Honesty 2016

At the beginning of this year, I skipped the typical resolutions and, instead, decided to choose a word I wanted to live by for 2016.

I wound up on "honesty"a supremely challenging word for me but which, as I look back on now, was far more beneficial than I could have imagined.  

I learned many things along the way, but the most poignant was how being honest forced me to live and be an honest version of myself.  This, of course, is not to say I have been lying about who I am. Rather that (as I think everybody tends to do to some extent) I edit bits and parts of myself depending upon to whom I speak.  

But I stopped doing that in a number of big ways this year, and while it was terrifying and difficult, the results I encountered have been something I've been reflecting on for some time.

It started just being more honest about "little" things: if I had to back out of a planned outing, saying it was due to my chronic illness or not feeling well, instead of covering up for it in some way or another. I worked on being more open with people close to me, trying to express a little bit more of my thoughts and my self than I normally would. I no longer said "I'm fine" if I wasn't, worked very hard not to say "That's okay" if it isn't, and generally tried to be more forthcoming.

As this progressed, and I grew more familiar with living more honestly, I realized it was about far more than being honest for/to other people. I had thought being honest would only be a pathway for people to get to know be better, understand more things. And while it most certainly was, the biggest thing I took away from it was the freedom it gave to myself. Being open and vulnerable showed me exactly how "comfortably" I had lived for so longwhich isn't a bad thing. It is self-survival and protection, an absolutely necessary for all people and me during that time. Before this year, I did not have the skills and the growth and the support which allowed me to jump into all of this; I have been working toward this for years. 

I thought, by the end of the year, maybe I'd be less afraid of being vulnerable and have a desire to be more honest with people. This might be true to some degree; I want to continue trying to be honest and it is still more terrifying than not. But what I never expected was to be more OK with me. Yes, most people accepted me and it feels AMAZING and, yes, some didn't really and that hurts--but, regardless of these outcomes, I had begun to live a truer version of myself. And, in doing so, I have found more peace within myselfwith who I amthan I could have ever expected. 

It's like it removed the question of it all. Can I still be loved if I am still me? If I say what I think and feel? And this is the answer: yes. And, also: no. Other peoples' love and acceptance has given me so much, but there are some who have had trouble accepting who I've become and what I believe. But now I don't have to be curious about them anymore, I don't have to wonder. It feels backwards but living honestly has helped me to  see how sad it ishow it is about them and not me. I has made me less afraid of myself and more capable of telling them I am proud of who I have become.

This little word has set me free in many ways, many of which I had absolutely no idea how, or to the extent, it could. But credit does also go to those who have not only let me speak, but also heard me. Who have understood my fear. Who saw my vulnerability under comments/texts/words that  most people would not realize were so fragile and connected to me, and met them with caring hands. It's because of your love, which continues to helps teach me to love myself, that I have the courage to keep living an honest life long past 2016.

Just Sarah

I moved across the country 9 months ago. It has been a wonderful adventure and I am happy here, but damn is it hard to make friends as an adult.

("Adult", she types, while wearing her Grinch pajamas).

I have always had trouble making friends, honestly. People seem to have a hard time believing this because I tend to come across as an extrovert, or because I'm "likable" (as some kind acquaintances have reassured me). However, for whatever reason, I've always struggled with it.

I'm sure part of it has to do with my revolutionary communication skills; I'm just a hair below "Plants" in that area (but well above "Inanimate Objects" thankyouverymuch). As well as my tendency to keep things private. My difficulty with, and sensitivity to, vulnerability, skews things I think. i.e. from what people have explained, I tend to think I have been very open when, as it turns out, I haven't revealed nearly as much as I thought. And being an extroverted introvert doesn't quite move things along either. I prefer being alone, I *need* to be alone to recharge with my chronic illnesses, and I'm pretty sure I have a bit of social anxiety (none of which may be obvious to most people).

Back home, it took me 10 years but I made some really amazing friends that I was OK and excited to leave my house to hang out with! So I have been trying to put myself out there a bit more here and meet new people. Because the friends I do have are incredible, and I do enjoy being connected to people even though I'm like, 85% hermit.

Anyway, a girl I met here invited me to go hiking with her next weekend and, aside from my typical anxiety, I am excited! I love hikes. I love nature and adventure. This girl is hilarious and kind and smart and one of the good ones.

But, then I found out that the hike is 6 miles long... I can't hike 6 miles. I can't walk 6 miles. I can barely walk 1.

On a whole, I feel I've adjusted to my chronic illnesses well. I'm respecting my limitations, sometimes I can even appreciate them. And I'm not ashamed of my illnesses by any means, but when I found out the hike was 6 miles, I broke down into big crocodile tears while sitting on my couch.

