Today, a poem

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I’m busy working on thoughts and ideas. Sometimes you have to walk away from what you are writing and come back to it. So today, a poem. I wrote this many years ago. It’s still one of my favorites. Never think that words aren’t powerful. They absolutely are. And don’t ever think that you can’t come back from something. You may just realize you have wings that work when you take that jump or leap.

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I have this picture
You in that old olive recliner
Me poised on the arm.
We’re mirrored
From the green Izod shirts
To the blonde strands of hair.
It sits in a frame.
It hangs in my heart.
I remember you young & tan
Before too many things
Sank into your skin.
When I had pigtails
And called you mommy.
Maybe time fades pictures, curls their edges.
I’ve taken a million steps away
From that moment
It’s still clear, it’s still happening
Whenever I close my eyes.

 

A Simple Message for All

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I think the simplest thing I can say is be hopeful.

Hope is hard to break. It’s what every survivor has running in her blood.

I cannot offer much, only the hope that kindness will prevail.

My promise is to keep being kind every day. Will you join me?

I believe there are wonderful things about humanity. Let’s focus on those.

And as in every moment of uncertainty that I have faced, I simply ask myself, “What would my mom do? What would she say to me?” I think the answer is she would tell me to keep being who I am and to keep trying to shine light where there may not be any. She would say to always be classy, to never act in anger or hate and to keep hope in my heart.

So I’ll keep shining my light, and I’ll keep doing everything I can to make sure she is proud of me.

This is a simple message, and it is mine to you.

I am more than my body

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Since I can remember, my value as a human being has had a lot to do with the way I look. This is what it’s like to be female in this society or possibly planet. The first compliment to come out of someone’s mouth has always been about being pretty; not smart or funny or any other deeper quality. But for the record, I just want to say that I am more than my hair, more than my blue eyes, more than my shape, more than my skin.

However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be pretty. Of course I do. I wear makeup. I get my nails done. My hair is colored. I strive daily to lose weight. I wear clothes that show off my shape and heels that make me taller. I’m all in on beauty. My thirst for it has never been quenched.  I will never not want to be pretty.

Yet, no matter what I do or what I restrict, I still have doubts. As I get older, the doubts are looming larger. Although I’ve been told I’m pretty thousands of times, it’s not something I say to myself very often.

What I can and do say to myself is that I am smart, creative, accomplished, ambitious and a fighter. These qualities have nothing to do with what I look like. I know I am these things because of what I have achieved. I worked hard to be these things. They are much harder to question than beauty. I should probably be more pleased. Maybe I’m not because when I look in the mirror, these qualities aren’t easy to see. All the things wrong with the way I look are.

I still want to be more than my body. I made a decision about 10 years ago to do something that many women wouldn’t. I had a breast reduction. I’m pretty sure breast enhancement is the most sought after surgery, and here I was wanting them to be smaller! But there were a lot of horrible things about having such a large chest. No matter what I wore, all you could see or focus on was my chest. I’m not sure if anyone ever looked me in the eye. My shoulders and back hurt all the time. I couldn’t wear any type of shirt that was a button up. I once had to order a dress four sizes too big to get it to fit my chest. By the end of alterations, there was enough material for another dress. It was miserable.

Luckily my insurance paid for it because they realized this was a real health concern. The surgery itself was fine. It was outpatient. What took the longest to heal from was just being able to reach out my arms. I have scars. They aren’t so bad 10 years later but still apparent. Depending on what I have on, you can see them. But it changed my life for the better. Now, my chest fits the rest of my body. My neck and back hurt a lot less. I can wear clothes I never could before. It was truly one of the best decisions I ever made.

But I think I’m on the minority on this one. But to me, my breasts don’t make me a woman. They are simply part of my anatomy. I’d even prefer them to be smaller. They just get in the way sometimes. My breasts don’t have any purpose like being a vessel to feed a baby. Even though most men seem to be obsessed with them (unless of course they prefer another body part), I could care less. If I never had to wear a bra again, I’d be happy.

