After Midnight

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It’s easy to hope before midnight then it is to have faith afterward.

Ringing in 2018 was calm and low-key, the majority of the celebration spent with family or family friends. We sipped drinks, played games, and I discovered the deliciousness of assorted macaroons on one of the dessert tables. I was in no rush for the current year to be over, savoring time with my loved ones and trying not to fall asleep before the clock struck midnight.

When the years-end rolls around, there’s a massive fixation on goal-setting and trying to do things differently. There’s nothing wrong with that as a whole, but too often they come attached with life-size expectations and are rooted in people-pleasing. I’m a huge advocate for growth and self-improvement, but not to the extreme where I believe that I missed the mark (in most areas) every single year.

2017, despite its hurdles and unexpected challenges, was one of the most transforming years that I’ve experienced since my teens. I got out of head and faced some uncomfortable truths, and once the initial sting wore off, I realized that I’ve become more like myself than ever. I won’t deny that mistakes were made and resulted in taking responsibility for my own crap, yet I’m not going to cower in shame either. I became a better writer, owning my words and beliefs and perspective. I slowly learned about self-compassion, and that being your own best friend doesn’t mean being alone.

It’s why I chose to set intentions, which focuses on one’s mindset as opposed to being dependent on what one can or cannot accomplish. Not a formula for solving problems or a quick fix for happiness, but something I strive to take with me each day; it’s not about where you start, but how you walk through what you go through.

I know I won’t always stick to it, but I intend to:

-Hold myself to a standard of grace instead of perfection.

-Live in the tension and confusion of the unknown instead of seeking immediate answers or a fix.

-Be fully present when in the presence of people I care for (i.e. take a breather from social media, which I need for the sake of my emotional health).

-Choose love, compassion, tenderness, and trust.

Let it be so.

One day at a time, one foot in front of the other.

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Taking My Body Back

 

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Dear Al,

2017 has been a long year for you, hasn’t it? It’s been a lot at once, which is what you normally tell people in order to keep yourself out of the pity pit. It’s not hard necessarily, but it has been a lot.

First came the tidal wave of depression; you were let go from a job unexpectedly, after only working there for a month, and in the same week were emotionally blindsided by a personal decision that hurt more than you thought it would. You didn’t want to get out of bed, your mind either in the twilight zone or going completely blank. You knew it was bad when you didn’t even want to write, but forced yourself to in order to keep track of what was or wasn’t going on inside your head so that you’d be taken seriously.

Then came the diagnosis: a combination of clinical depression and anxiety, which you were given medication for by a caring and helpful psychiatrist. Simultaneously, you got real with your counselor and admitted that you’ve been battling an eating disorder since college (or perhaps even longer than that). Definitely bulimia, and you’re not sure if it’s anorexia or something called Restrictive Avoidant Food Intake Disorder.  Labels aside, you haven’t been healthy for a long time, although I know you’re hesitant about calling yourself “sick” or saying that you have a disease. You’re afraid to refer to it as “my eating disorder” because you don’t want it to become your identity, even though you might struggle with this for the rest of your life.

Saying it out loud was more than a relief. It was comforting to finally know the exact nature of the battle you’ve been fighting, though admitting that you wanted and needed help was only half of it. A lot of people don’t realize that properly addressing mental health struggles isn’t just about overcoming stigma. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking medicine, getting counseling, or going into a treatment program, because it’s no one else’s business how you choose to take care of yourself. But what happens if you get evaluated, only to be told that no hospital or recovery center in the state will take your insurance? How should you respond when the initial hospital tells you “oh, we don’t do charity” when inquiring about scholarships? What if heaven forbid, you just can’t afford certain things financially, but aren’t sure how to make the most of the resources that you do have?

It takes one hell of a person to keep fighting when you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, and you did just that. You went to, and continue going to meetings despite being terrified of the judgement you might face because of the unconventional way you go about the recovery journey. You asked for guidance, but trusted your intuition enough to set boundaries when you sensed that people were either trying to oversimplify what you’re going through (“just eat more and you’ll be fine!”) or trying to fix you to the extreme (unprofessionally diagnosing, imparting shame instead of grace, and insinuating that their way of recovery is the only way). You’ve grown in your relationship with God because of how you’ve had to lean on Him in the tough moments: crying out during a coughing/gagging fit, learning how to breathe and meditate after a large meal when your stomach feels weird, and allowing yourself to rest when your body is tired, rather than force it to work out.

