Sunday, November 8, 2015

I Get Into All The Don'ts

It always seems like we're just "getting through" things. You get through school to get through college to get through work to get through to the weekend, vacation, retirement. As an anxious person, this has colored my entire world and my perspective on most things, unfortunately leaving me with a general sense of misery I typically cannot pinpoint. I am in a constant state of anticipation (good or bad) and it wreaks havoc on the here and now.

I've tried changing my attitude and outlook to "be present" in the moment-employing mindfulness techniques while at work or suffering through a long line at the DMV. This has been about 50% effective, which is not a bad statistic overall, but for someone who feels "born anxious", maintaining mindfulness for extended periods can feel time consuming, exhausting, and (in the end) more anxiety-producing.

I've tried making the most of my "free time" to the point of estimating I have approximately 64 "free" hours a week I'm not at work, sleeping, or getting ready for work. This, of course, does not count errands, phone calls, paying bills, and the myriad other "adult" things we are required to accomplish everyday to be considered "grown up." (It also carries on the aforementioned "getting through" dilemma.)

I've tried militant list making and planning-an escape route of sorts-to give me meaning and purpose in current stressful situations. That works more often than mindfulness, but perpetuates the anticipatory anxiety I am trying to avoid altogether. Never mind all of these avenues typically have the shelf-life of a gallon of milk.

Each time I consider this quandary, I come out feeling more defective. It appears most people have it down. "It" being LIFE. These guys and gals seem to know who they are, what they want, and how to get it. Not only that, but they seem to know how to convert that self-awareness into financial success. On the other hand, there are just as many people who do "get through the week" at a job they don't particularly enjoy, but find satisfaction in family, friends, hobbies, and clubs.

I can't relate to either. Depression has tricked me more times than I can count into believing this universal dissatisfaction I have felt definitely in the past 2 years, probably since I graduated college, possibly since birth is me just being a lazy, bored, miserable bitch. Unhappy, unsatisfied, unappeasable.

The kicker is...I'm not miserable. I'm truly not. Sure, I have significant mood, food, and booze issues. True, I have untreated OCD (Thanks, South Carolina!). Yes, I feel lost and alone almost all the time. Those are things I have dealt with my entire life in one form or another, yet only in recent years has this growing dissatisfaction, disillusionment, and disinterest in remaining an automaton reached levels I can no longer ignore. Levels where it physically hurts to ignore them.

I'm also not lazy. I thrive on hard work, deadlines, and productivity. I was unemployed from June to the end of October and it made little difference in my mood or anxiety. I still worried about the future and had epic mood changes, trouble sleeping, and obsessive thoughts. The irony is routine works both for and against me. My mental health craves it for stability and security, but my spirit feels bound and strangled. Which has led some noteworthy revelations about myself.

In recent months three things have become evident:
  1. I am a very sensitive person, an empath who absorbs mine and others' experiences and feelings to the point of mental, physical, and spiritual unrest.   
  2. I am a gypsy soul with a serious case of wanderlust and a side of free spirit syndrome. I love new beginnings, moving, having a "fresh slate", but find myself restless soon after arriving at these new adventures.
  3. I consistently set myself up to fail. I put pressure on myself to mold to the "norm" and when I do, immediately feel stifled, robotic, and (quite possibly the most disturbing) ordinary.

I believe the restlessness lies in expecting geography to change my worldview so much so that my creative/wanderer/activist self will be satiated. The fact of the matter is Greenville is Corning is Meriden in the sense that I (like every single responsible adult on this planet) have to earn a living to support myself. Just being a living human being costs money-a lot of money. Never mind the stacks of various kinds of debt accrued when my former self was transitioning to this newest place on earth.

In terms of conformity, we have maintained a love-hate relationship since adolescence. I was fortunate enough to come of age in the grunge era. I say this not only because the music, movie, and art scenes were on point, but as a body-conscious teen, having baggy cords and oversized tee shirts in vogue was a godsend. I assert had fate decided I adolesce in the present, I would have pulled a Martha Dunnstock. I wanted to fit in as badly as any teen girl does, yet at the same time I had a non-conformity death wish of sorts, wanting to be as far from the trends as possible and uncertain how to marry the two. Twenty years later and I'm just as lost.

Lastly, feeling ordinary and normal seems so far from the person I am inside-in my mind, in my spirit. I don't say this in a superior way, far from it. Instead, I am saying it from an outcast's perspective. I feel like a fraud and have in just about every job and career I have held. Even when I write there is a sense of chicanery, however minute, I feel I have to overcome. Perhaps that is due to society's fixation with talent=money=success and because I have never been published nor achieved massive blog readership, I am, therefore, an unsuccesful/untalented writer.

I wish this post held more answers, but I fear the deeper I dive into this arena, every answer spawns several more questions. What needs to change? Will I ever feel satisfied? How can I be both authentic and a productive member of society when my authenticity so badly wants to give 9-5 jobs the middle finger?

I think the best I can hope for is connection with others who feel the same and remain optimistic that time will reveal how I can achieve my goals-personal and professional-in a way that is legitimate, satisfying, spiritual, and meaningful. To be clear, my mission is not a complete lack of disillusion in life. It is in disappointment that my creativity is born. To be without it entirely would leave me without conflict, too satisfied to rebel and speak my mind. And this gypsy soul has a rebel heart.


