Friendship Inventory

Last week I started reading Friendships Don’t Just Happen: A Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of Girlfriends by Shasta Nelson. I don’t think I need to explain why.

I’ve only just started the book. This weekend I finished reading about Nelson’s Circles of Connectedness, where she identifies five different kind of friendships and explains what each one entails. She diagrams her Circles of Connectedness on a continuum of closeness that increases from left to right, while explaining how and why each kind of friend is important and what roles they play in our lives.

Nelson introduces the “Left-Side Friends” first. Farthest to the left are “Contact Friends” which Nelson describes as women “we are friendly [with] when we see them in our shared context, but we have limited consistency and limited intimacy.” These are the kinds of friends we gravitate to at yoga class or maybe during our lunch break at work. They give us a “sense of belonging” in our shared context but there isn’t any expectation that we will remember details about their life outside of the context in which we know them.

Next are “Common Friends,” which are described in relation to Contact Friends as “increasing either in consistency or intimacy… getting to know them better largely in the area we have in common.” Contract Friends are like Common Friends except that “we spend time with these women in more intentional and personal ways, developing friendships that feel more substantial.” We probably see these women more frequently than we’d see Common Friends and talk about things that are more important to us. For the woman I sit with at lunch to move from the Contact to Common Friends category, I’d have to start spending some time with her after school–maybe getting a coffee before heading home some days–even if we still talked primarily about work.

Next Nelson jumps to the two farthest right circles: “Community” and “Committed Friends.” Community Friends are women with whom “we spend consistent time together growing the intimacy or our relationship” while Committed Friends are women we “intimately and consistently share our lives with.” Community friends are generally referred to as “good friends” and Committed Friends are the heralded BFFs.

The middle circle, or fulcrum as Nelson refers to it, is reserved for “Confirmed Friends.” They are the women with whom we have a shared past, but that we no longer see consistently, usually because one or both of us has moved (but maybe because of a large transition in one woman’s life).

The few negative reviews of the book (on Am.azon) disparaged the categorizing and inventorying of friendship, but I have found it very useful. I always knew I had different kinds of friends, but I appreciate someone clearly defining the different types of friendships. I find it helps me to understand what I can expect from people, and more importantly it helps me articulate why I can have so many friends and still feel like important friendships are missing.

At the end of the discussion on the different Circles of Connectedness, Nelson urges the reader to do a kind of friendship inventory, to see which circles are impacted and which could use a boost. She extolls the reader to be honest in her assessment, to categorize friendships based on the true conditions of the present, not nostalgic reminiscences of the past or hopeful projections into the future.

I took my own inventory and while I wasn’t shocked, I was still saddened, by the results. The majority of my friends fell in the two left-hand circles; most of the women I am close to are Contact Friends and a few can be considered Common Friends because we get together every once in a while outside of our shared context (work or play dates with our kids) or exchange emails or FB messages outside of our shared online context (blog comment sections). I also have a few friends in the Confirmed circle, all women I lived with during college or know from high school. I am still close with these women but I only see them once every year or two and we don’t connect regularly via phone, email or other social media.

I didn’t have one friend to list in either the Community or Committed Friends circles. The word that kept anyone from inhabiting those circles was “consistency.” There is just no one in my life that I communicate with, let alone see, consistently. That is what I am missing.

Doing this exercise has been incredibly validating. It really helped me to understand exactly what friendships I feel are missing from my life. I always knew that I wanted more, but in the absence of a clear articulation of what exactly it was I wanted more of, I felt I was being selfish and taking the friendships I did have for granted. I knew that something was missing, but I couldn’t easily determine what that thing was and in my clumsy fumbling to express how I was feeling, I disparaged the friendships I did have, the ones I cherish and thoroughly enjoy. Now I better understand how I can have so many wonderful, meaningful friendships with women, both in real life and online, and still ache for something different.

Inventorying my friendships also helped me understand why the loss of my good friend has been so devastating. She was my only “right-hand side” friend and in the aftermath of her abrupt exit from my life I had no other friends I shared with consistently enough to help fill the gaping hole.

Doing this exercise also makes me feel sad. I already knew I wanted more friends, but seeing that I don’t have one person I can say I share with intimately and consistently hurts. I think it would be different if I’d just moved or dealt with some other massive life transition, but I’ve lived in this city (and been at the same job) for a decade, and it’s been almost five years since I became a mother. I feel like I should have at least a few friends on the right-hand side, but in reality I have none.

