The Shame That Drowns, an Honest Post

It’s so much easier for me to write about a hard experience after I’ve “conquered” it. I can come to this space and talk all I want about OCD because I’ve had ten years of freedom from and victory over it. It’s exponentially harder to talk about current struggles because there’s no distance from them. It’s not looking back on that time you were in quicksand and boasting how your quick thinking and hard work got you out of the mess. It’s being in the actual quicksand. It’s being up to your chin in the quagmire, having no assurance that you will survive.

Last week, my therapist asked me how I felt around my writing career, and something like a dam broke in me, and the words and tears and shame wouldn’t stop.

Shame?

I usually use the word fear, but there was no confusing my rush of emotions: fear and sadness and stress may have been in the parade, but shame was the grand marshal.

It felt amazing to talk about it and awful too, and even as it was all spilling out of me, I knew that I needed to write about it on my blog. Not because I’ve found any victory, but because healing for me has almost always come about via vulnerability.

I was a high achieving kid, top of my class, Most Likely to Succeed, summa cum laude, hard worker, strong leader, a go-after-it-hard kind of girl. I approached publishing that way too. I spent four years on a novel that never got an agent, and I barely blinked before I started a new story, which ultimately became Truest. I wrote every day for years, threw my time, money, and heart toward writing. I was relentless and driven. I finished the story, then got an agent and a book deal in the course of just four months.

And that’s when the panic came. I was very familiar with anxiety after a lifetime of dealing with OCD, but this was so different. The stress was high, there were deadlines, I wasn’t always on the same page with the revisions expected of me. I battled through it though, and I published a book that I’m still so damn proud of. September 1st, 2015, was like this incredible dream: a hardcover with my name on it, all my friends celebrating with me.

It was only three weeks later that I had one of the hardest and worst conversations of my life– one of the major distributors had not placed a large order for the book, and it was unlikely that sales would be able to make up for it. My book was only three weeks old, and I was being told it was essentially dead in the water. Get ’em with the next book.

Don’t get me wrong: there were so many amazing things that have come from publishing Truest. I’ve heard from the most incredible readers, people whose encouragement will live with me for the rest of my life (shout-out to Kristen!); I’ve met authors, some of my favorites (talking about you, Huntley!); I’ve been able to talk about creativity and mental illness and freedom and stories all over. I have loved connecting with readers, with young writers, with the English majors at my university. I have contributed to discussions and given advice, and I’ve taught classes and workshops and so, so, so many amazing things.

And yet.

I have so much shame around it all.

Like I’m some sort of fraud because the book was never a bestseller. When my friends tell others “she’s an author!” I feel like such a fake. My awareness of my (beautiful, beloved) book’s short reach stings. I let the panic and anxiety and stress get to me. I let myself get ill from it all. I couldn’t get on the same page as the editor I was working with and suggested that we go our separate ways. I can’t seem to follow my own advice and get my butt in the seat and hands on the keyboard. My body went into revolt and it’s been hard and scary to even open my manuscript.

Theoretically I understand that this is not failure. I published a book. Not that many people read it. I will write another and see what happens. Health problems have slowed it all down, but nothing has yet made me STOP. That’s not failure.

But it sure feels like it sometimes. A lot of the times.

Even though I’m no longer under a deadline or signed to a contract, my body seems to not have gotten the memo. It still reacts like I’m under all this pressure. I’ve been told the body keeps the score, and that’s proving very true in my life.

My therapist asked what more positive way I could frame this. I said, “I am at the beginning of a long writing career that got off to a rough start, but someday I will tell stories about these days and encourage other writers.”

I hope that’s true. I want it to be true.

Lately, the desire to write has become more insistent. I want to tell stories. I want to create worlds. I open my manuscript and tiptoe into it for a few pages. I know my characters have important things to say.

I’m still in the quicksand, trying to get on top of the shame and fear and stress. They are like ghosts from a different season, but ghosts can still drown you.

One day at a time. Today I’m tackling the shame head-on by sharing about it. Thank you for listening.

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All the Updates

I started seeing a new doctor, a neurologist, and … I feel SO excited, nervous, and hopeful! I may start a little side blog to chronicle and process my journey to health because, well, I’m a writer and this is how I process life. To make a long story short: I was going to invent my own little trigger point mat but decided to see if what was in my mind already existed … and it did … and the inventor of it was a neurologist known for FIXING (note: FIXING, not just TREATING) fibromyalgia pains AND HE WAS LOCATED 20 MINUTES FROM WHERE I LIVE.

Needless to say, I made an appointment with him right away. He has an entire wall of testimonies of people who found health and relief after years of pain. People come from other states– and other countries– to see this doctor. And here he was in my backyard.

