Someone Else’s Life

“Isn’t it strange you always wake up as yourself? Not even one day somebody else.”

Someone ElseThat is the opening line in one of my favorite episodes of HBO’s show Enlightened. The show stars Laura Dern as Amy — an enthusiastic but broken woman turned whistleblower trapped in a less-than-satisfying-sometimes-tragic-and-chaotic life in corporate America. I’ve actually written about it before and for anyone interested, you can find that post here.

The show is about to enter into it’s second season this weekend, therefore the previews and reruns have been rampant. Not that I mind. I loved it the first time and have been anxiously awaiting this moment for over a year. While waiting I’ve been refreshing my memory by watching the reruns and last night was reminded of the line I quoted at the beginning.

I was struck the first time I heard her character utter those words: Isn’t it strange you always wake up as yourself? Because I remember, vividly, as a child often pondering the very same thing. It must have been some sort of phase having to do with self-realization, self-awareness or some other sort of psycho-babble. But I’ve never shared those thoughts aloud until now. Apparently, I thought it would be fun to tell about 200+ readers instead of say, a close friend, parent or sibling.

I distinctly remember a time, early in elementary school when I would sit around my room, looking in the mirror or down at my hands, legs or feet and reflect on the notion that I was always, only ever going to look at the world through THESE eyes. As me. And NEVER anyone else. And honestly, I was a little bit disappointed. Mostly I was in awe of the fact that of all the people I’d witnessed coming and going at school, on the television, at church, at the bank or the grocery store… I would never be anyone else.

I couldn’t help but feel a teensy bit cheated by that reality. I mean, it wasn’t like life had dealt me a bad hand or anything. I had a good life. I was and am healthy. I had and continue to have wonderful parents, a sister who seemed to tolerate me THEN and is NOW a friend, a nice home, friends, pets, toys and lots and lots of love and laughter.

But I believe there was something in me that wanted desperately to know what life might be like through a different set of eyes. Call me adventurous or perhaps insane… I think back then, I just didn’t want to get bored. An entire lifetime, to me, seemed a very long time to spend inside the same body. Notice I said back then. Because as adults I think it is quite common to wonder what life looks like on the other side of the proverbial fence. We wonder what if

What if I had studied something else in school? What if I made twice what I’m making now? What if I had two children or six? (depending on what you may or may not already have) What if I stuck that out? (insert whatever your “that” is here) What if I lived in Fiji and sold t-shirts on the beach or was a SCUBA instructor with a killer tan and chiseled body? (OK, maybe that’s just mine.) But I think you get the idea…

This is it. This IS life. And this is all we get. ONE of them, experienced through ONE pair of eyes for as many days as we’ve been uniquely given. And I guess I can pout all I want to when I look in the mirror… wishing I were taller with a willowy frame, or that I’d been an attorney or a SCUBA instructor. But I think the point is to live THIS out the best that I can. Making the most of the highs, gaining perspective from the lows.

I just love the way Amy says—with childlike honesty—something we’ve probably all considered at one time or another during this thing that we only get to do ONCE. This thing called Life… Isn’t it strange you always wake up as yourself? Not even one day somebody else.

Room for Living

Once upon a time—8 years ago to be exact—I lost about 35 pounds through diet and exercise, landing me at a svelte 100 lbs. Certain I would never again see those 35 pounds, I got rid of ALL of my larger clothes… every last stitch of them. My closet was full of nothing but tiny things to fit my newfound frame.

Fast forward three years… enter a job loss resulting in crushing depression and an inability to keep paying my $55 monthly gym membership… and the 35 pounds came back with a vengeance. When those unwanted pounds returned they brought about 35 more of their friends along for the party. I was the heaviest I’d ever been in my life. And having little money from my minimum wage, substitute job — buying clothes to fit my new fat @$$ was a challenge.

But I had no choice. The job required me to look professional so I had to have a new wardrobe. Little by little and piece by piece I bought back some key items in the larger sizes, but vowed I would get back into those smaller ones as soon as I regained my sanity and sense of self-worth.

Fast-forward another three years toward a satisfying new job in my career field, a supportive, wonderful family and the love of an amazing man and I lost 50 of those pounds again. I’m still not that teensy 100 lbs. but I am healthy for my age and height and I feel amazing by comparison.

For two years I have managed to keep it off. Well, most of it anyway… Save for a few of what I like to call the “fun” pounds. The fun pounds are the little cushion (pardon the pun) that I have decided to give myself without beating myself up or feeling like a failure. As long as I stay within that pre-determined range, I’m OK.

For what exactly are the fun pounds allocated? They are set aside for an 8-day trip up the New England coast where one may choose to eat lobster drenched in drawn butter, varieties of other deep-fried gifts of the sea, maple confections and saltwater taffy every… single… day. They are for summertime ballpark beers, festival food and autumn tailgating fare. They are for fun-size Halloween candy, Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas ham.

