Is it OK to not be OK?

How are you?

Fine. You?

Great.

We have these mini-conversations every day. And it is a standard. For the most part, no one is really inviting you in that moment to discuss your general well-being. It’s the new hello. How are ya? Good! Great. Have a good day.

But what about people you know? People you REALLY know. At what point can you say, you know what- I’m NOT OK. Not even a little bit. Seems to me noone really wants to hear it. And that’s OK, too, because lord knows we all have enough going on.

One of my favorite replies came from one of my grandparents who used to say, “Can’t complain. Who would listen anyway?” I don’t remember which grandparent would say this, maybe they all did. Maybe you just get to that point in your life where you think no one wants to hear your laundry list of Things That Have Gone Wrong Today. And that’s true. No one does. Again, lord knows we have our own sets of crosses to bear. But at what point does not burdening another with our bullshit become holding in things which are actually kind of significant to us? Things that will eat at us from the inside if we don’t let them out.

I was a Facebook “vague book” offender the other day when I posted that my heart was heavy and I urged people to be nice to one another because as the saying goes, we are all fighting battles no one knows about. I received so many lovely and comforting comments and texts. It felt good to know I was supported. But I didn’t necessarily want to get down into the deep and nitty-gritty. And I don’t, on a public blog, want to go there now.

However, I realized today when I let loose my angst on my child that I had been keeping too much bottled inside. It’s not that I don’t talk to people–I do. My mom. Sometimes my sister. I have friends I tell things to piecemeal. But I’ve been known to hold back and sugar coat. Because who really wants to hear that I’m hanging by a slender thread of sanity? That even though I could rattle off a gratitude list as long as your arm and I start and end each day with a prayer and I realize I am among the very blessed of this world, I am still sinking deep into a place where I desperately don’t want to go.

Admitting weakness is not one of my strong suits. I can self-deprecate with the best of them, but when it comes right down to it I feel like I am a strong mofo, above weakness of any sort, and there is absolutely zero room for me to complain or accept sadness or accept anything that is not within my immediate control.

But that’s all a load of horseshit.

There are a zillion things out of my control. From as big as the constant barrage of violence in our world to the way my children react to the only parenting I am qualified to give to health issues that arise which I am not qualified to fix, whether they be mental or physical.

This is certainly not something that the odd passerby who asks me how I’m doing needs to hear. But it is something we all need to address in our lives; whether we need to find that trusted confidante or we need to admit to ourselves that there is a problem that can’t be solved on our own, we need to stop pretending that things are OK when they are not.

Maybe if more people said, “I’m not OK right now” and weren’t looked at as freaks or inappropriate or whatever, this world would be a different place.

I know that today is just a moment in time. I know that this, too, shall pass.  But let’s all remember people need a safe place to say, “I’m not OK”. If we all strive to be a safe place for someone, anyone, maybe the world wouldn’t seem so overwhelming.

Just a thought and I haven’t written anything in so long, I’m just hitting publish on this baby…

 

 

 

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Fun-house mirror

There’s a mirror in my bathroom that I call “the skinny mirror”. I probably shouldn’t call it that because I know the boys have heard me refer to it that way, but whatever, I’ll work on it. This mirror is awesome. I’m not sure how it works, but it’s a little like a fun-house mirror and it seems to slightly elongate one’s shape and therefore makes one appear, well, skinny. It’s done wonders for my self-esteem. Even if I know it is an optical illusion.

I’ve laughingly joked that I almost have body dysmorphia, except in reverse of how many people seem to experience it; I walk around thinking I look better than I actually do because of this damn mirror. If I need a dose of reality, I have other mirrors which are happy to give it to me.

But I know body dysmorphia isn’t funny or to be joked about. This is what leads to lifetimes of unhappiness. Eating disorders. Addiction.

Our society is so flooded with negative messages about body shapes and sizes that way too many people obsess over their perfectly normal, healthy bodies. Or maybe society is so flooded with messages that a certain body shape or size is desirable because that body shape is what is used to sell stuff, whereas other shapes are not as good.

I had a sad discussion with a friend today whose 13-year old daughter was in tears over the “extra skin” on her belly. This girl is beautiful, her body is perfect, and there is no extra anything on her anywhere. And yet, she was determined to do an “ab challenge” to make her stomach perfectly flat (or probably concave) as modeling ourselves after models will make us wont to do.

