How Many Cameras Are On Me?

Image credit: pepsicated.wordpress.com

Image credit: pepsicated.wordpress.com

I haven’t taken a picture of myself in quite a while. Well, actually that’s not true. The reality is I haven’t seen a current picture of myself…until recently.

When I packed my camera to bring with me to a writing retreat in Montana, I didn’t think much about the pictures that would be taken. Aside from shots of the lake, garden and buildings, we took pictures of each other and of the group as a whole. I wanted to capture those memories and the people I had met. So far, so good. Until I realized my fellow retreaters were posting these pictures on Facebook…and tagging me in them.

I was horrified. I’m aware I’ve gained weight and I thought I knew what I looked like, but I think I have body dysmorphic disorder in reverse. Instead of looking in the mirror and seeing myself as fatter than I really am, I guess I see myself as thinner. I often look in the mirror and think, not too bad. But seeing a photograph of myself? That’s a whole different story.

It was as if that episode of Friends, the one where they show video of Monica and Rachel getting ready for their high school prom, was replaying itself inside my head. Monica, who was much heavier in high school, reminds the group, “The camera adds ten pounds!” And then Chandler pipes up, “So how many cameras are actually on you?” And that’s what I’m wondering…How many cameras are on me? 

I didn’t think to stand in the back or to camouflage myself in some way. I’m short so I’m used to being in the front of a group photo. I’m sitting down in some of the shots and my belly could be used for a table…my boobs are trying to choke me. When I saw each one I felt deep shame. I cried. I panicked. I quickly hid the pictures from my timeline and untagged myself. I didn’t want anyone to see how much I’ve changed.

But I haven’t really. Changed, I mean.

I thought about asking them not to tag me, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to be that person. I wanted to believe I had finally come to the place where what I look like didn’t matter to me. As I wrote in my post What If I Stopped Wanting to be Thin?, I don’t want to spend any more of my life dieting. Trying to mold my body into something I think it should be. I’m learning to listen to my body and give it what it needs. Forcing myself to diet would be stressful. And that’s the last thing my poor worn out adrenal glands need right now. But the temptation is there. It’s always there.

People think the answer is to lose weight. That’s the advice I always get. But I’ve been up and down that road so many times it’s worn with the ruts and potholes of shame and guilt and failure. The real and true answer for me is to learn to accept myself just as I am. People will tell me I just need to take better care of myself, to watch what I eat and exercise. But I think taking good care of myself means not falling prey to the belief that I am what I weigh. That I’m somehow less than because my body doesn’t look the way it used to. That I’ll be happier if I’m thinner.

But that’s a lie. When I was thinner I just wanted to be…thinner.

I wondered who had seen the pictures before I got to them. I worried about what people would think…people who haven’t seen me in a long time. But do I really want to waste energy worrying about not looking like I did in high school when I was thin and perky and knew nothing about real life? I have a friend who often says, “Don’t you wish we were 18 again?” And I can honestly reply, “Not on a bet!” Oh, I would love to have that body back. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. But this body has come with some hard-earned lessons. The woman in this body is so much stronger, smarter, more authentic than that 18 year old ever was.

I eventually fessed up to my fellow retreaters. I was honest about how hard it was to see myself in those photos. I even told them one of the considerations for not going to the retreat was that I had gained weight. Which I realized was silly because these women had never seen me before. They had no idea I’d ever looked any different. When we were saying our goodbyes that last morning, one woman in particular gave me a hug. My eyes welled up and tears rolled down my cheeks as she pulled me close and said, “Don’t hide. You’re beautiful the way you are.”

I want to believe that. I really do. It’s still not easy, but I’m working on it.

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I’d love to hear your comments below. If you liked this post, then please ‘Like’ it and share with your friends. And don’t forget to click ‘Follow’ to get email notifications whenever I post something new. But most of all…thank you for reading and being a part of my journey.

I Don’t Want to Be Like You

Somewhere along the span of my life, I got the message that who I was wasn’t okay. At the time I believed that without question. So I began a journey to try to change into the person I thought I was supposed to be. That person is you.

You are outspoken, charismatic, tidy, productive. In your closet the hangers all face the same direction and clothes are arranged by color. You love getting up early and checking things off your ‘To Do’ list. Sleeping in feels like you’ve wasted the day. You go nuts for a good organizational system. You have it all together. Or at least I think you do.

I am introspective, messy, a night person. I can completely ignore dishes in the sink, clothes on the floor, an unmade bed (it’s a superpower, really). I love to read and could spend hours lost in a book. My ‘organizational system’ consists of piles and post-it notes. I tend to over think things and am a bit neurotic.

