fear

I Don’t Hide My Insecurities, I Hide Behind Them

“I don’t know,” I say with a frown as I angle my body sideways in the mirror. “Does it really look okay?”

“It looks fine,” my best friend replies, rolling her eyes. “You look good.”

I smooth the ruched fabric over my protruding hipbones. They are the part of my appearance I will never accept, no matter how long I spend trying to convince myself that they’re normal. I spin one way, then the other, watching as my shape goes from backyard stick to lopsided pear. But nobody wants to hear my complaining, so I just sigh and move away from the mirror.

“You don’t dress like you hate your body,” a friend remarked once as we ride the el to our downtown destination. I didn’t know how to respond to that. I didn’t even know what that meant. I felt like I should be offended, but I wasn’t sure why.

I’m bothered by a lot of things about myself, not just my hips. I’m bothered by how quickly I clam up in social situations and how easily I blush when I’m embarrassed. I hate that I have to work twice as hard as the people around me to do something as simple as eating breakfast in the morning, because my brain refuses to process things the way that it should. I hate that I take everything personally and spend maddening hours feeling guilty for things that aren’t my fault.

And I’m open about all that, I really am. I write posts like these that present my inner turmoil for the world to see. I crack jokes about my social ineptitude and never fail to cry loudly when the situation demands it. And I guess when I put it like that, it sounds kind of admirable.

It’s not.

I’ve been known to drunkenly disclose my eating disorder when I’m scared someone is getting too close. I tend to use my awkwardness and social anxiety as an excuse to avoid putting myself out there. And I guess, yeah, I don’t dress like I hate my body, because I don’t want to feel like I’m lying. I emphasize the parts I hate the most for no good reason other than the fact that I want to drive people away. Truth be told, that’s the one thing I know I’m pretty damn good at.

Some people hide their insecurities, faking self-confidence until they start to really believe in themselves. Some people actually embrace the parts of themselves they don’t love, because they know it makes them beautiful and unique and human.

Not me. I hide behind them, using them as a crutch, constantly making excuses to wallow in self-pity. I dwell on my insecurities until they’re all I see, and I make myself believe that I don’t deserve good things because of them. I’d rather force people to leave right away instead of waiting until I’m attached and the loss actually hurts.

I hide because I can. Because drowning in self-pity and self-loathing is the lifestyle I’m accustomed to, and because it’s easy, and because that way I’m the only one who’s allowed to hurt me or hate me. I hide because that’s what I do.

I take one last look in the mirror on my way out the door, turning away when I feel the tears brewing in my eyes. Someday maybe I’ll be really, truly brave. Just not tonight.

 

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On Graduating College, Or Why Time Needs to Move Slower

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I set a countdown last night for the day I finish my last final. Now I have this blinking clock at the top of my computer screen that says pretty much the scariest sentence I’ve ever seen.

“2 months and 25 days until you’re done with college.”

Seriously? How did I get here? It feels like just yesterday I was receiving my first college acceptance letter – but no, that was 2009. It’s been more than four years since then. And it’s been a long four years. Definitely challenging. Invigorating. Heartbreaking. Eye-opening. And in a little under three months, it’ll all be over.

I don’t feel like an adult. I still feel like the same shy, terrified little freshman who cried her eyes out every night because she was so homesick. Hell, I have even less of an idea of what I want to do with my life today than I did in 2010. In what universe am I ready to graduate? I don’t know how to fold a fitted sheet or use the broiler on my oven. I forget to empty the trash can in my bedroom for months and sometimes even to lock the door when I leave the house. I’m a kid pretending to be a grown-up, and I’m not even doing a very good job of it.

There are moments, though. Moments when I think, “wait a minute. This is my life.” My apartment is a disaster area 85% of the time because we don’t do the dishes enough or put away our shoes, but you know what? I have an apartment, and I pay my bills, and I couldn’t have done that when I was eighteen. I talk to people when I go somewhere new; I network and make connections and four years ago that would have paralyzed me. Even though some of it feels the same, I’m not the person I was when I rolled my suitcase to Willard 228 for the first time.

I honor the girl I used to be, because she is the one that allowed me to become who I am. But I’m glad I’m not eighteen anymore. Everything was life or death back then – picking a major, joining a sorority, staying in touch with everyone from my graduating class – and it was exhausting. I lived in a constant state of pressure and fear. I didn’t know how to let all the petty stuff go.

I’m not an adult, I know. I’m still clueless and scared and unprepared. But I’m smart enough to figure it out. These past four years have been the hardest I’ve ever faced, and look at how I’ve conquered them! Despite the fear, the misgivings, the doubt, I’m ready for what happens next.

