Empowered to Take Up All My Space

December 14, 2017

It took a LOT of courage to do this, but the person after me doing the poem with the drums asked me to partner with him and… I did it.

Here’s the text:

With sweat pouring off me, I’m stomping my feet and swishing my long skirt around me. I’m not quite on rhythm and I don’t want to look at myself in the mirror because I know my steps look nothing like my flamenco instructor, but I feel free. I’ve taken dance classes before – ballet and tap when I was young, swing and salsa in college and as a young adult – but flamenco is the one I want to continue with. Even more, it’s what I want to be a metaphor for my life.

When I took ballet, it was always about trying to be graceful, staying quiet and in my place, and – even as a young child – not being too large. It took me until I was about seven or eight to lose my baby fat and slim down, and my ballet teacher poked at my belly and told me that I ate too many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and that I needed to suck in my stomach. I was five.

Ballet dancers look beautiful and I admire their hard work and dedication. But I also know the sacrifices they make for their art – the long, unbroken lines come from brutally carrying their weight on the tips of their toes, something the human body is not made for.  The slim physique of ballet dancers comes from strenuous physical activity, but also, too often, from disordered eating or substance abuse.

Flamenco, on the other hand, embraces whatever size, shape, or age a woman is. My flamenco teacher is constantly telling us to “take up all your space.” It’s about being stable on your feet and your hips, using all the body that you have, and learning the technique in a way that you can impart the dance with all the soul and feeling needed. You are encouraged to land heavily on the floor, to lean into steps with all your weight, and to use your hands and arms in large, sweeping movements. You are also encouraged to make noise.

Another thing that draws me to flamenco is how empowered the women look. There is a specific look cultivated with this dance, and empowered really is the best word I can think of for it. Women keep their head up, look proud, and don’t lower their eyes for anyone.

There’s also the stomping – which is clearly not the official term and my flamenco teacher would be angry with me for using it – that is so cathartic. I found the perfect description from the unlikeliest of sources, Wikipedia.) “El baile flamenco is known for its emotional intensity, proud carriage, expressive use of the arms, and rhythmic stamping of the feet.” Female flamenco dancers often use large, colorful scarves and skirts, taking up all their space like proud tropical birds, but fiercer.

I keep going back to these dance lessons because they remind me that I want to live like that. Not proud in a narcissistic way, but proud in a non-apologetic way. I had to spend so much of my life apologizing for who I was, in both words and actions, that I didn’t get to have that proud carriage. I still feel so often like my spirit is broken and flawed in an irreparable way that it’s hard for me to accept that I have the right to have a “proud carriage.” I come off as empowered to many people because I’m opinionated and not afraid of public speaking, but that’s not how I feel. I want to have the empowerment inside too.

I also want to feel like I have the right to take up all my space. I don’t want to try to be smaller or shrink into spaces that don’t quite fit me. I want to take up the space that I take up and stomp if I need to. Not to be angry and reactionary, but to be myself, proud, expressive, and fighting for my rights. I want to express myself in stomping if I need to. I want to stomp because I am beautiful and persevering and have learned to hold my head up high.

 

 

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My Team Showed Up

November 28, 2017

Today was a rough day.

We’re four days post-Thanksgiving and rapidly approaching Christmas. My family was totally fine this year – only very very minor blips. I had a great time with the kids (two nieces and a nephew who are the light of my life) and no arguments. But *I* felt not good enough. I noticed I was single, I noticed I don’t have my own “little family” as my siblings say. I was my own worst enemy in my head and my heart and I haven’t been able to shake that off. I feel like I am not good enough.

Christmas is coming up. I loved having Christmas with my ex. Actually, the last two men I’ve dated; we’ve had our own little rituals and not a lot of presents, but thoughtful ones, and our own ways of celebrating Christmas. Last year, my ex and I met up with my family on Christmas Eve (his is not local) and brought lunches to homeless people and cleaned trash on the beach on Christmas, ending with watching a gorgeous sunset over a clean beach. I miss that so much — someone you can build traditions with.

