Living an & Kind of Life

I love the adorable little ampersand so understated with its swooping curves and sassy toe tapping on the page. I love it for all that it is, for saying ‘Wait, there’s more. We’re not through here.’ It’s a symbol of hope. No one that I know of has ever tied wretched things together with an ampersand. Nope. Ampersands are strong and happy. They link the Mr. with his Mrs., the faith we all yearn for with hope and love. Good things, people. Ever heard of M&M candy? Need I say more?

Your whole childhood, you hear that you can do anything. If you’re lucky, you might make it to ten without figuring out it’s a load of crap. I think I was seven. I wanted to be a part-time vet who only played with the animals and trained horses when I wasn’t busy writing or carrying around one of those important looking briefcases on my way to the cookie shop my friend and I were no doubt going to turn into a franchise rivaled only by my beloved McDonalds. It took about six library books to figure out I wouldn’t make it past the prerequisite classes for veterinary school. Even worse, I discovered an unfortunate hay allergy, was too sensitive to other’s comments to share my writing, and had nothing to put in a briefcase. My mother would not even get me a house key, people. My dreams were crushed. I could still make a really awesome batch of cookies though, so there was a bit of hope for the bakery. By twelve, all the work that goes into owning your own business paired with my parents’ expectations of me going to college and making something of myself with a practical degree and my hopes for and ended. In my parents’ defense, I really don’t think they understood how impractical most degrees are once you try to sell yourself on the job market.

College was where “or” became an ever pervasive and nearly intolerable word. People just threw it around like it meant nothing, like I should be able to choose with ease because that’s just what adults did. Adults lived ‘or’ kinds of lives. They focused on their educations, or they focused on their jobs, or their social lives. Married women became moms right away or risked not having a family so they could focus on their job. Shoot, some of us were choosing whether rent or groceries would win the battle of the budget. Every choice seemed more and more important and I was a natural born planner so it suited me just fine to practically flow-chart the next eight years of my life. I mapped out nearly every choice a person could possibly make so when an ‘or’ popped up, I’d be ready and I was…or so I thought. The problem with ‘or’ is that you never strive for ‘and’. You just accept that choices must be made and you can’t have it all. I bought into it. I in fact became an advocate for ‘or’. I would parade about with all my choices shining like beacons on a foggy night. ‘Or’ is a trap though. ‘Or’ is not a beacon for all, for some it’s the siren song drowning them in regret.

When I got sick, my life flooded with ‘ors’ and I hated each one because I didn’t feel like I had any say in the choices that presented themselves. I couldn’t plan for the ‘ors’ because I never knew what they might be. I had planned and done what I should. I had made those tough decisions and it hadn’t changed anything. Life still bit me in the butt with some old ratty dentures. ‘Or’ betrayed me. That’s when I chose ‘and’. That’s right, I converted to the dark side and chose to take control because it was my life to live and there was far too much that I had lost in my quest of a life without regrets. I was so worried about regretting poor decisions that I grew to regret missed opportunities. I wish I had been  a pretty good student and had a social life. I wish I had wrote for my classes and for myself. I wish I had spoken out for others and fought for myself. I wish I had chose a practical degree and the one I loved. As much as I wish I could make more of those years, I may not have ended up in this spot had I chosen ‘and’ sooner. This place where I am now is pretty awesome, so I guess I don’t actually wish anything were different, just maybe wonder how it might have been.

As always, I challenge you. I challenge you to lead the kind of life you want. Don’t chose ‘and’ if you’re not an ‘and’ person, but don’t let people limit you to ‘or’ if you are. We only get one chance in this life. No matter what happens in the afterlife, if you believe or not that there is one, we have our now. We have these moments and life will present us with choices. Sometimes, ‘or’ will be the best choice, like driving dangerously or possibly being a tad late to an appointment (choose possibly being late, please), but sometimes ‘and’ will beg you to take action because it offers more. It offers the possibility of regret, but it also offers the opportunity to find out exactly what life can offer you. Do what makes you happy – dare yourself to strive for your own version of an ‘and’ life and find joy in the journey.