Asking for support is challenging because you’re not entirely sure what that looks like. Six months ago you asked friends and family to be patient with you, allowing you to be human and imperfect as you navigate this path. Sometimes you need to vent and get your feelings off your chest so you’re not isolating yourself emotionally. Sometimes you just want a hug or a hand on your shoulder while your grit your teeth through the urge to engage in behaviors. But it’s also nice when people take the initiative and offer to attend a meeting with you or ask questions in order to learn more about eating disorders, anxiety, and so on. Education over ignorance always, even if it starts with, “I have no idea what this is and I want to learn more.”

Honey, I am so unbelievably proud of you, both for who you’ve become and who you’re growing into. You might have been through hell (and sometimes it still feels that way), but at the same time you’ve embraced who you are and feel more like yourself than ever before. You’ve learned that it’s not just about loving your body and the amazing things it can do, but recognizing you’re more than that. You have a big heart, filled with compassion and love and kindness. You have a curious mind and a sense of adventure, always wanting to explore new places and create new memories. You’re deep, genuine, and real, willing to talk about life in a way that is actually a gift. And you have so much to give beyond what you’ve been told or taught.

It’s hard for me not to get emotional as a write this; you’ve spent most of your life not wanting to believe these things for the sake of being humble, but there’s a big difference between humility and not giving yourself enough credit. Doing the best you can doesn’t mean that you’ll always do the right thing, but give yourself permission to make mistakes, and then you do the next right thing. One at a time, one foot in front of the other.

You might think you’re not justified in sharing your story because it’s not typical, but that’s actually the opposite. Not only do you have every right to talk about it so that you don’t go it alone, but the world needs to know that eating disorders can and do tend to have many layers. They can develop regardless of gender, ethnicity, or size. They can stem from trauma and anxiety, where everything builds up and nearly consumes you.  And the root is often perfectionism, or the fear of not being enough. For you it was never about gaining or losing weight, but feeling like your body (and mind) had to be perfect because it was the sole focus of your life. And that’s why recovery is just as much about the emotional and psychological as it is about the physical.

But know that you can talk about it as little as much as you want, and you don’t have to do it until you’re ready.

Alyxandra Rose, know that you are LOVED. So loved more than you can even comprehend. You’ve got this, darling. Even on the days when you think you don’t, you’re strong and tough and capable. We’re in this together, you and me and everybody who has stepped up to root for you and support you.

With all that I am,

Alyx (the you on a good day)

Are You Tired? Me too.

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I first saw it circulating on Facebook as a copy and paste message, figuring that it was related to the Harvey Weinstein scandal. I hadn’t been following the news that closely because it seemed overwhelming, but I knew enough to understand what was going on. I typed it out and shared it within my newsfeed, but something in me was screaming that generics weren’t enough. So I went a little bit deeper on Instagram, detailing certain nights that I had experienced in college, and that I’m still dealing with repercussions to this day. Soon after I was asked about why I had posted something so personal, and that I needed to focus on letting it go. Trying to keep my emotions in check, I explained that it was about more than the things that were said to me, detailing how I had been groped and followed on a number of occasions. This was not our first conversation on the subject, but I was still vulnerable to intimidation, rejection, and inadequacy

All of the reading and processing left me emotionally drained. My head was in a fog, and there were times where I had to close my computer and walk away, the details of another horrifying yet courageous story too much to bear. I could feel the anger rising: anger that my mind feels at peace with what I went through, but my body apparently is not.  Anger that we have a president in the White House that perpetuates such disgusting behavior. Anger for having received multiple of versions of sex education growing up that ultimately left me confused and frustrated.

Recalling the first incident nearly five years ago, I blamed myself until I broke down and told my closest guy friends what had happened. They were compassionate and protective, assuring me that it was not my fault and that they didn’t look down on me or think less of me. It was almost as if I needed permission to stop beating myself up, which I do when I sense that I’m about to be judged or abandoned. I didn’t know what do think or how to feel back then, and that same kind of wrestling continues now.

I’m tired of bearing all of the responsibility.

“Cover up” so men don’t lust after me and want to touch me.

Don’t go out or walk back alone. Watch the alcohol.

Be careful not to send mixed signals (i.e. dancing, kissing, or even just showing interest).