I’m not sure how women get past being more than their bodies. Men often won’t let us. But we share some of that blame as well. I’m not saying that women shouldn’t be proud of their bodies. Show it off if you want. Pose nude if you want. I’m not condemning or judging anyone. I just want the conversation to move forward. I want women to be viewed just as much by what’s inside than outside. I’m not sure what kind of shift will need to happen so that this can be the norm. My hunch is when more women become leaders and are truly treated equally – meaning we get the same pay and the same opportunities – a shift may occur. It’s amazing to think that at 50% of the population, we are still the inferior sex. Many men still want us to think this (been called sweetie or honey lately?), but women do, too. If we don’t believe in ourselves then there’s no way we will ever leave the shadow of men.

So my ask of you, brilliant, feisty women is to really believe we are more than our bodies. It doesn’t mean we have to stop wanting to be pretty. It just means we need to want everything else, too.

The Secret of Shame

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Shame is a terrible feeling, like the worst case of heartburn coupled with a swift quick in the gut. But what is shame really? And more importantly, why do we give it so much power?

Shame is defined as, “the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable or improper done by oneself.” Shame is a nutshell is about self-inflicted pain. Shame doesn’t just stick around in the immediate aftermath. We think we need to carry it around, hold onto it, keep it alive.

Is shame useful? Well, sure we’ve all done things we needed to feel shame over. However, most of us in the world don’t go around doing really horrible things. Yet we still want to keep our shame! That’s not okay. Shame is a secret self-hate that we polish with additional feelings of disgust and inferiority. Shame means we don’t deserve forgiveness or the right to move on.

Shame is something we are taught to feel as a child, as in “shame, shame I know your name.” In a way, it teaches us right from wrong. Then we grow up. As adults, we mess up a lot. But there’s shame to greet us and remind us we’re terrible human beings. We welcome it. We let it cloud our minds, making us completely irrational. Shame doesn’t allow us to let go of what happened. It sticks out its tentacles and lashes on. We’re stuck in shame.

I am not immune to shame. I’ve been my biggest disappointment many times. I’m sure I will be again. Shame doesn’t have a hold on me anymore.

I’ve felt episodes of shame many times in life; the biggest being due to the many bad decisions I’ve made in relationships. I’ve hurt people. I’ve hurt myself. Probably the biggest shame I allowed to invade my life was the shame of divorce. Nobody wants to say, “I’m divorced.” I didn’t grow up dreaming of my divorce, but I certainly knew what it was since I was so young when my parents divorced. Divorce is very common in our culture; some people do it a lot! I don’t think, though, that most people go into marriage thinking about divorce.

My shame about divorce was really about the fact that my ex-husband was not a bad guy. We had problems, but it was never ugly between us. He loved me very much and was good to me most of the time. I hurt him badly. There’s nothing I can do that will ever change that. I’m sure he has healed from it and moved on with his life, hopefully to find love. But the fact is I married someone I didn’t love, and three and half years later, I finally had the guts to say so.

So I became the bad guy. I was the bad guy. He didn’t really see me this way because that’s not the kind of person he was. But others did. So I let the shame roll over me. It was intoxicating. I deserved it all. I messed up both of our lives for a little bit. I never meant to hurt him or myself. Sometimes, we do the best we can.

In the immediacy of the break-up, it was not something I wanted to reveal to anyone. There have probably been many people I’ve known between then and now who didn’t know. And occasionally when I was honest about it, I would get interrogated as to why! Sure, it’s personal, not really something that comes out naturally. But I was a bit shocked that even the doctor’s office wanted to know. That’s right, on the form there was a checkbox for single, married or divorced. Why is this information their business? Does being divorced mean the doctor gives me a sad face? So I knew logically this was ridiculous, but I still checked single. That was shame winning. I was too ashamed to check the right box. Even though, I don’t believe this is information they should be privy; I still felt too ashamed to check the damn box.

So how can we shed shame? It starts with forgiveness. You can hope that you’ll be forgiven by others, but don’t count on it. Instead, forgive yourself. What’s done is done. You can’t change it. You can be accountable and remorseful. You can try to be a better person.

No one is perfect. We are a breed of imperfect creatures. Life is hard enough without the added deluge of shame. If you can shed that shame today, just think of how much more room you’ll have for joy and acceptance.

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

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September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.  I want to make sure that all women understand that this is a serious, yet treatable cancer. However, early detection is key to survival. Ovarian cancer isn’t as high profile as breast cancer, yet it is one of the deadliest cancers effecting women. The World Health Organization estimates that over 238,000 cases are diagnosed annually with 152,000 deaths annually.  Even though it’s highly treatable, death usually occurs because the disease isn’t caught in the early stages. I could very much be a statistic right now. I didn’t have any awareness of ovarian cancer nor do I have a family history of this kind of cancer. I just knew something wasn’t right.