Dear Little Me

Over the years, I have hurt many people and had to apologize for careless words or thoughtless actions. I always received forgiveness. I may have lost connections, but it was not because of hard feelings, it was always simply a difference of expectations or desires. The one person I never apologized to was myself. For more than twenty years, I belittled, neglected, negated, or dismissed that little me inside. I was a people pleaser. I don’t even think I realized how miserable I was because I never thought to consider my own needs. I called the girl in the mirror horrible names and whispered harsh words into the darkness each night. I called her fat and ugly and stupid. I told her I hated her. At my lowest point, I told her I wish she had never existed. I told her no one would ever really love her. I told her over and over and over that she would never be good enough. I let her take the blame for things far beyond her control and scolded her for every display of emotion. Her laugh was too loud, her voice too sweet, her body too curvy, her eyes too expressive, every tear unwarranted. She couldn’t do anything without fear of ridicule. That poor little girl. That poor teenager. That poor woman.

In grad school, we were constantly talking about our feelings. Often, I was talking about what I thought they expected me to feel, shoving the real me into a dark corner and telling her to shut up. I was violent and hateful toward her and I hurt her more times than I could attempt to count. During an unusually transparent moment, I apologized for the eighth time in fifteen minutes and flippantly mentioned that I apologized when stressed, that I piled on blame for any and every problem that presented itself. That was when one of my classmates looked at me and said, “Stop apologizing for being here.” He couldn’t have had any idea that I would be so affected by that simple directive, but I still have that written on a white board in my room. I read it to myself each day and remind myself that I am a beautiful, talented, kind woman. I remind myself that I am charged with loving me and that if I had done half of the things to someone else as I did to myself, I would be labeled an abuser and the label would be accurate.

A very unfortunate incident with a migraine med that was not at all right for me caused me to see just how important it was to focus on me, on loving me and forgiving me. I started with self-talk, stopping myself when something damaging came to mind. I counted the number of negative things I said to myself in a single day. The first time I hadn’t even finished the day and I lost count at 210. That’s a ridiculous amount of self-deprecation. I slowly made goals to lessen the hate. I dropped it down to 150 within two weeks. Four years later, I hover around 20 on a rough day and 3-5 on a positive day. I now have to point out five things I like for every negative thing I say to myself. Some days it’s nearly painful to force myself to show love and kindness to the girl inside and for that, for those days and all the years before, I’m sorry. So here’s to little me, the brave girl within who is strong enough to withstand years of abuse and still offer love and forgiveness.

To anyone who hasn’t taken the time to apologize to yourself, to anyone too afraid of relapse, to anyone who thinks love stunts growth, I challenge you to apologize to your little you. Ask for forgiveness and spend the rest of your days making them believe you really meant you were sorry. It’s a difficult journey, but it’s an oh so beautiful feeling to truly love and accept all of your strengths and weaknesses. It’s amazing to tell the girl in the mirror that she’s beautiful and smart and kind. It’s glorious to believe those words. It takes time and tears and frequent affirmation, but that moment, that moment of truly embracing yourself is worth it all.

Makeup, Must Have

Makeup. For a thing at work this week, it was suggested that we, the females of the group, wear makeup. As soon as the suggestion left the person’s mouth, my inner feminist sprang from her nap like a ninja ready to tell the person making the suggestion to forget about it. I wanted to rant and rave, not because I didn’t already plan to wear makeup (I mean seriously, I get it. Polished is good for business and our society believes to be polished, women must highlight their natural beauty with some products from the local cosmetic counter) but because someone told me I must. I’ve always had a problem being told what to do. It’s the reason my poor parents started noticing gray hairs in their thirties. Over the years, I’ve learned how to shut up my inner five year old, but she was throwing a full-on hissy fit over this issue. Make-up isn’t like keeping your hair clean, or ironing your clothes. It’s more than simple hygiene or even a higher level of professionalism. It’s like saying I’m not good enough in my natural well-kept state. To be professional, it’s not enough that I groom or practice my handshake, I need to powder my skin and paint my lashes and color my lips. I need to be more. I don’t think I’m the only one who felt like I wasn’t enough growing up. Some of us seem to be more sensitive over gender bias than others. I realize this happens to guys to, likely just as much as it does with women, but I’m a woman so I feel more qualified to rant about women’s issues.

