Tag Archives: personal struggles

A Non-Moms View of Mother’s Day

My mother is fantastic!  I owe so many of the fabulous things that I am and have to her!  It has always been a blessing to call her mom and I’m so happy to celebrate her – today and every day. The truth, however, is that Mother’s Day is difficult and painful for me… because I am not a mom and never will be.

My beautiful mother!
My purty mother!

 

Mother’s Day is beautiful, and I always enjoy hearing the wonderful things friends and family share about the special women in their lives.  None of us would be here without a mom of our own – whether biological, extended family, adopted, chosen or unknown.  There are so many types of mothers in the world and a woman who has raised or nurtured a child in any way is an amazing sight to behold.  They multitask; practice phenomenal amounts of grace; act as caretaker, doctor, cook, maid, teacher, moral compass, friend, disciplinarian, cheerleader, counselor… The list, frankly, is too long to fit in a single post.  Suffice it to say – it’s an incredible job and undertaking!

Mothering has got to be the most difficult job!
Mothering has to be the most difficult job – mine excels at it!

 

However, every year when we celebrate and recognize that fantastic group of women – deservedly – there is a different group of women that suffer in silence.  These are the women that, for one reason or another,  should be mothers but are not.  These are the women that never found a mate to start a family with, endured miscarriages, experienced the pain of infertility, were dealt a life of poor health, are estranged from their children, were unable to adopt, or have given up their child into adoption.  These are women that had a family and lost their children through a divorce… Women that lost a child who ran away, was in an accident, was a victim of crime. These women *should* be mothers, but for myriad reasons are not.

I am one of these women.

“Mother”…  At one point, I couldn’t even say the word without a pang of desperation.  Each time I logged on to social media and looked at my friend’s adorable offspring, I had to quickly scroll past their pictures or run the risk of bursting into tears.  I wrote blog posts about the struggle.  Commercials, TV shows, movies, or families spending time together at the park or a festival I was attending, could send my emotions into a tailspin, and still sometimes do.  I recall painful Mother’s Day church services, hearing the pastor ask mothers to stand and be recognized, only to feel humiliated and empty, like less of a female, surrounded by all of the standing women in the motherhood club…  At times, I’ve held an infant or child in my motherless arms simultaneously being pulled in two directions – half of me honored and rejoicing with the parent letting me hold their precious baby… the other half ripping apart inside knowing that cuddly moment was fleeting and would end with me walking away as barren and childless as I was walking into the situation.  Just writing about it now brings tears to my eyes.

I know parenting isn’t easy and that there are probably times at least some wonder what in the hell they were getting themselves into.  I know individuals and couples that actively choose not to parent, for various reasons.  Still other men and women aren’t meant to parent or are not capable, and knowing that, give their child into adoption so that someone else may provide a life for it…  All people, at some point in their lives, question whether they should or should not have a family and I respect whatever decision they come to in their circumstances.  Please, just understand that it’s difficult for some of us because the decision may not have fully been in our control…

If I don’t come out on a play date with you and your children, it’s not because I don’t love you guys or want you to include me in your lives… If you’re talking about your kids and my eyes look a little red or my smile seems forced, it’s not because I’m not interested in hearing the stories you have to tell.  If you post a picture on social media and I don’t leave a comment or click “like”, it’s not that your family isn’t cute and worthy of a minute of my time.  No matter how I know you – I’m happily your friend, neighbor, family member, or colleague, and long to share in your life and the lives of the youngsters you adore… Just know that some days it’s more difficult to accept my situation, but despite that,  I don’t want you to stop sharing with me!  There are moments that the sting is a little sharper, but it has nothing to do with you – I promise!  Sometimes, my mommy instinct flag is just flying higher than usual.  On those days, there is a lump in my throat, an ache in my chest, and a noticeable emptiness to my arms merely because on Mother’s Day, and every other day, I simply long to be a part of your ranks.

me & mom vols game
I owe so much to this lovely woman!

 

Please be kind to one another, and please love all women in your life today!