*Title credit: Song: "Moments" by Tove Lo in 2014

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sweet (Inner) Child o' Mine


It is fair to say the image below largely impacted me and had a direct influence on my writing this post. An art installation from this year's Burning Man was shared on the World Wide Web by many and made it's way to a friend's Facebook page (thank you, Cherie!) where I spotted it for the first time a few days ago. This piece, titled "LOVE" by Ukrainian artist Alexandr Milov, depicts two adults (a man and a woman), backs turned and posing in a display of despair while their encaged inner children reach out to one another.

I'm certain this piece struck me in the same way it did most people: as a commentary on the way adults are often quick to turn inward during times of struggle, so enmeshed in their own suffering they cannot see they are not alone. In addition, this piece spoke to me, personally. It asked the questions: Is my inner child trying to tell me something? And if so, what?

The answer was painful to face: I haven't the foggiest.

As a student of psychology, counseling, and spirituality, the inner child concept was familiar, if not somewhat elusive. Wikipedia describes the inner child as:
"...our childlike aspect. It includes all that we learned and experienced as children, before puberty. The inner child denotes a semi-independent entity subordinate to the waking conscious mind."
In essence, the inner child represents our innermost desires and feelings, often screaming to be heard over the everyday humdrum of life we, as adults, face. In more dire circumstances, the inner child may be suffering along with the "waking conscious mind" of its adult counterpart, due to pain, suffering, and/or trauma experienced in childhood.

Having attended many Overeaters Anonymous meetings, I learned many twelve-step programs also adhere to this school of thought, suggesting healing the inner child is an essential part of addiction recovery. The implication is if our inner child represents our purest selves, our most independent and carefree parts of our being, when s/he is damaged in some way, it can (and in many cases) will affect our everyday lives. The idea being, as adults, we find ways to drown out the inner child's pleas through overworking, addiction, eating disorders, self-harm, distractions, escapism, anything really.

Having some knowledge of the inner child concept and viewing the Burning Man image opened my mind in a way I was not prepared. While the above image of the woman viewing herself and her inner child in the mirror can, upon first glance, appear to be nothing more than an animated horror movie scene, this is precisely how I felt after viewing "LOVE": alarmed and afraid. 

I was/am frightened of what I might have done to my inner child with my addictions and disorders, depression and anxiety, self-loathing, self-injury, and self-deprecation. I was afraid she was angry with me after yelling at her for not being smart enough, skinny enough, strong enough, or just plain ENOUGH. I imagined her cowering in the darkest corners of my mind and body, crying and feeling hopeless, longing to hear anything close to praise. But worse still, I was most frightened she was gone-given up on me the way I had given up on her. I feared she wouldn't trust me again, for all my failed attempts to nurture her in the past. And, in all honesty, she had every right not to. 

The twist is, when I went looking for her she was eager to connect with me again. She trusts me implicitly and expects no explanations for my failures. She welcomes me with open arms, as if she were there all along, waiting for me. Because that is exactly where she has been. She didn't leave me, I had left her. She waited, patiently, knowing I would return, understanding that my journey may involve letting her go for a time, but always confident I would someday reappear. She didn't scold or pout, she didn't cry or scream, instead she danced and sang and played with my comeback. 
She became radiant, glowing as if from within, as she laughed and joked, prompting me to do the same. I felt my insides begin to heal, both symbolically and literally. It was as if her glow of rejoice was beginning to consume me. The air felt lighter and  easier to breathe, my feet carried me with ease and purpose, I straightened my back and adjusted my smile. I felt honest, sincere, genuine...I felt like me.
Me, age 3 
As if this epiphany wasn't enough, in true Melissa fashion, I found a song to encapsulate this very feeling of "coming home" to my inner child-to acknowledging her and freeing her from the emotional traps I had kept her in. Interestingly, in the past I had tried to make this song fit with lovers and a couple months ago I heard it again and decided it was a love song to myself. Saturday night, this song happened to play on my iPod and I was paralyzed for 2 hours as this song repeated and the realization unfolded that this was me singing to my inner child. 
The song is "A Thousand Years" by Christina Perri. The lyrics suggest that not only have I known and loved my inner child seemingly forever, but also that I have always known I would reconnect with her-seeing her alone in the shadows of my mind, wiping away all doubt of her existence. The opening line: "Heart beats fast, colors and promises, how to be brave, how can I love when I'm afraid to fall?" reminds me of the feeling I had (and continue to have) once rediscovering my inner child and inner spirit: reckless abandon, colors seem brighter, bravery reignited after being long forgotten and yet the oh-so-human response of "what if I fall?"
Granted, this song can hold some negative connotations for its association with the Twilight movie and it has been used by many as their wedding march. But, if you are willing to look past that, listen to the lyrics, and imagine what I do, I believe you may experience the same goosebump-y feeling I had Saturday night, when each time the song ended I silently said, "One more time..."

I suppose this means I am, indeed, "one step closer" to reconnecting with the me I haven't seen in some time. The me that loves to color and joke, makes up songs and poems, and dances around the house. The me that laughs uproariously at nothing in particular, has dreams and chases them, sets goals and is hopeful they will pan out. The me that plays. The me that leaps. The me that lives.

