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Do you ever have moments when it seems like nothing you do is good enough, or right? I’m kind of stuck in one of those periods now…it seems like everything is blah and gray, that nothing good is happening, and that nothing will ever change. On one level, I know this isn’t true, but on the emotional side it sure feels that way.

Take teaching my class for example…I started off out the gate slow – I lectured (god forbid), and then made the mistake of lecturing again. If you’d asked me after my second class period about how the class was going, I would have told you, “awful.” Things have improved some – I’m bringing in discussion and we did a movie today along with some lecture on APA format. The hard thing is, I still feel like I’m an imposter and that I completely, totally suck at this. I know it’s been a while since I’ve been teaching, but I honestly don’t ever remember feeling this unsure of myself in the classroom. Still, I’m muddling through. We did “early alert” evaluations for new faculty today – I’m scared spitless about how they’re going to come out, and whether or not I’ll have a job next semester. Am I catastrophizing? Probably – but it’s also where I’m at emotionally here.

My work on the private practice is another area of angst – I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and that I’m trying to ride with one wheel missing – I don’t have an “advertising budget” and I’m working the resources I have as much as I can, but still – nothing is happening and it’s very frustrating. No clients, no group…nothing. I keep wondering if I’m just not meant to succeed…but then I think, “Dang it girl – hard work and keeping this going is what will pay off!” So…I keep on keepin’ on here. I call people, I send out flyers, I leave messages on voicemail, and I keep praying and hoping something will happen. In my dreams, the phone rings and I get a therapist on the other end saying, “Hey, is your group still open? I have three people I’d like to refer to you…” Ok, I admit it probably won’t happen like that. The bottom line is that I have to “do my homework” to make this work…and realize that it WILL take time. Great on the “brain” level, but still hard on the “heart” level – emotionally I feel like I’m a failure again.

And then there’s finances…oh heck…I’m worried if I’m going to be able to pay my bills, given that nothing is happening with the practice and that my teaching job pays very little. It’s a good thing I generally love what I do in the classroom – I’m certainly not doing it for the wonderful paycheck. I think that’s what has been hardest for me with the teaching – I LOVE teaching psychology, and I’m very frustrated that I don’t seem to be communicating that or the material very well. Instead, I feel pressured, anxious, and incompetent. And I’m NOT used to feeling that way in my classroom!

So where do I go from here? I really don’t know. I’m frustrated, feeling down, and more than a little nervous about the student evaluations and upcoming faculty evaluation. I’m scared about what’s not happening with my practice and am wondering if I can make it work. I’m overwhelmed about the finances as a result, and feel like if I think too much about it, my head will explode. I just hope it gets better – that I find my footing again in the classroom, and that something “clicks” with the practice end of things. If not, that I can find work that will help me pay my bills – no small undertaking in this economy. As you can see, I’m great at judging myself – so one of the things I’m trying to do is be gentle with myself and not judge myself so harshly. Chances are, I’m judging myself much harder than anyone else is. So…I try to be nicer to myself and keep on keepin’ on. I keep hoping, praying, and working to see if I can make any of this happen.

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Laura - 1 year old - 1966

Laura - 1 year old - 1966

I know most people in my field say that you don’t really remember things until you’re much older than I was in this picture. But I say they’re wrong.

I remember this picture being taken, not in the way we typically remember things, but in a more tactile, textural way. My memories from this age are all sensory – tactile, specifically. I remember the color and feel of the mesh screen that covered the fireplace (I’ve checked this out with my mom – she doesn’t know how I’d remember that!). On the day in question, I remember the rough, warm feeling of the rock planter that was on the side of the house…the texture was rough, and the rockes were like sandstone. I remember the feel of the breeze, and that the rocks were warm to the touch, and the smell of the daffodil. I remember feeling lifted and then set down into the grass (don’t ask me who did it – I don’t remember that!)…the point of all this reminiscing is that I do remember some things from that time period, all of them sensory.

