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The Day I Learned How To Stop Taking On Other People’s Feelings

You know how Oprah has that “Aha Moment” section in her magazine where people talk about an event or moment that was the catalyst for huge change in their lives? I had one. It broke open my world view up to that point—we’re talking like, decades of world view, here—and changed my life. 

School drop off was rougher than usual that morning. It was snowing, and my two girls were extra tired and cranky while getting ready for school. My oldest daughter’s holiday show was the night before (I need to pause for a moment here and ask: why on earth do they have these things on a school night?). My husband, Dan, and I were also tired, too. 

I’m going to pause the story for another moment here: For those of you who know don’t how bad it is getting young children any where on time (try before 7:15am), it’s like trying to give a cat a bath. Or like going to a loud, sugar-themed children’s birthday party at 9am with a hangover and no sleep. Or like being trapped for hours on an airplane with a seatmate who whines to you about the awful injustice of having to wait. 

Parents, please feel free to back me up on this. It’s awful. 

Anyways, we are running late. We arrive at school, and Dan gets into an argument with my youngest, Charlie, while hurrying her to get out of the car. Charlie is tired and miserable, and is also a child who loves to dwell with the drama of her emotions. She is taking her sweet baby time and won’t listen to his coaxing or instructions to get out. Wanting to speed things along, I turn to them to ask what’s up, and she jumps out to me, and everything is fine, or at least I thought it was. 

Dan is angry. He’s visibly pissed and shows this by rolling his eyes and shaking his head at me. The reason for his anger is unbeknownst to me at this point. But, if I had to guess, he was mad either at: A) Charlie, for being a grumpy brat and not listening to him, or B) Me, for interrupting him as he’s having a teaching moment. Hard to say which, but for the sake of story progression, let’s go with a little of both.

Do I ask him what’s wrong? No, because we are late, and rushing across the crosswalk to get the kids to school on time. I figure the priority at this point is to keep things moving. My oldest is terrified of getting a demerit for being late, because in her six year old mind, it means she is going to the principal’s office and getting kicked out of school.

Yes, we’ve talked to her about it, and yes, she is still determined to live her life by the rules. How is this child mine? I digress. 

I let out a sigh of relief after we drop off the oldest at her school on time. However, Dan hasn’t brought up what he’s mad about–he’s still visibly shut down and pissed–and now I’m annoyed, too. As we walk over to Charlie’s school, he walks quietly behind me and Charlie and doesn’t play tag with her like they usually do.

We drop off a happy, unaware, and unconcerned Charlie, and Dan continues his stoicism on our silent walk back to the car. My tired, grumpy self thinks: Whatever. You’re an adult. If you have something to say, say it. 

I check in with myself and how I’m feeling, something I’ve been working on as empath for a while now (more on that later), and I realize why I’m so annoyed. I am actually holding my breath. I am waiting to get into the car and be yelled at like a little kid who did something wrong once the doors are closed and no one can hear us. 

What!?! 

The more I think about it as we sit and drive to Dunkin Donuts in silence, this is what I comes up:

In my household growing up, my family went to church every Saturday. My dad was the pastor of the church we went to, thus, leaving him busy at “work” all day while my mom was left with corralling the three little kids. If we did something bad or misbehaved in church, we wouldn’t get taken downstairs or out of the sanctuary to be punished. Oh no. Instead of dealing with whatever happened in the moment, my parents would wait till we got into the car and we were out of the parking lot to unleash their anger. 

Little me hated it, and I’m sure my older sister and younger brother didn’t enjoy it, either. The car ride after church was like being in a miniature moving torture chamber. I would run through the things I did that day in my mind, and hope to God that I didn’t do anything wrong. I even hoped that my siblings didn’t either, because it was painfully tense and uncomfortable to have to listen to it even if it was for someone else. It still felt like it was happening to me. 

On those Saturday after-church car rides, I felt trapped and helpless. I couldn’t walk away if I was uncomfortable, I couldn’t get up and go in another room to process it. I had to just sit there in the car, stewing in everybody’s grumpiness, till we got home and could separate and deal with our emotions the way we needed to.

So, back to the present car ride with Dan. I try and alleviate the quiet tension by asking about his schedule that day or about upcoming trips. He keeps his responses short and we stop for gas, while I sit and wait awkwardly, wondering if I should just leave him alone. After that, we talk about dry cleaning, and arrive home. 

