You Are Here.

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How did I get here? That’s what I have been asking myself for the last few months. I am on, what I hope is, the tail-end of the year from hell.

In January my partner’s passive aggressive ex blatantly let me know that she was still after him. He and I had been together for over four years at that point. I have been putting up with her bullshit for over four years, hoping she would not only catch a clue, but that she would give up her childish, manipulative, passive aggressive games. To find out so obviously that she was still hanging on and still happy to make my life hell was not a good start to my 2019.

In March we went on a vacation that included air BnB’s with scented plug-ins that inflamed my multiple chemical sensitivities, sending my health into a downward spiral and making it a necessity to wear a mask for several months. I still carry it around with me, because it only takes a few seconds of smelling someone’s synthetic perfume—or even clothes washed in scented laundry detergent—to make my skin start burning and itching and the coughing start.

Soon after returning from our trip, it became evident that it was time for my old cat and dog to be helped into their next life. I couldn’t justify putting one of them down without the other, because they were both in pain—despite both being on pain meds—were both old, and were both peeing all over the house. I was exhausted mentally and physically, trying to take care of them, not stress them out, keep my partner soothed about animals peeing in the house all the time, and trying to take care of myself.

So, in April I called our veterinarian and discussed it with her. She agreed with my sad conclusion and said she’d come to the house so they wouldn’t have to be stressed with any travel.

It was one of the saddest days of my life. I still mourn their leaving and am crying right now as I type. I miss my weenie-boy, Mr. Stormy, and Miss Bella the crazy, one-eyed, feral, pirate cat.

In May, I received a nasty email from someone who had never had the decency or balls to confront me in person, like an adult, to tell me about all the (apparently) horrible things I’d done to her. She told me how bad a person I am/was and then proceeded to tell me what I should do to remedy my many problems. She advised that for the sake of everyone around me, I should quit my job and not inflict myself upon them anymore.

She wrote it as a nice, this-is-for-your-own-good type of letter—you know, that passive aggressive, “sweet” style that ensures that anyone besides me reading it would assume she really did have my best interest at heart. I never responded, but it sent me into a new tailspin.

Meanwhile, I was still grieving the loss of my pets, and my health was still suffering. I couldn’t seem to get back to my own “normal” on the scent issue. Every little sniff of perfume, laundry detergent (clothes folks were wearing), cologne, scented plug-in, etc. sent me back down the proverbial rabbit hole. I ended up having to wear my mask almost all the time when out in public (this is not a fun thing to do, trust me).

Another “meanwhile” came in the form of having to navigate constant big transitions at work this year—with dangerous undercurrents of mistrust and, what still feels like, hate. The stress of having people always think the worst of me has taken a huge toll on my life, happiness, and confidence.

As fallout from losing my pets, in the summer I visited an ex from years ago to get to see his cat—one of Miss Bella’s kittens from years ago. I just needed to be in the presence of something Bella had created. I missed having pets so much. The house felt so empty and weird, and I couldn’t seem to get over how empty my life felt without my fur babies.

Mr. Maui lived with my daughter and me until he was about four years old, then we asked my ex if he wanted to take him. I found out when I visited him that my ex’s early-onset dementia had progressed to such a state that he did not recognize me. A few weeks later, I found out he was being moved out of his home of 40 years to a memory care facility, and it broke my heart to think of him losing his life that way. I began grieving again—or maybe just added another loss to the pile.

Then in August, my partner of five years told me he was going through what looked and sounded like a personal existential crisis. He began examining his life, and began the exhausting work of figuring out what he needs to do with himself, his life, what his purpose is, etc., to the degree that we are not living together, so that he has the space and time to figure things out—even though he continually (in the face of my over the proverbial top, stressed-out worrying) assures me that we are still a couple.

Despite his assurances, my (normal for women) over-active amygdala continues to talk me into losing faith, and I have difficulty believing anything positive right now.