I say, “I’m so glad that I have boys” and yet, that is false too.

Boys are just as susceptible to these body image problems as girls.

I’ve had to stop my boys dead in the track of their conversations on several occasions when the talk turned to “diets” and “six-packs”. They are not even ten, yet! I am careful not to talk about losing weight and to only stress “being healthy” and “making good food choices”. Everything in moderation, I tell them.

Last year, I changed my diet and I explained to the boys I was doing it to be healthy, not too lose weight. I was trying to change my body from being a “sugar burner” to a “fat burner” and I explained that fat was the preferred fuel for the body. Too many carbs, and too much sugar, just makes the body ultimately slow down and become unhealthy. They internalized this and I think they are more conscious when I tell them that something has too much sugar.

But imagine my dismay at hearing my (rather skinny) young son talking about how he shouldn’t have too many calories. Or my other son comparing himself to his brother and calling himself the “fat one”. He is not. Not by a long shot.

I continue to reiterate how they are extremely active boys and don’t need to worry about anything other than getting enough healthy foods and plenty of water to keep them growing. And yet, they still seem to be getting the message that they need to have a certain kind of body to be attractive and worthy.

This bothers me on so many levels.

I know I am not passing these messages on to them. I do not talk about weight. I do not own a scale. I do not count calories. I do not talk about “six-packs”. However, these messages are still coming through to them.

I’ve struggled most of my life with being happy with the way I looked. When I was very young, I was super skinny. People called me skeleton and skin-and-bones…it wasn’t particularly pleasant. Then when I hit puberty, I grew a set of hips and an ample butt and I had people pointing out my thunder thighs and fat ass. Seemingly, I couldn’t win.

My weight has been all over the place. I’ve been skinny and in bad shape fitness-wise, plump and in good shape, ridiculously enormous with pregnancy, and now, I’ve sort-of settled into my “mom” body, which is pretty average. Certainly, I was in much better shape last year when I was eating better and exercising regularly. Oh, but how I love ice cream. And french fries. And…I digress.

Last week, I was lamenting with friends about how hard it is to try to eat healthy and lose weight. No one had sympathy for me because they perceived me as not having a problem with my weight or eating healthy. Yet, I could sit with a different set of friends and I’d be the biggest and unhealthiest of the bunch, and they would still feel unhappy with their bodies.

I think the problem is we have all become so programmed to believe in an idea of beauty and health that essentially tells us only rail thin or super muscular people are beautiful and healthy. And that is simply not true.

Our minds have become a fun-house mirror of their own. We see ourselves through distorted lenses. We magnify our flaws. We don’t see the truth in front of us. And we pass it on to the next generation.

My sister is a beautiful woman. She is super petite. She has a body that most women would cut someone for. But even she is not satisfied.

And finally, at age 40, I’ve accepted that I will never have my sister’s body. We are just not made the same way. Yes, I’m petite (read: short), but I’ve got those hips (maybe twins were in my design from the beginning) and I’m fuller all around. That’s OK. Some people are tall, some people have an enormous rack (I do not), some people are naturally stocky, some people are super skinny; there are so many different body types. Why do we continue to compare ourselves with one type?

Being comfortable in our own skin, accepting our differences, making healthy choices when it comes to food, exercising regularly, and having that damn piece of cake without guilt are what we ought to be striving for.

Letting our children, girls AND boys, know that their bodies are GIFTS and that they should love them and feed them and make them strong and resilient is more important than ever in this age of over-saturation of advertising and emphasis on the young and beautiful and the tendencies of models to only represent one body type.

Maybe more of us should get “reverse” body dysmorphia. I’m not suggesting we all become morbidly obese, eat whatever we want, never exercise, and then look in the mirror and say, “Damn, I look GOOD”. But, I do think everyone could benefit from a skinny mirror. The thing is, it’s all an illusion anyway. No mirror is an accurate reflection of how you look. It all has to go through the filter of your mind. Which is why we have the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

More of us need to open our eyes. To behold ourselves in a different way. Perhaps to behold ourselves the way we look at our children, or someone we love. Without critical judgement, without comparison to another. Simply hold an alternate view of ourselves that says, you may not be perfect, but damn, you are one fine, beautiful human being who deserves to be happy. And no, those jeans don’t make your butt look big.

