Coffee. Because Grown Ups Can’t Carry Security Blankies

Any Peanuts Fans? Try this simile: 9780694010448my coffee cup is like Linus’ security blanket.

Really though, how weird would it be if grown ups carried around security blankets? Luckily, there’s a solution:

COFFEE!

Surprisingly, this isn’t a post about the necessity or joys of excess caffeine consumption in graduate school – that’s been done (and overdone). However, I strongly contend that coffee is necessary to survive graduate school. I don’t fully trust people who don’t drink coffee. To that note, you won’t often find me without a cup of coffee in my hand. That’s a tendency my thesis advisor eagerly brought to my attention YEARS ago.

Here’s another simile: 5b324d3f5f4747035ddbb790cacbe5d4me holding a cup of coffee is like a teen holding their cell phone.  It’s like they can’t live without it. They’ll panic if it’s not within arm’s length. I definitely feel that way about coffee. My coffee cup is practically an appendage.

More than once, I’ve said that if I could have an IV of coffee I’d be set for life or something as illogical as “I wish I could replace my bloodstream with coffee.” Although, even with a constant stream of coffee flowing in my body at all times, I still might hold on to cup – my trustworthy mug.

When I’m holding a coffee there’s a reciprocal, warm embrace between me and my lifeline that aligns perfectly with the curved grasp of my palm. It’s always been there for me and it doesn’t judge. It’s the last thing I think about before I go to bed and the first thing I attend to when I wake up – NO I’m not addicted (*looks away*). It’s silly. Really.

I know.

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Typical.

But, there’s comfort in coffee. It’s reliable. It makes awkward handshake dances easier to avoid. It makes not knowing what to say practically a nonissue (*takes sip*). Similarly, sipping on coffee combats the tediousness of long commutes or college lectures. Coffee dates are the saving grace for uncomfortable interactions with mere acquaintances or exciting reunions with good friends.

So yes, coffee is my socially approved, grown up, sophisticated security blanket, and I think that’s perfectly okay!

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“I Used to Wear Clothes That Were Too Big For Me Too”

“I used to wear clothes that were too big for me too” – someone said that to me this week! They also said, “Your pants are too big” and “you’re so skinny; are you losing weight?”

My responses: “Okay”, “I know”, “Depends on the day” respectively. I wanted to scream “WHY ARE YOU FIXATING ON MY BODY?!?!”

Writers find their inspiration from anything; it could be a conversation, an observation, a “thing”, a book. You name it! So, I heard those words and instead of calling out their fixation with my body, DAYS later I’m still fixating on them. Since I’ve lost weight, people aren’t as impressed with ME. They’re impressed by my body. They ask me how I did it. They compliment my looks rather than my accomplishments and my incredibly determined, quality-driven work ethic.

Until now, the only time I can remember people commenting on my body was to tell me to I was too big. As a teen, I was a 4’11”, size 16 gymnast. I was also a person living with a chronic physical illness – go figure! So, needless to say, my relationship with body was anything but “typical”. Thanks to BMI, I had doctors telling me, at 16 years old and 182 pounds, that I was morbidly obese. I hated shopping (still do). Buying clothes felt like being pushed on the ground every time I finally stood up – nothing ever fit (still true). I didn’t even want to go to prom because I couldn’t stand the thought of having to find a dress!

My mom thought if I found a dress I felt confident and beautiful in that I’d change my mind (she thought I’d find that same confidence and beauty after my second breast reduction too). She routinely told me, “You’re beautiful no matter what.” Her words, although I knew they were sincere, felt empty. What I recall of those experiences are shopping trips that felt interminable. I tried on dress after dress (or every colorful, lace bra in the “regular” stores I could finally fit into) with increasing disappointment. There were so many tears.

So far, I’ve hated my body at every size – and not just because of my size.

Now, I’m trying to practice body positivity – which is something I support and encourage for everyone. For me, it’s really difficult to embody that line of thinking. I’m working on body neutrality instead which Melissa Fabello describes as “the acceptance of our bodies as-are, for the understanding that we are already enough”. When you call me “skinny” what I’m really hearing you say  is “I’m more interested with how you look than who you are” or even “I’m grounding my perceptions of your worth in your looks”. Those comments – what you think are compliments- don’t make me feel any happier or proud of myself than the relentless notions of necessary change I was pressured to pursue as a teen made me feel disappointed or imperfect. I hate when people call me “skinny”!

