No Regret, Only Joy

CW: body image, body dysmorphia

I am officially one week (and one day) post-op!

For those who didn’t read my last post, my insurance company gave me breast reduction surgery for Christmas! Recovery hasn’t been as tough as I expected, though it still has its ups and downs. Gravity is not my friend at the moment, but my bathroom mirror finally is!

First, I’m not going to gloss over the difficult moments. The first time I looked down at my new chest I cried. They still looked too big and they hurt like the devil. Yes, I could breathe easier (strange, but true) and my breasts were finally sitting where they were supposed to on my chest, but I still wasn’t excited yet. It wasn’t until yesterday—a full week post-op—that I looked at my bare chest in the mirror. And when I did, I couldn’t stop laughing.

I love my new boobs! They’re still swollen and bruised and taped up, and they will be for a while, but damn they look good. They finally match the image of myself in my head. It’s such a good feeling that I’ve felt high ever since. I already feel more confident, and more in love with my body.

That last part I didn’t expect. But I’m finally seeing my body in a brand new way. Some of my body dysmorphia has begun to fade, as well. When I look in the mirror, I can see a tall, thin girl. Before, I considered myself one of those “big-boned” tall girls. My breasts took up most of my abdomen and made me feel generally large. I don’t see that girl in the mirror as much anymore.

I was hesitant writing this down, but I’m gonna say it: my body is beautiful. I am so happy that I’m starting to see that.

If anyone has considered having this procedure done and has questions I might be able to answer, feel free to contact me. I couldn’t have done this without the r/Reduction subreddit, and I can’t imagine going through this alone.

I’m sure I’ll continue mentioning my recovery in the year to come, but for now I am just giddy and in love with my new boobs. I am ringing in the new year with a body I now enjoy looking at in the mirror. And that’s a big friggin’ deal.

Merry Christmas to Me!

I’m gonna get super real in this one. Are you ready?

Ever since puberty hit and my boobs just kept growing I’ve felt as though they didn’t belong to me. The image of myself in my mind didn’t match with what I saw in the mirror. For roughly 10 years, I’ve wanted a reduction. In fact, when I was in high school, I wrote my parents a letter that I left on their bed asking for surgery, too ashamed to even ask them face-to-face. (This followed my initial diagnosis of my autoimmune disease, so my parents rightly decided that surgery wasn’t the best option for me then.) I’ve always strived to be honest on my blog, plus it’s often where I do my processing. It felt important to write this post. So here goes:

My insurance company has approved my breast reduction surgery, and my surgeon is fitting me in next week. I’m about to have smaller boobs!

A lot of thought, time and energy went into this decision, but so did many years of feeling detached from a part of myself. For most of my life I’ve gotten the comments “I had no idea your boobs were so big!” and “I would kill for your rack!” and “If it’s any consolation, you hide them really well,” from roommates and friends and even some medical professionals. But here’s the thing: I don’t want to hide my boobs! I want to be proud of them, to wear clothes that make me feel sexy and confident and like me. And now I’m finally getting that chance.

No more needing to bind my breasts to access certain styles or comfort. Besides, binding my breasts has been SO uncomfortable and never gives me what I really want. I have multiple Pinterest boards full of clothes/styles I never thought I’d be able to wear because of my breasts. It feels incredible knowing that I’m actually going to have the chance to find a style that is truly authentic and fits who I am and how I want to express myself. Not only that, but this surgery will alleviate chronic pain I’ve dealt with my entire life, and hopefully improve my posture. But the biggest, most important part of all this is that I am getting the chance to feel like a part of my body that I’ve felt shame for my entire life actually belongs to me.

This feels scary to write here largely because it still feels too good to be true. I still have to take a COVID test and hope that my surgeon doesn’t get called into an emergency before my scheduled procedure. Plus, because of insurance, I can only make this work if I do it before the end of the year. So in a way, I don’t want to get my hopes up too high. But on the other end of that spectrum, I need to keep reminding myself of the positives in order to speak into the fear that I’m also feeling. My therapist had me make a list of reminders to post around my house to look at before surgery (while I’m still super anxious) and post-op (when pain or limited mobility might make things tough), and the list is already a full page long (and still growing!). I’m getting the chance to change so many things that I’ve been unhappy with for most of my life, and I am so grateful.