2 months and 25 days. Let’s do this.

5 Things That Didn’t Happen When I Gained Weight

To someone struggling with an eating disorder, the idea of weight gain is one of the scariest things in the world. I still panic sometimes when I have to step on a scale, even though I actively choose not to look at the number. The words “weight restoration” send shivers of dread down my spine, and on days when I eat “too much” I imagine myself looking like a beached whale. The funny thing is, though, all the reasons I’ve ever had for being so terrified of a few extra pounds are slowly becoming non-reasons, because they simply aren’t realistic. Here are five of my favorite things that didn’t happen when I spent a year and a half gaining weight.

1. I didn’t grow out of all my clothes. I’ve grown out of one pair of pants, and that’s it. Almost everything else I own, I still wear on a regular basis.

2. I didn’t suddenly become obese. I don’t mean to skim over obesity, because I know it’s a real issue that a lot of people struggle with. But gaining enough weight to actually be classified as overweight or obese would be extremely difficult, especially for someone who began by barely eating anything at all. Besides, my nutritionist is looking out for my health – she wouldn’t push me somewhere just as dangerous as the place I started.

3. I didn’t lose control of my life. I thought that by moving toward intuitive eating, I would sacrifice my agency. That by giving up rigid, restrictive behaviors and obsessive self-monitoring, my life would spiral out of control and there would be nothing I could do about it. But I wasn’t in charge back then – my eating disorder was. Intuitive eating, weight restoration, and self-care are things that are 100% under my control.

4. I didn’t hate my appearance any more than I already did. I thought that when I gained weight I would be even more disgusted with the way I looked. But in the depths of my eating disorder, even when I was emaciated, I thought I was the most hideous person in the entire world. To be honest, I still struggle a lot with my appearance, but weight restoration is slowly making it better, not worse.

5. People didn’t like me any less. If anything, I’ve become a more social person, a much better friend, and a lot more fun to be around. The people that care about me don’t give a shit if I weigh 110 pounds or 160 pounds, as long as I’m confident and happy.

So my fears were unfounded. And you know what? When I gained weight, I also gained a lot of other wonderful things. Things I never thought I’d be able to attribute to something so scary. I gained confidence, control, energy, and optimism. I rediscovered my love for writing and decided to use my story to inspire others. I learned to take ownership of my life instead of always playing the victim. I laugh more and take more chances and worry less and less about what other people think.

A lot of things didn’t happen when I gained weight. But one thing did. I gained myself. And that’s worth every pound.

I’m Ashamed To Like You, Because You’re Just Interesting

My seventh grade crush had these really big ears that stuck out of the side of his head, kind of like a cartoon mouse. People used to whisper about them, but I thought they were nice. They fit with the rest of him, all awkward and gangly and full of subtle imperfections. I liked that he didn’t look like everybody else. I thought he looked interesting, and that was better than just being pretty.

I was always kind of weird that way. My friends teased me mercilessly for my taste in men (boys) until I learned that there were only certain types of people I was allowed to like. Straying from the norm would only cause problems, and I was already socially insecure enough without alienating my friends, too.

“But he’s so short,” they complained once when I told them I had feelings for my best guy friend. Another time I got a wide-eyed, open mouthed stare and a “…him?” They could not fathom the idea that I might be attracted to someone who was, well, not “cute.” You know, in the way that middle and high school heartthrobs are supposed to be cute. And in the case of my particular suburb, also white.

The thing is, I’m a sucker for interesting. I’m amazed by how many people I come across who think that’s an insult, a blow to their looks or their intellect or whatever else. Our culture has somehow given that word a negative connotation; it’s simply a placeholder for when you can’t think of anything nice. “Oh…interesting,” you say, when really it isn’t at all. But what can we ever hope to be if not interesting? Why would anyone strive for less?

Sometimes it’s the element of surprise, like when the quiet kid who sits behind you in tenth grade English class suddenly starts rapping Li’l Mama’s “Lip Gloss” from memory. Sometimes it comes from the respect and awe you feel when you see the class clown act so kindly toward everybody, and you think, “how can anyone possibly be that patient?” And sometimes all it takes is exposure to a millisecond of somebody’s greatest passion: a musician strumming his guitar, an engineer discussing circuitry, a sports fan yelling at a TV set. You’re hooked.

Sure, there are times when you get to know them and they’re not as intriguing as you thought. Nice enough, interesting enough, but that’s about it. But there are other times when you get to know them and they’re utterly intoxicating. Everything you learn about them pulls you in deeper, and no matter how much you know, you want to know more. Maybe interesting isn’t the right word after all. Fascinating. Captivating. Complex and wonderful.