As he said to me, “You’re too young to feel this bad.” YES! I AGREE!

I’ve been writing again! It’s wild to me how much the past couple of years have absolutely BLASTED the confidence right out of me. I’ve been a hard worker, high achiever, intelligent girl for basically my whole life, and that led me to feel pretty confident about anything I undertook. You wouldn’t think that publishing a book (a lifelong dream of mine) would actually lead to having all of that confidence vanish … but it’s true. I am rebuilding slowly.

Online dating still sucks. Basically, all the advice everyone gave me that I chose to ignore came back to bite me. Of course. “The One That Got Away“? I’ve spent the last month feeling lonelier than ever before. But great friends and family and a fantastic therapist and a marvelous God have been softening my heart. I started following Brene Brown on Instagram, and she says that “It’s not fear that gets in the way of our daring leadership. It’s our armor.” So even when fear assaults me, or loneliness, or whatever it may be, I really want to keep myself from the armor.

I want to stay tender and exposed to life.jernej-graj-656657-unsplash.jpg

How Jackie Got Her Sleep Back

So. I spent over two years with almost NO quality sleep.

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Finally, I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, and using a CPAP changed everything for me. It took a while to become accustomed to the CPAP, but now I actually prefer using it!

The next step was getting a new mattress.

I had never had a brand-new mattress in my life, so I wasn’t really even sure where to start. I started researching mattresses online, and a couple friends told me about the Sleep Sherpa. The website has reviews, coupons, and more– and better yet, Sleep Sherpa has the ONLY showroom of online mattresses in the country … and it’s in Minneapolis.

Score!

It was SO WORTH IT to spend an hour there, just lying on the various mattresses. There was NO pressure, NO hard sales, and yet when I asked Ravi, an employee, a barrage of questions, he answered them ALL. Ravi even gave me a really, really great coupon code for the mattress I ultimately chose (Yaasa, a brand I’d never heard of, even in all my research), answered financing questions for me, and even gave me great advice about how to dispose of my old/current mattress. (Told you I was clueless!) When I found a pillow that I loved but that was no longer being made, Ravi gave me the one I tried– FOR FREE– in exchange for a review on my blog.

Do I sound like a raving fan of the Sleep Sherpa? Good, because I am.

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With this inexpensive but ahh-may-zing mattress topper, a Berkshire extra-fluffy blanket, and some unicorn sheets, I have had probably six of my best nights of sleep IN MY ADULT LIFE, all within the last two weeks.

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The Curvy Girl’s Guide to Confidence

Listen up, friend: this post is meant to be empowering, not shaming. Ladies, all of us are acceptable as we are; there’s no need to do anything to “become” acceptable. That’s not what this post is about, so when I offer ideas about how to dress or what makeup to wear, these are not suggestions for how to make yourself “presentable.” YOU ALREADY ARE. These are just 8 things that helped this curvy girl take back her mojo. Hugs to all you babes. You are worthy of love, respect, and all good things.

1. Find and replace the word “fat” in your vocab with “curvy.” Sure, you can whine behind the scenes to your besties, but in public, in person, in your online dating profile, and in all your social media, banish the f-word. I now pronounce you curvy. This was my first radical step toward reclaiming my confidence.

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2. No one but your doctor (and maybe your mama) are allowed to give you health advice. NIP. IT. IN. THE. BUD. All those well-meaning people who say, “Maybe if you tried …” or “Have you thought about …” or, worse, who try to sell you their solutions? NOPE. As if we could have never, ever come up with something as groundbreaking as counting calories or going on walks! So many lovely people never realize how shaming it is for them to do this, even *gasp* people who have lost weight themselves. There are so many factors at work here– far, far more than most friends ever know– so it is 1000% okay for you to say, “Thanks, my doctor and I have got it.” You control the conversation, and you are fully justified in keeping it between you and your doc.

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3. Dress your shape. When I was still trying to force myself into clothes that didn’t fit, I just felt miserable. Purchasing the correct size and– even better– the right kind of clothes for your shape lets you accentuate those awesome curves! Since I am Muggle Hermione, I turned to a book. The Art of Dressing Curves was a game changer for me. It not only helped me with finding my correct measurements and figuring out the basics, it got into the nitty-gritty of what would look best on my body, down to sleeve length and neckline. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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4. Play up your favorite features. For me, I learned to experiment with makeup. YouTube was my guru here, and I found myself having a lot of fun with it! I’m certainly no expert, but I will say that when I have a day when my eyes are popping, I feel like an empress. I literally have an attention-grabbing bandaid in the center of my face here … but I bet it’s my eyes that you notice. 😉

5. Spanx is legit. From personal experience, don’t waste your money on pseudo-Spanx. Put in the money to get the real deal, and get the full-on lederhosen version for the smoothest smooth. The first date I wore my new Spanx to, I felt like a million bucks (which is way more than the cost of a pair of Spanx). Oh, and get the right size. The temptation is to get a smaller size because it will just tuck all the goods in even more– but that’s not how it works. And if you’re busty, get open bust Spanx– let the girls live and breathe and do their thang in an awesome bra.

