Monday, November 30, 2015

How to Be Fierce

I have noticed recently how reluctant people are to claim their own beauty. I know some unbelievably good looking folks, y'all, and they all have one thing in common:

They see what's "wrong" with them and not what's right with them.

They can make long, detailed lists of the parts of themselves that they'd hack off, plump up, paralyze, remove, adjust.

It's so sad.  But every single person I know has this list. This list of "here are all of the things that are not right about how I look" -- and I'm not 100% sure but I feel VERY confident when I say that when most of us look in the mirror? That's what we see. All of the things that are wrong. All of the things we hate.

And we -- all of us -- need to STOP.

Being beautiful (or handsome, or whatever) doesn't start with what other people see when they look at you. It starts with what YOU see when you look at you.

So be freaking fierce. March yourself into the bathroom and take a good long look in the mirror. Really look at yourself. Notice all of the things that make you unique and amazing and smoking hot.  Announce "I am freaking FIERCE."

Go ahead, I'll wait.


Oh good, you're back.

Was that hard for you? I bet it was. I bet you wanted to see all of the things that you think should be fixed -- like your unbalanced eyebrows and the giggle lines (so much more fun than laugh lines) and the not perfectly white teeth.

Here's the thing though: I think you should see those. I think you should see them and you should LOVE them because they're part of what make you unbelievably amazing and adorable. March your (super cute) tushie back into the bathroom and look again. LOVE your crooked eyebrows! Enjoy those lines you earned from laughing until your belly hurt! Appreciate the fact no one who is not airbrushed has perfectly white teeth! That's your face and it is amazingly attractive.

Go on. Get in there.


Back again. Nice.

Now. Know this: you are unique and perfectly wonderfully you and that makes you so very, very beautiful. You might have scars. You might have more weight than you think you should or less weight than you think you should. Maybe you wish some things about your body could be changed.

You can change them if you want. You do you.

But don't you go on thinking for one single, solitary instant that the things you don't like keep you from being astonishingly beautiful. Don't you EVER believe that. Not for one more instant.

Because you are beautiful. Believe it. Carry yourself with that knowledge. Hold your head high and know that whoever sees you is beholding someone who is fierce and who is proud and who deserves to be treated well because you do.

You're a rock star.

Own it.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

And You Let Her Go

I had been trying to figure out a way to hold onto a friendship that I knew was over, but that I felt too strongly about to give up on. Well, actually, a couple of friendships. I love these women. I don't want to lose them.

The reality, though, is that there are people you can't keep in your life, even if you want to. The reality is that you may reach a crossroads and she will want to go left while you want to go right. The truth is that this feels like dying but it is okay. It is, and you are, and she will be.

The hard part is knowing that.

The hard part is letting go of a hand you held to tightly and taking those steps on your own path, by yourself.

The hard part is realizing that this is not a failure. There is no such thing as failure. There is only the journey and for right now, your journey dictates that you part ways.

The hardest part is knowing that it's for the best, because it hurts so fucking much.

But you let go of her hand.

And you wave goodbye.

And you pray she will be blessed.

And you let her go.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Maybe Let's Talk About Self Harm

I am scared to write this post, which is probably an indication that I HAVE to write this post.

But still.

When I was diagnosed with anxiety I was also diagnosed with dermatillomania. For those of you who are lucky enough not to have the foggiest idea as to what that is, dermatillomania is an OCD behavior that causes you to pick at your skin.

You may be wondering what that means. For a long time, it meant that I picked at the skin on my fingers. 

Okay, it meant that I picked at my fingers until they were permanently scarred and bled. It meant that manicurists were often horrified by the fingers I presented to them. It meant that I was embarrassed to have people notice my hands, but I couldn't stop.

And then... One day, out of the blue, I started picking at my feet.

When I say that my fingers were/are a bloody, scarred mess? They have NOTHING on my poor feet. I am aggressive with my feet in a way that I am not with my fingers because I can hide what I've done to the bottoms of my feet in a way that I can't with my hands.

However. If you were to see the bottoms of my feet, you would probably be horrified. They look like they have been flayed, repeatedly. They are a mess of scars and scabs and wounds.
I am telling you this because I recently had a conversation with a friend who has anxiety who had someone say to her, "I really think you just need to chill?" As if anxiety is a choice. As if she wouldn't opt for that if she could.

