St. Louis ComicCon is fast becoming a yearly tradition for me. My good friend,Ginny Kruta, gets a booth out there to sell her chain maille nerdery and I help her out and get to spend time with her and mingle with all things geek for a few days. This time David Tennant (10th Doctor), Matt Smith (11th Doctor), and James Marsters (Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) were top on my list to meet at ComicCon. And oh yes I did thanks to Ginny. This year my pilgrimage was darkened by some situations at home. I’d been doubting myself for months, trying to reshape the very core of who I am to fit into an image others insisted was better. I became terrified to speak up, laugh, get excited, or even share what was on my mind. I was so consumed with worrying about how I was being perceived, I quietly spiraled into the Dark Place (I’ve delved into that place in several posts here). Going to ComicCon was to be a break from holding my mental breath, but even there I fidgeted constantly and was on edge. My state of mind wasn’t helped by a giant stye (EWWW GROSS) that made an appearance just for the weekend, sat directly under my eyelid, hurt like fire, and was bad enough to almost fully close my eye at one point (I should have bought a black eye patch and run with it, but that’s hindsight for you).  That was until Saturday.

Saturday Ginny and I met The Doctors and I danced with Deadpool.

On our way to find protective sleeves for our pictures with The Doctors an upbeat song began playing; I don’t even remember the song, but I remember it made me want to drop everything and dance. And then there was a Deadpool cosplayer strolling up the aisle. I admit to not having seen the movie. My fellow nerds praised it, but knowing I’m not one to favor vulgarity, nudity, and sexually explicit material, they warned me to steer clear and take their word it was a well-done film. Anyway, there I was – with my hands chaotic with disorganized items – and I began to sway to the music. And there was a Deadpool, walking toward me, swaying as well. He began to dance, something ridiculously old-fashioned and goofy. In that moment I had a choice: walk on or dance.

I danced. Clumsy, goofy, awkward me danced with Deadpool in the middle of ComicCon. And my friend (who has the patience of a saint when dealing with me) didn’t balk or ridicule. The freedom in ignoring the crowd that built up around us to be in the moment was exhilarating. In those few minutes I soared. I soared above my thoughts, above my worries, above all the people who were telling me I was wrong for being me. And it was spectacular. When I came to my senses, I turned to Ginny and asked if I did, indeed, see cameras out in the circle that had gather around us. Yes, yes I had. Somewhere on the internet there’s video of me dancing a ridiculous dance with a cosplayer. And that’s fine. It’s probably the least flattering angle ever and I probably look like I’m having a seizure more than actually dancing, but for once, I don’t care. It was necessary. In that moment it was completely necessary.

Because in that brief span of time I thumbed my nose at the naysayers and those who’re far too critical in the short life we live. I defied my own hangups and self-doubt and did something “just because”. And in that goofy event I learned a simple, but profound lesson: it’s okay to be unabashedly you.

Sometimes you have to dance with Deadpool.

Touching the Sacred

Posted: January 23, 2016 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I haven’t slept well lately. Maybe it’s because of the anticipation of what today meant, maybe it’s because of all the stress. Maybe it’s a combination of both. Whatever the reason, I’m tired more than usual and only want to crawl into bed until Monday (okay, let’s be honest, I’d stay in bed on Monday if I didn’t have to work). Last night was an especially sleepless night for a couple reasons- 1. I stayed at my parents’ and stayed up late to spend time with my mom and 2. all the noises that creep into their loft where I “slept” are magnified and strange to my ears, which are accustomed to less indoor noise and more muffled, distant city noises. I spent the night at my parents’ house, because a couple of the brotherhood from my church were meeting me there early this morning to move a bed frame across town to my place.

A bed frame. Heavy, solid wood, simple, beautiful. Four posts, light colored wood (I have no idea what kind of wood). It’s nothing like anything I would pick out for myself, yet here I sit with this bed frame set up in my bedroom, almost in tears, again. Over a bed frame.