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6. But first, let me take a selfie. Yeah, I know. A lot of us curvy girls are camera-shy. But here’s the deal. With a selfie, you control it all, the angle, the lighting, the pose, not to mention what you’re wearing or how you style your hair. Take an afternoon and do a photoshoot. Take 9 million pictures if you need. Just get that one selfie that makes you feel amazing. No one has to know there were 8,999,999 takes to get it. Get the selfie that captures you as you want to be seen. Post it. Own it. Own the compliments that roll in.

7. Take your temp. This is coming from someone with temperature dysregulation, but dress for the weather and your activity. Nothing steals my confidence faster than being a sweaty mess. Listen: don’t feel guilty for taking the elevator. (See #2– oh, and you can take the stairs on your own time, not at work when you’re gonna show up for your presentation out of breath!) And if your temperature bounces all over the place, layers are your friends.

8. Attitude matters. So much. SO MUCH. There are women who are my size who are so smart, hilarious, and confident that no one notices their size. Ever. People are just marveling at their intelligence and strength and wit. People are too busy laughing to judge. People aren’t lying when they say confidence is the sexiest thing you can wear. And if you don’t feel it, fake it till you make it. I’m not joking. I wore an outfit to an event that I ultimately didn’t feel great in, but I decided to pretend like I looked like a supermodel anyway, especially since it was too late to change any factors. No joke, a guy came up to me and said, “You look really good.” It was not my outfit (which ended up not fitting quite right); it was not my makeup or hair (it was humid and raining and all the effort I’d put into both disappeared before I ever got to the event); I was hot and sweaty. But I pretended like I was a queen. And it worked.

So, curvy girls, what else would you add? What has made you feel confident in your own beautiful skin? Leave a comment!

Ocean in a Bottle

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”
Psalm 56:8

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I’ve cried so much in the last year. It’s almost unbelievable.

There was a time in my life I naively thought that if I could only get my OCD under control, I would never be sad another day in my life.

Alas, I’ve been in OCD remission for nearly a decade, and I’ve been drowning in tears for the last year and a half. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they are the same months I have attempted online dating.

(Sidenote: I’m in Duluth this week, on a writing-reading-resting retreat, and everywhere I look I am reminded that I was here around this time last year, still unaware that I was about to undergo the first round of that strange, ugly, ambiguous grief called ghosting, which would occur the Saturday before Memorial Day but which I wouldn’t realize until the Tuesday after it.)

I can’t seem to quit crying, certainly not since 45 was elected, not since I started online dating, for the entirety of 2018 thus far, and especially since I started new pain meds. You know how construction sites have those signs that brag, “We’ve gone 87 days without a lost time accident”? Well, my sign would read, “I’ve gone ZERO days without crying.” And it would stay that way.

Tonight I read about tears online. There are three kinds, did you know? Basal tears are the ever-present moisture in our eyes. Reflex tears are the kind that clear out threats: smoke, onions, dust. It’s the emotional tears (or psychic tears) that are the ones that come after overwhelming emotions.

It starts in the brain; then the endocrine system triggers hormones in the ocular area. Studies have shown that the make-up of emotional tears is different than reflex tears, which are 98% water. Emotional tears have hormones that indicate high stress levels, along with endorphins, a natural painkiller called leucine enkephalin.

Does any of this matter?

I hope all of it does.

All of it.

 

Eighteen & Again

Someone posted something on Instagram recently (and now I can’t find it) about life at 18 vs. life now. It occurred to me that it’s been 18 years since I was 18, and of course that intrigued the writer in me. So I thought I’d explore the comparison of those two milestones in my life.

