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Women's issues

Perspectives

Last week I stumbled upon two blogs – both written by women. One black, one white. The black woman’s blog was written in calm, yet strong language, the white woman’s blog was dripping with ignorance. Yet both of these writers gave me pause, caused me to consider their views, one in quiet contemplation the other in a low roaring fury.

The black woman’s page was filled with the power of knowledge. A knowledge of discrimination that is superior to all men and all white women. Black women know all about racism and sexism. They have exponentially more experience with inequality. From the time they are little girls, they are forced to deal with skin color discrimination. They earned their chops before I even considered objecting to wearing a dress.

At 10, I still relished in my grandfather’s nickname for me, “Princess,” happily cocooned in a culture that says young girls are prized, loved and adored by their male caretakers and the delusion that the world at large would reflect this sentiment. Later, when I finally discovered the bars of my gilded cage, the young black women of the world had long since realized that their reservation on the Princess Express had second or third-class seating regardless of their socio-economic status. Their dads and grandfathers may have adored and loved them too, but they had not been allowed the same full fantasy due to the color of their skin.

The white woman’s blog was typical of women whose lacquered nails grip possessively to their tiara; those who think a patriarchal world is just fine. Her ignorance of both the #MeToo activism and Women’s history was so repugnant I could barely finish her short angry post. This woman, I am embarrassed to say, felt that women want equality now because all of the hard work (building infrastructure) has already been done by men in the U.S. and now we pampered little girls want the sugar frosting icing just like the boys. But of course, in her myopic little world, women have never struggled.

What the white writer doesn’t realize is that a generation or two ago, she wouldn’t even have had the opportunity to speak her mind in the public arena. She would have been relegated to the objectionable camp of tramps and whores otherwise known as divorced women. Even during my childhood, a divorced woman was the embodiment of Lilith*, she was dangerous and a horrifying reminder to those in the safety of marital bliss that they had better toe the line or be cast into this land of misfits.

I do not pity nor fully identify with either woman because I am somewhere in between the two. I will never comprehend what it is like to be discriminated against due to the color of my skin, but I can understand the outrage and frustration of being a woman and being treated as “less than.” I can learn from the black writer, I can sympathize, I can listen. Is it possible for us to find common ground even as our obvious differences divide us?

Yet, I am not that naive white woman either, she embarrasses me because I have known that ignorance. Maturity and education provided the key to my gilded cage and I chose to leave, but many choose to stay. I need to contemplate what went wrong from the “bra-burning” days of my mother’s generation until now. Why is it that so few women know about women’s history?

I don’t have the answers but I intend to keep looking.

T

 

 

*Lilith was Adam’s wife before Eve. According to lore, she was not willing to submit to Adam’s authority as she was made at the same time as Adam and was equal to him. In short, she left Adam to wander the earth. She was later villainized, accused of killing babies. Depending on the source; she is revered or feared, an interesting persona either way and certainly an excellent stereotype representing the divorced woman. 

Image credit: Author unknown. Found in Mulberry Art Studios, Lancaster, Pa on 1/5/18. Beautiful isn’t it?

 

Listening Between the Raindrops is part of Zen Cat, LLC.

Self care, Women's issues

A Book for Mother’s Day

Appetites: Why Women Want, by Caroline Knapp (2003)

Shortly after I got this book I read through the first few pages and placed it on my “read later” pile. I assumed I had nothing in common with a woman who nearly starved herself to death. I come from hearty Sicilian and German stock, too much food, and not daring to reject this form of love was more of my problem than self-denial. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

This book was published posthumously. Caroline Knapp died at age 42 of lung cancer in 2002. An author and columnist, she is one of the best writers I have read. Her words are a sword, as finely crafted and precise as a samurai’s deadly weapon. Her meticulous words and excellent prose slice through the denial that one woman’s eating disorder is not directly related to another woman’s shopping addiction. Her parry is deadly. Be prepared to be dismembered from your most treasured belief system(s).

