I recently announced on my private Facebook page that I am moving back up to Los Angeles this summer. For those readers who don’t know me personally, Southern California has been my home for the last few years, and while I live close to LA now, it’s not close enough. I moved out of LA for a job, and now that the job (and treatment) is over, I’m ready to head back. Which, of course, means looking for a new job.
Which brings me to the subject of this post! What happens when your career is part of your identity, but you realize you want to switch careers? I’m currently figuring that out.
Theatre has always been a part of my identity; it’s the only passion and love I’ve ever really had. But lately, I’ve come to the realization that it’s been a long time since I’ve felt fulfilled by theatre. Particularly in a creative way. I think my time in San Diego and in treatment gave me the perfect opportunity to take a step back and take a look at what I truly want to be doing. And right now, as shocking as this realization was to me, that thing is not theatre.
A good friend of mine runs a blog called “Tipsy Theatre Traveler.” A few weeks ago she wrote this post regarding theatre and how it’s often tied to identity, and the relationship between dreams and our idea of failure. Her post really spoke to me because I definitely believe theatre is a part of what makes me me, and that has what made it so difficult to begin pursuing other career options. All my life, I have worked towards a career in theatre. I was a theatre major, I moved to Los Angeles to work in theatre, I moved to San Diego to work in theatre; this will be the first time I won’t be chasing the theatre dream. And I gotta say, it feels incredibly strange.
I don’t know what comes next for me. The last few months have been incredibly overwhelming because I haven’t known where to turn or how to begin searching for a new dream or passion. Theatre feels like all that I am. Recently, I have been starting to formulate a new career goal- which has been exciting- and yet it still feels very foreign and unlike me. Honestly, not feeling fulfilled by theatre feels very unlike me. All because it has been all that I am for most of my life. When people think of me, that’s what they see. And now that I want to change that, it feels disappointing; almost as if I’m letting myself and others down.
As I am discovering other skills and fleshing those skills out into careers that interest me, I am excited for the future. And I am flippin’ terrified. But I am a different person than I was before treatment. Now that I am not so focused on my health, it’s time for me to allow myself permission to explore other careers in a non-perfectionistic way. I am not a failure because I’m shifting gears away from what I know best. Theatre is not all that I am. My dreams are allowed to change.
Well, it’s time for me to out myself. I’ll do it AA style: Hello, my name is ____ and I am a self-harmer.
And I am working on recovery.
It’s difficult to admit to the f*cked up things I’ve felt or thought in my life. But I know now that hurting myself will not make things better for me. Maybe in the short term, but after that, people will just go back to living their own lives.
After a recent journey of self-discovery, I came to the realization that I hurt myself because I deeply want someone to notice me. Most of the time, I feel invisible. Unwanted, boring, the last person someone calls when they are looking for a good time. In my depressed mind, I convince myself that if I have a broken foot or a bruised and bloodied hand or a scar on my face, I will be more beautiful and, ultimately, more seen. To those of you who don’t struggle with mental health, I know you don’t understand. It’s a difficult thing to understand. Hell, sometimes I don’t even understand it. But my head does a great job of twisting the truth into lies that are nearly impossible to recognize. If it acts like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it must be a f*cking duck, right? Not in my head. I’m still learning that just because there’s a part of me that wants to beat myself senseless, doesn’t mean doing that is actually effective. Which is why I decided to write this post.
Earlier today, someone asked me if there was something that I’ve been wanting to blog about but have been too scared to write. Well, yes. There always is. But this one in particular is a big one. And I need to out Sasha. Because posting this will last a hell of a lot longer than any bruise or cut I could give myself. And maybe this way, I can stop being afraid and start being more authentic.
I don’t know if I’ll ever know or believe what it’s like to feel needed or wanted. Hopefully I will. But what I do know is that hurting myself will not get me the attention I desire. It won’t give me the love and connection I crave.
Earlier tonight I was having a tough time. We went on a meal outing in program, and I came really close to not showing up at all. I sat in the parking lot of the restaurant for a long time, crying, not understanding why I couldn’t just get up and go inside. Eventually, with the help of my therapist, I wiped my tears, pulled my hair up, and got out of my car. As soon as I walked in the restaurant I wished I had gone home. I felt all eyes on me. But I sat down at the end of table with everyone and stared at my hands, forcing my tears to retract back into my eyes. Within a few minutes I had a meal sitting in front of me, and I still hadn’t looked up from my lap. The conversation continued as it had before I was there, and I sat waiting for it to be over. But then, something happened.
