On Unplanned Pregnancy: When You Don’t Have the “Right” Feelings

I want to begin this post with both an announcement and a content warning of sorts. If  you’ve been wondering where I’ve been for the past few months, this might explain some things. At the beginning of March, my husband and I found out that we are expecting our first child. The baby is due at the beginning of November and will be born here in Hong Kong. The content warning is this: This was an unplanned pregnancy and I have complicated feelings about it that I am going to share in this post. I am incredibly mindful of how emotionally sensitive so many issues surrounding conceiving, pregnancy, the decision to have children, and parenting are. With all of my heart, I do not want anything I say about my own thoughts and experiences to cause pain. Please don’t feel you need to read this if you are someone who is walking through infertility, miscarriage, waiting for an adoption, or any other situation that makes hearing about my pregnancy painful for you. Wherever you are with these issues, and whatever your feelings are, they are valid. I wish I had the words to heal those wounds. You are seen, you are loved, and you are enough.

Much Love,

Lily

***

When I hear the phrase “unplanned pregnancy,” I tend to think of teenagers who didn’t practice safe sex, or a woman who became pregnant but does not have a relationship with the baby’s father, or a couple who are in that young, wild, and free stage of life and weren’t ready to settle down. Part of what makes these situations so difficult is that the parents (or mother) often do not have the financial or emotional stability necessary to raise a child. But what about when an unplanned pregnancy happens to a happily married couple in their 30’s who both have stable jobs?

Believe it or not, I had thought about this scenario many times and had always assumed that if it ever happened, I would be shocked, but would quickly become excited. Frankly, this has not exactly been the case. Not only have I been trying to process everything I’m feeling, but I’ve also been hit hard with guilt over feeling anything other than joy, excitement, and gratitude.

If you know me at all, you know that I’ve thought about having kids A LOT. I’ve had several people tell me that they’ve never known anyone who has thought about it as much and as in-depth as I have. Over the last (almost) 9 years of marriage, I have wrestled with so many questions. Should we or shouldn’t we have kids? What would be our reasons for having kids? Are those good enough reasons? What would our life look like if we don’t? Is it selfish to have them? Is it selfish not to have them? I could never seem to reach a resolution. My husband and I have actually said to each other before that if we ever got pregnant accidentally, it would be a relief in some ways because it takes so many of these questions off the table. Little did we know…

Early one Saturday morning at the beginning of March, I woke up and took a test. That plus sign popped up immediately and everything in my life changed in that instant. I confess, the first words out of my mouth were, “Oh shit.” Then I paced around the apartment, alternately laughing and crying and staring at that little white stick. When I told my husband, another round of crying and laughing and more crying ensued. And that’s pretty much how it’s been ever since.

When I say this pregnancy was unplanned, I don’t mean, “We were thinking about it, but we weren’t expecting it to happen so soon! What a surprise!” I mean, without going into the gory details, we were planning on not getting pregnant, and it was statistically unlikely to happen.

Beneath all of the other feelings, there is a kernel of awe and wonder that this has happened at all. There were several factors that had led me to believe it would not necessarily be easy for us to get pregnant if we ever decided to try. And yet, here it’s happened and in a fairly improbable way. For the first month or so, I couldn’t fully accept this as reality. In spite of being quite sick, I continued to think of it only as a “potential baby” until we’d heard the heartbeat and seen the little bean wiggling on the sonogram screen at 8 ½ weeks. Only then did I start trying to wrap my mind around what this all means.

There are moments when I feel truly excited and curious about who this new person will be. But I have also felt a lot of frustration, anxiety, and even anger. The best way that I can describe it is that, even though this is a direct result of my and my husband’s actions, this feels like something being forced on me. In a weird way, I feel betrayed by my own body. On the one hand, it is amazing that my body knows what it is doing without me having to tell it. On the other hand, it is extremely unsettling. It feels like something is being done to me, to my body and to my life, without my consent.

One of my greatest fears in life is being stuck. Being denied choice. I have always been terrified of being in a situation I feel I cannot get out of. Ironic, right? The hardest thing about pregnancy so far (besides all of the puking) is that I feel like I have lost agency over my own life: what my career will look like, what we will spend our money on, what kind of travel we will do, and what is going on with my body. Of course, we will still make decisions about those things, but in many cases it feels like the baby is dictating those decisions. I’m a firm believer in fitting the baby into your life, not shaping your life around the baby, but the truth is that what happens next in my career and in my husband’s career will be whatever best allows us to provide for the baby. Travel will depend on how much money we can put towards it with the additional costs of having the baby as well as balancing the desire to go home more often to see our families and friends against our desire to travel. Because I will be having the baby in a public hospital in Hong Kong (something I can explain more about some other time), I will not have the luxury of choosing the kind of birth I would like to have. I will have a safe birth with excellent care, but I will likely not be able to choose how I want to labor or whether I can have an epidural. After the birth I will stay in a ward with at least 8 other women and their babies and my husband will only be able to visit for 2 hours/day. No agency. No choice.