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Much of the book details her love affair with anorexia. Unlike the stereotypical image of this disorder, she did not undertake this adventure because she felt she was fat/overweight or hated her body per se. She starved herself because she wanted control. She wanted power over her body… over something. At one point, she describes standing in front of the mirror meticulously counting her protruding ribs; satisfied that she had somehow proven a point. She later admits that food gained the upper hand; planned binges took on the pomp and circumstance of holiday gatherings, afterwards leaving her feeling helpless, hopeless and wrought with guilt. Yet, to say this book is only about one woman’s battle with anorexia is akin to saying the titanic was sunk by an ice cube.

Appetites is about women’s wants. Women often abnegate their own desires for the good of the other. Think about a fantastic Mom you know; likely she is best at self-neglect and places her priorities in the order of who needs her most… excluding herself. Husband, children, community, church and aging parents all take precedence over a woman’s time, energy and personal aspirations. To do less is to be less of a woman. Why is that?

I look at my own life and I realize I too followed the pre-set female formula. As a teen, I quickly fell in step with the feminine stereotype. I chose to participate in the pom-pom squad although I was a strong runner. I dropped woodshop because I was the only female in the class and was horribly intimidated even though the teacher was very encouraging and uber-excited that I was in his class. I loved creating things out of wood yet, shyness, teenage insecurity and the very real awareness that I didn’t belong there made me drop that class and join choir, (I can’t sing except in my car or shower.) Both decisions I regret to this day.

I always loved climbing trees, riding my bike, reading books and creating stories yet in high school having friends became more important than my satisfying solitary adventures. One could argue that I was simply following the normal arc of a teenage girl but hindsight tells me I sold out to fit in. The girls who were athletic were “dykes.” The girls who had no friends were freaks or outcasts. If the majority of your friends were guys, you were a slut. Somewhere along the road to adulthood I lost the courage to be myself and once lost it was very difficult to get back. For most of my life I followed the path of least resistance the one that would allow me to blend in and not rock the boat. I lived my life denying my true self (see my post “It’s Her Again”) all the while feeling the inner boiling anger of resentment towards those who suppressed me. In some respect, I should have been mad at myself. But maybe it wasn’t entirely my fault.

Knapp helps explain our common plight as modern women. One foot in the past and one in her future; the average woman unconsciously and guiltily competes with her mother’s legacy. Only a generation ago women were still expected to be in the home, June Cleaver being the model of perfection. Even the career woman was expected to work full time and then come home to clean, cook and care for the children. The tiresome images of what a woman should be still endure and those who break the mold pay dearly. Those who fall in step fare no better.

Knapp, in chapter two, tells of the many cocktail parties hosted by her parents; something her mother hated. “And I remember how tired she’d be the next morning, exhausted in the bone-deep way I now recognize as almost entirely emotional: it’s the rage-laced fatigue you feel after you’ve given and given and taken next to nothing for yourself.” I know that feeling all too well.

Appetites is not simply a call for equality, but a call for recognition. Recognizing ourselves as beings who have wants. We are beings who have desires no less important or powerful than our beloved male counterparts, yet we somehow fail to give ourselves permission to be who we are in our souls. No one is going to grant women consent to grab what they want, it needs to be taken by women and that is a terrifying prospect.

 

If you are interested in Knapp’s book it is available on Amazon. I will not receive any compensation if you use this link.

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Self care

Active Adulting

I don’t remember becoming an adult. When I say “becoming an adult,” I don’t mean turning 18; but rather the point in my life when I realized that the responsibility for managing my life belongs to no one else. The benefits and consequences of daily decisions that fall on me alone. Maturity is knowing when to accept advice and when to disregard well-meaning opinions. Discerning the difference is where it gets tricky.

adult dreams 2017-04-25 at 8.58.35 PM 2There will always be someone who thinks they know you or your situation better than you.  I think as we mature it is easier to appreciate when someone has solid recommendations, but also realize we don’t need to follow this instruction without consideration. Autonomous adults glean what is relevant and discard what is not. I sometimes need to remind myself that tweaking an idea is not disrespectful; adaptation makes it more personal, useful and meaningful to me.

