Body Image

Go Ahead, Just Live

January 30th is not my favorite day.

It’s a bit odd to think that it’s been 3 years since my mom died. A lot of things have happened in the last three years; I became a published author, got back onstage, found myself in a serious relationship, started working from home, and moving forward with my life…finally. Granted, the thought of moving forward without my mom was terrifying because it reminded me that she was gone. If and when I get married and have kids, my mom won’t be there to celebrate with me. I often find myself somewhat haunted by her memory with moments. I can see a movie and think, “Oh, Mom would have loved that.” Or I see something in Target and think about how I would have bought it and sent to my mom as a surprise.

I stopped living. But this wasn’t the first time I stopped myself from living life.

No one really talks about the regrets. I had a rocky relationship with my mom that only improved in the last few years of her life. Things happened that would’ve completely destroyed our relationship. Things happened that should have determined that we weren’t a family anymore. But, there’s that thing called forgiveness. I don’t know how to describe it. Even though both I and my mom did things that weren’t part of the “picture perfect” narrative of a mother and daughter, at the end of the day…she still loved me with all of her heart. Her former tax clients and coworkers still come up to me to tell me how proud of me she was and how much she loved me.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that you can still make some terrible mistakes while loving someone. Of course there are lines, and there are times where lines are crossed and separation is healthier. But my mom never ceased to love me and do whatever she could to prove that to me. Looking back, now that she’s gone, I wish I would have forgiven her sooner. In the moment, not talking to her or being mean to her seemed like the right decision. At the time, trying to separate myself from her seemed like a good idea. But all it did was prolong the pain and put off the resolution that would eventually happened. It caused me to lose time with my mom, and I truly regret that. I regret listening to those who encouraged me to continue that division, not looking at the bigger picture and only looking within myself. Because I neglected to look at long-term, I’m left living with the “what ifs.” There are a good amount I’ve finally let go of, but there’s still work to be done.

For too long, I have held myself back from living my truth. I literally put myself on hold because I wasn’t skinny enough. I thought that because I was fat, I wasn’t allowed to enjoy things in life-like go to the beach. I also saw myself unworthy of love, and I literally held myself back in relationships because I thought my weight deemed me unworthy. I got this from my mom. She held herself back for decades after I was born. She didn’t date, she didn’t allow herself to enjoy the body she was in because of some awful words my biological father said to her years before. I found myself following in my mother’s footsteps because she projected her issues of self-image onto me. I need to break that cycle. It’s not my mom’s fault, it was the society she was born and raised in.

You know what I also wish? That we didn’t have such low self-esteems of ourselves that we barely took a picture together in the last years of her life. So, next time you’re taking family photos and you’re worried that you look fat, tired, stressed, etc. Just take the picture. If anything, take the picture to remember that moment in your life. None of use look as bad as we think we do. How many times have we seen pictures of ourselves from 10-15 years prior and thought, “I looked pretty good.” I never got to enjoy who I was back then. I’m sure as hell going to enjoy myself now, even if I am overweight, boring, etc. I owe not only myself that, but also my future self.

Grief is truly a funny thing. It comes in waves. You’re fine one minute, but then something as simple as a flower will send you over the edge. You don’t ever get over losing someone you love. You just learn to live without them. Yet, no one talks about the regrets you have. You can’t go back in time and reverse your decisions. For the sake of not going through the same thing I am, call that family member you haven’t spoken to in a while. Take that picture with your kids. Say, “I’m sorry.” Go to the beach and let your bat wings fly.

Go ahead, just live.

Be the Phoenix

It’s hard sometimes to swallow words when someone praises a person who hurt you so much. Of course, that someone doesn’t know the back story so it’s not on them.
 
This person took away my self-confidence and safe space. Since that person did what they did to me, I’m always looking over my shoulder, I don’t trust easily anymore, and my confidence took about 15 steps backward right when I was finally feeling comfortable in my own skin. That person violated my personal life as well and took liberties with my pain that felt like the moments in “Once Upon a Time” when your heart gets taken out of you.
 