I know some of you reading this will be very tempted to point out all the things I have to be grateful for. And you are right. I do. Especially when there are so many people (including several dear friends of mine) who would be overjoyed to be in this position. I have spent a lot of time beating myself up for feeling these things. But at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s helpful to try to force myself to feel the “right” way. I think I can be grateful and amazed and excited and also be frustrated and anxious and tired.

I am sad to be having a baby in a foreign country where I have no family and very few friends.

At the same time I am humbled by and grateful for the love and support my family and friends have shown me, even from so far away.

I HATE that I do not have control over what is happening right now.

But I also need the reminder that I am not God and there are so many things I am not in control of.

I want to drink wine and eat soft cheese.

But sometimes being an adult means doing things you don’t want to do…or not doing things you do want to do…because you know the long term results are more important than the temporary satisfaction.

I hope in some way this encourages you to let yourself feel your feelings. You don’t have to let them rule your life, but it’s ok to acknowledge that you don’t always feel the way you’re “supposed to” feel.

I am having a baby, and that is a miracle, but at least half of the time, I do not feel excited about it. And I have no doubt that I will love this little person with everything in me. Both of these things are true, and for now that will have to be enough.

 

The Only Way Out is Through: Or How I Ended Up Playing Twister with a Celebrity

I arrived back in Hong Kong late on January 1st after a lovely Christmas holiday in the US. The next morning, I had to be back at work, so, still exhausted from 36 hours of travel and trying to adjust to the 13 hour time difference, I went in to teach.

At some point in the afternoon my manager mentioned to me offhand. “Tomorrow, there is a celebrity coming. You can just do like 30 minutes of trial class. Some games. And the assessment.”She then looked at me appraisingly. “You should wear something nice and do your makeup.” Um. Ouch.

After many, many questions, none of which was very thoroughly answered, (Who was coming? Why? What was my role in this? How old was this celebrity? Oh, they’re bringing their kid? How old was their kid? Isn’t that too old for our program? Are we not trying to get them interested in the program? Ok, so this is just pretend?) I deduced that we were paying this “celebrity” a lot of money to come to our center and pretend she and her son were interested in/endorsing our program while a photographer and videographer took promotional shots. Because this is Asia.

I was not pleased, especially since I was still insanely tired and jetlagged, but I’ve had my fair share of weird experiences like this in Korea, so I played along. How bad could it be? The next day I wore a nice skirt and a new sweater. I ran a straightener through my hair. I was told the celebrity would arrive at 3:30.

At 2:30, approximately 12 people showed up in my office. For someone with anxiety, everything about this was terrible. A “celebrity” who I had never heard of was here with her entourage. Lots of strangers were speaking in Cantonese, which I don’t understand, while I stood there smiling awkwardly. Then, it turned out, her kid was around 10 and spoke English, not only like a native speaker, but like a native speaker who has his own show on the Disney Channel. Also, surprise! Since they came an hour earlier than expected, I did not have time to apply my emergency I-have-the-anxiety-sweats clinical strength deodorant and there were now pit stains on my new white sweater.

One of my coworkers stepped forward. “I will introduce us,” he said to me. Then proceeded to rattle off a lot of things in Cantonese. I still have no idea what “the celebrity’s” name was. My questions the day before had only yielded that she “used to be a singer.” My coworker turned to me. “Now, talk to them about the program.” Mmmm, ok, sure. I rambled somewhat incoherently about the program that they were neither sincerely interested in nor suited to.

“Now we will go into this classroom and your son can play a game with Teacher Lily,” my coworker announced. The entire entourage filed into the classroom. I had naively assumed that “play a game” meant one of the phonics-based games we routinely played in my classes. But no. A board game I’d never seen before was on the table. “Here. Play the game!” they cheered.

“Ah yes, this game!” I laughed merrily. “We shall play it indeed.” And, on the spot, I made up some rules (which I now know are not in any way close to the actual rules).

After several agonizing minutes of pretending I knew what we were doing, I declared the celebrity’s son the winner. He dabbed in response.

Then my manager rolled out a Twister mat. “Now, we can play Twister!”* she announced brightly. I froze. First off, we are a literacy center, not a playgroup. We don’t play board games in general, and we do NOT play Twister. Ever. Secondly, I was already uncomfortable being in a bunch of promo photos given that I am not feeling very body- confident at the moment. I certainly did not sign up to have a professional photographer take photos of me playing Twister for promotional use. But. There was no way out. The room was full of people looking expectantly at me.

