Not There Yet

It is no secret that I haven’t been 100% my improved self over the last couple of weeks. Christmas really bumped me off my higher-flying disc. Even though some magical good stuff has happened, and I had the breakthrough with my dad, I have still been feeling a little off.

The weather hasn’t helped. After being walloped with an ice storm right before Christmas, the “polar vortex” blasted through and dumped over two feet of snow. Everyone was locked inside their houses for days. School was called off for the first three days of break. While the city shut down, I still made it to my radiation appointments. Alex and Max had to dig me out one day, but I still made it.

If there is anything I have learned about constant doctor’s appointments, it is to make friends. I can tell that my doctors and radiation therapists like me. Yeah, I know…they like everyone…but I try to make life as easy for them as possible. I try to position myself as best as possible on the table. I only share positive energy, and thank them for their efforts. I feel like this good will has helped make my appointments go by as effortlessly as possible, with minimal wait time.

These radiation appointments drag my butt out of bed in the morning, but I find that as soon as I return home I slip back into bed. Finding the motivation to do much else has escaped me. The sky is dark and gloomy. The outdoors is cold and uninviting, but the inside of my house is almost the same. It is vacant, devoid of warmth and stimulation. A part of me feels like I am almost a little trapped. What if I can’t return to normal life after all of this is finished? What is “normal?” I don’t feel I can go back to the life I left; I don’t want to. Still, can I really make a different future for myself?

I have taken breaks to get something to eat, visit the mall, or visit Alex and Max. They have had their moments recently too. Several of our nights were just cut short by someone needing more sleep, or minor arguments, stuff. I knew I was feeling off my game, but just overlooked it.

Finally, one of the nights this week, I was sitting on Alex and Max’s couch while they and Alex’s brother were on their smartphones. This happens regularly. The conversation fizzles, and everyone goes on their phone. Sometimes it is to search for some information, sometimes they are chatting with people, other times they are buying time for the others to finish and for us to go onto our next thing.

I have missed the smartphone era. Now, I am the type of person who would normally have had the newest, most savvy phone. I love technology. But as my financial situation has fluctuated, I got out of cell phone contracts and have focused on spending the least amount of money as possible on utilities like a phone. Years have flown by, and I have wanted to join the bandwagon, but have been sitting on the sidelines.

Besides being lame, this behavior has made me feel really dated. It is bad enough that my current cell phone is as modern as a “jitterbug,” but social behavior is changing in this country. People are open and available, communicating 24/7.  These phones aren’t just status symbols; they are the way people are talking. I have seen people text each other as they are sitting right next to each other. As someone who doesn’t have a ticket to play, I do feel like an outsider.

I have expressed this to Alex and Max before. When you are both on your phones, it is like I am not here. You aren’t present. I am just sitting here waiting for your return. I can’t answer so and so on facebook, or see that article. All you got is me.

They have asked why I don’t carry my ipod touch with me to use while they are doing stuff. First, it isn’t a phone. It doesn’t have enough memory for a ton of apps. I don’t want to carry it around because I am convinced I’ll lose it. Besides, there is a part of me that hasn’t minded not joining the bandwagon. I am sort of off the grid. I often leave my phone in the car while I am at their house and just focus on being there with them. I don’t need to be distracted to another place. I am already where I want to be and with whom I want to be with.

Still, it is getting worse. It has gone beyond bucking a trend to being left behind. As people have become more comfortable with this technology, it is becoming normalized. Anyone under a certain age has already drunk the Kool-Aid. My reluctance makes me feel like I am more elderly than I am. You start to understand that you are missing opportunities by staying out of it.

Then, a commercial came on. At&t has a $45 a month, no contract, service plan for smartphones. You find one, bring it in, and your set. It is the same amount as what I am paying for my piece of crap phone. “Why not take the plunge?” Alex asked.

We tried to find out more about it that night, but I was too tired to figure it out. I had believed that having a smartphone was out of the question in my current circumstance, but maybe it was time to change that. Maybe the only one holding myself back from this was…myself.

The next day, I decided to go to At&t to investigate. After lunch, I pulled up to the store. There were a lot of people in there. From the moment I walked in, I was greeted by a guy and followed for the rest of the time I was in the store. (I HATE that!) I asked about the no contract plan. I asked to see what phones were available to purchase without a contract and if being on contract meant that I had to have a credit check.

The no contract plan was fine, but finding a phone would be the most difficult. A lot of these phones, without a plan, were hundreds of dollars. The ones that were not were so bad that I was embarrassed they were even selling them. What I really wanted was an iphone. I started believing that it would be out of my ability to get. I couldn’t even try to look into a contract phone because I was convinced that I wouldn’t be approved and would feel embarrassed if I was declined in the store.

Because the guy was on my tail the entire time, I felt like I couldn’t think things through. I felt like I was going to suffocate and he was creeping me out. I couldn’t get out of the door fast enough. It wasn’t until my feet hit the pavement of the parking lot that I finally was set free from the sales associate. I got into my car and started bawling.