It is October now, and I ride my bike as much, as long, and as far as I can each day to keep from imploding, to keep from disappearing. When in doubt, pedal it out, right? That has worked for me for years. It is still a good practice. Last week while riding the Poudre Trail, the question surfaced again, “How did I get here?”

How did I let my life slip into this unhappy, unhealthy, unnatural state? I must have been so very oblivious and/or asleep to have let this happen on this large of a scale. I know I am responsible for my life, but it feels like, somewhere along the way, I handed the tiller over to someone who doesn’t give a fuck about all those sandbars and rocks up ahead in this stormy, choppy sea. I’ve been crashing into them for months now, limping along trying to survive each hit, each ding, each rupture. I’m taking on too water.

I am tired. I don’t sleep well—or I sleep way too much. I am raw and stressed; I cry all the time. I am fearful. I am depressed. It takes gargantuan effort to reply to normal, simple, everyday questions without shattering and flying into tiny little shards of grief, sadness, anger, oblivion, & regret:  the shrapnel of too much stress for way too long without a break and no relief in sight.

I spend my time alternating between working my ass off to stay busy and preoccupied, numbing-out by watching too much Netflix, working on my own shit when I’m able (self-hypnosis, BWRT, EFT, EMDR, I’d like to buy a vowel, Alex), trying to meditate and remember those things (where are they?!) that make me happy, not giving a shit what anyone thinks about anything I do or say, caring way too much about what everyone thinks about what I say and do, wanting to move far away and try that stupid geographical fix thing (which everyone knows does not work), breathing, sleeping as much as possible, staying home as much as possible, going out to do things I (might) love to do, (did I mention the crying thing?), obsessively watching the movie Interstellar, and talking to amazing girlfriends who are sweet and funny and make me laugh—even at myself.

How did I get here?

While pedaling, the answer came, “It doesn’t matter HOW you got here. YOU ARE HERE. How are you going to get OUT of here? That is the important question now.”

I saw myself inside my head under a big, black, not-to-proportion “You are here” arrow on a directional map.

Yes, there I am. Under that big arrow. You are here. How the fuck am I gonna get out of here? I don’t know.

Yet.

“That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion.”  ~REM, Out of Time

Dementia Grief.

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Mr. Maui

What if you woke up one day and a bunch of your friends showed up unannounced to take you out for the day to have fun, and then at the end of the day they took you to a totally different place, and told you that this is where you would be living from now on and that you could not return to your old life?

This is what just happened to a long-time friend of mine. He has early-onset dementia and has been struggling to live in the “regular” world for a while. He has steadily become more forgetful in the past few years, to the point of not even remembering me the last time I went to visit him.

I totally understand and support the move his sisters and friends carefully arranged for his benefit. And I know absolutely that he will be taken care of. I feel better about him now, knowing he is in a memory care facility that will ensure his comfort and safety.

And I wonder how much he understands and remembers about his former life. Does he realize that he is never going back to the house he has owned for over 40 years; does he remember his cat of eight years, and does he know they will likely not see each other again? His house is being cleaned to get ready for an estate sale. Then the house itself will be sold.

What does he know and not know? What does he remember and not? That is the insidious nature of dementia, isn’t it? And everyone knows, according to the standard safe practices of our day, that the best thing for those with dementia is to, at some point, make sure the dementia-sufferer is kept as safe and as happy as possible.

When I last saw him, he was quite frustrated and agitated. He was paranoid, as anyone would be, I suppose, who can’t remember people and events. I mean if you can’t remember where you put your shoes, and you have looked everywhere, then maybe you really would begin to think that someone is coming into your house to take your shoes. What other explanation would there be if you can’t remember that you can’t remember, if you are trusting yourself, but don’t remember that you can’t trust yourself anymore?

I have a deep fear of dementia, I think, because that last paragraph gives me the actual chills. And we, ourselves, at some point, would never really know if we have dementia or not, would we? We are at the mercy of those around us to tell us what is going on. And that involves great trust, doesn’t it?

Wow.