One other thing I remember is a deep sense of contentment. The adult Laura would say that I trusted the world around me, and myself and felt my place in the world. This sense would become shaken to its core in the next few years, and would continue on throughout much of my life. Living with a depressed mother, an alcoholic father, and then having two sisters added to my life was a lot for this little person to handle, and the next thing I remember is spending a lot of time crying. Interestingly enough, my first clear memory of my mother is of her standing in front of the windows in the living room and crying – because my dad had stayed out drinking all night again and she didn’t know when or if he’d be home. There was a lot of sadness in my family.

Through some pretty dysfunctional family dynamics, I learned that my needs came last, and that I was selfish to even consider myself before everyone else. I had the “selfish” label thrown at me more times than I care to remember, as I’m sure many other little girls have…and I learned quickly that if I trusted my gut feeling on what was right or wrong, I’d end up hurt. Abusive family dynamics work that way –  you learn that what the abusers say is truth IS truth if you want to remain intact. In my family, the abuse was mainly psychological and emotional…but it still left its scars, scars I am still dealing with today. The trust I had in myself was worn away by day after day of denying my own valid needs in favor of catering to others’ – this is what you do to survive.

I’ve struggled with the effects of this pattern for decades now. I really struggle with needing to please people and feeling like I need their approval. I struggle with developing and maintaining healthy boundaries, and I struggle with being myself AND being in healthy relationships. I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression. That’s a lot of baggage – and I’m proud to say I’m making progress. I am not the same person I was even two years ago – and I like myself a lot more now. I’m lucky enough to be able to share this process with others, and to help them on their journeys as well.

These days, I’m trying to get back to the little girl in the picture – back to the days when I felt content in myself, trusted the world around me, and trusted myself. It’s hard work, too. There are things I can trust, though – I can trust that the spring warmth on frozen ground will bring flowers and sweet smelling grass. I can trust that the daffodils will still bloom every year. I can trust that my little girl will have the chance to trust herself, and recognize that her needs and wants are valid (even if she doesn’t get everything she wants!) I can trust myself that, as a mother, my daughter and my sons will be raised differently and in a world where their needs are honored and their selves are valued. I can trust that I won’t always be perfect, but that the love I have for my children is enough, and that if I honor them as unique, amazing little people, my love will shine through and guide them on their ways.

And finally, I can trust that if I learn to trust myself, I can be a good example for them, in their journeys.

Warning: This post has should probably be rated PG-13, with an “L” for language

I read an interesting blog post from one of my favorite blogs here, Kate Harding’s “Shapely Prose”. The subject was sexual harassment, and how we women are trained pretty much from birth to be quiet, ladylike, submissive and “good” – and how those same qualities get turned into blaming the victim when a rape occurs. It got me thinking about how many experiences we have of being assaulted, harassed, and violated.

One of my first memories was going with my dad to the barber shop when I was a very little girl. I remember feeling creeped out by the way the barber would talk to me, and yet I also remember being told to “be nice.” Now that I have a daughter of my own, I cringe every time I hear someone tell a little girl who is clearly uncomfortable to “be nice.” “Being nice” is more about OUR comfort as adults than it is about respecting a child’s right to her/his own feelings. And that’s sad.

My first husband…well, prior to our wedding we had talked about that first night because we were both virgins. I made him promise me he would stop if I asked him to, because I was afraid of the pain. He promised me he would, and guess what? He didn’t. He didn’t to the point of taking me three times that night. I could barely walk the next day, and when I called my mother her response was, “well you made your bed, now you have to lie in it.”

I also remember being in the hospital at one point, and having another patient – male – enter my room and try to sexually assault me. I told the staff about it, and they “arranged” a time for me confront him. When he got up and left the room, slamming the door in my face, they simply said, “well he’s brain damaged. We can’t expect more.” Then, I knew I felt violated a second time and didn’t say much – where was it going to get me? Today…well, I would have said, “You sure fucking can! Get me a lawyer, because I want to press charges.” The hospital was lucky I didn’t sue them as well.

