The Beauty Is In The Breakage

At job interviews, when they ask you “What’s your biggest flaw?” the joke answer is, “I care too much” or “I’m a perfectionist”. It’s seen as a cheap response to imply that you don’t have any flaws, that you’re so in control that your biggest flaw is being too perfect, which is in fact not a flaw at all.

However, at the last interview I had I told them the truth. I said, “I know this answer is seen as someone trying to spin a ‘flaw’ into a positive, but the only people who think of perfectionism as a positive are people who don’t suffer from this. Being a perfectionist makes me a control freak, gives me anxiety, keeps me from asking for help or trusting others to get basic tasks done, and in the end it simply keeps me from being happy. It’s a constant struggle and it’s exhausting.”

I got the job.

Perfect_dayIn an earlier blog post I mentioned the app Habitica, which has been an enormous help to me in making some positive habits and changes in productivity. But there’s a downside to everything, and for me it has been trying (and expecting) to have a “Perfect Day” every day. That means completing every single item on my Dailies list, which is an achievement on Habitica. So far since starting the game, I have had 40 “Perfect Days”.

Which for most people, considering I’ve been playing less than 2 months, would be something to be proud of. But my brain won’t allow me to see it that way.

Here’s the thing about being a perfectionist; it makes you an all-or-nothing person. I want the house SPOTLESS, and if I don’t have time to make that happen I don’t want to clean at all. I want to have a SUPER DUPER ORGANIC HIGH-FIBER MACROBIOTIC PROTEIN-RICH healthy meal, and if I can’t do that I will just say, “Well fuck it, then”, and eat total garbage.  I want to have a PERFECT DAY, and if I can’t do that I will just say “WELP DAY RUINED OH WELL” and stop completing tasks altogether.

Habitica offers the option to “rest in the Inn” on days when you’re sick or on vacation or otherwise not going to be able to do your normal routines, and it keeps you from losing streaks or sustaining damage on Dailies that aren’t done. It’s a really great feature, but to be honest I think I’ve been abusing it. Rather than losing a streak or taking damage on a day that I was perfectly capable of getting everything done (ie. not sick or on vacation), I’ve checked into the Inn before the end of the day. Doing this makes me slack off on everything because I know I won’t take a hit, and the quality of my whole day takes a hit as a result.

What to do? How do I learn to have a balance between a Perfect Day and a Perfectly Fine But Imperfect Day?

plate.jpgHere’s something wonderful. In Japan, there is an art form called Kintsugi, which is a method of repairing broken pottery with precious metals like gold, silver, or even platinum. The theory behind this is that through the wear and tear of use and even outright breakage, an object can become even more beautiful than it was before.

“Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated… a kind of physical expression of the spirit of mushin….Mushin is often literally translated as “no mind,” but carries connotations of fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment, of equanimity amid changing conditions. …The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject.”

— Christy Bartlett, Flickwerk: The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics

I want to incorporate that kind of mentality into my life. For example, yesterday a bunch of my tasks went undone. But you know what? I got to spend the whole day with the love of my life, watching movies and getting ready for Halloween. The “Perfect Days” where I’m super productive aren’t the ones I’m going to remember when I get old, it will be days and moments like that.

And sure, not all the imperfect days are going to be imperfect for good reasons. I’m not always going to miss my To-Dos because I’m having fun; there will be emergencies and illnesses and just plain ole Bad Days. But that’s life. The cracks and breaks and changes and unexpected bits are life; nobody expects my plate to be whole and perfect, and if it were, what would that say about the way I live?

Nobody has the same threads of silver and gold running through them that I do. None of our breakage is the same; it is uniquely ours. It’s not the plates that makes us who we are, it’s the cracks running through them, and how they pieces are held together, that matters.

Keep on keeping it together. You’re beautiful.

 

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Rewriting Who You Are

I grew up thinking that I was not, and could not be, an athlete because I didn’t have the “body type” for it. I heard from so many people, from my own mother to friends to teachers and coaches, that some women just have that slim-hipped, long-limbed, “athletic” build that makes running and jumping easier and more efficient, and that people like me with short legs and hourglass shapes were simply destined to fall behind. In my 20s I was going to the gym and to hot yoga classes 4 times a week , but because I wasn’t running, or playing a sport, or going to spin class, I didn’t think it really counted. I just “didn’t have the body type” for real sports, so I did other, lesser forms of exercise to feebly make up for it.