I’m assuming the rest of the book focuses on how to populate these circles with meaningful friendships and I hope I find some good advice. I’m also moving through (slowly, it’s intense stuff) a workbook on attachment theory so that hopefully I will have healthy expectations of whoever ends up on the right-side of my continuum.

This friendship work is hard, but I think it’s really worth investing the time and energy into making new friends. I’ve read some alarming stuff about how important a strong support network can be to a overall health and vitality; in one study of over 3,000 nurses battling breast cancer, a strong sense of friendship and support resulted in survival rates four times greater than those without strong friendships. Being married made no statistical difference in survival outcomes. Lonely had similarly terrifying statistics about the sobering effects a lack of friendships can have on mortality rates. The last thing I want is to die young because I don’t have something in my life that I always wanted.

What do you think about making a friendship inventory? Can you guess which circles would be more full, and which would be more empty?

Culmination

My daughter took a test with San Francisco Unified School District this weekend to determine her bilingual status.

She passed!

Those two words don’t do the situation any justice.

My daughter passing that test is a culmination of four years of hard work. I speak Spanish and I tell others I’m fluent when they ask me–I graduated from a Masters program in Spanish Language Education that was taught primarily in Spanish so clearly I do speak Spanish rather well–but I’m still not at the level I personally want to be. I still feel I have to think too hard to formulate some sentences and that my personality gets lost in the translation.

All that to say, speaking Spanish to my daughter for the past four years has not been easy. It has required painstaking effort and a continual commitment (and renewed commitment) on my part. I made sure she was in a Spanish immersion preschool so she’d have exposure to the language all day at school. I didn’t speak Spanish to her as much as I wanted to, and when her verbal skills in English shot up at age 3.5-4 she started fighting me on it, not only refusing to respond in Spanish but demanding I speak in English. But instead of giving up, I buckled down and vowed to speak more in Spanish and to only read to her in Spanish. After a few months she was feeling confident enough in her Spanish skills that she would always at least attempt to respond in Spanish. In the last six months her Spanish language abilities have skyrocketed and I started realizing that she just might pass the bilingual test I had all but given up on.

The bilingual test is important because it give my daughter a MUCH better chance of getting into one of the extremely impacted Spanish Immersion programs in SFUSD. There are nine programs in the district and luckily six of them are located conveniently enough for us to get to them (though we applied to all nine). The school district tries to populate the immersion classrooms with about a third Spanish speaking students, a third bilingual students and a third English speaking students. At the very least they hope to have half to two thirds of the students be proficient Spanish speakers. With so many English speaking families trying to get their kids into immersion programs, the Spanish speaking spots (which bilingual students are eligible for) are SIGNIFICANTLY less impacted. Basically her chances of getting into an immersion program as an English-only student is a complete crap shoot. (We would quite literally be winning the lottery.) Her chances of getting in as a bilingual Spanish speaker are almost guaranteed (of course nothing is guaranteed at SFUSD).

{SFUSD uses a lottery system that is messed up in ways I can’t even articulate. I’m not going to get into it now, but I will say that it’s in the top two reasons most families leave San Francisco before their kids turn five (along with soaring real estate and rent prices). San Francisco has fewer school-aged children (in proportion to population) than any other urban area in the United States and many would argue it’s because of SFUSD’s lottery system.}

I have spent the past four years stressing about my daughter’s Kindergarten placement. While I could bring her down to my district, I really want her to go to school in San Francisco. I live in San Francisco. I want to support San Francisco schools. And I really, really, REALLY want my daughter educated in a Spanish immersion program. Knowing that she has a much better chance of getting in will make the three month wait much more bearable.

And I will admit, I am pretty damn proud that I gave my daughter enough Spanish to pass the test. I know a lot of her passing is about her own gregarious nature and her ability to talk comfortably to strangers, but none of that would have mattered if she didn’t have the language skills she needed to pass. It’s incredibly gratifying to know that my efforts had a quantifiable effect, especially when that effect will help her future prospects at school.

So I’m taking a moment to pat myself on the back. I set out to raise bilingual children (I even gave my children Spanish names!) and so far I am succeeding. And that feels pretty darn great.

Tis’ the season {For Compulsive Spending}

So it turns out that December is a tough month to admit to yourself–and try to change–your compulsive buying habits. There are two reasons for this. Most importantly (and unavoidably), you have to buy things, especially when your family equates love with gift giving and has high expectations for what you’ll leave for them under the tree. Also, if one of your triggers is a good sale, 40%-50% off signs can be siren songs too compelling to ignore.

Obviously, I am a work in progress.