Until next time – thanks for coming along on my journey…
~h

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shaken – not stirred

light is gone
nimble fingers of darkness
chase its rushed retreat
leaving me

     no will
     no hope
     no breath
     no life

drenched in tears
and i am
stripped to the bone
peeled back
the layers of

     my mask
     my childhood
     my insecurities

     my love….

and all of the other waste
rises to the surface
waiting to be sloughed off
detritus of my soul

shaken – not stirred

~h

© 2016 findfocus.wordpress.com, Heather M. Tolley, All Rights Reserved

Words of the Past This Wednesday — Poetry From Years Ago

I’ve been working on new posts but have neglected to finish any recently. With that in mind, I went back to some old poems and pulled a few out that caught my eye for one reason or another.  I’m rather undecided about whether or not I think they’re “good”, but still, there is something about most of them that appeals to me.  Here is an untitled piece that is at least 15 years old… Hope you enjoy!

full moon

Closing sunset’s door
night creeps in without offering a candle.
Imprisoning me with the stench of desperation…
it wraps its charred fingers around my throat
and chokes out any hint of light
remaining in my dismal room.

Lulling me with its siren song
the twilight offers a flicker – a flame.
Through the warped and greasy lens of age
I glimpse one last vestige of an ambient dawn
exultant and guileless –
like cartwheels in the sun…

The mirage falters and fades
burning my retinas for the briefest moment
in its glorious jubilation.
And then night returns –
creeping into each far corner
and extinguishing the beacon of my memory
leaving cold oppression
in this claustrophobic room.

 

~h

 

 

© 2016 findfocus.wordpress.com, Heather M. Tolley, All Rights Reserved

No Solicitation

This incessant noise, thoughtless chatter
is so abysmally abrasive…
It peels the soft insulation off this
pasteurized conversation.
It’s probably ‘a drop in the bucket’,
just a whisper in the void…
If you change your angle, change your tune
evasive action is deployed.

Lower your standard, raise your octave
– stutter “once upon a time” –
When you close your eyes to the greed of need
it’s bound to feel sublime.
Why trouble yourself with a quiet plea
from a desperate, vagrant voice?
Your memoirs are much too important, you know,
and your ignorance more so a choice.

So you stuff your face with the vestiges of
compassion you claim to purport.
Consumer lives are flashy – the rage –
buy the t-shirt to show your support.
Never notice my pain or my silent tears
is this how meaningful I should be?
My words packed away – they’ve no power here…
That voice that you stifled was me.

No solicitation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

~h

This is My Body on Exercise… Or, Risks of Exertion as an ME/CFS Patient

When there are days you have to sit down to rest after taking a shower, exercise can prove next to impossible. It can really be a pain in the… well, it’s painful. We’ll just leave it at that for now.

ffacd0264c073d8bc7c4ce5a70f46cd3
Exercise is important to a healthy lifestyle and a healthy body.  It can lift spirits, provide immunity support, strengthen and tone, and keep everything in good working order… But what happens if exertion is the very thing that makes your body sicker?  The thing that is capable of completely incapacitating you?  Welcome to living in a body run by ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis / chronic fatigue syndrome).  This is my nightmare.

Before I got sick, I belonged to a local gym and enjoyed going 4-5 times a week.  There was a yoga class I loved, a spin class I was finally getting good at, weights that were toning muscles I had forgotten were there, and a cardio room that I used to meet my sister-in-law in so we could use the elliptical machines together.  It wasn’t always easy to go and sometimes I skipped, but I tried to make make it a priority on my schedule.

Fast forward to the present.  My body has undergone quite a few changes in the passing years.  Harboring several different health issues and a humdinger of a coupla chronic illnesses, the gym has become a thing of the past.  Almost like a fairy tale I made up to amuse myself.  It’s been almost seven years since my ME/CFS diagnosis, and a couple of those have felt like the longest years of my life.

What most people don’t understand is how I can usually look fine on the outside while saying I’m so sick on the inside.  Typically, I look pretty healthy.  A little tired, perhaps.  Certainly carrying more weight than I should and than I used to… In general, however, I look like your neighbor or your sister or someone you would pass at your gym.  Meanwhile, the inside of my body is a wreck.  And one of the main things unseen is how it can take every bit of energy I have to make you believe I feel as well as I look.  *sigh*  It’s something of a curse, at times, because people with ME/CFS have to spend a great deal of time trying to convince people that they really are illEven though some are extremely ill.

