I Am Awesome. And So Are You.

I am!!!

Inspired by my lovely niece, who was in turn inspired by her lovely friend, today’s post is a celebration of what I love about myself.

Normally, I’m not one to point out my strengths or qualities. Like (I would suspect) most of us, I tend to dwell on my weak points and foibles. I’m quick to rattle off a list of those: I’m a klutz, I’m a dork, I’m lazy, I’m a little slow on the uptake. I think we all do that – we’ve rehearsed the list all our lives, until it becomes a common bond that we can share with someone else. Instead of being a humble confession, it becomes almost vanity, a point of pride to be ‘worse’ than other folks. “You think that’s stupid? Well, let me tell you about when I cut the miniblind cords off because they were too long!” (True story.)

So today I step out of that comfort zone of self-deprecation and admit that there are some good – nay, great – things about me, things I’m proud of that make me happy. I’m awesome, and I’ll give you ten reasons why.

  1. My brain. I was lucky to be a bright child – quick to learn and understand. I did well in school, earning scholarships and accolades, and my parents always encouraged me to think and absorb the world around me. As a result, I have confidence that there is nothing I can’t learn or teach myself. I especially love that ‘aha’ moment when a concept clicks and all those neural traces connect – I love being able to relate something new to something I already know. I love how my brain can stow bits of trivia and then retrieve them at the most unlikely moment. The brain is a magnificent organ, and I only wish I had enough time to learn everything I want to know.
  2. My sense of humor. Each of my parents had an offbeat, upbeat sense of humor. They did silly things and taught us to see the humor inherent in life. All of my siblings and I possess that same quality, and I firmly believe that is a very strong part of the bond that connects us. When I’m amused, you know it. I love to laugh, and I love to make other people laugh, too. I love to clown around and crack wise; like my niece said, the world is sad enough as it is. Let’s have fun!
  3. I root for the underdog. Pa once told me that I had a strong sense of fairness and a lot of moxie (which, by the way, is one of my favorite words). I have always cherished his assessment. It’s important to me to stand up for what’s right, even when it’s unpopular, and to champion the little guy. It’s who I am.
  4. I’m authentic. There is no pretense with me. What you see is what you get. Like Popeye, I Yam What I Yam. Heck, I don’t even color my hair or wear makeup. I’m just plain old me, and if you like that, great. If you don’t, well…<shrug>.
  5. I’m compassionate. I’ve had some rough spots in my life, and I have come out on the other side with a renewed sense of kindness and understanding for others. While I don’t consider myself a ‘bleeding heart’ with exaggerated sympathies, I do care a great deal about people and try to be considerate and compassionate. Sometimes it’s hard to be kind, but I’m always trying.
  6. I’m quirky. My medical history is populated with strange events and afflictions. My running joke is that because my mother was a week shy of 37 when I was born, my oddities are a direct result of her ‘old eggs.’ So, I laughingly told her that my hypermobile joints (double-jointedness), inner ear disorder, migraine cluster headaches, third set of front teeth, missing wisdom teeth, mismatched vision (one far-sighted eye, one near-sighted eye), and other physical quirks are because her eggs were past their pull date. But that’s the stuff that makes me, me.
  7. I can write. Ever since I can remember, I have been in love with words. I love to read, and I love to write. I have always been able to express myself in writing, and I’ve been able to use this gift to help other people over the years. I believe my friend’s assertion that ‘everyone has their own talent,’ and while I would love to be able to draw or sculpt or bake or craft, I am content to have been given the gift of writing.
  8. I’m a spoiler. I will go the extra mile to do something special for people I love. I used to put notes in my kids’ school lunches to let them know I was thinking about them. I enjoy spoiling Mr. Stuck. I have a soft spot for the elderly, especially little old men. I will go out of my way for you, just because.
  9. I have great hair. I’ve always loved my hair, except during my adolescence, when, try as I might, the Dorothy Hamill bob and Farrah Fawcett look escaped me. Once I came to terms with that, I’ve been happy with it. Long or short, it was thick and healthy, with its own waves and cowlicks and a very pronounced widow’s peak. Like me, it has a mind of its own, doesn’t care for the muss and fuss of curling irons and hair spray, and is at its best when left alone. It’s greyer and thinner now, but I still love it.
  10. I have a great smile. I used to have a gap between my front teeth. It was handed down through the generations on my mother’s side, and several of my sisters and their kids also have gaps. Mine was huge – I used to joke about being able to floss with a tow rope. Getting braces and a permanent retainer eliminated that gap, but I still love my smile. When I am happy, there is no mistaking it: apple cheeks, bright eyes, and a big, wide grin with my whole mouth.

