R E S P E C T (just a little bit)

Part of the reason I started this blog was to help people understand what it’s like to live with something like an eating disorder. (Or anxiety, or depression, or any other type of mental illness.) There is so much misunderstanding out there about mental illness that I hoped to serve as a beacon of light in the overwhelming darkness. Somehow I thought my words could help paint a clearer picture of what we, the survivors of mental illness, face on a daily basis. Hopefully, I’ve done that to some degree, but I’m also beginning to see that perhaps understanding is too much to expect. I mean, heck — even I, someone who has struggled with anxiety, depression and anorexia for a good chunk of her life, don’t fully understand the issue. So how can I expect people with no experience whatsoever to “get it” just after reading a few blog posts? It’s simply not realistic. It may not even be possible.

But you know what? That’s okay. They don’t have to understand. YOU don’t have to understand. I’m okay with that.

What I’m NOT okay with is people making broad generalizations or assumptions about a whole community of people simply because they don’t understand. It happens every day. And not just with mental illness, but with all sorts of differences, from skin color to religion, to political affiliation. You know what I’m talking about — people with depression need to “cheer up.” People with eating disorders are vain, selfish and should “just eat.” Muslims are extremists and not to be trusted.

ALL LIES.

But that’s what people do when they don’t understand. Not content to just accept that they don’t understand, they seek to explain things in the only way they know how, in a way that makes sense to them. Or they decide that if they can’t understand it, something is obviously messed up about it.

ALSO A LIE.

You get where I’m going with this. I guess what I’m trying to say is, perhaps my goal to help everyone understand was a little misguided, and admittedly borne from a place deep inside ME that yearns to be understood. But the older I get and the more I try to explain my issues to people, the more I’m beginning to see that not everyone will understand. And that’s okay. Even those of us struggling with the same issues don’t experience those issues in exactly the same way. My experience with anorexia is not the same as everyone else’s. That’s okay too. Have I fully understood the issues of everyone I’ve encountered on my recovery journey? No way. And I actually tried. But that’s also okay. People do not have to understand everyone else’s experience. My journey does not have to make sense to you.

But what we DO need to understand, is that a lack of understanding does not warrant a lack of respect. We can respect one another without understanding one another.

I may not be able to wrap my head around why my best friend cuts herself when she’s hurting inside. I may even think it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of. But I can still love her, and support her, and respect her.

You may not understand why a loved one who is obviously underweight has such a hard time eating a decent meal — it may seem like the craziest thing in the world to you — but you can give her a hug, tell her you care and respect her.

Because the truth is, EVERYONE deserves respect. I don’t care who they are or what they’ve done, they are a HUMAN BEING with feelings and a beating heart. You don’t know what kind of life they’ve had, or what factors have shaped them into the person you see, or what inner demons they’re battling. We all have a hard enough road to travel without encountering disrespect from our fellow travelers along the way.

Why not help one another along?

 

The Fire Within

The Fire Within

An angry storm blew in today

and knocked me to the ground.

I tried to find my bearings

but nothing could be found.

 

It howled and cursed and grumbled–

hurled hailstones at my feet.

My attempts to rise were futile, I

prepared to admit defeat

 

The road is slick with raindrops

The path is strewn with stones

I crash to earth with violence

No one around to hear my moans.

 

The waves they keep on crashing

The rain keeps pouring down

The current keeps on pulling

til I don’t know up from down.

 

Fields of hidden land mines

Rooms fashioned of trap doors

Each time I step through one of them

frustration seeping out my pores.

 

The clouds roll in with fury

as I cower in the night

Yearning to lay my head down

Ready to cede the fight.

 

But something burns inside my heart

a yearning deep and true

A will to live that won’t be silenced

and I know I’m not yet through

 

I rise amid the rubble

Stand up straight and tall

But no sooner had I risen

than down again I fall

 

The wind is howling louder now

There’s static in the air

I’m not sure I can stand my ground

Not sure that I care

 

Angry gusts lash at my bones

I’m frozen to the core

My heart just isn’t in it

I can’t take this anymore.

