Permission to Feel Shitty

I’ve been feeling pretty shitty lately. So shitty, in fact, that I don’t especially want to be writing this post right now. I’d rather curl up on the couch and close my eyes and shut out this world that, at least for right now, holds no appeal for me. SO shitty, that when I went for a walk this morning past the golf course and heard the ‘thwack, thwack’ of the golf clubs as they propelled little spherical rockets across the green grass, I wondered to myself what it might feel like to get hit in the head with one. And then I almost wished it upon myself, in the hopes that perhaps the resulting force would knock out that part of my brain that causes me to feel so shitty. Perhaps the ball would drop out of the sky, slam into my skull, and after I got over the initial pain and shock, I would wake up a new person. But it didn’t happen.

It’s a gorgeous day outside, but inside, I’m kind of numb.

You know what, though? I’m weirdly okay with it. Because by now I know that this shittiness is just one shade on my color wheel, and that in a few days, the wheel will turn again. I’ve felt shitty enough times to know that however bad and permanent and hopeless it seems in the moment, shittiness does not last forever. It goes away. Things get better. And that helps me to hold on.

What also helps me through these rough periods is when I’m able to accept them for what they are: rough periods. That’s all. They don’t necessarily mean anything is wrong, and perhaps more importantly, they don’t mean I’M wrong. It’s actually quite normal to feel shitty every once in a while. Fighting it is a waste of time. I know, because that’s what I usually do: I usually try to figure out exactly WHY I feel shitty, and then I fight like hell to make it go away. I beat myself up for feeling this way, trying all sorts of things to help myself “snap out of it.” Society tries to tell us that smiles and happiness are the only acceptable ways to navigate the world, and so I assume I must be doing something wrong. I try to fix what in reality, isn’t even broken. And all of this fight and struggle only makes things worse. One of my favorite meditation teachers would call this “adding the second arrow.” Not only am I suffering the first arrow of being depressed, but I’m adding a second arrow on top of it by struggling and beating myself up for how I feel. It’s like a dog pulling at its leash — it might suck for the dog to be on the leash, but then it goes and makes it even worse by pulling so hard it practically chokes itself. By not accepting my feelings, I’m choking myself.

So today, as counterintuitive as it may seem, I’m allowing the shittiness to be here. I’m not allowing it to pull me down into an even deeper, darker hole, but I am accepting it as today’s state of being. Sure, I hope tomorrow it’s gone, but for right now, I can sit with it and acknowledge that today, it is how I feel. Somehow, that acceptance is soothing. And as this newfound attitude of allowance registers in my body and mind, I even begin to notice the shittiness back off a little bit. Funny how that works.

Accept.

Slowly. Reluctantly.

Hesitance settles down upon your shoulders.

Fear and Doubt gnaw at your bones.

One step at a time.

Blind trust. A leap of faith.

Release.

Let Go.

Struggling only tightens the reins.

You belong in the world —

Flying.

Soaring.

No chains to tie you down.

Free,

At last.

©Jennifer Horton

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?

When Doing What You Usually Do Isn’t Enough

I’m a huge creature of habit. I think a lot of us are. And while it can be helpful at times to have the ability to function on autopilot, it can also spell disaster.

In my case, I’ve been “doing what I usually do” for quite some time now. I have my little routine and when I stick to it life feels do-able. Everything feels manageable and A-OK. So when I’m presented with a choice to deviate outside of that routine, I usually decline. “No thanks,” I’d say. “I’ll just stick with what I usually do because, well, I’m used to it. And it feels good. And it’s easy. And comfortable…” The problem with all of this is that “what I usually do” is obviously not working out for me too well. I won’t go into all the details, but suffice it to say that I know with certainty that I am not functioning at my optimum potential. I still struggle mightily with anxiety and depression, and I can’t quite seem to shake this shit head of an eating disorder. While I wouldn’t exactly say I’m unhappy, I’m not exactly happy either. I feel like I’m out in some deep blue ocean treading water. It’s better than sinking, sure, but I’d like to have a damned boat. With a propeller and a freaking rudder. As it is, I’m just floating along. And I realized this morning that this is largely due to my tendency to just “do what I usually do.”