The bed frame was my grandmother’s for the past 8 – 9 years (my mother corrected my intitial time of 17 – 18 years, because that’s what moms are for) and before this one, she owned a darker version of it that dates back before my childhood. Those two nearly identical frames – four posts, a shining, polished ball at the top of each post, high headboard, and heavy – are part of my grandmother. They’re part of every memory I have of her. Until a couple days ago, I didn’t know the frame of my memories was actually two, instead of one. So, for the sake of this post, it’s The Bed Frame. When my mom asked if I wanted it, I didn’t hesitate to say, “Yes.” Gramma had to move from her beautiful The Bed Frame to a hospital bed after a fall and it was going to sit unused in my parents’ garage. I said yes to a frame I hadn’t really ever consciously thought about, but has held me in a type of embrace the past 29 years I couldn’t explain until my mom and I talked last night. As we looked at The Bed Frame in the garage – the first time I’ve ever not seen it whole – I told her my longest kept secret. The tears flowed.

My earliest memory that doesn’t involve being terrified is sneaking into my Gramma’s bedroom, in her house just outside Detroit, while everyone was somewhere else, doing other things. It was the first time in my tiny life I hadn’t felt fear. Childhood was a living nightmare and we escaped. Somehow, by the grace of God Almighty, we escaped. I closed the door just enough to leave a ray of light glimpsing through the dark of her room. I didn’t want anyone to see me. And I stood at the foot of the bed and touched the left post. Hugged the post in my tiny, frail arms, reaching my hand to that shiny ball at the top of the post to caress it like someone would caress the cheek of someone deeply loved. My mom says I was four.

Throughout the years I would sneak into Gramma’s room and stand at the foot of the bed and touch that one post. Always the same post. As time passed and I grew, holding that post and running my fingers lightly over that ball became easier, but never less necessary. And it was necessary. As if I weren’t really there, safe, wanted, and belonging until I touched that post. Never with the light on, not unless I had been sent in there by Gramma herself to get something for her, and even those errands were a chance to delicately run my fingers over that post. Walking in there was like walking on hallowed ground. It was a peaceful place of comforting smells, quiet, darkness that didn’t hurt, and a bed that held my beloved Gramma who hugged me and laughed and played jokes on us with her false teeth and fed me salami, cheese, and mustard sandwiches and taught me to play Skip-Bo. In my little girl mind I didn’t know the word ‘sacred’. But I knew the feeling of peace and love and reverence and contentment and belonging. That post was a spot where I could stand and, for a moment, breathe deep of something pure. It was the spot where I touched the sacred for the first time. And I felt as if I belonged somewhere. I felt wanted. I felt sacred.

Tonight I will pull back the covers of my bed and slide into a piece of the sacred, a piece I now own.

And I think I may actually sleep.

bedframe

All the blogs out there, I’m sure, have their own “Happy New Year! New Me, New You!” posts going on. I hope to merely impart a small bit of advice to you (and me) before the clocks strikes midnight and 2016 begins. Also, while everyone is out celebrating, I’ll be in bed (let’s be honest here, I’m in bed right now with all the lights off, typing this up). I’m tired and bed sounds nice, so this is my last official action of 2015. The new year will be around when I wake up in the morning.
For better or worse, we’ve made it through another year. Some didn’t. With mere hours left in this crazy, wild, adventurous year, some still won’t. Some will barely make it into 2016 before passing away. But, to those who make into another year, I encourage you (and me) to:

Learn. Learn from the past. Learn from the failures. Learn from the successes.

Give. Give your time. Give your talents. Give to those who have nothing to give back.

Create. Create moments. Create memories. Create connections outside of the Internet. Create adventure.

Make. Make mistakes. Make someone smile. Make cookies. Make joy.

Forgive. Forgive others. Forgive yourself.

Be. Be goofy. Be weird. Be happy. Be a misfit. Be amazing. Be you.

Remember. Remember who you are. Remember your dreams. Remember your beginnings. Remember you’re not alone.

Seek. Seek peace. Seek more. Seek help. Seek God.

Love. Love without reservation. Love those around you. Love yourself.

Live. Live wholly and completely.

*This post is dedicated to my weekday Starbucks barista. She knows why.*

I love birthdays. LOVE them. In a few short days I’ll be turning the corner on another year alive and this positively thrills me. Growing up I would anxiously await my birthday, hoping no one forgot it (it’s happened more times than I care to admit) and maybe something good would happen to me and at least one part of life wouldn’t be disappointing. Alas, year after year I was disappointed and my hope broken. It wasn’t intentional, it was simply life at that time in our family. And each year I’d pick up my broken hope and tuck it away until the next birthday. Then things in and around me changed.