Why did the boys set me up to feel this way again? Just when I had become okay with the fact that this was out of my reach, they made me feel like it was an option again. I was setting myself up for failure. I am not deserving of a new phone. How many other obligations have I not met? They take priority. This is so stupid! Yes, I could get service from At&t…but I’ll never get an iphone. If I do, it will just be a stolen phone…or some piece of crap. I’ll never have a new phone.

I began to spiral. I hate myself because I am so miserable with money. I will never be able to feel like I have good credit again. I have made bad choices, and I will pay for the rest of my life. My student loans are my chains and shackles. How dare I pretend I could afford college? I got the knowledge, but I will always remain poor because I couldn’t pay for it outright. It is a reminder that I am a lesser class.

I couldn’t understand why I was bombarding my head with these stupid thoughts. Self worth was plummeting. I have had so much time off, but what was I really doing with it? If I couldn’t get it done (like house work) now, I should never expect that I would ever get it done.

The previous night, I had gone to a glass blowing class. It was a Christmas gift from one of my chemo angels. From all the way in Florida, not really knowing me from Adam, my angel bought me a Groupon for a glass blowing class to make ornaments. I love doing art stuff, so it was a perfect gift. When I made it to the class, they noticed that the name on my Groupon didn’t match mine. I told them it was a gift and the organizing ladies were very interested. Who was this magical person who got me this gift?

I told the ladies that it was my pen pal. I let them know that she was the equivalent of a stranger, and how nice it was to be thought of….but I couldn’t explain the whole truth. Well, I was diagnosed with cancer and got hooked up with Chemo Angels who send me letters every week. This was one of the beautiful things one of my angels has done for me. I couldn’t say the words because I didn’t want to feel like a cancer patient. I didn’t want pity. I didn’t want the extra attention.

When I told the boys this, Max mentioned that I missed a valuable opportunity. I agreed with him, but I couldn’t understand why I chose not to reveal that part of myself. Max said, “you are missing an opportunity to show people that even though you had cancer, it doesn’t need to be a miserable, horrible experience.” By being able to share that aspect, like any aspect, I allow people to get to know me more and be more invested. It can help me make more friends, make stronger connections.

Not being able to do that means I still feel like I should have something to hide. The boys scratched their heads. What do you have left to hide? Your family knows, even your dad. Why do you still have to hide? There was a beat, and Max stated, “you are still not okay with it yourself.”

Back in the car, bawling about a stupid smartphone, I pondered. Was this the missing thing? I am horrible with money and don’t know if I will ever get ahead. Is my fear of being destitute keeping me from liking myself?

Hours latter, I thought I was doing okay…but hanging out with Alex and Max brought it back up. I told them about the phone ordeal and they knew it wasn’t a problem. “We’ll just buy one on eBay,” Alex said. They pulled up eBay on a laptop and I looked through them.

I hate eBay. I feel weird buying other people’s stuff. The last time I bought something on eBay, I got a broken old school ipod. I was able to return it, but I still felt like a dork trying to buy something on eBay again. I knew the boys would help me, but I also felt like I didn’t want to spend all this time and money buying an old phone that is already ancient by technology standards. It was sure to have quarks and not work as well as it should.

I finally went on the At&t site, held my breath, and tried to get an iphone 5, certified like new, for $1 with a two-year contract. I entered my information, held my breath, and submitted it. The screen changed and said I would be charged when it shipped. The fine print said that everything would depend on a credit check, yadda…yadda.

Well, it didn’t say no. Matter of fact, I think I got it. Did that just happen? Is my credit not that bad? No…it is bad. Maybe phone companies are not as picky as they used to be. Nothing bad happened. Instead, I might have just simply got what I wanted.

I felt better, but I wasn’t a hundred percent. Over dinner, Alex and Max tried to talk to me about it. I found that I couldn’t talk about it without feeling emotion. The boys were like, separate it. I couldn’t. I gathered myself in the bathroom, and we continued on talking about something else.

Of course, when we got home, the subject got picked back up. Alex dismissed any of my distress about finances or being stuck in the technological dark ages as the grounds for my current slippage from my high flying disc. “You can’t start this year until you finish the last one. You still need to release the judgment of yourself,” Alex said. His answer was to dismiss me to have a conversation with my 13-year-old self in their office.

What? The boys made me act out holding my younger self’s hand and walking her into the office. I walked into the dark room and just sat on the couch. This is so stupid! I started to get a little pissed off. I knew they were over me because I was over myself. I hated that I was in this negative space. I didn’t know how to get out of it. Why am I tumbling backward? They have just done this trick to ditch me. It is a Saturday night and they are hoping to get rid of me. Should I just go home? I could then just stew in my own bed and not be an embarrassment anymore.