Yeah, I’m terrified of having this surgery. And it’s a little scary writing about it here. But, as a dear friend reminded me, all of this is bringing me more in alignment with my authentic self and that can only bring positives. I’m choosing to do a scary and difficult thing in service of who I truly am. My outside will finally match my inside.

My job is to disappoint as many people as it takes to avoid disappointing myself. This (paraphrased) quote from Untamed has been helping me a lot through this process. Especially because I tend to care too much about what others think, so much so that I can derail my own life to make others feel more comfortable. But I’ve spent the last 10 years praying that this day would come. I’ve researched, talked to my doctors and surgeon, processed with my therapist, and even had conversations with my boobs in the mirror. It felt as though the universe handed me this gift just in time for Christmas. I know I’ve made the right decision.

I’m ready to feel more confident in my body, more aligned with my femininity, and be more expressive with the androgyny I’ve been waiting to fully explore. Let this post serve as my reminder, for when the fear tries to creep in or recovery gets tough, that I’m ready for this. I’ve always been ready.

What The Legend of Korra Taught Me About PTSD

CW: eating disorders, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder
This post discusses season 4 of The Legend of Korra; spoiler alert to those who care!

Quarantine has introduced me to both Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, and I couldn’t believe I had gone so many years without seeing either of these hit shows!

Korra on her recovery journey in The Legend of Korra

While I’m completely obsessed with both shows (after taking many Buzzfeed and personality quizzes, it turns out I’m a Firebender!) and their complex characters (Katara, Asami, Zuko, Jinora, Uncle Iroh!!!! The list goes on and on…), what stood out to me was how Korra dealt with a significant trauma at the end of season 3 and into season 4 of The Legend of Korra. I’ve never seen a more realistic portrayal of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder on screen before, and I found myself relating to Korra more than I ever expected to. What I appreciated about this series is that season 4 doesn’t offer us a new villain for Korra to battle right off the bat. Instead, she battles with herself.

In the post I shared about my specific eating disorder, I mentioned a long period of nightly nausea spells as a child that morphed into a full-blown phobia of getting sick. In that post I wrote that my eating disorder is defined as an “aversion to eating due to a traumatic experience.” Trauma (as my therapist defines it) is a real or perceived threat of serious harm or death, with perception being the key word. While some may have dealt with chronic nausea and grown up without any fears around it, my experience was different. Real or not, as a child I continued to think “This is scary and keeps happening, and no one is explaining it to me.” What my current therapist has helped me understand is that due to the constant spells of nausea in my childhood that left me more and more terrified each night I spent on the bathroom floor, I now experience CPTSD, or complex post-traumatic stress disorder. (The difference between CPTSD and PTSD is that complex post-traumatic stress disorder results from repeated trauma over months or years, rather than from a single traumatic event.) I can feel intense, physical anxiety when it comes to certain food, smells, bodily sensations, and even some bathrooms.

At the end of season 3, Korra is tortured, suffocated, and poisoned by villain Zaheer and though she survives, the experience leaves her traumatized, physically and mentally. When season 4 begins, we see flashbacks of Korra’s early recovery period, with symptoms of PTSD leaving her unable to stand, eat, or sleep. When Korra goes to see Katara, a healing waterbender, for help in her recovery process, Katara says she can help guide her healing process, but whether she gets better or not is up to Korra. She proceeds to show Korra how involved her mind is in her recovery, eventually helping her to walk again.

During a particularly frustrating healing session, Katara tells Korra “the mind can be a powerful ally or your greatest enemy,” and assures her that she’s safe even though her body thinks she’s still in danger. I perked up when I heard this, as my therapist often tells me that my anxiety is responding to a false alarm in the body, trying to protect me from a threat that doesn’t actually exist.

