21-Day “Beauty-Binge”

I haven’t felt like myself for a very long time. In fact, I’m not even sure anymore of what my “self” looks like at it’s core. There are pieces of me that have stayed intact because they are so crucial to my existence, like compassion and intrigue, but the rest just sort of feels like it’s been on auto-pilot.

A lot about being a sick person is doing things every day that you don’t physically and mentally feel like doing. It’s getting out of bed, bathing, contributing to society in some way (going to work or school, for example…), and it’s checking off items on a list that prevent you from failing at life completely. Do laundry. Pay rent. Feed the dog. Feed yourself. Even typing this out feels monotonous. And what I’ve learned is that you can go into a downward spiral quickly if you aren’t aware of how unintentional your habits have become.

When you are chronically ill, and these things that you don’t feel like doing still have to be done, there is a lot of energy that gets used just accomplishing these and other basic tasks. I have always had a theory that it takes more energy to do the things we don’t want to/feel like doing than things we want to do, because we also have to compensate for the lack of motivation that exists when a general interest or desire isn’t present to push you. So when we’re just getting by, and we’re trying to make it through each day, what happens to all of the expendible activities that we simply don’t have the energy to accomplish?

What happens to our joy?

It’s sad, but because I live alone in NYC, I very much depend on going to work each day so I can support myself. I don’t think that this is a different fact than other people who have to work to survive, but other people aren’t completely depleted just getting ready in the morning. For me, there are many days when I have to pick between going to work and taking a shower. Other people might argue that both are non-negotiable, but if you know that after you’ve hit a certain wall that nothing else will be possible, you have to prioritize the things that will immediately cause big problems, and that might come at the expense of things that seem unfathomable to put off.

So then as your health declines, you start to become a robot in a sense. You start to feel like everything is a race against time, trying to get the bare minimum done before your body closes shop for the day. And when you’re living in that mentality – survival mode or bust – it feels like anything “off the list” so to speak, feels like a luxury. It starts to feel like the things that you once loved are very much out of reach, as long as you want to stay afloat in the areas that truly require your attention.

But that’s no way to live your life, when there’s no “living” involved.

I have always had a pretty extreme personality. I’m usually either completely invested in something or it practically doesn’t exist. So when I started to go down this path of maximizing my time, other things were sacrificed that I couldn’t have anticipated in the very beginning. You figure that small things can be skipped, but small things add up.

So with that said, I decided I’m going to spend the next 3 weeks tackling a small piece of the puzzle. I’ve heard many times through the years that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit, so I will be spending that many days assigning some time to doing my hair, doing my makeup, and putting together an outfit that makes me excited to walk outside my front door. I want to feel put together. I want to feel approachable. I want to feel worthy of being seen.

At first pass, it might seem that this is a superficial challenge that I have set my eyes on. However, I think there is a lot to be said for how we present ourselves to others. I don’t think that a full face or big hair is the reason others should value us, but if we aren’t putting any effort into how we look every day, it could be perceived by others that we don’t value ourselves. And if we send the message that we don’t value ourselves, how can we expect others to think we have value?

This is basically a social experiment.

We have clothes in our closet that we reserve for special occasions – I would like each day in the coming weeks to be special. I also am interested to see if my committment to something so basic trickles into other aspects of my life – will I be encouraged to try new things, or be more social, or get to work on time, simply because looking nice on the outside makes me feel better on the inside?

I will be journaling about my experience and will be tracking things that are seemingly unrelated (i.e. my weight) – because my gut tells me that deciding to make my appearance a priority will open up new doors an opportunities for me, even if they are only benefits that I am able to see.

This mission that I am about to embark on is not about other people. It’s not about being attractive, and it’s not about pretending like I’m not sick every day.  In a way, it might remind others that even though I am sick every day, I’m worth spending time on. With this journey, my goals are pretty simple. I intend to live with intention. I want to find purpose on purpose. And I want to teach myself and others that I deserve to be loved by first loving myself.