Trials, trauma and health issues can debilitate self-trust making it easier to ignore our gut instinct. Dependency might be okay for a short while but ultimately these phases should be about gaining introspection and knowledge rather than relinquishing control. Recognizing that you do not have all the answers does not make you weak, it means you are willing to push beyond your own understanding. Realizing that experts don’t always know what is best for you is paramount to proper self-care. I learned this lesson first hand and will never again relinquish control of my health (or any other area of my life) simply because someone else is supposed to be an authority.

Six years ago, I was having some serious health issues. I was extremely overweight, tired all the time and my emotions were closer to that of a 14-year-old hormonal female. I struggled with exercise because of full body joint pain. Prevalent brain fog, exacerbated by insomnia and a poor diet, made any decision challenging. Hell, my whole life was challenging! I was too tired to try to figure things out and although my multiple physical issues terrified me, I didn’t care. It was too overwhelming.

I went to my doctor in complete desperation. Initially, they prescribed Prozac, which leveled out my moods, but the brain fog and joint pain persisted plus I gained more weight. Eventually I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and prescribed a synthetic medication that alleviated some of the brain fog yet I was still overweight, exhausted and lacked vitality. I was in my early 40’s but felt 90. At one point the doctor told me I had arthritis. I didn’t realize it at the time but you need to have x-rays to accurately diagnose regular arthritis and he had never ordered x-rays. This is when my gut kicked in… “Something is not right about this.”

I didn’t care about anything I used to love; it was too hard to write, read or hike. Spending time with my son and enjoying his company took every ounce of my willpower since I preferred spending every day in bed hiding from the world. Thankfully the synthetic thyroid medication gave me just enough mental boost to be able to start researching my symptoms and eventually find a way out of my illness.

The first resource I found was a community of individuals who all dealt with thyroid issues. The website Stop the Thyroid Madness was my yellow brick road to health. This site started me on a pathway that became a battle with the narrow-minded medical professionals I had been trusting. I started educating myself on hypothyroidism. Once upon a time individuals who suffered from thyroid dysfunction used a natural full spectrum medication; but Big Pharma pushed it out for the more profitable synthetic version. Some people do well on the synthetic, but not everyone, and I was not getting better so I wanted to try the natural thyroid prescription.

I went to my doctor’s office armed with a book and loads of information. I expected to be allowed (Yes, allowed!) to try this new/old medication. I remember sitting in the examining room both excited and scared. I felt like a child asking for permission to go to the prom. But, instead of them celebrating my proactive self-care, I was met with hostility and anger. The physician’s assistant reluctantly agreed to let me try a natural thyroid medication, but not without the condescending remark that, this medication was out of date and only used by “83-year-old women who refused to switch to the synthetic brand.” I had to go for more blood tests first, which would take several days.  I was out of the synthetic prescription and was feeling worse than ever. The anxiety about my decision, going against the PA’s suggestion and my inability to function led to a complete melt-down.

In the midst of this conflict a co-worker had recommended a nurse practitioner, Rana. Her private medical practice New Beginnings Healthcare for Women did not take any insurance, so was not restricted by the usual limitations that apply to most doctors. I was worried about the out-of-pocket cost but when I calculated how much I had paid in co-pays, useless prescriptions and bad diagnoses over the years the price was about the same.

Within a week of my first visit to Rana’s office armed with a natural thyroid medication and adrenal supporting vitamin’s most of my symptoms were gone, including the joint pain. Within two years I had dropped the weight and gained abundant energy. I am still able to maintain a healthy weight and energy to participate in all the activities I love because I found a practitioner who understood that I needed a partner in my healthcare, not a dictator.

Adult accountability is the moral of this story. I made a choice to assume responsibility for my health. I questioned the professionals. I did my own research. I got a second opinion. I listened to my gut. Had I not made the choice to fight for my health I might still be 80 lbs (or more!) overweight and in an eternal fog. Had I maintained the idea that the medical professionals knew best I might still be very sick.