I continue to fall back on holding myself accountable to my husband, who has been so supportive in going over every purchase with me. He always agrees with me to get something, but I have definitely not suggested purchases that I knew were too frivolous or I was simply embarrassed to bring up. When I went on g.ap.com to use my reward cash to get my mom a Christmas present (and some tops for my daughter who somehow doesn’t even fit in 5T clothing anymore, despite being 4.5-years-old) I showed him my shopping cart before I made the purchase (but also before I applied my reward cash which almost gave him a heart attack). There was one shirt in there for me, which I admitted, but he was very nice about it (he will wrap it for me and put it under the tree). I feel awful for putting him in this position, but I know that I need his help holding myself accountable until we combine our finances and he can just see how much money is going out and to where.

I have avoided Tar.get like the plague because I know I make horrible choices there. I’ve even stayed away from Cost.co, even though I’m pretty good at sticking to my list when I’m buying in bulk.

I’m starting to recognize that shopping, more so than actually buying things, filled a real need in me and I’m trying to find other ways to meet that need. Shopping is definitely a way I combat boredom and loneliness–I didn’t realize that being with other people, even if I wasn’t communicating with them, helped stave off loneliness. I’m compiling a list of places I can go and be around other people while not spending money. It’s hard at this time of year when the cold and dark force us inside. So far I only have a library and a cafe on my list (I figure $2 for a hot chocolate is better than $20 for some dumb shit I don’t need). If you have any suggestions, please tell me.

On Friday afternoons my in-laws pick up my daughter for a spend the night (yes, I know how lucky I am) and in the past I’ve used that time to “run errands” with my son. This almost always meant a trip to some store to “get a few things we needed.” Last Friday it was rainy and cold and I was dying to go out, but I knew I couldn’t go shopping. There was a good 30-45 minutes where I was crawling out of my own skin I wanted to go shopping so badly, but I breathed through it. I texted my husband asking for suggestion on where we could go that didn’t involve a cash register and he sensed my panic and called me and talked to me for a while. In the end I just stayed home with my son and sat quietly watching him play. It made me realize that I almost never do that with him because long stretches of time (ahem, two hours) with no plans make me incredibly anxious. After the initial hour of checking my watch with crazy-making frequency I finally settled in and started enjoying it. By the end I felt way more calm than I would at the end of a bout of retail therapy. Learning that lesson was uncomfortable, truly painful at time, but I’m glad I did it and I’m actually looking forward to that unstructured time with him today.

{Though I think I subconsciously chose to write this post today to psyche myself up for this afternoon and remind myself that it was a positive experience in the end. That first hour was brutal and there is a part of me that is anxious to endure it again tonight.}

So that is where I am with the compulsive spending. As someone who can much more easily embrace a cold-turkey no-shopping (or insert other-vice-I’m-set-on-avoiding-here) rule, having to navigate holiday shopping while keeping a handle on my compulsive buying has been really hard. It’s a trial by fire to be sure, but I’m hoping that if I can get through this, the next couple of months will be a lot easier.

A Minimalist Mini-Transformation

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The first few weeks after I embraced minimalism I moved like a wildfire through my house. I tackled the living room and kids room with quick precision and while I know I will continue to minimize what I keep in those in those rooms, I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot there. I have not formally “done” my room and I want to say it remains untouched but that isn’t true. It’s way neater than it ever was before, but in comparison to the others spaces in the house, it feels like a disaster are. I look forward to making significant progress there in the near future. The kitchen is going to be harder because I need to work closely with my husband in that space; the kitchen is his domain and the last thing I want to do is get rid of something he deems necessary or important.

I continue to get rids of lots and lots of stuff. I’ve thrown away five big garbage bags, given away four bags of clothes (mine and the kids), gotten rid of three big bags of toys and lots of larger baby items and made two trips to the electronic recycling center. Plus I’ve dropped off four bags worth of books (all mine) at the library. My hall is currently bag-free, though I’ve already started a new clothing donation bag in my room and I really need to make some hard decisions in my daughter’s “library.”.

I also still need to pare down my own wardrobe significantly. That is going to be hard but I’m getting in the right mindset. I’m starting to take note of the pants and shirts I don’t wear much and I’m giving myself ultimatums: if something isn’t worn a lot in the next month or two it won’t make the final cut.