Ultimately, there is absolutely nothing that I can lose by doing this. All I know is that I have no idea what else I’m supposed to do, other than to fake it until I make it. It’s a notion that I’ve tried in the past and in my recollection, has had a pretty high success rate. Also, I think it’s important to mention that for me, even though it will be physically daunting to accomplish this level of vanity, this is something that I’m actually interested in doing. I think it’s fun to play with makeup. I love my hair. And I also appreciate fashion. The only thing that I have left to do at this point is to do these things that I actually enjoy.

If other people are inspired by this and are feeling a bit lost in life like me, I hope it’s also understood that this is MY version of a “beauty binge.” I am not trying to perpetuate the idea that women are only beautiful if we have makeup on or that we have to be an “enhanced” version of ourselves to be valued in society. Beauty to someone else might mean drinking a ton of water to promote glowy skin, or it might mean sleeping more to prevent bags under the eyes. I only promote that we each determine what feeling beatiful looks like for each of us, and that we don’t discount the impact that ignoring that feeling has on other areas of our life.

So here goes, my dear friends.

All my best,

xoB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear God

I got on my knees and prayed tonight. Like legitimately fell crashing down to the worse-off part of my body (after my heart, clearly), and sobbed into my mattress. And as I unloaded 31 years worth of you-name-it, my dog came up behind me and started sniffing my butt, and it occurred to me that he really is my spirit animal.

He likes assholes as much as I do.

I have had sort of a breakthrough the last few weeks. I’ve always been that person that pushes people around me to do what they love, because I figured out very young that the secret to life is to be as happy as much as humanly possible, yet some time ago, I seemed to have lost what that means for me. On the surface, I have maintained pretty well, but what does that really mean? I went to grad school immediately after college and plowed through, continued with a career that I’m passionate about and am connected to in a personal way, and have managed to stay above water enough to take care of myself physically and prioritize my physical health.

Notice that I just said, “physically” twice.

I mean I guess for someone who has a disease more rare than finding pierogies in trail mix, it probably is warranted that I care so much about my body. It’s not even in a superficial way (usually…), it’s more about the fact that it hurts to do basic things, and in a world where you’re nothing if not “normal”, I just work at being able to grab groceries and get dressed for work.

But along with spending so much time not paying attention to your mental state comes the deterioration of it. I believe I’m quick-witted, motivated and determined, but it can feel daunting, even considering how much it really matters, to take time out of your already exhausting day to fix your life.

Fix. Your. Life.

It’s amazing how three little words can be so powerful when you put them against a white background, yes?

Let’s break that down for a second. First, I’ll tackle “fix” – fix? Like in what way? When it comes to your life, there are no instructions, there is no diagram of what the project looks like when you’re done, and it’s not like I can go into a hardware store and find a tool dedicated to this specific job. Fixing something requires a lot of moving parts, like identifying what’s wrong in the first place, what things would look like if they were OK, and finally, how to get from the former to the latter.

Then there’s the word, “your.” This one isn’t usually difficult for me because I have always naturally been a very compassionate and giving person. It’s kind of a strange imbalance because I really dislike being around people for extended periods of time, but I am abnormally interested in aspects of their lives. For example, some of the best starts to my day are when I’m in a cab with a driver who has had a particularly fascinating story. I like making people feel special by expressing a real desire to learn about them. But does that mean I want to spend time in a room full of people and interact with them for hours on end? Not at all. But the 23 minutes it takes to get to work is just enough time for me to have a substantial conversation and dip out right at the point where enough’s enough.

The problem that I face with, “your” is when I AM the “your.” I don’t use the words “my” or “me” or “I” half as often as I should, and so much of what I’m committing my energy towards is building others up, pushing them to reach their potential, and focusing on how to get them there. But where am I in all of those scenarios? Not fixing or youring.

And then finally, there’s “life.”

The beauty of living alone is always having the ability to sit around my apartment and let my thoughts wander. I was enjoying this the other night when it occurred to me that life is actually really hard. People say, “life is hard” in one variation or another every day, but I’ve never really examined the truth behind it. I began to analyze it and all of these things started hovering around me, like how difficult it is to be healthy, stay healthy, find a job, let alone a job you like, make friends, keep friends, lose friends, earn money, invest money, invest in relationships, heal from relationships, etc. And then I thought about juggling it all in the air at one time, trying to figure out the right percentage of each that warrants your attention in a way that doesn’t screw up the entire equation.

