I took out the trash tonight.

9590924 - close up of a garbage bag on white background with clipping path

I took the trash out to the curb tonight.  Six large garbage bags of trash.  And when I came into the house, I got a little bit emotional because I was proud of myself.

You see, I haven’t taken the trash out in weeks.  Every week, trash day would come and go, and I wouldn’t do anything.  I wanted to.  I thought about it.  I would give myself pep talks. I would berate myself for being lazy and a slob.  But every week I didn’t do it.  I didn’t have the energy.  I didn’t care enough.

Everyone who suffers from depression suffers differently.  For me, the clearest sign is my trash.  For the past few months, I’ve been battling a bout of depression and I am just getting to the other side of it.  It took me awhile to recognize it for what it was, and then it took me a little while longer to schedule an appointment with my doctor.  And then it took a couple more weeks for the new medication to start working.  And every week, the trash piled up.

I’m not sharing this for sympathy or attention.  I’m sharing because talking about depression is really hard.  It’s virtually impossible to do when you are suffering from it, and when you get past it, you really don’t want to dwell on it.  For some, admitting that you are taking medication for it feels like weakness.  For others, you are just too afraid of the judgment that comes with mental illness of any kind.  For anyone, talking about depression is hugely vulnerable.

So maybe I can shine a little bit of light into someone’s darkness.  If you haven’t taken out the trash in weeks (or whatever that represents in your life), it CAN get better.  If it feels like you are living under a blanket that you just can’t shake off, there are people who want to help. Maybe medication isn’t the right step for you, but talking to someone almost always is.

If it helps, that someone can be me.

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.*

 

(This blog post should be subtitled,  Holy shit, what have I done?)

About a month ago, I was talking with my therapist about risks.  I have always thought of myself as risk adverse, while she pointed out that some of my decisions could be thought of as risky to others.  On my recent weekend in Gettysburg, this came up again when a fellow traveller thought my solo travels, which are restorative for me, were brave and awesome.

My therapist and I landed on a theory about my perspective on risk: For me, putting together a plan, communicating and sharing that plan, and being held accountable for the execution of that plan is what I find to hold the most risk.  I’m not talking about a project plan at work or a planned vacation.  I’m talking about a life plan that requires me to communicate what I want to accomplish to other people, who could then potentially see me fail.  I have rarely furiously pursued things that I was passionate about because of a fear of failure.  Not that I haven’t failed.  I have.  Spectacularly.  But it’s easier to fail when you were pursuing something that didn’t matter all that much in the first place.

(Oy.  Stephenie B – as I wrote that I realized that you and I talked about the same damn thing the other day with perfectionists and exposure, and I just now made the connection.  Now I want to rethink everything I’m about to say, but I still need to just get it out there!)

prettyfastLast Tuesday, I was accepted to graduate school.  Not just to audit a history class that was never going to be my life’s work, but to get my master’s degree and ultimately be licensed as a mental health counselor.  To change the direction of the rest of my life. And I really want this.  I want it so badly that I’m willing to go to school full time and work full time.  I want it so badly that I’m willing to tell all of you about it, put myself out there, and risk the possibility that I might fail.  I don’t think that I will–this isn’t about pessimism versus optimism–but I could, and I’m still pursuing it.

Today, I bought a house.  My mom, my dad and I are moving in together, just a few doors down from my sister and her family.  Our houses aren’t even on the market yet, but the perfect house came up and I needed to take a risk, make a long term plan and commit. Sharing a house with my parents in shouting distance of my sister, brother-in-law and nieces?  If that isn’t risky, I don’t know what is.  But I’m all in and I’ll do whatever it takes to make it great.

What is the connection to Ferris Bueller?  I have jumped right into the deep-end of this risk stuff this week.  It’s happened so fast, but I want to stay present and aware of this moment and this shift that is happening in myself and in my life.  I think in two or three years, I’m going to look back on this period of eight days as the moment my storyline shifted.

 

* If you didn’t already know the origin of the quote, you haven’t watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off enough times.  How many times is enough?  It’s never enough.  Watch it again.

We are all awesome ladies.

IMG_1060Last Friday, after a long week, I took myself away for a weekend.  Just a quick trip to Gettysburg – a bed and breakfast, a morning at the spa, and a day of historical tourism.  A perfect weekend.  There was much reading.  There was a fireplace.  There were freshly painted toenails.  It was a perfect weekend.

On Sunday morning, I enjoyed breakfast with a couple of fellow travelers – and after explaining that I was, in fact, traveling alone and that I did so quite often,  one of my new friends remarked that I was an “awesome lady”.  It was brave, she thought, to travel on your own.