All that you can’t leave behind

A wise friend recently told me I need to cut ties with people who no longer serve me. “Clean your closets or make room for them on the shelf,” she said.

It occurred to me during my 4 1/2 hours of reading, sunbathing, sipping cocktails and quiet contemplation while the boys were at a party yesterday, that this bit of wisdom doesn’t only pertain to certain relationships in my life, but also to many habits, thought patterns, and behaviors of mine. My closets are chock full of useless crap and it is time to do a serious purge.

And I need to be ruthless about it.

I started taking inventory on everything I was holding on to: shame, guilt, anxiety, unhealthy eating, smoking, fears, insecurities, negative relationships, anger, childhood stuff, young adult stuff, stuff from last week…all competing for space in my closet. And I wonder why I can’t find the good shit when I need it.

I’ve always been a bit of a hoarder. I have a hard time letting go of things and people, memories and feelings. I wrote once about why I thought it was I kept so much crap in boxes and bins: photos and old letters and toys and things of sentimental value. And my conclusion was that I’d had a fantasy of my future child going through the boxes and learning about me; that my child and perhaps the world would come to know me through what I had chosen to keep, as if they could be pieced together like a puzzle to reveal me at last.

So I had to ask myself, “Is everything you are holding on to part of who you are and part of who you want to be known as?”

The answer is no. Not even close.

Today is day 2 of my 60 days of gratitude countdown to the boys’ tenth birthday. It’s the perfect time to take the trash out.

Triggering memories

In school, I was never great at history and remembering dates. I’ve got a couple big ones left in my head (Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492), but mostly they are all gone. I’m much better at remembering personally important dates like birthdays and anniversaries and such. Way before Facebook’s birthday reminders, I was a master at remembering birth dates of friends. I’m less masterful at getting my act together to actually send a card, but that’s a different story. Recently, I got in touch with an old friend I haven’t seen in probably 15 years and I texted her on her birthday and she couldn’t believe I remembered.

Lately, I’ve been getting a big kick out of Facebook’s app “On This Day”. Facebook will show you posts from years before on the same date so you can reminisce and re-share and reconnect with people over shared memories. There are other apps that do the same thing with pictures and such. It’s fun to see where my head was at on any given day 6 years ago or see pics of my boys as they grow.

was i describing laundry?

was i describing laundry?

2013 glasses

wordpress 2014

All cute, but none that I especially felt like re-sharing (ironic, since I’m now writing a blog post about it) and nothing that would actually lend itself to remembering this particular date in time. Since today also happens to be “Throwback Thursday”, another social media trend I enjoy following because who doesn’t love an excuse to post old pictures?, I began sorting through old pictures of the boys thinking I could find a fun one from July of another year. That’s when I realized the significance of the date.

July 9th. It’s not exactly a super important date in my personal history, but it is exactly 2 months until the boys’ 10th birthday. Here’s what they looked like 2 months before their 1st birthday:

10 months G 10 months cjm 10 months

Look at those pudgy little babies! How lucky we were (and are). This was back when I would take a photo on the day of their birth each month to see how they had grown. I even had a frame where I was going to put each of these monthly pictures for the first year. I think they are in a box somewhere, but I digress.

Here is what I looked like a year before that:

hospitalThree days from now will mark the tenth anniversary of the day I was admitted into the hospital with the possibility of having my babies 13.5 weeks before they were due. July 12th will be a date I will remember forever. Mostly because I make myself remember. I’ve made it a twisted anniversary of sorts. A day which could have been really horrible. A day my whole life could have changed. Maybe even a day where my world should have changed more than it did.

If I were trying to write a good story, I would say that July 12th was one of the scariest and most confusing days of my life. But that’s only partially true. Looking back, I can see I wasn’t nearly as scared as I should have been. Maybe it was faith. I had to believe that everything was going to be just fine. Maybe it was naiveté. I didn’t understand the seriousness of the issues I was having. Maybe it was stubbornness. I couldn’t let anyone think that I couldn’t handle what was happening. Maybe it was something else. Maybe it was denial.