Slowly….oh so slowly…I crouched down beside the Twister mat in defeat. The celebrity held the spinner as her son and I battled it out. I did an admirable job all things considered before I decided to throw myself on my sword and bow out gracefully. After losing the game, I thought I had made it through the worst part. But then, the little fiend** had an epiphany.

“Mommy!” he cried. “You play. I want to be the spinner!” And that is how I ended up with my butt in the air playing Twister with the celebrity while the celebrity’s son (I imagine) cackled to himself, “Dance, my puppets! Dance!”***

_______________________________________________________________________________

*It was actually Blindfold Twister, but thankfully they decided against using the blindfolds.
**He was actually a pretty good kid and very smart, just also very active.
*** The celebrity was both beautiful and kind. Having no idea what level of celebrity she is, I can’t say whether or not I was surprised at how “down to earth” she was, but it was like playing Twister with any other extremely beautiful, doting mother who may or may not have been the Christina Aguilera of Hong Kong once upon a time.

 

I Hate My Body (Let’s Not Sugarcoat This)

I want to write this post, but I don’t know how.

I’ve been a bit paralyzed honestly. It’s not writer’s block exactly. Rather it’s that I’ve found myself approaching writing with much more fear than I have ever had before. In spite of how lovely this community has always been to me, I am paralyzed by the fear of being misunderstood and of being judged. While I always strive to be intentional about my words here, I am feeling guarded in a way that I never have before.

I see this blog as a platform for me to practice vulnerability, not for validation and not as some sort of emotional dumping ground, but genuinely in the hope that what I share will bring hope and encouragement or at least a sense of solidarity.

This time, I am afraid. But I think the only way forward is through.

I hate my body.

The feminist in me is cringing. In spite of everything I passionately believe to be true about beauty being expansive and inclusive and about how there is no ideal or perfect body, I wage a silent war with mine every day of my life. And more and more, I have been losing the battle.

I am not the first person to feel this way, and I am certainly not the first person to write about it. I don’t think my experience is unique or that I am equipped to articulate it in a way that no one has before. But I am writing this as a kind of confession. I have reached a point where I can no longer pretend that I live with the sort of self-acceptance I advocate to others. I don’t think my size or shape define my worth as a person. But they greatly affect my happiness and confidence with myself.

The difficult thing is that I am not measuring myself up against an airbrushed movie star or a Victoria’s Secret model. I don’t want to look like women in magazines. Instead, I am measuring myself up against other (better) versions of myself.

For the past 10 years, my weight has fluctuated often, sometimes dramatically. I have lost 20 lbs and then gained 30 in the space of a single year. I have been thin, and I have been overweight ( And I don’t mean 5 vanity pounds, I mean properly overweight).  I have done all of the diets, both the intense ones and the ones that are “not a diet, but a lifestyle” with many periods of “success.” But in the end, I have never found a way to live a “normal” life. There is no stasis for me. I am only ever gaining or losing weight. The sad reality for me is that no matter how many vegetables I eat and no matter how many miles I run, unless I am counting and measuring and restricting, I am gaining weight.

While I think all women struggle with body confidence to some extent, I have felt very alone in this for many years.  My closest friends do not seem to have the same issues managing their weight that I do. They are either naturally thin or are able to eat a normal, moderate diet without experiencing big weight fluctuations. The women in my family are all (either naturally or through admirable discipline) exceptionally fit.

When I think of how much mental and physical energy and anguish I have expended trying to control the size of my body, I am both embarrassed and exhausted.

I would vow to you that the number on the scale or the size on your jeans label mean nothing. And yet, I can tell you that in February of 2011, I weighed 164 pounds, and on the morning of my 28th birthday I weighed 143.5, but almost passed out because I had eaten so little the day before, and the August before that, I weighed 128. Why in the world do I remember this? Imagine all of the worthwhile things I could be using that brain space for instead of these years of meaningless numbers.

And the “healthier” I try to be, the more time and energy I spend trying to figure out what I can and cannot eat, how to prepare it, and how to plan ahead. I don’t know what it would be like to spend just one day where what I will or will not eat does not consume my thoughts. What a trivial and selfish thing to waste so much of my life on.

I want to be free from this.

I want to walk into a room without subconsciously assessing whether or not I am the biggest woman in the room. (That truth both disgusts and embarrasses me).

I am tired of thinking of my body as it is now as somehow temporary. Like I’ve left my body somewhere and this is the one I’ve borrowed until I can get my real one back. I have actually said to myself when clearing out my closet, “When I’m my real size, that skirt looks great on me, so I’ll hang onto it.”

Do you want to shake me yet?  Because I do. Wake up, Woman! It doesn’t get any more “real” than this. This chest rising and falling with my breath. These freakishly small fingers typing these words.