It took me a while to come up with this list, and I changed my mind a few times. I wasn’t even sure if I could find ten whole things. But I’ve looked it over, and I am satisfied.

Now, a few things I need to work on:

  1. Patience. I’m just not very good at it, especially when I get behind the wheel.
  2. Procrastination. Unfortunately, I’m an expert in putting things off. Like blogging.
  3. Follow-through. I’m a great starter, but a not-so-great finisher. I get bored too easily and switch gears. I need to learn to see things through to completion, whether it’s a book I’m reading or organizing my closet. Or blogging.
  4. Judgment. I struggle with being too judgmental. It is something I work on every day. I think it comes from being judgmental toward myself and then spreading the misery. Ugh. Let me apologize in advance.
  5. Self-control. I have long said that I can resist anything but temptation. I have the ability to talk myself into and out of just about anything, especially if it’s not good for me. My overdeveloped conscience helps me behave most of the time, but too often, the devil on my shoulder wins out.

you are awesome

Now, I’d like to invite you to tell me at least one thing you love about yourself. We spend so much time being critical that we often forget to celebrate our wonderful individuality. Learning to love that unique, amazing person in the mirror is another step toward being healthy and happy!

So let’s hear it!!

 

photo credit: parker yo!  and torley

A Work in Progress.

So many thoughts in my head…I’m just gonna toss ’em out there.

The other day, a friend of mine commented on social media about how she’s so schizophrenic (my word, because I can’t remember hers) when self-image is concerned. With each outfit, she looks in the mirror and says to herself, I look okay in this, or I look like a cow in this, or this makes my hips look huge, or whatever. What I got from that was that self-image is often a moment-to-moment thing, depending on how you see yourself, and your clothing or hair or accessories can make all the difference.

Let me just say that this woman is a natural beauty with a lovely figure. I would go so far as to call her stunning. She can walk in the room and attract everyone’s attention without even trying. To hear her expressing insecurity about her own looks is unbelievable to a person like me, but I know she’s sincere and not looking for compliments. She’s humble and she’s beautiful on the inside, too. Unfortunately, the beauty we see when we look at her is not what she sees in the mirror. I suspect this is true for most of us.

But I didn’t always know that. As a fat girl, I envied the girls who didn’t have to try — the girls who looked good in anything they wore, whose hair and makeup were always perfect, and who seemed to have it all figured out. I wanted to be like that, but I knew it was out of reach for me and unrealistic, so I accepted my lot. My pretty friends all seemed to have their various insecurities, but I couldn’t figure out why, because to me, they had it all. They had no reason to complain. I could only imagine how great they must have felt when they admired themselves in their mirrors.

Now I’m a 50 year old WLS post-op. It took me a lifetime to figure out that we all have our own body issues. No matter what the mirror says, no matter what our best friend says, no matter what our loved ones say, we can’t see the good. We launch into the litany of the bad:  bad complexion, skinny arms, saggy chest, eyes too close together, ears too big, whatever. Or maybe we just focus on the receding (and greying) hairline and dark circles, as if they negate everything else. In our own eyes, we’re reduced to the sum of our pathetic parts.

So the men and women I admire for their poise, their beauty, and their confidence are privately just as neurotic and self-critical as I am. (Well, I think there are degrees of neuroses, so anywhere in the neighborhood is fine.) Why would I dismiss their self-assessments as baseless, but believe my own? Why did I make it about me and discount them? I don’t own any exclusive to bad self-esteem, and other people aren’t immune to it because they have good hair or good looks.