The really sad thing? For literally YEARS after that incident, I would have nightmares of being chased and hunted down, and not being able to yell or scream because I couldn’t open my mouth. Talk about dreams reflecting real life…at this point in my life, I recognize that I was dealing with classic PTSD, generalized anxiety, and depression. It didn’t help that my husband was an emotionally abusive man either, or that I grew up in a verbally and emotionally abusive home. Following years of being verbally and emotionally abused took its toll on me though, and I didn’t even realize that they (both the hospital and the man) shouldn’t have been able to get away with what they did.

Another incident occurred while I was in graduate school. This time I was guest lecturing for my advisor, and was confronted by extremely rude, confrontative, aggressive behavior from a male student. The first time I lectured, he “merely” made sexist comments. My advisor (a woman) “advised me” to let it go, so I did. In graduate school, advisors have a LOT of power over you, so I didn’t feel I could take action. The second time this happened, I was more firm and the student nearly became violent at the end of class. He was calling me a “motherfucking bitch” and “cunt” and other names. When I turned away, he yelled “Don’t you turn away from me, you motherfucking cunt!” Where was my advisor during all this? Trying to placate HIM. It turns out this student had various harassing incidents on the student listserv, and other in-class violations which had gone unreported.

When I told her I was going to report this incident, my advisor wanted me to “collaborate” with her and her teaching assistant so we could “be consistent” in our reports. I went over her head, and felt every right in doing so – she was essentially revictimizing me by trying to put a face-saving spin on the incident. I wasn’t having any of it and went to my teaching supervisor and the department head – both male and both more supportive than my advisor. Now, you have to realize that my advisor was one of the more vocal feminists in the department – I realized after that incident that she was more talk than walk. It was a horribly sad, eye-opening incident.

What ended up happening was the the case was taken to the student ombudsmen, who supported me. The student was expelled. The damage between me and my advisor was irreparable though, and shortly afterward I changed to a different advisor. I found out later that one of my friends had been raped her first year by another graduate student and that our (mutual) advisor had acted very similarly, and actually discouraged her from reporting it. So much for being a feminist, or even supportive. You would think that incidents like these would affect this woman’s career – but no. Tenure is a powerful thing, and this woman is internationally known and acclaimed for her research. So…like many incidents involving women who are in unequal power positions, it got swept under the carpet.

The truly tragic thing about these incidents is that they’re not isolated. They’re COMMON. Nearly every woman and far too many girls have stories like this to report. It is hard for me to even accept that I’ve been assaulted at all, but I consider myself a survivor. I’ve survived a lot of abuse, and yet it’s nothing compared to what some women and girls experience.

In our society, women are still objectified and judged by their attractiveness to a male audience. My appearance and my body size – my attractiveness – are what matters in society, and all of these are open to scrutinization and comment, whether I want it or not. I’m STILL being violated, as are ALL women, whether we want to admit it or not. This is in addition to everything SweetMachine writes about – women are victimized if they dare vary from the ideal of what a woman should look like or be. This kind of thing is still ignored, minimized and laughed at, because we want to believe our society has overcome these kinds of abuse.

And that’s what these incidents are – abuse, pure and simple. Women in this country, and around the world (in even worse situations) are abused on a daily basis. It’s so common, we don’t even think about it at ALL, much less think about it as abuse. As SweetMachine pointed out in her post, we think that the way we’re taught to behave, the way we’re taught not to be provocative is protective and normal. In reality, it’s the beginnings of blaming the victim. Before something even happens, we warn women and girls, “don’t do anything that could be taken wrong.” We SHOULD be warning men instead, “don’t do things that hurt people.” It’s that simple – we’re blaming the potential victims for the inappropriate, hurtful and violating actions of others.