I was diagnosed the first time at 23, which is 40 years younger than the median age. So don’t think this is only a cancer that threatens older women or post-menopausal women. My symptoms were bloating, abdominal pain and having to pee all the time. I went to my gynecologist and shared my symptoms. The doctor examined me and performed routine tests. She could find nothing wrong. She also did not recommend an ultrasound. What really blows my mind is that I could feel something on my left lower abdomen. I was really thin at the time, and it was almost obvious that my left side more pronounced than the right. Had I just kept going then who knows what might have happened. Instead I went to an urologist, thinking there was a problem with that area. The urologist performed an ultrasound immediately and found the tumor. He was in the same building as my gynecologist. He called them and told them they needed to see me immediately. I had another ultrasound and was in surgery days later. On the day of my surgery, I saw the urologist in the pre-op area and thanked him again. He probably saved my life.

However, most women probably don’t have a tumor the size of a football; it was so big and putting so much pressure on my bladder, that’s why I couldn’t stay out of the bathroom. There is no actual “screen” to diagnose ovarian cancer. A CA-125 blood test is about the best non-invasive diagnostic tool. There are multiple types and stages of ovarian cancer. It can also recur. And just because you don’t have ovaries or a uterus doesn’t mean, you’re in the clear. I had a hysterectomy after my third recurrence, but the cancer cells had spread to my lymph nodes. The type of cancer I had is very slow growing with general consensus being that chemo doesn’t help so I have to keep living with the possibility of recurrence, now most likely in the abdominal area. I still see my oncologist regularly and have CT scans. The type I had is also very rare. To help continue research, I agreed to donate tissue from my first two surgeries.

So how can you protect yourself? If you have a family history, there is a gene known to be a carrier so there is the option to undergo genetic testing. Many have no symptoms and depending on your overall health and age, this might not even be on your gynecologist’s radar. So keep it on yours! Also, Pap smears have nothing to do with ovarian cancer; they screen for cervical cancer.

Here are three things you can do:
1. See a gynecologist for an annual exam.
2. Pay attention to your body.
3. Ask your Doctor questions about ovarian cancer and what he or she recommends.

Learn more at www.ovarian.org.

What I Learned from Loss

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From the What I Learned Series

People like to say, “Everything happens for a reason.” I understand why they say it. It’s meant as a comfort. It reaffirms we can’t always control what happens to us. Because we can’t control it! Sometimes I can see the truth in those words; other times not so much.

Maybe everything doesn’t happen for a reason. Maybe an alternative way to digest the things that happen is that really bad things happen to really good people every day; it’s what happens next that matters. What will you do with your loss?

You can learn from loss and adversity; after all it builds character (another one of those helpful things people say). For better or worse, loss has shaped me. It has woven its way into my DNA.  Did it change me? Yes. Did it destroy me? No.

Even though I’ve probably had more than my fair share of loss, I understand that loss is relative to one’s own experience. But in the end no matter how great or how small your loss may be, you have two choices: bloom out from it or succumb to it. Yes, there is a choice. It may not seem like it most days. But you did get a choice.  You can’t change it. You do, however, get a chance to decide what happens next.

Loss never leaves you. My mom died almost 20 years ago. I’ve now lived more of my life without her and most of the rest of my immediate family. So in these 20 long years, time should have done a lot of healing (yet another helpful adage). Time is something that keeps firmly marching ahead, moving you further away from those losses. Yet I’m not sure if time heals because  it feels like it just happened most days. So for me, my loss is still part of my thoughts, my skin, my breath. I’m just not ever going to get over the loss of my mom. I used to think I needed to “get over it,” whatever that means. I thought I was dragging my loss and heartache around like some badge of honor. Believing in order for the person and their loss to mean something, it had to be held onto.

Yet when you carry it around, you don’t forget. And maybe it’s good not to forget. I make a conscious effort to not forget my mom’s face, voice or smell. I see her picture every day so that’s the easiest. Her smell I can mimic with her favorite perfume. The voice is the hardest. I’m losing it. I try to imagine in my head the words she said to me so often. I want to recall without effort just how she said my name or the way she laughed.