What strikes me more often as I get older is that we’re all so much more alike than we are different. Oh, our outsides are all different, but our insides are so similar. We’re all a little bit crazy and a little bit anxious. We love and laugh and grieve and work and sing and fight and dance and raise children or maybe animals. We all carry baggage and burdens. We hope that our frail lifetimes will not be in vain, and we all worry that we aren’t good enough. And instead of celebrating and standing in awe of the multifaceted, three-dimensional individuals we are, we demean ourselves for entirely superficial reasons…no matter who we are.

What keeps coming back to me are some words from my friend Jon, who used to get angry with me whenever I’d call myself a klutz or a dork or fat or stupid or whatever. His rebukes went something like this: When you put yourself down and criticize yourself, you are insulting those who love you by demeaning the object of their affection. How offensive! What gives you that right?

What, indeed?

You don’t have to be a fat person to have insecurities.

You just have to be a person.

 

 

Still a work in progress,

Stuck

 

 photo credit www.freestock.ca

 

Don’t Eat the Slug.

Had a great massage today with Dave, my gifted therapist.  I love that man.  Unless I’m in extreme pain, I am usually pretty chatty while he’s working on me.  We catch up on each other’s lives, solve the problems of the world, and even manage to work some jokes in.  (That’s David’s arena — I can’t remember jokes to save my soul.  He tells them, I promise to pass them on to Mr. Stuck, and then normally I forget.  So there’s that.)

One of the things we talked about today was my last post and the whole topic of self-esteem.  Since he hadn’t had the chance to read it yet, I related the details to him and told him that the mental component of this change is probably the toughest part of the whole shebang.  The WLS Fairy does not swoop down and grant you confidence and self-esteem with a wave of her bariatric wand.  No, you’re still fighting the same demons you did before: fear, self-loathing, and doubt.

Everyone has something about themselves they don’t like.  That’s universal.  But some folks dwell on it so much that they allow it to paralyze them, or they decide that they are worthless because of it.  I mentioned in my previous post that it was easy for me to refer to myself with negativity because that’s how I felt.  I didn’t look in the mirror and see a woman with a quirky personality, compassion and sense of humor;  I didn’t see someone who has a successful career; I didn’t see the person my friends and family see.  I saw something entirely different, something that seemed to negate any good things that were also there.  I let the negative outweigh the positive, and that just fed on itself.

They say you have to love yourself.  Yeah.  Hard to love someone who’s calling you names.  The things we tell ourselves — some of them we wouldn’t say to our worst enemy.  Dave told me that for most of his life, when he would mess something up or make a mistake, he would chide himself.  “That was stupid.”  “You dummy, why weren’t you more careful?”  “I’m such an idiot!”  He realized that this self-talk was not making him do a better job or be more careful; it was confirming to him that he was stupid, incompetent, and foolish.  He said, “If I had messed something up, I would yell at myself; but if I fixed it, I never gave myself credit; after all, it was my fault to begin with.”

So he decided that he needed to stop that habit.  Each time he’d berate himself, he’d stop and apologize.  Out loud.  He was amazed at how often he said those things without even realizing it; the awareness was a lesson in itself.  After he had curbed that negative talk, he began to compliment himself.  Out loud, like his rebukes had been.  He’d finish something and sit back and say, “Good job.  Nice work.”

He said after a while of doing this, he realized he was feeling better and more confident.  Instead of reinforcing the negative, he reinforced the positive.  (“Ac-Cen-Tchu-Ate the positive/E-lim-inate the negative/and latch on to the affirmative/don’t mess with Mr. In-between” as the song goes.)  What a great piece of advice!