Well. ENOUGH. Today is the day I stand up and say “NO.” Because what I usually do is clearly not taking me where I want to go. It’s keeping me stuck, and quite frankly, being stuck SUCKS. Big time. So today is the day I shake things up a bit. Today, I am a REBEL. Granted, people on the outside probably will have no idea I’m bucking the trend, but in my experience, huge and sudden changes don’t work too well, so I’ll be going more for the slow and steady approach, but even small changes add up to be big ones. So okay, maybe not exactly a rebel, but rebel-lite. Regardless, let me just go on record and say that today is the day I start asking myself some questions before I act instead of deferring to autopilot mode. So without further ado, here is my version of the ever popular top 5 list (except it’s only 4, because I couldn’t think of a 5th…:

“4 Questions to ask yourself before you act.”

1.  WHAT? What am I doing? Is it what I usually do?

2. WHY? Why am I doing this? Is it helping me get to where I want to go? If not, why do it?

3. HOW? How can I do this differently to align more closely with the kind of life I want to lead?

4. HOW? (part 2) How will doing this make me feel afterwards? It may feel right in the moment, but will I still be glad I did it when it’s done?

So there you go. Try it out today. Be a rebel. (or rebel-lite) Do something differently in your life and see how it makes you feel.

 

Tearing Up the Rulebook

For as long as I can remember, I’ve lived by a set of internal rules. As I grew older and entered adolescence, these rules became more and more rigid, requiring me to jump through all sorts of hoops in order to be ‘good enough.’

Be polite. Make good grades. Make people laugh. Be pretty. Exercise. Eat healthy. Don’t make mistakes.

Essentially: Be perfect.

It worked out well for me at first — as long as I could put a check by each of my ‘to-dos’ each day, I was okay. I felt good about myself and all seemed right with the world. But the minute I deviated from one of my rules — all hell would break loose. I’d get anxious and upset and I couldn’t think about anything else until I put things right. With such a rigid and lengthy list, my days quickly became consumed by my need to cross things off. Life faded into the background and soon nothing else mattered.

The funny thing is, I hate authority. I rebel against rules imposed on me by the outside, yet I had created the most overbearing rules imaginable for myself. I was driving myself crazy. Something had to change. The rules had to go.

Ha! If only it were so easy, right? My life was built around these rules. They’ve been my truth for twenty something years. I mean, try telling a bunch of football players that the point of their game was no longer to score a touchdown on a field by running and passing, but to gently roll an egg across a parking lot with their tongues without it breaking. Mmmhmmm. Now attach a lot of deeply held beliefs into the whole mix, and you begin to see the challenge I faced. STILL face — To be clear, this story is not finished. I have torn a few pages out of the rulebook, but the book is still very much alive. Part of the challenge, I think, is that initially I tried to change the rules, when really I just need to get rid of the idea of rules altogether. NO RULES. NONE. Life, fortunately, does not have a rulebook. We are each allowed to sculpt our lives however we choose. How wonderful is that?!

So join me. Let’s not waste time creating rules where none are needed. “Break” a few of your own rules today. Better yet, toss them in the trash, and LIVE.

 

 

Cleaning Out the Toolbox

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I have a tendency to get anxious.

A LOT.

For NO REASON WHATSOEVER.

And I know I’m not alone.

I hesitate to speak for everyone, because it seems there’s always an exception to the rule, but I would venture so far as to say that we ALL get stressed out from time to time. We get anxious, unsettled and uncomfortable. And unless we’re masochists, we HATE it. As soon as those feelings creep into our awareness, we do whatever we can to get rid of them. QUICKLY.

