Ribbons Undone: The Whirlwind of Being Six

She sat at the dinner table and said, in all confidence, “Daddy. When I snap my fingers, it means you need to bring me more water.” This one sentence sums up my daughter in so many ways. First, she’s six. She still calls her dad “Daddy.” Second, she’s clever. In her mind she’s made up a new rule and calmly states it as fact. Third, she’s taken on the persona of Queen Victoria a bit too literally.

After a brief moment of surprise (awe?), we gently laughed and said, “Yeah, nope. That’s not how we do things in this family.” But “A” for effort?

This girl, this six-year-old, is, in all honesty, the most emotional, beautiful and frustrating thing in my life right now. She’s up, down, all around and doing cartwheels and sword fights all the while. She can’t stand to be corrected, and yet is eager to learn. She hates to be hugged but longs for affection. She rolls her eyes and is disrespectful yet starts weeping at the first sign of discipline. She speaks with the air of a queen but her words are that of a child. She’s a conundrum to me, and once she finally falls asleep, I leave her room an emotional, exhausted mess.

People say girls are full of drama. I’d like to agree but can’t quite. True drama is intentional, a choice to behave a certain way to elicit certain results. While Victoria certainly knows her choices have consequences, I’m fairly confident that most often, she’s not being dramatic, she’s just being SIX. And this is where my difficulty lies.

She can be so all over the place that it makes me want to scream. It’s so hard to handle emotional whirlwinds of other people when at times I’m an emotional whirlwind myself! When I collect her from school I never know if she’ll approach me with a smile or a stuck-out tongue and rolling eyes, therefore subjecting me to make reprimand be the first of our conversation together.

It’s the hardest thing for me to be the “good mom” who goes through the checklist of why she might be acting that way (is she hungry? Did she quarrel with a friend? Did she perform badly on a test? Etc). Rather, I jump right in and address the behavior, not the reason, and in the end we both feel miserable.

My most ardent prayer is that God will show me the way to be the mother she needs. Because, in the brief moments of peace and laughter, I can see that this age is truly precious and one of the most beautiful things I’ll ever see. Victoria is in a delicate balance of willful confidence and still desperately needing her mama. She’s developing a strong personality and I pray that I can encourage and refine it, not thwart or deflate it. Most of all, I want her to know that I love her, and that God loves her.

There’s a beautiful song called Ribbons Undone by Tori Amos (click to listen!). It’s been one of my all-time favorite songs, and now that I have a little girl of my own, it means that much more to me. Victoria is my own flash of lightning, my thoroughbred, my little girl running with ribbons undone. And, as she would add, my own little queen.

She’s a girl
rising from a shell
running to Spring
It is her time it is her time
Watch her run with Ribbons undone

she’s a rose in a Lily’s cloak
she can hide her charms
Is it her right there will be time
to chase the sun with Ribbons undone

she runs like a fire does
just picking up daises
Comes in for a landing
a pure flash of lightening
Past alice blue blossoms
you follow her laughter
And then she’ll surprise you
arms filled with lavender

Yes, my little pony is growing up fast
she corrects me and says
“you mean a thoroughbred”
A look in her eye says the Battle’s beginning
From school she comes home and cries
I don’t want to grow up Mom at least not tonight

you’re a girl
Rising from a shell
Running through Spring
with Summer’s hand in reach now
It is your time It is your time
so just run with Ribbons undone
It is your time yes my angel
It is your time
so just run with Ribbons undone
run run darlin’
Ribbons undone

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How to Handle The Skeptic

066e5f6e00bfc228d04c5ec11c40db1bA few days ago I was chatting with a woman and her 4-week-old son. After offering an appropriate amount of cooing over her wee babe, I asked her, “How are YOU doing?” She replied that she was doing really well and was so happy. Then, unprompted and unknowing of my own personal history, she said this:

“I’m not one of those moms who ‘gets sad’. I don’t really think that stuff is real, you know? I mean, I don’t have anything to be sad about. Babies should make people happy.”

Well just slap me in the face and then punch me in the gut, why don’t ya?