He is an introvert, and he valued living by himself, spending whole days in silence, alone. My sincere hope for him at this point is that he actually doesn’t remember too much. Because if he does, I know he is grieving mightily. If he remembers too much, then I know he is grieving the loss of his privacy, his home, his kitty, his huge workshop with all of his wood-working equipment, and his life.

Maybe it’s just me grieving for him. Maybe – hopefully – it’s just me that is trying to fill the hole in the universe that was his life. Maybe. I hope. I pray.

Meanwhile, my kitty has been returned. He went to live with my friend about 8 years ago when Maui was 5 years old. And now he is back with me. I lost my last pet in April, and now Maui is filling the house with lovely, sweet kitty energy again. I feel him missing my friend, so I cuddle him close and leave my tears in his fur. Life cycles around and around us, doesn’t it?

The trick is, can we ride that cycle with grace and humor and acceptance, or do we fight it and make ourselves and everyone around us miserable?

I don’t know what to do right now except mourn for my friend and be happy and relieved for him all at the same time. The Universe marches on, and time rushes at us like a metal measuring tape rushing back to its little shiny metal house we’re holding, rolling itself up at high speed, ready to snap off a finger if we’re not careful.

Godspeed, Stephen.

Listening to Sorrow.

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Sorrow is a weird thing. It can come from so many sources—conscious and not—and blindside you with a smack to the back of the head before you can figure out what is happening.

Recently I was rereading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Near the end of the book she describes a wonderful meditation. Every time I read the book, I do some form of that meditation, because it is so informative.

She describes how she sat in silence and asked all of her sorrows to come and present themselves to her. She let them come, one by one, listening to them, feeling the sorrow as if each were happening for the first time. Sorrows came from her entire lifetime.

She listened to each and then told each one, “I hear you. I see you. Now come into my heart and rest.” And each sorrow moved into her heart. She then went through all her anger, all of her shame.

It’s a very informative, enlightening meditation. It is not an easy one to do, but I highly recommend it.

So I began with sorrow, as usual. I asked them to line up and present themselves. One by one, they came, telling me of their pain, the grief and sadness. They started in my childhood and marched forward in time. The death of my sister, my divorce, the death of pets…

One relived the grief of giving my daughter away in marriage a year ago. Because even though I love her husband as my own son, I still feel pain and sorrow at “losing” my only daughter. And then a pain came that I couldn’t readily identify. It took me a few seconds to recognize it.

It was the pain of being hated. That surprised me. I hadn’t expected to feel pain at being hated.

Brene Brown talks about how we are hardwired for connection and belonging, and how even though many of us talk about how we don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks, that is not what we are wired for. It’s important to have a few folks whose opinions we do care about.

So I sat with the sorrow of being hated, listened in surprise at the pain. There was a lot of pain.

I’ve been having to deal with a lot of hate coming my way lately. And I’ve been trying to brush it off, to sink inside myself in response to find the stillness, the peace that knows no hate. I thought it was working. Apparently, and unbeknownst to me, a part of me was grieving despite my best efforts to “rise above it all.”

I listened to Jeannie Zandi talk on Sunday about how we, as humans, often try to worm our way up or down in response to hate, a crisis, the natural “wreak” of human life. Up, to rise above the fray of humanness and become as close to god-like as we can; or down, to vilify our actions, thoughts, and emotions as “sinful” or lacking in faith in some way.

Which is exactly what I been trying my best to do:  worming my way up to hopefully not feel the sorrow of being hated. It is very interesting to me that it was not working. I also find it interesting that I was grieving on a level that my conscious mind was not aware of. The worming up was not reaching my heart of proverbial hearts; it was only my mind that believed it.

So now I breath into that sorrow, asking it to reveal itself to me. I invite it into my heart to rest. I promise it respite, and I promise it I will not try to rise above an issue that needs my attention.

I also make a promise to myself: speak up to the haters. Because even though I cannot stop the haters, I can voice my discontent. I can tell the haters to fuck off. I can be a human with a need to belong, a need to connect—a human that feels pain at being hated. I can feel the pain. Then I can turn to those who love me, knowing I am loved, knowing I belong. And also knowing I have not “sinned” or been unfaithful.

