On the Guest List

Being brave isn’t something you do for yourself; it’s what you do for others.

When J told me that he had a fiancée—when he casually mentioned she okayed me coming to the wedding—I knew it wasn’t something I could back out of. Pragmatically, I was fine with the entire situation. I have never been jealous when he tells me about her. I don’t imagine them kissing and burst into tears or become disgusted. I haven’t had those kind of feelings for J since shortly after we broke up. But in the weeks leading up to his day of matrimony, my stomach began to tighten. It was anticipation of what I’d imagine would be an awkward day, and I definitely wasn’t looking forward to it. There would be no dancing or catching a bouquet. This was simply a favor for J.

I systematically wrote out the card and placed a personal check in the slot on the left side. I did this while filling a flask that I knew I would need. The night before I didn’t eat dinner, and I stayed up too late talking to friends.

On a sunny, humid Saturday morning, my friend came to pick me up and escort me to the wedding as his date. We also brought J’s and my old neighbor with us. I had cigarettes, good music, and liquid courage. I could do this just fine.

And guess what? I did.

There was no dramatic outburst at the reception, where I wept in the bathroom stall. I didn’t ignore his new wife or make things uncomfortable. I even had a ten-minute conversation with the bride’s grandfather; he told me about his dialysis while he forced me to eat grapes, because I wouldn’t eat anything else. I smiled big. I schmoozed everyone. Even J’s mom. It was just about all I could take, and then, luckily, it was an acceptable time to leave.

When I got home, I was met with indifference from my boyfriend. He was upset about something unrelated, and without the emotional stronghold I needed, because I had been brave for just a little too long, I crumpled into my pillow and I cried. I cried on my drive to my friends’ house after my boyfriend left to get food. I let my emotions overrun me the second I walked in their door, and when I got home, I bawled again for an immeasurably painful time. Not even my sister’s calming familiarity could soothe me. On the other end of the phone, she reminded me that I’ve always been this way. This emotional. And I knew it was true, but I couldn’t stop the outpouring. I eventually did expunge my tears, because there was nothing left in me, but it wasn’t because I ceased feeling awful inside.

There’s nothing pretty about being brave.

It feels raw and draining to pretend everything is okay and that I am not a human with normal emotions—that even though I haven’t felt romantic love for my ex fiancé in six years, it still wouldn’t rock my entire core to see and hear him say “I do” to someone else.

He and I once had picked out our own venue, standing hand-in-hand blissful that he would get to ride in on a quad, and I could have my barefoot outdoor wedding. I had tried on dresses and asked my sisters and niece to be my bridesmaids. I had the perfect ring, and I was making my guest list.

My braveness the other day was just a symbol of everything I am lacking in my own life: I do not have a husband. I may not ever. I probably will never bear a child from my own womb. J’s old promises to me were now wrapped in my own tissue paper and sitting on a table for a woman I don’t even know to tear open and write me a detached thank you note in a month’s time. And that’s it. That is all I have to show for almost six years of dedication to a man whose wedding I attended on Saturday.

Being brave felt like it was for everyone else, but perhaps it was my own stupidity. I don’t regret that I went, as I know it made J smile that I was there, but that really was the only reason why I went. To support him. He’s never been much for friends, and although we are ex partners, we’ve always been able to be pals. Yet, everyone I’ve spoken to about this past weekend has wondered how I even made it onto the guest list. They told me they would never be able to do what I did.

Does that make me foolish or does that make me brave?

Sometimes I don’t think there’s a difference.

Four Reasons & One Realization

When someone who is a writer hasn’t written in a while, there are quite possibly a number of reasons why:

  1. They are busy with life
  2. They have lost inspiration
  3. They’ve written, but decided it’s crap and won’t share it
  4. The ideas are bubbling in their head, but there are too many and not enough ambition or motivation to follow through

I am sure there are more reasons than that, but I have experienced all four of those in the last several months.

It’s not that I haven’t written. I’ve written. I just don’t think any of it is good or complete enough to share it with the rest of the world.

