Monday’s Moody Musings: Proud Public Service Announcement

A few weeks ago I was offered a job at the local library and I happily accepted. As I had been using most of my spare time to write, unpack, and look for work, I was grateful to get a few weeks of vacation time before my first day of work today. I used that time to visit my boyfriend’s grandparents in the Midwest and drive to Northern California to visit my dad and stepmom. I hope to have some more photos to post from my drive but paid employment takes priority.

My official new title is “Circulation Assistant” which just means I help check books in and out, issue library cards, close accounts, and help shelve and organize the branch. I went to my new employee orientation today and I’m very excited to get going on my first full day of work at the branch tomorrow. I got to meet a lot of nice folks today and I think this job will be a better fit.

First thing this morning, the library director gave the small group of new employees an eloquent and inspiring speech on the importance of freedom of speech, privacy, integrity, honesty, and accountability. Even though I’m on the lower rung of the library ladder, it’s still a plus to know that the big wigs up top are down-to-earth people looking out for the best interests of the public and the employees.

A training coordinator also spoke to us and made a point of saying that continuing education and training opportunities are a priority and encouraged to all employees. She also mentioned how she doesn’t condone looking down her nose at folks who’ve had fewer opportunities or “been stuck.” So it’s also a big plus that I’m in an institution that prioritizes equal opportunities for all patrons and employees.

Some other big pluses include a very lax dress code (I can wear jeans and comfy tennis shoes! and I don’t have to do my hair and makeup everyday!! Hooray!!!). My boss is very laid back and funny. I get to be around books all day and other people interested in learning and helping others  learn and explore the world.

I get a cool ID badge! This may not seem like a big plus to some people, but when I volunteered at the library, I didn’t get an official badge. I got the bright orange, ugly “volunteer” badge and I felt like I was given a guest pass to a cool club I really wanted to be in. So even though it’s a silly symbol, it represents a desire to belong to the library crowd that I felt for a long time and now I’m in the silly club too.

Oh! and when I’m verbally abused or sexually harassed, I get to report it and the patron will be banned from the building, at least for a little while. My branch also has a full-time security guard on duty, so if there are threats or issues, there is someone nearby whose job it is to deal with those situations. It’s not all on me or the other service staff to address.

Anyway, I know it’s still a job and it’s just my first day but my first impressions were positive and I’m excited to learn more and get into a new work routine. But my focus now is learning the job and studying for the GREs so I can get going on my MLIS program applications. Plus now that I have an income, Matt and I want to stop throwing our money away on the crazy high rents around here and find a house. I may write a bit less in the next few weeks as I try to relearn math for my upcoming test, learn about first-time home-buying, and learn my new position at the library.

Again, thanks for reading. I’m so grateful to have so many followers and found so many interesting and inspiring blogs to read myself. I plan to write a “Thankful Thursday” post soon to highlight my amazing blog finds and followers!

Moody Musings: Close Your Mind to Corrupt Culture

Today is Mental Health Awareness day and after this week’s headlines and debates, I think it is especially important to address how we can all defend our minds against toxic cultures. By culture, I mean the society at large with its barrage of sexist ads, harmful stereotypes, and impossible expectations. But I also mean the smaller groups we find ourselves immersed in on a daily basis, such as our family, our work, our group of friends, or even the culture we create for ourselves in our own minds, all of which are influenced by that larger societal culture of which they are a part. Are the beliefs, opinions, and thoughts in that culture helping you or hurting you? Are the messages of your culture useful?

“A girl begins to believe that the negative images her family and culture reflect back to her about herself are not only totally true but are also totally free of bias, opinion, and personal preference. The girl begins to believe that she is weak, ugly, unacceptable and that this will continue to be true no matter how hard she tries to reverse it.”  – Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Honor Your Instincts

Listen to your gut feelings. Now, this isn’t the same as listening to your fear and running from every situation that gives you butterflies. If it did, I’d be cowering in a closet with a box of donuts trying to stuff down all the fears incited by last night’s Presidential debate. As someone with severe anxiety, I know how difficult it can be to tell the difference between fear and the inner knowing that there is danger in the air. But with time and practice, you learn to identify the differences.

Even when you feel fear, if you are taking a step towards what you truly want, there will be a sense of excitement and pride beneath all that fear. That’s my first clue to telling the difference. But as I am still new to this process myself, I highly recommend that you find resources to help you start listening to your instincts. Start to trust that you, your past, and your DNA contain wisdom your conscious mind may not always be able to comprehend. Strong women came before you and their wisdom is written in your blood, working its will from the inside. To ignore those instincts is to shut out the soul.