I grew up. Relationships changed. Where I lived changed. What I did changed. How I viewed the world changed. I stopped cutting and burning myself. I returned to my faith. I left an abusive relationship. I forgave those who’d done incredible wrongs to me. I started working to forgive myself. I began taking opportunities that scared me, stepping outside of my comfort zone, and all those other cliches we tend to roll our eyes at. And my perspective shifted. Life became fun and more scary and comforting and unnerving. Life opened up and I saw every dream I’d dared to dream move closer to reality. I used to dream and wish and hope to be a published writer, so one day I took a chance and submitted a piece to a website I was confident would turn me down. And they didn’t, they took me on and I wrote for them for two and a half years. And that time was exhilarating. I traveled around the country. I went to conferences as a credentialed member of the media. I broke a couple stories. I met some of the most compelling people in the country. I lived. And it felt good to live. It feels good to live.

One of my favorite people in the world told me shortly after we met how much she hated her birthday. HATED it. She’s been known to cry and hide from the world when her day comes around. I was crushed for her. Life is worth celebrating. Making it through 365 days of challenges and victories, heartache and love, fears and conquered mountains, failure and success is deserving of some kind of positive acknowledgement. To be alive and have a chance to make life better is a gift. This year I pushed her to celebrate for an entire month. Everyday I texted her a reminder to celebrate and love herself and be proud of her accomplishments. Everyday was a chance to celebrate how much better the world is because she’s in it- my world is better because she’s in it. She hardworking, driven, compassionate, caring, giving, loving, loyal, and considerate and she needed reminded of that. And for an entire month she celebrated how amazing she is.

So now I actively celebrate my birthday every year. I buy a pretty dress to wear no matter what my plans are for the day. I proudly declare my actual age (32, almost 33). I thank God for another chance to change, grow, love, become, live. I’m not proud to admit it, but it took two drug overdoses and someone trying to kill me to wake up to how amazing life is. And life is AMAZING. Life is a grand adventure waiting to be taken. Life is a spectacularly grand adventure waiting in anticipation for each of us to grab its hand and run, headlong into the unknown.

Admitting where I’ve been this week is difficult. Explaining why is impossible. My life is full of good. I have a solid job with excellent benefits. I own a reliable, sensible car. My landlord is a gift from God. My church family is one of the greatest blessings in life to-date. I sing in the choir. I have family and friends and friends who are closer than family I love fiercely. My life is far from perfect, but there are some great things going on in it and it’s the life God has given me to embrace and live. Despite all the blessings, I struggle. Still. Again. Again. Again.

I don’t mean to upset or freak anyone out, but Friday after work I called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. No, I’m not suicidal. No, I don’t want to give up on everything. No, I don’t want to die. Life has been emotionally rough. I had a gluten contamination early this week and it’s thrown me off. There have been several changes- big and small- in my life this summer and change is something I struggle with handling gracefully. I’ve been running non-stop for the past couple of months with nearly everyday booked. Some events have been wonderful and others completely draining, but nearly all of them have pushed me past a healthy point mentally. There has been no re-filling myself in between. And before there are suggestions of saying “No,” I struggle with using that word. I know I’m a people-pleaser. I know I over-extend myself until I break. I know I don’t reach out and ask for help before things are bad. These are flaws I need to work on.

Back to why I called the lifeline. August 14, 2015 will mark 10 years I haven’t cut or burned or clipped or bitten or scarred myself. It’s a big milestone and I’m fighting to reach it. When I begin to feel like I’m falling into The Abyss, I want to self harm. And the longer I go without dealing the more intense the desire gets.

As I’m typing this out- being vulnerable to I don’t want to think about how many people- my hands keep hovering over the keyboard, debating how and what to say next. How much do I reveal? How much do I expose myself? Will what I write scare the people I love? Will what I write alienate those I care about? Will what I write embarrass my family? This is a scary place.