Dan immediately heads off to do laundry before starting his day. He comes back up a few minutes later, gives me a peck on the cheek and starts work like it’s any other morning. And I stand in the kitchen, and stare at the spot he was just in, at a loss with what to do with myself.

My chest feels tight, and I can’t concentrate. I feel unresolved and frustrated. Was I the only one there that morning? Was I the only one upset? I can’t remember what I am supposed to be doing now, and I even if I did, I doubt I would be able to do it. I take huge sip of Dunkin Donuts coffee, when it hits me like a toddler running full speed into your legs.

I remember something I talked to my therapist about a few weeks earlier: as an empath, I experience feelings the strongest through other people.

So…WAIT.

Is it me that is actually frustrated? If so, what am I frustrated about?

No. Nothing. 

I’m not frustrated. He’s frustrated. I have no clue what he’s feeling right now, but I’m taking on his feelings as if they were mine. THEY ARE NOT MINE. 

The way he feels is his responsibility. If he’s having trouble or feeling some type of way about something, he needs to speak up, and thus, deal with with his issues. Not me, because as of right now, I don’t know what the problem is and so there is nothing to deal with. 

And just maybe he has already dealt with his issues, so great for him! Maybe he’s decided it’s not important, and let it go. That’s for him to decide. Not me. 

It’s not my business. He didn’t talk to me about, he didn’t make it my business. I did, therefore I am in the wrong here. 

And standing in the kitchen that morning, I realized, if I keep doing what I’m doing—feeling his frustration and taking it on as if it’s mine—I will feel horrible and unresolved all day. Because I can’t resolve someone else feelings. Taking them on as my own doesn’t help the other person, it certainly doesn’t help me, and nothing will get] fixed. 

Then I thought: what am I feeling?

Happy. I am happy because even after a rough morning, I got the kids to school on time. The snow is beautiful. The sun is shining. I actually don’t have anything I have to do today. 

Physically, I feel good. And with no one depending on me for the next few hours, the day ahead is mine. I get to choose what I want to do that day. And who isn’t crazy thrilled for a day like that and excited about it? So yeah, definitely not frustrated.

This was a mind-blowing moment for me. I felt free. As a empath, I’ve always worried about other people’s feelings over my own. I have felt them so strongly that I got confused, and assumed they were mine, thus wrongly crossing boundary, taking them on, and making them my responsibility to fix.

No one asked me to do that. People rarely do, because hello, it’s a job! Managing other people’s stuff requires an education and license, and people should get paid for it (shout out to my therapist). I picked up on everyone’s junk, and never learned or felt like I had permission to pick up on my own (cuz OMG, that’s so selfish, right? And Jesus doesn’t want us to be selfish!*). 

I was so overjoyed, that while my eyes filled with those happy, I-just-got-out-of-prison tears, I sat down and wrote out my “Aha Moment” so that I’d never forget it. I even sent it to my therapist, singing her praises and thanking her for working with me and thus getting me to this point of changing such a debilitating mindset.

This momentous moment where nothing actually happened—other than me consciously, intentionally, and visibly separating my feelings from someone else’s—was fantastic. You couldn’t make a movie out of it or anything, but this kind of moment needs to be shared, you guys. And if Oprah says it is so, then it’s basically Biblical and possibly against the law if you don’t.

I feel lighter, freer and more like me than I’ve ever felt (through someone else *wink wink*) in my entire life. 

————

*He doesn’t want us to be selfish, true. But little me listened to adults use the idea of Jesus to emotionally manipulate in situations they didn’t know how to deal with themselves. 

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Book Baby

I got my first ever edits on my first ever book today.

They were sent from an amazing, professional YA published author and editor, and the only person who has read the beginning, ugly first draft of my story. I got her email last night, but I was crazy tired, and decided that I would be more receptive if I read it after a good night’s sleep.

I’m reading it now. I’m tentatively excited. Part of me wants it to be an instant, perfect hit. The other part is practical. Like, “Em, this is your first messy draft. Slow down, killer. It’s gonna suck. If she says anything nice at all… bonus! But girl, you know you need more experience. You’re like a book baby.”

