Eric Garner, Martin Luther King, and Starfish

In the wake of the acquittal of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the grand jury’s decision not to indict the policeman responsible for Eric Garner’s death in New York City, I feel compelled to write. First, though, I’m not here to wax poetically about racial justice or police brutality. That’s been done enough. Nor am I here to condemn or condone any of the actions following either decision. That’s been covered, too.

What I am here to do is to convey my deepest sadness at the loss of two lives, as well as the needless destruction that occurred afterward. But I don’t just weep for Brown and Garner and their respective families — I weep also for Darren Wilson, who was forced to resign without severance right as his wife is about to give birth. I weep for the residents of Ferguson, Missouri, whose town has been turned upside down in the blink of an eye. I weep for those policeman everywhere who are well-meaning, upstanding citizens, but who will now be looked on with suspicion and derision by a large segment of the population. I weep for those who don’t feel safe when policeman are around, but instead feel fear, and often rightfully so.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, in situations like this, no one comes out on top. We all lose. I’ll admit, even as a white female, I don’t feel comfortable in a society where a policeman can strangle a man and not be held accountable. That’s not the kind of world I want to live in.

So what can I do? What can little old me, living in a red state in the deep south, do in instances like this? Admittedly, for the last few days I’ve felt helpless. And detached. Many days the news leaves me wanting to bury my head in my hands and pretend none of this shit is happening.

But it is. That’s the truth. It happens EVERY DAY. All around the world. TRAGEDIES HAPPEN EVERY DAY.

But do you know what else? SO DO MIRACLES.

It sounds cliché, but it’s the honest truth. Case in point: Almost immediately after the looting and rioting occurred across St. Louis, scores of online fundraising sites popped up to help raise money for the innocent shop owners whose livelihoods were threatened. Donations poured in, and people were able to start rebuilding and resume work.

And I’m sure you’ve all seen this photo that’s been making the rounds, of a young boy and a police officer hugging in the midst of a protest.

#hugsheal

THAT’S how we respond. THAT’S what Martin Luther King meant when he famously said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

So in the wake of tragedy, what do we do? We love. We shine our light into the darkness and we offer one another a hand. And while at times our circumstances may seem overwhelming, I always remember the story of the boy walking along the beach, tossing washed up starfish back into the ocean one by one. Even though the beach is littered with starfish, he keeps working his way down the beach. When a man stops him and asks him why he bothers — that he can’t possibly make a difference when there is so much to be done — the boy reaches down, picks up another starfish and tosses it into the ocean, replying: “It made a difference to that one.”

So instead of getting on Facebook or social media and joining the shouting and arguing over “who’s right and who’s wrong” in instances like these, why not be a part of the solution? If we each throw back a starfish, we’ll have this beach cleared off in no time.

 

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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

Letting Go

I have a confession to make: I haven’t really been “loving what is” lately.

Instead of accepting whatever is going on and making the most of it, I’ve been resisting things with all of my might. And I’m not talking about instances that I really shouldn’t accept, but those that really can’t be any different, so I might as well suck it up and make the most of it.

If I think of it in terms of the serenity prayer, “Lord, grant me the willingness to accept the things I cannot change, change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference,” then I guess you could say the Lord has granted me the wisdom to know the difference between the things I cannot change and the things I can, but not the willingness to accept it..

Or perhaps I’m just stubborn and thick-headed…Either way, I’ve been resisting. I do this a lot actually. I get thoughts or ideas in my head and once they’re there, it’s very difficult to let them go. They’re like an annoying piece of food that gets stuck in your teeth and bugs the hell out of you, but you can’t get it out for some reason or another. Instead of just letting it go for a little while and forgetting about it, you continually rub your tongue over it, reminding yourself that it’s there and how fricking annoying it is. (Okay, so that analogy is kind of weird and not entirely accurate, but just go with me here.) The point is, resisting things does not make them any easier or more tolerable. In fact, it makes them more difficult and more painful. Yet my de facto reaction when things are not going “my way” is to grab onto that thought and ruminate over and over and OVER about how miserable I am, when in fact, I could be trying to find something GOOD about the situation or at least relax into it. I think this tendency stems in large part from my desire to always be in control and for things to always go according to my expectations. When something is going differently than my head thinks it ‘should,’ I get upset, and I scramble for ways to change it or get the hell out of there. This is unfortunate for a number of reasons, the most obvious being that in life, THINGS RARELY GO ACCORDING TO PLAN. That’s what makes it life. It’s unpredictable and spontaneous, and while it has its share of disappointments, it is also full of delicious surprises.

Yet while the number of things I CAN’T control greatly outnumbers the number of things I CAN, one of the things I can control is my attitude. So that is what I’m going to work on changing this week. I’m going to try to relax my grip on the wheel, roll the windows down, and enjoy the ride on this windy road of life. Wherever it may take me.

Letting Go

My hands are tired from steering

My eyes are starting to blur.

My mind is doing cartwheels,

I’m not sure which way to turn.

My lips pursed in concentration,

my jaw clenched in iron rage.

Nose scrunched up beyond frustration,

I’ve driven right into a cage.

The darkness presses in around me.

The air is getting thick.

I gasp for one last breath of it,

but it’s so stale it makes me sick.

My shoulders sag beneath the burden,

my chest is caving in.

My knees give out below me,

And I’m sure this is the end.

A cloud surrounds my senses,

I don’t know where I went wrong.

I tried to stay on top of it,

but it’s been winning all along.

They pry my wingers from the wheel,

force air into my lungs

Move the key from the ignition

back to the life where it belongs.

I take off my gloves, loosen my grip

stop trying to win things by force.

I give up my seat in the captain’s chair,

Letting life run its own course.

©Jennifer K. Horton 5/5/12

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?