From the heart of a young woman

I am posting on behalf of a student. I assigned a personal narrative assignment and this student struggled with her ability to let me read material that exposed so much of her heart. When she was finally able to turn it in she said she wanted to share her words, even though it was hard, because she wanted someone else to be able to get help or find healing in her words.

I believe words have a healing power and hers have helped heal her wounds and she wants others to start the same healing process. I am posting this with her permission on the condition she remain anonymous. *All names have been changed.

Read and take in the brave words from a  young woman.

“2015 was a big year, in terms of me growing as a human being and I don’t mean physically. I mean mentally. A lot of things happened to me that I did not know could exactly happen to me. I knew they happened to people, but never thought it would happen to me.

I passed out for the first time ever, which doesn’t sound too extreme and it’s not but the reason why I passed out is what opened my eyes.

Over the past couple of years I struggled with my weight. To be honest I don’t think it was my weight but more the way my body looked. It started when I got into middle school and my friend told me everyday that I look horrible. I didn’t do my make up in the start of middle school, not did I did my hair. As she continued to bash the way I look, I started wearing make up and doing my hair. She continued, at one point I asked, “What is so wrong with me that you continue to say I look horrible?” She said, “Your body looks weird.”

You would think four years down the line I would have forgotten about it and moved on, but yet here I am writing about it. Every person at least to me has their own image of their “perfect body”. So in the start of 2013 I told myself, this was it I was going to get the body I wanted/loved. I did workout occasionally workout but I did not change anything in my lifestyle.

2014 come around and once again I told myself that this was it. I needed to get in shape. I changed what I ate, I exercised, I lost weight. In the beginning of 2014 I was a size 5, by the end of the year I was a 3. Not much of a change but there was a change.

2015 was it got worse. I was addicted to losing weight, by the end of freshman year I dropped down to a size 1. I was running everyday and eating healthier but I wasn’t losing weight fast enough.

The summer before sophomore year I cut my 2,200 calorie diet to 1,500 calorie diet.

With all the worrying how I was going to lose weight, I became anxious and unhappy. Now not only was I worrying about losing weight but I was worried about everything else. My grades became a huge part of my life.

With all this worry came with me shutting people out, laying in bed staring at a textbook all weekend long. I didn’t want to go out and I didn’t want to see people. I just wanted to be alone.

When people asked me what was wrong, I could never explain how I felt or what anxiety does to your body, the constant shaking and fidgeting all had a reason I just couldn’t explain. When you can’t explain something, people think you don’t know what you’re talking about or think you’re wrong. So instead of trying to explain it, I tried to hide it. I put on a smile I went through everyday living a lie.

It worked. People got off my back, left me alone and stopped asking me what was wrong. I was finally free of questions I couldn’t answer. But it did not change the fact that I was unhappy with everything and even more so my body.

I was getting skinnier and people were finally starting to notice. For a few months everything seem to remain stable, until one day I had softball condition and I opted out of eating that day. I had gotten through everything except the box jumps, after the first set I couldn’t stand up straight. I fell but caught myself with a fall. My coach told me to sit for a minute. I felt fine so I continued to jump up and down. I don’t remember falling, I just remember my coach was standing over me asking what I had eaten that day. Everything else is pretty foggy.

I do know I was lucky I didn’t hit my head or fall on my leg/arm. My coach actually caught me on my way down. I now ask myself what would have happened if *Linda wasn’t there. What if I did hit me head? What id I had broken my arm? With all those questions I realized that I am harming my body more than helping it. But obviously things don’t change, overnight it takes time and effort.

I wanted to have a healthy lifestyle yet I didn’t know how. I still don’t know how to fix my lifestyle. I don’t know how to control my anxiety or how to get rid of it.

How do I fix myself if I don’t know how it? Now I need to figure out how.”

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Trusting God

I’m a planner. When I drag myself out of bed every morning and crawl into the shower, my brain wakes itself up by making lists of things that need to get done or plans I need to make. This list starts with the very small and mundane (go to the store, grade research papers etc.) and by the time I’m out of the shower I’m alert because I’ve worked my blood pressure up to a boil planning out my future. Left too long in my own head, I end up ten years down the road planning out every detail of my life. There are many versions of my future life. Sometimes I go on to get my masters and then (if I’m feeling good about myself) my doctorate, winding up as a professor in a university somewhere across the pond. Other days I continue as a high school teacher but add acclaimed author to my resume. If I’m feeling burnt out by school, I marry a very nice rich man and we travel the world together. Welcome to my brain everyone, where everything is made up and the points don’t matter.

