self-esteem

One of the things you hear women in their 40s say most often (the ones who think their 40s are wonderful, anyway), is that it’s great to be 40 because you’re finally comfortable with yourself. You’re free of all the bullshit and nonsense that accompanied your 20s and 30s. You know who you are, you’re comfortable with it, and to hell with anyone who doesn’t like it.

I so want to be one of those women. So it’s led me to really try to understand why I’m not.

I know that I have self-esteem issues. I also have a high level of anxiety. I’m almost constantly stressed out. I know that’s kind of the hallmark of 21st-century life, but I don’t deal with it well, and I really don’t want to live like this. I never really thought about the self-esteem and the anxiety being related at all though, until this week, when someone suggested that I’m anxious because I’m worried that I’m going to do things wrong, because I’m not good enough.

Good enough. Suddenly it all came together. Well of course I’m not good enough. That’s part of who I am, as much as my hair or eye color.

My husband and parents would give me a big “duh” right here. They, who know me best,  have lived with me and get the brunt of my freakouts and moods and temper tantrums, have always answered “What is lack of self esteem?” to the Jeopardy category of  “Amy’s biggest problem.” And while it was a no-brainer to connect with my body-image issues, I wouldn’t have connected it with the anxiety.

But once I started to really think about it, it made more and more sense.  Merriam-Webster’s definition of self esteem is a confidence and satisfaction in oneself. I do not have confidence in myself. Generally, no matter what I’m worried about, what I’m stressing about, what I’m anxious about, it can be boiled down to a deep-rooted fear that I’m gonna fuck something up. I made a point this week to, every time I felt anxiety, spend time thinking about why I felt it. Like, why am I worried so much about this stupid work event that I’ve dealt with for 10 years now? There are many, many things about this event that could worry me — people’s reactions to it are at the top of the list. But dig deeper, and I’m really worried that they’ll have those reactions because I’ve done something wrong, something that will cause those reactions. Then I worry that my response to negative reactions will also be wrong. What will I say? How will I phrase the email? What will I do? Stress, worry and anxiety, all based on my potential actions; actions that will be wrong because I am not good enough.

In college I wrote a short story for a writing class, called Good Enough. It’s a story about a girl struggling with anorexia. She’s not there yet, but she’s on the doorstep. She’s constantly beating herself up for not spending long enough at the gym, for going to McDonalds, for not being thin enough or pretty enough or good enough. It wasn’t really autobiographical because even though our thought processes were the same, I didn’t work out as much as she did, or walk away from hamburgers like she did. I wasn’t even good enough to be anorexic. Pretty sure you don’t have to be Freud to psychoanalyze the shit out of that one.

So, go me. I’ve stayed on the path to self-awareness for longer than five minutes without getting bored and drinking wine instead. I think I made some headway into understanding my thought processes and made some interesting insights. The question now is, what the hell do I do about it?

4-0

I suppose I’d be remiss if, after all the buildup to my birthday (have I mentioned I was turning 40?) I didn’t actually blog about the big day.

But I keep trying to do it, and it all just ends up being a big boring narrative that doesn’t even halfway begin to sum up how awesome it all was.

What does sum it up, I finally realized, is what Barry said to me at the end of the night. “You know, ” he said, “I always wish I could give you things like trips to Europe for your birthday. But I realized after tonight, even if I could do that it wouldn’t mean half as much to you as a night like this, getting to spend time with your friends.”

Blog entry complete.

little underachiever on the prairie

I have come to the sad realization that the reason I am not super-successful and famous is not that I don’t have the talent or ability or ideas to become so. I have all of those things.  I just don’t have them in time. Other people have great ideas about things I love and I see them and am all, damn! Why didn’t I do that? I TOTALLY could have done that and made money and have an entire career based off of my weird obsessions.

Case in point: Wendy McClure. I first discovered her (I thought, anyway) as HalfPintIngalls on Twitter. Yep. Brilliant, right? She tweets as Laura Ingalls Wilder. A fun, snarky Laura. Probably like Laura would have been if they’d had Twitter on the prairie. So digging in further, I find that Wendy is not only having fun with the tweets, she has an entire book coming out, based on her obsession with the Little House books. She’s done every geeky thing I’ve ever dreamed about doing. She’s retraced the Ingalls’ path. She’s gone to all the houses, museums and pageants. She’s even recreated all the bizarre things I read about in those books – green pumpkin pie? Maple-syrup-on-snow candy?  She did these things. She wrote a book. She’s making money off of her obsession with Little House. She has a freaking book tour. I could have done all that. But the thought never even crossed my mind that Little House was a career path.