So maybe time doesn’t heal. But I like to keep the conversation alive. I want to still talk about those I’ve lost. That’s not true for everyone. Sometimes I think it’s easier for some to just forget who they lost ever existed. That’s what people do to survive. That’s just not how I chose to handle loss.

Loss will trick you; trick you into thinking you’re alone and that life will never be good again or normal. It will trick you into blaming yourself. I spent a lot of time feeling guilty just for being alive. It also tricks you into thinking it’s best to not get attached because you know what it’s like to lose. Nothing penetrated my heart for a long time. It just made me lose more: time, relationships, opportunities.

Loss made me angry. Angry at the situation, the lost person, myself. It was intense in the beginning; it still lingers. The anger flares up the most during the important times in life because I can’t share it with those gone. They have missed my triumphs and failures. Everybody has that longing to be number one to somebody and to have someone always on your side.  That was my mom for me. When I lost her and a million times since, I was mad that I’d never be that important to anyone ever again.

I’ve felt anger at myself as well. Either because I couldn’t move forward or was moving too fast. Should I be enjoying life? When was it okay to be happy again? Survivor’s guilt is real. I’ve asked myself many times, why am I still here?

Grief doesn’t have a timetable. I’m not sure if it ever really ends. You don’t wake up one day and are cured from your loss. I’ve learned it doesn’t have to disappear. Loss created a big hole in my heart. It can’t be filled.  I know I’ve tried. I don’t feel the need to close the hole anymore. It’s a part of me. It’s influenced my choices, sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad.  Grief, in a way, is like the personification of the bond you had with that person.

But I won’t wallow in loss. The world is full of grievers. Tragic things happen all the time. Loss still wraps its arms around you, but if you let it be your focus, you will lose so much more. It’s just one part of me. Not my first or last thought every day; just somewhere in between. In my loss, I eventually found a better person. I never gave up on and will never give up on trying every day to be better.

Loss cannot be undone. Sooner or later, it will visit us all. I’m not unique. What I do want to do is share my story. To tell everyone that life rarely turns out as expected, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be great.

What I Learned from Bosses (The Good, the Bad & the Crazy)

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From the What I Learned Series

I’ve had a lot of bosses. Most of which were not really qualified to be anyone’s boss. In fact I’m not sure if some of them were even qualified to be human beings. From many of them I took away lessons of mostly what not to do.

First, I want to talk about the good. Mainly because there’s only two people to mention here. The bad and crazy are much longer. My first job out of college I worked in a litigation department of a now defunct manufactured housing company. It wasn’t an easy job. It was a lot of responsibility. And it was emotional work: plaintiff attorneys were nasty; homeowners were pitiful. But nobody ever treated me like I was a kid. They just threw me in and gave me the support I needed. My boss was an attorney who was both extremely intelligent and likable. My only criticism was his horrible handwriting. He saw something in me and helped me grow. He gave me the encouragement I needed to be successful. He taught me to always ask more questions and focus on facts.  I’m glad for that and know I’m better for knowing him.

My all time favorite boss goes to the guy who took a chance on me, hiring me after a brief interview. I didn’t know much about country clubs, but I was a good writer. He gave me the chance to learn and take on my first marketing role. He and I just clicked. I knew what he meant even when he didn’t. He praised me, challenged me and supported me. He was more of a father figure to me than my own father ever was. I know that if I ever really needed anything, he’d help me. Some of the happiest times I’ve ever had at work were with him.

So that’s the extent of the good. Now for the bad. I’ve had a lot of bad bosses. It didn’t start off bad necessarily. But there were red flags. Huge red flags. For example, if someone tries to talk you out of taking the job and you leave feeling as though you were interrogated, don’t take the job! But I did.

This man is not a horrible human being. I think he just doesn’t know how to interact with people or manage people. On one hand, he wanted to be respected and liked; on the other he wanted to be feared and intimidating. In my book, you can’t be both. Respect and fear are mutually exclusive. He didn’t think this way. Because I didn’t fear him and disagreed with him, he wasn’t sure what to do with me. So he set me up for failure. I wanted to reach goals but was unable to execute on projects to attain these goals. He just didn’t understand modern marketing and was fine with being status quo, but that’s not me. Even though I do believe he is a good person, he was very personally hurtful to me and others on occasions. He believed people needed to be publicly humiliated if they made a mistake or broke the rules. He was obsessed with ensuring that people didn’t make personal connections at work. He told me and anyone else that we were replaceable. It was often a really destructive relationship, one that made me doubt my skills and value. However, the worst thing he ever did was make a snide comment to my co-worker about my appearance.