I’ve been working way too much. Every day, at least a little, and frequently 10-12 hour days. I love my work but I’m exhausted and emotionally depleted. I had some housing drama today that I won’t get into but I feel unheard and treated unfairly and it triggered everything in me about security (housing, financial, emotional) and unfair treatment (I was the scapegoat in my alcoholic family. I always felt like if I could just find the magic words to explain how things weren’t fair, that someday my parents would actually GET IT. But they never did)

I also had a reading today in a new venue, reading something that I’ve read once before but it’s not my usual subject. I usually read my writing about my students, about education, about social justice, and those sorts of things. Occasionally I veer out into reading about depression, which is tough.

This piece was about being a beautiful empowered woman with my head held high. If there was an opposite of a beautiful empowered woman with her head held high, that’s what I was feeling today. I was feeling like a broken, defective, ugly, guilty woman cowering in bed.

But I had promised and it was a partner reading and I went. I got dressed up, I put on lipstick and sparkly earrings, and I drove to BART and took BART to San Francisco and took Lyft to the venue. The housing drama was escalating on my phone as I went and I was fighting back tears. I don’t even know what exactly the tears were about except that they were about everything.

When I was young, I had undiagnosed asthma and most of the people in my extended family were smokers. I had (and still have) trouble breathing at all near smoke, and when I was near them, I would say I couldn’t breathe. They’d laugh at me and the drunker ones would blow smoke in my face. I said my throat hurt. They didn’t care. I switched to saying my teeth hurt, no idea why, but it made sense at the time. Nobody cared. I started saying that my EVERYTHING hurt. They still didn’t listen, but I felt like it was true. My everything hurt when I was around them.

This is how I was as I walked into the venue. My everything hurt. My everything was making me cry. I looked around for the one friend who had said she could come and found only a text saying she had to work late and wouldn’t make it. I felt completely alone there.

Then, people started showing up for me. These are people from my writers’ group who were there to support the group (there were four of us reading), not specifically me, but they were also there for me because I’m part of the group.

The person who had asked me to partner with him in the reading asked how I was, and I didn’t say fine. I said I was having a hard time. His partner came and asked me how I was and I said the same thing. I didn’t lie. I told people it was a hard day, that Thanksgiving had been hard, that I feel less than everyone else, that I was having drama/misunderstanding with someone which felt awful, and that I just do not feel good enough. And that I feel alone. And single. And alone. (I wouldn’t mind single if I didn’t feel alone).

They didn’t run away. They didn’t get scared. They listened to me, I cried a little, and they told me how excited they were to hear my piece again and how maybe it was just what I needed to do tonight.

I listed to the other readers and tried to fight my thoughts and feelings. My throat hurt from trying not to cry. My eyes burned. My heart hurt. Because my heart always hurts when I feel worthless. My everything hurt.

And then it was my turn. I haven’t watched the video yet but I felt good about it. I felt like my words were what I needed. I explained why I loved flamenco dance even though I’m not good at it (that photo is not me) and how my experiences with ballet had made me feel worthless. I told the audience how flamenco is empowering with beautiful women dancing who are stomping, who have a proud carriage, and who don’t lower their heads. I told them that I felt irreparably damaged and like I wasn’t allowed to take up all my space or be empowered. And I told them that I want to live my life with my head held high because I am beautiful and empowered and strong.

And these people, who I dont know well… these people were there for me. It wasn’t the support I wanted. I wanted a partner to drive me there, to buy me flowers, and to take me home and congratulate me. But it was a whole team and they got what I was saying. They were present with me. I hadn’t known how much I needed their presence.

I had a whole team with me. My team showed up and I hadn’t even known they would be there.

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A Reprieve

September 19, 2017

Something has shifted lately. I don’t know if it’s meds, therapy, prayer, or what, but I’ve been feeling… content. Maybe even joyful sometimes. And much less sorry for myself.

I went to a family event over the weekend. When I spend time with my family, I go way into self-pity mode. I’m the only adult there who’s not married, who doesn’t own a home, who doesn’t have children. Mostly, I’m just the only one alone.

But something about this time was different. I got to spend time with my nephew and nieces who I love very very much. My youngest niece just warmed up to me (she’s two and VERY picky about who she spends time with) so I got to read her books and have her sit on my lap and play games with her. My nephew and I have always had a really strong bond and even though he managed to spill a whole jar of syrup all over my lap, we still had fun.