I have had people see my hands (and less frequently my feet), wince, and tell me I should stop. As though I don't want to. As though slowly peeling the skin off my feet so that I can leave bloody footprints on the carpet is awesome sand I love it sooooo much.

I would love to stop. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I have a space of good days where my fingers heal and my feet heal and I know that it would look like if I was normal (except for the scar tissue). And then I have a bad day, or several, and it builds and my brain demands an outlet and this is what I have. 

I don't WANT this.

But I have it anyway.

You might be wondering why I'm writing this. I'm writing it because I know I'm not the only one. I'm writing it because I want everyone to think about the fact that the people you meet are fighting battles you can't see. And I'm writing it because I had never heard of dermatillomania, and until I understood it, I was desperately ashamed of my need to hurt myself.

If you have this? There are things that can help. Please, please talk to a doctor.

If you know someone who resembles this? Show them this post. Let them know they are not alone. Offer to go with them so they can find out what to do to help themselves.

We need to help each other.

We need to be able to rely on each other.

Let's do that.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Hi There

The holiday season is about to launch, and I know that it's hard. There's so much emotion dumped into all of it. Family. History. Angst. Baggage. It's hard sometimes to let a turkey dinner just be a turkey dinner when it's tied to memories of sitting at the kids table with cousins you don't talk to anymore, or your grandmother getting mad and storming upstairs because "no one cares about her, no one cares about her feelings, no one calls or comes near" (even though your family is literally there every weekend), or when the mean aunt who never shows up to anything makes a dramatic entrance just as you are saying grace.

It's hard when everything seems like it's about family and you're away from your family. Or maybe you don't have family. Or maybe you've had to sever those ties because of abuse. 

It's hard.

But you should know this: you are not alone. You are never alone. (Unless you want to be, and if that's the case than I totally respect your space.)

You are brilliant.

You are uplifted. You are borne aloft on the warm thoughts and well wishes of everyone and everyone who has been there and is there and who understands.

You are embraced. You are held in the arms of people who, like you, find the holidays difficult and challenging.

You are validated. Everything you feel? Is okay and acceptable. Joy, sorrow, rage: they are all real and they are all yours and none of them are forbidden. Honour your feelings. They are perfect and you are perfect.

You are free. Choose to celebrate --or not. Choose to explain -- or don't. You get to dictate what you do, what traditions you follow, what ceremonies you create.

And you are loved. Yes, you. Whether or not you feel like you deserve it. Whether or not you understand why. You are loved and you are amazing.

Sending you out the warmest wishes and thoughts,


Monday, November 23, 2015

Crazy Thanksgiving Lady

As I may have mentioned, last year Mother Nature took a good look at the plans The Fella and I had made for Thanksgiving and sneezed all over them. While not particularly fancy, they were our plans for our first Thanksgiving together, and having to throw away all of our perishables due to a lack of power instead of happily nomming pizza we had made together was, well, kind of sucky. We ended up having a lovely, cozy time, but still.

This year, we decided to have a mildly more traditional Thanksgiving, albeit one sans turkey (which probably causes everyone who read this to breathe a sigh of relief) with stuffing and veggie dishes and mashed potatoes and pie. It's like a no-carbs left behind nom-fest.

So, casting one wary eye on the weather report, I went in search of side dish ideas while The Fella declared that he makes really good cranberry sauce from scratch and did I like homemade cranberry sauce?

Homemade cranberry sauce?

My kind of cranberry sauce comes out of a can, I said. Like ... um ... cranberry jello.

He looked at me with horror.

I bet I'll like it, I said quickly. I mean, I'm sure I will! Please make it!

The only problem is this: I am crazy. CRAZY. Like, "some of my friends call me Martha Stewart" crazy. As in, there is no way he's making HOMEMADE cranberry sauce and I'm not making something equally amazing. Because COMPETITION (and, uh, did I mention that I'm crazy)?

I found some fancy schmancy recipes and went grocery shopping. Of course, by "grocery shopping" I really mean "Lost my mind at the grocery store and spent too much money and had to make four trips to haul my treasures into the house" because that's what happened. That was the first sign that I had lost my mind.

The second (and probably more telling) sign happened as I found myself scolding what might be the largest head of cauliflower that I have ever seen because it wouldn't fit in the crisper. "YOU ARE RUINING MY MOJO," I hissed at the vegetable as it continued to jam in the drawer. "YOU ARE STUBBORN AND I HATE YOU."