It was hard to go through this because I really loved my job and my colleagues. But I had to leave. I forgive him for his cruelty. I think he’s a very intelligent man; however, I would never under any circumstances work for him again. It taught me so much though. It taught me to always set others up for success and not take them for granted. Sure, we are all replaceable, but saying that to your employees certainly doesn’t build loyalty. I hope maybe he learned some things, too.

So we are getting closer to the crazy! This boss is borderline bad/crazy. It didn’t start out that way. At first, I thought he was an affable guy. He listened to me. Gave me lots of responsibility. He seemed to trust me. Then I got in deeper and started to realize this guy’s morale compass was not only broken but he was the one who had stomped it into the ground. But he had this salesman smile. People liked him. His incompetence was astounding. He was smart in the sense that he knew the industry and knew how to work people. He had zero business acumen. I tried hard to establish processes and controls but had no support. I worked long hours and took a lot of shit from him and our customers. Finally, I kind of just snapped under the pressure. I felt like he wanted me to be untruthful to customers. That’s not me. I held onto my integrity. Ultimately I couldn’t work for someone that I thought to have zero integrity. One of the last things that really pushed me over the edge was a disagreement we had about what I can’t recall. Apparently it became a bit heated, and he said to my face, “Fuck you.”

I don’t hate this guy at all. I just don’t think he’s a great example of a businessman. For my sanity, I’m glad I left. But it taught me so much about being a boss and myself. It taught me that doing the right thing and the profitable thing are often very different. And I’m always going to choose the right thing. Sometimes you just don’t know until you are tested. It taught me how to listen to others when I’m the boss, not just listening to what they say about a project but about goals, ideas and more. Listening is about giving someone your attention and finding out what they are all about. Neither of these men ever listened to anyone about anything: not their employees, their peers or customers.

Now to the crazy. This lady turned out to be one of the most bizarre human beings I’ve ever encountered. She seemed perfectly normal during the interview process. However, it wasn’t long after I started that her crazy started to show. This woman had nothing in her life but work. But she wasn’t remotely good at her job. She seemed to know very little about marketing or communications. For the first few months, any ideas anyone had were shot down. And it wasn’t in a diplomatic way. She’d flat out tell you that your ideas were awful and so was every piece of work submitted to her. I’d get edits back and be shocked that someone could take a concise, well-written piece and turn it into something that didn’t make sense. She refused to get on board with how marketing was changing, telling us that blogging and social media were ridiculous concepts.

But it wasn’t just her ineptitude. This woman was vicious. She insulted everyone personally, made up lies to pit her employees against one another and watched us all to the point of stalking. We had to start parking on the other side of the building because she was always looking to see when we arrived, went to lunch and left. I never heard her say anything positive about anyone or anything except a computer once. She also made remarks that were borderline racist, once stating that all Canadians were lazy because they had a holiday (we had offices in Canada) and weren’t available.

While I was her employee, I had to take leave for an operation that was really serious. Some of my co-workers were aware but not all. Yet she announced it during a staff meeting. She seemed to go out of her way to make everyone around her feel insignificant and foolish. She was cruel just to be cruel. Look, I don’t really hate anyone. I’m just not going to carry that around with me. I chose to believe in karma, which came eventually when she was fired (long after I left). I don’t hate her, but I do believe you get what you deserve in life eventually, good or bad.

So most of the lessons learned were about what not to do. I’ve been on the other side as the boss. When I’ve been in this position, I have tried to be a leader, one that values the talent around me and nurtures it. The boss employee dynamic can be challenging. You can’t really be a friend, but you should be empathetic and open to suggestion. Guess what? Bosses aren’t always right! If you have good people around you who are experts, you should defer to them. Otherwise why did you hire them? One of the fatal flaws of all the bad bosses I’ve had was their own ego. It was their personal preference, not what was best for the brand. I just think there’s no room for ego in the workplace; it’s just going to fill up the room, leaving the boss to see only his own thoughts.