A strong word of caution: This is my story and not yours. I am not suggesting that your doctor is giving you wrong information or that if you follow my steps you will obtain the same results. I strongly believe that many of diets and “cures” available may work for some but they won’t work for all. You need to do the work and discover what is best for you, your health and your symptoms. You need to be responsible for your own life and discover the path that leads to your best health.

Note: I am not and will not receive any compensation for the links provided in this article. 

Emotion, Self care

It’s Her Again…

I have been having trouble writing lately. I find that even if I have a great idea, I sit down in front of my laptop and go blank. So, I pulled out the old-fashioned paper and pen and found the words flowed. Maybe it’s just one of those days, maybe I am tired, maybe it’s writer’s block.

Some of the things that have flowed through my brain lately are about the mummification* process my Dad always talks about, likely spurred on after reading Into the Wild. Going for a hike yesterday certainly resurfaced some longings, missing hikes and the outdoors. My own fault really, and life I guess, much of my life is spent working a “grown-up” job, battered by my ongoing whining mantra, “I hate my job, I hate my job” and trying to find outlets for creativity moving me in violent unfulfilling circles. I discover the fun of one thing, try it, then find another and try that and so on. I always return to writing though, that is where my most creative moments flow, when I don’t have brain constipation that is…

Other days the words flow through my brain like sand through an hourglass, I attempt to hold onto the thoughts, to keep them close until I can write them down, yet they slip away, never to return. I kick myself and wonder how to fix this. When I remember I record my thoughts on my phone. Siri translates the words using autocorrect. The incorrect corrections throw me off so terribly I can no longer remember the feeling or original train of thought.

I do have moments of quiet brilliance. I find my composition flowers and blossoms, erupts like a volcano or gallops wildly across my written page ferocious and free determined to be exactly what is meant to be; expressive, lovely, powerful and insightful. I love these days. During these moments, I adore writing, the paper or screen, I love how prose simply drips off of my fingers and fills pages and pages with no more effort than raindrops falling on the ground. Delicious and loving, the words are my friends, happy to celebrate my imagination and creativity with me instead of being sullen little brats that won’t share the toys. Snots!

I also notice that when I am trying too hard or thinking too much; my words become most stubborn and are least likely to cooperate. But when I write whatever comes to mind; when I am relaxed and unhurried, it isn’t always Shakespearean eloquence, but the words do come, they allow me to express rather than just stare blankly at a sheet of paper or a blinking curser. Those times are good too, it’s as if I am channeling some other force; a magical beautiful beast from beyond. I think if I just keep writing, even if it’s nonsense (although it often feels like a masterpiece until I re-read), something comes out of it and some nuggets of gold emerge, not all of it is useable but perhaps I just need to keep writing and writing until the flow becomes unplugged, more natural, like learning to mountain climb. Practice makes perfect! (I hate that phrase!)

So, last night I wrote in one of my notebooks, not on the computer because it was being a narcissistic goblin, I started with a thought and it morphed. My creativity as a trapped woman. A trapped alter-self. That part of me that I have neglected, the part of me that is generally unacceptable to the stoic, “do as I say not as I do” types. The part of me that I have buried or mummified under social expectations or the desire to be accepted and acceptable.             

I don’t think of “her” as my inner child, she is simply my inner self, the one who has been denied entry to this world for so long. It is her energy that sent me to Europe for three years, it is her willpower that helped me leave an abusive ex, it is her creativity that gives my words substance. I see this inner-self as my soul. She is powerful and strong and undeterred by my denial of her voice. When finally released she will be loving and forgiving, not angry because I kept her locked up for so long. She understands. But the fear comes when I wonder what life will look like if I really let her loose. What will she do? What chaos will she bring? My orderly life will be upended, be sure of that, and she will do just whatever the hell she wants to do… it is her turn, you know?

