Friday, November 11, 2016

Body Positivity And Learning To Love Yourself

What do you know about the body positive movement? Maybe you've seen a Dove ad with women of all shapes and sizes. Maybe you saw the Lane Bryant campaign of I'm No Angel. If you're on Instagram maybe you even follow Effyourbeautystandards. If you don't know about Body Positive, it's about accepting all shapes, sizes, and colors and celebrating them. It's about rejecting what we've been told is beautiful by the world (and mainly advertisers and the fashion industry) and finding the beauty everyone has.

I've been told by a number of people "I love your confidence" or "You're so brave to pose for pictures like that."  When I get told these things it's almost if there is an unasked question of how do I get that confidence? Maybe some even think I've always had it (I haven't). I've been told these things enough that I've decided that I should make the keys to the kingdom into a blog.

For a very long time I derived my self-confidence and self-worth from the knowledge that I'm fairly intelligent. I did well in school. I learn things fast and I'm a great problem solver. I've never been a shy person and I'm quite happy to tell you my opinion. I would actually lose patience quite easily with people who couldn't keep up with intellectual conversation. When it came to beauty however, I didn't think much of myself. I didn't think I was a troll, but I didn't think of myself as pretty either. When my husband and I started dating he would tell me how beautiful I was and I would laugh at him. He was blinded by love! How sweet.

I continued on this path of deriving my self-worth from my intellegence and, after college, from my career. I was a great employee (I have the awards to back it up). So what happens when you get sick, doctor after doctor can't figure out why, and you eventually lose your job? Talk about having a bubble burst. Even though I was no longer working I was still intellegent. Which is just fine and dandy. Who am I going to prove it to? The walls of my house and my pets?

People with chronic conditions can really take a hit to their self-worth, especially if they are house bound. Plus there is the added bonus of weight gain with a lot of the medications. Nothing makes you feel more confident than getting larger and having your clothes no longer fit. Add to that having days where you can't get out of bed and you are living in your pajamas. You can really start to feel like you are nothing.

Three years ago I was fortunate enough to kind of stumble into a community of performance artists in Dallas who celebrate everyone. It wasn't just skinny people or traditionally beautiful people on stage. I saw large women on stage. I saw people who didn't fit the commercialized mold of beautiful. I was intrigued. I also started taking some dance classes. I felt uncoordinated and very unfit at first. I had lost a lot of what little coordination I had due to my fibromyalgia. But my dance teachers encouraged me and little by little it came back! As it came back I felt more confident; I held my head higher.

About this same time I was introduced to a local photographer and make up artist. Having my makeup done by Vivienne Vermuth is a game changer. You look into the mirror and you don't recognize yourself. Then you go in front of Dee Hill; as she shoots each picture she gives you words of encouragement. You hear things like "beautiful, oh wow, stunning!" Somewhere during the shoot your inner light comes on!
Photo by Dee Hill. HAMU by Vivienne Vermuth

I've also done photoshoots with Shoshana Portnoy and her right hand make up artist LaDonna Stein. They are also amazing to work with and their finished product always shines! You can find them at Dallas Pinup.
Photo by Shoshana Portnoy. HAMU by LaDonna Stein

Am I saying you must go do a photoshoot like this to get confidence? I'm not advocating that at all. What I am advocating is to find things that boost your confidence. What makes you feel good about yourself? "Nothing" is not the right answer. There is something amazing about you, I know it! Find that little nugget of amazing and grow it. The trick to confidence is you MUST learn to love yourself.

I can hear the objections already. Stop. Just stop. You are amazing. You are beautiful. You're right, I don't know you. But I do know every human being on this planet is beautiful. You are beautiful because you are unique. You are beautiful because there is only one of you. See where I'm going? That's right, start to love yourself. Find those things that make you YOU and flaunt them!

Find your tribe. Find the people who will encourage you. Get rid of the toxic people in your life. If they don't add to your existence, you don't need them. Surround yourself with people who love you just the way you are. This is your tribe. These are the people that will remind you how special you are in times where you don't see it yourself.