There are words we say in faith because we want them to be true. Because they are things we want to believe and we hope by speaking them they will make their way into our hearts. This year, more than ever, those words are, “I want to be at peace in my body.”

But I do not understand what it would mean to be at peace with my body as it is now, as it will be tomorrow, or as it will be in 5 years without also giving up the drive to maintain a healthy body.*

I don’t have any answers. I don’t expect you to have any answers. This struggle is the one I am most ashamed of and also the one I feel most alone in. I am ashamed because I know the “right” words and the “right” attitude. I know I am supposed to embrace my body and reject society’s narrow construction of beauty and love myself. But can I love myself and still want to lose weight? Can I maintain some sort of equilibrium where I am not always in flux? Can I reach a point where my thoughts are more consumed by what I can give to others than with how I feel about myself?

_______________________________________________________________________________________

*I do know that health and weight do not always correlate – you can be thin and unhealthy or overweight and relatively healthy. Unfortunately, that is not the case for me right now.

 

 

 

Best Books of 2018

This year I read 108 books plus half of two other books. My goal was 125, so I didn’t technically complete my Reading Challenge, but I feel OK about it. Here are the best books I read across different genres along with a very brief review/synopsis for each. Just so you are aware, there are some repeats of books I’ve mentioned before this year (especially in my best of the year so far post from August). If you want to check out everything I read this year, visit my Reading Challenge page on Goodreads.

Best General/Literary Fiction

Literary fiction is sort of a catch-all for things that don’t fit neatly into other categories. The literary fiction I read is usually written with attention to language and with more emphasis on character development than a fast-moving plot, though they can certainly have both.

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman. I don’t know how he does it, but Backman tackles MASSIVE issues in such a nuanced and emotionally intelligent way. This is a sequel to Beartown, so definitely read that first, but this is a deftly handled exploration about how a community responds to violence, about rape culture, the unifying and destructive power of rivalries, and the many small actions that can lead to serious consequences.

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza. This book tells the story of an Indian-American Muslim family and their individual struggles with belonging. Parents, Leila and Rafiq have tried to instill their traditions and values in their children, but each of their three children has had to forge their own path. Leila and Rafiq have had to make difficult decisions about whether or not they can accept and embrace their children when their decisions don’t align with Leila and Rafiq’s hopes for them. The book opens at the wedding of Hadia, the family’s oldest child, who has chosen to marry for love rather than have an arranged marriage. The family are collectively holding their breath to see if the youngest sibling, Amar, will come to the wedding after being estranged from the family for three years. It’s a novel about the ways that families try (and often fail) to love each other well

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. Celestial and Roy are still newlyweds when the unthinkable happens. Roy is arrested and convicted of a crime he did not commit. He is sentenced to 12 years in prison. In the beginning, Celestial and Roy remain fiercely devoted to one another, but as the years go by, Celestial begins to move on with her life. When Roy’s conviction is overturned and he is released early, the (still married) couple must figure out what really makes a marriage and whether or not they can still have one.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne. Cyril Avery is born to an unwed mother in rural Ireland and adopted by an eccentric writer and her husband who really know nothing about children. As Cyril grows, we meet a cast of richly drawn characters who impact Cyril’s life, for better or worse. This book is largely focused on the horrible treatment of gay men in Ireland (and elsewhere) in the late 20th century. Because of that, some parts are very hard to read and some of it is very sad. There is also a significant amount of sexual content in the first half of the book (just fair warning if you don’t like reading that). However, the characters are amazingly vivid, unique, and quirky, and in the end, I can’t describe this book in any way other than beautiful, deeply moving, and unforgettable.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal. This book was a total surprise for me. Erotic stories don’t do much for me (I just can’t take “sexy” descriptions seriously), but the erotic stories in this book are just a device to talk about so much more. A group of Punjabi widows sign up for a writing class. Their teacher, a young British/Punjabi woman, thinks she will be helping these women to write the stories of their lives, but she is unprepared for the stories they truly want to tell. This is a book about a tight knit immigrant community, about female friendships, and about women who have lived their whole lives without power or agency finding ways to gain those things while still holding onto the traditions and values of their community.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.  The book tells the story of a Korean family who have immigrated to Japan during the Japanese occupation of Korea and their experience living in Japan over the course of a few generations through the wars and beyond. The way that Korean immigrants were looked down on and denied full entry into society even generations after immigrating had some uncomfortable parallels to things going on in my own country right now. Pachinko is a popular gambling game in Japan (kind of the equivalent of a slot machine) and several characters in the book are involved in the Pachinko business which is where the title comes from.

