Thursday, February 26, 2009

Becoming a Californian

All of my life, it seems, I have been struggling against what I, and others, have expected of me.  I know that the people who've hoped and wished for me to settle down, grow up, and get a real job have only felt these hopes for me because they love me and really deeply wish for my happiness.

For a long time I struggled to figure out how to do those things.  I felt guilty and ashamed because I never was quite able to fit into any of the ideals and positions that I saw other people fit into.  I envied my family and friends for being able to find contentment in their families, their jobs and careers, and their lives.  I wished I could be happy being a great housewife and mother, having a stable job that allowed me to have a comfortable life and be independent, and have faith in a spiritual belief that could give me hope and sustain me through the difficult times we all have to endure.

I made progress in my struggles:  I found a way to live independently, be reasonably secure, have good friends, and make some really important achievements.  Always, though, I felt like an outsider, like I was in the wrong place, or time, and I couldn't quite connect with other people and my life.

in July of 2008 I started taking a new anti-depressant, Cymbalta, which was a catalyst to me starting to have a new kind of life.  Since I was a child I was told by "professionals" that I would likely never be able to fix the emotional disconnect and limited feelings I experienced.  They all said I 'might' be able to slowly improve a little with therapy, but that the traumatic experiences of my childhood had likely permanantly damaged my emotional capacity.  For as long as I remember, until Lily was born, I was always (every day) suicidal to some extent.  I hated my life; I was incapable of feeling more than momentary joy, the only form of attachment I could feel was having an intense fear of losing the object of my attachment (none of the reported joyful parts of bonding), I could never feel deep connections with people (emotionally) because I felt like an emotional alien-- I didn't know anyone else who couldn't really feel, I felt isolated and alone--even with my closest friends and family... in all I was emotionally void.  My suicidal wishes were due to that emotional emptiness-- Since I had been told I didn't have hope, I always felt like it was masochistic and pointless for me to live my lonely and unlucky life.

With Cymbalta, though, a new door suddenly opened.  I first noticed that I was feeling an amazing sense of joy about being Lily's mother and experiencing her life and growth with her.  I also began to notice that I was feeling much more emotionally connected to Eric.  My experience of emotional growth spread very quickly and soon I was able to feel closer to my family members and friends, I felt like for the first time I could understand their feelings for their families and relate to them and their experiences.  Admittedly it was not all positive feelings I began to experience-- I also began to feel very guilty and sorry for the times and ways I had been very insensitive to the people in my life.  I began to understand how my actions and words may have been hurtful, even though I didn't mean for them to be so.  On the whole, though, being able to experience a full range of human emotion has been an amazing discovery and gift.

My experience of life was steadily improving in St. Louis.  I had gone from always being suicidal to, from October of 2007, having a reason to not want to die-- Lily needed me.  A few weeks ago, though, Eric was driving a little fast and I suddenly realized that, for the first time ever, I really and truly want to live!!! 

The thing is that being here, in this beautiful place, I finally feel like I belong (even fit in).  I don't feel like I'm missing some important element of humanity that lets me be happy with what makes other people happy.  I don't feel like I'm odd, eccentric, or weird.  I don't feel like I need to be anyone other than who I am.  

I've always been a big thinker, a dreamer (as they say).  All of my life I have felt like my ideas were too big, unrealistic, or in some way simply innatainable.  That belief was usually seconded by the people around me.  I was always "the creative one" and thus it was ok for me to be a little 'weird.'  The thing is, I'm not really weird here.

In St. Louis I was too self-conscious (due to my apparent oddity) to talk to most anyone.  I was even shy with my family and sometimes my closest friends.  But here, I go out and comfortable talk to strangers on the street.  Share my "big" ideas with people I don't even know in my art group, and find that they aren't impossible.  Here, my thoughts and dreams are appropriate, acheivable, and realistic.  Here, the impossible happens every day.

I wondered how long it would take me to feel 'at home' in California and I've found it didn't take me very long at all.  I almost feel like my life in St. Louis was a dream and I'm where I was always supposed to be.  I am  making friends and discovering that highly educated and successful people take me seriously and are interested in my mind.  I can talk to people, even in my house-cleaning clothes, and they don't judge my potential by my appearance.  Here, I am beautiful because of my talent, intelligence, kindness, and potential.  Here I am finding out that I really do have the beginings of all of the things I dream to be.  Here, I don't even fear (too much) that I'm too old to become successful.

