Frankly my dear…

I’m a pretty complex creature. I have good days, bad days, days of all kinds of things. I’m an extroverted introvert and I could list a ton of labels that would go on for days. What I wanted to be, for a very long time though, is frank. Just very up-front, not wishy-washy. i want to call things like I see them, and have other people understand it as I meant it.

Which is why I started blogging in the first place. It’s why I tell the hard stories, the ones that are personal, the ones that enrage. Because if no one else will say anything, I have to. And that goes double for the topics I am passionate about: mental health and ending rape culture. This should come as no surprise-I talk about pretty much nothing else.

Something came up recently that crossed my mind and I thought I’d share it here. It’s a mental health blog day, so I want to be upfront with that. I’ll be talking about self-harm (although only about scars-no descriptors or pictures) and I will be talking about moving forward and healing. I’m going to start with the story I just submitted to The Mighty.

“My self image has always been a love-hate relationship. I grew up in a world where a woman who was headstrong, opinionated and loved herself just didn’t exist. That’s not to say that I had no support to be those things, but rather that I listened to everything else. Everything that was telling me how not good enough I was, how unacceptable it was to be me.

“I started self-harming as a freshman in high school. It wasn’t a cry for help, or a plea for death. It was a desperate attempt at a reprieve. I didn’t want to die, I just had no other way of expressing the pain and the level of emotions I felt on the inside. And although my skin has been forgiving, I avoid looking at my arms. I can see each and every scar and I think that hurts more than it did making them. The few people who know say that they can’t really see them, but it doesn’t matter-because I can.

“So I decided I was going to get a really pretty tattoo-something to cover them up. The most of them were on my left arm, so the location choice was easy. I spent weeks designing, critiquing and reworking until I had everything I wanted. It was a beautiful representation, the most lovely piece of artwork I’d ever made. I chose to remind myself that if I am unhappy, I can change. So I made a promise to myself that whenever I was frustrated or I didn’t like the choices I’d made, the situations I was in, I’d move on to something I did love, and that made me happy.

“When I was explaining my choice of design and placement, I picked my words carefully. I wanted to remind myself that life was beautiful. I picked the placement so that I would never self-harm there again. Why? Because I’d worked so hard on that art and destroying it was something I absolutely could never do. The hope and love that it represented were things that simply had to last much longer than the pain of a blade, or the pain on the inside.

“Later that night, as I reflected on what I’d said, I cried. If I could have such reverence for art-why couldn’t I have it for myself? I’ve spend decades becoming the person I am. A piece of art that takes that long is something that should be treasured far more than something that takes a few weeks and yet I’d spend half that time tearing it down, devaluing it and ripping at the very fabric of its creation.

“The thing is, I only let four people know I was getting my tattoo. I told two of them the meaning behind it and I kept the final design a secret from everyone except the artist. I sat down in the chair and when I got up again, the art on the inside was finally reflected on the outside. I keep looking at my arm, not seeing the scars that reminded me of how sad I was, how fragile and full of self-hate I was. Instead, I see hope and the promise I made to myself that unless I can say “I wish for this” to my choices, I have the power to change the situation, the duty to make myself happy, and the courage to be exactly the wonderful artwork of a person that I am.”


With that in mind, I went to work yesterday and my arm was uncovered-so everyone saw. I’m quite frankly very proud of the art, and the meaning and I had no problem telling everyone about it.  I even told them why. And the looks I got back were, well, they were interesting. And that’s what got me thinking.

I wanted to tell them the story of courage and beauty and love–self love. And the reactions were varied-usually some place between a pitying “I understand” or a shocked “I didn’t know that about her”. I’m not upset at either of these, but it made me think about why I was telling people in the first place. I’m not a “sharing” person, but I wanted everyone to know about it. So where was the disconnect?

I was so frank about what I wanted people to know because if no one is going to start the conversation, then I will. And as I said, if that means people give me looks, ask nosy questions or change their opinion of me, then that’s fine. Because maybe it’s the first time they’ve come in contact with these issues-and I want them to know that their preconceived notions might be wrong.