For my spoonies, I know this can be especially difficult, especially if you are housebound. That's okay. You have the internet and you've already found me. You can join my tribe. I have a bunch of friends who I only know through the internet. Nothing is worse than feeling alone. I know. Come join us so you don't have to go through your illness by yourself. There are people just like you all over the internet.

I hope this blog has helped you start the first step on loving yourself. If you need more enouragement, just let me know. I'm always happy to send love and encouragement through the internet.

Until Next Time,

Thursday, November 3, 2016

It's Been Awhile...Let's Catch Up

I stopped blogging over three years ago. I'm not sure why. But in the last few months I've been thinking I need to revive this blog and get back at it. So let's catch up (and three years is a lot of ground to cover, so grab a drink and settle in for a long one).

Through my jewelry and vending at various events I made some new friends and got involved in an amazing performance art community here in the Dallas area. In 2015 I even went to work part time for an amazing company. Overall life got better. I still had bad days but they seemed to be fewer. Life was pretty good for a couple of years.

Then on December 26th, 2015 my world was rocked. If you're friends with me on Facebook you know a little about this date. That's the day an EF4 tornado ripped through my hometown of Rowlett, Texas. This blog is the first time I've REALLY talked about how it affected me. It's been 10 months and I've written this blog in my head a thousand times, but I could never bring myself to really put it out there. Until now.

I like to keep things fairly upbeat. I don't hide the bad things or the not so good things. I've blogged about my fibromyalgia and my autoimmune disorder. I just try to not let them define me or use them to get attention or pity from others. I try to focus on good things or funny things. People don't need to know about my problems or how I really feel. They have their own issues. So why am I writting this blog? Because I feel this topic is too important to hide. So let's talk about the night of the tornado.

It was the day after Christmas. In fact it was a pretty nice day and we had the windows open. It was warm and beautiful. A cold front was expected later that night but thats not unusual. The weather varies in Texas. There was even a possibility of storms. As it became evening the threat of storms became greater, but I wasn't too concerned. I live on what is known as The Peninsula in Rowlett. We are on this strip of land in the middle of Lake Ray Hubbard. Traditionally severe weather has either gone to the north or to the south of us. I've lived here for 15 years and we had never had any severe weather related damage to out house or vehicles. I was so unconcerned I wasn't even watching the weather. It was a Netflix and chill kind of night.

My husband finally was said we should turn on the news and watch the weather. Okay fine. Another thing you need to understand is I grew up in Upstate New York. Winter weather doesn't phase me. Here in Texas, when we get ice and snow the local TV stations make it out to be there is an impending apocalypse. So I've come to ingore the "we're all going to die" hyperbole the local stations spew.

As the line of storms grew closer my husband went outside to watch. He's an Iowa boy and apparently tornadoes are events to be watched there. Not long after Aaron went outside to watch he came running back in saying we needed to take cover. Houses here do not have basements so taking cover means to go to the center of the house to a room with no windows. We attempted to get the dogs to go with us and about this point I could hear the awful sound a tornado makes. Three dogs went with Aaron. I was chasing down a fourth dog when the tornado hit. We lost power and you could hear everything hitting the house. It was terrifying and then it was over.

Flash lights were turned on. Damage was checked. Neighbors were checked on and loose dogs were put in our backyard as our fence was still standing. It was chaos. After things kind of calmed down here Aaron said we should go check on my parents' house. My parents were visiting my brother in North Carolina for Christmas and we were watching the house and feeding the cat. Back in 2014 my parents had purchaed a second house just two blocks from my house. We walked over there (there were shingles and nails sprinkled throughout the streets and my husband didn't want to replace tires on his truck) expecting to need to maybe board up some windows. We grabbed our cat carrier just in case we needed to grab Spike (the family cat). I was not prepared for what we were to find.

