What Spraining My Ankle Taught Me About Comparison

Oh, you know, just chillin' on the grass with my stylish cast. (Photo courtesy of healthtap.com).

Oh, you know, just chillin’ on the grass with my stylish cast. (Photo courtesy of healthtap.com).

 

This past weekend, I did something silly. I tried showing off.

Now you might be thinking, “What’s silly about that? Tons of people do it.” Certainly this is true, especially in this age of social media. Everyone tries to show their best lives when no one is perfect. This leads to the cause of showing off: comparison.

That’s what I did this past weekend. I was at a friend’s house, and we were waiting for tea water to boil. While doing this, we did what any other self-respecting group of adults would do: tried to see how high we could kick.

We were in the kitchen at the time, and all of us wore socks on this slippery floor. This didn’t really register for me until later. A friend kicked pretty high, and I thought, “I kickbox. I should be able to kick at least that high!” So I tried. And the room spun.

Before I knew it, I was on the floor, with my left foot and ankle in quite a bit of pain. I saw several pairs of hands trying to help me up, but I needed a moment. I needed to get the strength to deal with the impending shot of pain that would result from getting up. I needed to orient myself in the kitchen. I also needed to deal with my embarrassment.

Why did I do this? I thought to myself. What in the world did I have to prove?

My ankle hurt for the rest of the night. The next day, I couldn’t walk on my foot, and I became worried, wondering if this injury might take weeks to heal (According to my illustrious Google research, a sprained ankle can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to heal. That’s a HUGE time window! Seriously, it’s almost “waiting for the cable guy” worthy…). I hopped around my apartment whenever I needed something and tried to make as few trips as possible. When my ankle started feeling a little better, I limped around, sometimes hopping because of a sudden shot of pain.

So why tell this story? To illustrate a point. We are hobbled when we compare ourselves to others. Had I just marveled at the fact that my friend could kick pretty high, I could have enjoyed a pain-free night and weekend. How many times do we compare ourselves to someone else’s looks, success, art, writing, etc, and feel inferior? How many times do we walk around feeling sorry for ourselves because we can’t do what “so and so” does?

This helps no one! We all have something unique to bring to the world. (*cue sentimental violin music*).

You have nothing to prove. You’ve got your own style, your own flair, your own flavah, so own it!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is there a moment where you caught yourself comparing? What did you learn from the experience? Is comparison still a struggle (it still is for me!)?

 

 

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Singing: The Ultimate Detox

Image courtesy of thehoopla.com.au

Image courtesy of thehoopla.com.au

Perhaps it is because I’ll be singing karaoke in January or maybe I just need to howl at the moon—whatever the case, I’ve recently found myself singing loudly, well, everywhere. I do most of my singing on my commute to any one of the three colleges I teach at, but I also sing at home and while running errands.

A while back, I wrote a post on the link between grief and song, but my current penchant for belting out various tunes has me wondering what other connections there might be between singing and everyday life. Here’s a short list of possibilities I’ve come up with:

  • I just like the feeling of being loud
  • Singing acts like a catharsis, a release of frustration (I am a teacher, after all) and, as previously mentioned, grief (I recorded a podcast about my very recent journey with grief after the sudden death of a family member.)
  • I’m super serious about prepping for karaoke
  • One of my not-so-secret wishes is to be a rockstar, and singing loudly helps me live out this dream, even if only for a pretend audience

Whatever the reason (and the list above is by no means exhaustive), I find I always feel refreshed after indulging in some screamo or holding an extra long note. I’m not super into regular “cleanses” that involve only drinking juices or other dietary restrictions, so maybe singing is my detox and way of giving voice (no pun intended) to all that is not language within me yet.

Your turn: Do you like to sing? If so, what are your reasons? Is it for fun or might there be another purpose?

An Imagined WA (Workaholics Anonymous) Meeting

Image courtesy of onlinecareertips.com

Image courtesy of onlinecareertips.com

(Note: This post is the first of it’s kind for me—I wrote it in about five minutes. No editing. No nothing. Stream of consciousness. Makes me nervous, but I trust this is a safe place to let some of this out.)