A bad day with my puppy protector. I could not handle any outside noise that day so I had to wear ear plugs, my head was pounding so I was using an ice pack, but my body temperature was lower than normal and wouldn't regulate, so I was covered with two blankets. *sigh*
A bad day with my puppy protector. I couldn’t handle much noise that day so I was wearing earplugs, my head was pounding, hence the ice pack, but my body temperature was lower than normal and wouldn’t regulate, so I also had two blankets covering me. *sigh*

 

Please believe that I am not lazy!  I wish my body was cooperative.  I wish I could exercise like people tell me I should.  The truth is, everything goes haywire if I push too hard.  If you have to sit and rest after washing a sink of dishes, you’re probably not at your healthiest… And while I am MUCH healthier than severe ME/CFS patients, it’s nowhere near the person I was.  (For an absolutely heartbreaking look at what severe ME/CFS can look like, please read this recent article from The Washington Post about Whitney Dafoe.)  Some patients can’t leave their homes – others are confined to their beds.  It’s a blessing not to be stuck in bed, and a continuous source of gratitude to know I am not housebound.  I walk as often as possible, manage to work 20 hours a week, and still have enough energy at times to go out with friends and family to a movie or restaurant.  Heck, when all the stars are perfectly aligned, I might even manage a short hike!

hiking boots

 

What I would ask you to know, however, is that it comes at a price.  When a reasonably fit, healthy person hits the trails or goes for a run they might have sore muscles after an intense workout, but they can get back out and do it again within a day or two.  For someone living with ME/CFS, exertion of any kind (physical, mental, emotional) can lead to days, weeks or even months of recovery time.  In some cases, overexertion is the reason a mild or moderately ill patient ends up permanently bedridden.  It’s a terrifying tightrope to walk.  Never knowing what a few extra minutes of walking might do.  Never knowing if too much housework in a day will put you in bed for weeks.  Living under that black cloud of uncertainty is its own form of mental exhaustion.  My body doesn’t react to activity like it should.  Sometimes walking from the bedroom to the kitchen causes such oxygen deprivation that I have to lean against the counter until my breath comes normally again.  There are days I may manage to get to a hiking trail, only to discover a quarter-mile in that my heartbeat has become increasingly erratic, that I’m staggering because my equilibrium is way off, or that my body temperature won’t regulate and I’m sweating profusely despite the cold or shivering despite the heat.  I’ll confess – there are times I’ve had to sit down in the aisle of a store or abandon a cart full of groceries simply because my legs became so weak that I couldn’t stand anymore.  It has come down to making the decision to finish a task or have enough strength to drive home.  It’s frightening to be okay one moment and find yourself helpless the next… Every system of my body revolts, sometimes at a moment’s notice, and there is nothing I can do but ride it out.  So many random symptoms might attack – chest pains, missed heartbeats, brain fog – just to name a few…  There are so many severe potential risks to being active that, if I’m not having a good day to begin with, it really isn’t worth taking a chance.

Other times, however, I do risk it.  To enjoy the outdoors, to feel like I have a life, to maintain some independence… I tell you all these things so you know the effort and energy it takes, and so you can be a bit gentle with me, or anyone else you know with ME/CFS.  I would also ask, however, that you remember sometimes we dare to dream… we dare to take the chance.  There are some things in life that are worth it.  By asking you to understand, I’m saying you’re probably one of them..  🙂

 

One of my favorite things to do when there *is* leftover energy is to get outside and hit the trails.
One of my favorite things to do when there *is* leftover energy is to get outside and hit the trails.

 

 

As always, thank you for reading!
~h

 

The Memories are Thick Today

It’s only fitting that you would be on my mind this weekend.  There’s a HUGE movie premiere today – Star Wars: The Force Awakens – so it makes sense… Movies were, after all, the thing that brought us together, as we bonded over shared favorites and new recommendations during work at a video store.  As a matter of fact, the first several times we went anywhere outside of work revolved around movies.  Even years after we split up and went our separate ways, movies were a shared interest that would forever keep us friends.

So today, like so many other times over the past two years, a single thought keeps going through my head:  It isn’t fair that you aren’t here now.