Me, 8 hours after my "A Thousand Years" reverie
Rumi said: "When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy." I think he was right.
*Title credit: Song: "Sweet Child o' Mine" by Guns N' Roses in 1987


Sunday, September 6, 2015

Silence is the New Black

I am guilty of what many of us do: fill quiet moments with unnecessary (often mundane) chatter to avoid silence. I call this "jibber jabber," (taken from the indisputably hilarious relationship of "Penny" and "Sheldon" on The Big Bang Theory).

To me, jibber jabber and small talk has become mind-numbing. It appears the more change our world sees (socially, politically, environmentally), the more obsessed with monotony some become. For example, on a day when marriage equality is achieved for the entire country AND the President of the United States attends funerals for some of the Charleston 9, I may hear two neighbors discussing, at length, how the time the mail arrives has changed over the past few months. This is just one of many examples. I have never before heard so much discussion about mail arrival, lawns that need mowing, why this restaurant opens at 11:00 versus 12:00, and so it goes. I don't mean to sound judge-y, but for real? In the words of one of my favorite comediennes and podcasters, Jen Kirkman: "I don't want to do small talk anymore, I want big talk." I am beginning to reach a point where I am interested in one of two things: big/ "medium" talk or silence. Larry David has similiar sentiments.

In this post, I am hoping to encourage all of us, myself included, to enjoy, accept, and embrace the silence, when big talk isn't possible and small talk is irritating. In graduate school for counseling, we learned silence is not only a good idea, it is essential to growth. It gives both the client and clinician the room and space to process what has already been said. In a world where it is easy, most times unavoidable, to fill every silent moment with media static and white noise, this concept may seem unconventional. I am positing that it IS unconventional and that can be good.

I, for one, am constantly inundating myself with noise. If it's not TV, it's my iPod. Or I'm watching videos on YouTube, answering e-mails and texts, while also balancing my checkbook. In fact, as I write this post it is the only silent moment I will likely have today and yet my mind is still quite stimulated. As someone who struggles daily with mental hygiene, I speculate my avoidance of silence is due to fear of the places my mind wanders when there is no stimulation. The far reaches of my mind where dark thoughts, sad memories, and fear of the future reside. On days I am particularly motivated to embrace silence, I often achieve this by still distracting my mind, just in a less noisy way-reading. While it is a much needed break from screens (unless I'm using my Kindle...), it is still distraction from silence in its truest form.


It may be obvious to some what I am suggesting: less time online, more time outside, put your phones done. And that is all true, but I am also challenging us to go a bit deeper than that. Instead of only leaving 5 minutes before bed for meditation or 10 minutes in the morning for solitude, I am advocating a Lifestyle of Active Quietude or LAQ, as in lack of distractions, lack of noise, lack of disturbance. We can all use LESS in our lives. In fact, I have designed a second blog to devote especially to this idea. New blog here!

What I am suggesting may seem radical: how does one build a lifestyle around quietude? Like any change in perspective, it will surely take time and patience. It will involve yielding to other disciplines as well, such as mindfulness, choiceless awareness, and compassionate love (all topics that will be discussed at length in my additional blog). It will also involve actively setting boundaries with myself (limit game time, limit the number of times I check Facebook, designating certain times for texting), as well as boundaries with others. Admittedly, I have a tendency to become rigid and obsessive any time I implement a plan, no matter how beneficial it is or how good my intentions are. Something I need to be mindful about. 

Some ways I hope to spend my quietude:
  • Reconnecting with a spiritual path
  • Spending more time in nature
  • Reviving new creative interests
  • Finding new hobbies
  • Enhancing meditation practices
  • Journaling
Some things I hope to learn from my quietude:
  • Patience
  • Mindfulness
  • Non-judgment
  • Compassion
  • Gratitude
  • How to let go of all "The Stuff"
I am eager to begin my journey and grateful to have the time and space to explore my solitude to its fullest. While I am hesitant to see what lies in the quiet moments I so desperately try to drown out, I am hopeful that taking time throughout the day to be quiet, mindful, and aware will only calm my chaotic mind. 


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Don't Be So Sensitive!

I am an empath or HSP (Highly Sensitive Person). Some of you may have suspected, based on personal interaction with me or previous blog posts. Some of you may be perplexed as to what an empath or HSP is. That is understandable. Let's begin with some definitions. As described on Dr. Elaine Aron's website, someone who is an HSP experiences most or all of these traits:
  • Easily overwhelmed by bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens
  • Rattled when you have to do a lot in a short amount of time
  • Makes a point to avoid violent movies and TV shows
  • Needs to withdraw during busy days, into bed or a darkened room (or some other refuge where you can have privacy and relief from the situation)
  • Make it a high priority to arrange your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations
  • Notices or enjoys delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art
  • Has a rich and complex inner life
  • When you were a child, your parents or teachers saw you as sensitive or shy

Dr. Aron's website goes on to espouse that not only is being an HSP normal (15-20% of the population are reported to be highly sensitive), but also innate.
"In fact, biologists have found it in over 100 species (and probably there are many more) from fruit flies, birds, and fish to dogs, cats, horses, and primates. This trait reflects a certain type of survival strategy, being observant before acting. The brains of highly sensitive persons (HSPs) actually work a little differently than others’."