No wonder we’re afraid to report. No wonder we’re afraid to talk. No wonder we keep quiet on the blogs, listservs, websites, emails – we risk being harassed or hurt every time we open our mouths. And now…I’ve had enough. I’m opening my mouth, and not just talking but yelling it to the rafters: “THIS IS WRONG! WE HAVE A RIGHT TO BE FREE FROM ABUSE!”

It’s that simple.

So here I am, on a Sunday afternoon, feeling a lot like there isn’t a whole lot of hope for the future right now. I’m still generally optimistic about my private practice and about teaching, but I’m having a hard time feeling motivated at the moment.

Now to be fair, this is coming after a morning in the church nursery with a bunch of rowdy preschoolers and toddlers – it’s like herding wet cats back into the bathtub. I also only got 4 hours of sleep, and those were interrupted by disturbing dreams. So, I’m legitimately tired.

However, some of the exhaustion is emotional too. Starting a private practice takes a lot of work and energy, and starting any business is a slow process. I know I need to be patient AND I want it NOW. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t do too well with ambiguity, although I’m trying. (And yes, the old saying about what comes into your life is what you need to work on very much applies here!) So, I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and not getting very far.

I’m also feeling very pressured about getting my class(es) ready for fall – I’ll be teaching at the local community colleges and one class is a brand new prep – I’ve never taught it before. It’s Developmental Psychology, and is cool stuff – but pulling together a brand new course in a little over a month is a LOT of work.

I’ve written on my professional blog about feeling emotionally paralyzed – when I feel overwhelmed, that’s what happens to me. And right now, I feel paralyzed out of my mind. I try to follow my own advice, though, and even though I’m not feeling super-confident at the moment, I’m pretty sure I’ll be feeling better in a few days. The hard thing is right now, when I’m feeling this way, I tend to get down on myself – I tend to think of all the things I’m doing wrong, or think of the “if only’s” and “what might have beens.” I feel like I can’t do anything right, or that I’ll never succeed. This isn’t true, but emotions can be a web that catches you – and sometimes it’s hard to break free. Getting judgmental of anyone – even ourselves – isn’t a helpful thing.

“Tenebrous Ennui” basically means a dark, gloomy sense of a utter weariness and discontent resulting from lack of interest or boredom. In my case, it’s not really lack of interest or boredom, but more withdrawing and avoiding. (So maybe “ennui” isn’t the best term, but the whole thing, “tenebrous ennui” sounds pretty cool.) Anway, feeling overwhelmed and gloomy is the order of the day. I know this isn’t the case, but right now my life feels empty and barren – and I know that it comes from being overwhelmed with TOO much. Life is anything BUT empty and barren.

So where do I go? I ask myself the same thing I ask my clients…”What do YOU think?” My sense is that I need to counteract the sense of fear that underlies the feeling of being overwhelmed. To do that…well, I need to take my own advice and “move” and “do one thing.”

So, for the class…I could work on putting together the schedule. For the private practice…I can finish the application I’ve got for the local community mental health agency I contacted. (Having an interview tomorrow provides some motivation – stressful, but motivation all the same.) I also need to remind myself that my situation isn’t ME – it affects me, but doesn’t define me. I exist outside these stresses, and I can still enjoy things and take care of myself. I don’t have to be judgmental and punishing with myself – in fact, it’s way better if I’m not. This is something that takes a LOT of reminding for me, though!

I have a feeling that once I’m back in the thick of it and don’t have time to ruminate and overanalyze things, I’ll be ok. Meanwhile, I don’t want to marinate in my own gloomy sauce – so I’m going to go DO something. Even if it’s only ONE thing – it’s something.

I posted a little while ago on how “fat” is not a four letter word. And yet, it comes up again and again and again – in how people have lost weight, gained weight, lost it again, gained it again, etc. Look at Oprah – how many times are we (and her) confronted with her weight? I mean, REALLY! The woman has done incredible things with her life, and has helped so many people…but what do we (and the tabloids and magazines) focus on? Whether Oprah has gained or regained weight -as if her entire identity is defined by what she looks like. Puh-LEEZE!