I saw my friend stand up from her seat on the opposite end of the table and make her way towards me. I wondered if she was going to walk out the door like I wanted to, but she didn’t. She pulled out the chair across from me and sat down. I had been isolating myself. As much as I want people to see me, I want them to see the me that I want to present. Not the snotty, pale, broken me. And yet, here she was. Looking me in the eye. Asking me if I was ok. Willing to make that connection. And suddenly, I knew I could share myself with her, pain and all.
You see, even if I hate admitting it, I recognize that the attention I seek comes with authenticity. I can’t expect people to see me if I hide the parts of myself that I don’t like or am uncomfortable with. So, instead of creating the wrong kind of attraction by hurting myself, I’m publishing this post.
I don’t want this post to be misconstrued. I’m not looking for your pity, and I am certainly not begging for attention. What I crave isn’t superficial. I long for deep human connection. And I know that some of you reading this don’t know me very well, and I don’t want you to feel obligated to reach out to me. I’m doing fine. Just ask my therapist.
there’s so much i want to say
but nothing i’m brave enough
to mutter out loud
in my head i beg you
to hear me
when will you realize
that this isn’t me
i don’t act this way
writing poems and
remembering you at
you’ve flooded me
every cell knows
that i’m in love
such an unfamiliar concept
i don’t know how to express
what i’m feeling
when i don’t think i
understand it myself
how did i contort myself
into this creature
how did i convince myself
i needed you
how did i allow myself
to fall so freely
without seeing what
lies at the bottom
of this cavernous chamber
in my heart
You and I both know we have a long history. I’ve been wrapped around your finger for years. Our hands stay intertwined no matter where we go, and when I can’t find you I panic. It helps that you’re gorgeous; everything I wish I could look like (and more). I think you did that on purpose. You see, while I was fawning over you for all this time, you figured out exactly how to keep me around. Promising a life of beauty, happiness, art, and endless pain to foster my creativity. After all, you were the one who told me good art comes from suffering. And I believed you for a long time. Until now.
I’m outing you, Sasha. You’re emotionally abusive, and I can’t take it anymore. It’s time to shine a spotlight on you in front of the world. You thrive in secrecy. The shadows is where you like to play. Not anymore. It’s time everyone knew you for who you are: an emotionally manipulative piece of garbage. In fact, you’re more like the gum someone scraped off their shoe and stuck to the garbage in the trash can. Someone close to me recently described you as a “bitch bag.” I’m sorry to laugh but…you know what, I’m actually not sorry at all.
I’ve written a lot of posts about you and your devious ways, Sasha, but I always end up slinking back to you at the end of the day. Desperate to cover myself under the cloak of your shadow. But this is my promise to fight you. To not let you seduce me into your twisted ways. To not hinder my recovery for the sake of your comfort.
So, there it is Sash. I’m declaring this our official breakup. I’m taking back the reigns from your thin, frail hands. I’m going to live my life now. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.
The inspiration for this breakup is funded in part by Demi Lovato’s Sorry Not Sorry. Please find the lyrics here, as I have been playing it on repeat all day.
*If this post has left you thoroughly confused, please feel free to learn all about who Sasha is and why we are so codependent here.
I have a friend who, in my opinion, writes beautifully. Her writing is reckless, yet eloquent and poised. She dives deep underneath the surface of herself and her subject to explore the meaning that lies underneath. My perfectionism tells me I need to be like her; a profound writer. An explorer. A collaborator. A curator. When I read her work I immediately feel inspired to work, to get something on the page. Yet when I do, I’m met with contempt in my own mind. I scrap it, claiming what I write will never be as good as hers.
The thing is, I can’t allow my perfectionism entrance into my creative hemisphere. I can allow it to open the door and poke it’s head in, but it is not welcome across the threshold. I write enough about perfection and it’s role in my life, but when do I stop writing about how I’m going to ignore it, and actually start ignoring it? Otherwise this blog is just proof of my hypocrisy. And I sure as hell won’t write anything profound if I delete everything I create. I read a quote recently from Austin Kleon, author of Show Your Work! that sums this up pretty perfectly: “You can’t find your voice if you don’t use it.”