Still, l’m crazy excited. I love writing and would do it whether or not someone paid me. In fact, right now, I’m paying someone to help me do it. Someone who’s done this before. Someone I can trust. Someone who can keep me accountable and organized. I’ve learned that it is 100% worth it to get help from professionals when you want to do something but have no ideas or confidence to get started, or how to keep going, or how to grow.

Right now, reading her feedback, I feel like I’m protecting these sensitive, deep-down soft spots. I’m worried that I’ll take the feedback personally, and my feelings might get trampled. I’m worried I’ll feel attacked as a person. However, I know this isn’t about me. It’s about a story, it’s about good writing, and it’s about sharing and using my skills.

The great lie that keeps us away from trying or putting ourselves out there: If ____ isn’t good, if ____ isn’t perfect, then I am not good. Then I am worthless, so I shouldn’t try at all.  

The great truth is: Just because ____ isn’t great right now, doesn’t mean that I’m not a great person. It just means that ____ isn’t great right now. And that’s okay. That is something I can work on.

I’m choosing to focus on the truth. In stead of “this is an attack on me; she hates this” I’ve switched to “This is awesome and so helpful. I need this and I’m so grateful” thoughts. Instead of feeling like I’m getting beat up, I’m choosing to feel like I’m being helped.

Changing my mindset and thoughts is most often not an instantaneous BAM! moment. It’s more like a tug-o-war battle. Every time the tough part comes up and I get pulled into negative thinking, I have to fight and pull back to the positive, and remember why I’m doing this. Most often, it sounds like “Listen, girl, this is good stuff. You asked for this constructive criticism. You gotta grow, and this is how you do it. This hard, tough stuff will make you better. Take it in, listen, and learn. Be open to it. Look at it with curiosity.”Sometimes I even write it down on a note card and keep it nearby. NBD.

It’s like a pep-talk selfie. In fact, I already feel better, and prepped for battle. This is exciting, and the beginning of something GREAT. I’m going to keep writing while I go through this experience. Since it’s my first baby, I feel like I will want to remember these days, and revisit them fondly. After all, “they grow so fast.”

Hopefully. 

I’m going to record my editors compliments, too, as they are things I can cling to when I feel like a terrible writer. Like a good hair cut, there is nothing like a little confidence boost from time to time.

She starts like this:

“This is a fantastic first packet. Your character study was unique and compelling—and really quite funny—and your plot was full of interesting twists and solid stakes. Also, the world building in this is vivid. I really enjoyed your pages, and I’m glad you’re ready to dive in with the writing.”

She takes her time, gently listing and explaining the areas that I need to work on, things like more in-scene writing, and less narrative writing and frame language.

“Okay, so all writing craft aside, I think this is a wonderful start. It’s charismatic and funny, and feels unique—which in YA is tough!”

She gives me the choice to re-work these first few chapters or continue to write the story. I love that I have options. 🙂 I will probably do both as I have a solid week of travel (with no kids!) coming up in a few days. I’m going to ask her if she thinks that’s a good approach.

She then concludes with:

“Happy writing! Oh, make sure your track changes are on so that you can see the my minor notes in the margins. Most of them are just cheering you on. The more advanced your pages, the more I will make notes in the margins, and the less I’ll write via an editorial letter…” 

All of her notes in my first chapters are super uplifting stuff. A few of my favorite comments are: “Fantastic sense of humor here. It’s quite confident.” and “Excellent stakes. You have a knack for this!” and finally, “AH! I love this already. Such a good narrator voice. Charming and honest.” She then throws in a bunch of “Intriguing!” and LOLs and smiley faces.  I know this is intentional, that she wants me to keep up my enthusiasm and feel good about my work before I get to the harder edits. Definitely cheerleading.

I’m cool with that. Who doesn’t like compliments and encouragement, genuine or nah? Like a baby, I’m gonna need quite a bit of reassurance, coddling, and hand-holding before life sets in.

LOL 🙂  

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Christmasanity

 

I got attacked by an extremely overloaded shelf of hanging clothes this morning. Then the crappy Ikea storage shelf to the right (that held towers and stacks of t-shirts and sweaters) gave the f*ck up, too, all vindictive like it wanted to get in on the protest.

That has nothing to do with what this post is about, but I just wanted to share how my day is going thus far.