I know this girl would be totally understanding of my limits. I know all I would have to say is, "I'm not sure I can hike that far" or even go further and explain why. And she would happily find us another, shorter route and it all would be good.

But I don't want to tell her. I don't want to tell her because it's been nice being here and having people see me outside of my illnesses. Of them not knowing. Of feeling well enough I can come across as a somewhat typical 30 year-old extroverted introvert with communication skills that rival ferns. Of feeling like I'm Just Sarah and not Sarah Who Has to Weigh Every Single Thing She Does Every Single Day  Or Else.

So, I don't know. I don't know where I was going with this. If I was really going anywhere at all. At least, no where other than it makes me sad. It makes me sad that I can't just go on a 6 mile hike like most people might be able to. It makes me sad that I have to weigh out these conversations with people. It makes me sad that—even though it's OK I have these illnesses, that I am lucky in so many ways, that I CAN go hike—I'm a different Sarah than I used to be.

And, don't get me wrong, I like who I am now. I really do. And it will be better tomorrow. I will process it, I will be able to tell her of my limitations. And it will be a great hike with a potential new friend.

But, tonight, I want to pretend—for a little bit longer—that I'm Just Sarah.

A Letter to My Body

Dear Body,

It wasn't you, it was me.

I know it sounds cliché, but I guess cliché doesn't necessarily make things less true. So, really, in complete seriousness:

It wasn't you, it was me.

All you have ever done was love me. Protect me. Aid me in self-expression and spirit. Without you I wouldn't have spent years on the soccer pitch feeling invincible. I wouldn't have gotten the closest I can to flying with gymnastics. I wouldn't have kicked Jared's ass in jousting in 5th grade. I wouldn't have been able to discover a new love for snowboarding, laugh properly using my whole self, run just to see how fast I could go. I wouldn't have been able to hug Joe before he died or take Niyadog on so many walks and adventures after waiting for her for 21 years.

It is not like we haven't had our struggles. Our other chronic illnesses are a daily battle now, I still often wrestle with my mind, and I know I get angry with you sometimes, but none of it is your fault. I think I pushed you too hard for too long when the only thing you have ever done is tried give me everything—and so much of what I asked for was so unfair.

It wasn't you. It was me. There were things about myself I didn't like, fears and feelings I couldn't handle. I wanted to be so much—everything and nothing at all. And the depression didn't help. My mind and it's miswiring. There was just so much I didn't understandbright and heavy colors or feelings or pains that built up and soon expanded or melted (I don't really know) into hatred. I was mad at you for not being what I wanted you to be, for what I thought I needed you to be. And I didn't know how else to deal with it. I thought if you and I could just do a little bit more—on the inside and the outside—things would get fixed. I thought that because I felt so ugly on the inside, that if I could be beautiful on the outside, some of that would seep through. That I would be happy.

And you tried. You tried so hard because you remembered all those summers we spent running through sprinklers and playing tennis against the chipped garage door. You tried because you loved the hike we took to the top of a 14,000 ft mountain, the boys we made swear during hockey. You tried because when we spent those nights in the backyard, kicking the soccerball against the wall, it felt like the universe had shrunk. That the culmination of time and stardust was this simple and beautiful moment: late afternoons (some laden with crickets, some heavy with the Colorado winter) dropping into dusk, dusk fading further until house-corner floodlights popped on, the constant often-rhythmic snap of grass beneath feet after a chip, or a particularly sound kick echoing against the mountains. The stars and the night and a girl and her dreams.

You tried so hard because you wanted it back. You wanted me back. But I hated you. You had done nothing but help me chase my ambitions, love me, and yet I hated you because I was in so much pain.

Even more, you tried to tell me. So many times in so many different ways, and I didn't listen. At first, gently prodding me about our limitations, how they aren't bad—how heeding them would mean we could do more together. That if we took care of each other we could take on the world. You tried so hard, prodding giving way to pleading, but I didn't listen; I didn't want to hear it. So you continued on as best as you could. Struggling to give me everything when I gave you nothing.

I am sorry.

It is a love I didn't completely understand. One I still don't. Especially considering how I spent so much of my life destroying you. And even though I have tried my best to remedy this, some days I still find myself saying things I think I mean. I still get angry or hurt or I am overwhelmed with feeling. And you wait patiently, knowing I will find my way back. Because the truth is you are powerful and so strong and maybe that scares me a little sometimes.

So, no matter what, I will fight. I have fought for 9 years and I will keep fighting just as you have fought for me. And I promise I will keep trying to listen, even if it's hard for me to hear at times, because all of my favorite memories exist because of you. As are, I know, all my favorite memories to come.