As I write this, I’m sitting on a bench on a cliff with the ocean spread wide beneath me. It glimmers and glistens in the sunlight, moving effortlessly. I look out at the water and think “That is perfection.” But then I notice the waves bumping into one another, tripping over themselves as they stumble towards the sand beneath me. The surface is smooth in some places and rough in others. Boats carve white trails in it’s surface. No two waves look exactly the same.
Nothing is perfect. Not even the sea, despite it’s many idyllic qualities. The sea is chaotic. Constantly giving and taking with reckless abandon. Today, as the sun warms my face and my nose inhales the salty air, I am making a promise to be more like the ocean. Unforgiving. Exploratory. Imperfect.
Y’all, it’s been a crazy week. I’ve been hella busy between program and my lovely mother visiting!
I beat myself up when I don’t post as often as I would like, but today I’m going to allow myself to rest, enjoy time with my mom, and allow my brain to incubate. This weekend I promise I will be back to your regularly scheduled blogging! In the meantime, please see the picture below of a giraffe trying to eat a branch stuck in his lil’ feed basket. (Unrelated: the San Diego Zoo is bomb.)
I’m sitting on a stiff couch across from my therapist where I’ve just finished disclosing the reason my posts on the blog have been slacking lately. She’s sitting cross legged on her chair, peering at me through her stylish glasses (I swear, she has a different pair for each outfit. Ok, she only has three pairs, but still) and suddenly a smile creeps across her face. She maintains eye contact with me until I squirm. I know this look well. This is the “I, as your therapist, know what you need to do that you probably aren’t gonna like” smile. And let me tell you, she has mastered it.
This is my fourth month of treatment at this ED program, and I have had session with my therapist- we’ll call her Nikki- twice a week (sometimes three) and countless groups with her during this time. Nikki knows me pretty well at this point, and I like to think I know how she operates. At least on a professional level. Suffice it to say, I see her awkward smile a lot. Just as she has seen mine when I hand it right back to her.
I had just finished discussing the LA Times Festival of Books’ impact on me, which went something like this:
“I loved my experience there, and it was incredibly inspiring and motivating, and I feel like ever since I have been putting fifty shades of pressure on myself to be the best. I’ve been comparing myself to the authors I was meeting- even comparing myself to the other young adults around me- so much so that nothing I write now seems good enough.”
I don’t even know if the others in attendance were writers! But suddenly, they were better than me, and everything I’ve produced since has been hot, wet garbage.
Cue the derpy smile on Nikki’s face. I gave her an awkward toothy smile back as I braced myself for her feedback.
“That pesky perfectionism, am I right?”
Ugh. Of course she brings up my perfectionism. And double of course that she instantly tells me I need to blog about the experience. Cue the Tina-esque groan on my end. (Any Bob’s Burgers fans in the house?)
I spent most of the day simmering about how I was going to frame this post. My only instruction was the write about my experience, authentically. What I landed on wasn’t the idea that thrilled Sasha. In fact, she’s a bit pissed. But I know that in order to truly be authentic, I should share the lies she’s been telling me.
Most of these stem from my experience at the Festival of Books last week (and beyond). As I mentioned above, while it was the most amazing event, I also left with a new load of worries. Particularly in Sandy and Michael’s panel, where I gloriously soaked up every ounce of insight they offered, I left with a fun little distortion filter Sasha slipped over my memories. I could now only focus on the insecurities that sprouted out of my mind, like weeds.
It’s a vulnerable thing to be sharing, and I know it’s the elephant in the room Sasha and I are crammed in together. Once one lie begins, shit begins to spiral:
My writing isn’t pretty enough. I don’t write in an eloquent way that commands attention, or in a way that stirs people when they read it for the first time. Or the second time. Or the eighth time.
My writing doesn’t use a lot of frothy, figurative language or intelligent vocabulary. I’m a literal person. I’m not great at writing anything worthy of formal publication.
My writing doesn’t delve deep enough, it merely scratches the surface. I’m not good at the whole “underlying meaning” thing. “Profound” is not a word you would use to describe my writing.