 

As someone who likes to know what to expect in her life, I have always had an issue with the idea of God’s plan for my life. Now, hang with me for a second. Remember the other day when I wrote about my fear of missing out on life? This plays into that. My head knows that God has a plan for my life that is bigger and better than anything I could imagine in a 10 minute shower, or even a whole day of dreaming and scheming. My head knows the Bible offers many assurances of God’s ultimate control in my life (Romans 8:28, Jeremiah 29:11, Proverbs 3: 5-6, Psalm 37:7, Psalm 27:14 to name a few). My head has been taught all of the church appropriate answers for dealing with stress about the future.

 

It’s all in the Lord’s hands.

 

But, you see. My heart has not gotten the memo. My heart starts running around in circles when friends ask about my career plans. My heart rocks back and forth in the corner trying to process the many different paths ahead. My heart does not even like to consider life past age 30 because it can only take so much stress dealing with what might happen tomorrow. Platitudes like “It’s all in the Lord’s hands” or “Just trust God and He will show you the way” don’t comfort my worn out heart, they just add a heaping side of guilt.

Great, so not only do I not know where my life is going to take me but now I’m also a bad Christian for not trusting God.

Over the years, I have had several pastors and leaders teach me that waiting on the Lord doesn’t mean sitting on my hands and passively letting life happen. In Dr. Henry Cloud’s book, How to Get a Date Worth Keeping, he illustrates this point by saying if a single person is waiting on God to deliver the perfect partner to his or her doorstep, that person better be prepared to marry the mailman. Another way to think about it is this: If I want a job, I have to go in, ask for an application, fill it out, return it, and then go in for the interview. I can’t sit at home and wish for an employer to randomly call my number and offer me a job. I can’t even walk past a “Now Hiring” sign and pray that God gives me the job. I have to go in. I have to do a lot of the work to make something happen. My mother once shared this analogy with me:

There was a man who was being told to evacuate his home because a nearby river was going to flood that area. He refused to leave and said “God will take care of me.” Policeman came by and offered to help him leave and he said no. Later, as the water level rose and the man took shelter on his roof, rescue boats offered him help and he refused. He said, “God will rescue me.” Finally, a rescue helicopter flew over and tried to save him but still he refused. Unfortunately, the man died and when he got to heaven he asked God, “Why didn’t you rescue me?” and God said, “I tried! I sent the policeman, the boat, and the helicopter!”

This humorous little story reminds me that God requires me to be active even in my waiting. This way of thinking calms my heart and spirit because I like to have control in my life, and activity or busyness creates a sense of control. However, I begin to feel like I’m balancing on a tightrope between taking initiative and action in my life and putting God in the backseat (or heck, leaving Him on the curb). If left unchecked, I will take a lot of action in my life and cling to the idea that it’s what God wants me to do, even if I have totally hijacked His plan.

In my small group, we are studying the story of Joshua and the idea of following God’s plan has come up a lot. Recently, we were reading the part where God leads the people to the Jordan River and asks the priests carrying the ark of the covenant to put their feet in the water. Just their feet and then God takes care of the rest. He parts the river, two million Israelites cross on a dry land, and the journey continues. God fulfills His promise and takes care of His people. We discussed how putting our feet in the water was like taking that first step, being active in God’s plan. But what if they waded in further, just to be sure? Would God chuckle to himself and continue on with His plan? Or would He would wait like a teacher in a noisy classroom for His people to obey?

I have all these unanswered questions about how to follow God’s will. My biggest question overall is actually a gigantic general “HOW?” And not in a metaphorical-you just do sense- but in a step by step sense. How do I know when I’m following God’s plan and not just doing what I want? How do I know what He wants me to do? How do I separate what I think is right and what He is telling me is right?

 

How do I trust God?

 

I’m not asking this because I have any reason not to. I have no reason not to trust God. I’m asking this because I have been trying to hear God, listen for Him, and trust Him for about 14 years and I don’t seem to be getting the same results as everyone. So either everyone is lying to look better or I’m missing something. As a person who likes to be good at things, and who likes to know what’s going on in her life, this is a very frustrating feeling. How do I get the things I know to be true in my head to travel down and rest easy in my heart?