I adamantly agree and relate to every single bullet point listed on Dr. Aron's webiste, as well as previously written blogs or articles on HSPs. The two pieces I linked include some super relatable quips such as:
  • "That annoying sound is probably significantly more annoying to a highly sensitive person."
  • "The effects of criticism are especially amplified in highly sensitive people."
  • "They're probably used to hearing, 'Don't take things so personally' and 'Why are you so sensitive?'"
  • "We notice that subtle change in your tone."
  • "We're always willing to hear you vent."
  • "They're more prone to anxiety or depression (but only if they've had a lot of past negative experiences)." 
Sounds pretty exhausting, doesn't it? It IS. Being highly sensitive, coupled with my OCD, is quite literally the definition of mental exhaustion. My mind is constantly thinking, rethinking, thinking again, and thinking from the other person's perspective. Then, my brain does the ever-so-awesome analyzing of facial expressions, sighs, tone of voice, and body language. In addition to all that activity I am juggling just having a typical conversation, I'm also on sensory overload. Fluorescent lighting, dings from my phone and yours, TV blaring, the tag in my shirt, and food smells. And probably the most prevalent sensory disturbance (for me) is loud talking. Which, admittedly, is ironic considering I am also a loud talker. However, when I am already in sensory overload and my systems are ready to abort, loud talking is the living worst.

Keeping in mind this is an example of a typical conversation, void of conflict or subtext, it is easy to see how I would often have a hard time asserting myself, setting boundaries, and saying "No." Unfortunately, this had made me extremely vulnerable to abusive and toxic relationships, as well as bottling up my feelings which leads to resentment which leads two things: uncorking every negative thought or feeling in a frightening and unexpected manner or subconsciously creating a conflict that validates my reason for cutting the person out of my life. I have more often than not done the latter.

Knowing I am an HSP has helped me feel FAR less crazy. It has also helped me recognize and accept my limits. Unfortunately, I am still not fully comfortable asserting my boundaries and limits with others and have a very small group of people I explicitly trust, who understand and respect me. But, no one is perfect and even my most trusted confidantes may struggle to understand me all day, everyday. And I don't expect them to. I've accepted that there will be moments of emotional exhaustion and compassion fatigue where I have nothing left to give or receive, needing only the sanctuary of a dark room and a movie I have seen 18 times.

Even as I finish this blog, sights and sounds that didn't register hours ago (it's 7:00pm) are beginning to grate on me. The sound of the keys as I type, cars speeding past the house, the way my bed sheet is bunching in the middle of my futon in couch-position, my bedroom light glaring onto my glasses. Harmless annoyances, yet all signs I am hitting my limit. I hope to follow up, someday, with a post about how I manage my HSP-ness in a relationship, as that opportunity has not yet presented. Soon enough, I suspect. 


Monday, August 31, 2015

Misery Loves Company

We all know people who seem miserable for miserable's sake. Meaning, they seemingly have most everything they want or need, yet still find reason to (at the very least) complain or (more often) attempt to drag others' to their level. For those of us who aren't equipped with the insight, knowledge, and/or mental energy to fight it often succumb. In fact, most people who get caught in this relationship are joyful, happy, and at peace-feelings miserable people realize are missing in their lives. Those who surrender can become miserable themselves, perhaps not only perpetuating this pattern with the original miserable person, but also other people in their lives.

It is a vicious cycle that most understand as "misery loves company." I think it's safe to assume everyone is familiar with this person. This is the friend who only has negative comments when you share good news. This is the family member who monopolizes entire evenings with "woe is me"-type anecdotes that are decades old. This is the co-worker who consistently shatters your good vibe by implying your job isn't secure.

This is not the person currently going through a tough time or the person attempting to cope with mental illness or the person who has a random vent session. Sometimes, those lines are blurry and the understandable reaction to grief, anger, frustration, or anxiety is considered misery. I am suggesting that is dreadfully incorrect.

As someone who wears my feelings as an armband, proudly and openly, when I am upset, it is usually very clear. I often worry that I come across as negative or miserable when I am having a tough time. I will obsess (out loud) if given the opportunity, if I feel safe and understood. I will cry and scream to release my tension, again if the opportunity arises and I feel safe and understood. Admittedly, I am too trusting with these emotions and when I am faced with opposition, I feel not only hurt, but betrayed. It is a bit dramatic, I agree. But dramatic or not, it's how I feel.

Having grown up with a large family (half of whom keep every unpleasant feeling inside until they snap, half of whom will tell you exactly how they feel-who, what, where, and why), I sometimes couldn't make heads or tails of how I was supposed to cope with my feelings. So, I learned by trial and error (what upset people, what got their attention), as well as a profound interest in psychology. I'm sad to report I also picked up several negative coping skills along the way, BUT I'm certain every human on this planet has at least one of those.

Being so open with my feelings has led to many disappointments, particularly from miserable people themselves. In turn, I have experienced most conflict with such people, usually after finding myself in a most frustrating dynamic of negativity, pessimism, and (of course) misery. Sometimes, when the cycle reaches epic proportions, an onlooker cannot distinguish one miserable people from another. And THAT continues to be a wake-up call for me when I feel myself slipping back into that relationship.

Sadly, this means I have had to adopt a new attitude of loving indifference to said individuals. To protect myself from being another casualty of the "misery loves company" war. Loving indifference (I have no idea if this is actually a term-I literally just made it up-but if it is please don't sue me!) means I love this person. They are my [fill in the blank] and of course I want nothing bad to happen to them. I want them to be happy and joyous. Sadly...they are anything but and therefore I need to limit my interactions, reactions, and (most sad of all) expectations of change.