But eventually, I realized that:
  1. While that person took the power upon themselves, I gave that person way too much power over me. They enjoyed that power, which gave them validation to do what they did.
  2. I can’t let someone dictate how I feel about myself because they did a crappy thing to me.
  3. Even when “triggering” moments are rampant right now, the best thing I need to do is ignore it.
  4. The truth eventually comes to light. And it’s coming to light from others who have been hurt by this same person.
I have to count my blessings. I’m *finally* in a show at Raleigh Little Theatre, I’m working from home even if there are days where it’s not easy, and my anxiety is under control. Sure, the next outburst is probably a moment away, but for now, I’m at peace. Anxiety is a sleeping beast that is unpredictable. Add in depression and you just have a whirlwind of chaos that looms over you at times.
Eventually, I’ll learn to trust again. For now, I trust my family, my boyfriend, and my closest friends. I’m picking up the pieces from the hurt I’ve been through, and using them to rise from the ashes…like a phoenix.
Wait, not LIKE a Phoenix. I need to BE the phoenix.

This is Anxiety

Before proceeding further…there is triggering content in this blog post.

I feel like it’s time to show you all a photo that sums up my anxiety. This was not an easy decision, as I’m being remarkably vulnerable. But so often I hear stories of people who suffer from anxiety and get told it’s not a big deal. It’s not an illness. Just get over it.

I deal with a severe case of anxiety. It’s awful. One minute I’m fine, and one light disagreement later I’m a mess. I want to express myself, but then I’m terrified over making someone mad or have ill feelings towards me. Social situations terrify me. If a place is too crowded or too loud, I lose my mind. If someone is recording me, I get paranoid.

Going on a drive can set me off. Going out in public sets me off. I think about worst case scenarios on a regular basis. What if a shooter kills me? What if I’m in a car accident? What if I fall asleep and never wake up?

I also have self-deprecating thoughts. If I call myself a failure and a screw up I beat you to the punchline.

If you think these feelings are irrational, please know:

  • I almost died in a car accident in 2005
  • My mom died suddenly and unexpectedly in her sleep
  • I’ve been through a few interactions where guns were in the wrong hands
  • I had a stalker that sexually harassed me often, and reminded me he was watching me
  • Was in an abusive relationship for a bit. Not anymore (thank God)

The worst case scenarios have either happened or been close calls. So I feel like they’re always around the next corner. When is the next disaster going to happen in my life?

It affects my health. Specifically, it affects my blood pressure, my heart, and my whole body at times. I’m sore after a panic attack. I get migraines often. I get chest pains more often than not.

How do I deal?

To stay calm, I’ll pick at my fingers and I’ll pick at my toes until they bleed. I don’t even know I’m doing this until I feel the wetness of the blood on my skin. Rarely do I have long fingernails and toenails. I’m always picking or biting. Blemishes on my skin don’t stand a chance. I’ll scratch myself until I bleed.

“Don’t do that, Alex!”

Guess what? I don’t even know I’m doing it. It’s something my body does.

Exhibit A:

20170209_220918

After a disagreement on Facebook. Ridiculous, right?

Lately, I’ve been finding myself doing this more often since the election. I tend to vent on social media.

But in general, there are people who know I suffer from anxiety and still want to debate or fight. Until now, I’ve been silent on dealing with the feelings that result from those interactions. Today, I decided to be more forthcoming about what these interactions are doing to me. I had a few say they would back off, and it opened a dialogue on anxiety management. I so appreciate that (Thank you, Robb).

But there are others who are telling me to just deal with it. It’s a fact of life. I get it. For those who don’t understand, it’s fine. It just hurts when I’m spoken to and looked at like a freak.

When it comes to medication, I took anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication, and I hated what they did to me. I was a drone. I slept all day, and I didn’t feel like myself. I still had meltdowns and relapses. In 2012, I quit cold turkey and have been using holistic treatments like oils and aromatherapy every since. I feel like myself, the meltdowns are a bit more frequent, but at least I’m coherent.

Writing and theater are my main escapes. When I write, I feel like I’m taking a break from myself, and focusing on the stories in my mind. I can be a heroine, a villain, or a bystander for a bit. I can explore other worlds and tell the stories of the characters in my mind. If I didn’t have those two things, I don’t know where I would be.

So, if you have a friend with anxiety, do them a favor: Take it easy on them. Celebrate the positives with them. Give them a note of encouragement. You might be the one thing in their day that gives them a break.

Why Stuart Scott’s Death Matters to Me

stuart_scottI can’t promise that my words will be coherent or make sense right now. If my thoughts seem jumbled, I apologize.

Ever since I found out I was ill, I looked up celebrities who dealt with or were currently dealing with cancer. I wanted to see how they dealt with the bad days, how they encouraged people, how they continued living their lives. Sometimes the stories had happy endings, sometimes, their endings meant a beautiful life was cut short. One of the lives I followed was Stuart Scott.