At 18 …
I wanted to be a published author, along with all the glamour that came with it
At 36 …
I am a published author, along with all the stress and anxiety that came with it

At 18 …
I had undiagnosed OCD
At 36 …
I’ve been in remission for a decade

At 18 …
I thought true love was just around the corner and I’d likely be married by 22
At 36 …
I still hope true love and marriage are just around the corner

At 18 …
I was so extroverted I had to force myself into 10 minutes of being alone each day, at the urging of my favorite professor
At 36 …
I am so introverted I have to force myself to make plans with people

At 18 …
I could eat breakfast food for every meal
At 36 …
I can eat breakfast food for every meal

At 18 …
I had always been ultra-thin, but felt like a kid
At 36 …
I’ve battled with weight issues for over a decade, but (usually) love my curves

At 18 …
I had almost no health issues (outside of OCD)
At 36 …
I’m a web of interrelated diagnoses

At 18 …
I wanted to know that God found me acceptable
At 36 …
I know he does

At 18 …
I had spent one semester at Northwestern
At 36 …
I have spent 18 years at Northwestern

At 18 …
I didn’t even know yet that I enjoyed the company of children or teens
At 36 …
Kids are my purest joy, and I write novels for teenagers because I love that stage of life

At 18 …
I hadn’t even met most of the people who would be my friends as an adult
At 36 …
I continue to amass the most incredible friends this earth has to offer

At 18 …
I had not yet read any of the books I would later say had changed my life (outside of the Bible)
At 36 …
I’m excited about what life-changing stories are still ahead

Holding Both in Such Weak Hands

flare
verb
to suddenly burn or shine brightly

flare
noun
an exacerbation of a chronic disease

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Can’t write much today because my wrists have been in pain for almost 24 hours now. Just trying to rest: pared down my to-do list to just three things, this blog post being one of them. Earlier today, I would not have been able to type it out. This evening, I am a little better.

I want to shine bright, make a difference, be a leader in thought and action. Sometimes it can feel so impossible with a body that feels like a leaky bucket: hard to store up energy when the most mundane things seem to leech power. Some days I feel like a rag that has been wrung out.

I know I am blessed with resources, privileged: I can afford pain meds and peppermint oil, my employer works with me and not against me, I have a support system that could make a king envious.

So, somehow, I get to do both. I get to flare up in multiple ways. Perhaps not at the same time.

But then again, with all I’ve learned of vulnerability: maybe so.

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Photo by Blake Cheek on Unsplash

The Loneliness Map

The other night, I was talking to my friend about loneliness, how the experience of it has morphed for me over the years. This is a post I can write tonight because tonight I actually don’t feel lonely. It gives me perspective.

So I wrote up what follows, and then, upon re-reading it, realized that I am probably describing all of these ages from the perspective of being 36. I see age 16 so differently now, 20 years out, but at the time, would I have described it as torment? Probably.

I don’t want to shrug off any pain of Younger Me, but I also do want to accept all the growth I’ve experienced over the years. With that said, I present to you a mini-timeline of my experience with feeling lonely. Gosh, there is so much more to be said, but I really did just want to type up a little thing to see how it compared to others’.

Now I think I’ll probably show it to my therapist! 🙂

connor-wells-534089-unsplashLoneliness at 11: beginning to recognize that my thought process was very different from friends my age (i.e. undiagnosed OCD)

Loneliness at 16: melodramatic tears over the boy to whom I was “just a friend”

Loneliness at 22: perpetual bridesmaid/wedding guest, delighted for my girlfriends who were the most gorgeous brides– but a little wistful, wondering when I’d have my own special someone

Loneliness at 25: too throttled with anxiety to care too much about being single

Loneliness at 28: too excited about writing to care too much about being single

Loneliness at 31: gobsmacked to see my friends celebrating 10-year anniversaries, changed from wondering when I’d have my own special someone to if I would at all, loneliness became an actual physical pain

Loneliness at 36: almost unbearable when it hits

What about you? What ages were milestones?

Triduum: Hold On Hope

It’s been a hard month, a hard year. Re-watching Scrubs and this song was featured. It stirs me every time. If you want to fully enter into my reflection below, press play and keep reading with this in the background.

It seems fitting that I’m feeling this way on this particular weekend– Saturday of Holy Week– when I do my best to reflect on how the believers felt this day, over 2000 years ago. A song I love describes it this way: “the cruel cross had crucified the hope of every heart.” Fearful. Empty. Lost. A bone-deep exhaustion. How could anything be right again?

2018 has kicked my butt. Truly.

I’ve battled intense loneliness and blasts of anxiety. I was burned so badly in 2017 that I’m now defaulting to mistrust, when that is certainly not my preference. Book stuff has me questioning my identity as a writer, my identity as a confident woman. Health issues continue to click into place, though I skipped using my CPAP last night and had a long evening of battle-packed dreams of war and betrayal that has left me feeling depleted. It’s almost April and yet it snowed three inches last night. Where is spring? Will it ever come again?

We wait.

The lifeless body in a tomb that Saturday . The grief and loneliness and ache of this one.

We wait. I wait.

Because I, with my 2000 years of hindsight, know what sunrise brings: resurrection, which has fueled hope ever since for people like me. Hope, big enough to hold me when I can’t hold onto it.