I regret that in my life I’ve left a lot of interesting people behind. I spend far too much time caring about what other people think, so much so that I completely tune out my feelings. By the time I graduated from high school, I’d missed my chance to chase the two or three people I’d really wanted. By the time I graduate from college in June, I will have missed at least three more. And for what? For the brief satisfaction of knowing nobody was going to laugh at me?

I wish I had the balls to tell my seventh grade crush how much I admired his tenacity – and his ears. Or to tell the guy I didn’t go to prom with about the time he came over to return my book and it took everything I had not to kiss him. And right now, I wish I could call up the boy I barely know and ask him a million questions, just so that he knows someone wants to listen. I want so badly to not give a damn what anybody else thinks about it.

Above all, these boys should know that they’re interesting. To all of you: there were, and are, people out there who spend a lot of time thinking about you and wishing they were brave enough to say so. Regardless of whether you meet objective standards of beauty or intelligence or humor, there is somebody who thinks you’re the most wonderful person on the planet. Even if they wait seven years to say it. Even if they never do.

And to the rest of us: screw what everyone else thinks. Love the interesting ones. Love the weird ones. Love the ones you never quite understand. Just love.

Crippled at Camp: A Love(?) Story

The first time I was wounded at summer camp, I was eleven years old. It was my fault, of course. I was on a sailboat with a couple of other kids, being as obnoxious as you might expect a kid on a sailboat to be, when the swinging boom whacked me full-force on the side of the head.

I don’t remember this event very well, probably as a result of minor head trauma and major embarrassment. I do recall a very panicked teenager who scooped me up in her arms and sprinted to the infirmary. And that the nurse gave me three blue freeze pops while I waited to see if I was going to die.

The summer I was fourteen, I came down with a disgusting stomach flu the night before we were going on an awesome overnight trip. I spent two days in the infirmary that time, watching really terrible movies on a very small TV instead of making s’mores in the woods with my friends. I secretly hoped someone else would get the flu so I would at least have some company. It didn’t work out.

My luck only worsened once I started working there. When I was sixteen and training to be a counselor, I wound up with head lice and a staph infection that had pretty much eroded my flesh from the knees down. When I was seventeen, I got stung by an entire hive of bees. And at nineteen I spent too long standing on the hot sand during lifeguard training and suffered from massive, horrible second-degree burns on the bottoms of my feet. Alright, that one wasn’t all bad; it did necessitate my supervisor literally carrying me wherever I needed to go, which amused the campers a great deal and made me feel like a princess.

In 2012, when I was finally on the leadership staff, I shared this story with my coworkers. We were gathered inside one of the boys senior end tents late at night, watching the candlelight dance on the canvas flaps and talking about what camp meant to us. Our stories were supposed to be meaningful. Mine was about getting maimed.

But they understood what I meant. My story was about strange and improbable injuries, sure, but it was also about deciding that getting hurt wasn’t enough to keep me from going back to camp summer after summer. It was about the knowledge that no matter how tough it got, no matter how many legitimate reasons I had to run away, it was always worth it to stay.

That summer, 2012, had its own share of misfortunes. During the three months I was there, I was caught in a violent downward spiral of anorexia that wreaked havoc on my physical and mental health. And it took me so long to recover from that nosedive that I couldn’t even consider the possibility of going back in 2013.

Three weeks ago, I submitted an application. Today, I called the camp office for an interview. Even after the personal hell I experienced a year and a half ago, I’m going back.

My parents are baffled. And worried. A lot of people are worried. You know what? I’m worried, too. But every year that I’ve been knocked down, I’ve come back stronger. I’m a champion for a cause I love more than anything. Something about it will always be tough, and I might not always come out on top. But as we who have worked there know, it is always, always worth it to stay.

The Empty Journal

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A year ago, I bought this journal at a craft store. I laughed out loud when I saw it, because it was just so incredibly perfect. “The creeping sense of impending disaster and the all-encompassing fears both specified and vague that colonize my mind, body, and soul” – that’s pretty much my everyday life, right? (And in case you can’t read the fine print at the bottom, it says “even though optimism may be unself-aware and ill-placed, I know I’ll be happier as a blind fool than as a clairvoyant apocalyptic.”)

Now if there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I have an uncanny ability to fill a journal. I’m constantly buying new ones because I can never quite keep up with the pace of my own writing. So it is seriously weird that I’ve had this awesome journal for a whole year and only filled five pages.

Here’s my problem…it’s prompted.