Now, I’ve heard opinions like this before. And yet it still threw me off-guard and took all my strength to even answer coherently. I couldn’t just ignore her comments, so I smiled and said something along the lines of “I’m so glad you’re doing so well! It’s not like that for everyone. I struggled with depression after my son was born, and it’s definitely not fun. It’s wonderful you’re feeling so happy!” Or something like that.

She then proceeded to ask me accusatory questions such as “But you must have been sad about SOMETHING. Did something happen to you, like did someone die?” and “How could you just ‘not care’ about things?”

You guys, I’m open about my experiences. I write about it. One might say I’m a quiet type of advocate. But this one short conversation with a stranger floored me, even though I’m currently in what you might call a “good place” regarding my depression! It brought back feelings of guilt, shame, and self-doubt, because all the questions she asked me, I had once asked myself, over and over again.

I think most of us have met a person like this: The Skeptic. This is someone who truly does not believe that depression is a real thing. The Skeptic believes that a mother with post-partum depression is being lazy, selfish, or just looking for attention. The Skeptic believes that a person can just choose to be happy, therefore a person is choosing to be depressed. The Skeptic believes that someone battling depression has too much time on his hands, that if the depressed person would just work more or start doing something productive, his depression would go away. The Skeptic believes that antidepressant medication is a type of “get high” drug, and that taking such medication is unnecessary and is a form of cheating.

The Skeptic is the biggest danger to someone struggling with depression.

In those brief few minutes while I was talking to that Skeptic Mom, I was sharply reminded of why it took me so long to get help in the first place. There was a tangible fear that all of my family and friends would be Skeptics, a fear that if I confided in someone, they’d tell me I was being silly, selfish or a bad Christian. There was a palpable sense of shame because I knew there wasn’t any logical reason for me to feel the way I did. Due to my fear of Skeptics, I didn’t share my experiences, which led me to believe I was the only one struggling.

The Skeptic is not just someone who’s never struggled with depression. I’ve met many people who, praise God, have never experienced depression and therefore can’t fully understand it. But these people are still compassionate and sympathetic, and offer support, whereas the Skeptic offers only criticism and disbelief.

Thankfully, I believe the number of Skeptics out there is slowly decreasing due to a rise in mental-health awareness. We are gradually moving away from The Yellow Wallpaper type of response to female mental illness, but based on the number of women I’ve personally met who have told me “I suffered from depression but I was too scared to tell anyone,” I do believe we have a long way to go.

So what’s the best way to combat The Skeptic? Some of them are persuaded by science; articles that have fancy words like pathophysiology , corticotropin-releasing hormone, serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline might go a long way in helping the Skeptic be less skeptical. But I find that a personal testimony can be even better than science, especially if you’re in a place mentally to be able to share your experience objectively. (If I had come across the Skeptic Mom when I was in the midst of a low phase, I would not have engaged in the conversation, I would’ve just left the room and started crying on the way home.)

If you have Skeptics in your life who are trying to convince you that depression is not real, please, please know that they are wrong. And if you have no one else to talk to, seek a professional therapist, join an online support group or therapy session, or write to me! You have nothing to be ashamed of, you aren’t alone, and you can FIGHT this. Sending love your way. XO

My (revised) Battle Plan: 6 Ways I’m Fighting Depression

Picture of sunset, Cotswolds, England March 2005

“I wish that I had let myself be happier. “ I was reading this article that described the top 5 wishes/regrets of people on their deathbed, and this was #5. It reminded me of a question/accusation people with depression often hear: “Why can’t you just BE HAPPY?”

Here’s the thing. Someone struggling with depression literally cannot “just be happy.” Our brains are malfunctioning in such a way that prevents it. We wish with all our might to have the ability to choose happiness.

When we are crippled with depression, the only thing in our power is to choose to FIGHT. And making that choice is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Choosing to FIGHT depression often looks and sounds simple. Just talk to someone! Just go for a run! Just get better sleep! Just pray! But you guys, there is no “just” about any of that. Each tiny step is HUGE, because every part of you is weighed down with the suffocating blanket of depression.