I told him about my friend Jon, who put it to me another way.  One day, we were talking about his work day, which had been horribly stressful.  His boss was in a bad mood and seemed determined to make everyone around him as miserable as he was.  Jon, however, had an irrepressible good mood; he lived life with a smile and a laugh.  I asked him how he managed to stay so upbeat when his boss was so negative, and he said, “When someone insults you or shows disrespect, that’s their problem.”  He said, “Imagine if they handed you a nasty, slimy slug and told you to eat it.  Would you?  Of course not!  It’s the same thing — someone trying to bring you down is handing you a slug to eat.  Don’t eat the slug.”

He’s right, you know.  The great Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”  Over the years, we give ourselves permission to say the awful, hurtful things about ourselves that we do.  We allow the erosion of our spirit and degradation of self.  We do it to ourselves — maybe because we really believe it, or maybe because we tell ourselves it’s easier to hear from our own lips than from others’.  Maybe we do it because we don’t know any better.

David, who still catches himself mid-scold sometimes, challenged me to do what he did and stop the trash talk.  And I accept.  I would never talk that way to a friend or family member, nor would I allow anyone else to talk that way to someone I cared about.  So why would I allow myself to be so cruel to the one person who is always there, no matter what?  Why would I weaken and diminish my strengths and demean the good person I am?  It needs to stop.

Don’t eat the slug.

 

 

photo credit: wwarby

No Apologies.

Is ‘fat’ really the worst thing a human being can be? Is ‘fat’ worse than ‘vindictive’, ‘jealous’, ‘shallow’, ‘vain’, ‘boring’ or ‘cruel’? Not to me.
– J.K. Rowling

So, as an important part of building the new, healthier us, Mr. Stuck and I go to a  monthly weight loss surgery (WLS) support group.  Normally there are 15-20 people there for the two-hour meeting; they range from those who are learning about WLS options to pre-op and post-op patients.  We’ve been going for over a year, and we really enjoy it.  It is run by a bariatrics R.N., Connie, who is also a couple of years post-op.  (I highly recommend to anyone considering WLS that they find a group and go.  You learn so much.)

We arrived a few minutes into the meeting, while people were introducing themselves around the circle.  We took our seats and listened until our turn came.  We gave our names and a brief update (surgery type, surgery date, how we were doing).  I noticed there were a few new faces tonight, but I didn’t see Cindy, my “surgery sister.”  (She and I had realized just before our surgeries that we were scheduled for the same day, so we connected in that way, dubbing ourselves “surgery sisters” for fun.)  She is a lovely, vibrant woman who seems to lead a busy, stressful life.  I liked her from the start.

A few minutes later, Cindy arrived.  She made her way to a chair, and I noticed how refreshed she looked.  Even though she was dressed casually, in a yoga-style jacket and pants, she was made up and looked very nice.  She had a smile on her face and a light in her eyes.  I was glad to see her.

When it was Cindy’s time to talk, she took a deep breath.  She apologized for being late, but said she was doing well, 6 weeks post-op like me.  She said she had discovered something, and she wanted to ask the rest of us about it: self-esteem.

She said she had been thinking about how heartbreakingly sad it is to, as she put it, “apologize yourself out of life.”  She said, “I spent all these years apologizing — for everything — and smoothing things over.  I swallowed it all; food, shame, anger, hurt.  I pushed it down.  I made it go away.  But I’m done.  I’m not apologizing anymore.  I’m not sorry, and I’m not rude, but I’m done.  Now, it’s about me.  It feels crazy as I adjust to this new body and new life.  Am I hungry or not?  What do I want to do?  I feel powerful!  I feel joyful!  I feel blessed.  And I want everyone to feel that way.”

She asked around.  “Did you feel it, too?  Did you find it?”  She continued, choking back emotion.  “I thought I was a good person.  I am a good person.  I thought I had it good — I thought my self-esteem was fine.  I’d get up, clean — but I didn’t know.  I didn’t know!  I can’t tell you how different it feels from thinking you have self-esteem to really having it.  You can tell people about self-esteem and self-image all day, but the reality is, you can’t.  They won’t know.  They have to live it.”