While I try to remind myself that I am an awesome lady as often as possible, I have not, generally, thought of traveling solo as a brave act.  For me, it is firmly within my comfort zone to make a last minute reservation, throw some stuff in my car and take off for a few days.  I can also acknowledge the immense amount of privilege in my life that allows me to do this without worry.

My intention with this short post is not to either shake off or lessen my own “awesome-ness”, nor is it an attempt at #humblebrag (although re-reading the paragraphs above, I’m afraid that’s how it has come across).  My point is that someone else looked at my actions as brave, because it was something that she wished to do.  I need to remember that things that I take for granted as easy and comfortable are, in fact, small acts of bravery that make me awesome.

But that is true in reverse, as well – those acts of bravery that I see others accomplishing that are awesome and courageous.  Taking a yoga class for the first time.  Raising children.  Being a volunteer fire fighter.  Standing up in front of a classroom of children or teenagers as a teacher. Driving a large truck.  Performing on stage. Tiling your own kitchen backsplash. Eating exotic food. Running a 5K. Wearing white pants.

There are a million brave acts – some large and some small – that I observe with awe.  Every single one of you has done something that I think is unbelievably brave, possibly without even a second thought.  So you, too, are awesome ladies (and gentlemen).  Embrace your unique brand of bravery!

 

Experiences, Expectations and Epiphanies #BLC2015

IMG_1644Attending the Body Love Conference in Tucson this past weekend was an event that I’ve been planning for since late last year. I learned about the event by following the awesomeness that is Jes Baker (the Militant Baker) online. (My even more awesome friend Hedda introduced me to her blog a few years ago.)

#BLC2015 Expectations

I’ve been talking about this conference for months with everyone in my life. I’ve been excited about the opportunity to get together with like-minded body positivity champions to discuss the challenges we face in a world constantly telling us that our bodies are flawed. I researched in advance, reading blogs and books related to the body positivity movement, Health at Every Size and similar topics. I thought about experiences I would share, insight I would offer, and questions that I would ask. I talked to friends about my impending trip, and brought the weight of their expectations and excitement with me to Tucson and BLC2015. I was excited to come away from the experience with tools that I could use to promote body love and self-confidence in others. I was ready to be a Body Love Champion!

The funny thing about coming into an experience like The Body Love Conference with so many expectations is that it’s going to shatter every single one of them.

#BLC2015 Experiences

My experience was amazing, inspiring, frustrating, confusing, terrifying and liberating. And those are just the emotions that I’ve been able to process since Saturday.

downloadOddly, one of the most significant experiences occurred on the plane on the way to Tucson. I picked up 10% Happier in the airport before I left, because the book I brought with me was too academic for my excited brain. What I would refer to as a “skeptic’s guide to meditation” (which is the name of a different book, by the way), Dan Harris’ bestseller totally won me over. It was exactly the book that I needed to read at this specific moment in my life, and so appropriate for me to read at the start of this literal journey for the weekend.

Due to flight delays, I arrived too late to participate in the social event on Friday night. Ultimately, that may have significantly changed the way that I experienced the weekend, as it was far less social and far more introspective than I expected. I came into the experience planning to talk, ask, meet and connect—and I left with my head full of questions, analysis, and a feeling of disconnection.

That’s not to say that I didn’t have a chance to meet some amazing people, have inspiring conversations and make connections. I was inspired by a writing seminar hosted by Kristen Nelson, a lunchtime conversation with Alex (of Alex V Yogi), and a performance and seminar by Angie River on speaking your truth. I had a really lovely conversation with a retired university administrator whose name I never got about finding purpose in life.

Jes Baker delivers the kick -off keynote address at BLC 2015.

Jes Baker delivers the kick -off keynote address at BLC 2015.

After telling Kristen Nelson that I was skeptical of the entire premise behind divination, I pulled a tarot card from her deck that seemed to scream a message to me that I’ve been fighting for awhile. A conversation ostensibly about yoga with Alex led me to hear her story of leaving a high-pressure career for something that spoke to her soul and her purpose. And Angie focused on the need to tell your story and share the things that cause you to feel shame, because those are the stories that erase the shame (for you and for others going through similar experiences).

(TMI warning for my friends and colleagues reading this.) I also got my period for the first time in 8 months in the middle of the morning on Saturday. In the very next session (a room full of women), a woman spoke up as the session was winding down to ask if anyone had a tampon, because she just gotten her period for the first time in “ages”. I think I actually gasped and I was tempted to say “Me too!”, but decided it was too weird and too much for my brain to process. Maybe it’s not meaningful at all, but it was weird and it freaked me out a little.