That thought revisits often and some days it’s particularly difficult to swallow…  You would have been one of the first people I know to buy tickets for the new Star Wars film.  I felt like I should have been at the front of the line for the first showing at the best theater in town out of loyalty to your memory.   The first gift you ever gave me was your box set of the original Star Wars trilogy in “letterbox”, because I only had episode one.  We stood and had a heated discussion about the difference in widescreen ratios and which episode was the best, so it was a nerd connection from the beginning. I can still remember, in fact, standing in line years later each time the original three movies were re-released in the theaters (1997?), hoping to get the right seats in the audio “sweet spot“.   We did that for most big blockbuster releases for years, if possible, and had the process down to a science.  A huge portion of my movie memories involve you in some way, and I can’t walk into many theaters without smiling as I hear the phrase “buttery toots” run through my mind.  haha!

josh massey pensive copy

 

There are too many things you didn’t get to do before you were gone.  Too many new movies, like The Forces Awakens, that you didn’t get to see.  Moments you didn’t get to share.  Carter just got married, you know.. and you really should be around to celebrate.  Jen changed her Facebook profile picture to an older shot of the two of you in Hawaii recently and it’s lovely…  Speaking of Facebook, Kim posts new pictures of Alex every couple of weeks and you wouldn’t believe how much she’s grown!!  She’s so beautiful!  She misses you, I’m sure…  They all do.  They deserve you around.   And it makes me so angry sometimes that you’re not here.  One of those moments in life that seems so unjust.  So unfair.

It’s only fitting, I suppose, that you would be on my mind this weekend due to the premiere.  How was I to know, however, that you would also come to mind because I discovered your grandfather passed away yesterday… He was such a unique and wonderful person and one of your best friends.  I heard the news this morning and my heart broke a little because I always considered him family.  He was not the same when I saw him at your funeral and I’m glad that’s not the memory that comes to mind when I think of him.  Instead, I see him laughing at a joke the two of you are sharing over a family meal at your mother’s house.  I see him animated and engaged discussing a story or memory he is sharing.  I see the two of you hugging each other before making plans for your next get together.   He’s headed your way now, so I hope you’ve got a chessboard set up and ready to play…

What part of Ninja didn't you understand?

I don’t talk about you much anymore – our lives took different paths before you were gone and most  people I see didn’t know you well enough to chat about  memories of you.  You’re still on my mind, however, at random moments or when some odd thing reminds me of you.  Like a Danny Elfman song on any soundtrack new or old.  Or when a movie or video game comes out I know you would flip over.  Sometimes I’ll be looking at t-shirts and see an image or joke that is exactly your brand of humor… or hear a song that you used to repeat over and over just to  get it stuck in my head (“doo-doo, doo doo doo doo, mahna mahna”).   Thank you for those memories.  For those moments that are now more dear simply because they were so finite in nature.  Those things still occasionally have the power to make me sad, but mostly they make me smile.  Smile because I was so blessed to know you.  Smile because I know you lived every moment of every day to the fullest with no regrets.  Smile because you were one of the best friends I’ve ever had…

It will probably be a bit bittersweet waiting to file into the theater to see the new Star Wars movie, but I know I’ll be smiling when the phrase “buttery toots” go through my mind.   Thank you for that…  🙂
in memory of Josh and his wonderful GPa, Jimmie

 

~h

 

 

Choose Kindness & Compassion This Season

Don't Confuse Bad Days for Weakness

Pain has a language all its own.  Pain and suffering mark time differently. Pain is voracious and consuming.  Pain comes in many shapes and forms.

Do you ever struggle with pain?  Not just the physical kind – although that can definitely stop you in your tracks!  I mean “pain” in general. Physical, mental, emotional… Each type is equally draining in a way.  Equally clarifying to an extent.  And each takes a toll on the person wearing it around day after day.

I’ve been thinking about suffering quite a bit today.  Marveling at the way it is able to barge in and command the attention of the most seasoned warrior.  Considering the capability it has to lay waste to all things bright and shining in a person’s life.  In any of its forms and afflictions, pain can potentially devour the stoutest heart…

The past few days have been an arduous test of inner strength and coping for me.  My pain scale is out of whack compared to the norm, I think, so I won’t try to assign it a number.  Let’s just say it has been ‘up there’.  It’s nothing new and certainly something I’m usually adept at dealing with, but now and then it manages to make me want to stop in my tracks and curl up on the floor.  That is typically the case when I’m in pain AND my empathy meter is in the red as I watch someone I care about suffering in their own private misery.

Having what is considered an “invisible illness“, I’m used to looking one way on the outside and feeling the complete opposite within.  It’s actually a challenge I accept daily to put on a brave face and downplay my pain or symptom flares.  Wearing that mask may not always be the best choice as it makes it more difficult for people to understand when the cracks start showing… They thought everything was fine – I seemed like I felt okay!  It also increases the ‘invisibility’ sometimes.