This human condition is sloppy at best. Sublime occasionally. Sucky quite often. We are not gods; we are not demons.

In response to my new promise to myself, I sent an email to a long-time hater, telling her I was tired of her disrespect and passive aggressive behavior toward me. I told her stop it immediately. I don’t know if she will stop or not. I do know that a whole world of anger lifted off of me when I clicked “send,” and I felt free.

As a Female Lead in Argentine Tango.

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Photo from one of our local milongas:  LocoTango at the Avalon in Boulder

A couple of years ago I was at a milonga, a tanda was in progress, and I was sitting at our big table alone. All my friends—and my man—were out dancing. As I watched the dancers, longing to be one of them, I looked around at all the other people sitting. All but two were also follows—and there were a lot of us.

In that moment, I decided to learn to lead Argentine tango. I made that decision out of a sense of duty toward all those sitting follows and also out of a feeling of desperation and deep depression (how would I ever get the dances I wanted with so few leads?!). If I remember correctly, there was also a touch of anger in there too.

I was angry that I never seemed to get as many dances as I wanted at a milonga or practica. It was a generic, blanket anger at the whole (broken?) system. It was also a specific anger at the two leads sitting, laughing, and talking together. What’s wrong with them, I thought, that they can’t lead one of the many follows sitting watching. It was an anger at Argentine tango, in general. How dare it be so wonderful that I was completely addicted to it?

I felt a type of solidarity with the other women sitting and watching. These were probably mostly single women who had come to the milonga alone.

I thought about when I used to be single and how I would look forward to a dance. Sometimes the preparation involved many days—or even weeks—of planning and anticipation. I might buy a new dress for a dance, maybe new dance shoes; I might even be making my dress by hand. I’d think about how fun the dance would be. I’d take my time getting ready and then drive (sometimes more than 1.5 hours) to the dance.

Then I remembered the depression of being at dances without getting asked to dance. To have spent all that time and energy, hoping for a great night, and to have it end by finally deciding I’d had enough disappointment and leaving early. The long drive home was seldom pleasant.

It went a lot like this:  What is wrong with me that no one wants to dance with me? Am I too old, too much a beginner, too forward/bossy, too shy, too ugly, too fat, too skinny, not a good enough dancer, not dressed right, etc., etc.? The questions with no answers never stopped. I always speculated all the way home, depressed and sad, feeling like I had wasted my time and money—time driving, time getting ready, time at the milonga.

The next spring, I began taking all my tango lessons as a lead. Argentine tango is not a dance you can pick up in a couple of lessons. When I began taking lead lessons, I was already 5 – 6 years an Argentine tango follow. And does one ever feel competent in tango? I sure don’t—as a lead or follow.

But I was determined and kept at it. I have been leading tango for over a year now. I have had some wonderful dances, some not so great dances, and lots of so-so dances. And I will continue to lead. I will continue to take lessons as a lead. I enjoy following, and I really enjoy leading.

Last week I remembered the beginning of this tango lead journey. I remembered it because a special tanda was in progress. The DJ was out on the floor walking around, playing acoustic guitar. It was a beautiful tanda with beautiful music. My man, away from our table and on his way back, had been approached by a single woman who asked him to dance, and he was out dancing too. Once again, I was alone at my table, longing to dance.

I looked around. For once, there seemed to be more men than women sitting. I was sitting with only one more woman. She was across the floor, sitting alone at her own table too. I looked at the 6 – 7 men sitting, wondering why they didn’t step up and ask us to dance. I remembered that milonga almost two years ago when this same sort of thing had happened.

I looked at the women sitting across from me. I didn’t know her and had never danced with her. But I recognized her. I knew her. We were sisters in this. Instead of trying to cabeceo her (that might not work, since women lead less often than men in Argentine tango, and she didn’t know me), I got up, took the long walk, and asked her, “May I lead you?” I saw and felt the relief and anticipation coming off of her when she nodded yes and stood up.