Not. Fair.

And then? I look a little further. Wendy McClure is also the genius behind the Weight Watchers Recipes from 1974 page.

I could have done that. Hell, I know Weight Watchers better than I know Little House, and those old recipe cards are just screaming to be made fun of. But it never would have occurred to me. And that’s the problem. You see these things after the fact, and you realize if you’d just thought of it first, it could have been you. But that’s really hard. Having the talent, having the knowledge – that’s one thing. But how the hell do you make yourself think of good ideas first?

Don’t even get me started on BronxZoosCobra.

what not to say

me: I don’t know what’s wrong with me today. I’ve cried twice and I’m not hormonal at all.

him: maybe it’s an age thing. You know, as you get older.

me: That was the completely wrong thing to say. If there was an absolutely perfect response, that was the total opposite.

him: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. I just meant …. you know, how as your aunt got older she went ….

me: … completely batshit, as opposed to just sort of batshit?

him: umm ….

me: ….

him: I love you! A lot!

totally not like riding a bike

I discovered recently that a really horrible thing has happened to me. I kind of suspected it might be a problem, but I was unwilling to really admit it until it was right in my face. Once that happened, though, I was forced to acknowledge that it’s true.

I have forgotten how to shop.

I know. It was tough to type it, and even tougher to admit it. It’s kind of like Lance Armstrong forgetting how to ride a bike. Except … well, I guess they say you never forget how to ride a bike, so maybe that’s not a good example. Because this wasn’t one of those things that you walk away from for several years and then come back to and find that, oh yeah, I totally remember how to do this. No. I was just like those people on What Not to Wear, the ones who are handed the $5,000 gift card and then sent into Manhattan’s finest department stores and shops, only to stand there looking like a deer in headlights, searching around them for something familiar to grab on to;  that one item of clothing that they’ll see and say, Oh, yes, I understand that. I know what it is, I know I should try it on and I can envision that it will look good on me. Only that doesn’t happen because nowhere in these shops is a $7 Basic T from Target, which is the one final item of clothing people who lose their shopping skills understand.

I used to mock those people. I used to watch WNTW faithfully, every Friday night. And from the safe confines of my living room I was snarky and catty and entertained by the sheer ineptitude of the fashion victims. Because I knew how to shop. Oh yes. Shopping was my thing. It was my sport, my hobby, my favorite passtime. I spent at least one full day every weekend (and, it goes without saying, a lot of money) shopping. I felt annoyed with the WNTW participants because if I was given a $5,000 gift card and sent into Macy’s, I would ROCK IT. It’s not that I was high-fashion; I wasn’t all runway, Fashion Week, super trendy. But I was pretty freakin’ stylish and cute. I had hundreds of pairs of shoes in all types and heights of heels. Boots – oh, the boots. Every color, including hot pink. And outfits to go with all of them. I had a lot of clothes.

So then, you know, shit happened, I got fat, I got married, I got fiscally responsible. I stopped shopping. For FOUR YEARS. Then last week my mom followed through on her promise that if I lost the weight she’d take me shopping for my birthday. Mom and I used to do some serious shopping damage. We’d tear up the Florida Mall on Black Fridays.  We’d go to New York and put a dent in Macy’s. I could take on an H&M and emerge victorious.

But as it turns out, shopping is a behavior you can forget. I tried to start too big, with H&M. H&M is a hard store to shop, even for the skilled shopper. There’s sort of this pretense of departments, but really there are just clothes everywhere. It takes a practiced hand to know where to go and what you’re looking at. I crumbled within five minutes and headed for my old, safe standby, New York & Co. It was always a place I could find work clothes – some decent pants, a cute top or two. But I ran out of that store practically in tears. It beat me.