Love,
Sarah

Finding Therapy

Can I just take a moment to talk about how absurd it is to find a therapist?

Not to be mistaken for going to therapy, because that’s one of the bravest, smartest things anyone can do. But the act of actually finding a therapist.

This is, of course, skimming past the insane courage it takes to accept you might be dealing with The Thing, as well as the courage to actually go TALK to someone about The Thing. Especially when society tells you to ignore or be ashamed of it. That The Thing is something you can out-think, ignore, or beat on your own like, you know, diabetes and asthma and cancer!

...

Ok, ranty blog about that mentality (as well a blog regarding the courage it takes to seek therapy) will happen some other time. Right now, background info: I moved across the country a few months ago. Back in my home state, after a few bad eggs (oh wow, that’s another great blog post... therapy is good, I swear!), I found this spunky god-send of a therapist. She was respectful, understanding, smart and funny as hell. And cool shit can happen when you find a therapist like her. I’m like, almost a fully-functioning adult now!

In all seriousness, she probably saved my life. And I think therapy often needs to be ongoing – especially if you’re someone like me who has The Thing (#1 – 4). There’s nothing wrong with that, that’s just how I was made. Yes, some days it’s harder for me to accept them, but I’m doing pretty damn well for where I am and I’m proud of that. Regardless, I think the brain needs a check-up just (if not, especially) like other parts of the body. Afterall, the brain *is* another part of the body, an organ like the heart, yeah? So, sometimes I needed to see my therapist once a week for a while and other times I was in a good spot and spent years without seeing her at all.

Anyway, I moved. And my therapist wouldn’t move with me (le sigh), so I figured I would have to find a new one eventually. And since past therapy has helped me learn a lot about my own mind, eventually has become now.

Thus, the absurdity of finding a therapist. Because, if you’re not lucky to have recommendations (which can still be a "let's wing it" deal) then, really, your only other option seems to be where I am right now.

On Google.

Yep. I am looking for a person with whom I can entrust the deepest most uncomfortable parts of myself in the land of cat memes and Kim Kardashian’s ass. It's sort of counter-intuitive if not downright scary. But I put my blinders on and threw a couple operative words in the search bar like: not-sucky psychologist/therapist, in (my area of the world), The Thing (#1 – 4).

That’s really kind of it. And, by the power of Google, all these names pop up and, essentially, you’re looking for a god damned brain surgeon on the internets.

Which, if you're me, looks something like this:

Dr. Emelle Shauvhausen! That's a fun name! How do I even pronounce that? Em-EEL? Em-me-LEE?

Fitszy MacBaggins? Okay, either a hobbit or a stripper. Got it.

Dr. Skiddlywink Fartsypoops. I… I don’t even…

Some of them have little blurbs or websites, which definitely helps you get the sense of them a bit – what they might focus their work on, how they approach therapy, the types of therapy they use. But, if you’re like me, that can just make you even more obsess-y about it:

ok, Dr. Shauvhausen uses CBT, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – that's like, all the rage these days, right? But Miss MacBaggins uses a psychodynamic approach. That sounds fun, but it doesn’t have an acronym. WHAT IF I NEED ACRONYM LEVEL HELP?!

Speaking of acronyms, they always have two or three after their names and I rarely know what they stand for. I mean, M.S. Yes, Masters of Science. But in what? My friend has a Masters of Science in Engineering, I'm not so sure how much that will help when I'm blubbering about my dog or something, you know? Psy.D, ok... I recognize that one. LMFTWTF... how is that different from an M.S. or a Psy.D? What if I'm at Ph.D. level neuroses? Damnit, why don't I speak the Rotakas language? They only have like, 12 letters in their entire alphabet!

Eventually, I'm not going to lie, you resort to pictures. I’m not proud of it, but honestly – what else is there to do? Miss MacBaggins has a kind smile but large, hairy hobbit feet – no judgment here, but good to know I guess. Dr. Fartsypoops has kind eyes but a fancy haircut. I am not a fancy hair cut kind of person. What if our approach to haircuts clash and things don’t work out?

In summary, finding a therapist is kind of ridiculous. I’ve been thinking there has to be a better way to do it, but I haven’t been able come up with anything. I imagine calling to chat to get the sense of who he/she is might be helpful assuming you aren't like me and avoid phonecalls at all costs. I also know some therapists have a ‘first session is free’ type deal since that’s usually you both getting comfortable with each other and seeing if it works out anyway. But, honestly, even if we came up with some other way of finding a therapist, it’s going to be scary no matter what, isn’t it? I mean, hell, I’m scared and I know ­– first hand – how much therapy can actually help.