I have come full circle, I thought. And I was happy. I have plenty of lessons ahead of me—in both leading and following. But I had accomplished the goal I set for myself over two years ago, and it felt wonderful and right to be able to give us both an adequate—and even fun—dance.

 

Your Scented Plug-in & Laundry Detergent Contain Cancer-Causing Ingredients.

chemicals

We are traveling, and I am sick. I’m sick because everywhere we stay, they use Glade Plug-ins and other myriad products that contain synthetic/petrochemical fragrance.

We are staying in Air BnB’s. I have a constant headache, dizziness, burning eyes, skin, and throat. I also have a difficult time thinking and talking – my brain does not function correctly when poisoned by this shit. And after being exposed to this crap for a while, it starts to produce anxiety – and anger – in me.

I did not have this problem when we traveled to Panama last year. In Panama, we stayed in Air BnB’s also and a couple of hotel rooms.

I use mostly unscented – or naturally scented – products at home, because I am allergic to synthetic solvents and chemicals. I have been diagnosed as “chemically sensitive.” And I try and keep products to a minimum.

It is my goal to have one or two products throughout the house that do everything – from washing dishes to cleaning the toilets. Mostly I use Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds – usually diluted. It contains spruce essential oil, so is not completely scent free, but it is mild and all-natural.

I have not used body soap for years. And I do not stink. I smell like a human. I would bet that you have no fucking idea what a human really smells like, do you? And you don’t know, because all your life you have been using synthetically-fragranced products in every part of your life.

Why is America obsessed with adding synthetic fragrance to absolutely everything? Are we so afraid of what we, as humans, actually smell like? There is the constant brainwashing – via commercials – that everything in our world must smell “fresh” – whatever the fuck that means. And that “freshness” can only, apparently, be achieved via synthetic means – petrochemically.

Think about all the scented products you use. Here are just the few I can think of right now:  bath soap, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, bath salts, bath oils, bubble bath, bath bombs, lotions – for body and face (and then there are the “specialty” lotions and creams for just your elbows, or only for under the eyes, etc.), cosmetics (base, powder, eye shadow, eye pencils, mascara, eye liner, lipstick, lip gloss, etc.), perfume, cologne, deodorant (ironic), antiperspirant (which contains aluminum, along with the petrochemicals), body powder, foot powder, foot spray, vaginal products (spray, douche, powder), hair spray, hair gel, hair mousse, hair oil, hair pomade, body sprays, aftershave lotion, shave cream, shave lotions (for before, during, and after shaving).

These all have added fake/synthetic scents – and they usually all have difference scents.

Meaning, all of your different product scents are competing with each other and creating a petrochemical cloud on and around you everywhere you go. Because of you, I sometimes can’t eat at restaurants, can’t sit through concerts, etc.

Now think about all the household products that have scent added or are toxic in and of themselves, because of the ingredients they contain. There are hundreds of cleaners – for the sink, the toilet bowl, the bathtub, for floors, for the kitchen only, for the deck and driveway, the car, etc., laundry products (detergent, softeners, dryer sheets, etc.), dish soap, dishwasher soap, dishwasher additives for spot-free dishes, etc. There are all the pesticides made specifically for home use. One for ants, another for roaches, another for wasps and hornets. Let’s not leave out mice and rats and termites.

How many products do we actually need that say they clean, disinfect, and “freshen” the toilet bowl, your house, your body?

Then there are the plug-ins, the sprays, the diffusers, the scented candles, the “deodorizers” that have nothing to do with actually deodorizing. Let’s be clear here:  They do not get rid of odors. They cover up odors. They numb your olfactory system so completely that you become unable to smell anything – including the synthetic fragrances themselves, which makes us use even more of them.

Toxic. Poison. Synthetic.

You are killing brain cells, people. You are killing your children’s brain cells too.

And if you want to kill your own brain cells, that’s up to you. But you are also killing everyone else’s when you go out in public. “The problem with fragrance products is not the scent but the properties of synthetic chemicals that they are derived from such as petroleum or coal tar.”