I’ve only been pursuing minimalism for a couple months but already the effects have been significant. My house looks so much better and I feel so much less stress. In the living room, where I spend the majority of my time, the surfaces and the couch are all clear, and every night I clean up the floor and sweep or vacuum it (this is out of necessity–my son’s “cheerios habit” is totally out of control and remnants of it are left EVERYWHERE). The hallway is also totally clean and swept or vacuumed. The bathroom is even in good shape, which is nice because that space is small and becomes unmanageable quickly. My son’s room is always super clean but I struggle more with my daughter’s. I need to create a “pick up your stuff” routine with her every night. We have been thinking about giving her a quarter a day allowance so she can start working towards things she wants after the “you can ask Santa for that” card expires. Obviously these two things will dove tail nicely.

One of the spaces I most appreciate being clean is the entry way. Normally a depository for all our shit as we walk in the door, I’ve been really careful not to let things accumulate there. I’m always taking stuff back up into the house as I make trips to and from the laundry (in the garage). Now, when I get home, I’m greeted by clean floors and even some open space on the shoe rack bench. It’s a really refreshing way to return home and it sets an expectation for what the rest of the house will look like.

There is still a lot of work to do and already stuff is accumulating in some rooms that I spent a lot of time simplifying. But all in all, now that I know where everything goes in each room (and I’ve thrown our or given away the rest) I am able to actually keep the spaces cleaned up. And after only a few weeks of doing so, I find I CRAVE that clean, open space. It seems I’ve already created a habit for myself of picking up as I go along and then doing whatever needs to be done in the last hour of the day to make sure everything is in its right place. It really bothers me now when things are awry, which I think is hilarious because I used to live in such abject chaos.

{More on habits later–I’m reading a fascinating book about them, recommended to me in a comment on a previous post–THANK YOU!.}

So yes, minimalism has already created massive positive changes in my life. I know I still have a LONG way to go and I’m realizing that there is so much more I can get rid of and that even though I have spaces for some things, it doesn’t mean I need to keep there. I believe 2015 will be the year of truly redefining what is important to me and determining what I (and my family) need and that by this time next year my space, and my life, will be transformed.

The $64,000 Question

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I haven’t written about it in a while, but I’m still embracing minimalism in my life. As I suspected, it’s becoming about much more than just a culling of my stuff. I want minimalism to seep into the very core of my being.

This is not just about simplifying the stuff that I own. It’s about simplifying my life.

Thanksgiving week was crazy, I had so many things to get done and absolutely no time to do any of them. At the end of the week I felt like I need a few days off just to recuperate. That is not how I want to live my life.

So I’m not going to.

My writing class wrapped up. I definitely won’t be signing up for another class any time soon.

Oh, and I quit the magazine.

I had been thinking about it for a long time. I realized that I didn’t even want to attend the meetings anymore. Everything about that commitment had become a chore. I was doing it just in case. Just in case a great writing assignment came up. Just in case I someday needed editing experience. Just in case a potential BFF were to join the staff. Just in case something happened that would make it worth my while.

But it wasn’t worth it and doing it just in case was about a poverty mentality. Doing something I don’t really want to do because it may be helpful some day is detrimental in the here and now. And who knows, maybe that commitment was keeping me from exploring something truly amazing, something that will bring me joy in the present moment.

So I quit the magazine. My writing class is over. 1st trimester grades have been turned in. My house is clean (seriously, it’s amazing, more on this later). In the evenings, I have some time.

And now I have to figure out what to do with it.

It’s not much mind you, just 30 minutes here, maybe 45 minutes there. But it’s my time and I have some say in how I want to spend it. Some nights I’m going to bed earlier. Some nights I’m indulging in some mindless TV. I have fiction books to read, and a couple of non-fiction. I have blogs to comment on.

I have a blog to write.

How do I want to spend my time?

It can be really hard for me to answer that question.

I remember when I was dealing with compulsive overeating and I read a book that changed my life. The main tenant of the book was to eat what you wanted. The central exercise was to determine exactly what it was you wanted to eat, and then to indulge that craving. I remember sitting in my kitchen, paralyzed by the thought that I could eat whatever I wanted, because I couldn’t for the life of my figure out what that might be. It took me months of trial and error to learn to decipher my cravings and determine what I actually wanted to eat.

That exercise set me on the path away from compulsive eating. It was truly life changing.

And now I have the same difficult task ahead. Once I’ve stripped my life of all the static and noise, what will I do in the silence? How do I actually want to spend my few precious moments of quiet time?

The truth is, right now I have no idea. But I’m kind of excited to find out.

I’m also kind of terrified. I recognize that all the stuff I piled into my life, it served one main purpose–to distract me. My whole life, and all the stuff in it, is basically one elaborate distraction. And now that I’m stripping it away, I’m going to have to face what I’ve been distracting myself from. Facing whatever is lurking underneath all the bells and whistles and bright lights is going to take a considerable amount of strength. It’s going to be difficult, but I think I can do it.