For twenty minutes, I sat in my swivel chair and pounded through the stack of work mocking me and my ugly face. I silently stewed over how this person was being archaic and what if I had religious reasons for not wearing makeup, or what if I had deadly allergies, what if I just didn’t feel like it? That was the real issue, still is. I don’t always feel like putting on makeup. Sometimes it is due to my allergies acting a fool, but mostly it’s because makeup can get hot and uncomfortable and I always feel like I’m melting into a dime an hour hooker by midday. Beyond that, sometimes I am running late and rather than look like I let my friend’s three year old decorated with oil paints, I sans the make-up and show up on time with two matching eyes and Chapstick swathed lips. I should have that right. All women should have that right.

So I Googled it. Google knows things. Google would show me the light. Guess what Google said? It’s legal. Totally legal. Even women who had fought such rules, even women whose company policy did not explicitly state that make-up was a bona-fide occupational requirement, women who didn’t need to look sexy (that’s the real issue) for their jobs, they were told that this rule did not fall under the gender discrimination laws. My question is why not? I mean, I didn’t take a job as a hooters girl (I have not been blessed with the kind of figure that job requires) and I don’t need to wear mascara to be good at my job. I’m not hideous, it’s not like without make-up I’m going to scar people for life and send them running to their therapists. Yet, there it is. The law still allows this type of discrimination and it’s ridiculous. Why can’t men wear eye-line and women actually have a nude face rather than trying to find the right shades of cream and tan so that her face looks nude? Why should anyone force me to conform to gender biased rules? Why is this okay? Because other people are uncomfortable? That’s not a good enough reason.

The fact that we feel the right to dictate what is normal and okay for others worries me sometimes. I understand that there must be a line and we must have standards, but where we draw that line and what it says about our perceptions of others sometimes worries me. How do we have societal norms and still allow for individuality and all the beauty that comes with diversity? I don’t have an answer, just that question and an ever vigilant watch for clarity on what would make sense.

Shopping for Love

I was committed to stopping the whole foolishness of online dating. I planned to wait until my 30th birthday and then ceremoniously adopting a dozen hamsters. It’s supposed to be cats, but I am allergic to cats and dogs require too much attention so it’s hamsters. Bet you weren’t expecting that were you? Told you, I’m weird. You’re probably wondering why…why would I give up on what is most likely my best chance of meeting a nice man? Because people, online dating is a serious adventure, not like a let’s try that cool new Asian fusion restaurant, but more like a let’s see how we fair trekking through the amazon in nothing but our underpants. It feels much akin to trying to sell some promotional item in a weekend sale as a summer associate for some mall chain retailer. You post yourself out there, get a bunch of replies from people who just give off the creeper vibe. You meet people who remind you of the dilapidated birds that wander parking lots, slowly dying from exposure to too many car fumes and antifreeze infused drinking water. That is what online dating feels like when you are only meeting men who make you nervous or bored.

I was cancelling my account. I had just jumped over the “I’m done” line and I was getting out before I accidentally found myself violated and dead behind some gas station dumpster. Then this chat request came up and just to spite all of my negative thoughts, I accepted. That was over a month ago and Mr. Optimistic and I are seeing each other more and more and we’re both happy about the direction our relationship is headed.

So what changed? Other than him being far more like me than any of the other guys I’ve tried to date, I am different. I have been wholly me since the first conversation. At some point, the façade fades and we must be who we are or forever say goodbye to that person we were. The latter tends to happen far more than any of us would choose to admit. Relationships are filled with compromise and growth, but we often mistake being open to new things for change. Relationships change us, but they should enhance who we are, make us better versions of ourselves. I always knew that, but I had never experienced it. I usually exited relationships because I couldn’t stand the person I was while I was in them. If ever there has been a person I should be able to live with, it’s me. No matter what, I am the one constant in my life. That was a lesson I learned the hard way from my medical issues. I lost so many parts of myself, but my core remained. I love that woman. I had forgotten that I love her, but I do. I love her for her strengths and her insecurities. I love her vulnerability and silliness and passion and love for life. I love her willingness to do all she can to make others happy and I have finally learned that quality must be protected not exploited, even if by herself. So this time, with guy, I am just me. When he says he likes me, I know he’s talking about the real me, not some poser trying to feign perfection. The coolest thing is in those moments I forget just how awesome I am, he’s there to remind me. I have some ideas on where this might go, but for once, I’m not worried about it. I am enjoying the journey of getting to know each other and develop our relationship.

So, here’s some advice. Be unapologetically you. Tell your story, own your imperfections, let someone get to know you. Even if it doesn’t work out the way you think, you’ll never regret being true to yourself and you’ll never know how great life can be if you don’t give yourself a real chance at happiness.