The American Society of Business and Behavioral Sciences released a PDF document called FRAGRANCE IN THE WORKPLACE IS THE NEW SECOND-HAND SMOKE which says, “A recent analysis of 6 top selling laundry products and air fresheners found ‘nearly 100 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were emitted from the products and five of the six products emitted one or more carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants which the Environmental Protection Agency considers to have no safe exposure level’ (Steineman, 2008).”

In my opinion, it is amazing that we are not all chemically sensitive. We have overloaded our neurons so completely with synthetic shit (of all varieties), it’s a wonder we can still function at all.

I’m tired of being sick so everyone else can have sheets, towels, clothes, skin, hair, breath, carpet, cars, homes, businesses, armpits, and lives that smell like a fake “spring meadow.” WTF, people? Are you that fucking afraid to smell reality?!

Why is America (is it everywhere else too?) obsessed with this shit?!

I can’t go outside my home without being bombarded by your stinky, chemical, synthetic, solvent, brain-killing, cancer-producing, skin-burning, throat-closing bullshit assaulting me. Do you really need to wear all that perfume? Do you really need eye-wateringly strong clothes detergent? What the hell are you afraid of?

Please have a look at the National Toxic Encephalopathy Foundation’s website and educate yourself on the health damaging effects of synthetic fragrances.

Also take a look at Women’s Voices for the Earth to find out, besides stopping using poisons on your body, your children, and in your home, what you can do to help stop this synthetic petrochemical assault.

You are wearing so much perfume and products that when you walk in, I have to leave to be able to breathe, to be able to function.

And all Air BnB owners, for God’s sake, STOP with the fucking Plug-ins! At one place we stayed, that was not over 600 square feet, their were two of them, for cripe’s sake.

Owners, you are just inviting a law suit, too, with that shit, by the way. That same PDF notes: “There have been many lawsuits pertaining to MCS and synthetic fragrance sensitivity filed using the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act.”

And if you absolutely must have fragrance in your life, have you ever thought about the fact that there are actually natural fragrances and methods that you could be using? Used responsibly, they will not kill brain cells or make you and your children sick.

Finding Beauty Again.

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My daughter recently got married to a wonderful, wonderful young man.

They had dated—and even lived together part of the time—for a little over four years. The proposal, the engagement, the planning, the wedding shower, and the wedding were beautiful things to behold, as my daughter set about, in her very organized (learned from me?) way, to make the wedding of her dreams manifest.

And it worked. Her dad helped them some with the money part, but she and her man paid for most of it. She planned and worked and created for almost two years, and it was the most beautiful wedding I have ever been too.

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(I have intimate knowledge of both of these dresses, as I did all of the alterations—and additions—to make hers fit her so beautifully, and I made mine from scratch.)

It was fun, loving, and profound. I got to connect again with my brother—who I have not seen or talked to in 17 years. I got to authentically and really connect with my daughter’s dad, who I have not been married to since my daughter was about two years old (that’s about 26 years ago now). I got to “give” my daughter to a trustworthy, hard working, good, good man. I got to see my child and her new husband surrounding by so much love and admiration and respect.

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I am so very happy, happy, happy for—and with—her. Throughout her life, she has constantly amazed and delighted me (dare I say? she might be the perfect daughter!).

And I am devastated. Emotionally wrung out. Read: crying jags, depression, anxiety, joy, anger, confusion, raw, relief. Etc.

I am back to where I was when she moved three minutes (literally three minutes from my house, driving) away into a condo from where she went to college to get her undergrad. I was devastated.

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At that time, I spent a lot of time to try and figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my now-on-the-tail-end-of life. I started my Etsy shop, I started dating again, etc.

Apparently, it’s time to do that again. And I don’t want to. But I will. I am.

I remind myself, with this latest emotional tornado, that nothing has changed with her and her man. They still live in the house they bought a few months ago, in the same place, work at the same place, do the same things, etc., etc., etc. I talk to her the same amount. I still see the lovely photos of them on Facebook on their adventures.