Make sure keys and pepper spray are visible.

And so on.

To live in such a way where you’re constantly watching and disciplining yourself for the sake of others is to barely live at all. It’s perfectionism, which I’ve taken on in other ways already. Perfectionism is a disease in itself, which lead to other illnesses in both mind, body, and soul. But there’s a difference between doing these things to honor someone’s humanity, and doing such because you have or fear having yours taken.

I can’t do it anymore, yet I’m not sure where we go from here.

However, I do know this:

It is NEVER the victim’s fault, and they’re not responsible for anyone else’s actions. Alcohol, sex drive, location, and clothing are no excuse for taking what is not yours to take. Being powerful does not make you a man. It does not make you a woman. It’s not about gender, but about being a decent human being and treating others the same.

Whether or not one chooses to share their story doesn’t make them any less brave or honorable. Trauma is complicated, and so is sharing it with others. Whenever you’re ready, whether it’s telling one person or telling the world, know that you’re loved and supported.

“If it’s not actually rape, then it doesn’t matter.” That’s a load of crap and we must do better than that. Surviving harassment and assault are not olympic sports, competing to see who’s experience is more painful and more deserving of validation. If anyone disrespects your boundaries, it’s wrong. If it leaves you feeling violated, it’s wrong. Full stop. 

Instead of saying “Not all [insert gender, religion, ethnicity, etc] are like that,” sit with the one baring their soul to you and actually listen. Sit with them and share their pain, the multitude of feelings and emotions. Then stand with them. Instead of being angry at others for being “lumped in” as a response to trauma, cast your anger toward sexism, racism, misogyny, and overall dehumanization by calling it out when you see it. “Not all,” is a cop out and a refusal to take responsibility for what we might contribute without knowing it. “No more” is acknowledging that it’s not about you, but it’s about doing whatever you can to help redefine the toxic cultural standards that are killing us as a whole.

Let’s talk about sex. Without shame, judgement, or disgust. Let’s talk about consent, getting to know our bodies, and having difficult but necessary conversations. Instead of preaching and teaching, let’s discuss and be willing to admit that we don’t know everything. Forget the sermons and Cosmo articles. Put away the porn. From extreme scare tactics to extreme silence, none of its working. Sex is real, beautiful, and deserves to be truthful.

Healing is necessary. Healing is agonizing. And it takes as long as it takes.

We can’t go back. But if the decades of walls, empires, and old ways of doing things are going to come tumbling down, we have to be willing to do the work and rebuild.

Old-Fashioned Developments

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“I wish you could see yourself the way that I see you.”

It was during a phone call with one of my closest friends from college, after I had tearfully vented some frustrations about my life situation at the time. 2017 has very much been an inside job, where it wasn’t necessarily what what happening to me, but what I had to reckon with as a result. His words stuck with me, as they do quite often, and it’s something that quite honestly I’m still processing.

As I’ve pondered and prayed, my response became twofold: we live in a culture that essentially trains us to dislike ourselves and tells us that we need to be better, whether that’s in the form of changing appearance or acting a certain way to blend in. And because of that, God gives us opportunities to engage in life-giving and healthy relationships/friendships in order to show us what we can’t see, both the good and the not-so-good.

But even with the affirmations and reassurance from loved ones, the concept of feeling good about and believing in myself isn’t exactly cut and dry. I’ve always had a quiet confidence, but have shied away from it for a fear of coming across as unrelatable. I still want to connect with people, to need them and for them to need me. I want to practice humility and gratitude.. And I’ve never been interested in owning a room the second I walk into it or getting people to instantly like me. I’m sure already get enough attention as it is without even trying, probably for reasons that aren’t exactly flattering. Having power and/or control does not equate to being the best person.

So what do you do when self-love and sugar-coated platitudes seem ridiculously hokey?

How do you love yourself when you inner critic (or the critics around you) are so loud to the point where you can’t hear anything else?

Instead of trying to have it all together beforehand, maybe we can learn how to extend compassion inward as we go along.

Maybe the key to self-confidence is not necessarily believing that we’re awesome all the time, but being kind and gracious to ourselves in the moments when we think we’re not. Or at least that’s a start.