Beating compulsive overeating was the hardest thing I ever did. I was held hostage by food for years of my life. There were months when my entire future held only minute after minute–lined up neatly into eternity–of being completely obsessed by what I would eat. Compulsive eating was my whole world, I couldn’t see past it. But I fought my way out of that destructive relationship with food and I’ve managed to avoid it for ten years. If I could do that, I can do this, whatever this ends up being.

Do you struggle with knowing what you really want to do?

Still Grappling with Grief

As always, I’ll start with a thank you for your kind and concerned words. I want to assure everyone that I am currently taking medication, though perhaps I need to look into tweaking the dosage. It is the fifth thing I’ve tried in my life and the only one that has ever done anything positive for me so I don’t think I’ll stop taking it to try something else. It really is the most effective medication for managing my symptoms.

Honestly, the hurt and sadness you are hearing is still rooted in the linger effects of that lost friendship. I imagine a chorus of, Just get over it already!, every time I return to this subject but I don’t think I can accurately relate how devastating the whole thing has been for me. I am still sad. I am still grieving. I’m still cycling through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, sometimes on a daily basis. I’m still raw and hurting. I’m still wondering why. I’m still unsure how to proceed in the face of so much confusion and uncertainty.

There were a lot of triggers to remind me of this friendship in past month and especially in the past couple of weeks. Each one dredged up more pain and deeper sorrow. I eventually returned to my daily crying jags and the emotional exhaustion they entail. While I was doing better for a while there, the past two weeks have been really difficult.

Then on Friday I faced another friend issue that had me spiraling once again. I really struggle with how to process friendships when someone I love does something I can’t understand, even if I recognize that they have completely different motivations and their actions could mean completely different things than they would if I were to do the same. That is something I definitely need to work on.

In the end it comes down to a loss of faith and trust, in both myself and others. I’m still grappling with how and why my other friendship imploded, and in the aftermath I don’t trust the friendships I still have to withstand any kind of turmoil.

The idea of losing another friendship is simply more than I can bear.

So that is where I am right now and I truly believe grief is sitting at the core of this depressive episode. I am still grieving, even though very few people in my real life acknowledge or validate my loss, even though the expectation is that I dusted myself off and moved on months ago. I am still managing this grief and it’s still really hard.

You’d think that after suffering a miscarriage I’d be pretty good at mourning a loss no one else recognizes, but I’m finding it just as difficult this time around. With my miscarriage I found a community of women who had been through something similar and who knew all the right things to say. I found empathy, understanding and support and it was easy to feel like I belonged. There is no community like that for this kind of loss. There is nowhere to find other women writing about these same feelings. That makes it hard. It also makes me intensely grateful for the support I did eventually receive after my miscarriage, when I finally found the ALI community. I’d hate to think where I’d be if I’d had to walk that lonely, heartbreaking path alone.

I just wish there were a community like that for the path I’m walking now.

Lemon

I am tired. Tired of working on myself. Tired of something being wrong. Tired of needing to change.

It started when I was 16, and it’s been an endless procession of depression and disordered eating and anxiety and ADD and addictions and compulsions and therapists and medications and wondering why I can’t ever seem to pull my shit together for any extended period of time.

There is always something, something threatening to swallow me whole.

I’ve spent the last 18 years managing all these things, wondering if they are even real, trying to validate my struggles with them. I have always seen myself as damaged, as not able to handle struggle the way others could, as lacking in some way.

When I made it to 24 without ever being in a meaningful relationship–or any romantic relationship for that matter–I took it as confirmation that something was wrong with me. It’s been hard, in the fallout of an important friendship, not to hold it as further proof that I am just wrong in some way. Being rejected by someone close to you really messes with your sense of self-worth.

I remember when I was 16 and my parents were looking for a used car for me to drive. I had just totaled the Jetta they got me, 36 hours after I got my license (yep, still can’t think about that without cringing) and they were looking for something a little more solid. A Volvo 240 seemed to be just the thing, and I remember the extensive conversations we had about what good cars they were… unless you got a lemon.

I was terrified of getting a lemon. It would require a lot of work and money and it would never feel dependable. I would always be worried it might break down, at any moment.

Sometimes I feel like I’m a lemon; basic functions that seem to work fine for everyone else are always short circuiting in me. I require more work and replacement parts just to run as well as everyone else. Sure, at the end of the day I’m still functioning, but is it really worth the time, energy and resources to keep me on the road?