I write this because I don’t want this post to sound trite. When I say this is my battle plan, I mean it quite literally. As in war, to plan a battle implies there will be fighting and pain. Battle plans are not made flippantly, and are not easily kept. Fear creeps in, opinions differ, doubt rises, and the feeling of self-inadequacy is at its peak.

And making the choice to follow through with ANY of it takes massive effort. If you’re struggling with depression, I hope that this list might be of help to you, even if just to know you’re not alone. If you haven’t yet made your own battle plan, I’m going to be so bold as to suggest you choose something (whatever sounds easiest) from this list to start your own. Baby steps. Because a baby step for other people is a huge, giant leap for us.

My (revised) Battle Plan: 6 Ways I’m Fighting Depression*

  • I talk about my depression. This is one of the biggest issues for me, and for many people. It’s SO HARD to talk about depression, especially during a low moment. The key for me is to be talking about it especially when I’m NOT struggling badly. This enables people (my husband and close friends specifically) to feel comfortable asking me how I’m doing. And this is a big deal. To know that I won’t be judged and that these people love me anyway is a huge relief and support, and it forces me to be open. But choosing to be (sometimes brutally) honest about how I’m feeling is still so hard to do, even though I’ve been talking about it for three years now! But it is by far the healthiest thing I can do for myself and my fight.
  • I get outside and get exercise. We moved to a new flat in September, which now means that Tori’s school is exactly a one-mile walk away. Which means I walk a minimum four miles each day, quite often up to six or seven total, rain or shine. Most days I easily meet my FitBit target of 15,000 steps. While it’s not always fun, it has definitely been providing the exercise I need to help fight my depression. I’m known among my friends for being a “fast-walker” and I do this deliberately to increase my heart rate and serotonin levels. I’ve also noticed that exercising outside has had more positive effects than doing it indoors… Perhaps this is because I’m exposed to natural light, or because I have to be thinking about more than just myself (ie kids, fellow pedestrians, avoiding dog poo, etc). While I liked going to the gym, it got monotonous and dull at times.
  • I take supplements and vitamins. When I remember. For some reason it’s so hard for me to remember to take them! I take a whole-food multi-vitamin, and have adjusted the following vitamin amounts according to what is and isn’t in the multi. All of these have been linked to fighting depression: Vitamin D (it’s physically impossible to get enough Vit D from the sun during the winter if you’re north of Virginia/Spain! I don’t take it during the summer as often), Vitamin B complexKrill Oil (for Omega 3 fatty-acids), and St. John’s Wort. I always look for whole-food, no additive supplements. **PLEASE consult your doctor before adding or adjusting any supplements to your diet. **
  • Light therapy – I own a “light therapy” light box, an amazing gift from my mother-in-law. This one, to be exact. It is not UV rays. It’s basically just an extra-bright lamp that you sit in front of to give your eyes the illusion of being in daylight. I use it a couple of times a week, and while it’s not an immediate mood-booster, I’m positive it has benefitted my overall mood. And when it’s sunny, I try and sit in the sunlight in my living room, even if for 10 minutes while I fold laundry. It really is so therapeutic!!
  • I have memorized Bible verses and am very intentional with my prayers. Why? I know some of you don’t believe in God or prayers, but I do, and I hope you can read this knowing that I’m just sharing my own experience. :-) I can honestly say that I feel a sense of peace and hope when I read the Bible. Hope is something that depression steals from your mind, and focusing on the hope of Christ replenishes my spirit. The best way I can describe it is that it quenches my thirst for peace. Scripture and prayer help me feel more centered and stable, and I swear it makes my blood pressure drop :-) For a list of my favorite verses that help encourage and empower me, visit my resources page!
  • I pay extra attention to the calendar. In the past couple of months since I’ve stopped taking my anti-depressant, I’ve noticed I need to be desperately aware of my menstruation cycle. The days before my period is a very low point for me emotionally, so being objective about it and thinking, “just get through these few days!” instead of “my depression has returned” really helps. You guys, I’ve even set an event on my phone reminding me for several days; it literally says “YOU MIGHT BE HORMONAL RIGHT NOW. IT WILL GET BETTER.” Call me crazy, but whatever works!