I wonder if she has been out and about for a while now, but I don’t think so. Maybe just once in a while until I trick her back into captivity. That internal stretching and pulling, rebelling against the suffocation and causing me unending agita means she is still trapped and impatient to be released. I comfort her with soothing sounds and, “Not yet, not just yet, just a little longer,” because I know if I let her out now… oh holy hell… I won’t stand a chance to finish out the next 10 months of responsible employment. Nope she has had it with that circus. As my friend Gayle says, “Not my monkeys- not my circus!” She won’t stand for it at all.

*The mummification process is the socialization we all endure as children and young adults as we attempt to conform to norms. As we get older, we realize this is an unwanted container of our souls and we spend the latter half of our lives (well some of us!) attempting to unwrap ourselves in an attempt to discover our true selves.

Emotion, Psychological Ruminating

Beasts of Emotions

Fear has moved in with me, although I don’t remember even inviting the little bastard for a visit. He is a loud clamorous pasty-faced imp that stands on chairs and shouts his admonitions constantly in a whiney nasally voice. I am really too polite to shove his annoying ass out of my brain. He knows this and has now taken over most of the space.

Comfort is Fear’s fat lethargic cousin sitting on the couch with a beer and three-day stubble. It is much easier to ignore the fact that he occasionally belches a reminder that I have so much to lose were I to do something I truly love. It’s not worth the risk, he grunts, just not worth it. He always returns to watching endless reruns of “Gilligan’s Island,” as if to passively make the point of what can happen if you are so stupid as to attempt adventure.

Each day I wake up to make the long drive to work. Each day I leave slightly more dead inside. Each day is just another day. Last week was so challenging for me, I was exhausted and spent any down time, staring listlessly into space. “You can’t do it,” Doubt reminds me. That bitch is smoother and more polished than the other two; she is well dressed and sharp as a tack. When the others are preoccupied with other things such as car repairs she saunters over in feigned concern. Her chiding wit goads me to back away from anything preposterous such as taking a chance at life.

Doubt looks a bit like Cruella de Vil. She condescendingly points out that I am a jack-of-all-trades and master of none; zero expertise. She takes a long drag on her cigarette and looks down at me in contemptuous pity. “Silly girl, who would pay you to do something worthwhile?” She shakes her head sadly and my head droops. The boys come scampering back, and they pat my head and remind me it’s for the best. Better to just stay put, don’t try, that way you won’t fail.

Failure, of course, doesn’t ever show up. I won’t let that one in the door. It is neither male nor female, but a large hairy monster of indescribable ferocity. I know that meeting with this creature means certain death. It is without question the one being I dread most. The squatters Doubt, Fear and Comfort are mild in comparison and they assure me that as long as I listen to their wisdom, Failure will never rear its terrifying head. It is out there and one wrong move, I know it will come and that will be, the end, of that. Life will end.

I have heard stories of its visitations. It walks slowly and deliberately. The muffled heavy step of Failure is most audible when things stop going as you had planned. Running away is the only option available to avoid smelling the demise of hope on it’s breath, the meaty bloody remains of its former victims hang in it’s teeth like partially burnt curtains after a house fire.

I do remember being nearly consumed by this beast. I could smell it’s putrid body odor and I ran. I ran and ran and ran. I honestly don’t know how I escaped with my life. The experience was so painful and humiliating, I don’t know how I was able to walk into a new job. So now I am here, too petrified to make a move towards something real.

When I read something encouraging, well, I develop selective hearing loss. The voices of the obnoxious trio fade into the background replace by the melodic voice of Hope. Hope is a dragonfly; she flutters about with purpose although you are never quite certain what she is up to. Will she land on me today? Sometimes yes, sometimes no, I am afraid she has been badly abused. So she is hesitant and reluctant to settle too close.

Hope has experienced what Failure can do to her. It crushes her wings in a vice-like grip reducing her to pulverized dust. But, like a phoenix she is resurrected; usually at the most inconvenient moments. Her voice is a vibrant song silencing the grounded reasoning of Fear, Doubt and Comfort. She can hush them for a time but she needs to be fed in order to grow. Sadly Hope needs an elixir I don’t own made of Strength and Courage. A dash of Daring makes the elixir especially potent.

Photography by Tanya K. Ehlert Copyright © 2015