Winter strips me of my humanity. I am a walking, eating, sleeping shell, who wanders through her days, seeking only the comforts of alcohol, a warm blanket, or the vicarious vacation of watching others on television.

Sometimes, there is far too much going on inside my head, or emotionally, for me to even begin to comprehend how to put those thoughts to paper.

Yesterday was Friday. I had no plans. I also had no desire to make them. I was feeling eerily down for no reason, except possibly the effects of my birth control, this weather, or the general existential angst I’ve been feeling for quite some time. I chose to lie on the couch and eat garlic bread and pizza I had ordered. I never order food when I am alone; this was an exception.

Quite drastically, something clicked over in my brain. Sort of like when a record player shifts over the grooves to the next song. I decided that I was tired of being tired. For weeks now, I have been mulling over how, lately, I am the opposite of everything my blog stands for. I have been extremely mediocre—hating it with a passivity—but mediocre, nonetheless.

Part of the problem is that I’ve lost my goal. Somewhere in the past few months I have literally misplaced the part of me that has hope. It’s been a weird sort of depression I’ve never felt before. Usually, I’ll feel ambivalence or deep pain, but never without hopefulness.

In that moment of stark realization, I had been looking at one of those online coaching programs—the ones that, through virtual means, motivate you to strive for your health and weight goals. You know, like having a personal trainer, except not.

It’s been too bare and bleak outside for me to consider being alive again. I’ve dealt with this deadness by eating. In doing so, I’ve gained back the weight I’ve lost in the past few months. I am angry at myself, which makes it worse. So, yesterday, I decided to accept that life has these natural waves and to do something about it.

I joined this online coaching program for a free two-week trial. In the set-up, it asks me:

What are your deepest reasons for why you want to reach your goal?

After giving a brief answer, it prompts me again:

Is this the real reason, or is there more?

I wrote more.

This short, virtual prompting by a non-human was strangely so thoughtful and perfect. In those few moments, I was able to succinctly put into words a large quantity of what has been bothering me for months.

It was always in my head, but placing it on paper had a real impact.

I want to have hopefulness and strive for goals. Why? It asked me.

Because I don’t want to be depressed or have existential angst.

Is this the crux of it…?

I don’t feel like me. I miss the old me.

I have known this for a long time, but verbalizing it gave it power again.

What is the old me?

Well, a lot of things, but when I wrote that I was thinking about the old, physical me, for starters. A girl who was comfortable in her own skin and looked in the mirror every day and thought (mostly) that she was beautiful and radiant.

The old me also had dreams, hobbies, energy, and spirit.

She didn’t look forward to drinking as an escape from reality. She didn’t sit on the couch, watching television for hours so the aching she felt inside could be tamped down. She looked forward to full stretches of days alone, where she could practice guitar, write, do arts and crafts, go for walks in the woods, and feel the cosmic love of the universe pour down upon her in gentle, reminding waves of compassion.

I don’t feel any of that anymore. Literally, none of it. Today, is the first day in a very long time I have felt anything.

Knowing that every day was one I was sleepily rolling through, like a person in a crowd on an escalator, was making me mediocre. Mediocrity led to helplessness and uselessness. I do not like being alive just so I can eat snacks, watch a movie, or go to work. I like being alive because I know I have some purpose. If I am not contributing to this existence in any way, I don’t want to be here.

This is the existential angst I’ve been feeling.

My dreams have been filled with nightmares and destruction for weeks. I wonder if this was my body’s way of trying to cause motion again?

My problems are far from being resolved, and this is only day one of the first step, but I have at least identified and verbalized what is causing me such stagnation.

I have finally chosen to listen to myself.

Chemical Cocktail, Please

His hand is outstretched with an ornament in his palm; he says, “Do you want to hang this one?”

A week ago, Bryan and I put up the Christmas tree in my living room.

With the new Gilmore Girls Series playing in the background, we spread all of the ornaments across the floor and began to hang.

It was a home-made ornament from my co-worker Heather with one of my favorite photos of Zen and me on it: I’m in my thread-bare bathrobe, snuggling him in a deep embrace while smiling.

me-and-zen

I immediately broke out into tears. Big alligator tears.