For instance, on my first day at my new job I had very little direction due it being Thanksgiving week and not many people were in the office. There was an initial mix up upon receiving my badge and computer, which had me waiting an hour longer than expected, my cheeks burning with embarrassment and fear that I would make a bad first impression. Once I set up and settled in, I spent a lot of the the time introducing myself by saying, “I’m Alyx and I’m new here, can you show me where the bathroom is? The microwave?” and so on. I’m not shy about taking the initiative, but doing so on a regular basis can be overwhelming after a while.

When I overthink, that’s where I have to be my own best friend. I’m a softie, so I speak to myself in a way that’s tender: Honey, you’re okay. You’ve got this. Take a deep breath and just do the next right thing.

Am I enough?

Yes, you are.

Why?

You’re a human being and a child of God.

But what about–?

Shh. Lists aren’t necessary for being lovable.

It’s like the way we take pictures: the sugary, caffeine like boost is similar to taking a selfie, where you simply hit a button and then you can immediately look. Self-compassion is old-fashioned development; it takes time, patience, and the right equipment. It’s not a quick fix, but something more sustainable.

I’m not just digging inside until I’m hallowed out as though I have nothing left; I allow love and grace to pour down on me as a reminder that it’s not just about me.

Compassion. For self. For others. A work in progress and an aim for growth, so that I’m no longer beating myself up over doing the best that I know in that moment.

Broadening Horizons

sunrise-1634734_1920.jpgLately I’ve been thinking of publishing longer essays on different platforms, and this week decided to venture over to Medium at Delightful today. This is something that I feel very passionate about, and have had to put into practice in order to grow in order to get to where I am right now. It’s not an us verus them, or at least it shouldn’t be. We’re in this together.

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I Will Go

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I haven’t known a world without tragedy

Since I was ten years old

Hearing about a crash and buildings in a city

Sitting a class not understanding a thing

I didn’t grasp it then

What it would mean

 

Where were you when the plane went down?

Where were you when the bomb went off?

Where you when the sky got a little bit darker,

When innocence got lost

 

Now every year it seems that shots ring out

Echoed by cries of “no more” and “change NOW”

We shout, debate, argue, grieve, and then go on

Then it happens again

The same cycle

Same tears

Same words

More lives lost

More questions than answers

 

It was a little more personal this time

In the city of lights, games, and dollar signs

A little more closer to “it could have been me”

Or friends or family

To which I wept regarding proximity

Numb with the realization

Of being stuck between frustrated anger

And reality

 

It’s true that no place is safe

Or only as safe as it feels

Why bullets rain

Down on those who come together to share common threads

Music, education, community

Because one filled with enough hatred

Blinded by what, we may never know

Used a weapon to take lives

 

I don’t have the answers to such devastation

This complex thread

Involving mental health, gun control, and how we relate to one another

But I will not live in fear of the possibilities

As I travel, dance, and sing

At these celebrations of music, love, and life

These staples of the summer season

Now treasured memories

I will go

Cautious, but not cowering

Mindful, but not unaware

I refuse to let darkness cloud my thinking

That’s how evil wins

The Thing about Therapy

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October has always been a special month for me, beyond the colors and the coziness. It marked my first official visit to Iowa, and the beginning of the most transformative chapter in my life. I have met some amazing people, and even fallen in love (more than once) as the leaves have changed and the air turned crisp. But it was also the time when I decided that I could no longer do it on my own; I needed hope, and I needed help.

I went back to therapy.

There’s a lot of truth in not being able to do something until you’re genuinely ready; though I had seen professional counselors as a child, I didn’t have a ton of autonomy over who I talked to, and I was too young to even begin to remotely process the real struggles, much of which were still going on around me back then. And sometimes we’re not genuinely ready until we hit the bottom, until we realize that we have nowhere else to go and nothing left to lose. That took about seven years, where finally at the beginning of my sophomore year of college I hit the floor, threw my hands up, and then picked up the phone. I don’t remember how long it took to get in for an appointment, but sooner rather than later I was trudging over to the University Counseling Center.

I’ve done individual and group sessions, non-religious and Christian counseling, depending on the season I was in and what I needed at the time. In the past three years, I’ve gone from learning how to adjust to the transition period of post-grad to navigating and battling against demons that I never believed I would have to face in life. And with it, I’ve grown more than I ever would have outside of it, and it’s incredibly possible that I wouldn’t be writing this today had I not reached out for another studier and well-trained hand. While inner circles and friendship are necessary, one’s personal home team isn’t typically trained to navigate the depth and complexities of their loved one’s psyche. There comes a point where everyone says, “I love you and support you one hundred percent, but I only know so much.” It’s not a matter of choosing between one and the other, but allowing them both to enrich life and compliment it.