Fortunately, this time I did not throw away my larger clothes. Not because I have any intention of going back to Supersized Me, but because Life does happen. The fun happens as well as the stressfulness or unpredictability of everyday life. The curveballs you get thrown so then the ice cream tastes particularly good, the nights you end up working late and pizza is an easy fix or the injuries and illnesses that can wreak havoc on your daily discipline.

And it’s good to know that if the “fun” pounds come back and pay me a brief visit, I don’t have to squeeze into that smaller size and feel like I’m going to rupture my spleen or pop a rogue button. I can slip on my jeans that have a little grace in them… a little forgiveness in the waist, butt and thighs… and I can feel like I actually have some room for living.

A Postcard from the Other Side

So I said I’d see everyone on the “other side” when I signed off a little over a week ago to take my teensy blogcation. But you may be wondering… the other side of what? I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say it wasn’t a very good place.

It was ugly, dark, miserable and lonely. And worst of all, I put myself in this horrible place. I didn’t exactly go there willingly, but once I found myself stuck in the proverbial deep, dark forest… I didn’t really try very hard to get out.

Hence, the little vacation.

As most of you already know, creativity is a must when you’re writing and it’s REALLY hard to be creative when you feel imprisoned. As my mother said: Creativity comes from a place of freedom… and a bit ago I felt anything but free.

Nothing has changed. My life looks exactly the same today as it did then. But my mindset has changed. And that, my friends… changes everything.

Will I stay on this healthier side forever? Will I continue to tread the soil of this better, happier and safer side? Probably not. I’m sure I’ll occasionally wander back into the forest or at the very least skirt dangerously and precariously around the edge of it.

But I hope that from my self-imposed time-out, I will remember a few very important things…

~ I hold the pen that is writing the story of my life.

~ I choose the thoughts that play like recordings in my mind.

~ My very best will never be good enough for some. But that cannot mean that it isn’t still good enough for me.

Easier Than Nuclear Fission?

It is with great hesitation, reservation, fear and trepidation that I put this out there for the world to see but I am just going to go for it. I need to make some changes. Some personal changes. Because let me tell you, the status quo is just not cutting it.

Einstein is credited with saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In my mind, the genius of this quote is akin to splitting the atom.

The funny thing is that ALL of the stuff I struggle with could probably ALL be resolved by changing three simple things. They are… in exactly this order: going to bed on time, getting up earlier and exercising.

The fallout from these three actions—not unlike the dropping of an atomic device—has the potential to be far-reaching and long-lasting. One doesn’t have to be a nuclear physicist to understand that going to bed ON TIME would make GETTING UP EARLIER EASIER, hence having more early morning time to EXERCISE! Duh.

But still I fight it tooth and nail. There’s always a really good episode of Friends or Seinfeld or The New Adventures of Old Christine or the King of Queens or Chelsea Lately or… I KNOW… I WATCH A LOT OF DAMN TV. I GET IT.

Anyway, there’s that… or I want to read just ONE more chapter in my book… or paint my toenails some fabulous shade of purple that I just found at the local drug store… or I get a rare surge of energy and decide to organize my linen closet by color, shade and texture.

So… as you can see… I seem to have a lot of potential roadblocks on this journey toward self-improvement. And yet, as good old Al so clearly implied with his definition of insanity: If nothing changes, nothing changes. Detonating these three explosively-effective measures would inevitably begin a chain reaction that would knock down all sorts of barriers in my life.

I would look, feel and BE healthier for getting more sleep. I wouldn’t owe near as much money to my therapist or pharmacist for all the mental health rewards I’d be reaping as a result of my incredible self-discipline. I’d be able to comfortably wear those cute little tiny things in my closet that fit me once upon a time. My productivity on the job would sky rocket leading to promotions and bonuses and salary increases…

I’d be unstoppable.

So what then, is holding me back? With my finger planted ever-so-firmly on the button, why can’t I press down? Well, you see… tonight there’s this really good episode of Friends / Seinfeld / The New Adventures of Old Christine / King of Queens / Chelsea Lately and I’m almost done with my book… I’m behind on reading my magazines (which are really piling up)… the summer clothes need to be put away… and…

Enlightened

There is a new show on HBO this fall entitled Enlightened, which has caused me, at times, to feel rather, well… enlightened. When we meet the protagonist, Amy—a divorced, 40-ish career gal on the fast track in corporate America—she is returning from an extended stay at a rehab facility after suffering a complete and utter meltdown on the job.

It is not a surprise that I have found some common ground with Amy. In just the first paragraph of this entry alone there are six… count them… SIX things that I can either relate to or that I find infinitely intriguing… Divorced. 40-ish (I still have 4 more years to go, but… I’m flirting with it). Career gal. Corporate America. Rehab facility. Meltdown. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that she has no children, is extremely and painfully enthusiastic and considers herself a “people person” … OR the fact that since her “meltdown” no one wants to look at, let alone associate with her.