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The only difference? She added a new (beautiful!) ring to her left hand. She is not even going to legally change her last name until next year, because they are traveling internationally part of the rest of this year and already have tickets booked in her maiden name.

But still I feel like I have somehow “lost” my only child. . . tears threaten every time I think about it too much.

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And now here I go again! Who am I? Am I no longer a mom? What kind of mom am I now? What do I want to do with my life? Why is this so hard?

Help is on the Way?

On Friday mornings, I usually take some time to wander around the internet and find inspiring blogs and websites. I sit with my morning smoothie and let myself be lead to wherever I land. I veg, relax, take my time, enjoy myself.

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This morning I found a blessing of a blog, and much of it sounded like I was reading my own mail. I am in love with Tamera Beardsley‘s lovely, authentic, hit-me-in-the-heart blog. I want to run away with her blog and get married to it on a beach somewhere with just the starry night as our witness.

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Check out her blog and be inspired and blessed and renewed—and humbled—by her strength, her insights, and her willingness to be vulnerable. I took her advice and once again started taking photos of things I find beautiful.

So, with her blog as a new inspiration, and with my recent tornado still whirling around me, I must begin again to define myself. Ugh! And. Yay! (But really, Ugh!)

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Today I am going to immerse myself in upcycled fabrics and create a pair of “don’t get out of bed pants” out of a thrift store sheet—or maybe a table cloth (pattern from Tamera Frampton), because that’s how I feel these days. I’d rather just stay in bed—but when I can’t, I’d rather be creating.

Let’s see where this journey takes me this time. . . (she said nervously).

Love and light and Godspeed, my lovelies.

What is your emotional journey these days?

Perfectionism, the 20-ton Shield.

“When perfectionism is driving, shame is always riding shotgun. And fear is the annoying backseat driver.” ~Brene Brown

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I do not like reminders—about anything. I’ve got to be perfect, so how can I do that if you keep reminding me that I’m not? Even if I have already done that thing you are reminding me about, I don’t like the reminder. It implies that I am not perfect, that you think I forgot something—or that I don’t know something I’m supposed to.

 

When reminded of anything, I tend to think things like, “Of course I already did that! What?! Do you think I’m stupid?!” Or, “No, I haven’t done that thing yet, but I’m not so stupid as to forget it!” Even though I may have forgotten it.

 

Brene Brown says that perfectionism is about fear. In her research on shame and vulnerability, she has discovered a few things about perfectionism that ring true for me.

 

“If I look perfect, live perfect, and work perfect, I can avoid or minimize criticism, blame, and ridicule. I won’t get hurt.”

 

And while it may keep us from getting hurt, it also keeps us from being seen. Perfectionism is concern with what other people think instead of me doing what I think is right for me and striving for my own personal excellence. And as she points out, “You can never do something completely brave if you’re wearing the straitjacket of ‘what will people think.'” She calls perfectionism the 20-ton shield, because we use perfectionism to try and shield ourselves from hurt, vulnerability, shame, etc.

 

Perfectionism is trying to be beyond judgement, because being judged is too scary. But of course, there’s no such thing as a nonjudgmental world. And the irony of being a perfectionist is this: It makes me super judge-y—of others—and especially of myself.

 

My perfectionism probably comes from a not so pleasant childhood, where the only way to get positive attention was to be super perfect. And everything was a competition, therefore. I competed against my siblings, my classmates, teammates, teachers—the whole world—to try and be validated in some way that was good and positive. It was the only way I felt I had any worth. But as all responsible adults hopefully figure out at some point, it’s up to me to fix this shit.

