A Little Secret.

I watched a video recently made by a gentleman (Mr. Stephen Clarke is his name) who was challenged to reveal something difficult and personal about himself. My heart burst with admiration at his courage to be vulnerable and step up to this challenge. No one has challenged me to share any dark secret but I do have something I want to share. The reason for sharing this is to shine a light on this secret so it will lose it’s power.

What is my secret??

I often feel uncomfortable in my body and with my physical appearance. I harshly judge my appearance but I also feeling uncomfortable with the size of my frame and build. Let’s face it, one’s skeletal structure is not something we can change. I cannot diet and exercise this away. I cannot surgically change the broadness of my shoulders or my height. I cannot make myself dainty or petite. I realize this might seem like a ridiculous thing to be self conscious about. For our every irrational thought, there is an origin and root cause for it’s existence. This particular mindset problem is no different.

I have a sister who is two years older. She fits the more traditional version of society’s “beauty” standard. My sister is 5’2″ with a petite, thin frame (pictured on the right). For most of my life, I have compared myself to her. I have seen how people react to her and treat her and I see how they react to me. My subconscious has made copious notes of any perceived discrepancies over the years thus creating and cementing a skewed view of myself. (Thank’s brain, you’re a dick.)

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This is not the best picture of ME (on the left), but a you can see, my sister and I look quite different from each other. I’ve been asked more than once if we even have the same parents (we do). My sister introduced me to one of her friends and the first thing she said was, “How did that happen?!”. Genetics are a funny lottery. I’m always in awe of siblings who look similar. The fact of the matter is, I took after my dad’s side of the family. My sister took after my mom’s side. Dad is 6’3″ tall and rather imposing. Mom was only 5’3 tall.

I am 5’9″ tall. I have a “sturdy”, medium to large frame. I have always been physically strong, even as a baby. Over the years, I have grown self conscious of my broad shoulders. Before I had kids and had a smaller bust, described myself as looking like a guy with boobs. I did not feel attractive or feminine when I was younger and I still struggle with that now. I have never felt like I fit the traditional definition of “beauty”, ever. The reason being mostly due to my larger frame and build. A friend of mine, with no filter, saw a picture of me standing with my sister. He said I looked like a rugby player next to her. Who knows? I might look like a rugby player! There’s nothing wrong with female rugby players. They definitely kick ass and are awesome. However, if you already feel inferior to those around you and are self conscious about your body, that’s not what you want to hear from anyone.

So how does this skewed view of myself affect me in my everyday life?

When I am feeling down and very self conscious, I notice that I try to take up less space.  I hold my arms in close to my sides, stoop a little and roll my shoulders in. I do not stand tall and proud because when this is kicking my ass, I feel enormous beside everyone. I’m not enormous but I feel like I take up so much space in a room. I feel like I am in everyone’s way if people get near me. It affects how I carry myself which in turn influences how I feel about myself in general. I see myself in the mirror and start finding every perceived flaw with my face and body. I start to loathe my stomach and the sight of my nose. I start to shut down and turn inward. I have the strong urge to disappear, to hide and to not go places. When I feel like this, I also want to disappear from social media as well. I start going through my various social media feeds and I delete pictures of myself. I delete any soul baring posts I’ve written. All of this is my natural reflex when I feel insecure and afraid I’ve made myself too vulnerable. I start to fear judgement from others. I fear people can only see the bad in me which I can so clearly see in myself.

I spoke to my therapist some about this issue at my last session. He asked me what would be different in my life if I was physically smaller. How would my life differ if I was physically more similar to those around me? I mentioned how, since I am larger than a lot of women, I feel men do not have that instinct to stand up for me as they might do with a smaller person. (There’s actually science behind a man’s instinct to protect)

There have been times in my life where I wanted someone to stand up for me. There have been several occasions where I have needed defending and no one was there.  I’ve been taken advantage of by those who I felt would protect me. Experiencing a betrayals of trust has colored and wrongly reinforced the idea that I don’t matter to those around me. I’m not worth protecting. I’m not precious enough to defend. All of these feelings are so intertwined with how I view myself. On bad days, this garbage in my head is a boulder which flattens me. My negative thoughts can become overwhelming and soul crushing.

A change in perspective is long overdue.

I saw a post from Upworthy’s page on Facebook which shared the artist P!nk’s speech at MTV’s 2017 Music Awards.  P!nk saw her time on stage as a chance to tell a story about an interaction with her daughter. P!nk’s daughter told her mamma that she felt like she was the ugliest girl in school and she is only six years old. She described herself as looking like a boy with long hair. Of course hearing this would make any mama’s mind reel. P!nk decided to make a powerpoint presentation, showing her daughter examples of all of the famous artists who live their lives, embracing their uniqueness. She mentioned David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Elton John and many others. Towards the end of her speech, she ended with what she told her daughter. She said, “We don’t change. We take the gravel and the shell and we make a pearl. We help other people to change so they can see more kinds of beauty”.

