care of myself and been focused on plenty of things that didn’t directly heal my heart and mind.

Six months after creating this blog, I decided that I would focus on every aspect of healing myself. Instead of just talking about my experience with PCOS, I decided to branch out and discuss my experience with my relationship with food. Well, that didn’t happen. I let this blog lay in wait, gathering dust.

So, sixteen months after setting up this blog, I’ve made an actual, logical decision. I commit this blog to the discussion of my experience with PCOS, my (physical and emotional) relationship with food, my relationship with exercise, and my take on my own mental health.

I plan on making time each week to write one new post. Who knows? I might even write two! Currently, I am reading a lot of daily meditation books, including ‘Beautiful You: A Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance’ – a book that was waiting around for months to be used. This is a book I highly recommend to anyone working on their self esteem. I’ll be sharing some of the activities or questions that I find most poignant.

Disclaimer: I am not a trained and licensed therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker. All of what I discuss is in regards to my own experience, research, and education. When talking about someone else’s research or experiences, I will respectfully and legally cite them. If I misquote someone or cite incorrectly, please let me know and I will correct my error. Don’t sue me, please! Give me a chance to correct any honest mistakes.

Am I Not Valid? Part 2

As I mentioned in my previous post, twice in a couple months, I have been told that there are parts of me that are not valid or real. I have been trying to process being told this and coping with understanding why someone would say such a thing to another person, especially when both things are absolutely valid and part of my journey.

I was told by someone integral in my life that my job is not real and that I have wasted the past decade of my life in a job that is not valid.

Let me clarify that I do, in fact, work retail. In the last 12 years, I have made many attempts to climb the corporate ladder and work really hard to prove that I am worth promoting. I switched fields in retail a couple times, but landed back at the place I started and have spent the 10 of the last 12 years at the same place. My path at this company has not really evolved, and I do feel very much overlooked. Yes, retail usually isn’t a life changer, nor is it really a suitable career path. However, a job is a job, especially an honest one. I’m not out on the streets selling drugs, nor am I selling my body.

I honestly believe that my job is valid. The fact that I am working and paying taxes means I am a contributing member of society. While my role within the store is not ideal, it is still a job. And, it’s mine. I know that I’m going to be done with retail very soon. I’m a few months away from completing an Associates degree in Paralegal Studies, which will open up some doors. It will allow me the chance to do something more worthwhile. I will feel far more accomplished with the work I can be able to do with this degree.

But, I come back to the job I have now. It’s a job. It’s real. Someone has to do it. That person is me. I am very aware that I am replaceable and an 18 year old can do my job for far less money. The quality of service the 18 year old will provide might not be on the same level as mine, but legally, an 18 year old is allowed to do the same job as me.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how we all choose to treat each other. This planet is covered with humans. For the most part, we are a good species of animals. Sure, there are a few humans that are less than favorable; that’s a given.

The words we choose to say to each other and the way we choose to say them are so important in life.

Instead of telling someone that something about them isn’t valid and that they have wasted their life, tell them, “I think you can do better than this, and I hope you find the right motivation to change your environment.” That’s direct without discrediting a person.

Instead of telling someone “you’re feelings are uncalled for and invalid, because you don’t know anything about relationships,” tell them “you are allowed to feel the way you do, however I don’t understand your emotions, and I think we are coming from two different places.” That honors the person’s natural instinct to emote, but clarifies the disagreement or misunderstanding in a respectful way.

I’m no psychologist. I’ve only taken a few undergraduate psychology and sociology classes. But, I’ve read books and I’ve experienced other human beings and I’ve had plenty of relationships, big and small. A few months shy of entering my 35th years, I own the fact that there is a lot about life that I still have to learn. I own the fact that I could have done something big with my life years ago. But, we all have our own journeys. We all approach life differently. For some of us, life seems just a little more difficult.

In a few months, I will be done with my Paralegal AA. In the meantime, I am looking for work. I applied for 12 different positions at a gym franchise. I’m popping in, at least, 8 more tomorrow. Sure, some might say that it is no better than a retail job. But, it is an environment I would rather be in. It is still an honest job. And, the fact I get to work out for free is a bonus. There would be no excuse to work out if I worked at a gym. [Here’s a secret: I kind of want to become a certified personal trainer and become a running coach for women. I used to be a competitive runner for 8 years, and would love to give back through running.]

This is wishful thinking, I know. If I do get a job at a gym, I will be happy to work full time there while I finish my degree. That will allow me to save enough money to start making it on my own. All the while, I will continue my search for administrative legal work, and fine tune selling myself well. Trust me, working at a gym will motivate me to exercise regularly. The more I exercise, the happier I will feel, and the more motivated I will be to become a certified personal trainer. If I do become a personal trainer, I can build my own clientele and schedule. I can work that around administrative legal work.

See, I have a plan. I just wish people would be a little more kind and patient with me. Being told that parts of me aren’t valid hurt, especially when I have spent so long believing my worth always was in the hands of others.

Remember, everyone, only we can determine our own worth. It’s no one else’s choice to tell us how valuable we are. We are all fantastic creatures, who deserve all the happiness in the world. We need to start gifting happiness and love to others to remind each other so.