Women’s Festival

It is the season. My mom used to take me to our local women’s festival during my tender tween years. We would go to psychic seminars and almost get kicked out because our social anxiety manifested into giggles. It is one of the few positive mother daughter activites that I remember now that she is deceased. My little sister was always a little bitter because she wasn’t allowed to come.

This pic has my 13 year old self (fat, pudgy, and nicknamed “Titanic” by my classmates) eating a piece of World’s Finest Chocolate. My mom would have never had her palm read. She would have despised a stranger touching her, but it is symbolic of the experience. There are little lesbian shout outs because that is probably the first place I saw any. My mom made sure to point them out and let me know how she didn’t approve.

Lucky for me, I was able to figure out the truth for myself. 

 

Womanhood

If it wasn’t for Judy Blume or Rosanne indoctrinating young ladies about the thrill of womanhood in the 90s, I am sure I would be a bigger prude than I already am. The only conversation I had with my mother about the birds and the bees was before I attended Girl Scout camp around 5th grade. There must have been a question on the application for camp that asked if the girl attending knew something about periods and such.

My mother’s line of questioning was as follows: “There are pads under the sink in the upstairs bathroom if you ever need them.”

That…was it.

No warm fuzzes. When I did get my period, no one said anything. Even getting a bra came late. I had boobs in fourth grade, but my mom didn’t finally get me a bra until 6th grade, when a gym teacher told her I was distracting the rest of the class.

Due to this, I don’t think I was ever really comfortable with the idea of being a girl. I feel very much like a girl, but I didn’t want to deal with the mechanics of being a girl. When our health teacher told us in fifth grade about menstruation, I remember wishing I were a guy so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. The idea of giving birth was even worse.

I went through school trying to be as low key as possible. I was horribly teased in middle school for my weight. I grew up in a fat family, and I had been overweight since 3rd grade. I think this was compounded by the weirdness of everyone touching upon their new sexuality in middle school. I loved guys, but only to the point of wanting to play soccer with them at recess.

There were a handful of guys who made my life the biggest living hell during middle school. I always thought it was because I was fat and ugly. In retrospect, maybe some of them were hitting on me and I didn’t get it. In order to avoid the pain, I isolated myself. My parents, teachers, and friends never really took any steps to help me counteract the bullying. There was no real push to do so back then. I also didn’t ever complain or say anything about it. In some ways, I thought it would just solicit worse attention back at home.

During these years, I locked myself up in my room nearly every day. I felt like my mother HATED me. My father was usually traveling for work. My motto was to just be out of the way. I feel like I lost a lot during these years. I missed a time to be more social. I lost time to be more vulnerable, to feel loved.

I lost a lot of weight before high school, and things got better. I still always found it difficult to relax and be myself around people. I wanted to desperately find a boyfriend, but never really did.

I was so lonely in college that I would go for late night drives and cry in parking lots. Why could I not find anyone who wanted to be with me? I had started to believe I looked good, but I never really got asked out. As I grew older, I cringed every time that someone asked me if I had someone special in my life. While my friends got married, divorced, and remarried, I would be told that I was going to be a “mature” bride.

When my mom passed, while I was 24, I just sort of gave up. I figured that if it was going to happen, it just would. I was cute during my late twenties. Fat, but still cute. I would sign up for dating websites, but I was never really impressed with the offers. I refrained from sex for years.

When I developed PCOS and bleeding problems, I kept myself off the dating scene even more so. I thought I was so ugly and so unworthy of being loved. I definitely hated my lady parts.

I write this because I don’t think there is any woman under the age of 40 who gets endometrial cancer and doesn’t have this problem. It is through our hatred of our own bodies that we don’t seek the help we need on a more timely basis. If a doctor assures us nothing is wrong, we believe him because we don’t want to spend any more time thinking about our lady bits.

It was through the love of my friends that I began to learn to love myself. I found out that finding new people to hang out with didn’t have to be that difficult, and that you could really find a man in a minute if you wanted to. The problem wasn’t my physicality, it was my sexuality. I had spent so much time trying to mold myself to the example of a straight relationship, that I missed the inevitable signs that I was a lesbian.