While I was never into sports, every person that I knew while growing up was watching ESPN, and they watched Stuart Scott. He made sports more entertaining for me, and I remembered his catch phrases like, “Boo-Yah!” and “As cool as the other side of the pillow” and started adapting them into my own young kid lingo. When I found out that he himself was dealing with cancer, plus numerous recurrences, I decided to keep watching him, specifically his attitude and how he continued to live life. I needed someone to look up to in the times where I couldn’t deal with the pain, or the times where I couldn’t stop crying. It was extraordinarily difficult to proceed through my day-to-day life and pretend that I was okay. I didn’t want to be a worry, or a bother to my colleagues, friends, and family. There were days where I would feel so defeated or like I was not going to win.

In those times, I would do some reading on what Stuart Scott was up to and doing, so I could pull myself out of my funk. I wanted to emulate this man in his strength and attitude. He is an inspiration to anyone who is fighting cancer, in remission, or fearful of it coming back. In July, Stuart Scott made this statement at the ESPYS that I made my mantra,

“When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.”

Hearing these words from someone who was fighting so hard, and yet living life so well, it helped me to not stay in bed and cry all day after my official diagnosis. When I had to get multiple biopsies and procedures done, Stuart’s voice rang in my head. When I had to take the first weekend off from my show because of treatment, I watched videos of Stuart’s segments filmed while he was in the midst of some of his most intense fighting.

Even though my diagnosis was a long-anticipated one after years of dealing with abnormal test results, I still wasn’t prepared for the “C word” when it finally reared its ugly head. Shoot, I had even had a bout with skin cancer several years ago that was dealt with surgery. But, this time was different because it was further inside my body and treating it would be more invasive. When you’re making countless trips to multiple doctors and having multiple procedures done, PLUS being in so much pain, I started to feel less than human. There were countless times where I felt like I was losing myself, and losing control of my life. There were times where I realized that I didn’t have support from certain people in my life, but then I would be quickly reminded of the people who were there to support me, both physically and spiritually.

Thankfully, surgery has been my treatment so far. But should it ever come back and escalate to more aggressive treatments, I’ll be ready for it with boxing gloves on with Stuart’s story ringing in my head, and encouraging me to not only keep fighting, but continuing to LIVE.

Rest in peace, Stuart, and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

The Mentality of Being Sick

phoenixtearsau4In March of 2014, I had noticed something about my body that was acting weird. For the purposes of keeping this rather toned down as to what my condition is, I’ve named this ailment, “Gladys.”

I went to the doctor since not only did I not get my normal cycle for four months, and I wasn’t pregnant, but I was experiencing back pain and really bad cramps. My PMS times were always painful, but in the last year, I was dealing with crippling pain that would put me in bed for days at a time. And as time progressed, it got worse. So, to the doctor I went.

Without going into too much detail, I found out that I needed treatment for what I had. After one unsuccessful procedure that was less invasive, I had to have a second, more aggressive procedure. Right now, I’m stabilized. But mentality, I’m damaged.

First, let me start off with the fact that I’ve never thought I was immortal. In fact, I came to terms about the possibility of death about 9 years ago after dealing with a car accident that nearly killed me. Injuries are one thing, but being sick is a completely different game. Injuries heal. Diseases have a chance of coming back.

I also began to learn who my friends were, who were real Christians, who were really there for genuine reasons. When I was at my lowest, I learned who would be there for me when I needed them. I also saw the ugliest side of humanity in how others treated me once they learned I was sick.

One of the side effects of this disease is chronic pain. While it has reduced lately, being in constant pain eats away at your psychological well-being. I hate worrying anyone, so most of the time I’m never honest about how I’m feeling. I’m trying to keep my ailment a secret from the general public, and the only people who know are immediate family and friends. But sometimes I have to wonder if I should be more open to the public. Probably not. It would only hurt me.

I’ve also learned that my tolerance of dealing with pettiness and stupidity has reduced greatly. Whether it’s someone cheating on another, people nagging about traffic, spending money, etc. Well, at least you are healthy. You have purpose. We’re all alive and on the same team (for the most part). Why can’t we just treat each other with love and respect? Is that so hard to ask for?

I’ve also slowly been cutting out dramatic people in my life. If it’s not their fault, obviously that’s a different story. But when someone is constantly putting themselves in positions to willingly hurt someone and then wonder why they have drama in their life, I’m sorry but you’re out. To the people who think I’m talking about them, I probably am. Look in the damn mirror and see that the change that needs to happen is within yourself. Grow up, stop playing with people’s emotions and live, and start making a useful contribution to humanity.