{And I want to make clear that when I “compare” myself to others it’s not to determine who has it “better” or “easier,” but is an attempt at normalization. I’m trying to determine what should be expected as part of the human experience. Pretty much every “diagnosis” I’ve ever received is basically a determination that I am “more” or something than I am expected to be in my circumstances (depression is being “more” sad than is expected in a set of circumstances), so the next logical step is for me to compare my experience to others in an attempt to determine if it’s expected or anomalous in some way.}

I know everybody struggles (and that many struggle MUCH more than I do), and I know that I’m probably not going to witness many of those struggles. But I also know the subtle signs and symptoms of struggles like my own and I don’t see them in the people I know. Without some kind of confirmation that others are dealing with these issues it’s hard not to think that I am incongruous in some way. That something isn’t quite right inside me.

Maybe if  had more friends who shared these kinds of experiences with me I’d feel less abnormal, but I don’t have many close friends. (Yet another confirmation that I am not quite right.)

Or maybe life is just hard and it will always feel like a struggle, and I just don’t manage that struggle as well as others do. Or maybe I’m just not as good at hiding how wearing it can be to manage that struggle.

I’m struggling with how to conclude this post, to instill some actual meaning or purpose into this mess of woe-is-me navel-gazing. I haven’t quite figured out why I’m feeling this way right now, why these 18 years are suddenly crushing me. I suppose I thought I’d move past all these issues at some point, that maturity and life experience would help me surpass decades of depression and other issues. I guess I thought that arriving at the life I always wanted would alleviate the anxiety. But I’m here and I’m still struggling, and I’m realizing that I will always be struggling and the reality of that is overwhelming. The realization that the darkness will keep descending, that I will always have to fight it back, that depression is a part of me, a part of the way my brain works, that it has soldered a lens into my perception that will color my life, that questions about how to best manage depression and whether we over-medicate will always have acute personal significance to me, that I will have to answer hard questions about how to manage depression in the long run, that this is my life, and no amount of “arriving” will allow me to leave it behind.

That this is my present as well as my past, and that it will most likely be my future.

Speaking Shame

I’m sorry I left for two weeks without a word.

I never intended to be gone for so long. I faced a perfect storm of deadlines (my final Creative Nonfiction assignment, first trimester final grades and sale expirations for photo gifts) and family obligations (Turkey Day and Turkey Day Part Deux) and there was just never any time to write here.

Oh, and I was admitting to myself, and more painfully my husband, that I have a compulsive buying problem.

So yeah, there was that.

I have been trying to figure out how to say it. Or better said, I’ve been trying to avoid having to say it, let alone figuring out how. It’s a weird thing because on the one hand it seems kind of silly, and trite, like hey, I buy too much shit (but don’t we all, right?) And on the other hand it’s completely devastating and it sent me into a pit of shame so dark and so deep I’ve spent the last two weeks clawing my way out.

I think I’m finally at the surface, but I’m still mired in the muck of it. I will be for a long time.

I’ve always known that I bought too much stuff, but I never really thought of it as a true problem. Or I guess, I never considered the impulses uncontrollable. I guess I always just figured that if I really wanted to stop, I would find a way.

But as I’ve attempted to embrace minimalism, and drastically overhaul the way we consume, I’m finding it incredibly hard to curb my purchasing. Even when I really truly don’t want to be buying stuff, I still do.

So I started reading some books and checking off indicators, and while there were definitely statements that provoked a “holy shit, at least I’m not that bad” there were just as many that provoked an intensely shaming realization that I have a problem.

I walked around with it for a few days, mentioning it to no one. It was eating away at me, making me absolutely miserable. I felt small and unworthy and truly fucked up.

Then I read a book about overcoming compulsive buying and the very first step was to admit to others that you have a problem so that they can help you hold yourself accountable.

And that is when I totally lost my shit. I had convinced myself that I could manage this without confronting my husband, or anyone else. I felt so much shame that I couldn’t control my spending; I just wanted to make it all go away without him ever knowing about it.

And….

And I knew that if I had to tell my husband about my problem, I’d also have to tell him that I had lied about my finances.

Yes. I have been lying to my husband about how quickly I’ve been paying off my credit card debt to help hide my compulsive shopping problem. My husband was actually taking over the payment to my parents every month so I could put that money toward my debt. And instead I was spending a portion (sometimes all of it) on frivolous, unnecessary purchases. And then I was lying to him about it. Eventually to the tune of a few thousand dollars.

Yeah.

I did that.

And I had to tell him. All of it.