I have always loved P!nk for her amazing ability to be exactly who she is, without apology. Her music is powerful and she composes lyrics from the heart. Her song “Perfect” has always makes me cry as it is relatable. I’ve always felt like an outsider amongst my family, my cousins and my peers. Listening to P!nk’s award speech felt like she was talking to me, not just her daughter. While I may not dress to stand out, I don’t feel like I blend in. After listening to her words, it made me start to see more beauty in myself and appreciate my own uniqueness.

It’s been two weeks since my last black cloud of self loathing was here. There are still wisps of that cloud, floating in the distance but it’s starting to dissipate.

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My first interview!

I was invited to chat with Casey Ryan on the Cutting Room Floor podcast about my art. It was a great experience and such fun. In the first part of the show, Casey talks with Elinor Gunn about her upcoming projects.

My interview starts in the second half of the show. To listen to the podcast, <click here>

Mexico: Day 4

This is the fourth time I’ve been to Mexico but the first time I’ve ever been to Puerto Penasco. The seaside is beautiful but the crushing poverty of the locals always saddens me. The landscape is dotted with billboards for vacation homes, land for sale and opulent resorts. The road back to where we’re staying is dusty and dotted with potholes. We drive past a shack, which had a fire burning tonight. Proof someone actually lives there. I honestly thought it was just an abandoned trailer. There is a boarded up mansion which is not finished, most likely due to the owner underestimating the cost of building here. It’s a strange juxtaposition of sights and the divide between rich and poor is stark.

We went down to the center of town yesterday. This is where all the tourists go by the busloads and oh how the vendors are ready for them! We were stopped by five different guys, all working for the same resort, selling “resort tours”. My gut told me we did not need to go on this adventure despite the promise of free food and drink for a mere 90 minutes of our day. We also had a gentlemen stop us and try to get us on a fishing tour. We were stopped by jewelry sellers, one who also had cigars (knock off cuban cigars which were most certainly relabeled….that I paid too much for). People from restaurantes came out into the street to show us their menu and invited us inside. Down in the heart of the shopping area, I felt like we were swimming with sharks. We were walking money and everyone wanted a piece. By the time we got out of there, we were a little lighter in the pocket but we did have a few things we wanted. We also visited the fish market which was the true reason for entering that part of town. All in all, none worse for the wear although I’m still shaking off the feeling of being in that environment. So much chaos, it made my head spin. I don’t like being taken advantage of but at least the people we bought from, them and their families will eat this week. I must say, you have to appreciate these folks ability to hustle. Used car sales folks in the states have got nothin’ on this lot! Being one who needs time to think before making a decision, this market place was hell. I was genuinely dizzy by the time we left and we weren’t even there long.

We have three more full days here and we leave this Saturday. I am thankful for the chance to be here. I haven’t visited the beach since I was 13 years old and it’s been absolutely as beautiful as I’d hoped. I shall leave you with one of my many pictures I’ve gotten so far.

Why (a poem)

“Why?” is that question that every parent dreads.
That question burns a hole in our heads.
“Why” is asked after ever thing we say
“Son, go put your toys away.”
….and we brace for the inevitable “why?”

“Because I said so!” is never good enough
This answer only makes us look tough
Raising kids is not that rough
They’re only trying to build trust

Freedom to ask and question
Not everyone is allowed
Definitive answers shouldn’t make us proud
They only make us feared and sound loud

It’s essential that we question “why?”
How else will we learn to run, jump or fly
What? Critical thinking need not apply??
You must ask yourself, “why?”

Phryne the Peahen (2013)

This is a short kids story I wrote back in 2013. It’s inspired by real folks, an “Ah-ha!” moment which was followed by an unusual rush of inspiration.

Phryne the peahen sat glumly on the ground. She was sad because her feathers were drab and brown. She saw her brothers strut their stuff; their majestic plumage caused such a fuss! She longed for beautiful plumes to wave above her head. “Why should the boys have all the fun and not me instead?”

Phryne went to visit Angelo the fox in town. She often did this when she was feeling down. Angelo’s father was a draper and dyer of cloth. Phryne admired Angelo. He was kind, not a toff. He wore bright clothes made from the brightest hues. Angelo was a great friend and rarely ever blue. He saw Phryne’s face and her gloomy mood. He asked what was wrong and was their anything he could do?

Phryne cried, “Why and I so drab and brown?? I want colorful plumage to flaunt about town! I was meant for greatness, to shine like a star. I feel this deeply, with all of my heart!” Phryne pleaded, “Can you help me, Angelo?” With such despair in her voice, how could he say “no”? Angelo exclaimed, “Why yes, Phryne! Yes I can!” and with that he hatched a great plan.