It’s so absurd, isn’t it? But I believed it. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, despite pushing myself with personal trainers and going to intense classes and doing yoga poses that many people can’t manage, despite all of that, I believed that I simply couldn’t be an athlete. Even going and buying sportswear was fraught; I felt like an imposter looking through that section of stores, like there was a spotlight on me and people were wondering what I was doing there.

And the problem with believing something so deeply, is that even if it’s not actually true, you will unconsciously do what you need to in order to make it true.

Gradually, I began to let go of doing physical activity, believing that it “wasn’t for me”, and as I started to put weight on I didn’t even really notice. I already believed I was fat, and what I saw in the mirror simply reflected what I already knew to be true. As my weight crept up, any attempts to exercise grew more difficult than they had been, which only served to cement my belief that my body was inadequate. Innately, I was not enough.

A few weeks ago I suddenly heard my internal monologue for what it was. I don’t know what triggered it exactly, but I was out for a walk and all at once I heard, really heard, the words circling around in my head. “Not built for this, going so slow, for some people it’s easy, just am not that type…”

I was shocked at how I could be feeling defeated while I was doing well and taking care of my body.  Then all at once, the realization came crashing down on me: I’ve been letting other people tell me who I am. And I’m 32 years old and still believe it. 

Holy shit. That’s a lot.

So now I’m trying to work through this mental block, and to really see myself instead of seeing this strange version of me that has been standing in the way the whole time. I’m trying to listen to my body and hear what it is telling me, and turning down the volume on the voice that other people put into my head… the voice that keeps telling me, “It’s no use, that’s just not who you are”. As if that stupid voice knows jack shit about who I am.

I wanted to share this to let you know that nobody gets to tell you what you’re capable of. Not one single goddamn person. It can be difficult to be who you really are at times, because that false version of yourself is often is all you have let people see, and when you stop acting like the version they’re familiar with it can be a little jarring. But you know what? They’ll get over it. They’ll be fine. It’s you that you need to worry about.

So get out there, and listen for that little voice, and tell it to get lost when it tries to whisper to you. It doesn’t know you, and it’s not welcome in your house anymore. You’re the boss now. Kick that little shit to the curb.

 

Creating Habits and Getting Sleep

I’m someone who dreams almost every night. My dreams are vivid, with full scores and intricate plots and evocative smells, and on particularly bad nights I will wake up feeling like I haven’t slept at all, as if I only dreamed I had been in bed while my body wandered all over, doing things without my permission.

A month ago, those bad nights were so frequent that I was waking up almost in tears, starting my day not only exhausted but with my head buzzing with the anxieties of the dream, in a sort of fog that would take me better than an hour to shake off.

Things have improved since then, I think due to two changes I made: 1) increasing my exercise, and 2) taking a magnesium supplement. But habits are NOT an easy thing to get rolling, and I wanted to share a how I managed to implement these new habits consistently and tell you about a new plan I’m going to start and how you can make it work for you.

About a month ago, I discovered Habitica, and I can state very sincerely that it has Promo_habitica_stickerchanged my life. I do not say things like that lightly, nor do I say them after only a month, but this is one of those situations where the changes are so marked that they simply must be acknowledged. Habitica is an app, both on iPhone and Android (and a web app for desktop) that turns your habits and to-do lists into an RPG game. You create lists for yourself in different categories, from daily repeated tasks to one-time-only errands, and as you check them off you gain points towards gaining a new level, find food, get potions to hatch collectible animal eggs, rack up gold to buy new weapons, and join up with friends to fight monsters in Quests. It’s silly, and super fun, and just really really well-designed, and it has taught me something about myself that I didn’t want to admit.

I need constant validation and immediate gratification. 

Now, I know these are not particularly mature or admirable qualities to have, but there it is. I make up for it in other areas (hopefully) but I have an awful time with long-term goals and delayed results, and I think that can be hard for many people. Otherwise, we’d all be fit and rich and prepared for life’s setbacks.