Korra sees a hallucination of herself in the Avatar State in The Legend of Korra

This is something Korra continues to struggle with, particularly as she experiences flashbacks and hallucinations from her trauma. It’s difficult to think you’re safe when your body feels as though it’s reliving your traumatic experience over and over again. (I’ve been told I need to read the book The Body Keeps the Score, and I look forward to reflecting on this post once I’ve done so.)

Eventually, haunted by her trauma and feeling isolated and misunderstood, Korra disconnects from her loved ones and leaves to travel the world alone. Though everywhere she goes, she is followed by an eerie hallucination of herself bound in chains. This was a beautiful (albeit spooky) representation of how it feels to be bound to your trauma, particularly during the scene in which Korra’s projected Avatar-State-self uses the chains to start “dragging her down with her” into sinking mud during an intense hallucination.

Korra quite literally battles her own mind, despite standing up to her hallucinated self and stating “You’re just in my mind. You’re not real.” Even though anxiety does lie in our minds, it can manifest itself very physically, and for someone struggling with PTSD, it’s difficult to recognize anxiety for what it is.

It doesn’t matter that Korra recognizes that her hallucinations are only in her mind, her physical symptoms are very real. As someone who has grown up struggling with symptoms of fear and anxiety, constantly being told the symptoms were all in my head—that none of what I was experiencing and feeling was real—I could empathize strongly with Korra. It took me a long time to learn that while my anxiety came from my mind, I was still experiencing physical symptoms. I still struggle with validating my own feelings and experiences, but now I know how to soothe both my anxious mind and anxious body.

After Korra does a lot of work in her recovery, she still feels haunted by her trauma. She continues to relive the torture she endured, unable to find peace and live her life as she did before the events of season 3. She decides to face her fears and confront Zaheer (now in prison), hoping that if she sees him chained up she won’t see him as a threat in her mind anymore.

In a scene I initially opposed (why would Korra return to the man who did this to her?!), Korra faces Zaheer and confronts her fears, which turned the scene into one of my favorite of the entire show. It turns out that Zaheer is able to meditate into the Spirit World—something Korra has been unable to do due to her trauma—and offers to help guide her back there himself, to show her she has “all the power in the world and the freedom to use it.”

As she begins meditating with Zaheer, Korra is confronted yet again with a flashback of him torturing her. She begins to panic, her body feeling as though she’s in danger, but Zaheer encourages her to let the scene play out. She doesn’t think she can do it, saying she has no control, yet Zaheer continues to stay with her, telling her not to fear what might have been, but rather to accept what happened to her. Soon, she falls with him into the Spirit World.

Korra and Raava reconnect in The Legend of Korra

When Korra realizes that she’s made it through the most difficult part of her anxiety and landed safely in the Spirit World, she is reconnected with Raava, the spirit of light and peace who lives within the Avatar. After being poisoned by Zaheer, Korra feared her connection with Raava had been severed, but Raava immediately reminds her, “I have always been inside of you.”

When I took Eat Breathe Thrive’s “Yoga for Eating Disorder Recovery” course, I was reconnected to my own Raava. As I learned various skills to restore my connection between my mind and body, I learned that I had the ability to control my anxiety within me all along. With ujjayi breathing that activates my vagus nerve (the one responsible for the “rest and digest” part of my nervous system), and honoring the needs of my body through interoception, I could lower the effects of the CPTSD, if only by a little bit.

I’ve also learned, like Korra, that sitting in my discomfort and letting my fear and anxiety play out won’t kill me (even when it may feel like it will). My therapist taught me that our minds search for patterns, and when I was constantly trying to numb away the anxiety or distract myself from it entirely, I was actually making it worse. I was reinforcing that the anxiety was dangerous by not addressing it, building up the fear in my head more and more. When Zaheer tells Korra not to run from her fear, to sit in the discomfort of her PTSD and accept what happened to her, she finally experiences relief. She relinquishes control, does the uncomfy thing, and it starts a new neural pathway in her brain—a new pattern—that shows her that she is safe.