**Disclaimer-my work people are really great. They weren’t judgy or nosy, nor did they look down at me-I’m just saying that those are the reactions I’ve had from others.

 

 

 

 

It’s been a long day.

I’ve spent the last few weeks being less active on social media and more active in the political realm. I’ve learned a lot, been frustrated a bit and gained some clarity. Words are such powerful tools. We use them, we don’t think about it. And you know, that seems awfully silly coming from me. I sit on my pedestal and preach the power in intention and am blown away by the way language is used to convey meaning.

But I want to focus on something that happened in my personal life a week or so ago. Because I’ve been reflecting on it so much.

As a kid, I wasn’t super close with my parents. I loved them, to be sure, as all children do. But I don’t think I appreciated them as much as I do now-which is very typical I think. Anyway, since reaching this weird age, I’ve grown to be more appreciative.

Anyway, cut to last week when I had a break down in front of my dad. How mortifying. I told him that I was struggling, and that I didn’t understand why everything seemed so hard. I told him that I saw how hard he worked and how I thought I was making all the right decisions and still things weren’t working out. And he said to me

You can do all the right things for all the right reasons and things still might not work out. It doesn’t mean you failed, it means you’re not done yet.

As I said, I’ve reflected on that every day. I wrote it down in my bullet journal because it was something I needed to hear.

I get so wrapped up in things that I don’t always see the big picture that I’m wrapped up in. It’s the forest for the trees scenario. I want so much to for things to be balanced. Each time I try to look at the big picture, I ask for just one thing. Not for my life to turn out the way I want, with no worries and no troubles. But for balance. You see, somewhere along the way I decided that for each bad thing that happened, there would be a good thing to counteract it.

So for example, saving money and being responsible instead of partying and splurging should mean that I have money to cover all the bills without being stressed out.

But that’s not how it works. And often times it doesn’t account for emergency situations. And I think that’s why I needed to hear the message above. I’m just not done yet. I have to keep going. And believe me, it’s not something I think about with glee. I’m worn out. I’m exhausted. I want things to be okay.

But I’m not done yet. And that’s okay. I’ve just got to keep fighting and everything will work out.

I suppose this blog today is for my own benefit more than anything else. I know that life is hard. And I know that sometimes you just need a break that you can’t have and that more than anything it’s all about endurance. Taking a moment to make sure you’re okay before you keep pushing forward is important and I know I need to hear that. I’m a give-until-there’s-nothing-left kinda person. I get used up and then I don’t know what to do. So it’s time for me to unlearn that and figure out how to make my own balance.

Scheduling a Breakdown

(I submitted this to The Mighty a couple days ago, but I know they’re busy, so I thought I’d share it here. I’ll snag the link if/when it goes live. Until then, you can find my articles here.)

It seems like the minute I have a hundred things to do, my brain decides it’s the perfect time for a breakdown. Even though I have no time for it, it’s not convenient and I really don’t want to think about all the things my depression brain focuses on, I find myself doing all of those things instead of my full calendar. So I’ve put together a list of things that help me put a pin in my symptoms momentarily so I can finish up a few things.

1. Set aside time for yourself.
Trust me, as someone who understands all about
procrastinating, this can seem like both an obvious thing and an impossible
thing to do. But I’m talking about a five minute break here or there. Drink
your cup of coffee, slowly. Smell the steam, watch your creamer swirl in the
cup. Live the experience fully. Go get the mail. Do you hear any crickets? The
sound of ice crunching beneath your feet? This little break reminds you to catch
a little perspective and maybe distract you long enough to work through it.

2. Let yourself be upset.
Telling yourself that you’re not that upset only makes you worse. If you
absolutely can’t be upset-do math. It can be simple, like 1+1, 2+2 and so on.
As it turns out, your brain doesn’t like feeling emotions and doing math at the
same time, so you can usually stall your tears for a moment. But if you have
the ability, just be upset. Again, it can be a little five minute moment in
which you feel like the world is crashing around you and all hope is gone. I
ugly cry, take a tissue and blow my nose then get up and grab some water. I’m
not saying I’m done being upset, but if I let myself be upset in little bits,
then it doesn’t come out in a marathon. It’s your right to be upset. Even if
you don’t think there’s a reason. The way you’re feeling is completely valid.