 

don't look sick

 

People are fearlessly and tirelessly inconsiderate when lacking in proper information and understanding.  There are a lot things that chronically ill people don’t want to hear – believe me, I’ve heard them all – but when you mask pain all the time, I guess it goes without saying that sometimes others won’t know anything at all about the private war being waged inside.

I’ve been in a lot of pain lately… although most people probably haven’t noticed anything amiss.  I prefer to keep it that way, for the most part, but I can’t help but want to reach out healing hands to all the other people I know in similar situations even when I know they’re trying to hide behind a carefully constructed façade of “FINE”.  I have loved ones struggling daily with physical ailments, psychological anguish, mental illness… They each go through bouts of misery and torment and I would offer them all a restorative potion if I could.  This post isn’t about that, however. It’s about something much smaller in the grand scheme of things.

This post is about the responsibility we each have to offer support and healing to those around us.

There is so much negativity and hate in the world.  Everyone you see is dealing with some sort of struggle that has probably taken root in the center of their lives – consuming, ravaging them from the inside out.  Just because you can’t see someone’s anguish does not mean that it is not there.  Just because you have struggles and trials of your own does not absolve you from being considerate of others marching along in their own grief and pain.

I’m not here to judge.  But please remember that not all disabilities are visible to the naked eye.  Not all pain is readily ascertained on a scale of 1 to 10…. And, unfortunately, not all hurts are healed with a kiss and a Band-Aid.  Although that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

My challenge to you, during this most festive and generous season of the year, is to reach out to someone who might need a friend.  Someone that might need a shoulder to cry on, a companion to sit with, a confidante to vent to, or a caring hand to carry their groceries to the car.  Take time to assess your own needs and care for yourself, absolutely!  But bless yourself further by taking a moment to be the light in someone else’s day, as well.  What may seem a small gift to you could be the greatest present of all in their eyes, and just because you are not aware of the impact of your actions doesn’t mean you shouldn’t choose them with care and compassion each day.

And if *you* are the one that has been beaten down to the point of lying curled up on the floor, please remember that people love you.  People care.  There are those that would give whatever they have to bring you joy and relief.  But most of all, remember that YOU are stronger than you give yourself credit for.  I don’t have to know you to say that I believe in you… and I hope you won’t give up the fight.

i can do it

 

~h

Know What I Meme?

Do you enjoy seeing a funny meme pop up on your social media thread?  Reading a meaningful one, perhaps, that inspires or challenges you?  On the off-chance that you’re not familiar with what a “meme” is (Don, I’m looking at you!), let me give you a quick introduction.  A meme (rhymes with team) is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”.  The most common modern example is in the form of internet memes – usually funny, cute images with a witty saying or quote.  They’re engaging and entertaining, and occasionally they offer a more in-depth observation about life and the human condition.

A close friend of mine posted a meme on social media yesterday and it has been on my mind ever since.  It expresses the fear that people don’t actually like you and just tolerate you hoping you’ll leave them alone.  (Notice I said a close friend posted this.  If they find their way here and read this, I have to urge them — please know you have no reason to fear.  You are genuinely cared about – not merely tolerated – and an asset and joy to many!)

"I havea a massive fear that no one actually likes me, rather everyone is just politely tolerating me hoping I will leave them alone."

What was instantly ironic for me, upon seeing this meme, is that I had recently expressed a very similar fear in more traditional communication.  It’s something many people might think but don’t necessarily say.   Either way, the words with this image portray a deeply guarded secret I’ve carried in my heart for a long time.

Most of my acquaintances would probably agree I’m fairly positive and try to keep an upbeat attitude.  Those that know me more substantially, however, are aware that sometimes that face is an act.  I am embarrassingly sensitive, and that sensitivity, in fact, can breed and amplify negative things…  There are days I struggle with depression and crippling insecurities that necessitate wearing a public persona so no one knows the things I keep inside.   Days when my faith wavers and bends like grass in the wind.  Try as I might, I can’t always keep the fears at bay… One of the greatest of which, is that I am not only unloved but that I am, in fact, unlovable.

Positivity has not always been easy for me.  When younger, I was actually quite abusive to myself.  Self-deprecation was a foreign language I studied and mastered (and still speak to this day), and I would continually compare myself to unrealistic beauty standards (which I still manage to do).  I was also physically cruel to myself in this pattern of self-destructive.  My eating habits were not normal and I would briefly deny myself food as a form of self-control and discipline… and perhaps the worst – I went through a period of time when I self-harmed.  I was a “cutter”.