Society says we shouldn’t need help, and that it makes us weak.

Churches say to pray more or simply have faith.

Skeptics in general accuse the entire field of only being after money and making a situation worse.

A good, professional counselor will understand that their job is to listen, to guide you without shame in order so that you may unpack the past in order to create a better future. They should accept who you are and affirm that you’re human, but also be willing to challenge your way of thinking when appropriate, and encourage you to trust the process rather than dig your heals in. God can speak to you through that person, but you have to be willing to open your heart and mind to what they’re saying. And it might take a few times to figure out if you and that person mesh well, or it might take a few people to find somebody that you click with; but when all is said and done, it really does come down to you.

That’s right: in order for therapy to work, YOU have to be willing to show up and do the work.

You have to tell the truth, but also be willing to acknowledge that your version of the truth might be just that. And you also might be wrong.

You have to take responsibility for your life, your actions, and your overall well-being. No one else can, nor should they do that for you.

You should embrace who you are fundamentally, but also allow yourself to grow and evolve.

You have to get out of your head, and get out of your own way.

And you have to want it. If you seek help purely for the sake of pleasing people or trying to be the person they think you should be, it’s not going to do any good.

This kind of transformation is often uncomfortable, even brutal. It does get lonely, because those on the outside might not understand, or they don’t want to have to face their own crap. It might become a pressure cooker here and there, a race to get to the finish line and get back to normal. But it takes as long as it takes, and it’s nobody’s business as far as why or how you go about that time.

It’s not limited to a one-on-one or group discussion; healing also involves writing, music, painting, and any kind of creativity. It’s what allows you to speak and live out your truth, to feel closer to yourself, others, and even to God. I tend to share my writing as a way of communicating with my therapist and with others, otherwise I’m probably be fumbling over my words and nothing would come out the way I intended.

And while there are a lot of resources and spaces dedicated to finding help, overcoming stigma and a willingness to start is only half of the battle. There’s dealing with cost and having the ability to afford it, as has been my battle when seeking out both psychological and physical medical care. I’ve been fortunate where most of my therapists have allowed me to pay on a sliding scale, because it typically has been out of my own pocket. From the research that I’ve done and what I can grasp, insurance companies typically don’t like to pay for mental health services because they don’t recognize depression, anxiety, and so forth as legitimate health concerns. For whatever reason, some can’t take a broken heart or a chemically imbalanced brain as seriously as they would a broken leg.

I’ve never liked the term “broken,” one that’s tossed around in Christianity, or the concept of needing to be “fixed.” We’re not robots, or the sum of our many and complex parts. We’re human beings, all with different stories and backgrounds bound by the common thread of desiring love, connection, and validation. We need to grow, learn, heal, and become who we are meant to be.

What other alternative is there?

Too Human

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First it was her legs, poked and prodded

Always something needed to be corrected

Another surgery, rounds of needles

She hated hospitals

“Am I Ok now?”

Onto the next one…

 

Young and blossoming, make-up had to be flawless

“Your hair’s not straight, let me fix it”

Outer beauty was the shield of protection against whispers and words

Of misunderstanding

And she had to be the one to keep it from happening

They saw through it, and they talked anyway

 

A few years later she went off to college

Sheltered and unaware of the culture

She had her independence

That was met with ignorance

Curiosity with eye-rolling

And going out with eye catching

 

It was the first time men seem to find her attractive

Flattering, but a little confusing too

She didn’t try too hard to dress

But the groping and comments never seemed to rest

There were things that they did

A way that people lived

It felt good sometimes

So she figured she’d roll with it

 

Real life came around

With many ups and downs

Most of which were out of her hands

So she did what she did to keep going

She had her body

Not a care that the scale dipped lower

Or that her stomach rumbled from hunger

Tired of being small and backed up against walls

She needed cheap relief and she got it

 

A timeline of sacrifice for perfection

Why is perfection worth seeking

if it means denying and losing who you are?