Suggested Resources:

Author Martha Beck has written several books on the subject including “Find your Way in a Wild New World: Reclaim your True Nature to Create the Life You Want.”

She also has a blog at MarthaBeck.com.

Jon Kabat-Zinn is another helpful author if you’re open to meditation and mindfulness practice. He wrote “Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World through Mindfulness” and several other books on the benefits of meditation.

Many people also find yoga helpful to this process. Yoga resources surround us so I’ll leave you to discover those.

Mute the Malevolent Messages

Literally. When a sexist commercial starts, when an offensive person starts speaking on the radio, or a family member or friend begin a familiar rant, you have the option and the right to ignore it and walk away. I’m not suggesting that the solution lies in just ignoring the problems and hoping they go away. It is just as important to speak your truth and have your say. But I believe that after so much repetition and force, those messages start to sink into our psyches and change our thinking. It is one thing to be aware of the messages, know they exist, and work to argue against them. But it is another to listen to them repetively when you heard the message loud and clear the first time. You don’t have to change everyone else in order to honor your own truth and maintain your own integrity. Focus on who and what you control: yourself.

Surround Yourself with Strength

Trade in the ads, the tabloid gossip, and the petty stereotypes for the voices of your role models, your heroines, or just the folks who make you smile. Follow Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Amy Schumer, and Emma Watson on social media. Join a book club of kindred spirits. Read books, magazines, and blogs that educate and inspire you. Learn about women who thrived in oppressive cultures. Find your flock and focus on their messages of hope and encouragement.

Take heart in knowing there are women out there working to change the status quo. There are so many daring women out there unafraid to speak their truth and expose their souls despite the knowledge that there are larger, louder crowds that would silence them. Look to Michelle Obama, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Malala Yousafzai, J.K. Rowling, or Maya Angelou. Then look in the mirror and see their strength in you. It’s there.

Question Everything

“The most destructive cultural conditions for a woman to be born into and to live under are those that insist on obedience without consultation with one’s soul…”  –Clarissa Pinkola Estes

When those toxic messages do slip through the cracks, remember to stop and really consider them. Ask questions! Who does the message benefit? Who does it harm? What is the context? What is the relevance? Is the message based on fact? What are the facts? What do you think? How do you feel about the statement? If everyone acted in accordance with the message, how would the world look?

Consider every movie, every book, every status update, every eye-roll as an opportunity to practice analyzing a message. Use your imagination as much as possible. Journal. Practice respectful debate. Ask questions. Get curious about the why and how of every thing that interests you.

detachment-quote

“Express Yourself”

To cultivate your own voice and discover your own values and beliefs, you need a space entirely your own where you are safe and free to express your honest thoughts and feelings. I am a writer so I like to journal and blog. I also turn to music and movies to gather inspiration and courage to share my own stories. For you it may be dancing, singing, painting, running, crafting, designing websites, etc. As long as there is one corner of the universe that belongs just to you now and again, you will have the freedom to explore and discover your own beliefs.

Embrace your “Imperfections”

We live in a world where we are constantly barraged with “shoulds.” You should be thin, you should be quiet, you should be smart but not “too smart,” you should be independent, you should be maternal, you should be pretty, blah, blah, blah. These toxic beliefs create the perception of imperfections. We start to see our natural foibles and human quirks as flaws and sources of deep shame. I still struggle with this hourly. I could list my imperfections for days.

But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t love donuts a little too much, bite my fingernails, laugh during awkward silences, or use sarcasm to cope with intimacy. I’d be buried under a fake facade of socially acceptable behaviors.  It takes a lot of practice to tell that wicked stepsister of a superego to shut up so I can just be. But I think it is worth the constant effort. There is a dangerous predator stalking our every move, just waiting to pounce and feed on our flaws. It’s just part of our wiring as animals. That doesn’t mean we have to listen. In time and with practice, the voice will fade.

Suggested Resources:

I highly recommend reading author, Brene Brown, to help you on your quest to silence the shaming voice of perfectionism. She wrote The Gifts of Imperfection and most recently, Rising Strong. For a preview, I also recommend her Ted Talk: The Power of Vulnerability.

Be Kind to Your Body

This one is the most difficult for me. I’m an emotional eater and I tend to feel lethargic when I’m depressed. I also get exhausted from the constant tension that comes with chronic anxiety. But even I have to admit that when I exercise, eat more nutritiously, and sleep regularly, I feel so much better. My therapist once told me that even if I didn’t believe that I deserved to be taken care of, if I started going through the motions, eventually I would internalize the positive messages I was giving my body.