There’s still enough shame in admitting that fact that I almost want to delete most of the last paragraph.  Part of my mind whispers, however, that perhaps the admission will help someone else one day so I should leave it out there for people to see.

amazing how much long sleeves and a fake smile can hide

“Cutting” typically involves making scratches or cuts on your body with some sort of sharp object until you bleed…  I’m sure several people close to me know I went through a couple of difficult times and still bear a few scars as witness.  To the great majority this will be a surprise, though, as I took great pains to hide the fact and my smile stayed fairly constant on my “public” face.  Those who have never had this sort of tendency may not ever understand.  To people who have self-harmed, self-medicated or engaged in any other self-destructive behavior, I probably don’t need to explain any further.  For me, it was a way to deal with all of the things I had no control over – such as feeling unworthy and unlovable.  The pain I created for myself, however briefly, overshadowed the pain inflicted by life, and the endorphins released offered a false sense of peace for a short time after.  In the end, it was more damaging than helpful and I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that now…  (*Please see notes at the end of this post!*)

Seeing people post images or quotes on social media that echo the turmoil and heartache I felt during those chaotic years bring back a lot of memories.  The majority are not good, but there are lessons learned from the mess those years left.  One of the most important, for me, is the idea that I will always be flawed, I will always be “broken” in a multitude of ways… Yet, those facts do not make me unlovable.  They merely make me human and make up the sum of who I am.  I’ve spent a large part of my life believing people don’t actually like me, and that they could not – would not – love me if they could see all the damage and darkness in my soul.  The truth is much kinder, thank goodness, than my vicious inner voice… The truth is that we all have struggles and dark times. We all have concerns and inescapable fears buried deep within the shadows of our hearts.  Despite the flawed, imperfect parts of us, we are all deserving and capable of being loved.  The flavor and depth of fear is different for each of us, but I doubt I’m alone when I think people merely tolerate my presence until they can escape.  That does not mean that it’s true… However, if I continue to fall back on a lifetime of self-destructive patterns, it makes it seem plausible.

amy bloom

So what to do?  I wish I knew the answer and could share it freely with you.  The best I can offer, I think, is a glimpse into what helps *me* with this struggle.  Try to find positive things to be grateful for every day.  Joy breeds joy and whatever you fill yourself with is going to multiply, so do try to treat yourself with kindness!  More importantly, however is being present in life… One of the most empowering things I do is take risks and learn from possible rejection.  It makes it sound easier than it is, to be sure, but nothing wonderful is gained without first taking a bit of a risk.  John A. Shedd wrote, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”  There is something beautiful and true in that simple sentiment.  As humans, love, I believe, is the very essence of who we are – our very nature.  It would be easy to avoid rejection and pain by staying safe at port, but it is not truly how we’re built… And while we may not always be fully loved in return, those that do love and value us usually make that sentiment known in their words and actions.  The trick, reader, is to teach your heart to trust that it is true.

let-someone-love-you-as-flawed-as-you-are

Love one another, dear friends, and be kind…

 

~h

 

 

 

*** PLEASE NOTE:  Regardless of my past, I DO NOT endorse self-injury or harm and highly recommend that anyone considering it or doing  anything of the sort, please find someone you trust and reach out to them!  Please don’t use this pretend therapy of creating new wounds in an effort to heal old – it WILL. NOT. WORK.  If you can’t talk to someone you know, check out any number of available websites such as this one, this one, or this one.

 

Being Brave & Other Seemingly Impossible Pursuits

Last week I wrote a post about an issue that, throughout most of my life, has hurt and plagued me.  Weight. More specifically, my weight and how society, in general, views those that don’t conform to certain standards of beauty. On the surface it was an open letter to a gentleman that gawked at the size of my posterior (in a mean, prejudicial way), but underneath it was a message about acceptance.

After the post went up I received several lovely comments and messages from people who were moved or impacted by what I wrote… There are quite a few marvelous people in my life, so it shouldn’t surprise me that any number of them took the time to read my words and reach out to me in support.  You never know, though.  Sometimes is feels I fling these messages out into the ether and no one is aware of their existence. My voice is infinitesimal in the grand scheme of things, after all, so even a couple of views feels like a home run!