I have tried habit apps of all kinds, even the ones where you put down money that gets forfeited if you lose. But in every case, from simple ones to those with higher stakes, I would get annoyed and resentful and stop using it at some point. Habitica is different (and free to use unless you want to subscribe for extra fun stuff, which I did), because there’s always something to find, some animal that you’re trying to grow, a boss that you’re trying to fight. Plus, if you don’t complete everything on your dailies list, well…not only do you get hit with damage, but so does everyone else on your team.

For the first time in my life, and for the stupidest of reasons, I managed to finish an entire 30-Day fitness challenge. For the first time, I hit my step goal on FitBit every single day for a solid month. For the first time, I am on top of monitoring my patron pledges and usernames on my website, and I got things done in August that had been sitting on to-do lists for literal months. I cannot believe the difference this silly game makes! The creators are geniuses, and I just hope that they continue to expand the game so that I don’t reach a point where I’m out of things to do.

The tricky thing for me is that it’s really easy to overdo it; I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person, and when I’m not wrapped in a blanket procrastinating I’m pushing myself way too hard and getting burnt out. Predictably, this has led to a Dailies list on Habitica that is a little too ambitious, and I’ve had to move things or cut back in order to ensure my expectations are sustainable. You can do anything, but not everything, as they say.

dreamlandFor 30 days I’ve been following an evening routine that involves starting my dishwasher, picking out clothes for the following day, writing down quick to-dos for tomorrow so that they’re not circling in my head creating anxiety, and generally just putting things in place to ensure that my mornings go smoothly. But the part that eludes me is being ready to sleep.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m not tired by the end of the day. I’m wiped, especially now that I’m being more consistently productive and active during the day. But there’s a difference between being tired and being ready to get into bed and end your day, and even with my evening routine, my body is firing on all cylinders until the moment I turn the lights out in my room. There’s no cool-down period, there is no sense of slowing down; I’m busy loading the dishwasher, thinking about to-dos, dealing with laundry, all right before I lay my head down. It doesn’t make for a sense of restfulness.

So I’ve decided to start a Challenge on Habitica. If anyone reading this uses Habitica and isn’t a member of my party, but wants access to the challenge, I will create a public Guild for it. I just didn’t want to bother spending the gems on a Guild that might only be of interest to those in my party anyway.

Here’s my before-bed ritual, to start this evening:

Ready For Beddy Challenge

full-moon-sky-stars-wallpaper-3

TIPS: Begin at leasts 9 hours before your alarm is set to wake you in the morning, at least 30 minutes before going to sleep. It is best if this routine is done in the living room or somewhere other than the bedroom, so that it sets a firm boundary between where you sleep and where you complete activities. 

 

  1. Be sure your bed is made. It makes all the difference.
  2. Change into pajamas. (This may seem obvious, but I rarely change out of my day clothes until a minute before I climb into bed. I think this will be a nice cozy way to start getting my body relaxed.)
  3. Take evening meds, wash face, etc. Get it out of the way before trying to settle down and relax. (Although I would wait on brushing teeth until after you’ve had your evening drink unless you’re just having water.)
  4. Put phone on charger and do not pick up again. (This is crucial. Not only has the bluish light from electronics been proven to disrupt sleep, but there is rarely anything restful to be found on Facebook or in our email inbox.)
  5. Set mood lighting: turn out all the lights but the ones you immediately need for reading or what have you. Light a candle if you can, which doubles as mood light and aromatherapy, or use an essential oil diffuser/room spray to create a calming scent in the air.
  6. TURN OFF THE TV. Television 100% does not count as a calming activity, the only exception being if you are playing one of those fireplace log videos or something like Moving Art.
  7. Lower your thermostat. Cooler temps make for better sleep.
  8. Pour yourself a soothing drink. This can be anything from a glass of water to a cup of herbal tea to a small glass of red wine. If you’re choosing alcohol, though, be sure to limit it to just one drink; too much can actually have a disruptive effect on sleep during the second half of the night.
  9. For 30 minutes, read, journal, meditate, listen to soft music, or do all of the above. I’m a big fan of the Baroque station on Pandora.
  10. Blow out candle, brush teeth, turn off lights, and get in bed at least 8 hours before your alarm is set to wake you.