I don’t know if it was that I was completely taken by surprise or that it was the beginning of the week where my hormones get all wacky thanks to my silent passenger, PMDD. It probably was a combination of the two, but I was a tiny ball on my living room rug, crying hard while apologizing through snotty wails.

Losing Zen a month before Christmas last year was such a whirlwind that I had erased from my memory that I ever received that ornament. And unfortunately, it wasn’t the only one. After I recovered myself, we continued to hang ornaments, and minutes later, Bryan finds another customized Zen ornament that my sister had made. Another one I had forgotten about. He hands it to me, and once again, I am on the floor, tears streaming down my face.

I have always been “highly sensitive” and “overly emotional” since I was a child. In the past few years, it has intensified. Recently, I’ve discovered I have what is labeled as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, where my hormones go hay-wire for approximately a week to a week and a half each month, usually during ovulation.

So, it makes me wonder, was I really that distraught over my deceased cat or was it just my crazy hormones acting up?

Knowing that I have a hormone imbalance and being able to regulate it with birth control and natural remedies, such as exercise, dietary changes, and herbal supplements, has basically saved me from losing my mind and firing off at people with no self-control. Yet, it has also enabled me to use it as a crutch or an excuse when I do act ‘roided up on emotions.

That bothers me, sometimes.

Some of the magic of life’s moments are blanched when I have the knowledge that a specific combination of neurochemicals and hormones are having a rager in my body and that’s the reason why something makes me wistful, depressed, nostalgic, deeply affected, or impassioned. Things like my libido and emotional acuity can be altered with the application of a pill each day.

However, I cannot deny that PMDD is a real thing and I can actually see the signs of it now that I know what it is. It’s not just a made-up crutch with which I scapegoat my behaviors. I’ll come home from work and have that “I just want to go to bed now” feeling that I used to attribute to laziness and always gave myself a hard time about, but I know now that it is the onset of PMDD. Knowing that helps me get through it and actually motivates me to go to yoga, start cleaning the apartment, or make dinner. These subtle signs always happen during a specific time of the month, providing some proof that the chemical cocktail is coursing through my body.

Crying over Zen was unexpected and real. It may have been heightened by my levels of hormones in that moment, but I love and miss him fiercely.

I refuse to let the knowledge that we’re all varying mixtures of chemicals ruin the incredible luster that is cherishing a lost one, smiling because a memory with an old partner feels painfully beautiful, or hurting because my heart is breaking. It might not always be a fun feeling, but it’s me.

It’s always been me.

Unchartered Territory

In yoga class, my teacher tells us to breathe in our “intention”, and then, exhale and let it go through the mouth.

I imagined a ball of green light filling up my stomach and reaching to my extremities, like the way contained lightning looks inside one of those glass bulbs. I visualized black smoke leaving my lungs and mouth, as I pushed the air and unheathiness out of my body.

My focus lately has been completely that of regaining mental, physical, and emotional health. Along with that process comes spiritual brightening, a sense of reconnectedness with my surroundings, and an overflowing bowl of love that supersedes the compassion I have felt in the past several years.

The last few months, my process has been to chart everything, whether it be literally or mentally:

I have charted weight loss; I evaluate my emotions and insomnia during ovulation to see if the birth control is curbing my PMDD symptoms. Carbs are slowly being reduced from my diet. I bought a bunch of vitamins and supplements and line up pills each afternoon after lunch, as I swallow them down with seltzer. I add up hours of sleep I’m gaining; I keep track of alcohol consumption and have greatly reduced my intake. I am aware of my breath in yoga and keep tabs on my exercise regime. I celebrate each day cigarette-free; Whitening my teeth has become a twice-a-day routine. I regale in numerous hours of solitude and count back from 100 as I drift off to sleep.

I chart my life. My new life.

My new life is structured, balanced, and healthy. It needs to be for now. These promises and habits I’ve allowed myself to receive are saving my life and I can’t take that lightly.

It’s been two-and-a-half weeks since I quit smoking cigarettes. It’s hardly been a struggle at all, which is making me wonder why I waited so long? What’s harder is that I am now battling an over-active appetite as well as water retention from taking the pill. The 7 lbs I lost in the last month or more have seeped back into my fat cells. Or maybe I gained muscle? We can pretend that’s what it is.