3. Find something you wanna smile about.
I hate the advice “just turn that frown upside
down”. Sometimes that’s the absolute last thing I want to do-and even then it
just makes me angrier, or cry harder. But what I’m talking about is finding
something that you know you enjoy and experience it. If you think penguin’s
laughing is cute-find a video (I think it’s fantastic). If you know you smile
when you make chicken parmesan, make it. Like bubble baths? Take one. Because
finding something to enjoy usually results in some kind of self-care and let’s
be honest-is that ever a bad thing?

4. Take a deep breath.
This isn’t a novel idea, but it’s important.
Your whole body needs oxygen to function. Your brain is absolutely no
different. Think about how hard your brain is working, trying to manage
everything, fix problems (especially the ones you’re worrying about “for
nothing”). You need air. Plus, if you take a moment and focus on your
breathing, sometimes you’ll find that you already knew the answer to the
problems, you were just so focused on everything all at once that you didn’t
notice.
While you’re breathing, try this little
exercise. Take one breath in and list five things you see. Breathe out. Take
another breath and list four things you hear. Breathe out. Take one more breath
and list three things you smell. Breathe out. One more breath and list two
things you can feel. Breathe out. Take another breath and list one thing you
can taste. Breathe out. Take another breath and carry on about your day.

5. Get a validation outfit.
This is one of my favorite things, and it
happened completely on accident. I got a sweatshirt a couple sizes too big and
washed it and decided that I would only wear it when I felt like a terrible
person. I told myself that while I was wearing it, I wasn’t allowed to degrade
myself. The shirt itself has a graphic about always loving yourself, so I
thought I’d wear it when I needed a reminder that I’m not a monster, and that I
matter. It hangs in my closet until I feel depressed, or feel worthless and
then I put it on and read the words. And when the thoughts popped into my head
like “I’m an idiot.” Or “I’m unlovable.” I look at the words on my shirt and
force myself to take ten seconds to say something nice about myself. “I am
fierce. I am valid. I am irreplaceable.” The nice thing about validation
outfits? They can be anything: a business suit, a pair of shoes, earrings, a
bracelet, a pair of socks. The important thing is to remember to love yourself.
Soon enough, it’ll be your favorite piece of clothing.

Life is hectic and hard sometimes. But the important
thing to remember is that you can do it-even when you’re convinced you can’t.

These Days Are Ours

Hey all! I’m in the process of moving and as I’m sure you can all relate to-that means I’m busy, a bit frazzled and somewhat lost in time. Today’s thoughts aren’t a lecture per se, nor are they really anything more than just my thoughts. But they’re good’uns and it’s about one of my favorite topics: self-care!

I came across a note I’d saved in my phone and was blown away by my younger self. The date on it was 27 June 2015 and it reads like this:

I’m glad I’m heavier than who I was. It teaches me to be better: to redefine myself every day. I’m glad I threw out that damn dress, because it teaches me that I don’t need to be blonde to be beautiful. I’m glad I change my mind every time I change my mood. It teaches me to be flexible. I’m glad I’m not the girl I used to be. It teaches me that all things change and I must learn to adapt. I don’t have to have everything in the world. I just need to be me. I know some days I’m going to be so depressed I can barely move (and maybe a lot of those days) and some days I will stay awake for hours and be manic (and maybe I’ll be super productive). But I’ve been looking for reasons why I can’t improve my life. I stress about money, I stress about life. So now, I have some things that are going to happen.

I go on to list about a dozen things which I wanted to accomplish in the upcoming year. I managed to get about a third accomplished. But I’m not here to talk about the list.

I could not possibly have known all of the changes which were coming to me this past year. But it coincides with an event that happened yesterday and I thought that it was pretty nifty serendipity.

I send all my packages to my parents’ place because that is the only place that mail is reliable. And I hadn’t picked up my mail since about Christmas. I got my mail yesterday and opened it. I had a bunch of clothes I’d ordered, but hadn’t needed immediately.