 

*Previously posted on Debunking Debacles on 5/18/2014

A wandering soul

wanderlust: noun 1. a strong desire to travel

fernweh: a German word that is similar to wanderlust but with more intensity. It describes a feeling akin to being homesick but instead of long for home, a person is farsick, longing to see distant places.

I can pinpoint the moment (more or less) that my traveling bug was activated. But let’s back up. As a family, we traveled around the Midwest quite a bit. My mom’s parents live in Michigan and so during major holidays we made the trek up north to Monroe. At some point, my aunt and cousins lived in Florida and we took a trip to see them. We went camping in area campsites, traveled to Norris Lake as often as we could, and found ourselves on a lake most weekends when the weather was nice (or what my dad qualified as nice). I remember taking a trip to Arizona to visit family friends and see the Grand Canyon. The most vivid memories of that trip include waking up to 6 inches of snow (I was very confused since we were supposed to be in the desert) and the overwhelming anxiety of my dad standing too close to the edge of the Grand Canyon (probably where I realized my fear of heights). In 5th grade, we went on a cruise for spring break and while I enjoyed the tropical beaches, I was too young to appreciate the countries I was traveling to. I was more concerned about getting my hair braided, the ultimate badge of honor for a tween traveler.  

While those trips showed me a lot about having adventures, it was actually a class project that started my fascination with traveling. At some point in elementary school I had to do a research project and I researched London, England. I read book after book on life in London and became totally preoccupied with Big Ben. I cannot explain the logic of my gradeschool mind but I just had to go and see this giant clock tower. As I grew older, I held on to this desperate desire to go to London, and it was only spurred on as I studied British Literature and fell in love with the classic language and dark landscape. In high school, I looked up airline prices and searched for tours. When I started looking for colleges, they had to have a study abroad program that included studying in London. I even tried to talk about studying abroad during high school. I just wanted to go out and see what existed across the pond. Unfortunately, none of those plans ever panned out. In high school, I had the opportunity to tour Greece and Italy with my art class and I figured- what the heck. It wasn’t England but it was new and it was across the ocean.

This trip fueled my curiosity. I travel because I’m a curious person. I think I have pretty well established that I love to learn, and, for me, traveling is the ultimate classroom. When I travel (international or national) I get to meet new people, and most are more than willing to share their story, experiences, talents, and knowledge. Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adichie, speaks on the danger of the single story in this TedTalk. She talks about how we can become narrow minded in our view of the world if we always accept what is present to us. One way to fix this issue is reading challenging texts, but another way is to actually go out in the world and see the diverse perspectives people have to offer. It’s like the old saying goes, you need to walk a mile in a person’s shoes before you can fully understand his story. Before I went to Australia, I read Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country which pretty much terrified me and made me never want to step foot in Australia. Besides the intriguing historical and political information, he clearly spelled out that everything in Australia is out to kill you. He described in detail the spider situation and as a person who gets her cat to kill spiders instead of facing them herself, I was immediately regretting my decision to go. However, I went anyway. And yes, there were some spider situations, but I also experience the beauty of the sunburned (and sometimes forgotten) country. His book prepared me but reading about Australia is not the same as actually going there. Traveling provides me an experience that reading cannot always give me.

Instead of just looking at a picture of the Cliffs of Moher, I got to feel the wind whipping across my face as I watched the waves crashed against the rocks-continuing to create this craggy formation. Instead of reading about the Sistine Chapel and viewing sections of it, I got to stand underneath it and have my breath taken away by intricacy and enormity of this monument of history. I got to walk to streets of Granada hand in hand with a great friend. I also got to have that same friend laugh at me and help me up when I tripped over one of the pomegranate statues that line the streets of Granada (seriously though- those things are shin height-I can’t be the first to have done this). I had the chance to learn (and taste) classic Australian food from a good friend and award winning cook. I also got to share some of my own American food with that friend (Pulled chicken sandwiches, baked beans, biscuits, and s’mores). On several occasions, I got up close and personal with kangaroos and koalas.

Now, if you can believe, I have yet to step foot in England. Not even in an airport for a layover to somewhere else. The one place that inspired this expensive hobby has eluded me for years. I’ve been blessed to see parts of Greece, Italy, Ireland, Spain, and Australia. However, this summer, my roommate and I are visiting the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, and…England. I’m finally going to see the place where it all began.