Best Thriller

I read 15 books that fit in this genre this year, and not a single one of them rocked my world. If I had to pick one to recommend I would say either The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (the story of a young woman preparing to marry a too-good-to-be-true man while being stalked by his ex-wife. Or is it?) or The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn (Anna Fox swears she saw a woman get stabbed in the house across the street, but no one can find any evidence. Also, Anna is on a lot of medication and drinks way too much. So there’s that).

 

Best Memoir

Everything Happens for a Reason and other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler. Kate Bowler is a professor at Duke Divinity School who has devoted her professional career to studying the prosperity gospel. At 35, she is diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. As she navigates the grief and pain of illness and facing her own mortality, she finds herself drawn to the reassurances offered by the health and wealth doctrines of the prosperity gospel and comes to an understanding of why people cling to these beliefs even when they seem so obviously false.

Educated by Tara Westover. Growing up in a fundamentalist, survivalist family, Tara Westover had no access to formal education.  At 17 she became determined to do things differently. Having never been to school, she taught herself enough to gain entrance to Brigham Young University where she learned for the first time not only math, science, and literature, but about the history of her own country and of world events (like the Holocaust) which she had never even heard of. Exposure to the world of learning sparked a hunger in her for all that she did not know and went on to study at Harvard and at Cambridge. As she gains knowledge and understanding about the world and her own upbringing, she is driven to try to forge a way back to her family, so many of whom are still living in a toxic environment.

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death by Maggie O’Farrell. Irish novelist O’Farrell explores the fragility and beauty of life through seventeen stories of her own encounters with death.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads byClementine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil. This is the story of one girl surviving the Rwandan genocide. This was one of the most poignant memoirs I have ever read, not only because the author survived something horrific, but because it focuses equally on the aftermath. It explores what it was like to be stateless as a refugee, but also what it was like to be safe and settled and still feel the need to put on a particular identity, to tell the kind of heroic story of survival that people want to hear.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. Noah which uses his characteristic humor to share compelling stories of growing up as a biracial child (and therefore a child conceived illegally) under apartheid in South Africa.

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth. If you like the BBC show, you will love the books which strike the same note, but do have some different stories and observations about Worth’s time working alongside a group of nuns as a midwife in some of London’s poorest communities during the 1950’s.

Best Nonfiction

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown. This is such an important book that I am still digesting. When I first finished it, I wished Brown would have given me some more action points. Like “How can I fix the damage I have done by being white.” But over time I started to realize that was part of the point. am not the fixer. I am not the one to swoop in and help black people. A huge part of my role in racial reconciliation is to acknowledge my privilege and my biases and to simply listen.

Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan. 12 beautiful essays about how to live and to love in the truest and most authentic ways possible.

Best Beach Read

34840184

The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand. Big, juicy rich white people problems book set on Nantucket. Enough said.

Best Fantasy

The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang. Rin is a poor, dark-skinned war orphan with no prospects, but after receiving the highest score in the Empire on the entrance exam for the empire’s top Academies, she earns a spot at Sinegard, the most elite military academy. There she learns the art of war and discovers her own unique gift in shamanism, widely believed to be a dead art. When war breaks out, Rin learns the true cost of her gift and what it might take to save her people. I will say, there is a lot of descriptive violence and brutality on the page in this book, but it’s fantastic.

La Belle Savage (The Book of Dust #1) by Philip Pullman. This gives great back story if you are a fan of His Dark Materials. Otherwise, this is not the one to start with.

Best Mystery

The Witch Elm by Tana French. I am a huge fan of Tana French although I was disappointed with her last book. The Trespasser. This is her first mystery outside of the Dublin Murder Squad series and I really enjoyed it. Toby is a carefree guy for whom everything has always come easily. After suffering a head injury, he moves to the countryside to recuperate in the old family home where his broken mind and body frustrate him. When a human skeleton is discovered on the property, Toby struggles to answer the detectives questions, whether because of the holes in his memory or because of secrets he never knew to begin with.

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith. I’ve read and loved all of the Cormoran Strike mysteries, but I will admit this was the first one that felt a bit too long for me. Nevertheless, I enjoyed trying to piece together the mystery and loved spending more time with Cormoran and Robin.

Best Audiobooks

My Plain JaneThe second book in the Lady Janies series, this is a retelling of Jane Eyre where Jane Eyre is a real person who inspired her friend Charlotte Bronte and also, she can see dead people. As much fun as My Lady Jane.

Yes, My Accent is Real by Kunal Nayyar. Best known for his role as Raj Kuthrapali on The Big Bang Theory, Nayyar tells funny, heartwarming stories about his childhood, immigrating to America, trying to make it as an actor and comedian, and how a guy like him ended up with a wife like former Miss India, Neha Kapur.

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. New York Times food critic tells stories of literally dressing up in different disguises and assuming new identities in order to review top restaurants undetected. This is great on audio.