I don’t write in a compelling enough way; people read the blog out of pity or because of a flashy title. They think my writing is trash.
Super fun, right? Let me tell you, it’s a lot easier to ignore posting on your blog when you’re convinced anything you write is utter crap.
Hence, Nikki’s awkward smile. With one look I knew she was staring down Sasha, trying to kill her with the kindness of a too-wide grin. And when all was said and done, I knew I had to believe Nikki. She’s one of few who can see through Sasha’s mental filter to snap me back to reality, where my only worry is when I’ll have time to post on any particular day.
Because, after all of these toxic thoughts that have been flooding my brain lately- listening to Sasha’s lies and staying silent on this blog- has caused me to go against the entire reason I created the blog in the first place! To challenge my perfectionism, my social anxiety, and to put down the rope. Not only that, but to do it in a way that makes sense to me. That fosters creativity and allows me to run free amongst my thoughts, without abandon.
It may make me squirm, but Nikki’s smile is what pushes me to be effective. She knows exactly what to do to point out the elephant in the room that I share with Sasha. After all, I created this blog for me. And I don’t remember typing anything on the About page about succumbing to insecurities. Putting Down the Rope is mine, and I am here to stay.
Let’s talk about the fact that I had completely finished this post and then it all got erased and I had to start over. Talk about challenging perfectionism. (Still fighting those thoughts Sasha is feeding me about the post currently sucking in it’s new iteration. SHUT IT, SASHA!)
If you read my post about my experience at the LA Times Festival of Books this past weekend, you know that I went to an awesome panel about writing memoirs. On this panel was author Sandy Allen, who discussed at length what it was like to write their book. Despite my belief prior to the panel that I would exclusively be excited by Michael Ausiello, Sandy definitely changed that for me. When they spoke, I dove head first into their words, eating them up hungrily.
Many things Sandy said stood out to me, but there was one comment in particular that I clung to. They mentioned how, in graduate school, their peers and friends would spend every day writing. Sandy wouldn’t understand, exclaiming “What do you even have to write about?!,” not able to figure out how they came up with content to write every single day. Unlike their peers, Sandy had a different writing method.
Their approach is different than the one I’ve heard over and over about the writing industry; that you must always be writing. Sandy, instead, takes breaks (imagine that!) and writes when there is content to write about. And not all days are spent hunched over a Word document; some days are spent researching or interviewing subjects, and are just as productive as the days spent writing. Hell, some days are for going to the beach and stepping away from your project for a little while.
In case you all forgot, or just haven’t been paying attention, I am a perfectionist. I made this a daily blog to help decrease my perfectionistic tendencies, like spending weeks on the same essay, and allowing myself to post even the smallest of posts. However, lately, that has equated to me pushing myself to generate worthy content every day, which isn’t always easy. Not only that, but I fight my perfectionism on what I post. Some days, I think I have to continue to write pieces that will continue to captivate my audience and increase my blog views. Which, of course, goes against why I created this blog in the first place.
So, when I left the Festival of Books this weekend, I came home and reread the “About” page of my blog. Because it’s all about how I created this site for me. Not for the audience, or for a certain number of daily page views. Sandy had reminded me that it is ok to go at my own pace, and take breaks when I need/want them. The blog won’t vanish if I don’t post every day, and people won’t stop reading if every once in a while I post something that isn’t exactly profound.
This post is for me to remember that my worth and my perfectionism do not go hand in hand. In fact, my worth is so far from what my perfectionism tells me, it’s absurd. This is also a reminder to you, that it is perfectly ok to take breaks and not beat yourself up over the small stuff. Stress and pressure will come and go, but you want to make sure you are doing what you are doing for the right reasons. Don’t let the thing you love take your mind for a ride without your permission. Nothing is perfect. Neither are you.
*If you are a reader (and even if you aren’t), I encourage you to go pick up a copy of Sandy Allen’s book, “A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise: A True Story About Schizophrenia.” I’m only a few pages deep and I’m hooked. 10/10 would recommend.
This weekend I was in Los Angeles attending the LA Times Festival of Books, aka, my own personal heaven. I attended panels by beloved authors and poets, met new people, took many pages of notes, and peed in a hot port-a-potty. It was a weekend fueled by creativity, coffee, and the desire to learn as much as possible.