Yep, me and Amy… As much as it pains my heart to say it… I “get” her. No I’ve never suffered a meltdown on the job (not that I haven’t been close) or been to rehab. But I think there is probably more than one other person reading this who might also understand the thinness of the line between non-meltdown and total meltdown. Rehab and no rehab. Honestly… sometimes it is no thicker than a hair… and a THIN one at that.

Yes Amy is a fictional character, but she is nevertheless my hero. I adore her. I love how perfectly flawed she is and how she has no choice but to wear her flaws on her sleeve like a bright scarlet letter since her very public breakdown. She has endured the worst kind of humiliation and downright plummet from grace than most ever will and yet she keeps right on trying day after day.

Most people have the luxury of suffering in private. Of keeping their horrible traits hidden beneath a mask of cosmetics, false bravado and designer clothes. Their ugly secrets stay secure behind the locked doors of a home they can’t afford. And although on the outside all seems perfectly idyllic—on the inside—I’d wager they look a lot more like Amy.

To me, the ultimate hero is one who rises from the filth of shame and judgment everyday to get up and get out there and do it all again. To face adversity shoulders back and head held high. Because I will never be free from making mistakes. I will always be far from perfect. But I aspire to be like Amy, wearing my very human faults proudly for the world to see. I aspire to be… enlightened.

Out of the Rabbit Hole

As the fog of slumber lifts and the reality of wakefulness settles upon me, it is there. A heavy stone—which may as well be a boulder—is pressing against my chest. The full weight of it constricting my breathing and creating a pain that radiates out into my limbs and up into my neck and head.

Putting my hand to my forehead I think: Not today. Please let’s not do this today. Yes, it is Monday, but that isn’t reason enough for this. Quickly I run down the bullet points of the day that lay in front of me and of the events of the week and evening prior… looking for any sign of trouble that might be to blame. But there is nothing there.

As I toss aside the blankets and set my feet upon the cold, hardwood floor my breathing quickens and my heart races. The bedspread doesn’t look quite right. The notion of making my bed like I do every morning without thought or consideration suddenly overwhelms me. I feel nauseated. Everything around me unfamiliar yet familiar at the same time, like walking down a hallway of funhouse mirrors.

Looks like I have fallen into the hole again and I have no choice but to climb back out.

For those of you fortunate enough to be unaware of what I am describing… allow me to introduce you to the adventure that is a panic attack. To help you gain a more accurate perspective, imagine Alice in Wonderland plus a sense of impending doom but minus the tea parties, talking critters and croquet—in other words—all of the disjointed creepiness and none of the fun.

As much as I want to fight it, I suppose this is one of those rare but “as needed” mornings that the prescription bottle clearly addresses. Like Alice in the rabbit’s hole, I follow the instructions of the container on the table. Hesitant and grateful all at once for the way this will transform me, I swallow the contents and grasp for my footing.

Kicking Up the Leaves

In a little red raincoat, jeans and sneakers her blonde hair bounced as she ran. The sun was glistening on her golden locks and there was a look of pure joy on her face when she plopped down in a pile of crispy, brown leaves. With both arms outstretched she gathered as many leaves as she could and scooped them toward her lap. She then proceeded in kicking her legs back and forth and back and forth watching and listening as the dried leaves flew about and crunched while she did this.

Total abandon. Total happiness. Totally in the moment.

I both delighted in and envied her. Why couldn’t I feel that way anymore? Why couldn’t I be free from worry and concern as she was? I wanted so badly to be able to flop right down beside her on the ground and mimic her actions. To me, this precious child who couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 years old, looked like she was having the time of her life! And all I could do was sit by and watch and worry about my bills or my deadlines, my laundry or my dirty house, my weight, my relationships, my health or the orange flashing light on my dashboard indicating the car’s dangerously-low level of windshield-wiper fluid.

So many worries… so little time. It seemed like only yesterday I was playing in the leaves like her. Watching her I remembered a photo in our family album of me at just about the same age, jumping in a pile of freshly raked leaves and tossing them in the air without a care in the world. And I wondered: Where did all that time go? And more importantly… Where did all these worries come from? Then I couldn’t help but consider, if the woman I am today could meet the little girl that I once was… what would they say to one another? Would the older me warn the younger me of the pitfalls that lie ahead and how to avoid them? Would the older me counsel the younger me about future mistakes or poor decisions?

Of course not.

How could I burden that little one, so full of hope and promise and zest for life, with the concerns of adulthood? That wouldn’t be fair to say the least. But I also gave some thought as to what the younger me would say to the older me… and that, my friends, was an entirely different story. With her inability to even relate to the future and such things as “mistakes” or “poor decisions,” she would tell me that today… right now was all that mattered. That right now the weather is nice and there is a big pile of leaves just calling my name. That right now she has everything she needs to get from this moment to the next. That right now there is nothing more important than running at full speed and diving head first into the heap before its all gone for the winter.

There is a favorite verse of mine that reads: Who of us, by worrying, can add a single hour to our life? So I ask myself then: What am I sitting around here worrying for? Why am I NOT out there gathering and kicking up the leaves?