As my therapist reminds me, my anxiety will always be there, there’s no stopping it entirely. But I can make it more manageable, so it won’t interrupt my life so significantly. Korra reflects on this concept, as well, as she leaves Zaheer’s prison. She acknowledges that she won’t forget the awful experience of being tortured and poisoned, but she is able to accept what happened, and that’s what will make her stronger.

While I have done a lot of work around my fears and anxiety, I’m not at the acceptance stage yet. Honestly, until I saw The Legend of Korra (and talked to my therapist) I didn’t know acceptance was a stage I could reach in my CPTSD. There’s a lot of frustration around the trauma I endured over and over growing up. But I have learned how to manage the anxiety to be able to live my life, and I continue to build on these skills with every passing day, week, month, and year. What’s more, I’m finally at the stage where I can process the trauma itself because I am able to manage my triggers and anxiety. I’m proud of my strength, and how far I’ve come in the last few years.

I’m so grateful to have seen myself in Korra, and I hope that we continue seeing PTSD and anxiety represented realistically on screen.

Taming: Part I

The other night, I was watching the episode of Friends where Rachel goes out on the town for the first time since giving birth. She’s wearing a dress that shows off her (frankly amazing) cleavage, and Ross (of course) takes issue with it. When she’s at the bar and a couple of guys come up to her to chat and eventually ask her for her number, she says she didn’t go out to meet guys, she just wanted to go hang out with her friend and get a drink. I found myself thinking Why did you dress like that if you didn’t want guys’ attention? That is my taming.

Taming is something Glennon Doyle defines in Untamed as the conditioning we receive starting in childhood to make us more acceptable in the eyes of society. She points out that at one point, when we were kids, we were wild, and dreamt of uninhibited futures and expressed emotions freely. But then, society began feeding us its messages that tamed us and put us in cages, and we learned that we were not supposed to be wild. Glennon (yeah, I’m using her first name, because I see her as part of my sisterhood more so than an untouchable author) has opened millions of readers’ eyes by calling bullshit on capitalism and the patriarchy, and teaches us in Untamed how to return to our wild.

I remember one of my first tamings. It involved the school dress code. Girls were not allowed to dress too “provocatively” (how can we dress provocatively at six fucking years old, I ask you?!) because it was too distracting to our male peers. And with no similar rules warning boys not to distract the girls in their class, us girls grew into women who were taught that men can’t help but objectify us. This leads to the body-shaming and blaming of women that I found myself (a 26 year old female feminist) doing to a television character.

This doesn’t mean I’m a bad feminist. This means that I’m still learning how to fight the toxic training and taming I’ve received for most of my life. When that training starts in childhood, unlearning it as an adult is hard work! What’s exciting is that I immediately recognized my Rachel-shaming thought as my taming. A year ago, I think I would have noticed myself making such a comment, but not been curious about it.

I’m equal parts excited and scared to rekindle the wild inside me. But I’m insanely curious what my life can look like outside of the cage I’ve been tamed into.

Some days can feel like I’ve abandoned my cage entirely, when the next feels like I’m right back inside with the door firmly closed. Other days I’m sitting on the edge, questioning whether to leave the cage that’s been my home for ~20 years, or leap into the wild unknown. Being wild is scary, especially in a world that does not accept or appreciate wilderness. But I do know that I’m curious about the wilderness enough to explore.

New Moon, New Mindset

I’m still not sure if I’m one of those people who believes in astrology or the spirituality of lunar cycles, but I decided to use today’s new moon as an opportunity for change.

I need to reset. A depressive episode a couple of weeks ago left me in some bad habits, and shame has lingered enough to wreak some havoc on my thoughts and behaviors. I want to set some new intentions. I thought it was pretty exciting that I had these thoughts on the same day of a new moon…for those who don’t know, new moons symbolize new beginnings.