Having spent years studying psychology, counseling, and then putting those studies into practice as a therapist, it is beyond disheartening to concede that some people will not change. Ever. Like, EVER ever. And sometimes miserable people are not individuals you can simply cut out of your life. They may be your boss or co-worker, your child or parent, even grandmothers can be miserable people. And let me take this moment in time to assure you, I acknowledge that many miserable people are unaware they are, in fact, miserable. They may just believe they have a few "difficult" people in their lives who "don't understand" them and they move onto the people who don't challenge their miserable behavior. That being said, when a miserable person has been told numerous TIMES by numerous PEOPLE they are miserable, it might be time to take inventory of your life. Or, as some may do, keep living in blissful ignorance.

So, when all else fails and you've come face to face with a miserable person-one who will not acknowledge they are, in fact, miserable and consistently attempts to drag you into their web of negativity-just remember...


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Have Gun Will Travel

My mother and I have never made the train trip to Connecticut from South Carolina together. Separately, our trips have been fine, albeit long. We decided the course of events that occurred during our trek happened ONLY because there were two of us, therefore better equipped for the shitshow (as my brother would call it) that took place. For your reading pleasure...

We arrived at the train station in our fair city of Greenville late one Saturday night to find out the train was an hour late. Not entirely unusual for Amtrak, so we didn't sweat it and found some seats to hurry up and wait. We watched families enter and do the same. The hour dragged, but I had a good book to keep me entertained (American Gods by Neil Gaiman). As it neared the new departure time, Mom and I got our belongings together as the Amtrak worker came out to make a new announcement:

"I just received news that a couple committed suicide on the tracks in Spartanburg. They laid their heads on the track and died. So, there is a longer delay and I have no idea how much longer. The train is coming, it wasn't your train that hit the couple, but you can board the train and we will just sit and wait."

Okay. Absolutely horrifying for ME, as a full grown adult, I can't imagine how horrifying it was for the children who heard, never mind the adults with them who were likely bombarded with questions after that announcement. Once we boarded the train, Mom and I discovered we were privy to not one, not two, but THREE screaming children while we parked at the Greenville station for another 90 minutes. After everyone boarded, the conductor came to the newly inhabited train car and, again, explained the situation. Thankfully, he was less descriptive than his colleague, but telling us coroners and police would be spending some time "cleaning up the tracks" was more than I needed to know.

I, hopped up on my nightly doses of Melatonin and Benadryl, attempted to get some shut-eye amidst the (literally) screaming children. I did okay, but woke up super grumpy. To avoid casting myself in the best light possible, I had some choice words for my mother who was trying to hold a quiet phone conversation with my grandmother. I believe the words "Are you fucking kidding me with this?" exited my mouth. Not a proud moment. Mom informed me the dining car had opened a couple hours earlier for breakfast, so I made the voyage down five bumpy train cars and back, only to have spent a small fortune on aspartame-flavored yogurt and a bag of pretzels. All other breakfast foods were gone. To say I was pissed would be an understatement. Grateful we had packed some of our own snacks, I carb-loaded and took a small nap, hoping I would wake up happier. (I'm certain my mother was hoping the same!)

I did. Our train was still 2.5 hours behind, but Mom and I were confident we would come up with a Plan B since it was likely we would miss our connecting train from New York City to New Haven. We had stopped in DC for a bit, to refuel, and I was eager to be one of the first people in line to get lunch as it was now approaching 1:00pm and all I'd eaten since 8:00pm, the night before, was orange juice, a Luna bar, and half a bag of pretzels. I needed *food*. When the train started rolling again, I hopped up and rushed to the dining car. I was not the only one who had the same idea, but I was confident with my place of third in line.

Finally! My turn to order! I smiled and ordered two turkey sandwiches, a bag of pretzels, a Starbucks Frappucino and a bottle of water. The woman (who did not return my smile) held the sandwiches up and said, "Hot or cold?" Confused, I said cold, as I wasn't expecting a turkey pannini. She handed it to me and said, "Well it's frozen, so..." I laughed as I handed it back and said, "Well, then yes, please heat them up." I didn't realized the "cold" in that suggestion meant frozen. Let's use our heads, people. C'mon. We're in this together!

I gleefully returned to my seat and began telling the "frozen sandwich ordeal" to Mom, as I unwrapped my sandwich. And (why I was surprised is still a mystery...) my sandwich was still frozen with the saddest little ice crystals on top of the shadiest looking "turkey" I have ever seen. It was so pitiful, I didn't even bother to eat it. Mom, convinced her sandwich looked less shady, was brave enough to give it a bite. The poor woman couldn't even swallow it! Thank the baby Jesus for my Frappucino, because it gave me insincere energy and made it easy not to eat for a few more hours.

I had now reached sleep-deprived, hungry moodiness of epic proportions. I would be giggling and giddy one minute and the next nearly in tears that my sleep mask had fallen on the floor-therefore by my OCD standards it essentially became garbage and was thrown away with the turkey sandwich. I was also becoming increasingly anxious about bringing my over-sized luggage onto the train in New York, where checked baggage was not an option and I would be forced to wheel my ginormous bag (packed for 6 weeks) down the aisle and attempt to find a "standing room only" area to put it, preferably in the same train car with empty seats. To say I was spiraling would be an understatement.