Hello. My name is Michelle, and I’m a workaholic.

(All: Hi, Michelle).

It might be the result of being the only child of a single parent or just beginning my life with a type-A personality, but I tend to work myself to death. No one asks this of me—I demand it of myself.

And yet, as I get older, I realize I can’t keep up the frenetic pace. I started thinking there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t keep up break-neck speed. But it wasn’t until my husband said, “I’m worried about you” that I was willing to admit that it was my schedule and the pressure I put on myself that was the problem.

This means taking on less work. This means less money, which, as a former welfare recipient, honestly scares the shit out of me. I don’t ever want to rely on the system again. But that can’t be synonymous with not relying on those closest to me.

Yes, it means less of what I’ve grown used to, but what else might it mean? More free time for sure. More time to write, to make art, to sleep (oh, glorious sleep!). More energy for my students. More time with my husband. More reading. Kinda makes the old adage “Less is more” take on a whole new meaning.

Its tough redefining who you thought you were. I thought I was the perpetual happy-go-lucky person, then my depression worsened. I thought I was a type-A person through and through. I think it might be true to a certain extent, but it’s wiping me out. It’s wrecking my health.

I’m scared. I’ve been here before. But all the scary steps I’ve taken in the past have paid dividends, though not always right away. I have to trust (God, myself, the people in my life) that this will also turn out OK.

What My Grade-School Self Taught Me About Owning My Art

I wasn't quite grade school age here, but those pigtails!

I wasn’t quite grade school age here, but those pigtails!

When I was in first or second grade, my class read a book and then did an art project based on it. I don’t remember what the book was about, but I remember that the main character was a ho-hum-looking man. The assignment was to draw clothes on the paper doll version of the main character in the style of any activity we wished. Some put leather jackets on him, some made him a painter or a fighter.

Keep in mind that this was the early cusp of the 90s, so 80s fashion was still prominent. I decided to do something a bit different and outfit the guy in workout clothes—short shorts, lemon-yellow headband, and all.

IMG_1282

“Funky Doodle” Colored Pencil and Micron Pen in sketchbook

There are two things I’ll never forget about this assignment after seeing the bulletin board with all of my classmates’ paper renditions of this book character. The first is how awesome my friend’s outfit came out. She was known for being a fantastic artist, even at that young age. Her paper doll looked like he was ready for the cover of a J. Crew catalog. He sported a smartly cut-out leather jacket made of brown construction paper, complete with a drawn-on zipper. Her paper doll had swagger.

The second thing is this: I admired the bulletin board behind two of my classmates. They pointed out their own work, then began commenting on the work of others. I’ll never forget what one of them said. He swept his eyes across the bulletin board and exclaimed to his friend, “I like all of them…except that one.” He was pointing to mine.

I don’t think the two boys knew I was behind them. I’m pretty sure they didn’t even know the paper doll outcast one of them had just singled out was mine. All I know is that one sentence rung so deep in me because it pointed out something I already felt: I’m no good at art.

Two-minute sketch of Wonder Woman. Much swagger. Such wow!

Two-minute sketch of Wonder Woman. Much swagger. Such wow!

Writing was a different story. That has always come fairly easily to me. My mom recently told me that around this same time in my school career, the stories I wrote during free time were shown to the principal because my teachers thought they were that good.

Yet I was hung up on that paper man. I knew that, technically speaking, mine wasn’t the best or most attractive of the outfits. But, dammit, I’d spent time on it!

I’ve gone back to this memory a few times throughout my life, convincing myself that perhaps it meant I shouldn’t pursue art in the public eye because people will react like my classmate: love absolutely everything out there except what I make. But I’ve recently come to the conclusion that praise isn’t what truly matters (though it is nice). Community does.

And I now accept that paper man with short shorts and headband that I made all those years ago (though he doesn’t hold a candle to the snow lady I drew around that same time. She had a red bandana and nunchucks, a la Ninja Turtle style).