So how have good, bad and crazy bosses influenced your work life? I’d love to hear your stories! Share them by commenting below or tweet me.

I Don’t Have a Five Year Plan

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I’ve always had a plan. I am a planner. Not to say I’m not up for spontaneity, but you won’t find me waiting for a table on a Saturday night because I’d have a reservation.

I’ve always wanted to be in control of my future. Planning seemed the logical path. However, most of my plans have required revision and rerouting. It’s important to be flexible. Not everything can be planned for in life.

I was an ambitious planner in my teens and 20s. I had a vision. I knew what I wanted. I did everything I could to get there. I had lots I needed to check off my list. My young self never got tired (even migraines rarely slowed me). I was emphatic about what and who I was going to be: happy, successful, something.

I finished my second novel at 25. And was busy planning for more. I was submitting poetry and fiction to journals weekly. I was writing pitch letters to agents, researching everything I needed to do to get noticed and basically doing everything to say I’m a writer!

This was early 2000s. Online journals were fairly new. Pitch letters were mailed. Social media hadn’t really become a thing. Back then self publishing was not what you did as a serious writer. So for years, I was planning and working every day. I stayed convinced I could be something. I paid little attention to my own world; wrapped up instead in the worlds I had created.

Perseverance would get me noticed I thought. But it didn’t. There were small victories: short stories and poems were published. A few agents actually wrote me back. So I kept pushing until I had to walk away. Had to find a new plan and tame that dream.

By this time writing was my job. I realized that in marketing I could get paid for writing; it just wasn’t going to be my story to tell. So I rechanneled my energy. I could be a success in marketing. So I went to grad school. Worked all day and went to class at night. Those were long days, but it kept me busy. I needed to be busy. And needed to believe this plan would work. I would shape brands and make the money I deserved. Ambition suited me well; always has.

After grad school, I got a new job with unlimited possibilities. I threw myself into building this brand and increasing business. Work became all I was. My personal life was in shambles so I needed the diversion. Most weeks I worked 60 hours. There was no boundary between life and work. I answered emails late at night and calls on Saturday mornings. Because in my plan if I just worked harder and longer then I’d get where I needed to go. WRONG.

Life’s not fair. Rewards rarely come for the ones always there doing what they say they’re going to do. People will use you, manipulate you and disappoint you. I was burning out when another offer came my way. This opportunity had more structure and a chance to build a marketing team. It seemed like a win. I still had so much drive; so much I wanted to offer.

I did a lot in my time there. But there were still long hours and lots of miles traveled. What was worse was the wall of frustration. I couldn’t get excited about a project because I knew like the 100 before, it would go nowhere. When you don’t allow people to succeed and shine, you dim their passion. When passion is extinguished there’s no resuscitating it. So I had to go leading me to where I am now.

Which is me not really having a plan. I mean I do have a broad picture in mind. And I still keep lots of running lists of what I need to do to further myself. I’m not always motivated. I’m not always my own cheerleader. I could do more.

My plan looks different now. It’s not about money or status or titles. Success looks a little different now. I want to be excited every day about what I’m doing. It’s about loving writing again and not looking at it as a chore.

What will I do without that five year plan that every guru tells me I need? I’m just going to be a rebel. Look, I had plans. They didn’t work out. I waited patiently for that big break, for someone to tell me I was talented. I’m still waiting. Waiting for that one post to go viral or for one publisher to think I’ve got what it takes.

Yet I still feel like a failure 93% of the time. I still worry every day I haven’t lived up to my potential. I’m still haunted by things I should have done differently. I think these things, but there’s nothing I can do to change the past. Maybe I wasn’t ready for success earlier. Maybe my voice has to get stronger.

So what do I do? Keep writing. Keep posting. Keep believing that if it’s good stuff people will read it. I once heard that dreams can’t become more than that while you’re still sleeping. I’m awake now. Wide awake.

Tales from a Food Cult

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I wouldn’t exactly say I grew up in a food cult, but it was the south so it’s slightly accurate. In the South, feeding someone is how you show affection. Consider it cuisine currency. Many times it takes the place of having to say “I love you,” “I’m sorry” or any talk of “feelings.” We’re not repressed in the South necessarily, we’re just more likely to say, “Bless your heart” than anything else.