I don’t think I’ll always be so stringent with my habits, but this is part of cultivating the healthier me who deserves to feel good about herself. I’ve wanted whiter teeth for eons; what’s stopping me? I rapaciously lap up each second of my yoga classes, often on the verge of tears and slipping out small smiles, because I missed peacefulness and inner and physical strength so damn much.

I’m a chronic body obsessor. I have very obsessive-compulsive thinking patterns, and sometimes, behaviors. I think I have body dysmorphic disorder. Have thought so for years. So, I battle these evil thoughts constantly. Most people just don’t know this about me, because although I will blurt out a complaint or ten about my appearance, I don’t seem excessively worried. Inside, I am terrified of my body, all while appreciating it and loving it, too.

It’s a boomerang of feelings, but I do my best to realign my focus more on my physical health than my physical appearance, and I think I am kinda kicking ass at it.

I’ve always been a person who has massive amounts of self-confidence all while hate-shaming my body and worth. Many times I’ve referred to myself as a “self-loathing narcissist”.

Although I have been abused and neglected by men, fucked over by friends, and feel uncomfortable in clothing, I do really love myself. I think it’s rather self-evident in the radical changes I’ve made in the past couple of months without a second thought, because I knew I had to in order to get my PMDD under control and ensure I wouldn’t try to hurt myself again.

I’m almost done with month three of the pill and this week is the time-frame when my emotions usually become overwhelmingly intense and my motivation to move nose-dives. I have become teary-eyed and sensitive a lot over the past several days. I don’t feel incredibly unmotivated, however. I feel sort of sad or wistful, but not in a depths of despair kind of way. I am longing for someone to hold me more than usual; I am nostalgic for lost moments, and the ache that always lurks in the precipice of my darkly-rooted traumas is ever-so-present. It always shows its face during this time of the month. But instead of being anchored to my couch, crying and paralyzed for hours at a time, I am observant of it, processing it, feeling it, letting tears out where needed, and remaining positive.

Birth control didn’t fix my PMDD; it is only helping me while I figure this out.

As I place trembling feet into unchartered territory each day, all of the confident steps I’ve taken to bring equilibrium and salubrity into my life coach me and make every mile a little lighter and easier.

Here’s to Health (Update)

I’m a smoker and my doctor has warned me that pretty soon I would have to stop, because once in your thirties, your risk for blood clots increase if you smoke.

I had my follow-up appointment on Friday to see how the birth control (that I’ve begun taking two months ago for my PMDD) is going.

For the first time in my life my blood pressure has elevated. It’s still pretty healthy. I think it was 120/84. She said according to all my records, my blood pressure has pretty much always been 120/70.

Well… she’s pretty sure the cigarettes are causing the increased blood pressure, and if, in 6 weeks, I go back and my blood pressure is still going up, she has to take me off birth control.

I really, desperately do not want that.

For the first time in a few years, I am starting to feel more normal during that one heinous week of each month where my emotions and depression become monsters with their own agendas.

I do not want to switch to a different method, such as an anti-depressant, because the side-effects are greater, and I feel fine most of the month.

After this weekend, I have to try hard not to smoke anymore.

This is something that should have happened a long time ago, anyway; I just never had a “good” excuse to be motivated enough to quit.

If I don’t quit, I could be compromising the positive changes occurring in my life, and that would be foolish.

So, here’s to health!

Premenstrual Dysphor–What??

About once a month I kind of lose my mind.

For the past two years, I’ve been experiencing bouts of depression, crying jags, insomnia, irritability, suicidal thoughts, fatigue, and complete lack of motivation. The thing is, I experience this for a few days to a week, once a month, around the time that I’m ovulating.

Unfortunately, it took me until just this year to realize there was a pattern and maybe the things I were experiencing weren’t because I’m really emotional, have a lot going on, or am just a depressed mess.

It seems as though I have something called PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder).