I heard myself saying it.

Then I sat down on the floor and started to laugh. Okay, and cry a little. The cat climbed into my laugh while I giggled and snorked at the same time. I patted her fuzzy head until I regained some semblance of composure.

Here's my problem: I want to have a magical holiday where I create something super impressive because ... well, to be honest I don't know. To prove I can? To demonstrate to everyone that I have mastered Adulting?

But the truth? The truth is that it doesn't matter if the damn cauliflower fits in the crisper, or if I make food that looks and tastes like a professional chef has made it (although that would be nice), or even whether or not we have electricity or heat.

The truth is that the fact that I get to spend this or any holiday with The Fella makes it pretty freaking magical.

For that, I will always be thankful.

Nicest Thing Ever

I ran into an old friend over the weekend and she said one of the nicest things I have ever heard, which was this:

"Every time I think about you and The Fella, I smile. It's like -- you guys remind me that really good things happen in the world."

Which, awwwwwww.

And also, awwwwwwwww.

If I'm giving thanks this week (and of course I am), it's for just that: this beautiful life that I never expected to have.

It's for good things that happen, when we're not looking for them.

And it's for being lucky enough to recognize them when they do.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Saying Goodbye (PeteSaahgent)

My dad recently left the job he's had since my parents relocated to North Carolina. Leaving a job is difficult; no matter what the circumstances are, you walk away from friends and routine, and that's hard. The older you get, the harder it is.

I know a little something about that.

On the same day that my dad left his job in North Carolina, he found out that the plant he'd worked at for thirty-two years in New Hampshire had been sold off by GE.

It was, and is, really hard to accept.

That building was a fixture in my father's life from when he was eighteen to when he was fifty. Even though he retired, it was the place he identified with. He moved away, but he knew it was there, its old school neon sign rising above the landscape of downtown Somersworth, New Hampshire.

Of course, as I mentioned, my folks don't live here in New England anymore. They'll probably adjust faster than I will because they won't see the plant. It's easier to get used to things when they're not in your face. I'm still not used to driving past the house I grew up in and not being able to pull into the drive and have a cup of tea, and I never got used to the loss of my dad's buddy and supervisor, Pete, who I used to get on the phone when I called the tool room at GE so I could talk to my dad.

Pete was old school New England and he had the accent to prove it. He'd pick up the phone and say his name like it was one word: "PeteSahhgent."

"Um, Mr. Sargeant? This is Dan Hayes's daughter Danielle... Can I talk to him?"

"A'course. One minute." And then you could hear him call out: "Daaaaaannnnnnyyyy!"

It was more awesome if you got his voicemail, because there would be a cool, automated female voice saying: "You have reached the desk of--" and then a recording of Pete, saying slowly, in the exact opposite way of that which he answered the phone: "Petah. Saahgent."

I used to drive past Pete's house on my way to my teaching job. Sometimes I'd see him, walking out to his mailbox. I always waved. He'd always wave back. 

When my mom called to tell me that Pete had died very suddenly, I didn't believe her. "I just SAW him," I said. "He waved to me." As though friendliness pre-empts death. As though by the act of waving to him, I could keep him safe. 

"I know," my mum said. She was crying. I think my dad was too. I just said, "PeteSaahgent" and then I had to hang up.

I still drive by Pete's house sometimes, on my way from here to there. I wave, even though there's no one there to wave back. When I drive past the GE plant in Somersworth, sometimes I say "Petah. Saahgent" even though no one lives here anymore who understands.

I probably still will, when it all boils down to it. Even though it's not GE anymore. Even though nothing remains the same.

But it will make me extra sad.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Giving. Thanks.

Last year was the first Thanksgiving that The Fella and I spent together. Because he doesn’t eat meat, and I wasn’t feeling the traditional foods (I was still burned out from the great turkey roast of 2013), we decided that we would make pizza and be quietly festive. This was an excellent plan right up until the day before Thanksgiving, when we had an unexpected, giant snowstorm and the power went out.

And stayed out.

For two days.

Takeout, anyone?

This year, we are going a slightly more traditional route (albeit sans turkey) and, hopefully, will have power so we can actually cook things instead of having to throw out all of the things in our fridge because they have spoiled. Fingers crossed.