It’s Mid-November, and people are already getting excited about Christmas music. The minute Halloween passed, store shelves were cleared out and Christmas sparkles decked the aisles. The malls are already dressed, Santa is already on his throne, and Target’s holiday circulars are already in my trash bin. A house in my neighborhood already has a giant Santa set up. (I’m not judging; I’m actually a bit envious).

I’ll be honest. I’m excited about the holidays. Everything gets all decked out and pretty and sparkly and special. Me and the family do silly traditional things that I don’t really care about, but the love and kids talk about all year long. I especially like the change of seasons. I like the cold. I like how cozy our living room donned in red and green feels when lit with twinkle lights from the tree. I really like old school Christmas music (and seriously, can we lose Manheim Steamroller?). I’ve ready spent a girls night out watching the latest Bad Moms holiday movie, and I swear there’s a already a whole docket of upcoming traditions and activities for us and the kids.

My husband is not a fan of all of this, and has no problem being called a Scrooge. Over the years, we’ve had many arguments around Christmas. When we were dating, I remember arguments about which family were were spending the holidays with. One year, I remember being on the verge of tears over whether or we’d get a tree. (Who knew I was so sentimental? Some of us never realize how important a thing is until we cry about it… amirite?). Over the years, we’ve both conceded a little here and there. (#compromiseFTW!!!) I wouldn’t play Christmas music when he was around, and he wouldn’t complain whenever we did something odd and Christmas-y.

Now, however, we have kids that are at that adorable, ridiculously-excited-about-Christmas age. Our oldest daughter asks me almost everyday if Santa or the Elf on the Shelf is real. (To which I always reply… “Hmm, I don’t really know. What do you think?”) I think it’s helped Dan slowly, little by little, open up to the idea of the possibility and slight chance that there is even such as thing as feeling of Christmas Spirit. It’s also highly possible, however, that he’s outnumbered now, and just decided it’s easier to go along with it rather than fight it. I’m good with that.

Yesterday, I sheepishly revealed that I had listened to ONE Christmas song by myself, in the car, all alone, belting it at the tops of my lungs… and it made me happy. And he exasperatedly called me (and the rest of the world) impatient. And I called him… a whiner (I think I called him that… we honestly both don’t remember what I called him but I remember it being equally insulting, if not better). As silly as our conversation was, I felt like I had won that round, and decided that the time had come to convert Dan to what I am henceforth calling “Christmasanity.”

Que the lights and the music! My self-imposed mission: Operation Christmas Spirit. From December 1 until December 25th, me and the girls are going to do whatever it takes to get Dan into the Christmas Spirit.

I’ve started to do some internet-y research, and I found some helpful tips in the The Art of Manliness’s article “11 Ways To Get In the Holiday Spirit”  and HuffPost has some good ones on unconventional ways to get in the Holiday spirit, too.

However, this is no regular mission. My husband is not going to get excited with Christmas movies or caroling. So, with his Scrooge-specific likes and dislikes in mind, I have planned a few traditional events, a few surprises, and a few activities I’ll leave up in the air for him to choose.

Christmas donuts, cookies, candy, and brownies will definitely be involved, along with other staples like Santa hats, matching PJs, and ugly sweaters. There’ll be our traditional family favorite activites, like obtaining and decorating a (real or fake) Christmas tree, Shady Brook Farm light show, the girls’ school Christmas shows, and a visit to Sesame Place’s Holiday Spectacular. In addition, I’ve added some Santa approved – and probably not approved – fun, like a 76ers game (if that doesn’t scream Christmas, then I don’t know what does), holiday parties, and other um, holiday treats. For the grand finale, we’re spending our Christmas through New Years in California and Hawaii with friends and family.

You guys, if this doesn’t work, I don’t think anything will! I will relinquish my leadership of the Christmasanitians. And promise refocus my efforts to something more like fixing my shitty shelf problems. If you have any ideas or suggestions (Christmas or shelving related), let me know and wish me luck!

Happy Holidays, my fellow Christmasanitians!

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Nice vs. Kind

While doing some Fall cleaning and organizing, I found a small, worn piece of paper from high school. At the top of the page was my name, and under it was a few words or sentences from each of my classmates, saying something positive about me. It was from one of those team building exercises teachers do for fun, in hopes that it would make us feel good about ourselves and each other. I had a lot of “she’s nice” or “she’s sweet and smart” on my paper. I even got a surprising, “she’s funny.”