After a really bad argument with an ex (who is still a friend) a few months ago, when I threatened to harm myself, I realized something was really wrong. I was fine two days later. I scheduled an appointment with my gynecologist to discuss what I believe to be a hormonal imbalance of epic proportions.

I have not taken birth control in approximately ten years. I kinda really hate it, truthfully. I have tried several types and have had some kind of adverse reaction to each one. That is part of why I’ve put off this self-diagnosis for so long. One of the first measures a doctor will suggest is birth control to regulate the body’s hormones. And, well, once you come to terms with the fact that you could have really hurt yourself, you’ll do just about anything to feel like yourself again.

I’ve only told a few friends about my attempt to harm myself, because, naturally, it is something that typically angers and worries friends; it’s something that makes me feel guilty and ashamed.

At the end of April, I had my appointment with the doctor on the same day I was going to NYC for the weekend with a female friend to visit some of her friends and the guy I’ve been emotionally attached to for the past year.

The amount of relief I felt as I stepped out of the doctor’s office was amazing. I wasn’t better–but I was finally out of denial and making the first step to being a healthier, happier person.

Fast-forward to the next day, where I am sitting on a patio somewhere in Brooklyn with this gorgeous man who’s holding my hand as I swallow my pride and tell him that I’ve finally decided to do this for myself because I have a problem. Instead of scoffing at me or telling me that PMS isn’t real (ways I fear people will react), he said he thought it was great, that a lot of people won’t come forward and confess they have had “bad” thoughts, and that I shouldn’t worry about silly things like side-effects (bloating) from the birth control.

I started the pill a few days after returning from NYC, and it’s been one month and a few days of shutting off my phone alarm at 8pm and swallowing a tiny, pink disc packed with hormones.

So how am I feeling?

It’s not a panacea. At least, not yet.

Week one was terrible. Every side-effect I could have from the pill I did. Nausea, indigestion, fatigue, irritability, insomnia, headaches, and my period lasted for 13 days or something ridiculous like that.

Then, the side-effects began to level out. However, around the time I would start ovulating–week three or so of the pack–the familiar feelings of sadness for no reason started creeping in. I recognized it right away. Nothing was going negatively in my life (at least, not more than usual) and I was doing good things for myself like going to yoga and spending more time writing, yet when I got home from work, I wanted to go to bed immediately so I could just restart again the next day.

Commercials would make me cry, I would get snappy. I had trouble sleeping at least one of those nights. Although, I will say, it was less pronounced. The symptoms after only being on the pill for a few weeks were already beginning to smooth out.

In a little less than a month, I have my follow-up appointment with my doctor, where we’ll discuss if this is working for me. I’m on month two, and am feeling better already.

This isn’t all unicorns and daisies–Feelings I didn’t even know I had began to surface after the first few days of taking the pill:

  1. I can’t have children
  2. What happens if I stop taking the pill?

I am 33 years old and am not in a committed relationship. I have wondered if I would ever have children at this point. After beginning the pill, this massive fear came over me that I might never have children if I’m already 33 and I’m going to be on the pill for a while.

Of course, there’s the counter: What happens if I stop taking the pill, because, by some miracle, a man wants to spend his life with me and we decide to spawn life? Will I spiral into hormonal imbalance? Will I have postpartum depression? Do I need to take the pill for the rest of my life to feel sane?

I’m trying to heed the advice of my friends and take it one day at a time, and focus on the immediate and getting better now.

I have also begun to think of my intake of birth control as a temporary aid.

There are so many other healthy adjustments I have made to my life after years of alcohol use, late nights, and drama:

  1. I have a regular exercise and yoga schedule
  2. I spend at least a couple of nights a week completely by myself, sober, and choosing positive activities, such as cooking, chores, reading, or writing
  3. I have separated myself from situations/people who were making me unhappy
  4. I am eating better
  5. I am reconnecting with my spiritual self

All of these things are natural ways to enhance serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. They are also probably things that will help naturally regulate my hormones.

Once I’m feeling good enough, perhaps I can try going off the pill again to see where I’m at.

But for today, and in approximately two hours, I will punch that tiny pill through the foil, swallow it down, and feel comfort in knowing that I don’t have to suffer.