 

Ever Lost, Ever Seeking

Someday slipping into never as an oak box sinks into the sodden earth,

Diamond branding into the cool flesh of my left hand, searing dreams into memories.

Nights spent gazing at sparkles in the sky, days spent on blankets in the park,

Love and the promise of time pulling us closer to forever.

One night, one driver with one too many, one second,

Future slamming into the past leaving the shadows of our lives in its wake.

The little church wedding, three little babies, first days of school,

Times of holding on and letting go, years of growing together,

Holding hands and watching stars, of picnics and laughter,

Of hope and sorrow, the promise that through it all we would not be alone.

What could have been, now scattered across the landscape of that highway.

Skid marks and glass, broken parts, shattered hearts, and one small white cross.

Tomorrow is dead and though you want me to live, going on without you only hurts me more.

You, my special someone, my light, my future, darkness now encompassing.

Fading into nothing because nothing is better than something devoid of you.

The Monsters of the Mind

We each battle our own demons, each bring along a bag of history. It’s nauseating to see the statistics on sexual assault victimizing both women and men, often before they have even had their 18th birthday. We are taught to be afraid, taught to be ashamed, taught that we can somehow control the actions of others. It’s a flawed worldview and one that is gaining attention with the insurgence of anti-bullying and survivor support initiatives, but we still have so much work to do as a society and as a species. Our efforts do little to banish the demons already brought to life in so many women’s, men’s, and young people’s lives. I can fight to prevent more pain, but once it’s in someone’s life, it never truly leaves. Years of mentoring and counseling taught me that a soul scarred by abuse will never fully heal, but that the survivors are among the strongest and most brave in existence. Those who press on to find love and acceptance, those who learn to love themselves, those who turn their pain into a passion to save others, those who make it through just one more day, those our the heroes who walk among us. Most suffer in silence. Most wage their daily war without anyone fighting beside them. Some win the battles, some simply cannot bare to continue the fight. Those angels spur my writing.

This link will take to a report put out by the White House in January of 2014. The statistics are staggering and those only include those far enough in their journey to share their past. It needs to stop. We need to raise our boys and girls to know the value of human life and respect the fragile souls of others. https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/sexual_assault_report_1-21-14.pdf

In addition, 800.656.HOPE (4673) is a hotline dedicated to helping victims. Help may also be found on https://hotline.rainn.org/online/terms-of-service.jsp. 211 is a great resource for quick connections and referral information to local services. If you have suffered abuse in the past, or are a current victim, please seek help. Healing is never easy, but it’s far less lonely with help.

 

Rivers

Crimson feeling slowly oozing, dripping onto the cool tile

A study in contrast, red against white, tarnished against pure,

Emotion seeping from veins offering sweet release.

As the dim light fades into nothing, I know that I am free.

If only for a moment until release turns to panic, freedom twisting into captivity.

How deep? How long? And can my soul rise up from its prison? Can memories fade?

Stitches, pills, a cry for help…72 hours of how do you feel?

Empty. Broken. Worthless. Dirty.

And why? Why are we here? Why did you do it? Why?

Stolen joy. Shattered dreams. Loneliness. A lost soul.

Clocks don’t turn back, things don’t unhappen, pain doesn’t unhurt.

Through it all, survival beckons as the only justice for those robbed of their innocence.

 

Empty

No means no, except when yes feels better.

When desire tramples fear and need begs for release,

Dark moments of empty promises, shattered emotions lying broken on the floor.

Discarded love, lost forever, swirling in the storm of never,

Never hurt you, never break you, never let you down.

Brief encounter marking itself like shrapnel to the soul.

All that was, now drowning in a sea of forgotten trust.

 

Tainted

Darkness seeps into light, like evil into innocence.

Capturing what could be, crushing it into no more.

Hollow shells wandering through time, waiting.

Waiting to be awoken from their slumber.

Peace elusive, chased away by shame.

Disgraced by what was, and is, what could have been, and will be.

Relief ever lacking the strength to overcome.

 

Masquerade

Donning a mask each day,

Melting into the silence emptiness of each night.

Broken dolls allowed to be free in the flickering light,

Holding onto the hope of tomorrow.

For a while, free of reminders, of memories, and anxieties.

Free to pretend, to dream, to feel.