While I don’t expect my teenaged, high school classmates to have a great ability to be descriptive or know me very deeply back then (what the hell did they know?), I did wonder about their perceptions of me. Was I really that nice? Am I really that nice? What the hell does NICE mean?

Then few days later, I asked my husband for his thoughts on an email response I wanted to send to someone, and he replied: “I think you’re being too nice. Why not just say what you want to do or don’t want to do?” Huh? I didn’t even think I was being nice. But since the “nice” word came up again, I began questioning MY WHOLE LIFE! Well, not exactly, but I now consider nice a trigger word (also on that list is the word “relax”). *cringe*

I don’t think of myself as nice. In fact, I think I’m more forthright and honest than most people are, and I find no one attributes those qualities with “nice”. When I think of people who are “nice,” I think of push-overs. I think of people who willing to do things for you regardless of how they truly feel about them, or people who act a certain way because they really, really want you to like them. I often find myself questioning their motives.

As I do love a good quibble over semantics (who doesn’t, amirite?), I turned to the Great Internet of Things to see if I’m alone (i.e. justified) in the world with my negative-ish thoughts about nice people.

In Thought Catalog’s post, “Why You Should Be A Nice Person”, Ryan O’Connell says:

“It seems like everyone holds being nice in a high regard but no one actually wants to be known as The Nice Person. And who could blame them? It has been engrained in our culture that being nice gets us nowhere. We finish last, we become the boring friend in our social circle. It’s like the kiss of death. And in some cases, it’s a fair assumption. People are interesting because of their opinions, because they have something to say. Nice people are often assumed to have no opinions… I used to not care about nice people. Like many others, I found them to be dull, but then I realized I was only seeing a specific breed of nice. Believe it or not, there are people who are both kind AND interesting…”

I found a lot of posts and articles about why you should be nice (it’s good for your health, it’s better for the world as a whole, blah, blah, blah). Sure. But I think they are using the wrong word, or using it interchangeably with “kind” when they shouldn’t, and should instead use something like “generous” or “altruistic”.

Side note: I discovered that the word “nice” has some suspect origins: “The English word nice came from an Old French word with the same spelling that meant “foolish.” [Heh]. This Old French word came in turn from a Latin word nescius that meant “ignorant.” At first, English nice meant “foolish” or “frivolous.” Later it came to mean “finicky” or “fussy.” Not until the 1700s did nice come to mean “pleasing” or “pleasant.”

Here’s what it boils down to: there is being nice (pleasing; pleasant) and there is being kind (wanting or liking to do good and bring happiness to others; considerate).

The Huff Post’s “Why You Should Stop Being Nice and Start Being Kind” categorized the two words into two different types of people. I think both types ultimately want do and be good, but the approach and the outcomes are different. I geeked out and made the article into a chart to see the differences side-by-side:

pastedGraphic.png

Others agree that “nice” and “kind” are totally different. Kayla Matthews, in her article on Life Hacker says,

“You can have strong opinions and still be a kind person. You can stand up for yourself and still care about what someone has to say. Human beings are dynamic like that. It’s not in anyone’s best interest if you go out of your way to be nice. In fact, being nice can be detrimental to you and those around you in a number of ways.”

The earlier mentioned Huff Post article ends with a “simple” solution for us nice people to fuck nice-ness and become more like the kind people:

“The solution for the nice person is simple: he must stop looking outside himself for love and approval. Once he takes responsibility for his own self-worth, he’ll start working on developing his own positive self-regard. When he begins to love and accept himself, he’ll be able to let go of needing to please, and he’ll notice that interestingly, others are responding to him better.

A positive spiral is created, whereby he’s in charge of his self-worth, he’s treated with more respect, his anger diminishes, his feelings of trust and connection with others increase and his self-esteem improves even more. Eventually, without even thinking about it, he’ll shift from being nice to being kind.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to work on being kind. The kind of kind that isn’t nice.

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Emily vs. Elderly Man

I was disrespectful to the elderly today. Specifically, an older man in my spin class who approaches me every class despite my attempts to get him to stop.