(Speaking of weird “coincidences”, the license plate on my rental car was BLC ####.)

#BLC2015 Epiphanies

I went into the conference feeling as though I had body love all figured out—and every experience I had told me that I have a long way to go. I went into the conference expecting to come away feeling connected to this community of people just like me—and I realized that I have a unique story to tell and I still have some of my own shame to work through in the telling of it. I went into the conference expecting to learn how I could be an advocate for body love in others—and I learned that the best way to do that is to continue talking about the journey to love myself, with all of its successes and failures.

Stay tuned.

I continue to pursue purpose.

rocksOccasionally, I find myself contemplating the big questions. You know—the BIG questions:

  • What is my purpose?
  • What will my legacy be?
  • What is the meaning of life?

Many people find meaning in their religious beliefs, particularly if they have a belief in another life to come after this one. Parents can point to their children as their legacy (and perhaps their purpose). But as an atheist and a non-parent, those questions can be more difficult to answer—and finding answers can feel more critical.

Just out of college and starting my career, it felt like nothing was more important than being able to define my purpose. Of course, I expected to find that purpose within my career. I thought, “I will know that I have led a great life because I will have succeeded at achieving [INSERT CAREER OBJECTIVE].” That, of course, turned out to be total crap. It is certainly possible (and preferable) that your career and your purpose align, but paying the bills and leaving a legacy you can be proud of don’t always come hand in hand.

Just a few years shy of 40 and I’ve built a career that I’m proud of, but it isn’t my legacy. It’s not the reason I exist and it doesn’t provide meaning to my life. On the best days, my career teaches me important skills and provides the financial means to live. On the worst days, it’s a distraction from finding my real purpose.

So what is my purpose?

I don’t know. Is it weird to say – after all of that – that I’m not sure it matters? Of course having a purpose in life matters, but does it really matter that I know exactly what that looks like? Leaving a legacy matters, but does it matter that I know now what that will be when I’m gone? I think what really matters is that I continue to pursue purpose. I continue to be passionate about issues and fired up about injustice and inequality. I continue to lift others up instead of tearing them down. I continue to seek ways to apply my own talents and abilities to improving the world around me.

Maybe one day I’ll hear the proverbial “click” and I’ll know that I’ve found that thing that I am meant to do with my life. Maybe I won’t. But as long as I don’t stop listening for it, I think I’m doing just fine.

My weight loss goal is to lose track of my weight.

scaleI had an epiphany this weekend that was mind blowing.  Paradigm shifting.  Maybe life altering. And so. fucking. simple.

Weight is just a number.

Yeah, I thought I already knew that, too.  In fact, I’ve spent most of my adult life reminding other people that weight and size does not define who we are.  I’ve talked about my self-confidence.  Earlier this month, I blogged about a new approach I was taking to getting healthy, and I didn’t focus on the number.  But all along, I’ve been stepping on the scale and letting it control how I feel about myself.

I mean-girled myself.

Last week I “heard” some pretty nasty things being said by my subconscious.  It was the first time that I allowed myself to hear it – and …  I’m still processing what it means to know that I have that kind of self-hate language in my head.  That’s probably a post for another time when I’m better able to talk about it.  But having heard those terrible things that – on some level – my subconscious mind believes, I actually listened as my conscious mind started to fight back.

Health and Weight are not synonymous

For years, I’ve been reluctant to join in the chorus of people who already know and understand that weight and health are not synonymous.  Health At Any Size, Regan Chastain’s Dances With Fat, and a slew of other popular sites have been promoting this idea for years.  My own dear friends have talked about it and reblogged it – so why wasn’t I listening?

The problem is that I have not been healthy.  I equated my own lack of health to my excess weight.  I’m not denying even now that those things are related.  They are *related* in my case – but they are not the *same*.  And that is so. fucking. important.

Almost every one of my doctors has encouraged me to lose weight.  Let me be clear – they have not necessarily encouraged me to “be healthier”, but to “lose weight”.  My last doctor bullied me into agreeing to look into gastric bypass surgery because I would “never lose the weight” on my own.  I don’t think I can even convey how devastating that kind of comment is to hear from your doctor.  (I left her practice and will not return.)

fuckthatnumber

I honestly do not know what possessed me to strike this particular pose on Christmas Day, but it seems so appropriate that I had to use it here.

Why does it matter?

I’ve struggled with my weight my entire life.  I’m grateful to be able to say that I haven’t really gotten caught up in extreme fad diets–my efforts have always been relatively rational–but the “goal” was always a number.  Even when it was about health, it was about a healthy weight.