Free to say, I’m still here.

 

Disposable

Eyes undressing me like a box cutter etching down my thigh,

His hands crawling higher, my voice sinking lower.

Selfish desire a flame slicing its name into the bark of my body,

A final pleading cry forever drowned in resignation.

Skirt too short, lashes too dark, body too curved, too inviting,

One smile. One dangerous lapse in a Titanic defense.

Arms pinned, pressed against walls of insecurity,

Surrender stolen, thrusting deeper, deeper.

Tearing flesh to the core of a shattered soul, glass scattered,

broken crystals dancing in the shadows of power.

A life forgotten in the abuse of a disposable need,

Loved the one word that will never again describe the reflection in the mirror.

 

Epitaph to Serenity

His hands on my shoulders

Coming undone, wanting only to run

A harsh bark in the night, a final threat to sunlight

My body trembling with fear, dying to be anywhere but here

Do this. Don’t move. Shut up. I’ll end you.

Every panicked plea dies with one touch

The loss of innocence an instant rush

A little girl retreating while another version keeps repeating

It will be over soon. We can hide. I’ll protect you. Just stay inside.

Tears sting from a soul on fire

Every positive thought killed by evil desire

An epitaph to serenity

Goodbye sweet friend this is my end

Two decades later and I’m still grieving

Twelve years of freedom, but the horror’s repeating

Flashes terrorizing each dream and feeling

Never enough, ever tainted, always retreating

Push it down, just keep going, no one will know it if you’re not showing

The shadow follows my every move

Ever present fear strangling each promise of air

Until one day the light breaks through

Slowly mending, my heart laid bare

This one, this time, handle with care

 

True Love According to a Realistic Romantic

I am weird. I know I am weird and I fully embrace it. Being weird, I have odd notions of romance. The perfect example happened this weekend. I spent a lovely two and a half glorious days at the beach and witness two demonstrations of love. One brought me to tears, while the other just made me smile. You’ll see why I’m weird in a moment.

First scene: It’s a beautiful evening streaked with the fading pink fingers of a lingering sunset. A glow run is winding down on the beach, the tide slowly seeping closer to the toes of the cheering crowd. Further up the beach, away from the sweeping shoreline, a square of delicate white paper bags glow with a soft yellow light. A couple is silhouetted against the painted sky, the man dipping a knee into the sand, grasping the petite woman’s hands, some profession of love whispered into the breezy evening. It was lovely, staged with a gaggle of family and a photographer, and boring as generic vanilla ice cream. I smiled, then moved my focus back to my wine slushie.

Second scene: Madeira is a tourist area and perfect for walking with frequent crosswalks bridging the streets. Push a little silver button and the signs start flashing yellow, signaling for the cars to stop and the pedestrians to cross. This adorable bubbly young couple approach with laced fingers. The guy takes a look at the quickly dwindling time of the lights and starts move back toward the center of the walk, taking a few steps in the opposite direction. The girl smiles, tugs his hand, and pulls him across the street with her. He follows. Without hesitation or so much as an odd look, the guy laughs and follows her. He doesn’t look at the street, doesn’t take note of the cars, he just follows her. Into what could well be bustling traffic, he just follows her and I’m reduced to tears like one of the fangirls at the season finale of the Bachelor because that is love.

Okay, that’s my version of love.It may be weird, but that doesn’t detract from its beauty. Total trust in the little moments, no hesitation, just knowing your partner is there and won’t put you in danger. That’s what I want. I want to have someone be so much a part of who I am, that I can blindly follow and know I’ll be safe. I want that joy in their eyes, the smile on their face. I used to think that blind trust was the stupidest emotion a person could experience. Now, in a world where I barely trust anyone, I long for the kind of love that would having me running across the street with a smile. If someone asked me if I’d jump off a bridge just because he did, I need to feel like I would, because he would never lead me into anything painful. It must exist. That kind of crazy-stupid love has to be real. I see it in the most random of places. It manifests in quiet moments with fingers intertwined in a dark ally, it’s in the eyes of the guy leading the girl across the swaying bridge, it’s glowing in the smile of each person trying to overcome the greatest fear of them all. More than anything, I think we all fear a life that doesn’t matter. These beautiful, painful, twistedly complex years that we get are riddled with challenges and worries, but we all hope that they somehow matter. Even if just to one person, we want to make an impact, build a legacy. At the end of it all, we all want to be missed. Love, true unbridled love, that’s what leaves a mark on the world. A trust that can defy all logic, that’s the most beautiful gift we can ever receive in this life.