I fall into the trap of thinking that I can wait for things. I delay so long that I usually talk myself out of the purchases with sentences like “Oh, well, now it’s not on sale.” or “I’ll buy it when I lose fifteen pounds.” And I neglect myself. I tell myself that I don’t need to buy clothes because the ones I have are still functional. I use my electronics until they can no longer function at all. And I’m proud of that. I feel that I am incredibly thrifty.

But I splurge on other people. I delight in being the one who looks completely together, completely giving. People from my first job can attest that if I had the ability, I would drive from my house to the nearest Starbucks (a 35 minute drive) at 6AM to pick everyone up a drink. And I love looking at people who receive my birthday presents. I love it all. I crave those moments.

But I deny them to myself.

Why would I do that? Why would I abuse myself and neglect myself when I put so much value in others?

The long and short answer? I’m still learning how to love myself.

I know that’s a story that a lot of people can relate to. It’s not something that our society values. The line between self-care and narcissism is muddled. Self-care is preached to people with medical conditions, to nursing students, to a variety of people. But it is often the people who are doing the preaching who lack the ability to fulfill their words in their own lives.

That’s so sad.

As I’m going through my stuff, in order to pack it up or recycle it in some way, I realized I was holding on to a lot of baggage with my possessions. I have a great giant pile of “If i lose X amount of weight, I can wear this.” I have a stack of “If these conditions are met, I’ll use this.” and the occasional “I don’t want to get rid of this because I got it from blah.” But all that translates to one basic thing: I’m holding on to this because I’m not happy enough to let it go. My husband can attest-since coming to that realization, I bagged up 6 bags of stuff and got rid of it. Clothes that were too small, too big, too old. Knick knacks that I’d held on to for the sake of holding on to are gone.

Sometimes loving yourself means giving yourself the same luxuries you give other people. Sometimes loving yourself means cutting yourself loose from unnecessary burdens.

Just a thought for today. See you all soon!

 

Aftermath

Self-care is a topic I’m pretty annoyingly new to. And the sad thing is, I think there are people here who are in the same boat. It’s one of those things that you think “BUT OF COURSE” when someone explains it, but you never think about it until then. And it can also be one of those things that grips you tight and raise you from depression (or mania, as the case may be). I know that I’ve been unusually quiet this last week, and I must say that it was for my own good. I’ve mentioned it to a couple people privately, but I absolutely needed to focus on some self-care this week and although I’m far from the end of needing it, I at least want to get some thoughts put down. All about the story, after all.

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It’s not funny, but I guess it’s more ironic than anything-the fall from happy. I usually know when it’s coming, I can feel it like I can feel a cold coming on. I’ll slowly lose interest in an activity, become more and more tired for no reason, desire to seclude myself. And then just as I’m prepared to fight my way to the top, depression sets in like a fog. It is that cycle that I have come to expect my entire life. It is the time when I am the most creative, but lack the desire to create. It’s a million conflicts, a thousand contradictions.

I’ve ALWAYS been a high-functioning depressive. During my largest, most deeply depressed state I was spiraling out of control and no one even knew. My grades didn’t slip (I had a 4.0 all the way until my last semester of my senior year-that’s why I hate calculus. It brought me down to a 3.98.) I was involved in every creative activity I could be involved in and I thrived. But I was dead inside. Completely and utterly dead inside. I wrote a 75K word book in one month followed by a 50K word book the month after and another one the month after that. I was self-harming, I was in the middle of switching from bulimia to anorexia, I was a zombie. And not one person would have ever guessed it.

I grew used to depression. It seemed to be my “default setting” (which is what I call it) and it was something I knew how to work through. So imagine my surprise when there were no warning signs, no subtle hints and one day bam!

color fade

It literally hit just like that. I was fine, I was happy and then by that evening I was crying on the couch (and by crying I mean sobbing in the ugliest, most desperate way) because I couldn’t find the light in the dark. I became a reflection of the lost girl I had been in high school-broken, confused and desperate. I watched the world shift to grey (I see the world in higher amounts of color and their hues when I exit depression. I can literally watch the colors fade when I get depressed.)