I find it hard to articulate what travel means to me. Traveling is such an important part of self-discovery and I believe is a cornerstone of lifelong learning. The world is too big and too beautiful to let it go undiscovered. The best way I can sum it up is to steal a song from my favorite Disney princess, Belle.

I want adventure in the great wide somewhere

I want it more than I can tell

And for once it might be grand

To have someone understand

I want so much more than they’ve got planned

*Previously posted on Debunking Debacles on 5/28/2014

Compartment Confidence

The other day at lunch I was recapping my latest dating tragedy to some friends I work with. We were trying to get to the bottom of my disastrous encounters. My friend Julie was asking why I am so uncomfortable and awkward. She was baffled when I said I lack confidence around guys. This is usually because when I meet someone who I think is worth dating, I have a hard time believing they would be interested in me. It’s a truly vicious cycle. I make a bad joke, laugh too loudly, realize I made the bad joke and see that he knows it was a bad joke, then I begin to doubt myself and try to overcompensate and the whole thing spirals horribly out of control.

I leave the night feeling like this:

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Then my two friends said the most amazing things about me. They couldn’t believe that I would ever be anything but confident. They reminded me that I have a lot to offer. That I’m a strong woman who has her life together and is accomplishing her goals. Julie even said she couldn’t imagine what I would lack confidence about.

I was totally flattered and encouraged by their kind words. I was also totally confused. How can I feel this out of control insecure and yet have others perceive me as confident? Then I considered my environment. I was at work, talking with two women who see me in what I like to think of as my natural habitat. I compartmentalize my confidence, relegating it to areas where authority and control are more clearly defined in my favor and separating it from areas where vulnerability is key.

Since I decided I wanted to be a teacher (which was in 5th grade) I have never once doubted my choice. As a high school senior answering the never ending stream of “What do you want to with your life?” I proudly said, “Be an English teacher.” I was then looked at sadly and was reminded that I would never make any money. As if that mattered. My junior year of college, teacher bashing was the popular thing to do. With laws like Senate Bill 5 jumping from state to state, I was encouraged by other teachers to get out. From my friends majoring in zoology and political science, I was looked at by someone who was less than, someone who was looking for an easy ride (HA). Even now, I hear a cycle of jokes from my friends with “real” jobs about how they would like to not work for three months and get paid all year. On a recent holiday when school was closed, someone legitimately asked what it was that I actually did. Mind you this was while I was having brunch with my distance athletes after coming from working with another student on a personal project of hers, on my “day off.” (Oh and for those of you interested, this is what I do). In the face of all this opposition, I smile politely and continue to read my books, write my lesson plans, and understand better ways to connect students to literature.

I know that teaching is exactly what I should be doing and what I want to be doing. These women see me as confident because in a classroom talking about literature, discussing best writing practice, I am. I love my job and I feel completely comfortable in a classroom- even when I spell something wrong on the board (happens all the time, thanks a lot autocorrect). I love school and I love learning. Unfortunately, there is no real class on how not to be awkward around men. This is one thing I can’t study and study and then ace the final exam. Each time is an experiment, a process of trial and error. The best way I know how to enter into a new dating situation is based on my past experience. However, a lot of my past experience isn’t great. In high school, I was easily manipulated by guys as I followed them around like a pathetic puppy dog, waiting for them to treat me right. In my first ever long term relationship, I was clouded by my feelings of love and let my better judgment be swayed and again manipulated. If I’m looking at past experiences, I’ve learned that in a dating situation I am not often true to myself. I know this is due to insecurity. My logical side allows me to see very clearly where my behaviors are breaking down and creating unhealthy relationships. However, my insecurity usually overrides my logic. I make decisions or choices based on the emotional temperature of others, not what is necessarily in my best interest.

In this dating experiment, I am not comfortable with so many unpredictable variables. Which is ironic since every day at work is unpredictable. Just last Friday, I had three girls coming into my room crying for various reasons. During a production, there is no way for me to predict what will happen on stage (no matter how many times we practice). For as confident as I am in a classroom, directing, or coaching setting, I go back to feeling 16 and helpless when a guy I like gives me attention.

How do I transfer my confidence? How can I be strong and not condescending? How do I learn to carry myself as the strong woman I know I am in every setting (and not scare away a potential date)? Am I the only one who seems to have this “split personality” issue?

*Previously posted on Debunking Debacles on 5/1/2014