 

But something stirs inside my soul

A flame housed deep within

A passion lights its embers

And I get back up again.

 

Along the way I stumble,

plummet to the rocks below

My ego bruised and broken

This time I’ll not get up again, I know.

 

But as I lay there in the cold

something flickers through my veins

A warmth spreads up inside my chest

And I see the sparks of flame

 

So on I go into the night

not certain of the path

And sure enough before too long

I fall victim to the wrath

 

It’s a puzzle I don’t stay there

curled up on the ground

Secure in my insecurity

Safe from being sound

 

But if the past is any indication

I won’t be down for long

One more time I’ll strike the match

Light that fire strong

 

For just when I think my will is broken,

That there’s no strength left inside

That flame inside me flickers

And I get back up to fight

 

So as I head out on my journey

Uncertain of the end

I’m not afraid of what I’ll find there.

I have a fire deep within.

 

©Jennifer K. Horton

 

Candle_flame_(1)

Facing the Music

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t been writing as much lately. I don’t really have a good reason for that except that I’ve been feeling pretty shitty.

I tend to go through little ups and downs like everyone else, but lately, my downs have been more frequent and more lasting. I’ve felt depressed, hopeless and overall just pretty disinterested in life. It’s a rough place to be, and when I’m in that place, the last thing I want to do is talk to other people about it. Think about it: when is the last time you went on Facebook to update your status to “I feel shitty” or “Life sucks right now” ? I’m thinking never. It’s just not something we go around broadcasting to one another. So it goes without saying that I wasn’t exactly feeling any motivation to write.

Well, I’m back. And as much as I hate to admit it, my latest funk taught me an important lesson: that I don’t have to feel shitty. I have the ability to fight back. True, sometimes it can be helpful to allow yourself to feel shitty — to mope around a little bit and grant yourself some down time. But never for very long. That’s where I went wrong. I felt it, and then I let it compound each day until I was just wallowing in one big pile of shit. It stunk.

Last night, however, I decided I didn’t want to feel shitty anymore. I decided that the next day — today — I was going to take some action. And you know what? It worked. I feel much better today, yet the only thing different is that I DECIDED to feel different. I had been sitting around waiting for things to just magically get better on their own, when the power to change things lay within me all along.

Which brings me to the point of today’s post. What I realized last night and this morning is that I’ve been doing the exact same thing with my eating disorder/anxiety/depression as I did with my latest funk — waiting around for things to magically get better on their own. Now, clearly I do not want to have an eating disorder. Clearly I do not want to feel anxious. And I certainly do not want to feel depressed. But wanting something doesn’t make it so. That requires action. And that’s what I’ve been sorely missing. I’ve been waiting around for my fears to diminish. I’ve been sitting here, thinking that one of these days I’ll wake up and all of a sudden eating will be easy, and I won’t encounter any anxiety and I’ll just be happy and chirpy and feel fucking fantastic. Well, NEWSFLASH Jennifer: NOT GONNA HAPPEN.

Recovering from an eating disorder is fucking hard. Getting to the point where anxiety doesn’t cripple you is hard. Overcoming depression is hard. Y’all, what I’m trying to say is, THIS SHIT IS HARD. There’s simply no way around it. Doing the things that will be required of me to live a more healthy, balanced life is going to be the most difficult thing I will ever do. It’s going to provoke anxiety. It’s going to make me feel really crappy at times. But that’s okay. I know now that to get to the other side of this journey, I have to go THROUGH all that stuff. I can’t just hop on a magic carpet and bypass the tough stuff. But I’m okay with that, because at least now I’m in control. I’d rather be driving through a rainstorm with my hands on the wheel than careening around a lovely meadow in a car without a driver. So while my goal before today was to avoid anxiety at all costs, my goal now is to walk through the anxiety at all costs. Not to shy away, or wait until tomorrow, or use one of my million excuses. I’m going to go on record right now and say there ARE no more excuses. I’m done with that. I’m ready to face the music. I know I’m about to embark on the most difficult journey in my life, but I’m ready. I know it’s going to be hard, and I’m ready for that too. I’m tired of waiting on the sidelines. I want to play in the game. I may get banged up and bruised, but you know what? I’m not afraid. Because I know what’s waiting for me at the finish line, and it’s a hell of a lot better than what’s lurking in the bleachers.