Now, I haven’t had tons of experience in this new world either. I feel like it is so new and I am only beginning to wade through it. I have been so distrustful of others and so deeply afraid of being hurt that vulnerability for me is excruciating. I know that in order to heal from my current health problems, this is what I really need to tackle.

I know I might piss off people I love. I know that I am not who I might have previously advertised myself to be, but I can no longer be something that I am not. This has been revolutionary for me. I believe that if I would have been diagnosed a year earlier, I wouldn’t have what it takes to face my new demons head on.

In some ways, this has been a life affirming as well as changing experience. I believe I might have died if I wasn’t able to fully embrace the beauty of who I am. Everyone needs to embrace who they are. When we deny ourselves to be “deeply seen,” we deny our very existence. We can’t make proper choices. We can’t fully enjoy this gift called life.

If you are a mother of a daughter, reach out to her and let her know how beautiful she is. Don’t make her feel that having periods or having sex makes her dirty. When you can embrace what makes our human, or even female, we can embrace a fuller life. I only wish I would have received this message much sooner.

Some Interesting Reads:

What I Wish I Knew About My Period

Periods are a Wondrous, Horrible Thing

Ode to Vaginas

A Period Care Kit

The Care and Keeping of You

Daring Greatly

After time traveling, a shift in my energy occurred.

Before that serendipitous evening, I had been completely numb. I walked through life just trying to survive it. If I hated work, I forced myself to swallow it and move on. If someone said something unkind to me, I would remain polite but come home and emotionally beat myself up for being a loser. I developed a painful anxiety of social situations. I felt like I was walking on eggshells. I needed to say the right thing, look the right way, and be anything but myself in order to survive. You can get away with this in your teens, but in your thirties the pain of inauthenticity is excruciating.

I had developed a constant tape that played out ever insecurity I ever had. It played in my head seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In my head, I was never worthy enough. I was too ugly to be loved. I had convinced myself that I was a bitch that no one liked. I would sit and cry for hours, some days I wouldn’t even get out of bed. I ate fatty, sugary food to numb myself of the pain. I smoked dozens of cigarettes for the illusion of some sort of pick-me-up. I felt so bad that I often wondered if being dead was not better.

In my night of time traveling, I began to understand that I wasn’t so worthless. I began to feel a little joy. It felt good, considering that it had been so long since I had felt it. My companions in crime, Max and Alex, decided that it was the right time to try and push me a little farther….

They looked at each other and looked at me. I thought, “oh god, I did something wrong.”

Alex began, “Mimi, you never really tell us anything.”

What? Max and Alex have been my friends for over a decade. We have been roommates, neighbors, best friends, and at times…frienemies. No one was closer to me in my world. They knew what I liked and didn’t like. I told them things I didn’t tell anyone else. I considered them to be my family, my sudo-husbands, and my life. There is no place in the world I would rather be than right by their side. Often times, I define hell as anytime I am not with them.

To think that they would think I was withholding something from them was like a blow to the gut.

Max and Alex continued. They realized that I often told them about stuff only after it went through some careful filtering process in my head. The result was that they got this disconnected information that wasn’t tied to my rationale. Also, my actions often suggested that they weren’t the most important thing on my mind. Sometimes they would feel insulted because I would do something and not tell them. It felt as if I didn’t think about them when I weighed things out in my head, and that hurt. In many ways, they felt that I was always thought about in their heads before they made any decisions together.

I had to think about it. First of all, the previous me would not have been able to hear this conversation without going to a place where I was unworthy of love and connection. I would have run out of the house and sulked on my couch at home. That sounds dramatic, but it is totally the truth. I knew that if I wanted to start living, I had to start listening.

I thought about it. Wasn’t this what I always wanted? I knew that deep down, the only thing I wanted was someone I could be 100% authentic with. I just wanted to know that I was loved unconditionally, and that someone had my back. Even if I acted a fool, that person would be able to separate the crazy from the real me. In many ways, the boys did this. So where is the disconnect? If I feel like I already tell them everything, what was I missing?

I asked them to describe what they meant. As they did, they were basically begging for that internal dialogue that goes on in my head. It is that little voice that listens to all of my thoughts and ideas and decides what to share and not share. As I began to understand what they want, I became concerned that they wouldn’t be able to handle it if I did.