 

“It’s not your fault you’re fucked up. It’s your fault if you stay fucked up, but the foundation of your fuckedupednes is something that’s been passed down through generations of your family, like a coat of arms, or a killer cornbread recipe…” ~out of the You are a Badass calendar, January 5, 2018

 

The impetus for me to begin thinking about my perfectionist tendencies came a few weeks ago when, during meditation, I heard, “What if you were good enough, Grace, right now and just as you are?” I felt my whole being—body, mind, spirit, and emotions—relax. And I really really really really really liked that unexpected relaxation. It felt so very foreign, but so very good. Because as a perfectionist, vigilance is a way of life—the only way. And it is absolutely exhausting!

 

It felt like taking off that stiff, painful, full-body, pinching girdle that has been holding everything in and up my entire life and getting to finally take a full breath and letting the cellulite fall where it may. But it was more than that too, because not only did it feel good, I flirted with the idea of being okay with all those freed rolls of fat—and even finding them beautiful. (Did I mention the really liking it thing?)

 

Just in case you have not been cursed with perfectionist tendencies and are curious, the perfectionist manifesto goes something like this. (Insert chronic pounding heart, elevated blood pressure, upset stomach/gut, your usual and favorite anxiety symptoms here) I can’t mess up. I can’t get it wrong. I can’t be wrong. I can’t make mistakes. I must keep up appearances. I must keep going. I must not let them see how upset I am. I must look good. I must appear to feel good. I must appear to be happy. I must not appear to be weak. I must be strong. I must always appear to be in control—especially when I am not. I. Cannot. Let. Down. My. Defenses. What will people think?!

 

And if by some horrible (normal), circumstance, I am wrong or make a mistake and my tight little weird world starts to tilt out of control? I can’t admit that—because that would mean I have no worth, wouldn’t it, if I can’t keep my shit together?

 

Then, my historical—and dysfunctional—recovery system consists of some variation of:  When confronted with making a mistake or being wrong or being out of control, make a joke of it, “Oh, I meant to do that,” with as much (covertly frantic!) manufactured-on-the-spot practical humility and sincerity as possible. Blame someone—even myself. Every mistake is a chance to find someone to blame, right? Get defensive and angry and then slide right into martyrdom and throw it back at the other person (blaming, again), “What, I can’t make mistakes? Why are you always such a hard-ass? Can’t I be human and make mistakes? Are you being a bully?”

 

Wow. Ouch. I cannot express how embarrassing this shit is.

 

“In those areas where we feel most vulnerable to shame—those are the areas we’ll be dealing with perfectionism.” ~Brene Brown

 

To keep from going into shame about how much of a perfectionist I actually am, I remind myself that I am in good company. Brene Brown admits to being a perfectionist too. “I’m like a recovering perfectionist. For me it’s like one day at a time,” she says. Me too. All I can do is be aware of it and stop it in its tracks when I experience it.

 

I don’t expect to necessarily be able to “cure” myself of perfectionism. If the queen of all things vulnerable and shameful, Brene Brown, talks about taking her perfectionism one day at a time, what chance do I have? What I do expect is to always be aware of it, to stay in awareness and know I have those tendencies. And to be aware of the areas where shame is likely for me, and know that my perfectionism will be strong in those instances when a shame button gets pushed. It would also be a great thing to get past my shame, at some point, at being a perfectionist—maybe even be able to develop some sense of humor about it.

 

So far, the thing that is working for me? I feel the defensiveness and impulse to make someone else feel inferior (because that keeps me superior and perfect, right? Oy!), and I make myself stop, drop, and breathe before I open my big mouth. Then I think of that voice, that sentence, in my head, “What if you were good enough, Grace, right now and just as you are?” And I am able to relax, tell myself, “Okay, this is how my perfectionism manifests itself,” smile, and speak in a way that still feels defensive, but at least doesn’t sound defensive and superior as it comes out.

 

I am hoping to reach a point where I don’t even feel the defensiveness. A girl can dream, right? Because as a perfectionist, as someone trying to avoid being less-than, making mistakes, being wrong, etc., it is actually hard to admit I am less than perfect by having the flaw of being a perfectionist. Hay-suse! So, into the looking glass we go—again (ugh!).

 

Hello, my name is Grace, and I’m a perfectionist.