All that focusing on my weight is tiring.  Trying to control my weight just meant that my weight was in control.  Stepping on the scale weekly and rationalizing the number – I just drank a glass of water,  are these pants heavier than the clothes I had on last week?  – is tiring.  Constantly fighting a battle inside to remind myself that I’m awesome in spite of that number is demeaning, demoralizing and fucking exhausting.  Why am I fighting that battle? What am I even fighting with?  A number?  Fuck that number.

My weight loss goal is to lose track of my weight.

I weigh 300 pounds.  Give or take a few pounds on any given day.  And I don’t care.  My “weight loss goal” right now is to completely lose track of my weight – and focus (for real) on living my life.  Walking and working out because it makes me feel good.  Avoiding fast food because it makes me queasy.  Getting 8 hours of sleep because my brain can focus better.

Next time you see me, tell me that I look amazing, but please don’t ask me if I’ve lost weight; if I’m successful at reaching my goal, I will have no idea.

Cite your resources.

Here are some of the things that I read and watched before I had my own “A ha!” moment.

  1. Golda Poretsky explains how fat is beautiful, too.  I think the thing I got from this was that it doesn’t matter if YOU think I’m beautiful.  YOU don’t have to find “fat” attractive.  This isn’t about YOU.
  2. Isabel Foxen Duke talks about Radical Forgiveness.  Everything about her site is amazing.  I’m not even sure that this specific post is the most powerful, but there was a line about forgiving yourself for not “getting it” until now – and I needed to hear that.
  3. I made travel plans for The Body Love Conference.  I made travel arrangements for the BLC late last week, and since then, I’ve realized that I’ve been anxious about going.  Is anyone going to like me?  Am I cool enough? Do I actually love myself enough to fit in among these powerful, badass women who are changing the world?
  4. Jes Baker gets anxious about a dance class.  My favorite powerful, bad ass woman who is out there changing the world (and the founder of the BLC) has posted about her own struggles with body image and freaking out about attending a dance class.  I needed to hear that it was okay to not always be so damn confident.

2014 was the year I learned about emotional boundaries. And I’ll never be the same.

emotionalboundaries(Utterly fictional example scenario): A friend calls to tell me that she thinks she and her husband are going to get divorced. She doesn’t know what she’s going to do, where she’s going to live or how she’s going to survive on her own.

How would I react in December 2013? My stomach drops and my heart aches for her. How can I help? I immediately try to think of all of the resources I can offer and the ways that I can help. I offer financial assistance. I offer to look for apartments with her. I tell her all of the reasons why she’s better off on her own, despite having no real idea if divorce is her best choice. And after I hang up the phone, I lie awake all night hurting and anxious. I feel sick to my stomach. Should I call our other friends and organize assistance? Should I have offered to let her move in with me? I have an extra bedroom and more space than I really need. I know I don’t want to do that, but how selfish am I? Why did this have to happen now? I had plans next weekend and I really don’t want to be dealing with this right now. After several days of feeling miserable, I find myself avoiding her phone calls because I just can’t deal with the drama.

How would I react in December 2014? My heart aches for her. “Wow, that’s a really heavy decision. Tell me what happened.” And I listen while she shares and cries. “I can’t even begin to imagine how much stress that puts you under. Let’s plan to meet for dinner this week so I can hug you for real. Maybe we can plan a spa day in a couple of weeks (I have plans this coming weekend) to take your mind off of the heaviest stuff for a few hours.” I make a note to send a text each day to check in.

What changed? I did. I changed (or rather, I am a still changing work in progress) because I finally learned what it really means to set emotional boundaries.

Understanding Emotional Boundaries is Life Altering

One of the very first observations that my therapist made this year was that it seemed that I had difficulties with emotional boundaries – and yet it took about five months of therapy sessions for me to really understand what that meant. Setting emotional boundaries is learning to take responsibility for your own emotions – and to not take responsibility for anyone else’s. I had heard all of the words before – boundaries, guilt, shame, responsibility – but having all of those pieces click together was eye opening.

In that scenario above, nothing about my friend changed. She was still struggling with the devastating life event in the same way. All that changed was how I reacted to her struggle. I didn’t make it my struggle. I didn’t make it about me. By not making it about me, I didn’t feel responsibility to fix it – and I was able to better provide emotional support and love. My heart ached, but my life went on.

Learning that emotional boundaries have everything to do with me and nothing to do with anyone else has been life altering. It sounds so insanely simple to say, “I have all of the power when it comes to how I feel”, but internalizing that and practicing it is astoundingly difficult. And I am definitely still a work in progress.