As I am staring into the dark, I am like, “okay young self, what am I suppose to know?” No voice talked to me. I did start seeing a series of pictures. I reflected on that lonely seventh grader. She was anxious, scared, and frightened most of the time. It didn’t help being relentlessly bullied at school and ignored at home. I had thought I was at my ugliest, but recent studies of my school photos made me realize she wasn’t that ugly. I was bigger, but not horrific. I had grown to like her in a way.

My current spiraling is similar to the spiraling I used to do in the bedroom of my youth. For hours, I would be alone. I wondered if life would ever get any better. I didn’t want to leave my room because I didn’t want others to see me upset. Behind my closed door, I wondered why no one cared about me. What was so wrong with me? Why am I so unlovable?

I had to come up with reasons, because I needed to understand why I was being bullied, why my mother treated me so bad. I went to the obvious. Fat, gross, disgusting…it was so easy why I would repulse others. In my adulthood, I have realized that these were never really the reasons.

By sixth grade, I probably realized that I didn’t like boys the way the other girls did. I had already developed, but I had no interest in the opposite sex for anything sexual. My mom was constantly afraid older guys would hit on me and would yell at me to not put on make-up, to not dress in a way to attract unwanted attention. That is most likely why I didn’t dress as nicely as I wanted to. I don’t think my mom understood that I didn’t want to be involved with a guy. I think she thought that I would get caught up with someone and there would be a whole sex/pregnancy drama. There was a lot of concern that I would be asking for it if I weren’t too careful myself.

I realized that my mom’s worries were unfounded. Still, the more concerned she got, the more she would tear me down. She thought that fear and ridicule would set me on the right path. I knew she was neurotic and was disappointed that the more she did this to me, the more she was admitting that she had no idea who I was.

No wonder why I kept stuffing my face. It was entertainment, counselor, protection, etc. I am sure some of the boys were just trying to pay me some attention, and my lack of return energy probably pissed them off. Or, they knew I wasn’t like the other girls and I was really insecure about it. I was so insecure that I was afraid to share anything about myself. Besides being awkward, I am sure some people thought I was just cold and thought I was too good for them. This made it easier for them to want to tease me. Getting teased made me feel like I needed to do anything I could to shy away from attention, so I clammed up even more. I tried to push out what they were doing to me. I ignored it. I would often be in complete denial of it, or at least tried to operate like I didn’t know it existed.

So, what should have happened? How could it have been improved? What did that little girl really want?

I know that all I wanted was to be loved. I wanted to feel like people got me and wanted to have fun with me. I was always doing my best to be the “good girl.” I wanted to succeed and make people proud of me. I wanted to share my worries with someone and talk it out, instead of letting them build and not knowing how to deal with them. I wanted to feel confident to learn new things, to fail and know that I was still okay. I wanted cheerleaders. I wanted to feel pretty and sexy. I wanted to feel desired. I wanted to feel like people were excited to see me.

Eventually, I did get to points of my life where I felt this way but I lost it. I have fallen back to the same scared little girl, and am treating her as coldly as my mother treated me. At the time, my mother blamed me for things that weren’t my fault, looked at me as a hindrance or annoyance. I felt like I embarrassed my parents because they made fat jokes at my expense on a regular basis. It was easier to hear them call me fat than to call me stupid or vicious. I was a convenient scape goat to pin things on when others didn’t want to take responsibility. I thought that meant that I needed to constantly explain my motives, or why I wasn’t responsible, even if it was to death’s ears.

Well, it is 2014 babe. My mom isn’t around, neither are my tormentors. I don’t need to replace them. There is nothing to be gained by this negative momentum, just like there was nothing to be gained then. I didn’t deserve what I got then, and I don’t deserve it now. In the end, I was a cute girl who didn’t have anyone to show her a different way. Eventually, I was able to pick myself out of it…just like I will be able to pick myself out of it now.

I saw how I began to change. I took charge, stopped eating sugar, went for bike rides. I lost a bunch of weight, but still felt awkward. I didn’t have balance. I didn’t always know how to dress for my body. The guys never came. It wasn’t because they weren’t interested, but I wasn’t interested in them. They could smell it. I did what I love. I wrote. I drew. I traveled. I sang and performed. I didn’t worry about money, because I knew I would be able to figure out a way to experience what ever I desired to do.

I need to embrace who I was at every age. I need to be able to enjoy the insecure me, and the confident one. I need to find beauty and acceptance with the fat versions of me and the thin. I need to embrace the loud, brassy, unpolished person that I am. I need to stop apologizing for her and just be her. I need to remember who I am in everything that I do, say, wear, buy, and love. I need to release that I will not always be everyone’s cup of tea. Still, there are people out there who see me and really get me. I need to be one of those people.