What do you think? Do you have any before-bed rituals?

It’s been a minute.

I couldn’t believe it when I checked the date of my last entry on this blog. A full year,  almost! Only a couple weeks shy. I don’t really know what happened, to be honest. I think that I just got overwhelmed, that I felt like every entry was the same old tired series of frustrations about not staying focused, about not managing my time well, about struggling with self-loathing. I guess I figured nobody wanted to hear it, and I kinda didn’t want to write it.

Things have changed somewhat since, however. Well, not so much that as have changed. I realized that the source of a lot of my problems wasn’t that I wasn’t managing my time well, but that I had totally unrealistic standards for myself. I didn’t let myself say “no” to anything, I took on every project I could think of, I expected to spend all my downtime multitasking, and in general I was really not allowing myself to even imagine a balanced, happy life. I think my belief was, “Time enough for balanced later, I have to be successful first.”

Not so. Not so at all, grasshopper.

So I’ve been working on saying “no”. I’ve been working on setting boundaries. I’ve been working on addressing my overscheduled days and not immediately replacing podcasts that have wrapped up with another new one. And while I’m enjoying having more time to practice self-care and take walks and whatnot, it’s not easy. I’m an American, and we know how much this country likes to judge people on their productivity. Not only that, I had a compulsive workaholic father, who made me feel like sleeping in was a sin that could only be atoned for with the backbreaking labor of building a deck, or something like that. I hear his voice in my head a lot, when I’m “slacking”. Ironically, he was also the person who used to tell me, “You don’t know how to relax”.

It’s sort of hilarious to think that I, basically a professional couch potato, don’t know how to relax. But once I started paying attention, I realized it was true. I cannot just chill at the end of the day wrapped up in a blanket and watch TV; I have to be working on my planner, too. Or I need to be editing. Or replying to emails. Or finishing up my weight exercises. Or cleaning up in the kitchen and packing lunch. I cannot relax. 

So this is something that I’m going to really start working on. I want to stop constantly multitasking, and I want to establish a sort of evening cool-down routine, a hard boundary where work is no longer allowed and I’m only permitted to watch TV/movies or read or whatever, with no attempt to finish up on other tasks.

This is going to be an enormous challenge for me. I will let you know what my plan is, as soon as I figure it out!

My Coach

Since January, I’ve been fortunate enough to be working with a coach named Melinda Sohns, who has a website called Turning Yourself Inside Out. Melinda was looking for a volunteer who wanted to lose a lot of weight, and who was trying to get off the diet bandwagon. Needless to say, I fit the bill.

Melinda is not a coach that stands in front of you screaming to “have some self-respect”, slapping the cake out of your hands while cracking a whip to scare you onto a treadmill. She’s not a coach that has you count all your calories and then tells you what you fucked up at the end of the week. And thank fuck for that, or I might be in prison right now for manslaughter (no jury would convict me of murder).

For three months, Melinda has been meeting with me once a week to talk about the root of my body issues. In the first session, she asked me to start from the very beginning as far back as I could remember, to my first memory of feeling fat. Which just so happened to be in kindergarten. You can see a post I wrote (before even starting coaching) about that here.  We went on from there, her asking me occasionally to stop and go a little deeper into certain situations, and I started to slowly piece some things together right in that first session.

The thing that stood out to me most about working with Melinda was the fact that she challenged me. I have read as many books about weight loss, about “conscious eating”, about healing your connection with you body, as anybody out there. I have tried cleanses and fasts, I have been on Weight Watchers more times than I can count, I became a compulsive exerciser, went vegetarian, went vegan, went macrobiotic, went paleo…you get the drift. And in all the books and quizzes and questionnaires in magazines, they asked the same shallow questions, worded slightly differently, that did nothing but make me feel like, “I should have this figured out by now, I’ve answered these a hundred times”.