I listened to Cindy as the words rushed out of her mouth unbridled.  Everyone was understanding and respectful, even as she talked much longer.  “Why don’t we think we are worthy?  Why don’t we see ourselves as equal to everyone else?  Why do we have to apologize for being who we are, living our lives, and taking up space?  Why do we convince ourselves we don’t deserve to be happy?  We have just as much right to be happy as anyone else.  We DO deserve to be happy.  We are worth it!”

With that, she sat back, still very emotional.  One of the ladies got up, walked over to Cindy and gave her a hug.  Connie pointed to one of the new faces and asked him to introduce himself to the group.  He told us he was a couple years post gastric band surgery.  As he told his story, another regular, Merele, arrived.  She looked a bit flustered.  When it was her turn to speak, she said, “I am so thankful for you all.  You have no idea how much it helps me to be here.  You are all family.”

Merele went on to say that she was several months post-op; the ‘honeymoon period’ of having no appetite was over and it was difficult for her.  She said she was really struggling with that.  Merele, like Cindy, was very emotional as she shared how she is finally giving herself permission to be happy.  She said, “I have stopped worrying about other people.  It’s okay for them to have their meals, but I can’t pay attention to that.  This is my new life.  This is ME!  I had to make this huge change, and it’s for the better, but it’s scary.  I have to make my own choices, and I choose to live.  I don’t want to die inside as well as outside.”  Merele also got a hug.

As I listened to these ladies, I took notes.  No apologies.  Choosing happiness.  Change can be scary.  Struggles.  Joy.  Self-worth.  Cindy  said, “I’m 60 years old, and I should have known this when I was 40.  My daughter is 30.  I want her to be happy, too.”

 ***

So many lessons in life.  I am no more of an expert than anyone else is.  Do I have self-esteem?  Not really, but I can feel a spark of change in how I view myself.  But I also feel that I have wasted a lot of time, and I feel guilty about that.

I wasted my sons’ youth as their obese mother who was unable to wrestle on the floor with them or run footraces across the yard.  Subsequent injuries and illness made everything worse physically, and my self-image sank, as well.  Pretty soon, I was referring to myself as dowdy and dumpy, and all the negative voices in my head became reality.  I was a slob. I was tired and lazy.  I felt helpless.  I was unable to change my situation.  I was unhappy.  I was depressed.  I felt guilty because I wasn’t better, thinner, prettier, more fun, younger, in better shape, smarter, whatever.  And as we all know, that cycle of negative self-fulfillment just rolls along.  Overeating>Guilt>Depression>Overeating>Guilt>Depression.

I have been slender for short periods of time after stringent dieting and self-denial. Each time I felt a rush of confidence in my new look, enjoying the compliments and approval.  But each time that confidence was hollow, and fear hid in its shadow.  I was always afraid — that I would gain the weight back (I always did), and that I was a failure.  I saw that people who had never looked at me twice were now friendly to me, and that just underscored it.  No matter what kind of a person I was inside, whether I was smart or funny or kind, it meant nothing if I wasn’t worth looking at.  That is what they taught me.

So then I would feel phony.  And angry.  The fat that had always been my armor, my permission to be a mouthy smart-ass, was gone, and I’d wish it back.  ‘Life was easier fat,’  I’d tell myself.  I didn’t have unwanted attention from random men.  I didn’t get the catty looks and competition from women.  I wasn’t viewed as a threat, I guess.  I didn’t have to care about my looks, because nobody was looking, anyway.  And then it became easier to tell myself I wasn’t worth it.  I couldn’t do it — it was too hard.  I had failed again.  You see, I pretended to have confidence, but I didn’t really have it, and as soon as the doubt crept in, it was easy to cave.

Getting your head straight after weight loss is tough, and it’s a constant struggle.  The old you vs. the new you.  The negative vs. the positive.  Excuses vs. reason.  Old habits vs. new choices.  Apologies vs. confidence.  It’s a daily fight, because surgery doesn’t change your head or your heart.  As you adjust to the new reality and the possibilities surgery has given you, you still fight the hurtful words in your head when you look in the mirror.

But you’ve got to remember you’re winning this time.  No apologies.

photo credit cod_gabriel