So there you have it. I wish I could say that one or all of these are a magic, happily-ever-after antidote to depression, but I can’t. They are just little but difficult things I choose to do, in the hopes that the collective effort will be rewarding. After all, my greatest desire is for you and me to live our lives in full bloom!

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” John 14:27 (NLV)

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*Disclaimer:

I am not a medical professional, nor do I play one on TV. The comments and opinions expressed in these articles are merely comments and opinions. Please seek professional medical advice before making any changes to the diet, exercise, therapy or medication of yourself or your children.

Off meds… How and Why

With my doctor’s guidance, I decided to stop taking my anti-depressant about 7 weeks ago.

IMG_0432This is a pretty big deal for me; I started taking them in July 2012, initially to combat severe post-partum/post-natal depression after the birth of my son (read about my experience here). The medicine helped me come out of the darkness of that experience, and I chose to remain on a low dose (50mg/day of sertraline, aka Zoloft) indefinitely. I had finally realized I’ve been struggling with bouts of chronic depression most of my life, and wanted to see what it was like to have that bit of extra help. I took sertraline for two and a half years.

Taking (and staying on) an antidepressant was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It gave me the ability to see things more rationally, and enabled me to have an honest reflection of my past experiences. This objectiveness also helped me to develop a long-term “battle plan,” and has given me a bit more clarity in those much-less-frequent-but-still-sometimes-there darker moments.

In the past several months, however, I was beginning to wonder if perhaps the drug had side-effects I hadn’t been aware of, the biggest one being FATIGUE. Every day, by 12:30pm, I was exhausted. As in, if I sat down I could barely keep my eyes open, and often succumbed to a nap with my son, even if I’d had a decent sleep the night before. “What’s wrong with napping?” you ask. Nothing! I’m a huge advocate of napping – my very first blog post was about it. However, feeling that you literally don’t have the energy to make lunch or do the school run or play with your kids, even AFTER a nap, is not normal.

This issue with the whole “fatigue” thing is this: every single mother I’ve ever met is TIRED. My kids (ages 5 and 3) are done nursing, fully potty trained at night, generally healthy, and overall good sleepers. But, as every mom knows, somehow WE STILL HAVE TO WAKE UP SEVERAL TIMES A NIGHT. Man, it really sucks, especially if you have trouble falling back asleep quickly. Reasons we have to wake up in the wee hours may include any or all of the following cries from the small people: “I need more water! I need chapstick! My star-light needs new batteries! My sock fell off! I’m hot! I’m cold! I heard Anders cough! I heard Tori cough! I had a bad dream! I had a funny dream! Can I wake up now? I can’t find my teddy bear! I need a tissue! When will my cow-clock wake up? Can you snuggle?” And of course, multiply these requests by a dozen if they’re actually sick.

So it’s been easy for me to say “I’m tired,” but think, “that’s normal, I’m a mom.” And thus I’ve ignored it for quite a long time. But recently I was beginning to wonder if perhaps I was a bit extra-tired because of the sertraline. It is certainly a listed side-effect, so it’s been on my mind for a while.

Here are the side-effects usually listed with sertraline:

“Less serious side effects may include:

  • bluepills_o_default-700x434drowsiness, dizziness, tired feeling;
  • mild nausea, stomach pain, upset stomach, constipation;
  • dry mouth;
  • changes in appetite or weight;
  • sleep problems (insomnia); or.
  • decreased sex drive, impotence, or difficulty having an orgasm.”

 (http://www.emedicinehealth.com/drug-sertraline/article_em.htm)

Now, you may read this list and think, well, anyone could have any of those issues, even without taking meds. Which is true. But I feel I’ve had all or most of them, to a slight degree.

So one of my main reasons for stopping my anti-depressant is that I want to see if any of those side effects disappear!

The other (BIG) reason is this: I’ve been feeling quite stable these last 6 months, and I felt that if I was going to stop the medicine, now would be a good time to do it. And I’ve had lots of time to fully implement my battle plan and make it a regular part of my life, so I feel much more prepared to go without the anti-depressant. Even a year ago I wouldn’t have said this.