So, short story long, I’ve had these three therapists on my phone for a week. I’ve looked through their pictures and read their blurbs over and over. And really, what it comes down to is I’m going to have to choose one and then I’m going to have to get in my car, drive to an office, meet a stranger, talk about The Things, and see if I even like the person. And that sucks, because therapy is hard enough as it is. It is hard and uncomfortable and exhausting. But so is fighting demons. And, frankly, I have too much awesome life to live to keep putting this off.

SO, I am sending an email to Dr. Fartsypoops (shockingly, not her real name) because she looks very kind and I like what her blurbs had to say.

And, also, because her office is in “a brick house”, which immediately led to singing/imagining a montage of me walking to therapy in a 70’s velour track suit belting The Commodores song.

Whatever is a deciding factor right?!

J.D. knows what's up!

Can I Get a Punchpass Please?

So, my health has been less than stellar the past couple weeks. Thankfully, it's been somewhat manageable (I've been able to bathe, fix myself simple meals, etc.) but it hasn't allowed for a lot of that necessary extraneous energy that helps keep homes in a livable state and silly things like that.

I was diagnosed with another chronic illness at the end of December (which I'm still processing) and whether that ties in to how cruddy I've felt, I don't know. I doubt it, because I've probably been dealing with this issue for years. But, regardless, I've decided I would just like a punchpass on my chronic illnesses if I could, please.

I think most people with chronic illnesses probably would, honestly. In fact, if we could have a quota, that would be super awesome. "I'm sorry, potential new illness. I already have two illnesses with slightly mind-numbing pain, so we're all stocked up here!" or "Hello, new unknown hurt - I already one illness with I-want-to-shit-my-pants pain so if you could just move along, that'd be awesome!"

But it doesn't work out like that.

And, more importantly, rarely do people with chronic illnesses generally allow themselves to think like that.

We're the grin and bear it types (and we often pride ourselves for that). We're the types who are in-tune with the world, more so than most, that we can still see how good we have it. We can rationalize that some people are dealing with cancer, some people don't have warm beds to nap in, some people don't have legs to even ache.

And while this is an exceptional mindset to have and take with us, I think some days we just need to look at the hand we've been dealt and allow ourselves to be pissed off about it. It may not be the worst hand ever. There may be millions of other people who were dealt more variations/amounts of crap than us. But that doesn't (nor should it) take away the fact that this is still our reality. We are still in pain. We are still suffering in our own ways, too. And to deny that, to ourselves or to others, does not serve anything.

I'm a big advocate of "giving up". I wasn't always this way, though. In fact, I was probably as far on the other side of the spectrum as one could possibly go; when life knocked me into the shit I always bounced back up immediately. Because I am stubborn. Because "that's what strong people do". Because lying around feeling sorry for myself wasn't going to fix anything. And while some of these may be true, constantly getting knocked down and immediately standing back up again is ex.haus.ting. Mentally, physically, and emotionally. And it took me a long long long LONG while to realize that, on some occasions, I had to give myself permission to stop and lie in that pile of shit. To say, "Dude, I'm in a pile of shit right now. And this shit sucks. I am not happy about this shit."

Because how can I accept my situation if I don't ever fully acknowledge it? If I don't let myself feel, to the very depths and ends of my feelers, the emotions I have about it?

And you know what? I know, at some point, I'm going to get back up again. That's just what I do. That's just how I'm made. But I have to honor the part of me, the feelings I have, that aren't always so warm and fuzzy and positive about my chronic illnesses. I have to let myself lie in the shit and look at the stars and bitch and moan a little bit while I renew my strength so that, when I am ready to get up and fight again, I will have a new place to start from. I won't have to carry buried resentment I might have for these illnesses, because I'm already shouldering enough weight carrying the illnesses themselves.

So, I'm holding up my punchpass for today. It's my wee little white flag that says, "SEE THE PUNCHPASS, CHRONIC ILLNESSES? OFF. LIMIIIITS." followed by a menagerie of colorful language. Maybe I will hold it up for a couple days even, I don't know. Because I'm frustrated. Because these chronic illnesses suck and I'm pissed at them. I'm pissed I have a new one added to my list that I have to worry about. I'm pissed because I'm stuck and I don't feel well and fighting all the time is exhausting. So, yes, I'm gonna go over here and grumble and bitch for a while, shake off the chips on my shoulders, and then at some point I'm sure -- I'm not that concerned about it -- get back up and kick some more ass.

Because that's just what we do. That's just how we're made. Especially when we've given ourselves permission to feel what we need to feel about it.