Day 51 – Our own worst critics

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but at any given time, I probably have at least half-a-dozen blank journals sitting on a shelf somewhere, the empty pages longing to be filled with thoughts and ideas, important words, a story. Yet I always struggle to get things started, to write those first words and mark that first fresh page. Any old words just won’t do.

I want my words to have weight. I want them to matter.

And that desire will often stop me dead in my tracks and make me question whether I really have anything to say worth saying at all.

Yeah, I know. I gotta work on that. I gotta get out of my own damn way.

But that’s just how it is, isn’t it? We are always our own worst enemies, our own harshest critics. So much of the fear and anxiety we feel on a daily basis really just lives in our heads. The situations we find ourselves in, the moments we experience–they’re just moments. The simply exist. They’re here and then they’re gone and they’re benign.

It is what it is.

But it’s the emotion that we tie to those moments that start things spiraling out of control. We get ourselves all worked up and frantic fretting over what if’s and worst case scenarios and building this picture in our minds of how it should be, instead of allowing life to simply unfold as it’s meant to based on the choices we make.

And if all that what-ifing and scenario-building wasn’t enough, what really trips us up is the aftermath, when we carry those moments with us long after they’re gone. We beat ourselves up over the could have beens and should have beens instead of just experiencing the moment.

Letting it in, and letting it go.

And suddenly, something as simple as writing a journal entry can have me wondering if I’m good enough, if I’m just a joke, if I actually have anything to say after all.

I’ve gotten a lot better at keeping myself in check, at not allowing that negative train of thought to keep running out of control. It’s something I have to actively work on and be mindful of every day. It took a lot of hard work and therapy to learn how to temper that negative thinking, but damn has it been worth it!

And I think one of the greatest benefits to learning how to recognize and manage my own self-critic is that it has made me so much more patient and compassionate. We’re all just here trying to do our best while we’re wrestling with our own inner demons, aren’t we? The least we can do is to be kind and support one another. I mean, that’s what we’re here for isn’t it–to love each other and learn how to love ourselves?

Day 49 – Ten random things

I just can’t seem to settle on one topic tonight, so I’m going to give you 10 random things you may not have known about me…

1. I’m an introvert at heart – I’ve had to really work hard for years to develop my networking and public speaking skills (and honestly, it all still makes me rather uncomfortable). These days, I can turn it on when I need to, but I find I always need a little time to decompress.

2. I can’t wink – If I try really hard, I can scrunch my face enough so one eye will eventually close (while the other one is only mostly closed). So, it always makes me feel a twinge of anxiety when someone winks at me, because I feel like I’m supposed to be able to wink back and all I can do is just smile and keep talking to create a diversion from my lack of wink-ability.

3. If I ever won the lottery, I’d go to school forever – Yep, I’m a super nerd, and I’m okay with it. What can I say? I just really love learning new things, and I think part of the reason I’m so happy working on a college campus is because I really miss being in the classroom. Plus, if I won the lottery, I could afford to take all the classes I really want to take and leave the rest behind (I’m looking at you math).

4. I’m a work in progress – I’m in a much (MUCH) better place than I was in those high school and college years when I was struggling with my eating disorder and depression, but I still have to work on my self-esteem and my body image daily. I tend to deflect compliments, and I still don’t always feel comfortable in my own skin, but I can recognize my progress and that feels pretty good.

5. I miss New York – The city, the food, the energy, and all the people I love there. I think there are places that are just part of you. No rhyme or reason. You just feel this visceral connection somewhere deep in your bones. I felt it the first time I looked out the window of the airplane and saw the city sprawled out beneath the clouds. And every time I traveled outside of the boroughs or Westchester County, I always felt like I was leaving a piece of myself behind.

6. My favorite book of all time is Stephen King’s IT – Look, there are a lot of great books out there, a lot of books I really, really love. But gun to my head and I’m forced to choose one book to take with me to a deserted island? It’s going to be IT. Every time I read IT (and I must have read it at least 40 times by now), I immediately want to start over when it’s finished. King is a master of detail and characters, and those kids in the Loser’s Club? Yeah, I definitely would have been one of them.