CalypsoNothing is funnier than David Sedaris reading David Sedaris. His delivery really sells it.

What did you love reading this year?

The 300th: An Ode to Failure

This is my 300th blog post.

Three hundred separate times, I’ve sat down and written a thing and posted it on the internet. Sometimes they were words I couldn’t keep in for a moment longer so that they spilled out in an almost violent rush. Sometimes they were words I spent weeks weighing and measuring, trying to say something true, but in the most careful way I could. And sometimes they were words without any great weight behind them – snapshots of the moments that make up my days.

Today is also my 31st birthday. I have so many things to be thankful for in my life. Without being too mushy, I will just say that I am deeply loved by some of the most wonderful people on this planet and they do an amazing job of showing me. That is all I could ever ask for. But this post isn’t about how lovely my life is.

It’s about failure.

In reflecting on the last year, I’ve had many wonderful and meaningful experiences, but I’ve also failed in a lot of ways. I don’t believe I’ve ever tried to project an image of perfection here. I’ve been honest about struggles and difficulties. But I also don’t know that I’ve talked much about real failure–as in the things that are entirely my fault and entirely within my control.

There are the small things:

  • I accidentally betrayed a confidence. I didn’t do it intentionally, but I should have been thoughtful enough to avoid the topic entirely instead of assuming what the other person already knew. Nothing catastrophic has come of it, but I still should have kept my mouth closed.
  • I completely forgot to check in on a friend who I knew was having an important appointment. I genuinely wanted to know the outcome, but I failed to follow up with her which communicated that I didn’t really care.
  • We have a four-cup coffee maker (which in my house is actually a two-cup coffee maker) and a few days ago I heard Jonathan waking up, so I ran to the kitchen and quickly poured the last cup of coffee into my mug before he came out so that I wouldn’t have to wait 5 minutes for a new pot to brew.

And there are the bigger things:

  • I recently shouted at a family member in moment of self-righteous fury that was both ungracious and unnecessary. Also, I am not a shouter. A very animated talker, yes. But not a shouter.
  • I kept a secret from my husband for the better part of a year because I was so ashamed of it. Me. Someone who would identify authenticity as one of my core life values. I kept a secret from the person I am closest to in the world. Like a lying lier who lies. This was just one factor that led to a serious and scary breakdown in my marriage, something I always thought was too rock solid to be shaken.
  • I quit on an important project that I care deeply about and want to support, but simply couldn’t get my shiz together enough to participate in fully.
  • A few weeks ago, I had a conversation where I speculated on someone else’s sexuality. Even though I sincerely believe this to be an unkind and above all unnecessary thing to do, I did it.
  • I am really struggling with resentment towards someone in my life. It has nothing to do with them. It is entirely my problem. But at least 50% of the time, I want to punch them in the face for daring to exist.
  • I set out to write a book a long time ago, but I do not have the discipline or the work ethic or the perseverance to see it through. Every time I try again, I end up quitting.

I promise, there is a point to all of this. The thing I’ve learned the most over the past year is that there is no such thing as a failure-free life. As a recovering perfectionist, this is hard for me to accept. I am programmed to believe I should always be making progress. I like to think I can outgrow failure, or at the very least, that I can learn not fail at the same thing twice. Experience says otherwise.

Failure is inevitable, but it’s not the end. It’s an opportunity to identify my priorities and to really ask myself if my actions reflect my goals, my values, and the kind of person I want to be. It is humbling to admit to being wrong and to ask for forgiveness. And it is beautiful to receive forgiveness from others and from myself.

The other great gift I’ve received from all of my failures is that, in my better moments, it has given me greater compassion towards others. Understanding my own inability to stop failing makes it easier to forgive other people’s failures too. It’s so much easier to live believing that those around me are doing the best they can, but, despite our best efforts, we all still fail sometimes.  We all need the grace of God, myself as much as anyone.

In the next year, I hope that I will grow as someone who is kind and genuine and generous and gracious. I want to invest more in my writing with the goal of one day being self-employed as a writer. I want to make peace with my body and manage my mental health better. I want to love the people in my life well. I want to explore more of the world and to have new adventures, but also do a better job of appreciating all there is to explore and appreciate in my everyday life.

I will probably (definitely) fail in both small and spectacular ways at all of these things, so along with all of these hopes, I am thankful to be in a place in my life where I feel secure enough to fail. My worth and my worthiness are not dependent on my successes or failures. I only need to be humble enough to admit my failures, to ask for forgiveness where necessary, and to have the courage to try again.