I wish I would have been born here.  I've finally found my home.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

On Parenting

For me, a lot of figuring out who I want to be has to do with really understanding what kind of parent I want to be.  It's not so much that, as I've heard some people say, my identity has been taken over by my status as 'mother,' but rather that succeeding at motherhood (to me, helping Lily grow into a happy and successful individual {however she defines success}) is the most important goal I have, at this time, in my life. So, I've been thinking a lot about what it takes to be happy and also the kind of mother I want to be. 

I've had many examples of mothers in my life and I really think that I have been lucky to learn a lot from all of them.  From my mother, I want to give Lily a sense of wonder and optimism about the world, encourage her creative mind, engender a sense that she is loved and loveable, give her memories of impromptu songs, stories, and general silliness, and teach her to dream big.  From my aunts, my cousins, my sister-in-law, and my friends, I want to give Lily things I've observed; patience, security and stability, reliability, responsibility, a sense of reality, a little bit of structure and routine (but not enough to encourage rigidity), playfulness, empathy, compassion,honor, duty, and perseverance. 

I don't believe that there is any 'right' way to be a good parent, though there are definitely some very wrong ones, and I guess in the end the most important thing (I've seen) is to provide a child with unconditional love, and protect them from abuse/harm.  I'd probably put stability pretty high on the list of things that it takes, but that may mostly be due to my own very unstable childhood.

In the end, I hope I will manifest all of the best things I've witnessed in other mothers and combine them with my own brand of mothering quirks.  As in all areas of life, I think that balance and moderation are key and that maintaining the right balances throughout her different stages of development will be the biggest challenge we will face.

And I will admit that I am pretty proud of how I've done so far.  I always feared I would be an inadequate parent, but Lily is, happilly, a happy and healthy 17-month old and I've been a large part of making that happen.  I am keeping in mind, though, that I'm coming to the end of the 'easy' part so I want to make sure I'm armed with a strong parenting plan for the years and learning we'll be adventuring through next.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Seeing Me

I've been thinking a lot about how I want to see myself and also how I hope Lily will see me.  Sometimes it feels like an overwhelming task to become the me I want to be: Where do I start?

I guess that's why I've chosen to start with this task.  

As I consider all of the things I always feared I was incapable of becoming; a good mother, a responsible adult, financially secure, happy with my appearance, a reliable and sensitive partner, successful in business and art... happy in general; I start remembering where I was in November of 2001.

In November of 2001 I crashed.  In September I had a job as a beauty consultant with Christian Dior, I lived in a beautiful 100 year old building in a charming nieghborhood of St. Louis, I had an active social life with dozens of friends and threw regular after-hours parties at my apartment, I had a car, wore beautiful clothes, was a promising young fashion photographer coming out of my first show of my work, and I knew my life was just beggining.

In October the facade began to crumble.  I began having panic-attacks due to a new and horrible social anxiety.  I had to quit my job, lost my car, quit talking to all of my friends, and most of all I wanted to die.   By November the crash was complete.  I was basically home-bound out of fear of seeing anyone, locked away in my own mind, a month behind on my rent with no way to pay, and alternately determined to end my suffering (and life) or to not be a coward and take 'the easy way out.'  In the end, I decided that I would give myself one last try.  I would call around and see if there was any place an uninsured 26-year old could get help.

When I think about where I was then, and the journey that has taken me to who I am today, I am sure that I CAN become all of the things I fear I am incapable of.  I am sure, even, that I CAN become even more than those things.  

I have, at this time and place, the perfect opportunity to dream myself into existence. I can forget about what I 'can't' do and what I'm 'probably incapable' of.  No one here (that would remind me) has any pre-concieved notions about the kind of person I am.  I really am living a new life... it's up to me to decide what that life will be.

And this is what I know:
1. I cannot be a new me and still be the old me... I have to start as if I were the first page of an empty book, fill myself up from the foundation to the frosting, and look at who I will be without the burden of comparing that me to who I used to be or what remnants of her might still be hiding underneath.

That doesn't mean I won't share a great deal in common with the old me.  I, like everyone, had great qualities, talents, experiences, and emotions that are certainly going to make my list of things I want to be.  Even those, though, will be in some way renewed and improved for they can't help but be bettered through my growth and success if they are worth bringing with me.

2.  I'm going to dream big.  Sometimes people say to aim small and move gradually; that's not the path I'm going to take.  I'm going to create a vision of myself, figure out what makes that vision work, and then do whatever work it takes to achieve the qualities, skills, habits, and actions that will bring my vision to life.  I believe that I would rather become all of me all at once instead of having to go back and undo other bad habits before I can move further toward my goal.  I want to take the shortest route to success; I'm going to aim for what I want instead of what I could make do with!