7. My “People I Want to Have a Beer With” List – Stevie and I started this a whole lot of years ago (at some point when we were dating), making a list of the people we admire, people we’re fascinated by, people we just want to sit down and talk to and spend a little time with. The list is pretty extensive (because I find a lot of people seriously fascinating), but if I had to narrow it down to my Top 10 right now, here’s who I would choose (in no particular order): David Lynch, Carol Burnett, Maya Angelou, Ellen Degeneres, Brit Marling, Jeannine Capó Crucet, Ann Wilson, Lewis Black, César Millan, and James Spader.

8. Competition ruined sports for me – I was always an active kid. I would much rather spend my days out running around playing, rollerblading, riding my bike, swimming, throwing a ball around, etc. than to be cooped up indoors. Through elementary, middle, and high school, I enjoyed playing basketball, softball, volleyball, and even track (though I preferred to stick with discus, long jump, and high jump than to take part in any running events). But somewhere in early high school, sports just stopped being fun. I enjoyed participating for the fun of it, for pure enjoyment of the sport and self-satisfaction at a job well done. Between a coach who kept signing me up for relays after I told her I had no interest in running, and a few girls on my teams who were more interested in proving they were the best than actually playing as a team, I decided I’d had enough of sports by sophomore year in high school and decided to stick with band, choir, art, writing, photography and my part-time jobs instead. And you know what? I don’t regret it for a minute.

9. I don’t want to live in a world without Cadbury Eggs – I know. I know. They’re ridiculously sweet, and kinda gross with that runny, gooey center that oozes out when you break the chocolate shell. But damn I love me some Cadbury Eggs! They’re the one chocolate treat I seriously crave (probably because they actually disappear for a good portion of the year). Every year since we’ve been together, Stevie and I try to stockpile Cadbury Eggs when they’re on sale after Easter. We sock them away in the fridge with every intention of making them last the next several months. But somehow we end up eating our way through them way too fast, and then we spend the rest of the year pining of them and counting down the days ’til we start seeing the commercials on TV or notice the baskets of them popping up next to the checkout lanes in the grocery store. And yeah, guess what time it is folks???

10. I have a deep hatred for raisins – It wasn’t always this way. I imagine I ate my way through a few dozen boxes in my youth. What kid hasn’t? I never would have said raisins were my favorite thing. Mostly I guess I just never really noticed them. Then, when I was in therapy in college, one of my counselors led my group through a mindfulness exercise using raisins to help us focus. And for the next 10 minutes or so, there was nothing else in my life but raisins. And what did I learn from that little exercise? Raisins are fucking nasty. They’re shriveled little pieces of gummy after-fruit that sort of taste like dirt before you chew them, and sort of taste like lightly-sweetened dirt after you chew them. But the beauty of the exercise was that I learned how many things in life we simply pass by on auto-pilot without really experiencing them. It taught me to slow down, to focus on the present moment instead of constantly fretting over the past or worrying about the future. Because right now is the only moment that is really important–and let’s face it, life’s far too short to spend it mindlessly eating raisins.

Day 44 – Fear of success

I was leading a workshop tonight, and at one point the discussion turned to the fact that people can lose motivation and start to procrastinate because they fear success.

That’s the point where most of the students in the room look at me like I’ve lost my damn mind.

Fear of failure? Now that makes sense. Failing sucks. It feels icky. No one likes to miss the mark have have to own up to a mistake. But fear of success? Who the hell would be afraid of being successful? How does that even work?

Trust me, I’ve got this one. And it can honestly feel every bit as icky as failing. See, fearing success comes from those moments when you start strong. You’re feeling good, firing on all cylinders. But then you hit a point where you start wondering if maybe you set that bar a little high. You start to question whether the pace and expectations you’ve set for yourself just might not be sustainable.

It happened to me in college. I hit the ground running when I arrived at Concordia. First semester, 18 credit hours and a 4.0. Second semester, 17 credit hours and a 3.9. I was making new friends. I was accepted into the Honors Program. I got a job tutoring in the Writing Center. I got an essay published in a national magazine. Life was good…but somehow all the great things happening on the outside just didn’t quite match up with the way I felt about myself. I’d always struggled with self-esteem and not quite feeling like I belonged, and soon that Imposter Syndrome started to take over and I suddenly felt like I was trying to maintain my balance on a very wobbly pedestal.