I do remember that when they admitted me to the hospital, I really didn’t think I’d have to stay there–despite the doctor flat-out telling me I was going to have to stay. I do remember thinking the doctors were being overly conservative and I was sure I’d be fine. I remember worrying about work. I do not remember being truly concerned I was going to go into labor. Even when the contractions started. Even when they put me on super strong drugs to control the contractions. I was going to be JUST fine. Yes, looking back. I think July 12th was a day of denial.

It wasn’t until the following day(s) when shit got real. I became very sick from the medication. My lungs filled up with water. I was having difficulty breathing. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure everything was going to be fine. It felt more like I was going to die. At one point, it was late at night and I was being rolled down to have a CT scan to make sure I hadn’t developed an embolism. I was scared. I was crying. I didn’t want to expose my babies to radiation. I was singing “Me and my Bobby McGee” to the boys trying to make them dance in my belly so I knew they were OK. I’m sure the hospital staff was convinced I had cracked. I kept complaining about how I didn’t understand why it was necessary and wouldn’t it hurt the babies and just being a general pain in the ass until finally the frustrated technician told me it would hurt the babies a lot more if I had a pulmonary embolism and then went into labor and died.

Well, if you put it that way…

Obviously, it all turned out OK in the end. It would probably be easier for me to let my memories drift into a soft, hazy blur like so many of those first few weeks and months after the boys were born. Some memories are difficult. Some are better with the soft edges. Maybe some are even better left in the dark recesses of our minds, all but completely forgotten.

Without reminders from Facebook or birthdays or special occasions or re-reading old emails to discover what we were thinking on any given day, without a conscious effort to tell and retell stories which conjure up vivid memories of a place or time, all we are left with are the general impressions of moments in our lives; fleeting, fuzzy, and fallible.

I think it’s important to make that conscious effort to remember. To mark the passage of time with personal anniversaries and milestones. To revisit those key memories which shape who we are and reinforce them by sharing them. So, I’ll keep looking back and telling the boys stories about the days leading up to when they were born and then all the days after that I can remember. I’ll weave for them a story of their earliest moments so they will know how much I fought for them, how much I wanted to protect them, and how much I loved them.

For this memory will always be the sweetest of my life:

holding my babies for the first time

holding my babies for the first time

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out

I made it. February has all but passed; the longest shortest month of the year is about to become a memory again.

My detox plan didn’t quite live up to expectations. I even got sick right there at the end. My temper is still short, I’m still exhausted at the end of the day for no good reason, and I don’t feel any discernible difference in my overall well-being. Kind of a let down, really.

Not smoking is a huge accomplishment. I won’t downplay that. I suppose when I have kept it up for a whole year I will really pat myself on the back. After all, I quit when I was pregnant and eventually went back to it. I find it is always easier to do things for the boys than it is to do for myself. But I guess quitting a habit that could ultimately kill me is a win-win for everyone.

I did have my chakras balanced and learned some things I didn’t know about Reiki and energy healing. This was probably the highlight of my February, but I clearly need more work keeping the energy flowing in all the right places. I think I am going to have my house’s energy cleared too…hopefully that will benefit all of us, including those stinky rascal cats of mine.

My big takeaway, however, was that regardless of what anyone thinks or says: Seasonal Affective Disorder is REAL. Despite my efforts to get out ahead of it, to recognize it, to name it, to give myself all sorts of distractions and health-boosting tasks to do to avoid it or off-set it, it came anyway. Next year I am definitely getting a phototherapy lamp.

I think everyone has the winter blues a bit, especially the poor people of Boston (God bless them), but for those of us who dread this time of year because of the funk it puts us in, it is even worse. Throw in a couple of rambunctious boys who are cooped up in the house too much and you’ve got a recipe for a whole lot of yuck. Even though I tell myself I need a break from the boys’ sports in the winter, next year we are doing something. If only to burn off some of this energy on a weekly basis. Maybe I will finally be able to sign up for a boxing class and do the same.

There are 20 days until Spring. I’ve got fundraising and hair-dying and charity for the church to do. And lots of work. And baseball is starting. And the sun is out today. I am going to start taking pictures of #carastree in reverse. I see the light at the end of this winter tunnel of blech and I am going to start running toward it.