Things feel good. The tough part is that depression waits. You don’t get cured, you get reprieves. One of the triggers that has been most consistent for me is the season change from summer to fall. So here we are on September 18, and I feel like it’s tapping me on the shoulder. I don’t want it, I don’t want anything to do with it, but there’s a reminder.


Honesty

July 23, 2017

So, yesterday something, don’t know what, prompted me to share the blog. I made a facebook list of people who were safe, mostly because they weren’t related to me and I didn’t work for or with them, and put it up. I don’t know exactly what I was looking for, but I got a lot of empathy and a lot of relating. People I don’t know well commented that they totally understood. And for some reason, it helped.

I probably won’t keep it up – I don’t really want my name associated with this, and if you read back, you may understand why. But sharing it did two things: it made me feel much less alone and, in reading back to some of my early posts, it made me realize how incredibly far I’ve come and how much healing has taken place. I’m grateful for that. I hope it helped someone else too.


Beauty and Loneliness

July 15, 2017

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It was an extraordinarily beautiful day today. I had little work to do (summer is my lowest time, which is stressful with money but good for mental health if I don’t worry about the money) and a friend called to see if I could have lunch. I had already eaten but asked if she wanted to go to the beach at the edge of town instead.

I forget about this beach. It’s slightly over a mile from my house and is the bay, not the ocean, perfect for kids, because there are no big waves. It’s not exciting: there are no snack shops, no souvenir places, no surfing, no snorkeling. But it is the beginning of the ocean, with sand and all the ocean smells.

I brought some camping chairs and we sat for over two hours, watching kids fly kites and play in the really cold water. I was absolutely covered in greasy sunscreen but it was perfect. The temperature was not too hot but warm enough and I felt so incredibly relaxed and content. I even kept saying, “This is just perfect,” sort of feeling like saying it aloud would keep the feeling.

The friend suggested we go for ice cream after which felt like a perfect little luxury at the end of this.

Then my brain kicked in, with all of its insecurities. I started worrying that I’d never have this experience again and that somehow I “wasted” it by not appreciating it more. I worried that I’d get depressed again when summer leaves because this weather is so wonderful that it’s going to be a huge loss. I worried that I’d never have friends to travel with again, that I’d be alone forever, that nobody would remember me, that tomorrow (I have no concrete plans) will be incredibly lonely, that my dog will die, and all of a sudden, I’m at the bottom again.

By this time I was home. In my ideal world, or what I think would be normal for a lot of people, I would have been glad for a beautiful day relaxing with a friend and savored that. Instead, I’m questioning if anyone would notice if I died or disappeared and convincing myself that I’ll be lonely forever and depressed and cold once summer ends.

I feel like I’ve thrown away the gift of a wonderful day. This is NOT how I want to be. I just don’t know how to change it.

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When the Meds Work…

June 11, 2017

…they really work. I feel like a normal person again. I hope it lasts!

I’ll be traveling soon, so I’m not sure when I can check in but I will when I can!


Giving Myself Credit

May 16, 2017

I’m exhausted. I’m changing my anti-depressants again. I went off of one that was making me feel crazy, like actually crazy. I have an appointment on Wednesday with the doctor. Not sure how long the withdrawal from the one I went off takes – it wasn’t that high a dose so maybe I’m imagining things but I feel exhausted and am really craving sugar.

And you know what? Right now I’m eating the sugar. That’s not a fight I’m willing to have with myself right now. The sugar is comforting, and I’m eating it. I’m not harming myself in any drastic ways, I’m not self-medicating with alcohol or drugs… I’m going to eat the damn cake. For now.

And I’m trying to focus on what I HAVE gotten done today. Yes, I took a 2-hour nap in the middle of the day even though I slept enough. Yes, I dropped my bike and scratched up the new bike that I love. I left things places that I’ll have to go pick up tomorrow because I’m so tired that I am getting really absent-minded. And yes, I’m going to bed at 9 pm.

But also: I tutored four kids today and I think they learned something. I edited three articles and answered a ton of emails and went grocery shopping and rode my bike. That all counts. And I prayed. And I ate. And I took my medicine.

So I’m going to try very hard to convince myself that today is a win.