Before and after of my parents' home

As you can see there was nothing left. This 3300 square foot house was just gone. Picking through the debris took a number of days and a number of volunteers. My parents got here as fast as they could. My brother came from North Carolina. A friend of my father's from NY came down. The damage was overwhelming.

For the first week after the tornado it was just go go go. Help recover items from the debris while there was light and clean recovered items and wash recovered laundry at night (once power was restored which was three days). At first I didn't sleep at night because there was stuff that needed done. I was also on Facebook a lot trying to keep up with the news. The tornado took a diagonal path across the peninsula.

Aerial shot of the tornado path. The red dot is where my parents house was. I don't know who took the original aerial shot.

My parents had lost everything, including a number of family heirlooms. My neighbors lost a lot. My neighborhood looked like a war zone. There was grief, loss, and devastation everywhere I looked. For about a week I physically was able to hold up; considering my fibromyalgia and autoimmune, this was an outstanding amount of time. After about a week I was forced to bed with a flair.

And then I was able to think, able to absorb everything that had happened. It also allowed me time to let the survivors guilt settle in. From there I spiraled downward. I was unable to sleep at night, even with the help of Ambien. I then tried Ambien and alcohol (which you're not supposed to do). I tried other combinations I won't go into. Night became a time of total terror. I was able to sleep during the day sometimes. I stopped leaving the house. I even hated to walk out my front door to get the mail. Eventually it got to the point where I rarely left the master bedroom.

For reasons I won't get into seeking professional help was not an option. I knew my mental state had gotten very bad. Any type of thunderstorm or threat of a storm triggered me. We had a near miss with our house (pretty minimal damage; houses literally across the street were total losses). Any storm felt like it was going to happen all over again but this time it would take us out. Some TV shows would trigger me. Anything with explosions that caused destruction were hard to watch.

Luckily I have some really amazing friends who I chat with via Facebook Messanger reguarly. One friend (Jane) was my rock. I don't know how I would have gotten through this horrible time without her. Another friend (Kate) gave me the suggestion that put me on my path to recovery. Kate suggested I take up gardening. Around April I started planting vegtables and herbs. Then I started a fairy garden. By the beginning of June I had transformed my backyard into a tranquil space. The work of creating a safe space and helping plants grow really helped to heal my devastation.

Collage of my Fairy Garden

I started to go out with friends more. I'd still sometimes have panic attacks leaving the house. But I had to push through it. I even took a road trip with my mom and visited upstate NY twice (I flew up to help her drive to Texas to take care of some business, then helped her drive back three weeks later and flew home). Going back home and seeing long time friends (20 years+) also really helped to ground and recenter me. I came home from my second trip feeling better than I had in months.

If you've stuck with me this long, you're probably wondering why I wrote this large tome. I have two reasons. One, to bring awareness to things like depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I know a number of people that stuggle with these and I now have a better understanding of them. Obviously my poor mental state was caused by an event. I still get triggered occassionally but I'm working on healing. I know some people have depression and general anxiety and that is something you don't just get over. Those are conditions that need medication to be managed. For some reason there is a stigma attached with metal illness and there shouldn't be. We don't judge people who are diabetic or have heart conditions. I would like to see awareness raised for mental illness and the stigma eradicated.

My second reason for this blog is I want to get back to blogging so I see this post as a jump start. Earlier this year I started a Facebook group for people like me (Spoonies) who have a chronic condition. I started it out of a need to connect with others like myself. Little did I know how rewarding it would be to connect people so they can help and support others like them. It's powerful just to know you're not alone. I'd like to take it a step further and make this blog spoonie-centric. It will still be my random thoughts and it will still be all over the place. However my goal is to try to make it more focused on my spoonie lifestyle. It will still be applicable to everyone, just more suited to those of us with chronic conditions.

So there it is. I think we've caught up. I hope this blog finds you, my dear readers, well and I will catch you again soon.

Until Next Time (and not three years from now),