Melinda pushed it further. I consider myself more self-aware than the average person, but she managed to get me asking questions of myself that I had never even thought of. “Why do you eat at that time of day? What are you feeling? What are you hoping to achieve when you choose those foods? What kind of feeling would you have if you didn’t eat, or even if you didn’t have the food in the house to begin with? If you could eat anything you wanted to eat, what would you choose most often?”

I kind of surprised myself. It turns out that I would choose fresh, beautiful fruits and veggies instead of Cheetos and cake if I felt I had a choice. And turns out I do have a choice, I just have to make it a priority in my life and in my budget.

And who knew that I avoid exercising as I gain weight because I hate feeling the fat on my body? I hate being reminded of the fact that I’m not thin anymore, and being too heavy to do certain exercises depresses me and makes me want to do even less. Which leads to me gaining more weight, which leads to me sitting still more, and around and around. I honestly had no idea, but after talking to Melinda it was so obvious I felt like an idiot for not seeing it sooner.

Our agreement was to work together for three months and then I would write a testimonial about my experience. I’m sure that you’re all wondering whether I have lost any weight, and the answer is yes, although only about 4 pounds which some people would consider negligible. But I will say this: I’m have believed, for my whole life, that I’m lazy. I believed that my weight was the result of a character defect, and that I would never be able to change that. Melinda pushed me past that and forced me to see that I had assigned a completely unfair label to myself.  What I saw as laziness was a result of deep shame and an attempt to avoid feeling that shame by disconnecting from my body. Knowing that is frightening and disorienting. But most of all, it’s empowering.

Melinda has gotten me to see why I have been caught in the cycle I have, and that’s the most important part.  She gave me the tools, and stepped back to let me claim my own power. Now it’s up to me to face it, and decide if I want more for myself.

I would highly recommend working with her if you’re interested in learning more about yourself and your patterns, getting to the root of some of your beliefs about yourself, and reconnecting with your body. You can find her website here. Thanks so much, Melinda, for all you did for me. I hope we can work together again soon.

 

 

To My Former Boss: Please Stop Doing This To Yourself

It might surprise you to know that I hold no ill-will towards the boss who had to fire me. In fact, sometimes I consider reaching out to her because I liked her so much and I hope that maybe now that I’m not working there, we can actually be friends.

However, I have been having weekly meetings with an awesome life-coach who has been really getting to the heart of some of the disordered thinking and body image issues I have faced for my whole life. She asked me the other day to talk about something that triggered me, and I mentioned that it’s really frustrating to me that no matter how intelligent or amazingly talented a group of women may be, there will inevitably be diet talk in the conversation somewhere.

My coach asked me to dig in on that, and asked for details about what they had said, and if there was one person in particular that stood out to me. She asked me what I would have said, if I had been free to speak my mind, and suggested that perhaps I was angry at these women. Maybe I wanted to tell them to fuck off? Maybe I wanted to admit that “I’m so sick of these bitches”?

When I opened my mouth to speak, I started crying. I wasn’t angry after all, even though that was the expectation that came to mind. I was just profoundly sad. My old boss (let’s call her Jeannie) is truly one of the kindest, most generous people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. She is warm and caring and would remember details about my life, about customers lives, and would always ask about how things were going and engage in real talks with people about their grandchildren and their health, not because it was good for business but because she actually gave a shit about other people. She was so gentle and patient with everyone.

Except herself.

I only had to hear her speak about herself a couple of times, thank god. But it’s not something that I will ever forget. The venom, the loathing, the disgust in her voice when she said, “I’m so fat. I’m such a pig. I make myself sick. I can’t even look in the mirror. I’m so ugly it makes me want to puke” was enough to make the hairs on my neck stand up. I have heard people cursing up a storm, screaming at each other, but this was uglier than all of that. It came from a deep well, drawn up from the pit of her gut, and it was black as tar, viscous and oily and sticky. It crawled out of her mouth and hung in the air, lingering like a heavy fog, clinging and grotesque.