In a way, this weekend was both terrifying and exhilarating. I felt drawn in to the high of art and writing and creating; the authors before me had been successful, why couldn’t I? Each panel delivered unique advice that I scribbled in my notebook as fast as my hand could move. I felt prepared in a way I hadn’t before; reassured that I was doing everything “right,” even though art knows no right or wrong.
At the same time, I felt like a grain of sand at the bottom of the ocean. There was so much talent surrounding me, and the eloquence that poured off of the lips of these writers intimidated me. How could I write something as profound as them, or even come close? As I listened to them describe their writing processes and meeting deadlines for their editors, I was overwhelmed. My head swam with toxic thoughts of incapability and impossibility; how would I ever be able to do anything like this?
Like waves lapping on shore, my stress ebbed and flowed. One poet during the first panel of my weekend adventure mentioned that he was not “a sophisticated thinker” like the others he was sitting next to. And yet, I was captivated by his perspective and story, and felt more connected to him than the others. I remember thinking, “Well he claims he’s not a sophisticated thinker and neither am I. But if he can get this far, maybe I can, too.”
The panel I had been waiting for all weekend arrived, and I was fighting through some gnarly GI symptoms that I had woken up with that morning. I’d be damned if I let my chronic illness stop me from being in the same room as the author of one of my favorite memoirs. I popped some Pepto, took a deep breath, and braced myself for “Memoir: The Unexpected Hard Stuff,” with authors Sandy Allen, Michael Ausiello, and Meaghan O’Connell. With my notebook in my lap, and my pen poised, I was ready to absorb everything they had to offer.
I ended up not taking notes at all, too enthralled with what each author was saying to bear ripping my attention away, even for a moment.
Each panelist spoke beautifully about their process and challenges they faced while writing their respective books. I was fascinated by Sandy’s story; their book was written over a period of 8 years after their uncle had shipped them a messy manuscript of his life and his schizophrenia. Sandy spoke beautifully about what it’s like to write nonfiction, and all of the hard work that is required to do justice to a person’s life.
Michael spoke next about how difficult it was for him to write about something so tragic, so traumatic, so soon after the death of his husband (which is what his memoir is about), and yet, how writing helped him make sense of the tragedy and how he felt his late husband’s story deserved to be told. He wanted to introduce the world to the man he loved. How powerful stories can be that each person who approached Michael that day, hands slightly shaking as they handed him their own precious copy of his book to be signed, had (or will have) their own experience while reading it. Each took something different from each page compared to myself or anyone else waiting in line, waiting for the author to crack open the cover and write them a message on the title page of his book.
Never would I have thought that at the LA Times Festival of Books, in front of a panel of esteemed writers, I would overcome a major social anxiety exposure. At the end of each panel, there is time for a few questions from the audience. As I am always fearful of how I will be judged or perceived, I usually keep my mouth shut in situations like this. But three brilliant writers were sitting across from me, having accomplished what I strive for in writing about my pain. I couldn’t leave without speaking to them directly.
I had my question ready the moment the moderator sent the first question down the line; each author responded very differently to how they crafted their work, and how long it took them to write about things that are painful. My perfectionism kicked in, as I realized my question lacked form in most respects, but I let go of that judgment so that I wouldn’t miss any of what was in front of me because of the chatter in my head.
I found myself fully present in listening to each author’s response, though my heart would skip a beat when I thought about my question. I was worried I would forget it and make a fool of myself. In previous panels, audience members who wanted to ask questions at the end of the panel were brought a microphone to their seat by the volunteers of the festival. You could stay seated or stand, and I was comfortable with this. I could ask my question while still remaining “safe” next to my friend, in my seat. I was still blended into the crowd. But of course, the universe knew I was working through an anxiety exposure, so when it was time for the Q&A, those who had questions were asked to step down to the very front to whichever microphone was closer- there was one stationed on the left and right of the stage.
Hell no, I thought. I was not about to embarrass myself by standing in front of everyone and asking my not-yet-fully-formed question. How would I stand? Would I cross my arms as I waited behind the other woman with poofy blonde hair who had already positioned herself at the mic closest to us? Would I draw my hands together behind my back, or should I let them fall by my side like limp noodles? Seeking final reassurance, I leaned over to my friend as the woman on our side addressed the panel. “I want to ask a question, should I go up there?” I whispered, as inconspicuous as I could manage. I didn’t want to come across as disrespectful by talking in the middle of the Q&A. My friend smiled and nodded vigorously as the poofy-haired woman wrapped up her question and stepped away from the microphone. I slipped out of my seat and down towards the stage, praying that I looked confident despite my strong desire to become endowed immediately by Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak.