When I look at Max and Alex, I am sure I could see a million faults. I never do. When I look at them, I see the people I have always loved. I don’t care what they are wearing, how big or small they might be, how gay or straight they might act. They are just Alex and Max. If they discover something new about themselves, or wanted to try something different, I would be immediately at their side, helping them. If they had an opinion I didn’t like, or said something hurtful, I would reserve judgment until I had more information. I want to be involved with their lives. I want to share their ups and downs. When I see them not taking care of themselves, I get upset. When I see them not feeling who they are, I get annoyed. If they do something that I may not entirely agree with, but know it is necessary for their growth, I release them to do what they need to do but keep myself available to help pick them up if I need to.

The way I feel about them is the way I need to feel about myself.

There is no version of me that I should hate, because they are all necessary. I am all of them. The more I convince myself that I am flawed, the worse I feel because I know it is untrue. I am creating unnecessary distance between who I think I am and what I am. The discomfort is my emotional guidance system telling me that I am off.

An hour passed. Did the boys expect me to go back into the living room?

Eventually, Alex walked in. “Is anyone awake in here?” I came out and tried to explain what my mind did, but words failed to really be arranged in a manner that befitted an accurate answer. Max gets the most frustrated about this. I imagine that he sees the answer/solution so clearly that it must seem painfully obvious. When I reach out and just miss it, he gets upset.

No one is more frustrated than me. A former me might have never even come over, let alone tried to talk about my frustrations with the boys. I have felt better, so I painfully know when I am off track. I know I need to find the track and get back on, but it is like trying to find my glasses when they aren’t where I remember them being last. My vision is fuzzy. I can’t see them. I panic. The added emotion doesn’t help circumstances, but the knowledge of what will happen if I can’t see, can’t afford new glasses, needing to ask someone for help…is enough resistance to make the solution seem farther away. Someone yelling at you to hurry up, or that you are stupid for having lost it in the first place (even though you have developed habits to prevent this from happening in the first place), makes the search that much more unpleasant.

Alex is noticeably frustrated and asks questions for futher clarification. Verbally say what you are thinking in your head. Use your words. What bad tape are you playing? How did you get there? There is a quiet, but known sense that I know the answer and can figure this out, I just need a little guidance. It is like a mother, who knows the kid has lost her glasses and is freaking out, going to the obvious places the glasses have known to be laid and looking around with clear objective eyes. She doesn’t have to find them and immediately give them back to the kid. She might see them and instruct the kid where to go, or at least give helpful hints to make sure that in the end the solution is had and growth and healing have occurred.

In the moment, I am that kid panicking without the glasses. For me, the consequences of not figuring this out are dire. If I lost my female reproductive organs because I remained ignorant of whom I am, or at least was disowning who I was, what is the penalty for not getting it right now? But, it isn’t that dire. In the moment, I am scared and confused. Even though I have had a glimpse of the solution, I can’t hold onto it yet. I am cruising down the highway, seeing the Ikea, but not knowing how to get over to Ikea for their delicious meatballs.

Back at the table, I am still at a loss for words. My mind is blanking. I don’t know how to describe my new found vision. Max gets angry. “You can describe it in your blog in perfect detail days after the fact. I can’t believe that you can’t remember it now.”

I understand the thought process. My brain doesn’t work the way that I want it to most of the time. When faced with immediate social pressure, it can go blank on me. Sometimes, it hasn’t had enough time to sift through the data to understand it enough to speak on it at the moment. When I journal, I have had time to think about it. I can ponder it, explore it. I can change the words latter if I dislike it. Writing is not immediate. Sometimes it is a meditation. I can’t explain why sometimes it is easier to write it than to say it.

Usually, this would be done in some special book that I have toted around with me. The only one with real access to it would be myself. The danger of having a blog is that people read it. The old me is TERRIFIED that people I know are reading this. I don’t always like that they are accessible, that it is open to an interpretation other than my own. In these moments, I feel pathetic and am not always hip to sharing my acknowledgement of that. Also, making your writing public is putting yourself out there and making yourself accountable to your authenticity. I stand by what I write, but I am growing and changing every day, just like my writing.

What is the point then? I need to open myself up. I need to share who I am in this world with this world. I know that I am not the only person who is dealing with this stuff. I have read enough self-help books to know that I am not alone. I have also read enough of them to know that the solution is not cut and dry for everyone. You have to sift through the baggage. You have to listen to yourself. Only you have the operating manual for YOU.

Alex gets a bright idea, “you need to record an audio of your blog.” What? I get immediately embarrassed. Why? Who wants to listen to that? Are you serious?

“You need to start listening to your words and lessons learned before you go to bed each night, instead of the thoughts of others,” Alex said. Yes, I often listen to Abraham Hicks, or read different things through the course of the day, but this is cheesy.

“I do it with my drag videos,” Alex replies. “You love watching them. Do you think it is stupid that I do them?” Of course not! I love watching the mini music videos played back. Sometimes, it is like a time machine. I remember how I felt when they were made, and what a good time it was. Sometimes I watch them in amazement of how we look. It is hard to argue that you are ugly or untalented when you have a video where you think you might be cute and your movement inspires entertainment or awe in yourself. The medium also helps others to express their opinion of you, and more often than not…it is supportive or positive.

