Day 1 – Empower

As part of my 21-Day challenge to be more presentable in public, I will be documenting things that I’ve noticed that I might not have experienced if I hadn’t embarked on this journey.

Since I normally spend my weekends lounging around and recovering from the work-week, it took a lot of mental prompting to get me out of bed and into the shower. I slept late, watched some movies, and enjoyed some downtime with the dog.

But since I really care about moving forward with my plan, I pushed myself to follow-through, even if it was with a late start, because any progress is better than none.

I get a lot of anxiety at this point about bathing. I don’t even think it’s the actual act that scares me as much of the discomfort I feel just IMAGINING the act. When you are physically disabled, everyday things can feel really overwhelming. Taking off clothes, stepping over the side of the bathtub, turning on the water, lathering up the shampoo, rise, applying the conditioner. Shave, soap up, wash face, rinse conditioner. And that’s only the beginning. After that comes brushing through a full head of hair, eventually blowdrying, drying off, getting dressed, and if you’re feeling like a real champion – makeup.

I always really feel great after taking a nice long shower, and I have had a bench in the tub for the last 10 years (which is a total game-changer if you have issues standing). And while I initally thought, “OK, I can do this!”, I woke up this morning completely zonked after sleeping through a post-cleansing coma. This is also what contributes to me being hesitant to committing to plans, because before I even get to the event, I need to take a nap.

I knew that I wanted to go out into the world since my hair and makeup were done, so I put on a flowy (read: comfy) tiered, off-the-shoulder dress from Express that I bought to wear to my mother’s graduation in May. I loved it when I wore it back then, and honestly, if I hadn’t worn it yesterday, I might have watched it sit in my closet in a quasi-retirement until it didn’t fit me anymore or my style changed.

At about 8pm, I hopped in an Uber and went over to DSW. Because my feet are deformed, shoe shopping is usually a giant pain in the ass. But I figured it was late, and the store would likely be pretty empty, and it always feels better trying things on when you don’t NEED to find something for an event. I always seem to get luckier in that scenario.

As I mentioned in my original post about this challenge, there is a component for me that is interested in seeing if it’ll affect anything for me socially. But what I didn’t consider was that attraction doesn’t discriminate, and I ended up winning the attention from a woman who I can only guess was on a day-pass from the looney bin. Her process of introducing herself included asking me if I knew my dress was so long, and when I said, “yes…”, she said, “of course I know you know, but it’s dragging behind you and I want to know why.”

“Because I’m short. My dress is long and on the ground because I’m short.”

I don’t know if she expected me to melt into a ball of insecure tears or if she was hoping to get a lawsuit out of me after punching her in the face, but I sort of regret not resorting to one of those options, because my kindness and patience with her bizarre character resulted in her spending the next 20 minutes following me around and asking me to give her advice on the boots she was trying on.

After walking around for about an hour and a half, I left with a fun new pair of Keds (which are cool again, apparently, and at “cool again” prices…) that have the word “Empower” printed on top in rainbow colors. It’s a little particular for my taste, but given that I think I’m going to need an extra little shove each day to accomplish my 3-week goal, I thought that it wouldn’t hurt if my shoes were cheering me on.

Day 1 - Empower shoes

On my ride home, I was thinking about what, if anything, felt different on day 1. The first thing that came to mind was being able to smell Central Park, even if it was from a cab. The temperatures have been a little more mild recently, and though it was still kind of humid out, it was nice to drive home with all of the windows down, with my newly cleaned hair blowing in the wind.

It also occurred to me that I had written a blog post for the first time in about 9 months, had made use of my new desk that I’ve stocked with all of my nicely organized makeup, and noticed that my “comfy” clothes felt more comfortable than ever, when changing out of the dress I had been wearing all evening.

I have always felt that contrast is an important part of life. It’s why I believe I can tell when someone in the chronic illness community online isn’t being authentic about their experience, because anyone who has truly suffered the way that many us have, would also be able to appreciate much more than what I see being posted about each day.

To me, people who are not able to be grateful for basic things have not experienced pain or loss to the extent that makes them aware of how lucky they are when terrible things aren’t happening.

And with that, on to day 2!

xoBDay 1 Fkowy Dress

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