I texted one of my friends the words:

I know that I cannot possibly do all the good I want to if I neglect myself…It’s hard, but I know I’m not alone…I’m trying to find my path in the dark.

And that’s really when I knew I needed to retreat and regroup. So that’s exactly what I did. I’m not here to tell you that I’ve made a full recovery. I’m not even here to tell you that I’m back to myself. I’m merely stopping by to tell you all that as long as there is breath left in me, I will not die while I yet live. I will say though, I believe that I am out of the worst of it and that I do know that I have a plan in place for such a time as this and there is no need to worry. I may be slow to regaining my blogging pace, but I will return, as I always do.

My Own Version

When I was little(r), my dad told me that I shouldn’t dye my hair because it was bad for me. I told him that it was my hair, and that if he didn’t like it, he didn’t have to wear it everyday. I look back at that and laugh. I was so stubborn, so convinced that I knew what was right for myself that I resorted to a simplistic sort of logic.

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(I’m the one with her mouth wide flipping open haha.) I went to prom that year as Cinderella. Literally. But while we’re looking, quick shout out to my beautiful friend: Amber for putting up with me since we were chill’uns. This is literally one of my favorite pictures from high school.

Anyway, I don’t want to flood this post with nostalgic pictures of me, but darn it, my hair looked so great in high school. Look:

See? I really did go as Cinderella. And the bottom right is my favorite picture. The top right is what happened after I dyed it again.

I’ve always done things my own way. Even if that means that I gather some really negative feedback. My hair was literally the most rebellious thing I have ever done. I have never done drugs, I didn’t taste champagne until I was 17 (from my parents’s glass at a wedding) and I didn’t have my first glass of wine until a week after my 21st birthday. I didn’t drive illegally, I almost always made curfew and I basically stayed out of trouble and did homework. But I needed to express myself the only way I knew how: artistically.

I’ve been in college since January 2012. I will be done in May 2020 (with ALL my schooling) and I have to say, since I started school and had jobs, I’ve been pretty much plain.I go to class, I go to work, my clothes grow more “professional” each year and a little less “punk-grunge-emo”. I’ve added weight when I added classes and I grow more “adult” with each passing day. But I crave the way I used to feel. Indestructible, flawless, powerful. I had problems. I was a little caterpillar struggling to fit in my cocoon. But I knew I just had to emerge and be beautiful. And now I struggle for the fierce me that I used to be.

So the thing is, I put off taking “care’ of myself for the future, when I regain control of my life. I’ll buy new clothes when I lose weight. I’ll get that tattoo I’ve been talking about for years when I graduate. I’ll work out more right after this stomach flu/period cycle/bad day is over. And suddenly I’ve reached the point where the out-of-control feeling is starting to look like I controlled myself right out of the life I wanted. I talk about self-care a bit, and I mean every word. But I guess I always interpret it as physical or emotional care. But mental and material care are really important too.

I always tell myself that I can’t do what I want because it will cost me something in the future. I can’t get my tattoos because no employer will hire me. I can’t keep piercing my ears for the same reason. I can’t be unprofessional because I won’t be as valued by society.

And then I thought about how many stupid times a day I stand in my own way. I literally control myself to the point that I have become an abusive relationship WITH MYSELF.No wonder I wake up spiraling because I feel trapped!

Here’s the most recent picture of me. Notice the rounder face, the longer hair that is basically the most natural color I’ve had since I was in 8th grade. (Doing my civic duty, no less!)

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This story does have one perk though!

Although I feel oftentimes that life is pushing me into the mainstream adulting model, I know that it’s not the end of the world. And if more people take what I have to say seriously, then I will keep my straight-laced, no shenanigans me. Because I know that I will change the world, I just haven’t gotten there yet.

Maybe this summer will find me with carefree hair and hair chalk. Maybe I’ll keep the long hair and just work out or something. At the end of the day, it just matters that I love the person I am-regardless of the consequences. Maybe I’ve just been scared to not love myself enough. And that must change. I have to regain my ability to do things my own way or risk losing the fabulous person I’ve worked so hard to become.