Nia Vardalos – the writer and star of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” has written about her journey with weight loss…yes, yet another star telling us how she did it. (http://www.usmagazine.com/news/nia-vardalos-opens-up-about-pressure-to-lose-40-pounds-2009126)  The difference? She’s REAL. She doesn’t talk about liquid diets, personal trainers, diets in general, weight loss pills or anything of the like. She talk about how diet changes and exercising more was the way she did it. Nia also mentions that people don’t want to hear that – they want the miracle cure and quick fix.

Folks, there is no magic pill or quick fix. The weight didn’t come on overnight  (although for some people it’s quicker than others – and I’ll explain that in a bit), and it’s not going to come off overnight, either. I know this from both research and experience. Yes, I’m fat. I wasn’t always fat, and I’ve both gained and lost weight in the last year.

Over the last two years, I had lost 70 lbs. I had people coming up to me all the time, asking “How did you do it?” These people wanted the same answers that people wanted from Nia – they wanted to know a diet they could do, a pill they could take, etc. I got the point where I’d say, “It’s pretty simple. It’s called the ‘Eat less, exericse more diet’ .” I’d see people’s face reflect disappointment as they’d say, “Oh. Ok.”

I wish I could say I’ve kept the weight off. Throughout my life, I’ve also dealt with a mood disorder, and have been looking for something that woud help that as well. I finally found a combination of medications that has really helped. The problem? They CAUSE weight gain. Not just “weight gain may be a side effect,” but actually, “This product usually causes weight gain in patients who use it.” I am faced with a choice of feeling decent in terms of my mood or staying thin.

You can guess which path I chose, based on the focus of this post. I’d much rather be feeling good – about myself, my world, and my future – than be skinny. This flies in the face of what a lot of women say: “I’d rather be dead than fat.” That kind of thinking really pisses me off, to be honest. So, in the 6 months that I’ve been on this medication, 30 of the 70 lbs. have come back.

Here’s the thing that’s really hard. I still eat the way I did and exercise the way I did when I lost the 70 lbs. That hasn’t changed. It’s hard to look at myself in the mirror and realize that, after all that hard work and continuing hard work, the weight is coming back. There are times, honestly, when I’ve looked at myself and cried. I really worked hard for that, and it took time.

My doctor tells me, “Well…just eat less and exercise more again.” Folks, I eat 1000 calories a day. I walk 3-4 times a week, for about 4-5 miles (at an aerobic pace.) For those people who are going to tell me, “Well, you can’t be doing all that and have weight gain,” guess what? I can and do. And it sucks, to be honest. If I cut out anymore or exercise more, I’m going to start falling into the realm of anorexia. I sometimes joke that I’d be the world’s fattest anorexic, but it’s really NOT funny. Anorexia is serious problem, and eating disorders run in my family. I’m NOT going to go down that path, simply to look thin so other people can tell me how great I look.

Frankly, I think I’m stronger and healthier than I’ve ever been. My latest blood pressure reading was 106/69. And again, for those of you who want to believe that you can’t be fat and healthy – think again. It IS possible, and I’m living proof. Am I going to give up and just go back to the way I had been before my weight loss? Hell no.

I’m going to keep doing what I did to lose the weight in the first place. If things stable out and I start losing again, great. If not…well, I’m a good person, I’m attractive the way I am (and yes, I’ve had people tell me that), and I like myself. And that’s worth more than anything any diet or weight loss pill could ever bring me.

I’m fat…and I’m smart. I’m fat…and I feel good. I’m fat…and I’m heathy (believe it or not). I’m fat …and I exercise and eat well. I’m fat…and I’m beautiful. Period.

Reflections of Reflections…

Other Facets of the Mirror