It started a few weeks before Halloween, when I entered the spin room at my local LA Fitness to procure a bike before the (usually full) class started. I have been attending this class religiously for the past year after having to go through trying a bunch of different classes and teachers before finding this one, and loving it.

The only free bike was next to the Elderly Man. As I was minding my own business, cleaning and adjusting my bike, he turned to me and said, “You wearing your Halloween costume early?” I was surprised, and thrown off by him speaking to me. I am not someone who enjoys chit chat or small talk, especially at 7:30am on a Saturday morning. I looked at him with my brows furrowed but a smile on my face, mirroring his.

“What?” I managed. (Did he just insult me?)

“You’re not wearing a smile!” He said jubilantly. I immediately stopped smiling. Not only did I not want to smile, I didn’t want to talk to him. Especially if he thinks I should be as happy and smiley as he was. I do not enjoy being told what to do.

“I don’t need to smile,” I said with a stank face (you know, the one you make when you smell something stinky). Elderly Man proceeded to jest, and offered to juggle or stand on his head to get me to smile. Getting more annoyed, I just shook my head and left. I returned later when class began, and felt bothered & flustered the entire time, wondering if there’d be more stupid comments once class was done.

There was.

“See, that wasn’t so bad was it?” Elderly Man said to me as I ignored him and gathered my things.

The next few weeks, he continued to approach me and say stupid comments.

“Where’s the smile today?” “Fun, fun, fun!” “Are you having fun yet?”

After talking about it at length with my husband, I tried a few various passive aggressive tactics, hoping he’d get the hint and leave me alone. Here’s what I tried, and didn’t work:

Week 1:  Tried just making an angry stank face when he approached and not responding.

Week 2: I made sure to have headphones on when I set up my bike and kept them on until class began. That worked, until I forgot to put them on again right after class, and he approached me while I was stretching and cooling down.

Week 3: I tried ignoring him and pretending he wasn’t there when he was standing in front of my bike.

Week 4: Ignored him again by turning around as he approached me.

Week 5: I sat in the back of the class, which I never do because I like being up front near the fans.

After the Week 5 attempt, Elderly Man yet again approached after class, and I was caught off guard. I didn’t say anything as he came up and said something stupid to me. I went to the bathroom afterwards and fought tears. As I splashed my face with water, I berated myself for being so bothered by this “sweet, harmless old man” who wasn’t actually doing anything to me. I felt stupid. I felt powerless. I felt like if I said something, I would be an ass for being mean to an old man who “means no harm.”

Here’s the kicker: My religious upbringing has ingrained the “respect your elders” slogan in my brain. Always be polite, listen, and heed your elders… no matter who they are. Which basically translate to: do as they say unquestioningly and immediately. Not to do so means you’re being disrespectful. My dad was a pastor, and anything I did wrong was immediately reported to him and frowned upon… affecting me and his job.

biblereasons.com says this about respecting elders and sounds exactly like my 18 years of religious education:

“We are to always respect our elders whether or not if it’s our parents. One day you will grow up and be respected by younger people just like them. Take the time to listen to their experiences and wisdom to grow in knowledge. If you take the time to listen to them you will see that many elderly people are humorous, informative, and excited. Never forget to take care of your elders helping them with what they need and always be gentle showing loving kindness.”

The site then lists ways to respect your elders, and quotes a few verses such as:

  • Timothy 5:1-3: “Never speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him respectfully as you would to your own father…”
  • 1 Peter 5:5: “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
  • Leviticus 19:32: “Stand up in the presence of the elderly, and show respect for the aged. Fear your God. I am the Lord.”

Thus, this situation had me torn. I know I should be respectful. I get it. But what if there are exceptions to the rule? What if there are elderly who should not be respected? What do I do then?

I googled it, and the women who made suggestions on what to do seemed to have none. The best suggestion seemed to be to put something gross in your teeth so that the harasser would be disgusted and stop. (That will teach him!) Ugh. The more I thought about how upset I was, the more I felt that fear – that what if fear – that we women often feel but don’t always acknowledge.

“What if I say something and he gets upset and follows me to the parking lot?”

“What if I get hurt?”

“What if i say something and I get in trouble?”

“What if I lose my job?”