I kind of knew the idea was genius. It didn’t matter if anyone else listened, but if I could listen objectively, maybe it would help.

Alex set up his laptop with six entries he wanted me to read. Max got me a glass of water, and they both decided that they would go into the office, close the door, and let me do it without interruption. Max said he would even put on headphones if I was too nervous about them immediately listening to me.

Left alone, I immediately started to shrug off the brilliance of this. The posts were long. (Currently, this one is at nine pages in Word) I started to read them out loud. I became self-conscious of my voice. As I reread the posts, I found mistakes or words misspelled. I continued, trying to brush the objections aside. It didn’t need to be perfect; it just needed to happen. My mouth got dry. I would trip on words. At one point, I was convinced that the boys were listening with a glass held up to their ear behind the closed door. Still, I pressed on.

An hour or so latter, I finished. Alex immediately went to editing the audio. Is there anything this boy can’t do? We were all exhausted. Max was nearly passed out. Around 4 am, Alex said I didn’t have to wait around. He was almost finished and that he would send me the link to the final product.

So, Sunday came. The sun came up and I felt better. As the day went by, I wrote some, reviewed old photos of me, and watched some videos. The audios came, and I listened to them. Yes, I cringed when my voice cracked or I had an irritatingly long pause….but how could I hate this girl. I had to take off to a sleep lab for a sleep study. They were wiring me up for a cpap. I brought the computer because I knew I could write. Wires, all over my head and legs…and I am still typing.

This has to be it. I can no longer back track into this pool of unworthiness. If I have to shove my face into my face so I can no longer deny who I am, I have to do it. I use to love having pictures of me all over my living space. They reminded me of good moments. I enjoyed seeing myself from out of my body. The lens is less warped. At some point in my adulthood, I stopped taking pictures. I didn’t have anyone to share them with. I often didn’t feel pretty enough to take them. This whole selfie revolution happened with these amazing cameras on these smartphones being 100 times better than a separate digital camera. I could still take pictures with my crappy phone or ipod, but it was a conscious choice.

It wasn’t until last year, when we started dressing up and taking photos that I actively decided to take more photos. As I felt better, more photos came. Maybe that is part of the medicine. Sometimes we need to see ourselves reflected back to us.

Holiday Sadness

I actually had a good time at Thanksgiving this year, but as we dive into the “holiday season” I have to admit that I have been feeling a little more blue. I see the decorations going up. People are running around buying gifts and feeling jolly. I feel a little more somber.

I was hoping this season would be different. I don’t have the same obligations as before. I have worked on being more comfortable with who I am and that I don’t need to feel pressured to have a picture perfect mate and family. I am the creator and designer of my own happiness. Still, I can’t shake feeling alone.

Maybe that is why I am running into some of my recent problems. I feel this internal sadness and in a bid of self-protection I am drawing myself inward. My boys will be 10 hours away during the holiday. I love my family, but I don’t feel as close to them. Going home is more of an art in surviving than thriving.

I don’t expect gifts. I feel like I can’t buy the gifts that I would like to give away, so I don’t really want anyone to get me any. As I look around my empty house, I don’t really want to decorate. My tree doesn’t have half of its lights working. I still have stockings for deceased animals. Why have a constant reminder or my singleness put up around my house?

In reality though, I love Christmas. In my imaginary world I would have a fully decorated house, holiday party, delicious cookies, fun friends, and a special someone to share everything with. I am a sucker for the season and the reality that I will have none of that just makes me really sad.

As far as I think I have grown and advanced, I feel like I am stuck. I am still preventing me from getting what I want. I am so sure that I am not going to get it, that I have stopped even trying. I hate the constant disappointment.

Now that I am going through cancer treatment, I think…what if this is my last Christmas? Is that how I really want it to go down? Unloved and unwanted? Why am I being so unkind to myself? Why am I resorting back to the same thought patterns that have made me so miserable before?

I just don’t have an answer. I don’t know how to get what I want.

I had a girl message me on a dating website out of the blue. I responded and after a few emails we even talked about getting together. She seemed cool when I talked about going through treatment; she stopped writing when she realized I was a “virginal” lesbian. I posted an ad on Craigslist. Usually, I get some sort of response. No one has responded in the four days that I have had it posted.

Something is off.

I don’t know what my problem is. I don’t know how to fix it. I feel doomed to repeat my past history, and it feels like my new healthier spirit is dying a little. I have been crying so much in the last few days that my eyes are super puffy and almost all my eye lashes on my left eye are gone.

I just want to curl up somewhere, put my head down, and go to sleep for a very long time.