Regardless of my turbulent relationship with my body, one thing has remained constant: I am an athlete. I started drastically losing weight when I began searching for sanity in exercise. I felt lost. I felt out of control. The adjectives I used to describe myself – evidence of my perceptions of my self-worth – felt so far away. My focus, motivation, support, was gone. Running saved me – it still does- from hitting absolute rock bottom (I’ve been close!). Eliana Osborn shares “[she] felt purposeful and strong… While [she’d] been running, [she’d] been alive. Not [her] best self, but [herself]. Without it, [she] struggled to exist.” I can so relate! When I’m running, I feel unstoppable. I feel invincible. I’m inspired to explore how fierce my body can be. For minutes, moments, the world stops spinning and there’s clarity. I feel so in charge. It’s a feeling I’ve missed. It’s like I’m winning the never ending race to find myself. The faster and harder I push myself, the closer I get to the finish line. I’m picking up clues along the way. I know I’ll get back there soon. And so, I feel like I need to keep up my athleticism – so I can find control. Which means, I may lose more weight.

Being an athlete is my hidden weapon. It’s what I pull out in moments of self-doubt to prove to myself (and others) that I can do it – that I’m good enough! It’s not about being “skinny” or looking “fit”. My body is amazingly resilient and strong. It’s also been fat, skinny, deprived of nutrition, greedy, exhausted, caffeinated, and a whole host of other things.

When you call me “skinny” you’re indelicately weaving together my ideas about my strength and resilience and your pervasive, hierarchical, and restricting beliefs about “what is “normal,” “real,” or “correct.”  Please stop!

What is Control?

I’m writing tonight because something great is happening here – people “get it”. Right now, that’s so necessary and meaningful. I’m inspired. Thank you!


 

I don’t cry. That was one of the first conversations I had with my new friend Sam. Today, Sam’s piece made me cry TWICE!  This piece got to me. BIG TIME.

twitter picWhere to start? Where to start? This is hard.

Okay, “What is control?”

When I Googled “control” I found about 3,020,000,000 results in 0.67 seconds. Control means to have power over something. It is when you restrain or direct influence over something/someone; regulate. It implies regulating to keep order (merriam-webster.com).

To me, control is ANYTHING that can make the chaos feel like it’s my fault. Control is what I can call on to mitigate the feeling that I can’t keep up with the chaos anymore. Control is making myself miserable because then at least I’d be responsible. I’d be in charge. Control is cultivating order at all costs. It’s doing whatever it takes to rescue the person I used to recognize as unstoppable. It’s the opposite of spinning – as in spiraling out of control.

Too often these days, there’s no clarity. It’s like everything is in a fog and I’m just barely present ever. It’s so loud and fast in my head most of the time I’m not even able to hear or focus in conversations or meetings – like I can’t listen. I can’t think! The truth is, I’m overwhelmed all the time (and angry too!). This type of persistent whirlwind is distracting and dangerous. It’s frightening and lonely. It’s my reality. I think the feeling that I can’t make it stop even if I wanted to and the fact that I’m getting used to it rather than trying to change it is what’s freaking me out.

Sam NAILED IT when he said, “I start to hate myself a little when I think about how restricting [and other forms of self-harm] like this can feel good – can feel really, really good – because it gives me this illusion that my feet are on the ground.” That’s what it is. It’s an illusion. It’s another attempt to keep up appearances and be “fine”. If I feel like I’m in control and I’m choosing it, then, to me, that makes it okay.

I’m no longer in control. That’s not okay. I’ve moved from portioning meals (let’s be real. apples, trail mix, and hard boiled eggs are snacks) so that I have enough to eat, to portioning food so I won’t over indulge. I need to control EVERYTHING that my body endures. Most days, my ENTIRE caloric intake for the day equates to less than a single meal or has, imperatively, been dissipated by an intensive cardio workout – a workout which eases my mind, boosts my mood, and puts ME back in control . That’s not control. For now, I’ll call it organized chaos.

The appearance of control is deceptive. It makes me SO feel good. It’s when I experience the kind of fast, logical, coherent, intentional thinking I crave – the mentality I miss. The good days mess with me! They make me think “it isn’t really that bad”.  I can justify this; I can make it rational. If it’s rational, it’s alright. If the fury can be tamed it’s fine. I’m fine.

I’m fine. I’m fine.

DAMN!

Have I convinced anyone besides myself?

I Didn’t Expect to Learn Something Today

I just saw an incident that screamed “Racism is real!”, and  I have to write about it!

I spent the weekend in New York City consuming feminist laced theater and feeling all the feels. Both my heart and mind were reminded how it feels to be moved so authentically it hurts. I laughed, cried, and shook from happiness. Good theater can do that.