Angelo’s plan was to dye Phryne’s feathers bright shades of green and blue. It seemed like the most logical thing to do. Only the best and finest dyes would he choose! Though the process was quite tedious, Angelo took great care. This process was quite arduous! How on earth would Phryne fare?? She fared very well despite it taking hours. With her new look complete; she was a radiant as Spring flowers!

Graciously thanking Angelo, she headed back to her house. As she left, she thought, “No wonder he has such joy and bounce. A person’s outward appearance is what really counts!” But Phryne’s colors didn’t last long, which made no sense! She wore them for such a short stent. You see, Phyrne was met by an unfortunate event….. One day, caught in the rain, she received a very through rinse!!

Phryne, in great distress, eventually made her way back to town. She must see Angelo since she was, once again, back to brown. On arrival she was surprised by the sight she found. In the short time that passed, the Foxes’ shop had almost closed down! To make ends meet, Angelo’s father were forced to sell! The bright fabrics were gone, the brightest dyes as well! Inside the shop, only the dullest hued fabrics remained. To Phryne, it all looked rather sad and depressingly plain. Then Angelo mentioned he’d sold his clothes—the most fashionable of the day! Phryne felt so sad for the Foxes, she didn’t know what to do or say.

Yet, through all of this, Phyrne noticed, the Foxes still radiated pride and grace. Angelo was rarely seen without a smile adorning his face. Phryne was baffled, confused and forlorn! How could the Foxes be so strong? Did the Foxes know something that she didn’t? Phryne feared she had things all wrong. Phryne couldn’t contain herself any longer. She was bursting with curiosity! What is this strength, this driving force she simply could not see?? So she asked Angelo, “Why aren’t you sad and wearing a frown? With all my finery stripped away, I’m very sad…and very brown!”

Angelo smiled and said, “My joy comes from my soul. My strength comes from within. I’ve learned to be happy with myself and love me just as I am! You can take away my fancy clothes but the real me remains. Without all my finery, I’m handsome just the same! This was true; Phryne only saw Angelo’s bold adornments but ignored the natural beauty he possessed. This lack of observation left her feeling very shallow and remiss. Angelo told her, “Things on the outside don’t give me my bounce. My secret isn’t a secret! It’s the heart of a person that counts. Dwelling only on our flaws causes us to be misled. We must see the goodness inside ourselves instead.”

After a few moments of thought and in the back of her mind, Phyrne could see the goodness she had inside! She too was very thoughtful, giving and kind. How could she have been so blind?? Now, feeling lighter inside than ever before, Phryne didn’t think of her old colors anymore. She was able to see she was a beautiful brown! There was no reason for her to wear a frown. Over time, Phryne’s happiness grew by bounds. She was no longer sad and rarely ever down. Now, when she went out on the town, she strutted about in the new confidence she’d found!

Is it helpful?

Today was my therapy appointment. It had been three weeks since my last session. I’d been patting myself on the back for doing really well over the past few weeks. Seems when life is mellow, it’s rather easy to be optimistic and light hearted. Two weeks ago, I was told I needed to have a breast biopsy and it had me feeling very nervous. It was decided the spot our radiologist been watching needed further investigation. (See my post titled “Leftie”)

Now, I don’t know anything yet and my appointment is set for this coming Monday. Since getting the news that more tests were needed, I’ve been in various stages of logic and panic. Last night was the worst. I had trouble sleeping due to stabs of panic in my chest. Just as I’d get settled down, fear would hit. I’d become restless and struggle to find a position which made me feel comforted. I was rehearsing my therapy appointment over and over too. I was all in knots and couldn’t wait to get to therapy just so it could be over.

We talked the entire session about all the fear and stress I’d been having over the past two weeks. I was not wanting to admit where my mind had been. I didn’t want to admit how scared I was. I didn’t want my feelings dismissed. I didn’t want to cry about this. I wanted to prove to myself that I was as strong.

Having the reaction I did to this sort of news doesn’t make me weak. It is a normal reaction and that was the parting words from my therapist after our session. My therapist is great and I am really glad I found him. He’s the most optimistic person I’ve ever met and he told me why he’s that way. His mindset is to always look for the good, even in rotten situations. We talked about how even if I do need surgery, any scar is a reminder how surgery helped me. That was definitely as spin I hadn’t thought of. I even got to thinking about what if I did end up with a scar. Maybe I could do a photo shoot about the experience? Definitely a better mindset that what I had moments before.

I was happy my feelings and fears were not dismissed. They were validated and by the time I left, I was feeling more positive and strong. The big action point from today’s session was: Do not label a thought as “good” or “bad”. Ask yourself if the thought is helpful. There are no good or bad thoughts, there are just “thoughts”. But there are definitely helpful and unhelpful thoughts. Taking the labels of “bad” or “good” away gives our brain less absolutes. The brain likes absolutes. By removing the judgement of a thought, it allows for more room. It allows for more “gray” area in which the mind can play. Is it good or bad to be thinking about what if I have scars? No. Is it helpful? Not at this juncture, no. I haven’t even gotten my biopsy done! It could quite possibly turn out to be nothing at all. We’ll know on Monday.