All by Myself

It is a Sunday night and I have been sitting in my house, alone, for most of the day. I feel okay, but I am mentally not great. Since I cut off my hair, it feels as if I have lost my super powers. I know I needed to cut it. It was falling out in tuffs. Yet, day 17 passed and none of the rest of my body hair seems to be leaving. Did I cut it too soon?

I have been living on my own for nearly 20 years. I am used to it. It doesn’t mean that I always like it. One thinks that at 36 you should already be married off with kids. This isn’t the path my life took. Yet, you seem to feel pathetic when the first thing anyone asks you about is if you have kids or a significant other.

I do have amazing friends, but I can’t see them every day. I have been out of work during treatment. Old friends have been out of rotation for so long that I wonder if I am even remembered.

My real family is around but we are not on an everyday check in basis.

Sometimes I wondered if I didn’t leave my bed, how many days would go by before anyone else realized it? The fact that no one really worries about me can be freeing, but it is also sort of disturbing.

It makes me feel alone in the universe, more often than I like to ponder.

I know on days like these, the fact that I feel good should inspire me to go out and do something fun. Unfortunately, sometimes I can’t muster the will to want to do it. I try to check myself, but it is like I can’t stop stalling out.

I have come so far from the depression I was originally in; I don’t want to fall back into the death spirals that controlled my life for so long. Still, I don’t know how to reach out.

I can understand how loneliness and depression can derail cancer recovery. The whole journey is about loving and taking care of yourself. You can’t do it when you don’t feel up to it. If you don’t have help, it is really easy to decline super fast.

I am okay, but I can’t let myself get any further down. I just can’t.

Disease to Please

Brood – verb – to think a lot about something in an unhappy way

 

I began to feel a little better at the start of the year. I was opening up and began to know that vulnerability meant. Still, I felt like I was going two steps forward, one step back. I wanted to continue to progress because I felt like failure to do so might be a death sentence. I took a sick day from work and stayed home to make several doctors’ appointments. I had needed to do it for a while, but had constantly been putting it off. I was surprised that I couldn’t get in to most of the doctors for a couple of months due to scheduling.

One appointment that did schedule me in quickly was one to a therapist.

I have had a weird history with therapists. My family did not believe in mental health practitioners. You really needed to be psycho to go to one. I don’t think my parents believed that they even practiced medicine. The sad part of that was that both of my parents could have desperately used good counseling. My father came back from three tours of Vietnam with undiagnosed PTSD. My mother was definitely bipolar and had suffered sexual assault or abuse at some point in her life.

My sister was the first one to give therapy a try after the death of my mother. She was diagnosed bipolar and was put on drugs that definitely improved her quality of life. She inspired my first attempt to give it a try. I worked at a job that had an employee assistance plan that covered it.

My first therapist was a man in his forties who was randomly selected by the EAP service. I was miserable. I was 3 years out from my mother passing away and felt so lost. As I would describe the horrifically violent, emotionally abusive thoughts that went through my head on a regular basis, his comment was that I was brooding. Brooding? What the heck did that mean?

I think I saw him three times. He didn’t seem to like me. I didn’t feel I was getting much out of it, and work was getting hectic again.

Still miserable, I decided to try again a year latter. This time I was assigned a female therapist. She decided to focus on issues related around my bullying in middle school. To heal from the horror of that time, she wanted to put some electrodes on me to give me little shocks as I recounted the bullying as to desensitize my self to them. I think I ran away quickly.

I tried to work on myself be reading dozens of self-help books. I focused on my excess weight being the source of my unhappiness. I tried several programs to lose weight. Nothing ever really made me hate myself less.

After I was laid off from a job and returned to college to work on finishing a teaching certificate, I decided that I should try the free counseling service. It had been several years since the last mental health debacle, and I was ready to try and feel better. I was assigned an old hippie in his 50s. He was a biker, a smoker, and had recovered from two heart surgeries. I found myself in awe of him.

For my entire life, I tried so hard to be the “strong” one. I tried not to complain. I did everything I could to be a “good girl.” I went to church. I was a virgin for a long time. I didn’t sleep around. (I didn’t really have sex at all.) I went to church, served on the Session. I volunteered time at non-profits regularly. My main jobs were all in the service/non-profit industry.

Still, after my mom passed, as every year went by…. I found myself getting angrier and more withdrawn. By the time I had walked into this man’s office, I had started to rebel. I knew, or at least felt, like he wouldn’t judge me for being a little “bad.”

For four months, we met weekly. I found myself talking about the neglect of my parents in my childhood. My mother was emotionally unavailable. She often looked at me and saw too much of herself, so she would lash out at me. I remembered being miserable and hiding in my bedroom for hours upon hours. She was never really there for me, but when she needed me…I dropped everything in my life to be by her side.