As we were thinking about what we wanted to do for the holiday, though, I was remembering the fairy tale story that we all learned in elementary school  about the first Thanksgiving. You probably remember. You made a turkey out of a tracing of your hand. You made a buckled hat out of construction paper. Your teacher told a story about how the Pilgrims and the Indians pooled all of their resources and had a magnificent meal.

History tells us that this version, though kid-friendly, isn’t, erm, accurate.  I know that.

I love the spirit of what I think of as Disney Thanksgiving – cleaned up, adorable, probably including singing animals – because I think that there should be more sharing. More generosity. More pooling of resources.

What I would like to challenge every person to do for Thanksgiving and the holiday season is just that: share. Be generous.

·         Be generous with your knowledge – consider the things that you have been through and the lessons you have learned, and how you can share those things.

·         Be generous with your time – give time to someone or something who needs it. Maybe you have a friend who needs your listening skills. Maybe you have an elderly neighbor who needs someone to check in on her. Maybe your child’s school could use a helper. Maybe the local food bank could use someone to pick up or sort donations.

·         Be generous with your heart. Offer kindness and love to people. Even when it’s hard. Maybe especially when it’s hard. Let the people you love know that you love them. Send your mom a card. Call your siblings.  Write a note to a friend.

·         Be generous with your resources. Donate an old coat to a program that distributes winter coats to people who need them. Buy a couple of extra items at the grocery store and donate them to a food pantry. Pick up an extra toy and give it to Toys for Tots. Drop your change into the Salvation Army kettle. Smile at the person who’s standing out in the cold, ringing the bell.

This world needs more kindness. It needs more shared knowledge and experience. It needs us to take the time to be human with one another. It needs us to love each other. And it needs us to share.

Be generous, when you can, however you can.

And if you want to make a construction paper Pilgrim hat while you do it? That’s fun too.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Anxiety and Me

So, I have this anxiety issue.

If you don't have an anxiety issue -- well, don't feel left out. You probably have other issues, and if you want we can talk about them later. Let me know.

I wish I could give a blanket explanation of what it's like to have an anxiety disorder, but I think it's different for every person who lives with it. I can only tell you what it's like for me and for me,  when I'm having a full blown episode, it's as though my system goes into full flight or flight mode. My heart beats too fast and I can't breathe. It's like having an asthma attack but my inhaler doesn't do anything (in fact, I have to be careful not to confuse the two --  panic and asthma  -- because my inhaler will actually make my anxiety worse), and I usually stop talking because I can't figure out what words to use. I feel isolated and stupid and my body feels wrong. My skin feels too tight. I want to find a warm, dark space and hide in it until it passes.

It's not, you know, the most fun thing ever.

I've figured out that some things trigger my anxiety. For example, I find large crowds triggering. I used to love going to concerts; now I know that I can only really go to small venues, because the idea of navigating in and out of, say, a stadium and being surrounded by all of the people is too much. I don't like being in super noisy places. I respond poorly to shouting and to conflict.

Can I take medication for this? Yes. I can. Medication helps manage anxiety. It does not control it or take it away. It helps to smooth it out, but it doesn't erase it. There's no magical pill that will rewire my brain so that it's not convinced that I'm going to die in a Chuck E Cheese (please, never ask me to go to a Chuck E Cheese) or if I attend a party where I don't know very many people. I would love it if there was, but there simply isn't. As a result, in addition to medication, I have tried to figure out some of the things that cause me to, um, lose my shit.

Because the reality is that if I'm NOT able to figure that out and I go into full anxiety mode too often, Anxiety's BFF, Depression, will join in the festivities. This, in case you can't tell, is the opposite of awesome. It's terrible when you spend a lot of time wanting to hide and then, when you don't want to hide, find yourself sobbing uncontrollably at the drop of a hat because you are too tired and sad to cope.

I'm a freaking party to be around, obviously.

The hardest part about anxiety is this: sometimes, the thing that causes it to spin and dance through your system? Isn't something you can quickly remove yourself from.

For example, it might be your job. Okay, my job. It might have been my job.

I worked with wonderful, kind, funny people who I adored, but I would wake up feeling like I needed to vomit and spend hours at work in "Can't breathe, weight on my chest, I feel like I'm going to die, I can't escape" mode.  Every. Day.

I don't think I need to explain that this is not good for one's overall health.