Anyway, on my last Uber ride of the weekend, I witnessed something influential:

A white man is walking in the crowded street. He’s not paying attention. Our driver, an African male, stops short – inches from hitting him. The man slams his fist on the hood of the car and starts to scream “Hit me! Hit me!” Our driver rolls down the window and, from the white man, racists obscenities ensue – “You dirty African. Go back where you came from!” Our driver, becoming more enraged, suppresses his desire to fight and angrily drives away. People stand around watching. They’re pretending to mind their business.

I was sitting in front seat on the passenger side of the car. Basically, they were fighting over me. Honestly, I was scared and mad and shocked. I’ve seen racism. I’ve read of racism. I concur white privilege and institutionalized racism is real and rampant. I was (of course) appalled.

What happened next made this experience more than just infuriating but meaningful.

Our driver was furious (his words) and he said if it were only him he would have gone out and fought him.  Not because he wanted to fight, but so that the man wouldn’t get away with it. He explained that because he didn’t react he was sure that man would do it again to someone else – he wanted to teach him he was wrong. He said that by not reacting he set an example for everyone who was watching. He felt like sent the message that that it was okay.

I wondered, “What would I do in this situation?”, “How would I react?” It quickly occurred to me that I will, likely, never have to endure something like this. That’s how you know your privilege is real.

When I was a kid, I learned to ignore bullies. If they don’t get a rise out of you, they’ll stop. Today I learned a more important lesson. Advocacy doesn’t have to be colorful or 792b76f20ce471b07541248d35ac45b5grandiose.  And, it doesn’t have to occur just on one day or because the circumstances dictate “today is a day of service”. Small actions add up and can make a big difference. We will all experience moments the infuriate us – it’s how we respond and our intentionality that could influence others. I am confident there’s a lot we can do to teach each other, to impact each other.

This isn’t my story – not really. But, as a bystander I have a chance to make this right. Advocacy is everyone’s job. What I saw today was something I wish I could call unbelievable. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.  Our world – cluttered with systematic racism (all the other -isms too!)- is disappointing and dreadful. The prospect of change feels hopeless. Nobody knows how to fix it.

I know this though, sometimes we’ll learn our most important lessons from a (not so) typical Uber ride in New York City.

Effortlessly Perfect

I think, you become an adult the moment you realize that most of the time NOBODY knows what they’re doing. Practically no one is an expert in anything except for pretending to be an expert at something and making it seem like they’ve got it all together. Keeping up appearances and “faking it” could be a full-time job. I guess there’s a turning point, it’s a paradox really, where once you realize how much you know (about your field, life, “the real world”) you realize how much you actually don’t know. The objective then becomes, “how can I convince as many people as possible I belong here and I’m as knowledgeable as they expect me to be?”

When that objective impedes the functioning of your life and begins to dictate your decisions that’s called Impostor Syndrome. It’s defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence (Caltech Counseling Center, 2015).

Impostor Syndrome is common among, although not exclusive to, academics and high achieving women. It’s been discussed in academic literature since 1978 when Clance and Imes coined the “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women”. They explain that “Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the imposter phenomenon persists in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise. Numerous achievements, which one might expect to provide ample object evidence of superior intellectual functioning, do not appear to affect the impostor belief. ” Alrighty, enough literature…

Impostor Syndrome is real and by reducing it to “humility” and ignoring its consequences we’re perpetuating the silence around mental health and the pressure and culture of perfectionism.

For me, Impostor Syndrome started invading my thoughts when I decided to apply to Brown. Then more persistently, when I struggled through my personal statement for my graduate school applications. And, most viciously when I got accepted to Brown and decided to come. In many regards, I’m “over it”. I know, and I’m confident that, I’m “intellectual enough” to be in graduate school but still, sometimes, it creeps up on me unexpectedly.  On a bad day, if I let it win, Impostor Syndrome prescribes me to stay in bed. It convinces me I shouldn’t even try because I’m simply not good enough. In my work Impostor Syndrome sounds like me telling myself “I can’t believe they’re letting/trusting me to do this task” – regardless of the rigor or importance. Then I spend hours scrutinizing over the smallest details to be sure to impress or meet their “delusional” expectations.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Impostor Syndrome as it relates to social media and the necessity to present as perfect and simultaneously have every accomplishment appear effortless. I’m sure many of us can relate to abruptly halting our lived experiences to snap the perfect photo (and another and another) and then later stressing about crafting the pithy caption to capture the moment that was already ruined once we decided to take a photo. Right? The anxiety social media perpetuates in terms of what/how/why we share about our successes and good news (and how we perceive others will respond) makes this compelling to explore.