Coming Home

I removed my shoes and placed them slowly in the cubby below the fabric-covered bench outside, as I reached the top of the stairs. Apprehensively, I pushed open the door to find a common room with two Latina ladies. A small-framed, curly-haired woman walked in from another room and greeted me through a smile.

I told her it was my first time.

I just attended my first yoga class in approximately two years. And if you really want to count, I haven’t had a steady practice of any kind in over four.

I have been making excuses for a long time for why I wasn’t ready to go back to yoga, and part of it, honestly, was because I really wasn’t ready. My body didn’t crave it; my heart wasn’t in it; anxiety and depression had won the war for years over what to do with my body, and it mostly consisted of alcohol, stress, partying, and avoiding exercise.

I filled out the introductory waiver at the front desk and it asked me what my level of experience with yoga was? I wasn’t a beginner. I have years of experience, including teacher training and advance level classes and workshops under my belt, so “some experience” didn’t seem to fit, either. I checked off “advanced” but then felt it necessary to scribble in “but I haven’t been to a class in years!”

It’s like the shame of my absence of a practice or my billowing breasts that don’t fit sports bras or the stereotype of a well-toned yogi were making me question my validity to be there.

Once in the practice space, I unfurled my mat—my beautiful, deep brown mat—which had been sitting in the back of my trunk amongst clothes donations and bags of bottle returns for years. I think it breathed as much a sigh of relaxation as I felt walking bare-footed to grab my favorite props: a bolster and a blanket.

At the start of a typical class, the teacher usually prompts you to set an intention. Mine was simple:

Enjoy the class.

We began with some qi gong practices with which I was familiar to warm up the body. I remember the teacher’s voice saying, “Don’t even think about the motions; let it be part of who you are,” as my bare arms fluidly moved through the air in a wide arc in unison above my head and then back down. It felt like gossamer threads of energy were trickling across my skin.

It felt like the movement was part of me.

Through each pose, I instinctually remembered how to adjust my body for perfect alignment and total engagement of the muscles. It was like I have practiced every day for the last four years without a single break. The movements are ingrained in my muscle memory. Yes, I am weaker, and my endurance is certainly lacking, but I had a small smile that continually crept onto my lips throughout the entire class because I felt like I was home again.

The teacher encouragingly told me my poses were beautiful and so open, and I could only think about how it was because I am an out-of-shape, albeit, advanced student in a “Gentle Yoga” class full of mostly beginners who have never been the flexible types nor have they studied alignment the way I had. But if I were in a more advanced class, I would be the one taking breaks, slowing down, breathing heavily, and feeling my limbs shake. I’m not about to get cocky about this now.

Towards the end of class, while I rested my forehead on the floor in front of me during pigeon pose, I thought about how I was so thoroughly enjoying class, I couldn’t wait to come back in two days.

During savasana, where you lie on your back for total relaxation at the end of practice, I was trying to keep my mind steady. It wasn’t. But, it was happy. Elated, even.

The teacher read a short poem titled something like, “Let It Go”, and the words of it really spoke to me in that moment. Let go of your preconceived notions of how you thought things were going to be. Let it go. This is what it is.

A few tears of joy actually well-up in my eyes before we sat up to say Namasté.

I was anxious going to a class in a new building where I didn’t have my posse of yoga friends I used to see each week. I was worried about how I looked in yoga pants, or if I was going to be too ill-equipped to do the class. I was feeling like a beginner.

Those were my preconceived notions walking into class. Just like each day I wake up and think about how things were so different a year ago with the man I adore, or how my body looked when I was twenty-six. Humans tend to fixate.

Being in that spring-toned room, as soon as my two feet were planted hip-width apart and pointing forward, I felt like I was suddenly in an old life again. I had rekindled my bond with my body and the familiarity of one of the greatest loves of my life: yoga.

I was not a beginner at all. I was reincarnated but left with the old sensations of what I used to feel like before I let my life fall apart.

I walked out of my first successful yoga class in two years knowing that my intention had been fulfilled. Not only did I enjoy my practice, I smiled the entire drive home.