But ever the planners, Mom and I had a Plan B-get on the next soonest Amtrak train to New Haven. We knew exactly what to do as soon as we pulled into Penn Station:
  • Get checked baggage
  • Get new train ticket
  • EAT!
In that order. That's exactly what we did. It went seamlessly. We were scheduled to get on the 6:00pm Amtrak (instead of our original 3:30pm) to New Haven. We ate dinner as fast as humanly possible and anxiously got to The Board, where everyone is crowding around, ready to take off the moment they see their track number. 

5:50pm...still no track number
6:00pm...we should be departing, but still not track number

(Meanwhile the entire time, I was in full obsession about my bag being too big and had reverted to pre-breakfast disaster attitude...)

The announcements explains: Due to power outages and difficulties, some Amtrak trains are being delayed indefinitely.

Mom and I looked at each other, panicked. 
"What are we going to do???"
Then Mom said, "What about a limobus?"
To which I patiently answered, "What the FUCK is a limobus???"
Then, a notion struck me. Something I had done years prior when I attempted this same trip ON BUS. I shrieked, "Let's take the MetroNorth! Let's take the motherfucking subway to Grand Central!"

Mom, being nervous about the subway, was a good sport and agreed. We followed the signs, I went to the information desk about which subway to take to Grand Central and through her choppy answer, I felt confident. Hell, I had been to NYC many times by myself. I raced over to the MetroCard Machine, got two single ride tickets. 

Then, I realized my over-sized bag (what was becoming the bane of my existence on this trip) might not fit through the turnstile. Mom suggested picking it up over the turnstile, but I was convinced it would go through just fine with both our cards. I think we all know where this is leading...

End my confidence and begin complete and utter panic for the next 30 minutes (although it seemed like an eternity). My bag was stuck. Like STUCK stuck. And it was RUSH HOUR. In New Motherfucking York! I basically wanted to die. I felt I already was-of panic, of heat exhaustion, of sheer humiliation. Mom went to tell the information desk lady, who instructed my mom to go through the emergency exit. Mom was a vision as she appeared on the other side of the turnstile, but that relief lasted mere moments, because she was alone.

Mom: "No one is coming, I don't think the woman understood that you were stuck!"
Me: "Well someone needs to come help! This is a NIGHTMARE!"

Mom later told me the woman originally asked if Mom needed the police! We watch enough Law & Order: SVU to know the NYPD has bigger fish to fry than my stupid suitcase. Finally, someone came to help and I was free! We hustled to the subway platform, where I had a sinking feeling we were going in the wrong direction and the random stranger my mother asked confirmed it. So down subway steps with The Bag From Hell...up subway steps...down...up...finally we are on the right platform, going the right direction when...TRAIN DELAYED. Fuck, fuck, FUCK.

I'm completely drenched in sweat at this point, my mother is literally throwing bottles of water and OJ at me to keep from passing out. I scream, "Let's just take a cab to Grand Central!" Up more stairs...

Except, instead of being in front of Penn Station where one can find a lines of taxis waiting, we were on some random street. During rush hour. In New York City. (I feel it's important to keep reminding you of those facts.) We were wandering aimlessly and directionless down streets and I was weeping. Just openly sobbing in the streets of New York and, of course, no one batted an eye.

At one point, Mom asked if I told my friend, who we had asked to pick us up from the train station at 7:45pm (it's now after 7:00pm), that we weren't on the train and not to bother. I hadn't. FUUUUCK. By sheer luck or cosmic intervention, Mom reminded me and I called my friend just as she was getting into her car to pick us up. The us walking aimlessly around New York City, nowhere near New Haven! The us frantic and panicked! The us keeping things together (Mom) and falling apart (me). I was barely coherent when she answered the phone as I cried, "We're still in New York! This is a nightmare!"

Finally, we get directions from a passerby on how to get to the front of Penn Station and our mecca of taxis awaits us. We walked up to one and the driver says (I kid you not...), "Your bag is over-sized." Neurons in my brain were popping and firing and it took everything in my body and soul not to flip the fuck out. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME??? YOU ARE A TAXI DRIVER. YOU HAVE NO NARROW AISLES FOR MY BAG TO GET DOWN. YOU DON'T HAVE A WEIGHT MAXIMUM. I DON'T HAVE TO LIFT MY BAG UP OVER MY HEAD TO STOW. That's what happened in my head. In reality, I said nothing but my face said it all.

Thankfully, he must have taken pity on us, because he (effortlessly, I might add) packed my suitcase in the trunk and drove us to Grand Central. We made it with enough time to get on the 7:34pm train to New Haven. As soon as Mom and I sat down, we looked at each other (her looking perfect, me resembling Nick Nolte's mugshot) and started laughing hysterically.

Needless to say, before making the (gratefully uneventful) trip back to South Carolina, I bought two smaller bags and left the big one to be brought home in Dad's truck in October. #overit


*Title credit: Song: "The Ballad of Paladin" written by Johnny Western, Richard Boone, and Sam Rolfe in 1962

Sunday, July 19, 2015


Life is messy sometimes. You feel helpless and useless and confused a lot of the time. Problems and challenges arise you never imagined would, then strength and resiliency appear you had no idea existed. You find yourself thinking you are weak, small, insignificant, and unworthy. Then something way bigger than you happens and you think to yourself, Wow, everything I have worried about until now has been in vain or due to possible inconvenience. I haven't really known pain or worry on such an absolutely real level before.