He told me that I obviously can’t go back and change what had happened, but as an adult, I could nurture myself in the way I had always hoped my mother would. He told me to think of my 6-year-old self and imagine how I would treat her if she were here, right now. My mind raced with all the things I thought I would have done differently or how I would have liked my parents to respond. He responded that one way to heal is to know that I am in the driver’s seat. I could either choose to keep neglecting or bullying myself, or I could decide to support myself in the way I had always wanted.

I came home and pulled two photos of myself. One from first or second grade, where I felt cuter than a button and truly loved. The other was my 7th grade self, who I had thought was the ugliest version of me. This was the girl that was severely obese and harassed at school. I stared at the photos for hours. Could I love them? The more I looked at me, the more I began to accept that I wasn’t so miserable. I could be kind to them. I could appreciate them.

As for the brooding, I learned more about meditation. I learned some techniques to quiet the mind. I argued with my negative self the way I wished my mother would had stood up for me. It was suggested that I try taking some anti-depressants, but my doctor at the time thought I only needed therapy.

At the end of my schooling, we parted ways. I had really appreciated our visits and felt like I was in a better place because of them. When I got back in to the work world, I tried to hold on to what I had learned but the stress of my job got to me. I had gone to work at the same middle school where I was harassed for three years straight with no intervention. Oddly enough, as an adult, I felt completely harassed by the administration. Everyone was new; no one knew what they were doing; and I felt incredibly alone and inferior.

I eventually left after that first year, but I felt so weak. My next job was a complete 360, but halfway through I knew I had work to do. My most recent therapist came to me in January. She was a woman in her forties. She had short hair and glasses. I remembered thinking she has got to be a lesbian. I found my ability to be vulnerable with her was difficult. Still, I had recently learned that the only way I was going to get help was if I had the courage to be honest.

The focus of my visits was to beat back some of the social anxiety I was facing. I wanted to have more enjoyment in my life and figure out what my “problem” was. One of the first things she suggested was getting on an anti-depressant. I was a little leery. The previous doctor had made me feel like once you were on it, it would be hard to get off of. She pointed out that I still spent some days entirely in bed, and that was abnormal.

It was entirely possible, from her perspective, that I had been depressed for years. She described other patients as defining depression as the inability to get out of a hole or well in the ground. You might gain some traction, and see that there is light up above you, but then you slip and feel surrounded in blackness. The whole way you view the world is askew. When you wake up every day feeling like you are not worthy of taking a breath, drugs are a good option.

I went to another doctor and began taking an anti-depressant. It didn’t work right away, but over time the difference in my energy and outlook on life was dramatic. I wasn’t riding this constant wave of sadness. I was more even keel. Because I wasn’t spending so much energy on my mood, I could focus more on figuring out what the root cause of all this was.

My therapist recommended a book called The Disease to Please. Having read so many self-help books, I thought it was cheesy to send me out for another one. Still, I knew there might be some real truth to this. It took me a month to get it from the library because someone else had checked it out. I read it in a day or two.

The whole premise is that some of us are addicted to pleasing others, just like others are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Our belief in our own self-worth is so minimal, that we feel like we have to earn our value. The more we focus on pleasing others, to the sacrifice of ourselves, the more we can justify being loved. The irony is that the world doesn’t work like that. No one needs to earn someone else’s love, because we are all worthy of love.

People who have the disease to please feel like the more of a martyr they become, the better they will be for everyone else. The rub is that this creates weird expectations. When these expectations are not met (because they are unrealistic), the resentment from the people pleaser can make everyone’s life miserable. You can’t drink water out of an empty cup. Doing things for others isn’t helping them, and it really isn’t helping you.

Through conversations with my therapist, and my good friends, I realized that my need to please others was killing me. Every action I made, any thought I had was always measured around what I thought other people would think. My only concern in life was to either not piss other people off, or to find a way to make them happy. My whole navigation system was based on my perceived notion of what others would think, as opposed to what I thought.

This was incredible information. Rationally, I was beginning to understand. I felt, right down to my core, that I was on to something. I didn’t know all of the answers, but now at least I knew that my thinking was faulty. I needed to readjust my priorities, and do so quickly.

 

Commence Time Traveling

For most of my late 20s, I felt numb. I went through the motions. I worked 80-hour weeks. I had so many obligations. I had no personal life. I spent every hour of every day working for someone other than myself. At the age of 30, I knew this had to change.

My best friends moved from Chicago to the house across the street from me. It wasn’t forced; it just happened. I went from feeling like I had no confidant in the world, to having my best friends only a stone throw away.

I gave up any obligation that I didn’t enjoy or didn’t serve me. This was tough. I was always a “yes” person. I thought that if I did good deeds that somehow I would benefit from the good karma. Loosening up the schedule helped me regain some balance, but I began to be horrified of the absence of something keeping me busy.

I had a huge birthday party and invited all of my friends. We had the best time, completely drunk and singing poor karaoke. I felt the love and began to release it. Slowly, I distanced myself from my friends. I needed to not feel as if I was being used. I would force myself to hang out with some of them, and pretend to care about their laundry list of life’s irritations without feeling like they cared about any of mine. In order to gain clarity, I needed to redefine my relationships.