3. I'm going to forget about limitations and failure.  I'm going to take the steps I need to take, break my goals into pieces as small as I need them to be, and tackle this miracle one moment at a time.  I'm going to stop worrying about "limitations" and find a way to banish the idea of failure from my thoughts.  The truth is, the only reason for my failure in my life has been my fear of failing.  Like so many people I have given up dozens of opportunities, missed out on hundreds of potential friends, and forgotten countless "amazing" ideas that I failed to act on because I was scared I wouldn't succeed, that I would be embarrassed by my inadequacy, that I would put myself out there and get rejected, or (worst of all) would not meet up to my own expectations of myself.  No more! From now on I'm only failing if I'm not trying!

So, back to my original purpose of this post. How do I want to see me/ How do I want Lily to see me?

  • as a strong and capable woman
  • as a responsible and reliable woman
  • as a good and loving mother
  • as trustworthy
  • as kind and compassionate
  • as successful in business and art
  • as personally and professionally ethical
  • as non-judgemental and open
  • as wise and intellectual
  • as happy and young-at-heart
  • as healthy and attractive
  • as someone who deserves respect
  • as lovable 
  • as someone who truly loves other human beings
  • as someone who gives generously, in all ways
  • as a creative thinker who makes her dreams come true
I guess that's enough for right now.  For tommorow I hope to have determined a little about what it would take to be those things (what qualities/habits/actions would likely result in having this view of me).  

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Re-creation of myself

"Rebirth" Collage by Stitch

Since I've now begun a new life in California, I decided it's the perfect opportunity to make myself into the kind of person I've always wished I could be but thought I was incapable of becoming.  Perhaps the courage to become my ideal self needed a change of place in order to be born inside of me... but I have somehow come to believe that I CAN really be whoever I dream of being.

But, like any goal, the first step of my journey must be in the discovery of WHO I want to become (for it takes a destination to acquire the proper map).  WHO do I want to be?

In thinking about WHO I want to be I have determined that I first have to think about it in terms of my roles in life (a lot of my thoughts about how to become myself have been come to through the reading of Steven Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and {perhaps strangely} Bartlett's Quotations).  The specific roles I have identified as being those I wish to focus on are:
  • Mother
  • Individual (body, mind, soul)
  • Partner/Companion to Eric
  • Artist
  • Friend and Family Member (daughter, sister, niece, cousin etc..)
  • Business-person
  • Teacher/volunteer
  • Community Member/ Leader
  • Citizen
For the time being I have decided to begin with a focus on the first three roles.  I kind of put these together in terms of their importance in my life and to my (our) overall importance to my(our) happiness.  I am a bit conflicted about the ranking of mother vs. individual because, while I feel my primary responsibility and concern must be as a mother to Lily, I also feel that the best way for me to be a good and responsible mother to Lily is to be happy, fulfilled, and responsible to myself as an individual.  In any case, at this time I think that building a life (and home) for my nuclear family unit that is beautiful and supportive will serve as the proper foundation for my (our) happiness and security.  

In a way I think that my roles, which I kind of think of as my 'circles of concern' can be categorized in terms of their nearness to my central core.  The first three: Mother, self, partner can be seen as internally focused-roles, I will call them my primary roles/concerns. The second three, artist/friend and family member/business-person, are both internally and externally focused and dependent, I will call them my secondary roles/concerns.  The last three , teacher/volunteer, community member/ Leader, and citizen are externally focused roles that I will call my tertiary roles/concerns.  

The reason I feel the need to break these up into categories of concern and closeness is because I feel that it is a nearly overwhelming idea to completely re-evaluate and re-create oneself if taken as a whole.  In my experience, big ideas and goals often require dissection and portioning in order to approach them in a realistic and effective manner and avoid getting discouraged-- at least for me.  

I plan to work from the inside out-- I will begin with my first three roles, thinking about, planning, and understanding who/what I want in my personal/internal life.  I feel that once I figure out who/what I want to be there I will have a firm foundation for being who/what I want to be in my more external roles-- I also deeply believe that until I am who I need to be inside that I will be incapable of becoming who/what I want to be in my more external roles.  The last three roles (tertiary), while important to me in terms of my overall life are concerns that I feel are almost like things I need to EARN the right to do.  

It is very important to me to share my experiences and wisdom with others, to serve my community and the world through volunteering my time and acting as a role-model and leader/servant for others, and to be a useful and effective citizen of my community(ies), country and world.  I feel that as a mother it is even more important for me to achieve the ability to work within these circles of concern because I feel it is important that Lily grows up with a desire to help others and be actively involved in her community/country/world.

So I will now start at the beginning of my journey: my primary roles/circles of concern.  In order to begin to understand where I want to go and who I want to be I will first ask myself how I want to be 'seen' in these roles.  That will be the topic of my next post.