Some of us zone out in front of the TV or computer, others of us exercise. Some of us eat, others of us don’t. Some of us curl up in a ball and go to sleep, others of us work until we drop. Suffice it to say, our coping mechanisms run the gamut. (If you’re sitting here reading this wondering what the heck I’m talking about, then you’re coping mechanism is probably denial ;)). Some of our coping mechanisms are quite effective, while some of them actually end up causing MORE problems than the very problems we use them to escape.

I was thinking about this earlier today as I puzzled (for the gazillionth time in my life) over why, after twenty plus years, I continue to hold on to the destructive habit of rigidly controlling my food intake despite being perfectly aware of how very destructive it is. For some reason, despite years of treatment, therapy and oodles and oodles of facts and statistics, I continue to engage in behavior that is not at all conducive to the kind of life I want to live.

WHY? What the fuck kind of sense does that make?

On the surface: none. None at all.

Dig a little deeper, though, and you begin to see it makes perfect sense. Since I was twelve years old, I’ve used food and exercise to manage difficult emotions. In the beginning, it worked magnificently. As time went on, it lost its oomph. But by the time I realized what I was doing and how harmful it was, it was too late. It was habit. Try doing something for twenty years, all the while telling yourself how great it is and how awesome it makes you feel, and then suddenly stopping. Yeah. Not so easy. Even if you don’t have personal experience with an eating disorder, you likely can relate on some level. Just look at how many people in the world struggle with obesity and you begin to see what I mean.

So here I am, thirty something years old, and basically the only tools I have in my toolbox to deal with anxiety are food and exercise.

Until I take them out.

You see, I actually have been acquiring some other tools over the years to deal with difficult emotions. They don’t come as easily, and they’re not quite as effective, but they’re a heck of a lot better for me. I have mindfulness, communication, medication… I don’t HAVE to hold on to the dangerous tools I’ve been grasping for so long.

Yeah, I know. It seems terribly obvious and perhaps I should have had this realization much sooner, but when it occurred to me this morning, it hit me with astounding clarity. I was wondering why I continued to reach for the eating disorder when anxiety struck, when what I should have been wondering was why I still kept the eating disorder in the toolbox in the first place. It’s like sticking a kid in a room full of healthy food and telling them not to eat the box of cookies in the middle. Not gonna work. But take the cookies out, and that other food starts to look pretty tasty.

It will take a while to make these new tools as strong as my old ones were in the beginning, but I have a feeling they’ll be much more durable and effective. Besides, who doesn’t like new things? I can’t wait to try them out!

What tools in your toolbox are you neglecting? Which ones could stand to be tossed out? Join me today in a little late spring cleaning 🙂

Your Body is a Vessel — Fill it with Love

I’ve been meaning to write a post for a long time about loving your body for what it can do and not for what it looks like, but I’ve struggled to put my thoughts and feelings into words. Luckily, I’ve recently been introduced to Glennon Doyle Melton and her genius blog “Momastery,” and it appears that today she’s done it for me.

paintbrush-master

http://momastery.com/blog/2014/07/06/body-masterpiece/

I love her use of  a paintbrush and canvas as a metaphor for our bodies and our lives. Personally, I’ve struggled lately with being ashamed of how skinny my paintbrush is. As the heat of another Carolina summer threatens to suffocate me, I find I want to wear less and less clothing. Yet this conflicts with my desire to hide my paintbrush at all costs. Some days I’d rather just stare at the blank canvas than risk taking out my paintbrush for others to judge.

I hate that. I don’t want to hide. I want to paint!

And paint I shall. I suppose I’ve started with this blog — sharing my story with others and opening up my insides for the world to see. I’m not sure how many people actually read what I write here, but I kind of like it that way. I just like that I’m willing to continually put myself out there in all my messy glory.

So please forgive me for copping out today and just directing you to someone else’s blog, but sometimes I find I really can’t say things any better than someone else already has. And if you’re not already familiar with Glennon, definitely check her out — I can’t say enough good things about her book, Carry on Warrior, and her TEDx talk, Lessons from the Mental Hospital.

After you’ve done that, get all the paint you can find, take out your paintbrush, and make Jackson Pollock proud.