There was a part of me that had a tough time deciding, when I was growing up, what I should share and not share. I remember that my mom would often use my words against me in arguments. This made me just close up tighter than a knot. I would never know when I would get jumped on, and I just decided that I would add fuel to the fire. This continued in middle school. I was horrifically bullied for my weight in middle school. My nickname was the “Titanic.” I remember a dozen boys who rode my bus, who made my life living hell for three years. No one wanted to befriend me in school. I might have well been the mentally challenged student with drool dripping down my chin. I felt that radioactive. During these times, I said so very little because I knew it would be used against me. Almost any time I did, my worst nightmares were proven correct. It felt like my words would be twisted and fly through the school as the dumb ass thing Mimi said today on a daily basis. It would provide a running banter as they tripped me, kicked me, touched my chest, grabbed my crotch, pull my hair, etc.

When I lost a bunch of weight and entered high school, it was as if the whole matter had been erased. I was prettier. People wanted to get to know me. I was still convinced that I had to be painfully aware of what information I gave. I had to keep up appearances. No one was interested in the “real me,” they were just looking to see if I could conform to their standard or normal. I tried hard to become a chameleon. You like this? Well, so do I. You hate this? I guess I have to then too. I had no problem conforming, because it seemed to help me make friends. As you become an adult, you realize that you can’t do this forever. The more I realized that I couldn’t just be something I wasn’t, the more anxiety would build. I began to just pull away from friendships, instead of explain what my problem was. I didn’t want anyone to dislike me. I already hated myself enough.

So, when Max and Alex told me that they wanted me to share this level of information with them…I was intimidated. They semi like me now, wouldn’t this just ruin our friendship? Yet, they were my closest friends. If I couldn’t tell them, whom the hell could I tell? I told them, okay…. I am willing to do this, even though I have great misgivings about it, but you have to promise me something. If I say something you don’t like, hold back from going off the handle. If you yell at me when I am telling you the process of my thoughts, I will immediately stop, pull up the drawbridge, and avoid doing it ever again.

At first, it felt excruciating. Being high helped. I would have to consciously think about what I wanted to say. I would be so incredibly scared of their judgment. Every time they surprised me with their compassion and understanding. Often, my willingness to disclose something helped give them the courage to disclose more about themselves. Even though I had known these boys intimately for years, I began feeling like I was even closer to them than I was before. I also felt that my love for them was so deep that nothing could ever sever it. As time went on, I knew that if I felt a knot in my throat when I was around them, I knew that I needed to state something that was on my mind. Even if I was initially nervous, the joy in knowing that I had nothing to hide gave me so much joy and contentment.

Around this same time, I discovered a TED talk from Brene Brown. The heading stated, “The Power of Vulnerability.” As I watched it, I became floored. She was describing the struggle that I had been going through. Our courage to show up and let our whole selves be seen is what being vulnerable is really all about. For some of us, it is so excruciatingly painful that we avoid it at all costs. What ensues is our inability to connect with others.

Through the boys, I learned that my inability to share what I really felt made me seem conceded or at least made my intentions questionable. I told them that the last thing I would want to be is cruel or unkind. I never wanted to hurt anyone, and would often jab myself before anyone else. The problem is, I never told anyone this. I just assumed they knew. I also assumed that the boys knew that they were the apples of my eye. I thought they had no question of my love for them and how I placed them on a pedestal above all others. They didn’t know, because I didn’t tell them.

Dr. Brown puts it this way, what keeps us from being vulnerable is fear and the shame of not being worthy enough. Everyone has it, and the more you don’t talk about it, the more you have it. Fantastic! I was buried so deep in fear and shame that I only assumed the sun shined; I couldn’t see it.

As we avoid vulnerability, we do everything we can to numb ourselves from it. We spend more than we earn. We eat and medicate ourselves to alleviate the discomfort. But, you can’t just numb one aspect of your life. If you numb pain, you also numb joy. Sooner or latter, you start looking for meaning and purpose which makes you vulnerable again. You feel the discomfort and down a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin, as the cycle begins again.

How long have I been living life this way?

If you are feeling disconnected from life, one of the first things you need to do is listen to Dr. Brown’s talk. It doesn’t answer everything, but I found that it had a profound impact on my life. I have two other links to materials that I recommend from her. It is powerful information to think about.

Daring Greatly – A book from Dr. Brown on the power of authenticity.