I used to think there was something wrong with me that I needed to change. I’ve read the books, taken the classes, participated in the programs all in an effort to be like you. The person I’m supposed to be. Someone I think other people and society at large will approve of.

But I’m not that person. I think those are great traits and if the above describes you that’s awesome! But it’s not me. And it takes an inordinate amount of physical, mental and emotional energy to continue to strive for it. Not to mention, it’s hard to be happy when you’re always trying to be something you’re not.

Society and the media paint this picture of the optimal person. We see phrases like 10 tips to getting more organized, how to make friends and influence people, the early bird gets the worm. Wait. What? I don’t even want a worm. And if I did, I figure out a way to find that little sucker oh say, late afternoon or so.

All those sayings and instructions and lists did for me is help me buy into the belief that I’m not okay the way I am. That there’s something I need to fix. And I’ve been on a mission to do just that!

But I’ve realized that was a mistake. And frankly, a great big waste of time! As Ralph Waldo Emerson so beautifully said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

So I’m giving up the quest. I’m outing myself right here, right now! Guess what? There’s nothing wrong with me.

This is not merely about self-acceptance. It’s so much more than that. This is about embracing, celebrating, and just plain rocking the shit out of who I really am. I don’t want to be like you. I just want to be me…messy, neurotic, amazing me.

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I’d love to hear your comments below. If you liked this post, then please ‘Like’ it and share with your friends. And don’t forget to click ‘Follow’ to get email notifications whenever I post something new. But most of all…thank you for reading and being a part of my journey.

The Winter of My Discontent

I’m sitting in my living room with the sun streaming through the window. It feels warm on my face and I close my eyes in an effort to take it in fully, soak it up, hold onto it. This is a rare moment of peace these days. A moment when it feels like things are going to be okay. There’s room to breath. The sun is shining…all is well in the world.

This has been—and may continue to be—‘the winter of my discontent.’ (I’m sure Shakespeare will be cool with me borrowing that line from “Richard III”.) But for those of us on the positive thinking track, it appears negative, ungrateful, destructive. Many days I have shut myself off from the world believing I should feel better. Other times I’ve written about it and then felt guilty for focusing on it. Truthfully I’m just trying to learn how to navigate—an ultimately accept—this is a part of my life.

As early as middle school I can remember having these feelings—fear, anxiety, depression–and wondering what was wrong with me. In my 20s and 30s I took anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications to quell the thoughts and feelings that seemed too dark to face. But taking medication to ‘fix’ the problem left me feeling like there was something wrong with me. So I stopped. It’s been almost 14 years since I used those drugs to get through the difficult times.

But something else has happened; something more insidious than the low moods themselves. Over the years and in the reading of self-help books too numerous to count, I am back to believing there is something wrong with me; that I need to be fixed.

I do believe positive thinking can be vey helpful. I’ve seen it in my own life. But the downside of taking positive thinking too far is that when I’m feeling angry, fearful, frustrated, or sad, I beat myself up. Mentally and emotionally I kick my own ass. And I gotta tell you…it’s exhausting!

What do we say to someone who’s feeling down? “I hope you feel better soon,” right? Because we believe (myself included) that ‘feeling better’ is the goal. But what if ‘better’ is part of the continuum between suffering and joy? Neither one of those states is superior to the other. They are equal participants in the human condition. What if we could say instead, “I love you no matter how you feel and I’m here if you need someone to listen”? What if we (and by we I mean I) could be more accepting? Especially of those feelings that are uncomfortable to us.

Moods are just like the tides…they follow nature’s rhythm. Sometimes they’re high, sometimes they’re low. But you don’t think there’s something wrong with the ocean just because the tide is out. And if it feels like it’s been low tide for far too long, don’t worry. High tide will return when it’s supposed to. In the meantime, think of all the treasures there are to discover when the tide is out—seashells, creatures of all kinds, the occasional message in a bottle.

The treasure I have found is writing.

Writing, for me, has become a way to talk about the things I don’t really know how to deal with. It’s also my way of finding ‘my people.’ Not as a vehicle to commiserate or feel sorry for myself. But just to feel heard and understood. This is how I can do something constructive with what I’ve learned; how I can help those who have similar struggles and feel like no one understands them. I write about my life to say, “I get you…and there’s nothing wrong with you.”

Like me, you may be sensitive and not realize it, feel things more deeply than other people and not know why. That’s okay. Really.

For most of my life I’ve tried to understand what I thought was wrong with me so I could fix it and be like other people I’ve admired. But now I’m taking a different approach. I’m learning to find more acceptance and love for myself. To be honest about what I’m feeling or thinking and not force it to be any different. To realize this is the way I am and I don’t need to apologize for it. It might not always be pretty or seem ‘in control’, and that’s just fine.