So. I weaned myself off, VERY slowly (DO NOT google “side effects of coming off sertraline,” you’ll be scared for your life!!). I did a 50mg/25mg/50/25/50 dose for the first week, then 25/25/25/25/25, then 25/12/25/12/25, then 12/12/12/12/12, then 12/0/12/0/12/0. So it took over me a full month to do this process, and it’s been a few weeks since I’ve been completely off. Thankfully I did not experience any of the crazy side-effects some people have reported when weaning off sertraline.

So far, I’ve been a bit more weepy than normal (like, getting teary-eyed while watching a cat-food commercial…!?) but otherwise I feel pretty good, overall no big changes yet.

Before I made this big change, I knew I needed to adjust my battle plan a bit… after all, the number one thing on the list was “I’m on an anti-depressant”! I’ll be sharing this new plan with you in my next post, because STAYING off my medicine is just as important as how and why I went off it. In the meanwhile, your prayers are greatly appreciated as I continue on this journey. XOXO

Parenting in Public

I could feel people staring at us as they walked past. My daughter was crying and so was my son, and, to be honest, I was near tears as well. We were walking home from school and it had been one of those afternoons when not a single nice word had come out of Tori’s mouth since I picked her up. Whining, complaining, sassy-I-don’t-care kind of words came instead. “MOM! Get my jacket NOW,” was the first thing she said to me. Not, “Hi Mom!” or “Can you get my jacket?” We had made it about half-way home (a full mile one-way commute) when she chose to snatch her brother’s snack from his hand, eliciting tears from him. When I made her give it back AND give him a piece from her own snack, she lost it. “How dare you?!” she yelled. “NO!!”

Meanwhile, cars and cyclists whizzed by, dozens of people walked past, and we were in the middle of the sidewalk. I stopped walking, squatted next to her, and gave her a stern talking-to. We didn’t start walking again until she apologized and chose to change her attitude. It was a cold, wet wait, and we certainly received our share of curious looks from passers-by.

I’m sure this kind of thing happens to every parent. Whether it’s in the grocery store, at a restaurant, or even just with friends, we parent around other people. But here’s the thing that’s changed for us since living here: we don’t own a car, so I am CONSTANTLY parenting in public, even on our way TO the grocery store or restaurant.

There is no moment in which I am ever alone with my children except when we are literally in our house. No drives home from school, no road trips, no seat belts limiting the kids’ movement, and certainly no drive-thru restaurants. And, when bad choices or tantrums start happening, there are no threats of “don’t make me pull this car over, young lady!” haha!

Don’t get me wrong, driving with kids can be so very stressful; they’re yelling or crying or whining, all while you’re trying to pay attention to the road. BUT. In a car, there are not random strangers listening to every word you say. No one watching you, just to make sure that you don’t seem abusive or inappropriate. No random person walking by and offering unsolicited advice or an eye-brow raised stare when you’re choosing to let your child continue with his tantrum on the sidewalk.

Overall, we really love not having to drive! But it can be hard to be constantly scrutinized and judged (or feel you are) by the behavior of your children, and not have the respite of getting into the privacy of your car.

Parenting in public can be so, so exhausting, can’t it?? The looks and stares are enough to make you question your parenting choices. “Maybe I’m being too hard on her. Maybe I’m not being hard enough. Yes, thank you, ma’am, for saying ‘oh my’ when my son hit my daughter. Should I even bother addressing Tori’s attitude right now? But if I wait until we get home it will lose its effect… But it’s raining out and I really don’t have the energy to wait out here in the cold while we talk about this…” and so on. Sometimes I deliberately speak loudly so people around me can hear that, yes, I am addressing the issue, and no, I’m not swearing at her or threatening her with violence. But then speaking loudly can seem like I’m yelling at her. Yet speaking softly seems to imply malice!

I’m most grateful when I make eye contact with a stranger and they give me a sympathetic, smiling look which says “I’ve been in your shoes, hang in there,” and then go on their way.

Our extra time in public has forced me to stay true to my convictions, and to learn to just ignore the people walking by, and to realize this: It’s a lose-lose situation if I start to care what strangers on the street think about me and my children. My psyche can’t handle trying to impress people. It’s an exhausting and dangerous downhill battle that can lead to dark places.