Did I mention it’s been a hard week?

I have to admit, writing this is making my skin crawl. I don’t want to do it. It makes me feel vulnerable in ways I can’t articulate. I worry what you all must think of me. I imagine the collective gasp as you read it. I imagine your pity and your disdain. I imagine you judging me, harshly.

I imagine you doing to me what I’ve done to myself for the past two weeks.

But the truth is, you can’t possible think less of me than I have already thought of myself. I’ve already gasped and pitied and judged, so, so harshly. I’ve already determined that I’m a worthless excuse for a human being. Anything you’re thinking about me, I’ve thought worse. So really, what do I have to lose?

Nothing.

And by telling you, I have everything to gain.

Keeping this problem secret doesn’t help me. It only makes it worse. I’ve tried to control it by myself and I’ve failed–to varying degrees–since I started earning real money at 14. I can’t make it better until I admit it. All of it. Even the parts that make me hate myself. Even the parts that steep me in shame.

Oh the shame. It’s overwhelming.

I’ve been listening to Brené Brown’s “The Power of Vulnerability” again. This is my third time hearing it, but my first time listening to it with shame. I mean, I always have shame in my life, but it’s never before been a constant companion. Engaging with the talk this time has been truly life changing. I’m so thankful for her work and the incredible way she shares it. I shudder to think where I’d be right now if I didn’t have her to guide me through shame, to help me understand what it is and why it’s so hurtful. To remind me that secrecy and judgement make it grow exponentially, and to assure me that speaking shame–and responding to it with empathy–are the first steps in overcoming it.

So here I am, speaking my shame. I’ve already told my husband–I had to sit with him and try to explain, through my tears, why I lied to him–and now I’m telling you. I’m working hard on my compulsive buying problem, and I’m making small gains. It’s going to take a lot of work, but for the first time in my life I have a sliver of hope that I might get ultimately overcome this issue.

Again, I apologize for falling silent for two weeks and then returning with this.

And I thank you for being gentle as you share your thoughts.

Maintenance

Thank you for your comments on my last post. Quite a few of them suggested that I didn’t make myself clear and I want to revisit the issue again, after I’ve had some time to process. I did appreciate responding to all the comments. It quickly became clear that I wasn’t quite sure what exactly I was trying to communicate with that post, but the more I responded to comments the more developed the idea became. The post also inspired a couple of email/text/message exchanges that enlightened me. I hope to write a follow up post soon.

In the meantime, I want to write a little about maintenance.

I’m getting pretty burned out on my Jillian Michaels DVDs and started abandoning that extra 30 minutes on my thrice weekly workout. Most of the time I just hit the elliptical for 30-45 minutes and leave it at that. At first I was feeling really upset and disappointed in myself about it, but as I sailed through the increased candy consumption of Halloween without my pants getting tighter (I never get on the scale anymore and just gauge where my body is by how my clothes fit) I realized I don’t have to commit to the duration and intensity of exercise that I had before. I have arrived at my ideal weight. I feel really good about the way I look, the way I feel and the way my clothes fit. I am where I want to be, and it doesn’t take as much effort to stay here as it did to get here in the first place.

I still need to exercise–for me it’s more about mental than physical health at this point–but in the absence of my former regimen I’m unsure how to maintain strength and endurance without burning out.

I want to add in a once weekly yoga session of some kind because I definitely need to make stretching a priority again, and yoga does wonders for my piece of mind. I have one audio track I can follow, but I know I’ll get bored of that quickly so I should find some DVDs or apps that can help me get on my mat once a week.

I know I’ll keep up the elliptical because aerobic exercise is what calms my thoughts and releases the endorphins that make me feel good. I doubt I’ll tire of that 30 minutes because it provides one of my only retreats to read blogs or a good book.

The strength component is what I’m least sure of. I downloaded the 7 minute workout app and really like the free full-body workout. There are other, more targeted workouts for your upper body, core and lower body and each one only costs $1.99. I think I’ll try one and see if I like it and if I do, I’ll invest in the others. Maybe doing a circuit of those throughout the week will be enough for me to maintain my strength and form without burning out.

It struck me as I’ve been trying to develop a workout regimen that I can stick to for the long haul that I haven’t made exercise a priority in my life for a long time. It used to be something I always made time for, but when I met my husband I set it aside to spend more time with him (sadly exercise is not a priority in his life at all). I am thankful that the stalled weight loss after my second pregnancy inspired me to return to exercise again–it really is a positive addition to my weekly routine.

