Burn Anyway

I came across this little piece by Erin van Vuren the other day:

Its appearance on my computer screen felt like a moment of serendipity.

Fuck them. Burn anyway.”

These were exactly the words I needed to hear as I was, in that moment and in the last few weeks, experiencing some major insecurity about head/strong and about speaking up in general.

By choosing to make my experiences and my words public, I’ve had to push through a lot of fear. My anxiety creates a sense of fear around literally everything, but choosing to write publicly about my life—my past, my kids, my struggles, everything!—has essentially been a practice of putting something on a page, closing my eyes, and hitting “publish” before I chicken out or throw up.

That’s because the act of sharing something personal, of offering something authentic to the world, also means being vulnerable. And feeling vulnerable is a deeply uncomfortable feeling. Even more so when you are a person who has been taken advantage of in moments of vulnerability before.

The current authority on vulnerability is most definitely Brené Brown. Her amazing TED talk about vulnerability, aptly titled, “The power of vulnerability” has been viewed on the TED website over 38 million times. Her 1.2 million Instagram followers, plus her five New York Times best-selling books, attest to Brené Brown being a tour-de-force in her chosen field of study (not to mention the fact that she has a PhD in Sociology, is a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW), and teaches at the university of Houston in Texas. No big deal, right?).

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

Brené Brown

I’ve put myself in a position where I feel excruciatingly vulnerable. I felt this way when I first started talking to friends and family about my mental health struggles and the issues in my marriage. I felt this way every time I went and spoke to a counsellor and tried to dig deeper into what was causing me so much pain and heartache. And now I feel this way every time I sit down to write, and especially when I share that writing here on my blog and via Instagram or Facebook.

I’d be lying if I said that writing for head/strong isn’t partially about creating a sense of catharsis for myself—it does help make me feel justified in my experience. But I think that’s a helpful thing for me and for anyone who reads this. I’ve learned that there’s a difference between writing for yourself and writing for an audience (thank you Janelle Hanchett) and for every post I make, I keep this guidance in mind and I try to tread the line between being vulnerable (and therefore, authentic) and not using my blog as a personal diary.

I recognize that I’m the one who has put myself into this very liable position. I could have continued to keep my mouth shut, keep my words to myself, and not allow myself to be vulnerable. I was pretty much a master at maintaining the status quo already (regardless of how much it was hurting me), and likely could have kept on maintaining.

Except that I couldn’t.

And also, I wouldn’t.

I mean, I won’t.

A fire’s been lit inside me (to reference back to the piece from Erin van Vuren) and now…well now, I’m not going to shut up.

I think my experience gives me something worth saying and I think that using my life as an example allows people to connect better with what I’m talking about. I’m trying to connect with emotional abuse survivors, mental health warriors, and the people who support them. This is a very courageous, yet delicate group of people. Trust definitely needs to be earned authentically, so I feel its necessary to share about my life. I need to show that I’m in the club too; I’ve lived what I’m talking about.

The flames that are now flickering with head/strong want to grow and I want to fan them and let things build into a flaming inferno (not to be dramatic or anything…). I want to become a powerful woman who uses her position of authority to accomplish something meaningful and head/strong is an avenue to do that.

So I’m stoking the fire. It was lit a few months ago, really, when I made my first post and committed to writing every week. The spark I struck by hitting “publish” that very first time has ignited a flame and I intend to grow that fire and burn the hell out of anything that gets in my way.

I let myself be full of ashes for most of my life, but I won’t allow my light to be dimmed again. I’m not going to stop burning, even if I’m afraid.

Because I think we need to talk more about emotional abuse.

We need to talk more about domestic abuse.

We need to talk more about mental health.

We need to talk more about single parents and divorce and writing and creativity and healing and struggling and we need to allow ourselves to come from a place of vulnerability so that we can authentically connect.