And even if you are lucky enough to figure out how to successfully accomplish the list above and end up with a reasonable life, “reasonable” isn’t “great” and sometimes it isn’t even “good.” It’s just the result of things falling into place, in whatever spot they land, usually without your control or consent. Like right now, I live in Manhattan with my dog and I go to work every day. I could have moved to NJ or Long Island – I just wanted to be closer to my family when I made that decision. I didn’t go out and buy a dog or rescue one from a shelter – I decided to help out a friend, which turned into me acquiring a new pet. And the career I have was a result of getting a job after college that made it possible to pay my rent. I ended up loving what I was doing and I still stand by that, but being good at and passionate about something are much different than doing something every day that truly gets you jazzed. I didn’t intentionally go out into the world looking for work in healthcare. It’s the job I got. The career sort of chose me.

Since I started to realize after being hospitalized and almost getting evicted this year that I wasn’t doing much more than getting by, I decided to make a conscious effort to try to break down the things that make me happy, and more than that, bring me joy. I’ll admit, when I started on this journey, I don’t think I even realized that there was a difference between the two, but after hitting some sweet spots with some of the choices I’ve made, it’s become more apparent to me that the two ideas are miles apart.

I think happiness can be a few different things. It can be perception from what’s learned as being “happy”, like a kid growing up in a home with a lot of things vs. a lot of people, or scrolling through Instagram pictures that exist on everyone’s pages and comparing what your life looks like vs. what someone else’s looks like. It can also be fear-based, which is what I experience, because I’ve had so many bad things happen to me in my life that I feel like if I’m not grateful for days that are arguably average, I’ll be struck with days that are bad, and wish I had appreciated things differently . So I often associate consistency or lack of difficulty with happiness, because in my mind, it still beats the alternative.

Finally, I think there is true happiness, but I think the real feeling behind this last version is motivated by joy more than anything else. To me, joy is what you feel when you are experiencing something that is so undeniably you, like riding a roller coaster feels to thrill-seekers, or when a green thumb sees the beautiful garden blooming that she spent hours planting. I imagine it’s the feeling tattoo-enthusiasts get when they get new ink, and maybe the feeling a fisherman has when he feels something tugging on his line (and also when he catches a fish, HO!)

But I digress…

The way I am trying to think about it is by picturing a board of buttons behind my chest wall that exists, where each button represents something different. Something magical. Like “joy buttons” that get pressed when I do something that warms my soul and radiates comfort and excitement throughout my body. Playing the drums again has given me a glow that I haven’t seen on my face since the “Bottle of Wine for Breakfast” days after my divorce. It’s something my Dad says he hears in my voice over the phone, and I can tell by the way I’m smiling when I watch the playbacks of my videos that it’s coming from my stomach, not from my head.

I think the best way I can explain what I’m saying is that when you’re happy, going through the motions and thinking about a state of mind, the smile is being pulled from your mouth upwards by your frame of reference about what happiness is. Joy, on the other hand, is when you feel so elated that it explodes from within you and pushes the smile up from from your gut to your mouth. Happiness, like the analogy, feels more forced, while Joy is there to provide a good foundation.

Now, with all of this said, it occurred to me that if I have 8 buttons on this internal grid and just one of them can make me feel such delight, imagine the gratification and pleasure I’d feel if I had them all tagged with something special. What if every time I opened my eyes in the morning, there was a way to push at least 4 of them before even starting my day? Or better yet, is it possible to have them all pushed at the same time? I can’t say I know that answer, but I DO know that trying to accomplish that sounds way more rewarding than settling for being happy in a way that’s safe and socially suggested.

Life can be many things. But one thing it isn’t is pre-determined. You can be dealt a bad hand and choose to trade your cards in for some new ones. Or you can survive with what you have and hope for the best. Either way, both options start with “you”, and the first step to creating the life you want is understanding that it will be your decisions that ultimately paint your picture into a reality.

Don’t forget to add your happy trees.

Amen.