The church folks implore it’s worth trying for

Few speak against it being worth dying for

And before it was too late

She realized that the worry, obsession, and frustration

Wasn’t worth it anymore

 

This standard of grace is new

Four months in

Beginning again

Setting boundaries instead of casting blame

Walking around with a naked face, unashamed

Sharing her journey, when appropriate

Practicing awareness of feelings

Instead of just sucking it up

She is not a body, but has one

Also a heart, mind, and soul

She refuses to rush the process

Or be guilt-tripped for the sake of someone else’s ego

Surrendering it all to her Creator

She’s soft, yet powerful, like water

And water is part of being human

Some still say she’s too much, and that scares others

But maybe she’ll a little too human

Which not all know what do to with

But for this firecracker, deep-thinker, and people-lover

It’s more than enough

After A Year

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Please don’t let us be late, I prayed, remembering how rushed and off-kilter I felt when we had all come together for the funeral. This was more of a celebration than a somber goodbye, but there was still a heaviness to the occasion that I had sensed even was we prepared the memorial garden. That morning, his twenty-third birthday, a fishing derby was held in his honor; I had originally planned on casting a line, but gave into the fears of getting hooked (literally) and my lack of patience that often accompanies it. I found more comfort in observing the soon-to-be dedicated patch of land and reminiscing on memories of Connor and our shared childhood gone by.

My family and I found seats underneath the small pavilion as musicians began to play a rendition Cole Swindell’s “You Should Be Here.” I’d heard it at Country Thunder a month before, the last place (and eerily the last day) that I’d seen Connor before the accident. I held a wad of Kleenex and my mom’s hand as the floodgates opened up rather freely throughout the ceremony, my heart breaking all over again hearing poignant words from my brother, his sister, and especially his mother. Perhaps for the first time since I got the news, I wept out of anger more than sorrow. Rest assured, I was in no way angry at them or even at God. If nothing else, I was pissed off at the world; a world that had only paused momentarily last year to remember a beautiful person. A world that kept trying to tell me in one way or another that supposedly it was time to stop grieving. A world that seemed to go on as life hadn’t changed, and yet so many of our lives had changed irrevocably. I wanted to scream at the world to go stick it where it hurts, and am tempted to do so now at its indifference toward tragedy, disaster, and injustice. But that’s for another time.

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The gathering came to a close with a take on Eric Church, whose music I love for a number of reasons, but will hold a special place in my heart because it was Connor’s last concert. I let go of any embarrassment about crying in public a long time ago; I don’t always see tears or weeping as indications of sadness, but rather a sense of depth to feelings that have no explanation. I feel deeply, and I love deeply.

Most recently, a popular blogger and pastor described it as the grieving one does after the funeral. The heaviness might lift after a while, yet the heartache still remains in the shadows of every-day life, ready to hit you in the most unexpected way at perhaps the most inopportune times. However, I’ve learned not to be afraid of those moments, to embrace them as they come and let them teach me what they need to. If a song comes up on the radio that sparks a memory, I’ll listen to it. I genuinely enjoy talking about knowing Connor and growing up in the backwoods of suburbia when it’s appropriate, because of how it has shaped me both as a kid and an adult. I’m grateful for the memorial garden, a place that I can come back to when I’ll no longer be able to come back to the house that I was raised in.

I find peace in knowing that his family is my family, that I will forever be connected to them and others through the life and memory of an amazing man. I hold close the traditions we’ve created to celebrate him, and those we’ll create in the future. To some it seems morbid, or refusing to let go, but for me it’s a way to create beauty out of something beyond tragic.

I cry. I reminisce. I write. I pray. Grief teaches you so many things, many of which are talked about in the most cliché ways. But if nothing else, the last year has taught me to lean in and be fully present, even the midst of a weird combination that is both pain and joy.

Yes, he should be here. And while not in the way any of us would want him to be, I believe that he is.

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Getting Wonder Woman All Wrong

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She was motivated by compassion rather than revenge.

Her strengths were not by chance, but by proper training and preparation.

She did not want to hide, nor did she want attention. She was simply fulfilling what she felt called to do.

Chills scattered across my skin as she grabbed her shield and began climbing the ladder out of No Man’s Land.  She rose up and began to run forward in cinematic fashion, deflecting bullets off her wrists in the process. I was so overcome by the power and awe of these singular moments that tears formed in my eyes and poured onto my cheeks. I had come across an article headline where many admitted to crying during this particular scene (and others), but didn’t read any further for fear of coming across spoilers. And while it is wonderful that strong female characters have been brought to the forefront in action-adventure, there’s another reason, a personal reason to celebrate the incredible film and story that is Wonder Woman.