I started to describe to my coach what Jeannie said and I couldn’t even get through a sentence before my sobs choked off my words. It was like my heart was breaking. Here was a woman whom I had been lucky to meet, whom everyone was lucky to have been working with, who would bend over backwards to do anything for you, and she hated herself. Jeannie didn’t realize at all that I frequently wished I could be more like her. She didn’t understand how much I battled with selfishness, and how often I marveled at her ability to put other people first. She didn’t know the little efforts I made to emulate her, here and there, in my life.

Sometimes it occurs to me that perhaps Jeannie had no problem putting others first because she truly didn’t think she was worthy of being a priority. Maybe she was trying to make herself smaller, in every aspect, because she just inherently did not believe she had the right to take up as much space as she wanted. I think Jeannie struggled with the belief that a “nice” woman is a good woman, and that to be “nice”, you must be non-threatening, you must be quiet, and you must be (above all) small. 

It makes me so sad that our society has trained women to believe that we have to earn our right to take up space on this planet by looking a certain way. Jeannie felt that she had to apologize for her very existence. As I talked about this with my coach, the sadness was so overwhelming that I had trouble breathing for a few minutes. How many women on this earth try and minimize themselves their whole lives, realizing too late that they were never allowed to live at all? How many women are forced to apologize for their audacity to take up oxygen without at least looking like a Sears catalogue model, if not Victoria’s Secret? How many women have raised daughters to value themselves by something as accidental and uncontrollable as their appearance, petrified by the knowledge that their daughters will inevitably, one day, fail?

Because that’s how the system is designed. Women are set up to fail, so that we are constantly aware that we aren’t good enough, and are forever, always, apologizing for it. Keep us small, keep us sorry, keep us desperate. 

And the perfection of this system is that we then take up the reins and need no more guidance, because we’re more than willing to punish ourselves from here on out. Or, behind our hands and behind our keyboards, we punish one another. We take over the dirty work. We come to fully and whole-heartedly believe that women are products to be consumed, and that if consumers don’t approve of the product, the product should be shamed and sent to the back where it can’t be seen, like a bruised apple or a rotting steak.

Take it off the shelf…Nobody wants that…We don’t need to see it…Get it out of here…Put it in the trash where it belongs. 

Jeannie, I saw you. I know you. Even through the unbelievable sadness and self-hatred, I saw you and you were dazzling. You deserve every square inch of space you occupy, every breath of air you inhale. You deserve your happiness. You are not unworthy. You are not a waste. You are smart, and strong, and powerful, and I love you. I hope you can learn to love yourself too.

 

 

 

 

And Life Is Good

There is so much to catch up on! First of all, for those of you who know me from UNspoiled! Podcast, I’m thrilled to say that I’ve met (and far surpassed) my goal of $1200 a month by April, which means that I’m going to be staying on as a full-time podcaster for the foreseeable future. When I lost my job I was making about $785 a month, so that’s a jump of over $500 in 4 months. Truly unbelievable.

This is huge to me. I can’t overstate how surreal it is to actually do this for a living. I worked from home for a couple years in Philly, but I wasn’t making any real money and it was hard to feel like I wasn’t contributing to the household expenses. To be where I am now, in a sweet little home with a wonderful partner, making a living doing something I love, is truly a place that I didn’t think I would reach anytime in the near future. I guess getting fired from my day job wound up being a good thing after all, because I don’t know that I would have taken the plunge and reached my goal this quickly otherwise.

However, there are certainly some challenges here. A kind of weird one is that this job requires me to be sedentary. I love sitting on my ass, don’t get me wrong, but I know it’s not good for me and I’m someone who kind of depends on the momentum of being forced out the door to carry me through the day. If I know that I’m not leaving the house, it’s awfully hard to get up the wherewithal to get out of my robe and slippers, even though I wind up feeling crummy by the end of the day from being a slob. So there’s two parts of it; not dressing and caring for my appearance, and not exercising.

I’m going to do something kind of public here, and commit to once-a-week yoga classes for the next 4 weeks, and twice-a-week 20 minute walks. That’s 3 days a week for exercise, and I will get dressed every single day. Really dressed, with shoes and everything.

I will be checking in on Twitter (you can follow me here), and writing posts to let you know how it’s going. Let me know if you work from home, and how you combat these kinds of challenges! I’m always interested in tips.