The Signs Life Gives You

I had the absolute delight of speaking with a most beloved professor this week, and she helped (as always) put me back on track. I walked into her office, knowing full well that I really had no idea what I needed to talk about, but that I needed someone to hear me. I knew she was a source of great insight in the past, and that I hoped she would bring me the clarity that I so desperately needed. I feel like I need to get her something really nice when I graduate. Seriously. I literally walked into her office, cried for half our meeting and then ranted the other half. Anyway, she and I were discussing how the world I live in seems so different than the one I exist in everyday. I told her about the way in which my assignment turned into a fervent search for the truth, and my life’s destiny. She listened without hesitation, even when I had no words to use. She spoke to me with kindness about self-care and burning out of a career because you aren’t emotionally prepared for the repercussions, as well as dealing with the weight of other people’s stories. I came out of her office not only knowing myself a little better, but being thankful I didn’t decide to cancel on her today because I felt anxious that I didn’t know what to say.

I’d asked her about coming in to see her last week, when I was convinced that I knew what I needed to talk about. I told her that I needed some “life advice” and she told me she was free on Tuesday. I made an appointment, figured it was great and then the closer we got to Tuesday, the mroe I thought that perhaps I was making a mistake. I knew the week I’d been having, I knew that I was far too charged for my own good, and that perhaps I needed to just find a way to sort it out myself. That’s what being an adult is, right? Figuring out your answers by yourself? Turns out, that ideology is really stupid. Yes, you should try to make your own way in life. And yes, you should want to try to find the answers. But sometimes you are just too close to the problem. Sometimes you need to take a step back and ask someone who’s been there, and done that if you’re on the right track. The “Double Check” method. 

I find so often that I am surrounded by professors who have grown embittered by their jobs, their lack thereof or just the length of time that they have been doing the same thing day in and day out. And I understand. Anyone who has ever experienced “senioritis” understands. But she’s different. This professor isn’t bitter, isn’t malicious, and above all, she treats me as a real person with real problems and concerns. And I value that. I picked her, because well, to be honest, I didn’t. Life did. Do you ever feel that at some points in your life, you just stumble across a person who changes your outlook, like a gift from the universe as if to say:

I know you’re struggling, but if you let them, they will light your way.

And I love it when that happens. I don’t want to take advantage of her or anything, that is so not my intention. But I want to glean all I can from her, to make myself the best I can be. And the message was loud and clear.

Michelle, you need to focus on some self-care. You spend so much of your time worrying about the things in the world you want to change that you’ve saved so little love for yourself. It’s not good for you, or the people you want to help.

This year, the universe keeps reminding me of that. Over and over, subtly or straightforward. “Self-care”. I’ve discussed it with friends, I’ve seen it in passing on my Facebook feed, and now I’m hearing it more directly. So what am I not doing?

Well, more than just words, the universe has a way of getting my attention. This entire week I’ve had stomach problems. I feel so tired, so out of it and not myself. Okay, body, I’m listening. And I think maybe I’ve neglected myself a lot lately.

I met with my oldest, most wonderful friend yesterday and realized that the words which were ever so prevalent before could not be ignored any longer. And as I sat there, listening to her tell the story of her nursing program, her troubles during the semester and having her in turn listen to mine, I realized something further. Self-care doesn’t have to be alone-care. Human beings are social creatures and that means taking the time to gather those who mean the most to you and helping them to help you.

My point today isn’t to list all the ways I have let myself down. My point today is to tell others, through my struggle that they too need to look into their own lives and make sure the universe isn’t trying to tell you that you’re missing out on the best you that you can be. 

Is your health poor? Maybe you need to see a doctor.

Are your eating habits not good? Maybe you need to reexamine them. 

Need to take that mental health day? Do it.

Need to forgive yourself for a mistake? Do that ASAP.

Have you needed life advice? Spiritual guidance? Now’s the time.

Need to let someone in? That’s a great idea.

You are beautiful, you are worth it. And so am I.