What I'm learning is strength doesn't have to be something you know you possess and carry with you at all times. It doesn't have to be something you flaunt or something you prove yourself with. Strength can (and usually is) subtle, quiet, unassuming. It's sort of like vanilla extract in your cupboard; there when you need it, but usually reserved for special occasions.

Strength and resiliency is something most of us don't think we have enough of, but yet we are here-fighting the good fight, pushing through pain, and coming out on the other side. We don't stop to give ourselves enough credit, nor do we acknowledge our healthy coping skills. We chalk it up to many variations of "I had no choice, but to push through" and don't stop to say, "I really showed my strength, my resiliency, my will in that situation."

At a time where we are constantly told we aren't "enough" (by media, employers, our own inner dialogue...), there is no better time to embrace our strength than when we see it working in full swing. Embrace it. Appreciate it. Love it. Honor it.

There is an interesting and empowering movement happening right now which some may already be familiar. "Project Semicolon is a faith-based non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction and self-injury. Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love and inspire" as their website states. Their vision is powerful and reminds me just how important it is to embrace strength and resiliency, even when you feel you have little to give. Little is still some. Little is still someTHING. Little is more than nothing.

I know this post is short and about 2 weeks late, but there are important reasons why. I will be back in full swing soon. I leave you with this quote from one of my favorite poems by one of my eternal spirit guides: "Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou.


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Always the Ex-Girlfriend, Never the Bride

Hi. My name is Melissa and I am a love addict.
Hi Melissa.

I have been intentionally uninvolved in romantic relationships for about a year. This is the longest I have gone-in adulthood-so it was very new...and strange..and lonely. Very lonely. The idea of being intentionally uninvolved arose after I realized my relationship-jumping was leaving visible marks on the people I was with. I was tornado-ing into their lives, turning things upside down, and then hurricane-ing back out just as quickly. I wasn't being practical, instead I was allowing my "hopeless romantic" side get the best of me, even when there were red flags nearly popping out and punching me in the face!

My self-esteem (which I think we can all agree is fairly critical when dating) has always been somewhere on the scale between low and medium, making it easy to accept things I don't want to accept, later breeding resentment and bitterness. I essentially have the perfect recipe for relationship disaster, if anyone wants it. Pens ready?
  • 15 Cups unrealistic expectations
  • 5 Cups of "love can conquer all" attitude
  • 10 Cups martyrdom
  • 9 Cups seething resentment gone unchecked
  • 5 Cups of jealousy, insecurity, and anxiety mixture (pre-made from previous relationships)
  • 2 Cups of each (optional): financial issues, location issues, living environment differences, and scheduling conflicts.
  • Pour into bag, make sure bag is open on one end, and twirl around until everything in your sight is covered.  
You're welcome.

So, to say I needed some time to reflect and reevaluate is an understatement. I didn't want to do any more harm to myself, or anyone else for that matter. I instituted a year of celibacy. No dates, no hook-ups, no sex, no friends with benefits. Nothing. And it was first.

After a few months of loneliness, the thrill was gone. And I began creating scenarios in my head of a future life with former crushes, high school sweethearts, anybody really. I'm not proud of this, but it deserves its place, because that is what popped the balloon I have carried with me since my first date at age 15: The Fantasy Balloon.

The Fantasy Balloon is something, I believe, we all carry with us. And it doesn't necessarily have to be about romantic relationships. Some might view this balloon as the answers to their problems with parents, siblings, career, addiction, ANYTHING. It's that certain something that keeps us denying the truth about ourselves. Denying there is an quick fix or perfect person to make everything better. For me, my Fantasy Balloon was filled with ideas about "The One."

This harken back to my high school days spent writing pages upon pages of criteria my "dream boyfriend" would fulfill. They would be kind and smart (but not pretentious) and funny (but the right kind of funny) and attractive and compassionate and...the list goes on...literally for-fucking-ever. It's unrealistic, yet I held on tighter with each relationship ending. A few months into my celibacy, it popped and after dragging the remains around for a few more weeks, I let go.

You may be asking: What exactly does this mean? Are you through with dating? Do you no longer believe in "The One"? WHAT IS HAPPENING, MELISSA?! TELL US!!

My answer is I don't know. And I'm okay with that. Uncertainty is becoming my friend and I am embracing her winning charm and his incomparable humor. What I do know is I am no longer bogged down by the idea that I have to search for "The One." I know plenty of people who have "The One" in their lives and are incredibly (if not annoyingly so...kidding!) happy. I also know plenty of people who believe they are with "The One" and face nothing but shit-storms of constant unhappiness. This leads me to believe that it really comes down to individual belief and, therefore, I need to come up with my own definition of love, dating, "The One", marriage, etc. I am not ready to do that.

What I am ready to do is begin dating again and I intend to do that Alanis-style. I recently watched an interview with Alanis Morissette and Oprah on Super Soul Sunday where Alanis discussed her own love addiction and how she finally broke that cycle by taking one year off from dating (check!) and one year to date casually. Well don't mind if I do. I have never dated casually, not even in high school. Everyone I ever went on a date with turned into a relationship. I would love to know what it's like to have dates without expectations. I imagine my Fantasy Balloon will try to re-inflate itself very quickly and I suspect many learning experiences to abound, maybe even some face plants, before I get it right. Thankfully my self-esteem is slowly rising from medium to high-adjacent...stay tuned, as I anticipate this next phase to be quite blog-worthy!