In it for the long haul

In a few weeks, my company is having it’s “biometric” screenings for employees. We get a discount on our health insurance if we do the biometric screening. It also gives a benchmark to gage our overall health. It’s a great tool and I actually look forward to this sort of stuff. A few weeks ago, I was reviewing my results from last year. My lab work was not great. My cholesterol was high. My blood pressure was high. I weigh 10 more pounds than I did this time last year. Along with the results of the screening, we are provided information about health risks when our readings are outside of normal ranges. My personal risks included heart disease, increased risk of stroke and an increased risk of obesity related illnesses. Diabetes has touched 3 of my 4 grandparents! My family’s medical history is that of cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease and several other scary things I do not wish to encounter.

After reviewing my results from last year and knowing my results this year might not be improved, I took a long look at myself. I thought about my diet and my lack of exercise. I saw the faces of everyone in the family who has dealt with or who has passed because of illness. I don’t want to die earlier than fate determines. It was one of several kicks in the ass I needed to make me take my health seriously.

I found a great YouTube channel called The Kilted Coaches. Stephen Clarke and Rab Shields are both personal trainers from Scotland and their message is “health and happiness”. I absolutely love these two guys. Their positive outlook on health was so refreshing and their approach is unlike any other I’ve found thus far. Watching their videos made exercise fun and achievable. They also have a series called Mindset Monday. The Mindset Monday videos had me hooked on their channel. I look forward to Monday now because these videos encourage, promote thought and action. (Lord knows I do enjoy introspection and analysis).

A link to today’s video here: An Important Life Lesson is to Continually Sharpen Your Axe

(Take a moment to watch this video so the rest of what I’m going to say will make more sense. It opens in another tab.)

So briefly, today’s video was about preparing for life’s long haul. Since the Kilted Coaches are about health and happiness, the question posed at the end was, “What are you doing to sharpen your axe?”. In other words, what are you doing to prepare your body for the long haul? How are your stress levels? Do you get enough sleep? How is your nutrition? Do you take care of yourself or do you abuse your body and simply hope for the best?

After watching today’s video, I thought of my dad. My mom passed away in June of last year. They were never a health conscious couple. The meal portions were large. The food was tasty, carb heavy, fattening and hearty. There was little thought of cholesterol levels, sodium, carb intake or fat content. My parents were very much “live in the moment” kind of folks. After my mom died, my dad started taking his health seriously. My dad has started walking and watches what he eats. He’s cut way down on the sweets and only has a small serving of dessert, if he has any at all. I am encouraging him to start a bit of resistance training as I know it will help his overall strength. He is active and volunteers with the local sheriff’s department so he needs to be physically able and agile. My dad has taken small, positive steps towards preparing for the long haul. He’s sharpening his axe. (and like Rab said, no innuendos please). I’m actually quite proud of my dad. He’s looking fitter now, he has the energy needed to go on his patrols and he’s reduced his stress (retirement helped that!). He does still enjoy his cigars and the occasional dram of  Glenlivet but overall, he’s improved his quality of life by making these changes.

So of course, I had to reflect on what changes I’ve done so far.  I also reflected on what else I need to improve. First I’ve started monitoring my blood pressure each morning. I have remembered to take my medication most evenings and I’ve only missed about two days this month. I’ve started logging all of my meals to get an idea of what I’m using for fuel. Doing this has made me very aware of my eating habits and it shows me where I still need work. (Damn you, Pizza Hut) I’ve also been tracking my water intake. I need to keep working on the water intake, however. It’s a difficult one, oddly enough, despite my living in the desert. I also signed up for the Kilted Coaches online fitness support called The Clan (NOT the Klan, wise asses!!). The Scottish clans were groups of families which came together and helped each other. The Kilted Coaches’ Clan is a nod to the old days. It is made up of a bunch of folks from all over the place, all with a singular mindset of improving their health. The Clan is a supportive group and being a part of this group has encouraged me and made me accountable (a good thing). I have wanted and needed something like The Clan in the past because I did not have a support system in place. Another thing which motivates me is this which I see every time I log in:

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This little reminder lets me know I have no one else to blame for my fitness downfalls. Yes, there are outside variables which may hinder my progress but ultimately, it’s all up to me. I am in control of what I put into my mouth. I am in control of how much I move my body. I am in control of how much alcohol I consume. I am in control. Period. I took this reminder as an empowering statement. If I don’t reach my goals this month, I will “sharpen my axe” a bit more and keep at it.