We’ve all had that moment when someone offers you unsolicited advice or condemnation when you’re already stressed about your children. We must choose to stick to our convictions and instincts, and, dare I say it? parent our children the same in public as we do in private. Otherwise we’re sending our kids a mixed message and that’s not fair to them!

It’s so much easier said than done… I’d love to hear your thoughts about parenting in public; do you parent the same way at home as you do in the grocery store? Is it really possible to parent in public WITHOUT taking into consideration that you have an audience?

Well, I’m off to do the “school run,” as they say here; praying that our walk home will be full of good attitudes and happy kids :)

our immigration story

We recently returned from a very un-planned trip to Boston. Essentially, due to some recent immigration policy changes, the UK government required us to submit our visa-renewal application from within the United States. Neither AJ’s company or we were prepared for this; therefore, we basically had a two-day notice to book our flights and get the heck out of the UK.

We’ve travelled quite a bit as a family, but never have we had to prepare in one day for an international, 7 hr flight, 5 hr time change kind of trip. We were all, “Hey kids, wanna go to Boston tomorrow?” and poor Tori thought we were moving there. “Are you going to miss your friends, Mommy?” she asked very quietly. “You know, when we move to America?” <Insert cracked heart here.>

As I printed out over 60 pages of application documents (printer courtesy of a dear London friend), news blurbs kept popping up, and all I could see were the words like “immigrants” and “border control” and “child refugees.” My heart wanted to stop and contemplate all of IT, but my head knew I needed to focus on the job at hand.

We boarded our plane and arrived in the US with no issues, other than that Anders was too short for the automated immigration photo-thingy upon arrival. (BTW, his passport/visa photos are The. Cutest. Ever.) We knew that, worst-case-scenario, our visas would expire while we were there, and the UK, for some reason, would not approve our renewal. And we’d be stuck in Boston indefinitely.

During our entire trip, my heart and head were in turmoil. Yes, we were stressed about the unknown. But in everything I did, my heart was feeling contradictory.

As the kids watched shows on the iPad and I read through Elle Décor on the plane, all I could think of were the thousands of people crammed into teeny boats with nothing but the clothes on their backs, trying to make their way across an ocean.

As we were escorted to the front of the line at the USCIS office, I was so grateful for not having to wait ages with my two young kids in the super-boring office. And my heart tugged as we passed non-American families with young children, waiting, looking as bored and cranky as we would have been.

As we were pulled aside to sit for 20 minutes in a “secure lounge” upon re-entry to the UK, (their systems hadn’t yet fully updated our status), I couldn’t help but think of the millions of families living in refugee camps, sometimes for decades.

And as I lay with my wide-awake, jet-lagged three-year-old son at 3:30am, my brain could not erase images of that tiny three-year-old body, limp and lifeless, washed ashore on a Turkish beach.

Were the last two weeks stressful? Yep, a type of stress we haven’t encountered before. Were the last two weeks exhausting? You bet. Were the last two weeks a strain on our marriage? Of course. But. Were they physically dangerous? Nope. Did they put us into major financial debt? No. Did they ever require that I put my children in a life-threatening situation? Of course not.

We’re back in the UK, after spending almost two weeks with family and friends. We have a five-year visa. And as small and cramped as our flat may have seemed before we left, it now feels quite adequate. We have a “long” walk to school in the morning, but now it doesn’t seem quite that bad, even in the rain.

AJ and I always try to look for God’s purpose in the events of our lives. Sometimes it’s really, really hard to see it. Often we can’t see it until well after the fact. But I do feel that perhaps God wanted to soften my heart toward the plight of others, and he used this “inconvenience” and “stress” as a means to do so. I’m still working through what it all means, and what I need to do next… I’m really not sure. When I figure it out, I’ll let you know. ;-)

How living in London is teaching me to love myself

The city of London now has over 8.6 million people who call it home. 44% of the city’s people are now of black or ethnic minority origins.* What does this mean for me? I love people-watching, and it’s AMAZING here.