Not to say I wasn’t loved growing up. I certainly was by many people. Many of those people just happened to feed me a lot. Whether things were good or bad, we would eat. Both of my grandmothers were amazing cooks (my mom was an okay cook, but she really didn’t love it). My Granny Faye was the queen of southern comfort food and baking. She made lots of cakes – birthdays, weddings, celebrations. She made homemade butter cream icing, which she often let me lick from the bowl. Interestingly enough, I really hate butter cream icing now. I never visited her without her asking me what I wanted to eat. She was a serious food pusher. This all seemed very normal to me. My other grandmother, Granny Helen, made the best mashed potatoes, apple pie and sweet tea. I was raised on sweet tea, the kind that would give you instant diabetes it was so sweet.

So I ate some really great food growing up. I was very active then so weight wasn’t really an issue. Until around fourth grade; that’s when I started to look a little pudgy. And I had a bad perm and glasses – not a good year for me. It was during this time that I was first called fat, and I realized that being thin meant fitting in.

The cakes kept coming though. On one hand, I began to understand that cakes made me fat, and on the other hand, people I loved gave me cake. It was confusing. Was food good because it meant someone loved me or was it bad because it made me fat? I can say that my friends and classmates never teased me about my weight. But I did get a lot of it in dance class. Those girls were brutal. I lost my desire for dance after this and stopped taking classes.

By seventh grade, I had grown a few inches and was suddenly thin again. I was told I had shed my baby fat. Boys started to be more interested, and everyone complimented me on my appearance. No one was telling me I needed to lose weight anymore. I was accepted again, praised for being pretty and thin. But there was still cake. Food started to become more of a comfort. I had learned it meant love, but now I was using it as a way to not feel bad. I couldn’t love myself or possibly have the awareness that I have now so food was an answer. It was all a balance – food versus being thin.

The pressure to be thin, of course, only escalated in high school. There was so much going on in my life outside of normal teen angst that I felt like I didn’t have control of much. I could control food. So began a long journey of trying to get out of the food cult. I could eat food and feel comforted but not deal with repercussions of it by throwing it back up. I could not eat and see how long I could go, how far I could push myself. This went on for many years on and off, depending on stress, hurt and waist size. I’ve also been obsessed with exercise; there were periods I worked out twice a day. I’ve gone months on 1,000 calories a day. I haven’t really been a fad dieter just a desperate one.

Over the years, I’ve been thin, I’ve been chubby, I’ve had muscles and I’ve been fat. I don’t thinking I was ever really happy with the way I looked even when I was at my smallest. I still didn’t want to look at myself in the mirror. I still saw every imperfection. I don’t think I’m unique in this struggle. My feelings about my body aren’t just due to the experiences I had growing up. There’s also of course the beauty obsessed culture we live in. There have been some advances in thought about what is beautiful. There have been many courageous women who accept their bodies and are happy with the way that the look, even if it’s not the “ideal” that’s been set by magazines and Hollywood. Good for them. I’m not there yet.

Fortunately, even when I don’t feel good about the way I look, I have a man who doesn’t see my imperfections and tells me I’m beautiful every day. I love and trust this man, but I would never reveal my weight to him. I know he loves me regardless yet that doesn’t make me brave enough to be completely honest. I haven’t always been so lucky. It’s devastating when the one person who should be attracted to you suddenly isn’t.

Even though it’s wonderful to have acceptance from the one I love, I’m not sure if I’ll ever have it from myself. I wasn’t taught to accept myself as is – physically or otherwise. That’s not how Americans think. I grew up looking at Barbie, the most popular toy for girls and my personal favorite. She’s perfect, actually too perfect. I know they have new Barbies now that look more normal, but that wasn’t my childhood.

How can a woman sort out what’s important when she’s praised the most when she weighs the least? Food is, of course, necessary; it’s our fuel. I just wish I had understood from the beginning that food doesn’t mean love, and it doesn’t provide comfort. I’m still thankful for anyone who will cook for me because I don’t cook. But every bite of food I put in my mouth comes with this dialogue in my head.

I honestly want to eat healthy. And, for the most part, I like healthy foods. I am a bit picky, but I will at least try most things. But I also really love French fries and red velvet cake. Right now, we are in the midst of some serious dieting to prep for the wedding and honeymoon. We do have one cheat meal per a week. Otherwise, we’d go insane.