I figured I could use the blog as a means of accountability, to hopefully manifest new intentions and habits. So, here we go…

Intentions
~Self-love
~Communication
~Mindfulness
~Inner strength
~Gratitude

Affirmations
~I love you
~I am not my feelings
~My breath is my anchor, my anchor is my breath
~I am capable

Goals/Habits
~Regular sleep schedule; get up/go to bed earlier
~Daily walks
~Regular yoga practice; same time every other day
~Daily meditation practice

I’m ready for this change, I’m welcoming it. We’ve got a President-elect who gives me hope, and I have professional and personal opportunities on the horizon. Let’s go, New Moon. I’m ready.

Today Was a Good Day

I feel like I can breathe again.

It didn’t sink in until about an hour ago that I actually have hope again. I haven’t felt hope like this in a long time. I can finally imagine a world in which I can safely leave my house, see my friends, run to the store, hug my parents. That is no small thing.

Not to mention, we have a woman of color as our Vice President. Honestly, this was the highlight of this win for me. Not so much Joe, but Kamala. I used to call her office when I lived in CA, when I was afraid of the then-newly elected administration. Hearing her speak tonight made me proud. I think the women of this country, and the parents of daughters across our nation shone a little brighter tonight. Representation is powerful. Hope is powerful.

This weekend, I am celebrating. On Monday, I get back to work to figure out how to be a better American, a better woman, a better human. But for now, I can relax. I can exhale. We did it.

unnamed 1.77

wandering aimless for years
i never thought i’d find a home
in any one place
wondering, hoping
will i ever settle, find peace?
then this year i learned
I am my home
beneath my skin
wherever my heart beats
is where i hang my hat
i’ve made it comfortable in here
my resting place
i am my home base
my breath is the key
that opens my front door
so long as i inhale, exhale
i can enter here
a space furnished by trust and love
mind and body knit together
but when depression rings the doorbell
i feel its pull and long to leave
the home i’ve made out of body
of flesh, blood, bone
fraying edges of body and mind
this cunning mood tricks and deceives
and if i’m not careful
he will carry me out out out
lying through his devil smile that says
there is no home after all
you’ll have to keep wandering
lost, alone, forever
soon i forget my breath’s ability
to anchor me in what i’ve created
here within myself
and i wander through the ether a while
until depression looms no more
and my inhale, exhale returns me
to my heart, my hearth, my home
within

A Highly Sensitive Activist

Our cultural and political climate has been weighing heavily on me lately. This happens more intensely for me because I am a Highly Sensitive Person, which means my nervous system is on high alert, I pick up on subtleties in my environment, and I feel things on a massive scale.

Sometimes I feel like there are so many injustices happening that I can’t pursue the one that stirs me the most because I feel like it’s the incorrect choice. That I’m prioritizing the wrong crisis. That I can’t be vocal about one issue because there are so many others to be vocal about, too.

The trouble I run into in wanting to be vocal about all of the issues that move me is that I am highly sensitive. As a Highly Sensitive Person, my availability to absorb the crises in our world is limited. When I see or hear these things, my empathy is triggered and the pain that others’ are facing amidst these issues penetrates deep within me. I am still learning the best way to move through that empathic pain in order to break through to the other side. And as much as I want to prioritize all of the injustices I see in the news every day, I also know that I need to prioritize and protect my sensitive brain and nervous system, so that I will have the capacity to tackle more issues in the future. I don’t want my sensitivity to get in the way of my activism, but rather I want my sensitivity to be a catalyst of activism.

An excerpt I just finished in Untamed said this:

“The magic of heartbreak is that each person’s doorbell rings in response to something specific. What rings your bell? Is it racial injustice? Bullying? Animal cruelty? Hunger? War? The environment? Kids with cancer? What is it that affects you so deeply that whenever you encounter it, you feel the need to look away? Look there…The thing that breaks your heart is the very thing you were born to help heal.”