I’ve always loved people-watching. I love seeing other people’s fashion choices, their hairstyles, shoes, umbrellas, hats. There’s just so much to take in!

I’ll be honest: I’m not accustomed to being around so many ethnically diverse people. I think because of this, I find them fascinating to look at. They’re all so very different – Chinese, Indian, Caribbean, African, Turkish, Eastern European, I just love looking at all of their faces and noticing the sometimes-obvious-but-sometimes-subtle differences between all of these races.

I pass dozens of people every morning on our walk to Tori’s school, then Anders and I will, once or twice a week, get coffee and a muffin at a café and just hang out. And I watch as people walk by or sit sipping their drinks. And I’ve come to this conclusion: ALL OF THEM ARE SO BEAUTIFUL.

Which leads me to my main point: LONDON IS TEACHING ME TO LOVE MYSELF, specifically my physical self.

I’ve struggled with poor body image for a long time. It’s the kind of body image that when I’m being rational, I feel fine about myself! But when I’m being irrational (who, me?) I can be overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy, dissatisfaction and loads of self-criticism. This can vary daily. One day I’ll loathe my teeth. The next I’ll be stressing about my skin. And to be honest, I’m sick of it. I’m sick of one day feeling great, and the next day being afraid to eat a blueberry muffin because of its fat content.

I know at this point some of you are rolling your eyes. Because, in the grand scheme of things, I’ve really got nothing to worry about. But that’s not the point. The point is that I FEEL I have something to worry about. As irrational as it may be, it’s still true, and I think a lot of you can relate.

I now realize that I used to people-watch mainly as a way to critique myself. “Look at how well she wears that sweater dress. I couldn’t pull that off.” Or “Wow those jeans look amazing on her. I tried that same pair on and I looked like a mushroom.” Or “How does she look so great in that tunic and riding boots? I always look like Robin Hood.” And so on… (you guys, I’m not even joking about the Robin Hood thing.)

Perhaps it’s because I’m a bit older, or because I’ve had 6 months of truly unique people-watching, but today, as Anders and I sat in Pret and I drank a vanilla latte strong, I watched an Indian woman sitting across the café. There wasn’t anything remarkable about her, not fat or thin, not short or tall, not plain or striking, but in that moment, I truly thought she was beautiful. Then I looked at another woman, massively pregnant, with closely-cropped hair, zero makeup and clearly exhausted, and I thought she looked beautiful. And then there was the barista who called me Madame and had the clearest blue eyes amidst an otherwise plain face and I thought she was stunning. It was like all at once, everyone I looked at suddenly became beautiful just for the sake of being beautiful, not as a means to further my self-critique.

I feel like this is a huge deal. I know some people are naturally blessed with the ability to see all people as beautiful, unique beings, and they can do that without bringing it back to themselves. But clearly I’m not (or I wasn’t!) one of those people. The word selfish comes to mind. Because isn’t that what you call it when everything in your life revolves around yourself? The word selfish is usually used in relation to someone who thinks that they are better than everyone, therefore deserve to get everything they want, but really it’s just about being all-consumed with yourself, good or bad.

angelou8I’ve been selfish. And how lame is that? How exhausting. How boring, really, to constantly be comparing yourself to other people. It has blinded me from truly seeing people for who they are, and how God has created them, and has blinded me from seeing myself as I truly am, and how God created me.

I think this is a turning point for me. In a really cool, unchartered, might-screw-up-once-in-a-while-but-will-get-back-on-track kind of way. I’m so excited to start being deliberate in bettering my body image. I’m not really sure what this looks like in a tangible way. Perhaps I’ll move our full-length mirror to a place I don’t walk past as often. Or maybe I’ll stop meandering through clothing stores a bit less. I’m not sure. But I do know that this is new to me, and I’m really excited about it.

And I’m pretty sure I might not have had this experience if we hadn’t moved to London!

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. ~Psalm 139:14

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*http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-31082941

Two other great articles about the modern issue of self-image:

https://lizboltzranfeld.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/what-happens-if-we-let-fat-people-be-happy/

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/jun/10/body-image-anxiety-eva-wiseman