"Circle Study" Micron Pen in Sketchbook

“Circle Study”
Micron Pen in Sketchbook

In years passed, I’ve set out to make art more regularly and it never quite worked out so well. This year, I’m making it one of my goals to do a bit of art once per week, even if it’s a little doodle and even if I end up doodling a male Jane Fonda like my grade-school self did. And, dammit, I will own every last bit of it.

(Note: all photos in this blog post are part of this project so far. Already on a roll!)

IMG_1276Want to join me in owning your art? Include the hashtag #arteveryweek2015 on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. There are no restrictions on the type of media you use. Just have fun! Let’s collect our creations via this hashtag and create a community of artists that says, “We love all of them!” No exceptions 🙂

Weighing In on the “Biggest Loser” Controversy (and Bad Puns)

Biggest Loser_Rachel

A few years back, I watched the “Biggest Loser” regularly. I liked the feel-good stories and the fact that the cast of participants wanted to pursue a healthier lifestyle. But, as often happens, I got sidetracked with other shows.

The “Biggest Loser” recently came back to my attention because of the recent winner, Rachel Frederickson. There is a controversy centered around the question: “Did she lose too much weight?” I was going to write this off, but then I realized that the previous question is linked to “How thin is too thin?”—an inquiry that hits home for me.

As someone who has hovered between 110 and 115 pounds her entire adult life, this is an issue I face regularly. Because I’m on the taller side (or tall enough not to be counted as “short”), my slight frame seems unhealthy to some. I know what you may be thinking: “What do you have to complain about? You’re thin!” Yes, I know. And I’m grateful.  What I’m not grateful for are the remarks:

“There’s nothing to you!”

“Do you eat?”

“Oh, you’re thin…too thin.”

“I’ll have to feed you more so you can put a little weight on!”

While these remarks are generally well-intentioned or meant as a joke, they hurt. Am I less of a person because I’m slender? Do I look sick? Why can’t we focus on something else other than what I (or you or her or anyone else) looks like? I, and everyone else, are more than the sum of our body parts. But back to my main point…

Did Rachel lose too much weight? I feel I don’t have the proper information to say yes or no, largely because one must take into account two components (the physical and the emotional/mental).

First, the physical: If she is tall, weighing 105 pounds may not be healthy for her from a purely biological standpoint.  Additionally, when you are in the low 100 weight range, 5 or 10 pounds looks like a big difference and, depending on how tall you are, can impact you significantly. Lastly, losing a lot of weight is OK as long as it is spaced out. How long did it take her to lose the 155 pounds?

Now, the emotional: Perhaps my biggest concern is how does Rachel view her weight loss? Does she see herself as too thin or, perhaps, not thin enough?

While I have, thankfully, never had an issue with food, since Rachel began this journey overweight, I wonder if she now has a healthy body image. Losing weight (or trying to maintain it) is very much a psychological journey.

Though my weight isn’t too far off from Rachel’s current weight, I’m aware that there should be a balance. What I mean by this is because Rachel began at a heavy weight, my concern would be that she won’t find balance between a healthy weight and, perhaps, her desire to stay thin and not revert back to habits that could make her overweight again (which could cause her to overcompensate by continuing to lose weight even though she is healthy).

My personal conclusion: If Rachel’s weight is healthy for her height, if she lost the weight in a reasonable amount of time, and if she views herself in a good way and maintains a healthy lifestyle, let’s just be happy for her. (Well, we should be happy for her regardless, but I’m a huge proponent of taking action if a problem/misperception exists).

Time for you to weigh in: What are your thoughts on weight loss and/or this particular controversy? Do you have a particular weight that you deem “too thin” or “unhealthy”?

Musing on Three Years of Waiting

dearsister_newcover_1

Image courtesy of AK Press

In December of 2010, my poem “Smooth as Scales” was accepted to an anthology titled “Dear Sister.” At the time, I knew that the manuscript didn’t have a publisher. So began the wait.