Glennon Doyle, Untamed

Glennon struck a chord with me here. Because there is an issue in particular that rings my doorbell every single day. There is an issue that keeps me up at night and interrupts my daily thoughts. There are images that hurt me so much I almost can’t bear to look at them. There is a crisis that has me brainstorming ways I can draw attention to it so that maybe, somehow, change will happen.

That issue is climate change. Every single day I think about the animals who can’t do anything to prevent themselves and their planet from dying, and grow more and more furious at the human race for causing such destruction. I think about how we can do something to prevent these things, with such simple solutions*, and I feel like I must do something to bring about this change. I must keep these poor animals alive somehow. I must make people feel what it is that I feel—an absolute betrayal of humankind and utter devastation that these animals can do nothing to stop their species from dying out or their environment from getting too hot or their water sources from drying out or their homes from becoming uninhabitable—because if people can put themselves in these creatures’ shoes (or paws/fins/hooves, if you will), surely they will start taking this climate change thing seriously. Right?

I will say that just because I feel the fire burning inside me, calling me to do something about our home that’s dying because of us, doesn’t mean that I don’t care about other extremely important issues. This isn’t an all-or-nothing situation, which I think is why I struggled writing this post (and tackling this issue within me) for so long…I was worried that I was wrong somehow for choosing to act on one injustice while ignoring other crucial issues our country, citizens, and neighbors are facing. But the thing is, I’m not ignoring them. It’s not so black and white.

I am choosing to listen to the call I hear within me (my Knowing, as Glennon Doyle calls it) to try and make a difference for the sake of our planet and its creatures. And while I do that, I will continue to speak out about the other issues that make me feel big things, and do more self-reflection and education on issues I don’t fully understand or may even be contributing to. I will do these things in ways that are healthy and protective of my body and its sensitivity so that I don’t damage my ability to answer the door when someone/something rings the bell.

I’m still figuring out what this looks like. I’m not comfortable not having all of the answers yet. It’s difficult being a Highly Sensitive Person and a perfectionist. I want to be the perfect activist and I can’t. I also recognize that it’s much easier for me to do nothing than to grapple with these things, but I’ve sat in silence for far too long. And, as I’m learning from my brilliant new role model, Glennon Doyle, I can do hard things.


*If you’re interested in learning about the simple changes we can make to save our planet, David Attenborough lists them in his film, A Life on Our Planet, available on Netflix.

No Resolution This Time

I usually write these posts with a purpose or a solution in mind. I don’t often write just to write. I think that’s perfectionism convincing me I need to have a pretty, polished result in order to show it to the world. I can’t ever be a work in progress.

Women aren’t typically allowed to be a work in progress.

I’m doing so much reading and thinking lately about what it means to be a woman. I haven’t thought much about it before, not until recently. I’ve also started reading, among many other books, Glennon Doyle’s Untamed. (I told myself I had to finish at least one of the other 10+ books I’m reading right now, but I just couldn’t resist!) I don’t think I could’ve picked a more perfect time to start it, though, and if you haven’t read it yet, I highly suggest it. I can confidently say it’s worth the hype, and I’m only 13 pages in.

Each page I read I think to myself “Why aren’t women raging mad all the time?!”

We’ve had the very essence of our being stolen from us, and the accomplice to this robbery—the instigator, in fact—was this patriarchal, capitalist world we live in. Anything about us that is even slightly feminine we are taught to stifle, to hide, to be embarrassed about, to feel shame about, to silence, to plaster a smile on, to wrap up in a pretty, perfect, pink bow.