This week I failed. If I’m honest, I won’t celebrate that 10 year milestone, because I caved. It’s probably going to sound completely trivial, but it’s still a failure. As I was driving home from work at some point in the week, I became intensely overwhelmed with, well with I don’t know. And I dug my nails into my arm. Dug until just before blood. I felt nothing- no pain, no relief. Nothing. I failed only to feel nothing. So I called the lifeline as a last-ditch effort to keep from completely giving in to the desire to rip my own flesh to shreds.

I love the people in my life. If one of them needs something, I will drop everything to go running to them. I do not expect the same in return. Not because they aren’t good friends or family, but because I know each of them is going through their own ups and downs and hardships and life milestones. They don’t need me at my worst demanding their attention, too. They don’t deserve the burden of dealing with the dark places in my head. I love them enough to not subject them to going through what I go through.

My friend Jedediah posted a quote of hers on Instagram:

“In a world full of fake and phony, I’m searching for the real. Real souls, real hearts, real faces, real bodies, real everything. Because you over there, with your scars and brokenness and imperfections, I think you’re kinda beautiful. -JB”

Now, I know she didn’t post that just for me, but it spoke to me. Some friends have expressed concern over the last few days about my social media absence and lack of response to messages, and I’ve been scared to tell them what’s going on. Again. Again. Again. Most of my scars are faded or covered by my HOPE tattoo, but they’re still there. They’re still connected to invisible scars in my mind that ache and sometimes come screaming to the forefront. And it’s embarrassing. And scary. And humiliating. And they prove how imperfect I am. They show where I’m still broken. And because of them I don’t feel beautiful.

But I’m still here. Still fighting. Again. Again. Again. Again.

TWLOHA2

 

Below is an excerpt of a post I wrote shortly after actor and comedian, Robin Williams committed suicide:

Depression is a void. It’s an abyss. It’s a chasm. It’s a violent, invisible storm. It’s suffocation while breathing normally. It’s walking through life as a person and feeling invisible while simultaneously feeling like all eyes are on you, judging you. Depression is smiling and laughing and doing what’s expected of you while counting down until you can crawl back into bed because you were exhausted before you even crawled out of it that morning. Depression is living and, not just feeling but, KNOWING you’re dead already inside and yet still hurting so much you’re blinded by it.

Now for the hard part of writing all of this: I still struggle. I’ve been struggling the last couple of weeks. This past weekend I was at the grocery store. It was a routine trip, and I was in the office supply aisle to pick up Post-Its. Next to the Post-Its were X-Acto knives. If you’ve ever known- or been- a cutter or person who self harms, you know several implements may be used, but there’s always a preferred method and/or tool. My arm holds the scars of hundreds of cuts. It’s safe to say, in the course of the years, I inflicted well over 1,000 cuts, digs, gouges, and burns on my body. So as I stood there, looking at Post-Its, my eyes landed on the thin blades. Normally I avoid the section of a store these knives are kept, but I really did need the Post-Its. There I stood, staring at an art tool that, in my hands, is a means of self destruction, and I froze. Instantly I had a physical reaction. I felt the cold blade across my skin so real, I could taste metal. But there the package hung, a small bit of metal encased in plastic and cardboard. Completely benign yet my insides were turning savagely. Begging my hand to reach out. I didn’t stand there long. I couldn’t. I walked away, my palms sweaty and mouth dry but no blades in my cart. I didn’t feel victorious. I still don’t. Because I wanted that knife so viscerally, I felt shame and the darkness and pull became darker and stronger.

Talking about what goes on in my brain is difficult. When I say out loud what I’m feeling or thinking, it sounds silly. Trying to quantify wanting to be alone AND needing to be connected to someone who cares without sounding completely nutters drives me inward more often than not. No two people experience or cope with depression in the same way. And those who have never dealt with the darkness may never come to terms with not truly understanding what it’s all like. But if you struggle, reach out. If you know someone who is caught in a losing battle, talk to them. Talk about anything. Physically reach out and wrap your arms around someone. We don’t have to understand why or what or how a person is dealing or not dealing, just being present- really present- can save a life. If you’re unsure of what to do, how to help, or where to get help, check out the Suicide Prevention Lifeline for resources. And for heaven’s sake don’t go all holier-than-thou on a person who’s contemplating suicide or self harm. Love them, hold them, talk to them, smile at them, give them a flower or pack of gum or one of those Cokes that has their name on it. Just don’t go all judge-y or preach-y on them. Trust me, they’ve been preaching to and judging themselves harsher and longer than you ever could.