__________________________________________________________________________
Featured Image via Ted.com

 

 

Misconceptions I Used to Have About Bipolar Disorder

There is a an episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend where the main character, Rebecca Bunch, finally receives a medical diagnosis for her mental health issues. From the beginning of the show, she assumed her issues were anxiety, depression, and OCD, but after a psychotic episode, a doctor tells her he has an official diagnosis for her. At first, Rebecca is relieved about this and is even looking forward to finally knowing what her issues are. Since this is a ridiculous show involving choreographed musical numbers, Rebecca sings a power anthem about how finally finding the right diagnosis will change everything. A few days later, she finds out she is being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. After a quick Google search of the characteristics, she demands that her doctor give her a new diagnosis. In that moment, Rebecca would rather live without proper treatment in order to avoid an undesirable label.

As I’ve started to write about my experience with bipolar disorder, I have heard from so many people who thanked me for sharing, but who also expressed that they struggled with their own diagnoses –not so much with managing the symptoms, but with accepting the reality that they have bipolar disorder. These are people who, like me, have struggled with their own misunderstandings of the condition and above all, with other people’s perceptions of it.

When I was first diagnosed, I was very uncomfortable with the label “bipolar.” It sounded extreme, and it both frightened and embarrassed me. But then I spent time learning about what it actually is and how my experience fits inside the spectrum of the disorder, and I started to feel immense relief. I’m sure this sounds like an oxymoron to some people, but I had a moment where a light went on and I thought, “I’m not crazy, I’m just bipolar.”

I thought it might be helpful for me to share some of the things I used to believe that made it hard for me to accept the reality of my diagnosis.

Misconcpetion #1: People with Bipolar Disorder are Erratic and Dangerous

First off, let me just begin by saying that any statement beginning with “People with bipolar disorder are x, y, or z” is probably wrong. That’s sort of like saying, “All pregnant women will have morning sickness.” Yes, there are things about pregnancy that make morning sickness more likely, but there are women who never experience it, women who are sick once, women who are sick for a few weeks, and women who are sick constantly their entire pregnancy. Whatever scale the symptoms are on does not change the fact that they are all pregnant.

In the media, we often see the extremes of BD–people or characters who are at the highest heights of mania or the lowest depths of depression. These extremes do exist, and they are heartbreaking, but they are not the definitive experience of BD. And it’s not common for people to reach these extreme states if they are receiving proper medical care.

It’s also worth noting that an official diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder is characterized by having consistent depressive periods and at least one manic (Type 1) or hypomanic* (Type 2) episode in their lifetime. ONE. Of course, lots of people have more than one. But I’m just saying, to assume that someone with BD is constantly having or on the verge of having erratic and irrational episodes is just not true.

Misconception #2: Being Bipolar Means Having Rapid Mood Swings

“My teacher is like totally chill one day and then yelling at us the next. She is so bipolar,” I overheard a 7th grader saying to her friend. People toss around the term like it’s the punchline of a joke. Sometimes I like to joke about it too, because sometimes it’s healthier not to take ourselves too seriously, but also, this perpetuates the idea that bipolar really means “Someone with wild mood swings.”

If having mood swings were the metric of what makes someone bipolar, about half of the world’s population would be bipolar approximately once a month. Have you ever started the day in a bad mood and then had something totally turn your day around? Or been in a great mood and had something bring you down? That’s a pretty normal experience. Emotions fluctuate and some people are more sensitive than others.

mood-swing

Bipolar Disorder does not mean having constant mood swings all day every day. It means having longer term cycles of depression, stasis, and (at least once) mania or hypomania. In many cases, those cycles come only once or twice a year.

There IS something known as rapid-cycling BD, but rapid cycling refers to having four or more cycles in a year. That is still not the same thing as having a flip of the switch mood swing or a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality.

In other words, sometimes, a girl is just hangry, OK? Give her some cheese. (If she is me).

i-m-sorry-for-what-i-said-when-i-was-hangry-women-s-organic-t-shirt

Misconception #3: Bipolar People Can’t Live Normal Lives. They End Up Homeless or Dying Young and Tragically

There are two parts to this one – first, the idea that people with BD can’t live normal lives. In fact, most people with BD experience (sometimes long) periods of normality in between periods of depression and mania/hypomania.

People who experience BD with severe depression (especially if untreated) may have difficulty holding down a job because they can’t keep a regular schedule. People who experience BD with extreme mania that causes them to have delusions or make other reckless decisions (especially if untreated) may put themselves in risky situations. And yes, people who leave their BD untreated or who choose not to seek help will probably not live a healthy life.

But, BD is not a hopeless diagnosis. There are so many treatment options, both with medication and without. Some incredibly successful people are/were bipolar (Carrie Fisher, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and, for better or worse, Ernest Hemingway to name a few). In fact, I would argue that people with BD are some of the most passionate, creative, and empathetic people on the planet. Those same emotions that can overwhelm and cripple us also give us a rich and complex emotional and creative life.