“What if I speak up, and people think of me as mean, as the bitch-who-doesn’t-smile-and-is-mean-to-sweet-old-men?”

“What if I become the outcast or the group if I do something about it?”

“What if people look at me like I’m crazy for being bothered by this?”

“What if I am being crazy for being bothered by this?”

I texted my husband “just in case” something happened and let him know I was upset. I was so frustrated and angry that I didn’t want to go to class the next week. My husband suggested different things to try, but ultimately I didn’t feel like he could understand. He sweetly offered to come to class with me every week. But that didn’t feel right, like putting a bandaid on something that needed surgery.

And then a few days later, like lemon on a paper cut, Donald Trump became elected as President of the United States. A man that is a notorious womanizer. A leader of our country that shows little respect to women. And my fears felt more founded and real, and I became worried that this type of behavior would happen more often, and even become acceptable. I worried about my safety (and my daughters, and loved ones, and about all women in general and their safety, too… lots of worrying going on here). 

But you guys, I’m a strong woman. I’m not weak, I’m not one to shy away from conflict, something I disagree with, or a good fight. And once I remembered that, and took myself out of this yucky, victim mentality, I thought… FUCK THIS.

I’m not going to stop going to this class that I love – that I look forward to it every week – because I didn’t do anything wrong. What Elderly Man was doing (knowingly or not) was UNWANTED and UNWELCOME, which is straight up HARASSMENT. And it’s not okay.

This wasn’t clear to me right away, if at all. I thought I was just being sensitive or something. And that’s a shame. That needs to change.

——-

Now, on to today and how I spurned my religious upbringing:

Week 6: I got pumped on my way to the gym. I chugged my coffee and gave myself a pep talk. I practiced out loud some things I could say if he bothered me this time. I wasn’t going to put on my headphones unless I wanted to. I wasn’t going to sit in the back of class unless I wanted to. I wasn’t going to just shrug Elderly Man’s behavior off as silly and humorous.    

I walked into the room, and sure enough, Elderly Man was there. I made sure there were at least a few other people in the room, and I took a deep breath and chose a bike I wanted in the front. I set up my bike, and squatted down to get my headphones. Sure enough, elderly man came over to me and leaned his arms on two bikes, hunching over me. My heart started pounding and I started shaking. But before he could get a word out, I said loudly:

No. I’m not interested in talking to you, so stop bothering me and leave me alone.”

He didn’t say a word, stood up, and left the room. I was still shaking from adrenaline, and I felt guilty for being so harsh. But I also felt good, and chose to dwell on that instead of the guilt. I felt like I stood my ground. I felt empowered that I did something outside of my comfort zone, and stood up for myself. I felt like I made my worth known, even if it was only to myself. I felt like I did my best.

Elderly Man didn’t come back for class later. I felt a pang of guilt, as I didn’t “speak to him respectfully” as I was taught. But I refused to feel sorry for him. Considering the circumstances and how hard it was for me to speak to him at all, I did what I had to do. I did nothing wrong.

If what I said to my harasser doesn’t stop him, then my next steps will be to include the authorities. But I will go to class next week. I will not feel guilty for what I did, despite my upbringing. I will not live in fear of being harassed. I will not let my daughters live in fear of being harassed. I will empower them. I will support them. I will support anyone else who feels they are being harassed. I will not judge you if you stand up for yourself. I will step in if you need me to. I will empower you now, to do something. To say something. If aren’t doing something because you are afraid, take the steps to make sure you can do it safely. Ask for help. But don’t choose nothing. You have rights, you have freedoms. Don’t let someone or something take them away.

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Adulting

I don’t feel like I’ve fully adulted yet. I don’t know I will ever feel like a proper Ah-dult. It’d be worse if there was a state issued license for it, complete with age regulation, like an ID for drinking or getting your driver’s license.

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Special Editions

At the airport recently, I grabbed a copy of Glamour magazine, the one with a beautiful, dark haired woman in a flowing red dress on the cover. I didn’t think anything of it, until the cashier said to me, “You know this magazine costs $12.99, right? It’s the Plus-Sized Special Edition.” And I stared at her, and even skeptically squinted my eyes while I considered what she said. Why does this magazine cost more just because there are bigger women on it? It’s not like they needed bigger sheets of paper or more ink to make it. Ridiculous.

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