So look for big things. Watch as I fumble around and try to make head/strong grow. Stick with me (I hope) and be vulnerable alongside me. There’s beauty in the flames, remember?

xxJ

Burn, baby, burn.

Speaking My Truth is What Saved Me

It wasn’t therapy. It wasn’t psychiatric medication. It wasn’t my divorce. It wasn’t moving to the country… Authenticity is what saved me.

I’m betting we’ve all met some truly authentic people. You know, those people whose self-awareness and confidence is palpable. They always seem grounded and honest—they carry themselves with an assurance that belies a solid understanding of who they are and what they’re doing. They’re the people who start movements, who pursue their passions, who have a glowing energy, and who seem legitimately happy in their lives, despite their struggles and stresses. They are the people we want to be around and the people we want to emulate.

I think deep down we all know who our authentic self is. Deep down, we know what’s true about ourselves. And deep down, we’re aware of what we need and what we want and why, but we rarely act on this knowledge or understanding.

Why do so many of us sacrifice our authentic selves? Why do we hide our authenticity and keep our needs and wants private? Why have so many of us lost the ability to recognize and act on what we really need in order to be fulfilled?

I can’t speak for other people. I mean, I can guess at things, but really I have no idea how other people think and what they need in order to be happy; those things are going to be different for everybody.

I can tell you this, though: speaking my truth absolutely saved me.

My parents tell stories of me as a toddler where it’s clear that in my youngest years I had no problem communicating what I wanted. I’m pretty sure I just bit whoever wouldn’t listen and smacked other kids if I didn’t get my way. I was an adorable child, to be sure.

Something changed as I got older, though—I learned to turn that energy inward. I learned that it was unacceptable to lose my temper, or to bite and hit (kudos Mom and Dad!).

Unfortunately, my self-regulation skills morphed into a practice of self-sacrifice and passivity. I learned to deny my needs for the sake of keeping the peace and to focus solely on making sure that the other people around me were happy instead of myself. This skill for self-deprecation, that I honed in my childhood and my youth, led me into some really damaging relationships. In not speaking up, in not having the language or the tools to make my authentic-self known, I lost touch with my needs and I let other people take advantage of me. I developed a deep sense of insecurity, anxiety, depression, self-hatred, and despair.

This blog is the product of my experience of emotional abuse and me coming to terms with the unhealthy habits I formed that led to the unhealthy relationships I experienced. A few years ago, my life felt like a prison. I remember resolving myself to face at least 40 more years of unhappiness because of the commitment I felt to my partner and the life we had together. I remember wanting to completely disappear; to evaporate, to dissolve, to press my body up against a wall and seep into the paint and become nothing.

It was a very dark time in my life.

And then something changed: my marriage hit a breaking point and I saw an opportunity for escape. Something happened that made me feel justified in leaving my life as I knew it and moving on, despite how scary and foreign the future looked. I finally spoke up and it saved me.

Authenticity saved my sanity. It gave me strength and courage; it bolstered support from the people around me who cared to listen. It got me medical help. It brought me to my counsellors. It secured a healthier future for me and my children. It saved me from other harmful relationships. It allowed me to find meaningful, engaging work. It got my creative juices flowing again, it led me to make more music, to write this blog, and to self-publish my poetry!

Authenticity saved my life!

It was a catalyst for all the positive changes I’ve experienced these last two years. Sure, I’ve had an intense amount of counselling and therapy. I’ve started and followed a strict mental health treatment plan that includes mood-stabilizing drugs. I’ve moved to a beautiful, rural home, I’ve been exercising and eating better, I’ve got a dog and some cats, and my kids are a couple of years older and more independent now… Sure, all of those things have happened! But they wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t being authentic.

So I want to ask you, what do you need? What do you want? Who the hell are you and what does your authenticity look like?

I can pretty much guarantee that you will feel happier and healthier living authentically. Although, I can also guarantee that it’s not a magic cure for what ails you. There’s no lifestyle change, no medicine, no treatment, no herbal beverage, mantra, yoga flow, detox diet, religion, or amount of money that will stop stress from being in your life. But you will feel better and everyone around you will notice when you start to live your truth. Even the most selfish of us should want that!