Playing Dress-Up

I’m 29. That’s inching ever-so-close to 30 and it is a bit like climbing to the top of a rollercoaster knowing all of that anticipatory excitement is soon going to send your stomach to your throat and you’re going to wonder why you ever wanted to grow up in the first place. I find the older I get, the more I have to remind myself that I’m an adult. I’m more grown than my parents were when I was born. I have a master’s degree and a decent job and a car that I just paid off. On paper, I look like I have my stuff together. It looks like I know things. Yet, I still have moments, especially when I’m around kids, where I have to remind myself of the fact that I no longer need to go get an adult to supervise this or that because I am the adult. I’m. The. ADULT! Dear goodness people, there should be a class on this mess. Seriously. We go to school, some of us for DECADES, and not one class really teaches us what we should do when we finally have that realization that we are the grown ups. No one makes us take a test. You don’t get your grown up license. No one double checks your credentials at the door. There’s no passing go or collecting two hundred dollars. It’s just assumed that we’re ready. We are. I mean, for the most part. We grow up and we do all those things that grown ups do and it works. We pass ourselves off as grown.

Somehow, despite passing myself off as a responsible adult, I still feel like that four-year-old little girl shuffling around in her mother’s heels while trying not to trip over her purse had things figured out more than the woman with a tailored dress and sensible flats. I think the thing that changes is faith, faith in ourselves, in others, in the world around us. As a kid, I had confidence. I might not have been able to tie my shoes in a bow that would last more than twenty minutes, but I knew I could take on the world and win. I played with my dolls and called my imaginary husband on my little pink phone and just knew I would be the best mommy ever. My friends and I would go to college where we would learn about all these fabulous, useful things before getting jobs we would love that would pay us so much money. I didn’t grow up wealthy, but I just knew that I would have this amazing life with a great family and a little vacation house on the beach and my husband would buy me a pony. I was blissfully in love with my future…until it came.

Don’t get me wrong. I love parts of my life. I like the rest. I’m not unhappy, but this is not at all what I imagined growing up would feel like. I thought when I turned 21 I would magically feel different. I didn’t. All I’ve learned so far in my twenties is that I’m a survivor. No matter what happens in my life, I still believe in myself enough to know I’ll make it. Even on the days where making it feels like the worst possible option, I’ll push through. That’s who I am. I deal with the rough times and savor those amazing moments that pop up or the ones that I really have to fight to get. I think those are the best. As a kid, I never thought about what it would be like to have to budget and decide if healthy food or the rent payment was more important. As an adult, I knew I could live off of a box of pasta and a couple cans of peas as long as I had a place to eat them. When I was little I thought I’d always be able to dip my apples in peanut butter and eat goldfish crackers until I practically turned orange. I didn’t even know what calories were. I was active. I mean, what else did I have to do? Now, I struggle to fit in an hour of exercise and log everything that goes into my mouth just in a feeble attempt to fit into my wardrobe.

People want to know why so many adults struggle with depression, addiction, or anxiety….HELLO! Have you been a grown up! It is not for the faint of heart. It is not fun.  Even when you’re having fun, you’re still thinking about the never-ending list of chores and that bill you can’t remember if you auto-pay or have to log in. What about that night out? Does everyone have a sitter? Enough extra cash to actually pay the sitter enough that they know how grateful you are that they can trust you with their kids? I used to laugh at the couples I would babysit for when I was in high school. They seemed to have it all, a good marriage, cute kids, cars, and a house, and jobs. It seemed weird that they’d want to take a break from all of that, but whatever. I had fun playing house for an evening or weekend. It’s so much different when it’s your own house. I can’t imagine the shock I’m in for if I ever have kids. Who the heck am I supposed to call then? Hello? 1-800-NOT-ADULT? Yes, I’d like to turn myself in for masquerading as a grown person when really I have no clue what I’m doing.

Maybe that’s life though. Maybe we never really figure it out. Maybe, just maybe, that’s why God blesses us with friends and family who help us realize we’re not alone and we’re certainly not the only ones who have ever felt like we’re playing dress-up in our own lives.