But let me back up a bit—
I should mention that the subtitle of the anthology is “Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence.” Before I submitted to this anthology, I’d gone through an event that qualified me to submit. I tried to convince myself that nothing had happened, but my nightmares and panic attacks told a different story. Looking back on that part of my life, I’m reminded of Jennifer Percy’s quote: “…The imagination of the event is so often more terrifying than the reality.” I know this is not true for everyone, but it was for me. I kept replaying the event constantly in my mind. In some ways, I think that rumination on the negative made me sick and my nightmares worse.

I thought about this event so much that I felt I had to write it out; otherwise, it threatened to poison my body. “Smooth as Scales” came to me. I read it to a dear friend of mine, and she later encouraged me to submit to “Dear Sister.” When my poem was accepted, it was like being told, “What you went through matters no matter what anyone else says.” It was a validation not only of my poetry, but (perhaps more importantly for me at the time) it was also a validation of the pain I had endured.

Spring forward to Winter 2012: Myself and the rest of the anthology’s contributors got an e-mail saying that the anthology was going to be published! Following that e-mail and swell of happiness were proofs and bios and media kits. It was all worth it. The anthology was published by AK Press on January 15, 2014.

Dear Sister Box of Books

In these past few years, the less-than-pleasant part of my story that appears in “Dear Sister” has simply become part of my life’s tapestry. I’m in a very different place now than I was when I wrote the poem. Seeing it in print, I think, has helped me close a chapter. I’m healed…now it’s time to pass that healing on to others.

Since the contributors of this anthology are far-flung across the nation, we were all encouraged to set up our own events. I held a poetry reading at Bernardsville Public Library this past Sunday with some lovely readers from Adanna. We all read works that revolved around the theme of healing and grief. Below are the lovely ladies I read with.

Adanna Dear Sister Reading

Stepping behind the podium to welcome everyone to the reading was an incredible feeling. Everyone read beautifully, and I loved speaking with each person at the small gathering. It reminds me of a quote from the last section of the anthology: “Forgiveness is a possibility that happens in conversation.”

If you’d like a copy of “Dear Sister,” e-mail me at roaringout@gmail.com. I still have some copies. Each copy is $10. I’d be happy to mail one out to you!

What Makes You Vulnerable?

“My weakness I feel I must finally show.”
Awake My Soul, Mumford and Sons

This post is a bit darker than usual, but I feel I can’t break my hiatus from posting written blog entries until this one is seen.

To answer the question posed in this post’s title: What makes me vulnerable? Asking for help when I am so incredibly depressed I lose my words.

Now let me put this in context: Around the end of June of this year, I felt…off.  I don’t really know how else to describe it. I’m typically fairly calm, content, and level-headed, but I found myself off center. I was snapping at those closest to me and always felt either fuming angry or deeply sad. There was no in between. Thus started three months of the worst depression I have ever faced.

I don’t know where it came from or why it never left during that time period, but there it was when I woke up in the morning, haunting me throughout the day, and keeping me from sleep.  There was much crying and frustration and voices (yes, voices, which makes me sound schizophrenic. But it’s more common than you think.) I couldn’t do anything without crying. I knew there was a problem, but didn’t know what the source was, which near made me go insane.

What was the most maddening for me during this time was the fact that I’m a writer…but I had no words. When my fiancee or a friend or a family member would ask me what was wrong in a genuine attempt to help (which I am so grateful for), I had nothing to tell them. I wasn’t trying to be coy or less of a burden. I legit had no idea what was wrong with me. I eventually stopped reaching out because it seemed pointless.

I kind of felt like Vincent Van Gogh, as portrayed in Doctor Who. During one of Van Gogh’s fits of madness, he has a short conversation with the Doctor:

The Doctor: Vincent, can I help?
Van Gogh: It’s so clear you cannot help. And when you leave—and everyone always leaves—I will be left once more with an empty heart and no hope.
The Doctor: My experience is that there is, you know, surprisingly always hope.
Van Gogh: Then your experience is incomplete! I know how it will end. And it will not end well.

For months, I felt exactly as the artist did in the previous exchange. I felt as if everyone always left me, and I was always alone. I felt like this experience I was having would end very badly.

I don’t think that people should live without hope, but I do think that everyone reaches a point where they truly believe there is none. I agree with Van Gogh in the sense that if someone has not experienced that, then her experience of life is incomplete. But the point isn’t to stay there. It is to rise and get help.