Thoughts on Being “Productive”

When I was younger, I did things just for the heck of it. I did things because they were fun and brought me pleasure. I played outside, goofed off with friends and watched The Smurfs, My Little Pony and He-Man on television. I didn’t worry about whether these things were making me a better person or were “good” for me, I just did them because I wanted to. But somewhere along the way, I stopped. I stopped letting joy be my guide and instead started to use guilt and ‘shoulds’. My earliest memory of this is when my parents were going out of town for a lengthy trip, leaving me and my siblings at home with my grandparents. Knowing that I would have a hard time without her there, my mother left me a well-meaning note encouraging me to engage in “constructive” activities to help pass the time. Somehow, I translated that message to mean “always engage in constructive activities” and ever since, I’ve been incredibly focused on engaging in activities that society generally views as productive. Now, I often feel like if I read, it needs to be something that will educate and enlighten me. If I play a game, it should be one that has a side benefit of increasing my brain power. In short, I should spend all of my waking hours engaged in activities that will serve to improve me in some way. This obviously leaves little time for relaxation and fun, even though research shows those things are necessary for well being also.

Studies show watching He-Man improves brain power... ;)

Studies show watching He-Man improves brain power… 😉

Sadly, I don’t think this little hang up of mine is uncommon. I think society in general places an undue amount of importance on things like working, making money and being busy. This strict work ethic is so ingrained that even when our employers offer us time off, we refuse to take it: According to the U.S. Travel Association, 40 percent of Americans don’t take all of their vacation, leaving 430 million days of unused paid vacation a year. That’s a lot of time that people could have spent relaxing on the beach. Essentially, 40 percent of Americans are saying they’d rather sit at their desks than in a lounge chair. There’s something not quite right about that.

But what can we do about it? How to break free of a culture that equates productivity with working hard? How to move away from using how much a person earns and how hard they work to determine their worth? Aren’t we so much more than that? If being a good person relied only upon how hard a person worked, terrorists would be saints. Don’t they work hard? Hitler would have been idolized. He worked pretty darn hard too. But it doesn’t work that way. Who we are as people is so much more than what we do for a living and how hard we do it. Who we are lies in our hearts. It’s in how we treat people. And that includes how we treat ourselves.

I wouldn’t for a minute consider telling the young, carefree me to stop goofing off. And I don’t think her childhood would have been any better if it had been more structured and packed with enrichment activities like violin lessons, soccer practice and afterschool meetings with the math and science club. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of those things, but they wouldn’t have been fun for her. She enjoyed her childhood just the way it was, and she deserved to. As every child does.

As I sit here thinking about it today, I think we could all learn a lot from observing children like her. In fact, I think our standard definition of productive is way off. And while I’m tempted to try to cobble a new one together real quick to guide us in a better direction, I think it would likely be equally off. Why? Because productive can mean different things for different people. What’s productive for me might not be productive for you. We’re all individuals with different needs and different goals in life, and it is these unique goals and needs that should determine our actions. Not society.

So if you need a nap today, take one. If work emails are stressing you out, turn off your computer. If you want to lounge around and watch cartoons or read a silly romance novel, by all means, do it. And for goodness sake, make plans to use up some of those 430 million vacation days, because at the end of the day, are you really going to look back on your life and be grateful for all the days you were “productive”? Or are you going to look back and treasure all the days you spent living your life in a way that brought you joy?