The Crossfit Cult

*Disclaimer – If you eat, sleep, and breathe CrossFit, please do not continue reading. If you even like CrossFit, stop reading. I beg of you, don’t read another word because you are obviously more fit than I am and will soon want to kick my behind.

*Disclaimer #2 – This is a satirical musing. Please keep that in mind as you read.

 

People, in general, like to think of themselves as cool. Most of us know better, but we still get up in the morning, complete some mundane task and congratulate ourselves on how awesome we are. I did that this morning when I totally rocked that whole roll out of bed ten minutes late and still manage to walk out the door on time thing. I actually spend most of my day reassuring myself that I am cool and people should want to be friends with me. People do not always agree. Poor people. Okay, so back to cool. We want to be cool. It must be some intrinsic biological need. Maybe it’s evolutionary, like if we’re cool and we have cool babies the babies will grow up to be cool kids and will not have some kid in the lunchroom smash a milk carton on their head. Cool kids do not get bullied. Naturally, they become cool adults and the whole cool baby thing starts again.

The problem with the cool cycle is that it’s ever changing. I remember when Digipets came out, and went out. Furbies. Beanie Babies. Flip phones. Zumba. Atkins Diet. If you can dream it up, at some point, it has been popular and then it has probably fallen into that dark hole where only people who truly loved it before actually still care. CrossFit is the new thing. Maybe it’s because I was too busy to notice before, or maybe because I too had jumped on some of the other crazes, but I’ve never quite seen so many people so obsessed with something as I have with CrossFit. It’s totally irrational, but it drives me insane to be surrounded by all these CrossFit cult followers. I know. It’s not a cult. It’s healthy. Blah, blah, blah. This is my rant and I’ll be as ridiculous as I want to.

At first, when the first of the people I knew joined, I thought, “How fantastic it is that they’re focusing on their health. Good for them.” That was about four months before they went bat-crap crazy. All those endorphins must do something to your brain because the formerly responsible mother of two that I knew was suddenly taking the kids to a sitter right after school, going to CrossFit for 2-3 hours, picking the kids up, feeding them McDonald’s (I can’t be the only one who sees the irony in this), and putting them to bed without so much as an hour of time spent helping with homework or talking. Things started falling apart, but like some hyped up junkie, it didn’t matter. She was hooked. Well, “Ashley,” you say, “she’s an exception. There are millions of responsible Cross-Fitters.” LIES! LIES, I tell you. Prove it! I say. (I’m feeling a bit dramatic). One of my besties is constantly telling me about all the special drama she encounters at her work. Her boss is a CrossFit junkie. Seriously. It’s an addiction and someone really needs to set up an intervention before the poor man Burpees himself into an early grave. (Who came up with that ridiculous name anyway? Burpee. Sounds like a tragic bodily function after a Blimpie sandwhich). Anyway, said boss skips meetings, misses activities, and incessantly talks about his CrossFit accomplishments when he actually bothers to show up for some leadership obligation. It’s ridiculous.

I’m a self-proclaimed writing junkie, but even I know that about 90% of the people I meet do not care about my blog or the book I’m working on and planning to Kindle publish. They are not writing junkies and I am not going to convert them by rambling about how awesome it was when I wrote six haikus in ten minutes. NANOWRIMO comes up, I write 10,000 words one Saturday. NO ONE CARES! I know this. I have no delusions of self-importance. CrossFitters (I know, it’s not a word, but I like it) do not seem to realize that I couldn’t care less how many times they hopped on a box or squatted so low their butt touched the ground (how is that a requisite skill in being awesome…don’t these people have old injuries or new injuries? Seriously, after 10 years of gymnastics and multiple fractures, sprains, tears, and strains, the very idea of CrossFit makes me nauseas).  Maybe I’m just a hater, but I don’t want to hear about how you got every one of your nasty blisters anymore than I want to hear one of my older relatives talk about their ailing bodily functions. Seriously. If I cared, I’d be doing some kipping pull-ups right beside you…oh wait, I did that when I was eight. There was a reason I stopped. There was a reason I stopped all of this madness before I was 20. Some people do more damage than good. I am that kind of person.