Authenticity doesn’t have to be poetic. It doesn’t need to be earth-shattering or beautiful or eloquent: it just needs to be real. That’s the key.

And now I’m done sounding like a cheesy motivational article from a teen magazine…“10 Steps to Finding the REAL you! Plus, 10 Cool Outfits to Let Your Personality Shine!” Ugh, gag me! Bleh.

I just want to tell you that authenticity is the key to life, and I’ll swear by that. Literally: it’s the fucking bomb. Authenticity is where it is AT and you can fucking quote me on that. It saved my life. It can save yours. And then we can meet up and have a delicious fucking potluck and bask in the authentic glow of our gorgeous, real selves being exactly who we need to be and doing exactly what we need to do.

I’ll bring the casserole, you just bring an appetite for authenticity.

xxJ

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Take it from my 7-year-old: your beautiful, authentic self is in within you. Pinky-promise.

Embrace Me

It’s my body and I’ll eat pie if I want to.

Up until very recently I was living a depleted life. My days were filled with anxiety and depression, I was constantly overwhelmed and tired. My sleep was poor, I got light-headed all the time, I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t remember things, and I couldn’t keep up in general. I once had a naturopathic doctor posit that I felt this way because my body‘s resources were completely depleted and couldn’t keep up to the intense amount of stress I was going/had gone through. This sentiment was echoed by other medical and mental health professionals to the point where I accepted it as fact.

But my mission now, with my divorce settlement set in stone and my life much more in order, is to rejuvenate my body, soul, and mind and to give myself the loving care I deserve and have so needed.

To that end, I’ve sought out help. I have an A-list team of mental health, medical, and wellness practitioners assisting me in my recovery. Since seeking help, I’ve made huge (read: GINORMOUS) strides in bettering my mental and physical health: I’m on medications that seem to be helping me, I have counsellors whom I trust implicitly, I have friends and family on my side, and I have healthier outlets for my anger, my sadness, and my anxiety.

Right now, I’m working, just a little bit, which is something I hadn’t been able to do for years.

Right now I’m dating, just a little bit, which is also something I couldn’t have handled even just a little while ago.

I’m relaxing, just a little bit, which is something I had forgotten how to do.

And I’m eating—I’m eating well!—which is really the crux of what I want to talk about here. Because, like many other people, I have body issues and food issues, and these issues get more or less out of hand depending on how well or not well I’m doing.

Story time:

Last autumn I lost 20 pounds. It just fell off me between October and November.

*POOF* 

It was gone.

Some people would rejoice at shedding 20 pounds, but I know (and I knew at the time) that the weight loss wasn’t healthy for me. This weight loss was the result of tremors and panic attacks; it was the result of my lack of sleep and my lack of exercise. Really, it was the result of a deep depression and severe anxiety that made me lose my appetite and lose my will to try.

Fast forward to a few months ago when I hired a clinical nutritionist named Trish to help me make a healthy eating plan. Trish is awesome and one of the things I love about her is that she gives her clients a life plan, not just a nutrition plan. So when we met we had a conversation about, and I received personalized recommendations for, sleep, exercise, nutrition, sex/birth control, mindfulness, and stress management. Trish and I extensively combed through my habits and my preferences, as well as my stresses and my struggles. She learned about the meds I’m on, my hormonal cycle…everything!

Did you know that gluten can significantly affect our mental health? I had no idea.

Did you know that people can have late onset lactose intolerance? It turns out I’m one of those lucky late-bloomers.

Did you know that soy can do incredible damage to your hormonal cycle? I actually knew this, but I honestly didn’t realize how much it had affected me (fyi: I was vegetarian for 8 years, so soy was a staple in my diet!).