Of the many kind comments extended, one, in particular, was especially meaningful to me. It came from someone I deeply admire and respect, someone who knows me well enough to read all the nuances of that blog post while not being close enough to lose objectivity. He reached out to me in an intelligent and witty rejoinder and wrote something that meant more than most any comment I’ve received on this blog.  (You know who you are, and if you are reading this please accept my apology for not being able to properly convey how much gratitude I feel for your generous words!)  Not only did he think my writing was beautiful (words *any* writer, no matter how amateur or seasoned loves to hear), but he told me I was brave.

Brave.

Courageous. Valiant. Bold. Gutsy.

Fearless.

One of my mantras this year has been to try to approach life with less fear. I have even toyed with the idea of a tattoo to forever remind me of this philosophy. It’s not that I have lacked courage or conviction in the past. It’s not that I haven’t gone out of my comfort zone to accomplish something that was merely a hope or a dream. My nature, however, is to seek perfection and fear anything less. Often, in the past, that fear has paralyzed me. Kept me from goals I could have accomplished. Prevented me from fully pursuing passions or aspirations. I have been frozen in place by fear and allowed self-doubt and negativity to keep me from doing things I might otherwise do. Because I was not brave…

"You must do the thing you think you cannot do."

Bravery is difficult. It’s painful at times. Going out into the world determined to valiantly confront whatever comes your way does not automatically mean success. It is not a given. There is a Latin Proverb (perhaps originating from Virgil?) that states, “Fortune favors the brave.” (Or, one more literal translation, “Fortune helps the daring.”) According to myth, Fortuna, the Goddess of luck, is more likely to help those that take risks. My experience in the real world proves that this is sometimes false. Fortune does not necessarily favor the brave or help the daring. In spite of that, I believe it is true that success is *not* merely a matter of luck. Going out into the world bravely does seem to tilt the odds more in one’s favor…

 

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."

So, this year was about chances. Taking greater risks. Trying to stare fear in the face and simply, be brave. Remembering, even in the midst of my fear, that failure is not fatal…  In some respects, I feel I’ve made tremendous strides and dared more than I normally would. In other respects, it appears there is still a long way to go. As I try to redefine who I am and how I face the world, it is amazing and humbling to discover that someone out there actually noticed and took the time to tell me they thought that I was brave.

To the Man Who Stared at My Butt… And Other Inconsiderate People

I was standing in the store a few days ago and became aware that the guy beside me was staring at my butt. In all fairness to him, I have no idea what thoughts were going through his head – “nice pants”, “did I get everything on my list?”, “man, she’s a porker”… At the same time that I turned slightly to the side, I realized that this man’s friend was also staring. Unlike the first gentleman, his expression was very easy to interpret.  He made no attempt to hide the fact that he thought I was unattractive and overweight, and staring at me was like a bad car wreck he couldn’t look away from but desperately wanted to.  In a few seconds time a bank of clouds skirted across the happiness of my day and I stood there stiffly while hearing his comment about me being fat.

This is my life since becoming a larger gal, and I’m here to sum it up pretty quickly: It sucks.

When I was younger I could not be pinned down long enough to do much that didn’t involve physical activity of some kind. Swimming, biking, dancing, gymnastics – you name it, I loved it, and was thrilled with my body and its strength and abilities. I never worried about whether I was physically  capable of doing things, I just did them. Even then, however, my weight and self-image took up more of my time and attention than it should have. Schoolwork was pretty easy for me, but instead of being proud of my intelligence and creativity – participating in all advanced classes, sitting for the SAT in the 7th grade, etc – I mostly wanted to feel comfortable about the way I looked. I wish I could say I believe in all the positive things I put out into the world, but I’m as influenced by the media as most any other woman I know. There is an ongoing social argument about whether or not society teaches women (girls) that their looks are unacceptable at any size (it does), but I think the continued epidemic of eating disorders at ever younger ages speaks for itself.  Something else that speaks for itself? The attitudes of others…

It would be disrespectful to single out the gentleman from three days ago as the only man who made me aware of my weight. I have plenty of ‘chubby’ stories and have even had the privilege of hearing warm, endearing past compliments such as, “You have a great personality, and I’d be more attracted to you if you’d only lose weight.” ……  Sure thing! Maybe if these men had known me well enough “on the inside” it would cease to matter what I look like on the outside. Doubtful, but stranger things have happened, I suppose. The issue I have with that idea is that I don’t want people to accept me and find me attractive *in spite of* my weight. This is who I am.