It was a vulnerable moment for me, admitting the struggle and attempting to put words the jumble of everything going on inwardly. Some days are easy. Some days are impossible. Most days I don’t want anyone to know how dark or how often it gets dark in my head- they don’t need that burden and I don’t like being that exposed.

My sister, Sarah (the one in the ponytail), has dealt with her own dark places her whole life. Some of our dark places are from the same events, some aren’t. We’ve fought being close over the years because of the commonness in why we struggle, but we’re finally in a place to see and appreciate who each of us is, and embrace each other- flaws and dark places included. Our fight isn’t identical. How we fight and why we fight are vastly different. But we fight and recognize the spirit in each other to keep going. She’s the one who bought us the matching shirts designed by actor, Jared Padalecki to help raise money for TWLOHA (To Write Love On Her Arms). If you aren’t familiar with the organization, please spend a few minutes checking out their website. I’m grateful for people like Padalecki who are using their fame to help those who, many times not just feel but, are invisible to the world.

The top photograph of Sarah and me was taken when I picked up my shirt from her. Her boyfriend, Doug, was taking our picture and we kept shifting for the best angle. “Strong arms cuz we’re fighting!” I directed. We made our strong arms and then burst into laughter. Doug captured that moment of naked glee. Sarah kept trying (unsuccessfully) to point out a flaw she saw in herself in that moment. I don’t see it; I choose not to. I see two sisters. I see two sisters who love each other. I see survivors of unspeakable horror. I see two vibrant rays of light. I see two scarred, but beautiful women. I see two fighters.

Always keep fighting.

TWLOHA1

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

– Eleanor Roosevelt.

More and more those close to me are being made to feel inferior. These are intelligent, witty, funny, sarcastic, giving, helpful, loving, lively, beautiful- inside and out- people. Too often this quote is used to brush off an offense when someone hurts us. And it’s easy to walk away when the offender is a stranger or someone we deem inconsequential. Sometimes. It’s much less easy to embrace this thought when the person who demeans us is a person we love, or loved, opened our hearts to, embraced, and for whom we’ve become vulnerable. Eleanor was right, a person can only make us feel inferior if we’ve given them permission to do so. But the problem is, by default, those whose opinions of ourselves we value most are the ones with the permission to devalue us.

I fear I’m getting too cerebral or abstract to effectively make my point. When two people meet they have several options on how to proceed or not proceed with a relationship- friendship or romantic. If they choose to create a bond, the closer two people become, the more of themselves they share- the more of themselves they give as a gift to the other person. And the more one person gives of who they are, the more ammunition the other person has to destroy them, but the vulnerability is done with the understanding of trust and reciprocation. Many times this works out: marriage, family, life-long friends. Unfortunately, the majority of the people I love the most have been betrayed after giving, in faith, who they are- dreams, fears, passions, goals, weaknesses- to someone.

The betrayal hurts. It hurts them and it hurts me. It hurts those who are left to pick up the shattered remains of a vibrant life now dulled. And so often it seems the one who did the damage walks away unscathed. The imbalance leaves the injured party with more questions than they can fully express. It leaves a hole where they used to be whole. It leaves an ache sharp and deep that steals their breath and makes their emotions bleed out. The destruction left in the wake is physically unseen, fully felt, but barely expressible beyond paltry offerings of metaphors and similes.

So yes, a person can only make you feel inferior if you give them permission, but that permission is usually granted as a ‘Terms Of Service’ type of unspoken agreement when a person opens up and trusts another with the understanding that each person won’t breach the agreement. It is not permission in the sense of encouraging or condoning someone to tear you down and leave you in shambles; it’s a part of the trust you build with another to keep your weak parts protected, your vulnerable parts covered, your insecure parts shielded, and your precious parts loved. Those who have the means with which to make you feel inferior are the exact people you shouldn’t have to fear as the ones who would. In a perfect world.