When I was first diagnosed, my biggest fear was that someone would find out and think I was unfit to do my job, which involved a huge amount of responsibility of a group of teenagers. I did not want anyone to hear the word “bipolar” and make assumptions about me or my work based on that one word rather than on my character and my proven track record. I think this is a common concern for people with bipolar disorder, and that’s why I think it’s so important to educate people about what it really is.

Misconception #4: If Someone I Knew Was Bipolar, I Would Be Able to Tell

Nearly everyone I know who is aware of my condition has the initial reaction, “But you seem so (normal/competent/together/calm/happy/successful, etc.)!”

img_2222

I just like smiling. Smiling’s my favorite. This face right here – this is me at the tail end of one of the most severe depressive episodes of my life.

Newsflash. The way people look on the outside and the way they feel on the inside do not always match up.

I have spent months at a time somehow getting up, putting on my makeup, pulling myself together, and doing my job with a smile on my face. And the minute I got home, I would put on my sweatpants and spend the rest of the day on my couch or in my bed barely speaking because it was SO BONE-NUMBINGLY EXHAUSTING to make it through the day. I never wanted to wear a mask, I just had responsibilities and I had to keep functioning.

Of course, I understand that there are people with BD who genuinely cannot do that. I get it. There have been at least two points in the last few years where I thought, “I’m about to break.” I honestly don’t know how I got out of bed, and to anyone else who has felt that way or worse, I believe you are doing the very best you can.  But a lot of us are very high-functioning and great at over-compensating for how we feel inside.

Not only are the symptoms we experience internal and therefore not noticeable unless you are really close to us every day, but it’s also something people are afraid to talk about. At least, I know I was. Sometimes the people who suffer the most are the ones who nobody notices are suffering.

Some Advice

I know this has been long, but I would like to leave you with a few last thoughts. If someone you know and love confides in you that they have bipolar disorder:

  1. Ask them, “What is that like for you?” Remember that it can be different for everyone.
  2. If you are concerned about them taking care of themselves, ask them what they are doing to manage it.
  3. Educate yourself.
  4. Other than providing them with any support they may ask for, treat them the same way you did before you knew.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

*Hypomania is a less extreme form of mania that usually lasts for a few days rather than weeks and is characterized by being happy/euphoric, full of energy, being very talkative, racing thoughts, feeling full of ideas and plans, and often an increase in impulse spending or in sexual desire. It does not include delusions, paranoia, or hallucinations that can come with Mania

On Shrinking

A few weeks ago, a friend mentioned off-hand that he was headed to the gym. He jokingly added that his mantra is, “Must get bigger.” I laughed and told him that I have never once in my life had that thought. We talked for a minute about the irony that (in general) men tend to go to the gym to get bigger while women go to get smaller.

This conversation played in my head over the next few weeks, and it occurred to me that my own mantra in so many parts of my life seems to be, “Must get smaller.”

I am talking about my body, of course. A body I have long struggled to love, and in fact, find myself hating more and more each year. But more on that some other time. Because I am also talking about the rest of me.

I’m talking about how much time I spend trying to shrink my too-big, too-wild feelings down to a manageable size. How I constantly fight to curb my too-loud, too-opinionated, too-clumsy, too-anxious self. How I leave most social engagements, and turn to Jonathan to ask, “Was I OK? Was I obnoxious? Did I talk too much? Did I embarrass you? Did I make anyone else uncomfortable?” *

I worry that my decisions are too-selfish. That my desires are too-frivolous. That my dreams are too-big. That my appetite for food, for life, for adventure, is too-much.  I am constantly aware of the space I take up and how often it feels like more than I deserve. And in sharing all of this, I now worry that I am being too-vulnerable. And that maybe all of this is just a product of my being too-selfish and too-whiny.

Of course, I want to cultivate truth in my life and to cut away the things that are not good for myself or for others. I’m not saying I should allow my worst qualities to run free. But how can I expect to grow when I spend so much time intent on shrinking myself down to fit into the limited space I am told I deserve?

I want to live a big life. A life where my love–for my family and friends, for my work, for freedom and justice, for the hurting, for beauty and diversity, and for the work of God in the world–is so expansive that it cannot be contained. I want passion and empathy and joy and grace to flow out of me and into whatever corner of the world I happen to be in.

I am tired of asking for permission to take up space. I am tired of apologizing because I have desires and dreams that don’t always align with other people’s expectations or are outside of their realm of understanding. I am tired of sucking in my stomach all day every day so I can pretend to have a more acceptable amount of belly fat. And I am tired of trying so hard to rein in all that seems unacceptable about me that I’ve been shrinking my soul in the process. I want to come to peace with all of my dimensions–from the circumference of my thighs, to the depth of my sadness, to the volume of my laughter. I want to take up space.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

*I’ve written before here about my social anxiety