There are lots of fad diets out there like Keto and Paleo and GAPS that try to convince you that they are the BEST and ONLY way to eat. I know many people feel successful at addressing their body/food/health issues by following one of these diets, but I truly subscribe to the belief that each of our bodies is different and therefore each of our bodies has different needs.

My body’s not your body, your body’s not my body, and everyone should stop treating them as if they are the same.

So Trish and I came up with this plan, which I’ve been implementing for over three months now and guess what? IT’S LITERALLY BEEN LIFE-CHANGING! 

I am NOT used to what it feels like to have a healthy body; I’m not familiar with having stamina and strength and fullness. I love these changes, but here’s the rub: I love how I’m feeling, but I don’t love my body right now.

Those 20 pounds I lost last autumn? They’re back, and then some. In fact, I’m heavier now (aside from during my pregnancies) than I have ever been before. My clothes all feel tight. My belly is rounder. My teeny boobs are definitely less teeny. My thighs are chunkier. And don’t even get me started on the increasing voluptuousness of my booty.

My instinct is to hate it. And I mean HATE it. Feminist that I am, I’ve still fallen prey to the body image standards that society dictates and the messaging I got from family and friends growing up. I’ll sheepishly admit that I’ve always prided myself on being thin. But fuck, it turns out I was living a thin-privileged existence because this weight is really, really getting to me!

I can try to rationalize it to myself however the hell I want and I still always come back to “I look fat.” I avoid looking into mirrors now, because “I look fat.” I struggle to choose my clothes each morning, because “I’m too fat.” I feel self-conscious and so, so body-aware all the time.

I feel like a huge, fucking whale.

And I know it’s bullshit. I know, intellectually, that this is a crock of shit that my anxious, sick, unhealthy self created. I know that what I’m saying is stupid, but I feel like it’s completely and utterly true.

At least, I did until this afternoon.

Today, I put on my favourite pair of soft, body-hugging leggings, and a form-fitting, ribbed tank top, because I knew I wasn’t leaving the house and I knew that I wanted to wear something comfortable (none of my actual pants fit me anyway!). My daughters and I were busy all morning so I forgot to worry about whether or not my tummy was protruding or my thighs looked lumpy. Then I saw myself in the bathroom mirror at lunch time and my gut instinct was to feel revulsion, which is really the point I was at with myself! I immediately felt repulsed by my own image, but then a second later, I had an epiphany:

What if this is what healthy looks like on me?

WHAAAA????

What if this is what healthy looks like on me?

What if this body, these extra fifteen pounds or so, what if this is the body I’m supposed to have in order to be strong and energetic and beautiful and sexy? Oh my god what if??

When I left my ex-husband, I chose to do so because I knew I’d rather explain to my children why I left than why I didn’t. And today I decided to tell myself that I would rather be healthier and happier with fifteen “extra” pounds than keep living the hollow, depleted life I had been surviving in for the last two decades. I would rather eat well and feel full, buy pants a size or two bigger, have seconds if I want them, and snack instead of falling prey to my hypoglycemia…I would rather be bigger and find a way to feel beautiful at THIS size, than keep starving myself.

This has been a profound realization for me. And it’s one that I know I’ll be digesting (pardon the pun…not!) for quite a while.

I want to love my new body. I mean, even when I was thin (thinner?) I didn’t like myself! So what the hell do I have to lose in embracing the changes that are happening, which are OVERWHELMINGLY positive, and accepting that I am now this way and that it’s completely, entirely, fucking alright.

Who gives a shit that I have a few extra pounds on me?

Who cares that it took me this long to start feeling better?

What matters most is that I’m reaping the benefits of paying attention and giving my body what it needs. What matters is that I’m striving to embrace the version of me that looks different, but feels good. What matters is that I’m edging towards thriving instead of just surviving, and if achieving that requires me to go out and buy a couple new pairs of pants, then it’s most definitely worth it.

Maybe this is what my body looks like when it’s healthy.

You know what? Fuck maybe.