I joined a weight loss competition and lost 80 lbs and 4 dress sizes. I felt good and kept it off for almost a year, but my father became diagnosed with the same cancer my mom died from 5 years earlier. I had to take a leave of absence from work to care for him through surgery and recovery. At the same time, my sister decided to get married. I had to balance being the both mom/sister to her and daughter/spouse-like/nurse maid to my father. I eventually gave up on myself.

I went back to school. I earned a Masters in business in order to become a better candidate for a managerial job. I started a Doctorate to try and become a college professor. I quit the Doctorate program when I realized online education is a scam. I returned to my alma mater to get teaching certification and picked up a second bachelor’s degree. I have always been, and will always be, a fantastic student. What I wasn’t prepared for was a life of indentured servitude. My student loans total over 6 figures. I have no idea if I will ever be able to pay them off. To just pay the interest on them, I would have to give up more than 40% of my income.

I switched jobs, went from employed to unemployed. I focused on teaching because I loved it. Once I got into it, I realized that too often the last thing teachers are allowed to do is teach. I have seen miserable administrators and have felt 12% pay cuts. I have worked more than two jobs to just afford to do the first.

Still, I kept plugging away.

I have to say that over time, my enthusiasm began to diminish.

I stopped exercising. I would binge eat crap food. My addition to fast food was ridiculous. I would buy groceries and watch them rot because I would be too tired to cook when I got home. I would go without eating more than a meal a day for a week, then purge on fantastic meals on pay days. My erratic eating lead to extreme fluctuations in blood sugar. On days I ate well, I felt euphoric and capable of doing anything. On days I ate minimally, I found it difficult to get out of bed. I had no energy. I would become so emotional-depressed, sad, upset.

I was still trying to conquer the world, but the engine on my car wasn’t working to capacity. I spent days in bed. I felt crappy. I would get bronchitis regularly. I couldn’t breath or would often be short of breath. I was bleeding all the time. I felt like a horrible, worthless monster.

I started to feel so far from whom I thought I was, that I didn’t recognize myself any more.  I was so disgusted with myself that I would go on regular death spirals of self-loathing. I knew I was not well, but I was too depressed to care.

At the end of December, I was feeling okay but I knew my health was not optimal. I was becoming increasingly concerned that life was just an exercise of going through the motions of what others’ expected you to do. Success equated having all of your bills paid, a closet of expensive clothes, a husband and kids….and I felt like I was never going to achieve it. I was a failure on so many levels.

I was at my best friend’s house and we were having a little dress up party. We got out make-up, wigs, and costumes. While I watch the two of them painting one another, I felt a level of euphoria I had not felt in years. I was so incredibly happy in the present moment, something that was incredibly foreign for me to feel, that I was positive that I was close to dying.  In my experience, people could only appreciate true joy if they were close to dying. It was the only time, I felt, like people would allow themselves to recognize it and feel it.

In that chair, I felt my heart race. My breathing was already shallow. I thought…tonight might be the night. I looked at my best friends and knew I couldn’t tell them because I didn’t want them to worry. I felt so happy and at peace there, with them. I couldn’t think of another place on the planet that I wanted to be. I loved them more than life itself. We took videos of us lip syncing and dancing, and I felt like I was leaving a legacy that they could go back to after I died to remember how much fun we were having together.

Hours latter, we sat down to watch some TV. An old commercial from the early 90s came on for some collection of music. It spanned several years, and I had sworn I used to see this commercial all the time when I was younger. As I watched, I felt myself begin to time travel. Seriously. I am not kidding. I saw myself as a fat 13 year old. I felt pathetic because I was being bullied at school and spent hours in my bedroom alone. I could feel how scared and lonely I was. I moved to my thin self at 18. I felt indestructible. I was a straight A student. I was loved by my friends and family. I collected awards and scholarships, performed in theater and singing groups, and felt the world was mine to own. I felt the glee of my 20-year-old self in Spain. I saw the wonder of the world through my 8-year-old eyes.

It then dawned on me…. I had thought the best times of my life were in the past. I thought being an adult meant that I could no longer find moments of complete wonder and fascination. What I realized was that what I had been telling myself was absolute bologna. I still was capable of feeling as great as I did during the best times of my life. That feeling of complete joy was still accessible. It didn’t go away. I have always possessed it. I had just convinced myself that it didn’t exist. Whenever I wanted to feel those feelings, all I had to do was tap into what I already possessed.

I bawled with overwhelming joy at this revelation. My friends looked at me with concern. I told them what I had experienced and they saw a level of joy from me that they had not seen in years if ever. A light had been reignited.

It was from that moment that a series of incredible realizations and grow experiences were built. I am so eager to share them with you. Patience is not my strongest virtue, but it is my intention to do so with this blog over time.