I am also using this realization to inspire me on the minimalism front. Right now the work I am doing is hard and time consuming and exhausting (and emotionally fraught), but if I keep it up, and get where I want to be, maintaining those changes will require a lot less effort. I’m lucky that this initial push is producing results that inspire me to keep going, despite the ambivalence I sometimes feel (much like my initial workouts changed my body in ways that compelled me to keep putting on a sports bra even when I just wanted to watch TV). If I can get to a place of maintenance in this aspect of my life, my day to day experiences will be much improved.

How do you maintain the routines that work for you? Do you have to change things up sometimes to stay motivated or interested?

{Oh, and any suggestions for yoga or strength DVDs/apps/audio tracks would be most appreciated!}

Desperately Seeking an Honest Dialogue

A couple of days ago I put up the following on FB:

My son is wonderful and amazing and I’m thankful for him every single day, but holy $#!^ he’s exhausting. Seriously, the next few years are going to be loooooong.

I got a few, “the next FEW years?! comments, which I appreciate because I know it’s going to be crazy until… well… forever?, but most of the responses were sacchariney sweet platitudes about how fast this time flies and how soon I won’t be cool so I better savor it and how cute he is (“but he’s always smiling!”).

What I was looking for was a little recognition and validation, for someone to say, “these years are going to be long, and it might really suck, but you’ll make it through.” What I got instead was an admonishment to cherish this time and a reminder of how cute my kid is.

I get it. I really do. Time does fly and someday I won’t be cool and truly, my son really is cute. (And he is always smiling, as far as FB is concerned.) All of this is true. But right now shit is hard. I am exhausted. And sometimes I wonder why it’s so hard and why I’m so exhausted. Sometimes I spend all day asking myself: Am I doing it wrong? Is it harder for us than it is for others? Why am I drowning even though nothing specific is wrong? Is it ever going to get better?

As far as I know, everyone else with two kids is having a great time of it. It’s all laughter and hugs and siblings interacting in adorable ways. That is what I see on social media. That is what I hear about at whatever birthday party we’re attending this weekend. It’s always the same… and it’s always positive.

I’m guilty of it myself. My whole FB wall is a parade of cute pictures of my adorable kids. I recite the same spiel at birthday parties and other events. As far as anyone knows, we’re having a fabulous time as a family of four.

The thing is, I feel like I have to put that kind of stuff up. It’s expected of me. It’s the only thing anyone wants to see.

No one wants to hear that it’s hard. No one wants me to share that most days I go to bed wondering how I’m going to get through the next day. No one wants me to post the truth (unless of course the truth is all unicorn farts and fairy queefs).

If I were to post an unhappy picture of my kids, I would be accused of over-sharing, or disrespecting their future selves. (Ironical unhappy pictures are fine, of course, but those don’t inspire any kind of honest dialogue.) No one wants to see pictures of the truth.

So I participate in all the same ways everyone else does. I put up exactly the kinds of pictures that proliferate the suggestion that “everything is always great” and I probably make other people feel alone in their struggles, just like I feel alone in mine.

I understand why we act this way on social media. I recognize that a place like FB–where hundreds of people you don’t really know have access to your information–is not the appropriate venue for meaningful interactions. But if more and more of our personal exchanges are taking place on social media, and we are forced to present only certain aspects of our experience in those venues, when are we supposed to speak–and hear–the truth?

Maybe this is only a problem for people like me, who don’t have many friend in the area to sit down and really talk to. I don’t have anyone that I see on a regular enough basis to really confide in, so I’m left with FB and this blog. I guess I just don’t know where I’m supposed to work through the complicated feelings. Or at least have them acknowledged.

And I think it really does benefit people to know that others are struggling, that two kids or being a SAHM or working outside the home or maintaining a marriage is really kicking their ass. And they don’t know if they can do it at all, let alone do it well. Maybe these feelings wouldn’t be so hard to process if we knew other people were processing them too.

The day after I put up that status update my husband thanked me for sharing it. “It’s exactly how I feel,” he said. But I know that is how he feels, and he knows that I know–we talk about it all the time–and yet it still meant so much to him that I put it out there. It still took a weight off his shoulders, just the slightest public acknowledgement of our struggle.

In the end I’m not sure what the answer is. I understand why social media isn’t an appropriate place to unload our burdens, but I also know that some of us don’t have anywhere else to unload. And I think we could all benefit from a little more truth and a little less filter. I just wish it were all easier to navigate, because I think we could all benefit from more authentic support and less glossy perfection.

Do you think social media can be a place to give and receive authentic support? Where do you go to feel acknowledged and understood?