The beginning of every page begins with “What I’m hanging hope on today:” and that seems unfair. Because hope is a nice idea and all, but when a page starts off with a heading like that, all of a sudden I feel guilty writing down anything negative. Because how can I finish that sentence? “What I’m hanging hope on today: my body image really sucks”? Or “What I’m hanging hope on today: my roommates and I just had explosive diarrhea simultaneously and we only have one bathroom”? And I can’t just ignore the prompt, because it’s sitting right there staring at me and making me feel worse about feeling bad.

Every time I write in that journal, I say I’m going to do it more often. That I’m going to suck it up and write what I want, prompt be damned. But I never do. Although I am a person who generally craves order and organization, when it comes to writing, I think the best thing I can have in front of me at any given moment is a blank page. No prompts. That way I can write in poetry or metaphor or prose or even draw, and there’s nobody looking down their nose and telling me I can’t. So many times I want to write about things other than hope. I want to write about fear and loneliness and vulnerability and how it feels to fall in love with someone from thousands of miles away. I want to write about my family and how beautiful they are and how much they truly love each other. I want to write about the way I feel when I have too much to drink and the emotions spill out of me like running water and I’m left face-to-face with something ugly and scary. It doesn’t give me hope. It gives me life. It means I’m living. And living is oh so very painful. To quote William Goldman, anyone who says differently is selling something.

I’ve moved on to other journals since I started this one. In fact, I’ve completely finished at least two since the last time I wrote in it. Still, I keep it. The cover makes me laugh, and the sometimes funny/sometimes inspirational quotes inside are fun to look at.

Perhaps my inner optimist is disappointed in me. I doubt it. I usually find some way to see the bright side of a situation, even when nobody asks me to. And maybe I’ll find use for such a book someday, when my thoughts bleed out loud rather than on paper. Until then, well, whatever happens, it’s gonna be okay.

And Oh, My Dreams

dramatic dream

When I was little and had nightmares, my parents used to tell me it was because I had to pee. “Go to the bathroom,” they’d say. “The nightmares will stop.”

For the past three nights I’ve been having the strangest, scariest dreams. And no matter how many times I get up and try the whole peeing thing, they aren’t going away.

I’m probably just going insane from shutting myself up like a hermit in my apartment and doing nothing but study for my exams. That’s the most likely scenario I can think of. But in my semi-insomniac state, I always think my dreams are trying to tell me something. It’s not impossible, right? They could be. My subconscious is probably more in tune with reality than I am right now.

In high school, my chorus teacher had this really old book on dream interpretation on one of his bookshelves. One week I casually mentioned to him in passing that I’d been having a lot of dreams where I was massively pregnant, and he told me to look it up in the book. Apparently that meant I was on an archetypal journey to self-awareness. Duh. Like every other fifteen-year-old girl on the planet.

A couple of nights ago I kept waking up and falling back to sleep into the same dream world. It was very 1984-esque; everything we were doing was constantly under surveillance, and there were strict rules about things we could and couldn’t do or say. I texted one of my friends about it and she said I was probably feeling smothered. (Yes, absolutely. By finals.)

I hate being the kind of person that believes in dreams. It’s like palm-reading or gazing into a crystal ball. Except it’s not, because it’s me, and I’ve learned lessons in weirder ways. This doesn’t even make the short list.

I can’t ignore my dreams. They make sense. Lately I’ve been feeling scared and trapped and lonely, and I can see all those things in the images that dance through my head every night. Sitting alone at round tables in big rooms. Trying to jump from the dock to a boat that’s just a little too far away. Finding myself in places that look familiar, but aren’t quite right. As hard as I may fight, falling asleep doesn’t give me relief from my emotions. It strengthens them.

Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat and I tear the sheets from my sticky skin and I shake there for a little while, staring at the ceiling, and wish that I weren’t all alone. And then I drift into dreamland once more, only to find myself completely abandoned in a place I don’t recognize with people I barely know. I don’t need a book to understand my brain. I’m always on my own. I’m scared I’ll always be on my own.

I’m Good At Being Afraid

There are butterflies in my stomach, but not the nice kind; they seem to be trying desperately to escape at the expense of my internal organs. I can’t keep food down, can barely swallow. My heart runs a marathon through my chest, the echo of its thick, rapid beats reverberating through my veins. The constriction of my chest muscles freezes my body in its tracks; I hyperventilate. My brain jolts, sizzles, runs haywire like a fuse that is about to explode; my vision blurs and my entire frame trembles. I have already lost control. I cannot hear you talking to me; you cannot help. The only thing you can do is sit with me until this stops, until I can focus again.