I know it’s a cliche saying, but it is true that sometimes you need to hit rock bottom to go anywhere but up.  That’s where I was, and I decided to just fold into myself. I didn’t reach out, as mentioned before, and tried to deal on my own (This didn’t go well. If you’re experiencing depression, please tell someone). I watched depressing movies so I could cry. Sometimes it was all I could do not to hyperventilate. And in between all this, fielding the voices in my head, and fighting just to go out and see the sun on so-so days, I made it my goal to find words for whatever it was I was feeling.  In the process, I amassed a pretty good collection (some of which I’ve already shared in this post, with more quotes to come).

Now to circle back to the question posed in the beginning of the post: I was vulnerable during my depression, especially because I didn’t have words. But, somehow (and very thankfully), I moved past that to ask for help again. It wasn’t fancy. It wasn’t pretty. But I started to say, to a trusted few, things like “Something’s wrong,” and “I can’t take this anymore, but I don’t know what to do,” and “I don’t know what this is.” And people stepped in. My fiance, my friends, and family checked in on me. They made sure I had everything I needed. They skyped with me in a minute’s notice. They got me out of my apartment.

It’s hard for me to accept help. I think part of this hearkens back to the movie “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” One of the main characters says, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” I wanted to soldier through the depression on my own because I wanted to be independent, but I also didn’t want to be a nuisance. The kind gestures of those closest to me showed me that I deserve a love much better than what I originally thought, and I try to carry that knowledge with me wherever I go now.

After getting help, both personal and professional, I’m feeling better. I’ve been ok for about a month now, and I can’t fully express how refreshing it is. I’m back to being myself. I still get frustrated and blue, but it’s manageable and in proportion with the circumstances I face. And I also get happy and smile a lot. But more than that, I’m content. While some may see content as being “middle of the road,” for me, right now, there is no sweeter feeling than to just be satisfied with where I am.

I must give credit where credit is due: There are two web sites (one blog post and one TED talk) that really pushed me to be brave and write this post: Natalie’s “The Lies in Our Heads” and Brene Brown’s “The Power of Vulnerability.”  Thank you, ladies, for sharing your stories.

In her TED talk, Brene Brown talks about telling “the story of who you are with your whole heart” and having “the courage to be imperfect.” That’s what this post is for me. That’s why I felt I couldn’t post anything else before I wrote this. I had to learn that being depressed wasn’t my fault. I had to learn that it’s ok to be imperfect and ask for help, spreading that messiness to others who can do something positive. And I needed you, the reader, to know this and, perhaps, let what I’ve learned sink into your own life.

Epilogue: I was seriously thinking of making this a private post just so I could write it, but only for me to see. So why make it public? Because I’m starting to find words and, as a writer, it’s important for me that I put those words out in the open, knowing that this could backfire or that not one person besides myself will read this or care. But even in the times when I don’t believe in myself, I know that risk is worth it, that the written word infused with authenticity has the power to change everything. Aside from authentic human relationships with the closest people in my life, it is all that has ever changed me.

Here are some of the other words I found to help me through my journey and articulate what I was feeling:

“Do not ask the price I paid. I must live with my quiet rage.
Tame the ghosts in my head. They’re unwild and wish me dead.”
Lover’s Eyes, Mumford and Sons

“I feel fine, and I can smile,
But I feel the anger coming.
It’s underneath.
I don’t know why
It’s always overflowing.
It’s a constant fight
Deep inside,
And I wanna forget it.

I confess I’m always afraid, always ashamed
Of what’s inside me.
I confess I’m always afraid, always ashamed
Of what’s inside my head.

And I can breath, and I still feel,
But not the way I want to.
I’m on the edge. I don’t know how
I can escape this nightmare.”
Confession (What’s Inside My Head), RED

“You’re so mean when you talk about yourself. You were wrong.
Change the voices in your head. Make them like you instead.”
Fuckin’ Perfect, Pink

“Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.”
The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
(Thanks for sharing, Stephanie Levy!)