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*sigh*

In the last few years there has been a movement to end “fat shaming” and it has definite supporters and detractors. Speaking to the validity and influence of that movement is a post for another day and time, I think, but I will say I’m happy people are having conversations about it at all… Even when a vast majority of those conversations turn hurtful and antagonistic.  For instance, while pondering this post I read several articles and blogs and discovered heartbreaking articles that have gained cult following status. One site, in particular, was so inflammatory as to discuss “fat girls” not being worthy of love, and offered advice on how to teach fatties their place by reinforcing their worthlessness, and pulling the twinkies out of their mouths while telling them they’re stupid. It also advises readers to stop “banging” cows because to do so was slumming and would ultimately damage men’s own self-worth… While the author hoped to be inflammatory and draw more traffic with as much shock and cringe-worthy language as possible (no I will not include the link and send more people to read that garbage), the comments section… well, let’s just say the true story of acceptance unfolds in the comments section.  There readers are greeted with gems like “I won’t even talk to a chubby if I think she has her eye on me” and “You made yourself an undateable loser by sitting at home and stuffing food in your piggy face”.

Wow.

I’m glad I put a little body armor on before waddling into those trenches. And, of course, by body armor I mean extra pounds.

People look at me and see what they want to see, I know. I have cellulite and stretch marks… places that round out where they should, at the very least, probably remain flat, and a face that I’m told often enough is ‘pretty’ while the person complimenting me ignores the other 5 feet of “train wreck” that occurs from the neck down. This is not new to me. I’m used to trying to stand in the back of a crowd so as not to block someone’s view, make sure any walkway is wide enough for my hips, and wear clothes that, at the very least, try to make the most of any positive physical traits. I could pretend that I am recklessly self-confident because I know my value is worth more than a number on a scale, but the truth is – I’m not. The idea of getting naked in front of another person is still sometimes terrifying.

And while most who judge me don’t know my story or my struggles, it is easy for them to assume I choose this life. The comments and insults I hear are because of my own poor choices, right? They think I choose this by refusing to get out and be active… eating my emotions while pining for the slimmer, more athletic build I used to have… finding other “pigs” and “slobs” to affirm and validate all those unhealthy decisions I must be making. There are neither enough hours in the day or compassion pills to pass around in order to change the minds of the masses. Even if I could, the effect would only be temporary… It would be easy to talk about my health and the impact it has on my weight, or the fact that I love being active and do as much as I can whenever I can. Still, no matter what I write or say, the sad truth is that behind every supportive person waiting to listen and care, there are two or three others waiting to tear people down. There are entire blogs written by men whose posts are full of rallying cries for males of the world to unite and “FAT SHAME – Save a Life!”

Would I like for someone to see every bumpy, imperfect inch of me, review it carefully and honestly say that they can love me just as I am? Touch my skin where it’s not young and smooth and tell me they know these scars are just badges of honor for difficult trials I made it through? Make me feel like I’m as beautiful as any beauty queen that ever accepted a crown and walked across a stage? Feel treasured and sexy even though I am not the ideal shape or in ideal shape? Of course!! What woman wouldn’t want those things?? Will that be factual and true of my life? Who knows. I deserve love, however, and joy, and for others to treat me with respect for the whole person I am, not the just the exterior package they quickly assess and dismiss as unworthy…

There’s a lot of talk about acceptance today. It’s a trending tagline attached to various topics and with good reason. Acceptance isn’t about agreeing with someone all the time. It isn’t about changing yourself to be more like them. It doesn’t usually require much change at all, come to that.  In fact, if you look it up, one definition merely states that it has to do with positive welcome and belonging. Positive welcome. Belonging. How much better would the world be if we could each practice a bit more of that every day? I wonder how much differently I would’ve felt if the gentleman with the roving eye had merely smiled at me and went on about his day instead of making a disgusted face after sizing me up in all my curviness… Learning acceptance doesn’t require a realignment of our beliefs or values as some people seem to believe, it merely suggests we are all of us worthy and valued and deserve to be treated that way.  Regardless of the weight of the baggage we’re hauling through life…

PLEASE feel free to comment!! But *note* that this is only a space for open, considerate conversation. Nastiness not tolerated.  🙂