Fear. It’s a word I’ve been hearing for a long time, from the first day I went to the doctor and told them I couldn’t breathe. The doctor looked at my mother and said, “Your daughter may have an anxiety disorder.”

What does that mean to an eleven-year-old? It meant that sometimes I couldn’t sleep because I was too afraid that my heart would stop beating in the middle of the night, and that when I saw a piece of glass on the road I was terrified that I would swallow it. Irrational, unexplainable fears. It was as the doctor described: I had a keen awareness and anticipation of danger that caused me frequent panic attacks as a result of seemingly insignificant triggers. Some spells were worse than others, but I was always able to handle it on my own. As early as the fifth grade, I knew how to get through an anxiety attack in school without the teacher ever noticing. By seventh grade, although I was not able to eat more than a few bites of any meal for over three months, I seemed like an expertly adjusted individual. And at the end of sophomore year of high school, I taught myself how to do things as complicated as math problems in the midst of a full-blown panic.

I’m used to fear. Even when I go months without the irrationality and terror of the true disorder, I still get scared. I’m afraid of being in front of people and saying the wrong thing and dealing with my emotions. I’m terrified of how people perceive me and how I perceive myself. And every day, I turn down the things that I really want because I’m too frightened to face the unknown. Sometimes those facts discourage me, but mostly I just know I have some more growing to do. Maybe it’s true that I have a pretty long-term anxiety disorder, and right now I might let fear rule a lot of things. But I have already conquered so much of it on my own. I am capable of so much more.

Fear, I Vanquish Thee

If I could vanquish one emotion from my life, I would immediately choose fear. It’s good, I guess, to be afraid of things that can hurt you, and without nerves things wouldn’t be as exciting. But fear is crippling; it causes blinding insecurities. It hinders your potential and ties you down.

I’m afraid of a lot of things. And I’m afraid there are things I’ll never be able to do because I’m afraid of so much. Right now it just seems easier to sit in my comfort zone, sheltered from the unknown. But who’s to say someday I won’t look back on these years with regret?

I fear fear itself, and its overwhelming power over me. There’s only one thing that keeps me going: the promise I made to myself, the promise that one day, I will teach myself to be fearless.

The Fear of Being Ordinary

Marianne Williamson once said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

Actually, I don’t think either of those are true. There are many things that make me feel inadequate – my lack of dancing skills, for example, or my complete inability to understand the rules of football. But I still happily go to ballet class faithfully every Friday night and watch football games with my friends and family. Being really terrible at some things is both acceptable and kind of fun, because I don’t expect very much of myself, so I can never be disappointed.

And on the other side of the spectrum, there are some things that I’m pretty damn great at. Like cooking. I can throw a bunch of random ingredients in a saucepan and end up with something delicious. Crossword puzzles, too. I do at least ten crossword puzzles every day. Being really awesome at things is just as low-stress as being awful at them, because I never have to wonder how they’ll turn out. I know I’ll always succeed.

I struggle with all the stuff in the middle. Not what I’m hopelessly bad at. Not what I’m consistently great at. What really gets me are the things I’m okay at. Good, but not great. Decent, but nothing special.

I love to sing. I’m pretty good at it, too. Good, but not great. I’m part of an amazing group of talented performers and I am constantly in awe of them. But I listen to the beautiful voices all around me and I think, well, I’m decent. Nothing special. I’ll never pick up a recording contract or star on Broadway. I’m just, well, okay. Ordinary.

There’s something about the prospect of ordinariness that terrifies me. I can’t laugh about my embarrassing lack of skills or retain a calm confidence in my abilities. I’m forever trying to prove to myself, and to everyone around me, that I’m good enough. No, not just good enough. I’m forever trying to prove that I’m great. Because if I can’t be great, what’s the point?

So now, I’m trying to be a writer. Or maybe I am a writer – I’m not sure what the definition of “writer” really is. And I know I’m good at it. I’m not going to sit here and deny that. But I’m scared that I’ll never be something really, truly special. That I’ll be confined to the pages of this blog for the next fifty years, never able to move on to something bigger. Destined to be ordinary.

Life is shorter than any of us like to admit. And I don’t want to be forgotten. I’m afraid that if I’m ordinary, nobody will remember me. My words, my actions, my thoughts, they’ll all be forever lost in the ether. When the last person that knows me passes on, everything I’ve ever done will disappear. I’ll just be a shadow on the pages of history, good enough to get through a lifetime, but not great enough to make a lasting impression. Nothing special.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is not that we are powerful beyond measure. Our deepest fear is that we are ordinary.