Once again, she was right. When I started to schedule the time to take walks, take a bath, do some yoga, and eat more fruits and veggies and fewer donuts, I did start to both feel better and feel more worthy of the efforts. I think that is what the struggle really comes down to in the end. Some people wait until they feel like they deserve to be respected, deserve to be healthy and feel good. But that may never happen. Start by just taking a walk around the block, and tomorrow take the stairs instead of the elevator. Go through the motions of pretending to care and eventually you will feel worthy of the effort.

Thanks for reading!

A few more recommended resources:

Anything Alain de Botton.

SARK’s books and blog.

“Women Who Run With the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D

Moody Musings: Stuff Your Smiles

One of the first things I read this morning was a well-meaning article on the benefits of smiling. I’m sure there are many benefits and as my therapist tells me, “it is important to focus on the positive.” So why, when I read it, did I have to quell an overwhelming urge to throw my phone through the window? I’ll tell you why.

It’s Monday. Morning. It’s raining. And just, NO.

If you’re a woman on Earth, I’m sure you’ve been told at some point to “smile,” or that “you’d look prettier if you smiled,” or some similarly obnoxious statement. Not necessarily just by men either. It seems some people just don’t like to see you frown and they’re seriously concerned…about how your face looks and how it affects them. Isn’t that sweet?

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I could be clinically depressed, have just lost a loved one, or read the news. Maybe all three. You don’t know what’s going on in someone else’s head.

You have no idea why someone else is frowning or just not inclined to smile at the moment. They could have a mood or behavioral disorder. In which case, walking up to them and telling them to “smile!” is about as productive as walking up to a person in a wheelchair and saying, “just stand up and walk, it’s so easy and good for you.”

People have said things like that to me during depressive episodes and I felt so much worse afterwards. I felt like my inability to feel happy was inconvenient for others. I wanted to smile. I wanted to be in a good mood. I wanted to have the energy to make an effort. But sometimes, I just didn’t.

I already felt bad about this. I already wondered what was wrong with me, why I couldn’t be “normal” or “happy” like other people. I mean really, why wasn’t it easy to do basic things like laugh at a joke or just enjoy something, anything at all? Because of neurotransmitters, chemicals, and hormones I don’t control. Having someone tell me to stop being a “Debbie-downer” or to “smile more,” not only invalidated my feelings, it invalidated a very real, widespread, and legitimate illness.

But even if I didn’t have a mental illness, I’m still a human being with my own individual thoughts and feelings apart from yours. Living in this world is not always easy or happy. Sometimes we get sick, we die, our loved ones yell and hurt our feelings, we get laid off, and on and on. There are so many reasons to feel emotions besides happiness. We all have a right to those feelings and to their expression. So just as you can tell me to “smile,” I can tell you to buzz off.” And just because you can do something, doesn’t make it a good idea. It’s too bad if my feelings are difficult for you or affect your mood. But that is your issue. Don’t make it mine.

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It may seem something small and simple. But my body is my business. You don’t dictate what I get to do with it. Any of it. 

This is a basic boundary issue. If I’m not hurting anyone, then it’s nobody’s business what I do with my face or my body. It’s also none of my business what you think of my face or my mouth or anything at all. Your blunt command for me to “smile” crosses the line.

You get your body and your mind to do and think as you please. So do I. I don’t care if I’ll “look prettier” if I smile. I am so much more than a face or a pleasing expression to be admired by doting passersby like I’m a piece of furniture.

big lebowski meme.PNGTelling a stranger to do anything with their body is weird and creepy. It places that human being on level with a dog that you believe you have the right to command. “Sit!” “Stay.” “Smile!” “Good girl!!!” No. Just don’t. You are not my master and I will not obey. We’re not pets to command or dolls to arrange at your pleasure. 

Now that I’ve covered the basics of why it is disrespectful to tell someone to “smile.” I’d like to point out that the results you’re looking for, that pretty, shiny, happy face doesn’t appear on command. When you force someone to express a feeling they don’t actually feel, the expression will be just as fake. A genuine smile doesn’t just appear on command. This does: forced-smile-hilary

An expression of thinly veiled annoyance with a barely detectable upturn of the mouth. If we do smile at your command, we’re labeled “stiff” and “unnatural.” If we don’t, we have “resting bitch face.” So tell me again, why we should smile?