Yeah, I sound mad. Because I am. Dealing with Gladys has made me extraordinarily angry. I’m angry at life, I’m angry at God. I’m just angry. While I’m happy with everyday that is given to me, my limitations make me so angry. I’ve been poked and prodded. I’ve been on more medications than I ever wanted to be on.

During times such as this, I honestly wanted to give up. But then a good friend of mine reminded me of my grandmother. She had nearly every health issue in the book, and yet she always kept pushing through and living her life. I’m not dealing with anything near to what she had, and I’m falling apart. If my grandmother could get through life with a broken ankle, diabetes, pneumonia, etc. then surely I can deal with Gladys.

Anyway, this is basically a rambling blog. Trying to work out the craziness in my mind in a public venue.

Happy sleep, everyone.

Responsibility

Backstage during Wild Party

Backstage during Wild Party

Well, first of all: Shame on me. It’s been 5 months since I’ve updated this blog. But I’m happy that it’s still getting a ton of traffic for my Shakespeare posts (now I know what the audience really wants).

Anyway, now to catch you all up to my life as I know it thus far. Wild Party opened and closed, and it was a great show to be a part of. I made some wonderful new friends and connections in the Raleigh theatre community. I also decided to start doing a podcast for the theatre community in the Triangle area. I’ve been slowly collecting interviews and I hope to debut the podcast “Triangle On Stage” in August.

Speaking of shows, I’m a part of the cast of Xanadu at North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre and will be playing in September. If you’ve ever seen the original god-awful movie with Olivia Newton-John, you probably know that the musical is all camp and overall just fun. I’m really excited to be a part of the show and so far the rehearsal process has been all smiles. Plus, I get to bust my skates out again!

So, let’s get to business. I’ve gone through a whirlwind of a year since moving to Raleigh on 10502352_10152530408090520_5373058760609509633_nJune 1st, 2013. My life has changed in many unexpected ways. While initially it may have seemed like the events of last year were the worse thing to have ever happened to me, looking back…I feel like I might now understand what the Universe (or God) was trying to do.

Anyway, I’ve really been working on “me”, specifically when it comes to forgiving myself and taking responsibility for my actions of basically my entire life. I had a wise friend who gave me a heart to heart, because even after things calmed down, I still wasn’t all that happy. This friend told me that I needed to start taking responsibility for my actions in why I wasn’t happy. Of course, hearing this was at first very startling and doesn’t seem like the right thing to say to someone who was having an emotionally difficult time. But the reason being is that, I was living like a victim. And thus, it was a perspective that didn’t give me any control over my life. My life, my choices, etc. are all related to where I am exactly now. The important thing I needed to do was to take responsibility for my actions that I had control over, and then forgive myself. Interestingly enough, once I started forgiving myself, it was easier to start forgiving others.

The other part of this was also acknowledging where I didn’t have control, and to let certain things go, and to not continuously revisit the painful chapters. In the case of my stalker, it was a time where I let him make me feel like I was powerless and I lived in fear for several months before finally taking him to court to get the restraining order, which was granted because he waived his right to a hearing and consented to my testimony in court. I cried when that happened…it made me reconsider my relationship with God because I felt as though He finally threw me a bone. I would never wish what I went through with my stalker on my worst enemy. It was a frightening and awful experience that still leaves me looking over my shoulder all the time.

Alex MatsuoWhen I look at the people who wronged me today, I just feel sad for them and my heart goes out to them. I feel sad for the people who still hold grudges and post passive-aggressive messages knowing that it will do nothing to head towards a resolution. But, these are all doors that I’m in the process of closing. Looking back just leads to reopening those wounds and revisiting the pain on a regular basis, and I can’t do that to myself anymore. Do I hope for a resolution in the future? Of course. But I’m not going to tear myself apart anymore because it’s not happening.

And that’s taking responsibility by taking care of myself, and for the first time ever, doing things to help place myself on the road to genuine happiness. I have a job that I love, I have wonderful friends that I’ve made since moving here, I’m in a show and doing what I love, and I got the apartment of my dreams. I can’t really complain right now, but I also don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch because life always has that way of reminding you to appreciate the little things in life like having a roof over your head and food in your stomach. Basically, I’m enjoying life right now and not taking it for granted. Why?

Because it’s my responsibility to do so as a member of the human race.

Nothing Else Matters Because I’m Fat

inner-beauty-is-for-fat-people

Being a fat person has exposed me to the widest variety of insults and jokes.  Whether they’re said to my face or behind my back, whenever someone really wants to insult or get to someone, they comment on their weight.  Being fat has become the ultimate haven of experiencing below-the-belt insults.