So, I did what any rational person would do when faced with the shame of admitting that they’re not perfect–I started to self-sabotage, because somehow that seemed a helluva lot less difficult than having to let my guard down and let somebody see that I was just a scared kid who couldn’t for the life of me understand what anyone else saw in me. I started withdrawing from classes, watching my grades slowly dip. I made bad decisions. I even got an F in one of my major classes because I didn’t complete the coursework in time after the professor gave me an Incomplete.

It took me a long time (and a whole lot of therapy) to finally reconcile my expectations of myself, to finally begin to understand that I am smart and capable, that I deserve to take pride in my accomplishments because I worked really fucking hard to earn them. I still managed to graduate with Honors, go onto grad school, build a good life and a successful career.

And I am so grateful for every minute of it.

But still, there are days even now (especially now) when my Imposter Syndrome still whispers, persistently, making me question whether I really have what it takes, whether I really belong.

I guess we’re all just works in progress, aren’t we?

Day 36 – Bird’s eye view

It happens to everyone at some point–life just gets to flying by and you’re so busy and bogged down and buried that you feel yourself getting lost in the middle of it. There was a time in my life when these situations may have overwhelmed me, stopped me in my tracks, knocked me flat on my ass. We’ve all had those moments haven’t we? When things just sort of spiral out of control? But what I’ve learned through the years is how to maintain balance, how to stand in that crazy, chaotic space and not let life knock me down.

What can I say? I’m stubborn.

But more than that, I think I’ve managed to develop a pretty decent perspective. And it has a little something to do with this…

“Harry, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen. It could be a new suit in a men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot, black coffee like this.” -Special Agent Dale Cooper, Twin Peaks

Maybe I’m a glass-half-full girl. Maybe my default these days tends to be on the positive, looking for opportunities in the challenges. It’s not that I ignore issues or never feel frustration–it’s that I don’t allow myself to get bogged down and wallow in it.

Trust me, I’ve been there. And life is way too short to stay in that negative space and be miserable.

Instead, I make a choice every day–a choice to do the best I can with the circumstances presented to me. I can’t control everything. (Not even close!) But I can control the way I react, and the way I choose to respond. And I’m going to make mistakes along the way. We all do. And I’m okay with that, because I’m going to own those mistakes and learn from them and use what I learn to do better.

It’s been a really busy few days (hell, it’s been a really busy few months, years, decade!), but even in those busiest times, I make a point to be present, to give myself that present, to find the little bits of beauty in every day. And this was one of those moments today, looking up to see some soft snow flurries beginning to swirl outside my window, and a large hawk perched serenely on the bare branch of a tree.

I paused for a moment to admire him, thinking what a gift it is to see the world from that bird’s eye view, having the opportunity to look around at that big picture and not get lost in the details. It was a long day, a busy day, a challenging day. No doubt. But from where I’m sitting and soaking it all in, it was a really good day too. Because every day is a good day, if you get out of your own way and allow it to be..

Day 30 – Tomorrow the sun will rise

“And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?” -Tom Hanks, Castaway

Day 19 – The family that you make

There was a time in my life when I avoided people, relationships of just about any kind. I’m an introvert by nature, but this was different. I didn’t trust people, and I was filled with so much self-loathing and self-doubt that I believed it was easier to just keep everyone at arm’s distance than to risk getting close and getting hurt.

During my years in therapy, one of the biggest challenges was for me to trust people, to let them in, because I had trouble matching up what other people saw in me with what I saw in myself. I had to spend a lot of time building up my own self-image, learn to love myself and let other people love me. One of the results was that I started to view relationships and human connection differently.

Letting people in. Trusting them. Connecting. Building relationships. Loving other humans. These things can be hard, but they are so worth it. They’re vital. They’re the reason we’re all bumping around on this blue-green planet in the first place. And the really beautiful thing that happens when you connect with other people is that just being in their presence, hearing their voices, spending an evening together sharing a meal sparks immeasurable joy.

Family is not bound by blood. Family is the people you choose to surround yourself with, the people you love and invest your time in. Stevie and I have loved ones spread all over the country–from New York to Arizona to Colorado and Washington state–and we do what we can to connect. We don’t do as much as we would like to, or have nearly enough time with all the people who mean the world to us. But sometimes there are moments like tonight, when we get a chance to spend an evening with some really beautiful souls. My home was full of love tonight, and my heart is too.