I was tired all of the time because, to add to the fun, anxiety also causes me to have insomnia. I would sleep for a few hours and then wake up with the "skin too tight, can't breathe, racing heart" feelings while I was overwhelmed by thoughts of what had happened at work and what would happen at work the next day and the realization that there was nothing I could do about any of it.

Until finally I realized, as I sat in the tub crying as quietly as possible for the what might have been the hundredth time: I cannot live like this. It's not fair to The Fella or my family or my friends, who are watching me very slowly fall apart. It's not fair to ME.

I was lucky. I was able to find another job in a field I love and in an environment that's perfect for me.   It's been four weeks since I left my previous job and I have had exactly two panic attacks since then. One was the night before I flew out to train for my new job (I don't love to fly), and one was a few nights ago. That one was random. They sometimes are. I know that I'll have them. I also know that I cannot tolerate any life situation that causes that every day. I deserve more than that.

Everyone deserves to have a life that brings them joy, no matter how disordered their brain chemistry.

So, I have this anxiety thing. I'm used to it, mostly. I don't expect that I'll ever not have it.

But right now? I feel pretty damn good.

I'll take it.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Open Spaces

Acts of horror and violence take place daily. They take place on small scales, within homes, as children cower in fear from an upraised hand, and they take place on large scales, with bombs going off in market places and guns fired into crowds. We pay more attention to some of these acts than we do others. Some of them get a lot of media scrutiny and some do not. Some of that’s political – probably a lot of it is – and some of it is racial and some of it is economical.

When we pay attention, we like to find someone to blame. I think this is understandable. When something horrible happens, we want to know why. It might not make us feel safer, per say, but it makes us feel better if there is someone – anyone – we can hold responsible.

Someone we can vilify.

Someone we can hate.

That’s what I want to talk about here. The hate.

The thing that disturbs me most about large scale acts of horror and terrorism, as much as the acts itself, is the hatred and the blame.

I saw an exchange on social media about recent acts of terrorism, in which the original poster said, We should pray for everyone. Pray for the people who were injured. Pray for the families of the dead. And pray for the people who did this, because they have lost their humanity.

The responses to her post were angry and encompassed not only the people who committed the terrorism, but all of the people of their background, and also refugees from other nations and said, quite simply. No. No, we will not pray for these people – we will not pray for any of these people. No. We should take up arms against all of them. They are vile and disgusting and we hate them. Look! Look what they did! How can you ask us to pray for them? What is wrong with you? We need to destroy them.

I can’t help but think that this is the same conversation that the group who committed these acts had, if someone among them dared say, “Let us not do this thing. Let us pray for these people instead.”

I can’t find it within me to hate anyone. I just can’t. I understand the inclination but I can’t embrace it. I hate the violence. I hate the horror. I just don’t know how to hate people. I don’t know how to hate people who can’t see another path. I don’t know how to want to hurt someone because they are so desperate that the only thing that they know how to do is lash out. I don’t know how to declare war against an entire people for the actions of a few people.

This is what I think: the heart is full of open spaces. They can be filled up with love, or they can be filled up with something else.  I will always choose to fill the open spaces in my heart with love and light and hope, because to do otherwise is to become the thing that I abhor.  When that happens? That’s when the people who would cause harm win. They cannot win unless you allow their actions to fill you with hate and fear.

Please don’t fill the open spaces in your heart with darkness.


Friday, November 13, 2015

Yellie Ledbetter

I was stirring my dinner and drinking a glass of wine when Pearl Jam came on the radio. "Yellow Ledbetter" to be precise, (and precision is a funny thing to use a yardstick when discussing a song with completely indecipherable lyrics, but there it is).

I love that song -- despite the fact that I have no idea what Eddie Vedder is saying -- for a million reasons, but mostly I love it because it reminds me of a perfectly lovely evening that my ex-husband and I spent with good friends. We were drinking, hanging out, and this song came on the radio and we lost ourselves in the fun of the moment. No one, it seems, knows the verses to this but the chorus? We sang the chorus out like we'd sold out Madison Square Garden. We were young and lovely and happy and, okay, a little drunk, but we OWNED that shit.

My ex and I are no longer married-- for that matter, neither are those friends -- but sometimes I think that, like those lyrics we didn't understand, that's not the point. The point is that you once touched ridiculous joy. Later there would be fighting and recrimination and disloyalty and fear but once? 

We were not afraid to sing out.

No matter what came after, that will remain beautiful.