534834_383354475052705_924769454_nIt also seems that when one is fat, the quality of the person goes down.  People judge character based on weight.  Don’t believe me?  Let’s take some of my own experiences.  I was recently called fat via social media by a chain smoker.  Of course, when someone speaks up to defend a fat person, the comeback is “well they shouldn’t be promoting an unhealthy lifestyle” as they light another cigarette.

Ironic, isn’t it?  Perhaps we need to look in the mirror before judging.

Furthermore, who gave thin people the badge that gives them the right to be called good people and shame fat people?  Shaming based on size has become huge (excuse the pun) in our modern society.  There’s fat shaming and skinny shaming.  It appears that insulting one’s appearance is much more powerful than commenting on the person’s actual character.

For example, I was made to feel insignificant, basically not intelligent enough forfat-people certain endeavors that I’ve chosen to embark upon by my chain-smoking buddy.  Even though I have a Masters degree in my chosen path, I wasn’t smart enough or qualified enough, and then proceeded to comment on my weight and how I needed to spend my time and energy on becoming less of a fatass.

This is where, “Nothing else matters because I’m fat” comes from.

I’ve done mission work in third world countries, I’ve worked with special needs children, I’ve volunteered hundreds of hours into non-profits and charities, I’ve worked with inner city children…but I’m fat.  Therefore whatever I do is moot because I am large.

Of course, this isn’t true.  Some of the most intelligent people I know are overweight and/or obese.

Funny-Fat-People-Funny-Fat-People-058-FunnyPica.com_When someone posts a photo of themselves, and they’re overweight and celebrating their body image, the comments I see from naysayers/trolls the most are, “You shouldn’t be promoting an unhealthy lifestyle” or “You’re celebrating that overeating is okay.”  Here’s the thing, of course being overweight is unhealthy.  If someone feels fabulous at 500 pounds, that’s awesome!  If someone is 500 pounds, eats healthy, exercises every day…that’s great!  For me, I know the [my] human body isn’t meant to carry the amount of weight I’m carrying.  But ya know what?  It’s no one’s business but my own.  Other people’s weight and health is nobody else’s business but my own.  I sit in an airplane seat just fine so it shouldn’t bug the person next to me.  Yeah, I might be an awkward sight at the gym, but at least I’m there.  People are fat for a variety of different reasons ranging from health to emotional.  Is it my business?  No.  Nor is the reason why I’m fat is anyone else’s business but my and my family’s.  Weight is a personal concern.

If I’m a bad person, tell me I’m a bad person, don’t comment on appearance.  Throwing insults takes more than just appearances (pun intended).

Like most people, fat people (or fit/skinny/chubby/bulky/curvy/etc people) are not perfect.  Even people who are comfortable in their own skin aren’t perfect.  We all come from different backgrounds, we’ve made mistakes, we’ve hurt others, we’ve been hurt, we regret our actions…it’s all a part of being human.  This is a journey of mankind.

What needs to be looked at are the people who feel like they have to insultimages weight and body image in order to hurt others.  Maybe they’re feeling so insignificant about themselves that they have to project their own hurt and insecurities onto others.  They aren’t worth your time or taking up space in your head or heart.  Are they bad people?  I don’t know.  I’m biased.  Considering that words have so much power, a fat joke can make a person purge after eating, and self-confidence can be instantly shattered with a fat comment.  Like being fat means that they’re less of person.

Guess what?  No matter what your body size is, you are not less of a person.

What makes you less of a person is the fact you have to tear others down by commenting on their body image to make yourself look powerful.  Making memes and insulting photos of fat people is nothing more than a pissing contest to see who can be the most powerful.  People who comment on appearances in order to make themselves look good are the lowest on the totem pole emotionally and they have to make sure that someone else feels bad too, because hey, misery loves company.  Think about it, have you ever seen or heard an emotionally happy, sane, and healthy person go around spewing negativity like that?

Instead of commenting on body image as a reflection of inner character, perhaps we just need to start looking at the person beyond the fat and beyond the physique.  Being fit doesn’t automatically make someone a good person, nor does being fat automatically make someone a bad person.

If someone calls you fat for the purposes of making you feel bad, let it slide off your back (easier said than done, I know).  Because the person who said the hurtful comment is most likely feeling insignificant in some way, and in their minds, insulting you gives them power.  Don’t give them that power.

Weight does not equal character.