I wound up being the last question of the day, an honor I received anxiously, as I peered around to make sure someone with a more eloquent or pressing question was waiting in the wings behind me. There was no one. All eyes were on me, and I was the only one in the room standing. I smiled awkwardly, leaned in towards the microphone, and began to speak.
The mic wasn’t working. No one could hear me. Of course the microphone wasn’t working! Michael looked at me and said, “Use the microphone!” to which I nervously called back, “I don’t think it’s working.” So, naturally, the moderator had the girl with social anxiety cross in front of the entire audience, directly in front of the panel (including the author she admires), to the microphone on the other side of the stage. When I had finally obtained a working mic and the audience had died down after the laughter that ensued my impromptu runway walk in front of everyone, I cleared my throat and began to speak. This time, my voice echoed through the lecture hall, and I made eye contact with Michael.
I definitely rambled, but managed to form my question in a way that could actually be responded to. If memory serves, it went something like this:
“I’ve heard before that when writing about trauma, there is a Three Year “Rule” to abide by; you should wait three years after the traumatic event to begin writing, to give yourself some distance and perspective on the experience. I was so interested in the time it took you and Sandy to write your respective books, and how different each process was. I’m curious, do you think if you had waited until after you had gotten some distance from the tragedy, you would have produced a similar result? What is your opinion on the difference between waiting or writing during the grieving time?”
With quivering legs I waited for his answer. The moderator jumped in by “correcting” the Three Year Rule I had mentioned; “That’s not really a ‘rule’ necessarily,” she said to me, causing me to blush and my anxiety to rise. Of course, I had not planned on following the so called “rule” that I had heard the day before, but was merely curious about how writing about personal trauma is different for everyone. I pushed away the thought that people in the audience were judging me for mentioning this Rule, and focused on what Michael had to say.
First, he thanked me for telling him that I had loved the book (I wasn’t sucking up, I genuinely loved it. Everyone go out and buy yourself a copy.) and then dove into his answer. He mentioned how he wouldn’t have written the book had he waited. Writing it so soon after his husband’s death gave him a fresh perspective; the memories were still vibrant in his mind, and he knew that if he waited, he wouldn’t get the opportunity to tell his husband’s story the way it deserved to be told.
This ended up being the response that catapulted me into a discussion with Michael at the signing afterwards. I expressed how writing through pain and chaos is a way for me to make sense of what I’m going through, and ultimately, helps me get through it. I ended up telling him I’m in treatment for an eating disorder, and if I didn’t write about it, I would be in a very different place. I was able to tell one of my favorite authors that his book helped me through a very difficult time, and that I was so grateful to him for writing it. It was a great ending to a phenomenal (albeit, stressful) morning.
This festival as a whole was so brilliantly designed. Each panel audience stocked with seasoned readers and writers, as well as those who didn’t know who most of the authors were, but were curious about their topic at hand. (Except for the man who fell asleep and started snoring during the Poetry: Trauma and Beauty panel…maybe he had just had a long day.) From the nerds to the newbies, there was something for everyone; some piece of advice or line from a book or poem that someone grabbed onto and will keep in their memory bank forever.
That is what great art is about. Everyone will interpret experiences differently, and that is the beauty and power of great literature, art, poetry, theatre, film. The world is endless, and I am small in a sea of stories waiting to be told.
PS- I originally wasn’t going to disclose the book I wrote on the wall above for fear of being judged for it (#socialanxiety) but my copy of this book is worn with pages falling out because of how many times I read it growing up. Hell, I read it a few weeks ago to find some inspiration, and it was just as good as the first time I read it. The book that changed your life doesn’t have to fit a certain mold or be any profound piece of literature. It can be something as simple as a children’s novel that sparked inspiration and power within you.
Books You Must Read:
Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies Michael Ausiello A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise: A True Story About Schizophrenia Sandra Allen And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready Meaghan O’Connell