Thursday, July 2, 2015

I Am Exactly The Person That I Want To Be

I am fat.

Many of you may be experiencing a knee-jerk reaction to say:
  • "No, you're not!" 
  • "You're perfect the way you are!"   
  • "It's only temporary!" 
And many other well-intentioned things my mother has said when I'm in a shame spiral about my body image. (But maybe some of you are thinking, "Yeah, you are.") Either way, I am not saying the words "I am fat" to gain attention, fish for compliments, or drag myself through a fitting room meltdown. I am stating it as fact. I am neutral about this statement. I see these three words as describing part of my being, not defining it. To understand how I came to accept this seemingly simple fact, one must have some understanding of my journey.


This is new for me. I have hidden (or at least attempted to) my weight and weight issues as long as I can remember. In middle and high school, I wore baggy jeans and large tops to hide my stomach-the FORMER bane of my existence. Thank goodness I came of age in the grunge era!

It was in middle school I unknowingly started what would become a lifelong battle of eating disorders, namely Non-purging Bulimia and Binge-Eating Disorder (BED). My first "paycheck" from babysitting at age 12 was eagerly spent on three packages of Pepperidge Farm cookies and crackers. I excitedly raced home on foot, the anticipatory high fueling me, making a 20-minute walk fly by. I closed and locked my bedroom door and spread the packages out in front of me before ravenously attacking, shoving handfuls of carbs into my mouth. The immediate sugar rush and excitement of doing something "taboo" was enough to sell me. Proving, to me, that food addiction is as serious as any other. Needless to say, I was hooked for life.

From that pivotal moment, my dysfunctional relationship with food took many forms:
  • Ages 12-17; compulsive overeating/excessive exercise (i.e. Non-purging Bulimia) interspersed with just plain compulsive overeating (i.e. BED).
  • Ages 17-21; compulsive overeating; weight fluctuates between 135 lbs and 200 lbs/size 6-18.
  • Ages 21-28; very little compulsive overeating; weight settles between 145 lbs and 160 lbs/size 8-12.
  • Ages 28-present; spike in compulsive overeating; weight steadily increasing from 140 lbs/size 8 to 200 lbs/size 18.

At age 21, I experienced a turning point in my disorder, one that I've lost track of in recent years. The turning point came upon me by accident. I was perusing for books on diets and the latest fads, when I came across a book that offered me insight to my disease, but more importantly insight to something called self-empowerment.

I am not a paid sponsor for or the authors of this book, BUT if you want to purchase this gem, you can do so here. This book encourages those who suffer from Binge-Eating Disorder, to say a big "Fuck You" to the insatiable diet industry and reclaim our bodies. It was revolutionary to me. This book allowed me to eat again. The authors gave me the permission I was so desperately craving (pun intended). These women were telling me to eat WHATEVER I WANTED and assured me, in time, my body would naturally find its way back to its original and comfortable state. And it did.

This book, coupled with the slew of women's and media studies courses I took my last year of college, made me recognize my inner feminist. That fat was a feminist issue. Thank you, Susie Orbach

Taking control back reminded me that I was in charge of my body image and what it said about and to me. But, like everyone, I hit tough times in my late 20's and my disease is an opportunistic bitch. She is cunning, permitting me one pint of Ben & Jerry's to ease the pain of heartache or quiet the anxiety of career uncertainty. She held on through failed attempts to "diet myself" into a jump-start. To trick my body into remembering how free it was not thinking about food constantly. To encourage my excessive exercising in an effort to compensate for my binges.

This setback was a blow to the progress I had made as a feminist and "ex-dieter." I was shocked at how quickly I could revert old habits, thinking I was somehow "above that." It was humbling, to say the least. My body image took a plunge, my self-esteem nose-dived, and I was practically back where I had started.

Having the past month to reflect, has granted me time to take stock of the things that matter most. Family, friends, travel, adventure, love, kissing, books, water, strawberries, cook-outs, parades, hugs. And guess what? It doesn't matter if I am a size 6 or 26, I can (and will!) enjoy life. It's not easy getting out of the "I'll do that when I lose 20 lbs" mindset. It's not easy, BUT it's not impossible. I am reclaiming my body, my voice, and my feminism (with a side of wit and sarcasm!).

While this has been my journey, I realize many others have successfully come to the same conclusion while choosing diet or lifestyle changes, whether it be a food or fitness plan. I commend and applaud those who are able to travel that road and maintain their sense of self and positive body image along the way. Though there are many roads to empowering ourselves, the end result is essentially the same: self-love, self-care, and self-respect.

Unfortunately, my brain (from experience) has permanently enmeshed dieting/weight loss plans with immediate rebellion and binging. I am even super careful not to use the empowering self idea as a way to "trick" my brain into losing weight. I am 12 years older from the first time I chose body acceptance and I may not garner the same physical results. Truthfully, I don't really care! If I never lose another pound, but I can face myself in the mirror everyday and say I love who I am, I love how I treat myself (my WHOLE self), then that is fucking fabulous.

I leave you with a song I listen to every single day. It is my anthem. It is my support group. It is my therapy. This song reminds me that NOW is the time I should be concerned with and that "20 lbs from now" is not a date I can circle on the calendar.


*Title creditL: Song "In My Mind" released by Amanda Palmer feat. Brian Viglione in 2011