This IS what my body looks like when it’s healthy! And I’m going to fucking embrace it.

xxJ

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It’s basically impossible to feel shitty about yourself when you’re wearing sequins and rocking your dad’s university engineering jacket.

A 7-Layer Cake

Don’t let the bastards get you down; eat chocolate cake instead.

This past spring I took a writing course. It had the amazingly succinct, yet perfectly spot-on title of “Write Anyway,” subtitle: “don’t let the bastards get you down.”

I mean, it’s perfect, right?

It turned out that Write Anyway was about way more than just writing. Because during the course and since then, I‘ve ended up taking the messages and philosophy of the course and applying them not only with my prose, but also in my life.

See, I’ve led a life that was, up until this point (and excusing maybe those first 5-6 years of life when all children are entirely self-motivated because, you know, survival and all that), one where I prioritized everyone else’s needs and wishes before addressing my own. It’s been one where I constantly second guessed myself, felt anxious about even the tiniest decisions, and intentionally kept things private because I feared criticism, embarrassment, and a sense of failure.

But I’m learning some new things now, and I’m trying some new things now too, so I took a leap and signed up for the writing course. In doing so, I challenged myself to be vulnerable and authentic and, you know, kind of, sort of legit with my writing and with myself.

Somehow it ended up feeling like participating in Write Anyway became the pinnacle of all the hard work I’ve been doing! It was like the icing on the top of a massive, multi-tiered cake I’ve been building these last few years. Like, I’m imagining that I’ve been adding layer after delicious layer of what is the most mouth-watering cake ever created. In my mind, this cake is a decadent dark chocolate and sits at least 7 tiers high. Each layer represents a momentous benchmark I’ve achieved:

Layer 1: Ending my marriage (hallelujah!).

Layer 2: Getting a mental health diagnosis and starting treatment.

Layer 3: Finding the right psychiatric meds to be on (this took sooooooo long and was sooooooo effing difficult).

Layer 4: Beginning therapy with some amazing counsellors and seeing/feeling real, authentic progress.

Layer 5: Buying my own home out in the most beautiful goddamn place and knowing that I don’t ever have to move again (can I get an amen?!).

Layer 6: Getting my first real job in almost a decade.

Layer 7: Calling myself a writer and signing up for “Write Anyway.”

Icing: Participating in said writing course (and giving it every ounce of effort and energy I could muster!).

Sprinkles (of course there are sprinkles!): Launching head/strong, sharing my story, and taking the leap into being a legit writer/blogger.

In between each of these layers would be the richest, creamiest, dark chocolate ganache, which cements everything together and makes sure that this cake doesn’t crumble or fall. Or maybe it would be custard. Or raspberry jam. Or strawberry! Mmmmmm…

Okay, okay, I’ll quit it with the cake analogy… it’s making me quite hungry, actually… The point I’m trying to make with my appetite-inducing dessert comparison is that I now finally have the confidence and the energy to just fucking WRITE ANYWAY in every single part of my life! (As in the literal sense of writing down words and in the metaphorical sense of, “we all write our own life stories.”)

I can write my own life and while I sometimes feel pangs for the life I thought I would have, or regret the words I thought I could have written better, I’m forging ahead and showing up and I’m living and writing the fuck anyway!

So thank you to Janelle Hanchett of Renegade Mothering who taught the writing course, and to the incredible and engaging women who took Write Anyway with me! Thank you for putting the icing on the cake of my accomplishments and pushing me that little bit further so I can show up and be present in my life.

I feel charged, I feel competent, I feel like taking some risks. And I know that’s the key to succeeding in life: you show up, you do your best, and you keep going even when the icing starts to melt, or someone’s stuck their thumb into the cake and fucked things up a bit.

Isn’t it amazing that life can be so delicious, even when it seems like it’s also full of shit?

xxJ

headstrong blog post - Sept 9 2018
When life hands you lemons, make chocolate cake instead!