I am all for people being fit. Health is invaluable and I love supporting people in being the best version of themselves, as a whole. These fitness nuts are like rock-solid little evangelists running around, hopping on boxes, and proclaiming the good news of how much torture we could all put ourselves through if only we paid $40-$120 a month in membership fees. I’m having to hold myself back from running to join up. Don’t worry though. I’ll be strong. The CrossFitters I know are snobby about their religion of fitness too. It’s like it’s the one true fitness option and all other workouts will lead to a false sense of security that will be torn to shreds when one day you pop out of your jeans like those ready-fresh biscuits. It’s all too much. Too many endorphins and rushes of testosterone mixing with adrenaline and too much of the no pain no gain mentality. That works for the military because, you know, they’re prepping for war. Even professional athletes can get away with it without being too obnoxious if you don’t listen to them go on about it all the time, but…oh, dear goodness! I’ve just stumbled upon the next Olympic sport. Next thing we know, 4 years after Rio, BAM! CrossFit team USA! It’ll catch on quicker than curling.

I think I must be a hater. Too many repressed desires for freshly baked chocolate chip cookies swirling in my mind I guess. Maybe I should join up and go to like, two minutes of one of the CrossFit sessions. Maybe I’d catch the bug and join in on the quest to save America through the gospel of Burpee. Yeah…probably not. I think I’ll just stick to my stationary bike and old-fashioned crunches.

 

You Don’t Know Me Like I Do

There are a million situations and feelings I know nothing about. There are topics I studied in grad school that I can only try to imagine. Even my imagination falls short. I was sixteen when I decided people need to know you’ve been through something that hurt you, or scared you, or changed you, but no one needs you pretend that you know how they feel. You cannot know me the way I do any more than I can know you the way you do.

That’s why it annoys me so much when people say they know exactly how I feel. I know they’re only trying to empathize, but seriously. Unfortunately, I’ve done this before.In some show of solidarity, I’ve said I know how it feels to be lonely or angry or hurt or scared. These broad ranges of emotions are what bind us together, but I cannot see the world through your eyes and you cannot see it through mine. These comments happen enough to healthy people, but for some of us with chronic illness, this happens multiple times per day. It feels dismissive to me now, but I made this mistake before myself. I doubted the severity of someone’s invisible illness. That was before I got sick and I still feel horrible about it. That erroneous thinking in my past helps me maintain perspective in my current situation. A second after I mentally snap someone’s head off over something I perceive as insensitive, I remind myself of my own blissful ignorance just a few years ago. I remind myself that I would never wish this struggle on someone else. Then, I remind myself that we all bear invisible scars.

Even with this knowledge, broad generalizations and assumptions annoy me, sending me into mental rants that sometimes escape the confines of my prattling mind. One such rant sprang to mind a few hours ago. I was skimming Pinterest, searching for little gems to send to my friend, when a beginner’s level workout poster popped up on my feed. This workout included 30 minutes of cardio as well as a single rep of 10-15 squats, push-ups, donkey kicks, and at least seven other kinds of strength building moves. Maybe I have had an experience totally different from other spoonies, but based on the number of posts I see about the struggles of showering, it seems like I’m not too different. That workout would have put me in bed for a week when I first started trying to improve my fitness. Even now, I can do cardio or strength, but it’s rare to do both in one session unless I’m just having an unusually spectacular day. For me, cardio is the best. I’m sure everyone is different, but the important thing is that I am still trying. I will not surrender.

I know what healthy looks like. Like many spoonies, I was a healthy and active person before my illness started stealing my moments. I know what I’m missing. I know what I’m fighting for and why I have to fight so very hard. Some days, I can barely sort out my own feelings. I’m positive you can’t sift through them and figure me out when I’m struggling each day to identify that woman in the mirror. That’s frustrating too.I can write about all of these feelings. I can tell a whole group of strangers that I feel guilty for being sick. I can tell you all that some days are so dark, I forget there ever was a sun or stars or even a moon. I can tell you that the longer I’m sick, the harder it is to remember a time when I was well and that is the single most terrifying feeling I face. The moment I forget is the moment I stop remembering why I fight and push and self-advocate. I have to remember the old me and I have to be able to figure it out how to keep her with me without everyone telling me they know what it’s like. My most ardent prayer is that they never do.

I can’t tell you what to think or feel, but I hope that you’ll come to a place where you can quickly let go of the frustration and recognize the acts as loving attempts to try to go through the struggle with us. As difficult as it is for me to live with daily, it must be just as painful to be the one watching me do it and to be helpless to change it. Maybe it’s even worse.