So I think it’s important to put any subject or challenge I have through a wider scope. The fact is people are still going hungry in this world. Yet obesity is rampant. It’s a strange dichotomy. Someone starves; someone overeats. Some suck their fat out at a cost of thousands of dollars while others scrounge in a dumpster. So in the end, people are dying to eat and dying to be thin.

This should make me have kinder eyes when I look in the mirror. I would think it’s a marvelous thing to look at yourself with love rather than disgust. This is a struggle happening every day in mirrors all over the world. We want to be happy with what we see instead of filled with doubt. All these years later, I guess I’m still in that food cult because when certain ideas become entangled, it’s hard to separate them. Food does not equal love. Being thin doesn’t mean you are a good person. But believing all this, however, is something really hard to do. I can only say that I will keep trying. And I will forever always want cake. 

How I Explained Anxiety

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Anxiety is kind of Depression’s first cousin. They often go hand in hand. And they feed each other, but anxiety is somewhat different. Whereas depression makes me want to cocoon and pull away, anxiety makes me feel like I need to do something. I’m just not sure what. In my early 20s, anxiety manifested itself as panic attacks that were often triggered by being in large social situations. I felt pressure to act normal, but I felt invisible and had no desire to be chatty. It was a push pull. I was pushing myself to be social while really wanting to be alone. For some reason being in big groups of people made me flashback to funerals, and my mind would go to places I didn’t want it to.

I didn’t really understand it as anxiety then. I was more like, “Get it together, Beth!” I have and will probably continue to be super hard on myself. Isn’t it funny how hard we find it to be kind to ourselves? It’s something I still wrestle with, but I’m much better than I was in the past.

But anxiety is still part of my life. It’s not something easy to explain even if you have awareness. Yet it’s something I think is important for those to understand who don’t suffer from it. I’m blessed to have an amazing man in my life who accepts all my flaws and wants to genuinely understand what I go through. Recently, I was able to explain it to him.

Something happened (a trigger) a few months ago that really spiked my anxiety. Our HOA sent us a letter claiming that someone had reported that one of our dogs attacked another dog. I got the letter after work so there was no way I could respond or find out more information. Logically, I knew the accusation was false. Our dogs don’t run wild. They are always with us. To our knowledge, nothing like this had occurred.

But anxiety doesn’t mesh well with logic. Suddenly, I was thrust into fear and panic.  My dogs are my children. I love them more than just about anything or anyone. This letter made my mind race thinking someone was watching us or deliberately making false accusations. I felt as though my dogs were in danger. I was really upset. I couldn’t eat dinner or focus. It may seem like an inconsequential event but for me it was much more. So I took the time to explain it to my significant other.

I told him that when something irritating or upsetting happens to you, it’s just this one thing. You can be mad or frustrated but still think clearly toward a resolution. He’s a super chill kind of guy (I’ve heard him yell once in three years) so not much ruffles his feathers. I then told him that when something like this happens to me, I’m not just contemplating this one incident. It’s like a wave of every trauma I’ve ever had sweeping over me. It makes me feel like I can’t breathe, like there’s something stomping on my chest. For him, it would be like standing under a waterfall and there’s one tiny drip.  For me, the levee just broke, and the water is furious.

My therapist gave me props for being able to take him through my experience.  It was one of the first times, I could step outside myself and express the feelings and thoughts I had. I think it gave him a greater appreciation of my struggles. Anxiety affects millions of people. It can be debilitating, and lots carry around shame on top of it.  Our brains are highly complex and often because of trauma we’ve experienced or chemistry, it can’t always look at a situation clearly. And that’s okay. There are ways to get through it. Deep breaths and focusing on ways to manage or resolve the situation work for me. But I’ll be honest, I also take medication. You can find something to help, just don’t suffer in silence.

After I wrote this and before I posted it, I thought maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe someone might judge me or not want to hire me. Then I remembered that I must live what I say. I can’t be scared. I can’t control what other people think. I am taking this opportunity to be honest so that maybe it might help someone else be able to accept their own struggles. That’s all and to admit I’m human. I think most of us are all doing the best we can every day. I’ve always believed that life will rarely turn out as expected but that doesn’t mean it can’t be great.

P.S. The HOA sent the letter to the wrong unit. Our dogs were cleared of any allegations. Deep breath; crisis averted