It took Ann Taylor Loft to get me in the grove. It doesn’t come much safer than ATL – everything is safe, classic and put together for you. Not much thinking required. I’m not proud, but it was in the safe zone of ATL I was able to get any significant pieces. And then – even safer? Old Navy. Yes. I did the bulk of my shopping at Old Navy. Uninspired and inexpensive, but easy.

We tried the department stores after that, but once again I was overwhelmed. I was like those victims I used to mock on WTNW, wandering terrified through the racks like the chick on the Blair Witch Project trying to find her way out of the woods.

It wasn’t pretty and I’m disappointed in myself. I’m going to have to go back into training. Don’t tell my husband.

imbecile

I think that I am a fairly intelligent person. In fact, empirical evidence suggests that I have above-average intelligence. High IQ. Excellent standardized test scores. My parents say I’m smart. So why do I do stupid things? Repeatedly? Without seeming to learn from my mistakes?

Case in point: Vitamins. We all know it’s good for you to take vitamins. They help keep you healthy, keep the immune system strong, supplement a healthy and well-balanced diet. So I buy them, regularly and with good intentions. But here’s what happens:

Day 1: Ooooh, I’ve bought super-healthy vitamins with 10,000 percent of all my necessary recommended vitamins and minerals. I’m going to take these every day and be incredibly healthy and have a fantastic immune system to boot. And also probably lose 10 pounds and be younger.

Day 2: Take vitamin. Yay, healthy! (15 minutes later) Oh crap, shouldn’t have taken that on an empty stomach. I feel sick. Have to go find something to eat, quickly. Feeling so nauseous now that I really can’t stomach anything that would amount to a nutritious breakfast. Could probably stomach oatmeal but my steel-cut oatmeal takes 30 minutes to cook. Can’t wait. Must eat bread.

So now instead of having either the steel-cut oatmeal mixed with fruit or the egg beater-and-vegetable omelet that would have normally comprised my breakfast, I’ve had a hot-dog bun. And a vitamin.

Day 3: See vitamin but Super-Intelligent Brain Cells remind me that I can’t take it on an empty stomach because I am Smart, and have learned from the mistakes of yesterday. In an attempt to keep the vitamin top-of-mind, I put it in a pocket and carry it with me so I can take it once I’ve eaten something.

Day 7: Find vitamin in lint trap when pulling clothes out of dryer.

Day 38: Ooooh, I forgot I bought these vitamins! (Repeat Day 2 here).

I have done this at least 30 times over the last 5 years or so. It’s not a case of expecting different results, it’s not like I think I’ll not get sick this time. I just don’t remember that it’s going to make me sick. It’s sort of astounding in its absolute idiocy.

Fortunately, since I’m so smart, I have a really good vocabulary so I have a lot of different words for “dumbass.”

a beach chair for me and one for my emotional baggage, please

I read recently that it’s medically necessary to take vacations. Not that I needed to read that to know it. There’s a reason even the most unreasonable tightwad companies give their employees vacation time – people need to unwind and refresh, or they end up as miserable stressballs incapable of producing worthwhile work. The problem is that vacations also turn me into a miserable stressball because I’m so busy worrying about what’s waiting for me when I get back.

I took a really good vacation in 1998. Ireland. One week. It was awesome. It was beautiful and it was fun and it was the perfect combination of educational and relaxing and drunken debauchery. And when I came home I was depressed for a week. Like, literally, cripplingly depressed. I did not eat anything but bread and cheese because it reminded me of Ireland. I was so unhappy to be back I thought I wasn’t going to be able to survive it.

Since then I have taken four vacations. A trip to the Keys. A one-week cruise to Hawaii. Another long weekend in the Keys. And my honeymoon, a three-day cruise to the Bahamas. But see, I learned my lesson after that Ireland vacation – don’t let your guard down and relax too much. As long as you can keep the anxiety and sense of day-to-day misery with you, it won’t be such a hard crashdown when you return. However. This sort of defeats the purpose of a vacation. To the point now where I just don’t take them. Because why? I might as well spend my money on something I can use.

I do recognize how messed up this is. I’m just not sure what to do about it. I know that I need, more than anything in the world, a week on a beach someplace, with fruity drinks and hammocks and blue water. BUT. I also need to be able to let go of the anxiety while I’m there, and eliminate the depression when I get back.

Any suggestions for a beachfront condo with a lobotomy?