In my teens an early twenties, I proudly called myself Wonder Woman in Real Life, though my only vivid interpretation is the most recent summer blockbuster. I’d seen various references through the old days of Cartoon Network, but never knew her story within the context of any comic books. It was a lot of assuming and creating a definition in my own head based off her title alone. I desperately wanted to be strong, fierce, and independent; not for the sake of being a heroine, or doing what was right, but merely proving people wrong. It was a defense mechanism, a way of communicating that underneath a sweet (and perhaps naive) exterior, there was a badass not to be messed with.

And one could argue that the fictional Diana Prince is similar, but the difference between her and I has been a matter of pride.

She never had to proclaim who she was in order to make a statement or have an impact, nor did anyone have to point her out in dramatic fashion in order to shape her identity. She allowed herself to be helped and advised in adjusting to the outside world (even when the majority of the responses to her requests were “NO!”), leaning on her male comrades for support without total dependence. Her relationship with Steve is not a back and forth of who saves who, but it more so revolves around what they teach one another, about partnership, grace, and the harsh realities of justice and evil. And as I’ve dug deeper and reflected on what this film has meant to me, I realized that perhaps it’s not just social media, loneliness, and ignorance that’s slowly killing us. Rather, it’s also individualism.

The reasons for “every person for themselves,” are plenty, from the fear of coming across as needy/codependent, to the fear of rejection and abandonment. I’ve always been, and still am slightly terrified of being too much, and have assumed that’s why people tend to disappear out of my life every so often. It seems like when it comes to lending a helping hand now a days, there’s a bit of a debtors mentality, where if you do something for someone, then they automatically owe you (or vice versa).

And so we do everything ourselves, or at least we try to in order to avoid pain, disappointment, and betrayal. Whether it comes from society or otherwise, we’re either pressured or expected to dig deep within ourselves and by ourselves for that which is beyond comprehension. We dig and we dig until we’ve become hallow shells, resentful and isolated from what we were created for.

Love. Connection. Community. Building each other up instead of tearing each other down.

I believe that love comes not from within, but from God above. And I believe that we learn to love ourselves through experiencing aspects of God in other people, both women and men.

The first time I heard that God loved me was from a man.

Had it not been for the men I’d met during college, I wouldn’t have begun to understand what loving myself meant until much later. They accepted me and didn’t judge me, even in the midst of bad decisions and mistakes.

And not too long ago, a man whom I very much care for, admire, and respect said to me, “You’re one of the strongest and most resilient women I know.” He then continued, “I wish you could see in yourself what I see in you.”

But I think that’s what relationships are for, whether they’re platonic or romantic; again, to show us what we’ve been blinded to by impossible standards.

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I’ve had to fight battle after battle since the day I was born. More recently, it has been the battle to overcome stereotypes, establish a career, and live my own life. A battle to let go of anger and allowing my heart to soften toward my family history. And now, a battle with a disease that threatens to land me in the hospital, and perhaps even take my life.

Since coming to terms with it three months ago, many have asked me how they can help or support me. Most days I’m not entirely sure, but I do know that it goes beyond just getting me to eat, or encouraging me to take deep breaths when I feel like going back to an unhealthy physical behavior. It’s a lot of patience, especially as I’m still in the midst of trying to get some kind of professional help. It’s grace when I ask obvious questions or bitch and moan over silly things, portraying myself as self-absorbed.

But mostly, it’s letting me know that it’s OK to not be a superhero. That I’ve got this, and we’ve got this.

There is part of me that will always be a fighter, stubborn and willing to kick down doors if need be. If that wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t have lived past infancy. But I’m practicing and allowing myself to be soft: Instead of “I’ll show you!” it’s, I’ll show you what I have to offer. Rather than getting angry at those who don’t understand, I seek to gain a better understanding of both myself and others. And rather than putting up walls, I choose to set boundaries. It’s still in present progress, and I can’t say whether or not I’ll fully get there.

But the best way to get healthy is to start getting real. No cape. No lasso or tiara. Just an open heart and willingness to see what wasn’t there before. One day at a time, one foot in front of the other.