The irony is in accepting the parts of myself I’ve worked so diligently to fix, I realize more and more there was nothing wrong with me to begin with. And in the wise words of The Beatles…I’m learning to “Let it be.”

**This post is in memory of Debbie Ford who taught me to accept all of me…the good and the bad, the light and the dark. She believed our gifts are in the shadows. And it is only in accepting the whole of who we are that we will really become all that we are meant to be. I am forever grateful for that lesson and for the many other ways she changed my life. Wherever you are, Debbie, I hope you realize the impact you have made on the world. But most of all I hope you know how much you are loved.**

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I’d love to hear your comments below. If you liked this post, then please ‘Like’ it and share with your friends. And don’t forget to click ‘Follow’ to get email notifications whenever I post something new. But most of all…thank you for reading and being a part of my journey.

If Fat Is Not a Feeling, Why Do I Feel Fat?

Yesterday I stepped on the scale. I told myself I wouldn’t. I’m tired of defining myself by that number. But I’d been getting outside more because the weather was better and I was feeling good. And I associate that feeling with being thinner. If I feel good physically, I must’ve lost some weight, right? So instead of just enjoying feeling good, I seem to need to find a reason to justify it.

I’m ashamed to write about what’s been going on in my head lately. As much as I’d like to say this doesn’t bother me and I’ve worked past all this; that would be a lie. The truth is I’m having a hard time accepting my body as it is right now. I’ve gained some weight. And while I know 10 or 20 or 30 pounds or more doesn’t change the person I am inside, I don’t always feel comfortable in my own skin.

Recently, I was having a really good day. The sun was shining, I had the day off from work, I was getting a lot accomplished and that felt great! So I decided to stop at the mall and try on some jeans. I’ve needed new jeans for a while now and was excited to find a cute pair I could wear with heels. I picked out four pairs and headed for the dressing room. But when I tried them on, none of them fit. They were not cute at all. At least not on me. And in that moment of trying on jeans that didn’t fit, my formerly fantastic day went right in the toilet.

So I find myself waiting on doing a number of things until I lose weight. Shop for clothes, go out with friends, take a vacation, even get my passport photo taken. The truth is I don’t feel very good about myself right now and that pisses me off! I’ve spent the last 30 or so years dieting…always trying to lose weight. After all this time I still have some underlying belief I’ll feel better when I’m thinner. And that’s the part that makes me mad! Because in my heart I know there is no difference in the kind of person I am whether I’m 120 pounds or 170 pounds.

And I know the problem isn’t entirely the weight. Because I’ve been heavier than this and I still got dressed up and went out with my friends and thought I looked hot! And there have been times when I’ve been thinner than this and I’ve felt lousy. So if I have the expectation that losing weight is going to make me feel better about myself, no amount of weight will do the trick. I proved that to myself last time I lost weight. I told myself I’d be thrilled if I could just wear a size 8. When I got to a size 4 and was contemplating what it would take to get to a 2 or even a 0, I knew the weight wasn’t the issue. No amount would be enough.

Not that I feel the need to place blame, but I do feel some of this is societal conditioning. Out of curiosity I looked up my Body Mass Index based on my height and weight. At 5’2” and 160 pounds it says I’m borderline obese. Seriously? Not just overweight, but nearly obese! It also says I would still be considered healthy at 104 pounds. A weight I haven’t seen since high school. But I’m still buying into the notion I need to be thinner. That somehow thinner is better.

I want to not care how I look. I want to feel confident and sexy and amazing no matter what my weight. I want these extra pounds to not bother me. But they do. And I don’t know how to get past that. I don’t know how to accept myself at this weight. Right here. Right now. Because the truth is, I feel better when I look better. And that makes me feel shallow and superficial.

When it comes down to it what I’m really looking for is feeling good about myself at any weight. Frankly I’m just too old to still care about this. Isn’t that one of the benefits of getting older? You get to care less and less about things that don’t really matter. And for the most part in my life, that’s true. But this seems to be one of those areas I haven’t been able to care less about…yet.

So, even though I’m frustrated with this and I’m tired of it being an issue for me, there’s really nothing to do except be with these feelings. Ride them out and see where they take me. This is a post I can’t wrap up neatly at the end with a bow. This is ongoing, like the sequel of a movie. So there will likely be a follow up post at some point when I’ve had some brilliant flash of insight. At least I’m hoping that’s what will happen. But for now, this is where I’m at. I don’t know why I feel this way and I don’t know what to do about it. And maybe there isn’t anything to do, but just be here…as uncomfortable as it is.