Don’t show your emotions, you’re being irrational. Yeah, she never smiles or anything, she must be made of stone. You act like you don’t care! Jeez, you’re so sensitive. I’ve heard that chick sleeps around, she’s such a slut. Wow, you’ve never had sex, what a prude! Don’t wear a top that shows too much skin, you don’t want to distract the boys in class. Why are you dressed so modestly for a date, he’s never going to want to sleep with you. Aren’t you angry at how he spoke to you? Stop overreacting, you’re embarrassing yourself! Girl, you’ve gotta stop throwing yourself at him. Why don’t you wanna go out with him, he’s clearly into you! Well, of course they didn’t want to hire someone who’s pregnant. Don’t want kids?! Don’t worry, you’ll change your mind and want kids someday. You really need to stand up for yourself. God, she’s so bossy! Damn, your boobs look great in that Victoria’s Secret bra! Why is she breastfeeding in public, no one wants to see that! Gross, she looks like a skeleton. I’ll sign you up for a gym membership, you can’t gain the Freshman Fifteen. I don’t care that you have to go home to your family, you need to meet this deadline! Why would you consider this job, who’s going to look after your kids? You’re gonna be hot if you leave the house in sweats and a sweater! You were basically asking them to cat-call you by wearing shorts that short. You don’t need all that makeup, you’re so pretty! You sure you at least don’t want some blush and mascara, you don’t look very professional.

I could go on. I mean, holy double-standard, Batman!

We have to change the way we speak so we’re not as threatening. We can’t show our emotions without being seen as weak, irrational, dramatic, or crazy. We can’t be ambitious and family-oriented. I’m so tired of fitting into such a small box.

I still don’t know what to do with the anger that keeps rising in me. I don’t know how to quell my guilt and shame for defaulting to ignoring my power and making myself smaller for others’ benefit.

It bugs me that I’m going to publish this without any resolution or conclusion, but I don’t have any answers just yet. This is only the beginning…

Shame, That Cunning Bastard

Earlier today, after frustration over a search for socks snowballed into anger and I sent clothes flying all over our bedroom, my partner came to check on me. I was balled up on the floor, sandwiched between the bed and the wall, and my head was tucked below my knees. Anger, not being something I’m particularly used to yet, had left me feeling humiliated. As my kind and compassionate partner sat next to me rubbing my back, I didn’t want to admit to allowing socks (or lack thereof) to cause such a tidal wave of ferocity in me.

In the past, I wouldn’t have said anything. I would have remained silent and let my emotions consume me, driving away the person I desperately wanted to stay by my side. But see, I had made a promise. A promise to my partner not to shut him out. Not to make him think that my anger or moodiness is directed at him, or the result of anything he did or didn’t do. A promise to communicate.

I’m learning that I default to shutting people out, or shutting down entirely, when I feel intense emotions because of the unawareness my family and I had around my high sensitivity and my emotional needs as a highly sensitive person growing up. So, now that I know that my nervous system feels things much more deeply than the average person, I have to work hard at communicating when I’m feeling big things.

I’m not saying that I’m great at communicating now that I’ve learned all of this and have made this promise to my partner. In fact, I’m generally pretty bad at it. Sometimes, it’s so hard to say what it is I’m thinking or experiencing that it feels like I’m prying my mouth open with a crowbar and reaching down my throat to physically pull the words out. Often I’m speaking so softly that my partner has to ask me to repeat myself.

Today, though, I recognized that I have made some progress. This past week was particularly stressful, and I recalled the moments where I managed to use my words. At first, I wanted to celebrate this. I remembered how often I had kept my mouth shut in my relationships with my parents, friends, and partners in the past, and knew that any step in communicating was a step in the right direction. But quickly, shame piped in (that relentless bastard) and reminded me how far I still have to go. Shame said “How dare you celebrate this skill that you’re only less than mediocre at? You have way too far to go before you can pat yourself on the back.”

At first, I believed it. Shame is cunning, and uses small truths to create big lies. While it’s true that I’ve just begun to scratch the surface of what healthy communication looks like in my relationship, it is false that I have to wait until I’ve mastered the skill to acknowledge and celebrate my progress.

And, just because I’m not negating or discounting my success thus far, that doesn’t mean I can let up on the gas pedal. The fact is, I do have a long way to go before my communication is easy and open in those moments of moodiness or anger. But the more I practice it, the easier it will get, and I can celebrate the wins along the way.