Why is it that when someone posts about their successes on social media it’s always accompanied by a slight, yet extremely important, attribution to luck or “the amazing opportunity”? Yes, humility is important and often we aren’t doing it all on our own but, can you recall the last time you shared an accomplishment without being concerned someone would think you’re being conceited or think you’re only sharing it to boost your self-esteem and receive their praise? Why should you be nervous to call a friend or post online and share something exciting?

There’s this pervasive notion that you can’t actually be proud of what you’ve done.102615bucks-carl-sketch-master675 You have to be #blessed or #lucky to parade positivity online (listen to #blessed – Stuff Mom Never Told You for more on this – it’s spot on) because calling attention to your successes outright is, apparently, social media taboo. WHY? Why do women feel the need to downplay their success or appear effortlessly perfect?

There’s even an app now that helps women stop saying “just” and “sorry” in emails so they stop “inadvertently discredit[ing] their own opinions”. It’s troubling though because nobody is talking about the societal and institutional parameters that perpetuate these minimizing behaviors and render them acceptable. Why do women feel more comfortable making themselves small? In some ways, I think, it’s an attempt to build themselves up. We’re not talking about the protective features those asides provide to make women feel like it’s okay to share about their exciting news or even simply their opinion. These small, but important, choices we make assure we’re not experienced as “bossy” or “boasting”. We do it even when we know we’re right!

The New York Times, discusses this culture of appearing perfect and saving face well in one of their most popular articles from 2015: Suicide on Campus and the Pressure of Perfection. They detail a phenomenon where students talked about how “They could say what they’d accomplished, but they couldn’t necessarily say who they were”. Such mind games! But it’s true and, it’s practically unbelievable that intelligent people can stare at their resumes and acceptance letters to Ivy League institutions (which if you “look beneath the façade of seamless well-adjustment…what you often find are toxic levels of fear, anxiety, and depression, of emptiness and aimlessness and isolation”) and see right past all the evidence that indicates they are deserving. They can easily convince themselves otherwise and may not even recognize themselves beyond the list of “things they’ve done”. Suddenly, their accomplishments stand in as the default measure that indicates who they are, their worth, and beyond the impressive list they’ve compiled they feel lost and misguided. It happens without consent and it’s positively crippling once it captures your mind.

The NY Times article also explains that “female students felt pressure to be “effortlessly perfect”: smart, accomplished, fit, beautiful and popular, all without visible effort.” These internal narratives are consistently challenged by loved ones’ encouragements, “you belong with those people”and “you’re meant to do this”. Where the words, “those people” throb like a pounding headache because they feels so separate, so elite, so much more than they could achieve; they  hear “you’re meant to do this” as “you tricked them yet again” rather than the support these phrases are intended to provide. So their foundation must be rebuilt often due to the wrath – expressions of support and encouragement – of what seems like never ending wrecking balls whose only obligation is to create cracks in their concrete with their terms of endearment. They go through the motions working themselves into fits of sleeplessness and mind boggling anxiety trying to prove they can do this – it becomes their sole obligation. At the same time, they’re consumed by maintaining an online presence of apparent effortlessness and success – but not too successful of course.

Don’t be fooled. Underneath the encouragement from friends and family and the pristine social media presence, their mind is unraveling. It tells a story which is comprised of lists of achievementsour-deepest-fear that amount to nothing special – cloaked in phrases like “it’s mediocre” or “just a thing I’ve done” – even when they’re spectacular! The list is glistening with expectations still to be met. We call these unmet items potential and as their list of accomplishments grows longer so too does the list of expectations. Somehow, as they become  more “qualified”, and subsequently feel less qualified, little by little the consideration of the associated hard work they’ve done to reach these numerous accolades dissipates. At some point, perfection becomes a burdensome, heavy expectation that weighs them down and occupies their mind. Soon, the means by with they achieve are less important and to the outside world it looks like they can do it all – and so they do and then some – whatever the cost. The conceptions that they work hard and overcome challenges or adversity are not entertained.  The final product becomes the only objective – nobody is concerned about the process or the progress. It’s a dangerous, slippery slope that ends in fear and pent up, insidious, persistent feelings of inadequacy which are kept separate from the persona they put on each day to face the world. It feels like they must make it seem absolutely effortless because otherwise, they’d have to actually recognize THEMSELVES rather than their resume. They end up feeling defeated simultaneously wondering how they can maintain the facade and how it was created in the first place. They experience all this utter nonsense, instead of owning their successes and being proud. Social media only makes it worse. It’s never ending and mostly they want it to stop – even if just for a moment – so they can gain some perspective.