The following bit of free writing, along with the little fox painting, was inspired by a Sarah Selecky writing prompt, which went something like this: Choose the book closest to you. Turn to page 22, find the last sentence of the second paragraph, and begin there. The nearest book to me: Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. The sentence: “Do you think you are really a cow, chipmunk, fox or horse underneath?”

Underneath I am human, am I not?

Overthinking, worrying, self-consciousness: purely human.

Cow: only grass and sunshine, maybe the occasional bull if she’s lucky, or unlucky, as the case may be for cows.

Chipmunk: only nuts, storing for the winter, scampering up trees in flight from cats or dogs or cruel children.

Fox: only hunting, or when hunger is satisfied, hiding, tucked up in a hollow with her tail over her nose.

Horse: only grazing, running over meadow and creek bed and dry windy earth, stopping for cool streams and green grass, tender shoots between rocks, or the comfort of fellow horses huddled together against the weather.

All these urges are mine, too: to eat, to mate, to hide, to roam, to retreat, to huddle for warmth, but they are conflicted, muddied by other drives: to belong, to amass wealth, to be heard, to feel good enough or better than or worthy of.

No chipmunk questions her ability to hoard nuts or climb trees; she has only instinct, the next nut.

No fox frets or speculates; the field mouse is hers or it isn’t. There is hunger or there is rest.

Do horses worry? About inclusion or exclusion, or even about predators? Do they know of mountain lions in the surrounding hills? Or do they live in happy oblivion until they scent danger, hear the stamping hooves and high whinnies of their companions, until flanks tense and ears twitch and the herd launches in one motion, away from the threat of fangs and claws? Does the horse know what it flees, or does it only flee? Is there a premonition? Or is it all peace until the flight?

How many hours have I wasted in pre-flight? A hundred narrow escapes a day, aching muscles tensed to fight, pulse raised—in vain, exhausting anticipation of monsters who never appear and peculiar, specific, tiny deaths of my own imagining.

Little Fox- acrylic on canvas by Meg Faulkner 2018

Are you a cow, a chipmunk, a fox or a horse underneath?

New Year Optimism: Happy 2018!

I love New Year’s Day. I wish that I could boil this feeling down into concentrated drops and place one under my tongue every morning, so that each day starts with this page-turning feeling full of possibility and hope and freshness. There’s no reason it shouldn’t. My intention for 2018 is to make that a practice.

2017 was a very difficult year for me, as it was for many people. Beyond the state of the nation and the daily onslaught of horrible news, I went through some personal crap that really hurt me. I became obsessed with those events and the feelings they triggered, my brain repeating and magnifying the pain on a non-stop loop that would literally wake me up at night. That negativity became a sort of involuntary, wordless mantra that crept into all aspects of my life.

The good news is that I’m old enough and self-aware enough to realize that this is not okay and furthermore, this is not ME. I have learned, after years of managing depression, to separate the part of my brain that beats me up from the part that is worth protecting, and I can intervene. (Worth noting: if you cannot see that separation or you can’t muster the will to intervene, that’s when you need professional help.) So I fought it, but it’s been a tough battle that I’ve been fighting for the better part of a year.

Apparently, as every podcast, self-help book and spiritual tradition in the world will tell you, the solution to this swamp of negativity is gratitude. Over the last month, I’ve received that message in a hundred different ways: notice the good. Be grateful. Celebrate what’s right, what’s working, what you have. Direct your focus to the positive things.

So, that’s the plan for 2018: to be more deliberate about noticing the good, being grateful and celebrating. This applies to everything: my job, my home, and especially myself. I want to keep a gratitude journal but I also want to pause several times a day to quickly inventory what’s good in the moment. I want to develop a new pattern in my brain.

In that spirit, I sat down this morning and made a list of good things that happened in the generally craptastic year of 2017.


The Women’s March: I walked in the Women’s March in Orange County last January and it was incredibly uplifting. Throughout all the ugly political news of the year, I could close my eyes and remember what 20,000 people marching in solidarity looks like, and know they are just tiny sliver of people in this world who will stand up for good.

Murphy’s Surgery:  In 2016 I found and fell in love with an injured stray dog who needed an expensive knee surgery. In February 2017 I was able to get him that surgery, thanks to donations from friends and a charitable grant. A couple weeks ago, we watched this little guy running on the beach in blissful abandon: four solid knees and one huge pit bull smile.

Our garden:  My daughter and I removed some ugly old shrubs in our tiny back yard and replaced them with a bed of interesting plants and a raised vegetable garden. Some of our plants were more successful than others, but the process was a pleasure, and we ate food that we grew ourselves, so we’ll call that a win.

Reconnecting with an old friend: This was a twofer. My dear friend from high school, Christina, is also a writing coach and all-around wise woman. We went for years without talking, then years when we’d talk once or twice. In 2017 we began regularly scheduled calls where we’d have a long talk, then do a writing prompt together. From those calls, I got writing practice, some desperately needed human connection and a reminder of who I am from someone who knows me better than almost anyone. (A threefer, I guess.)

New Job: I started a new job in 2017 that pays much better than my old one and offers better opportunity for professional growth. It also brought new friends, a new area of SoCal to explore and an hour-long commute, which seemed like a minus until I started thinking of it like this: each day, my commute affords me a couple hours of solitude in which to listen to audiobooks, music and podcasts…which brings me to…

Podcasts: I found some podcasts that I love. Thank Oprah for Super Soul Conversations which has featured some of my heroes including Elizabeth Gilbert, Cheryl Strayed, and my new guy, Shawn Achor, whose book The Happiness Advantage is first on my reading list for 2018.

The Story Intensive: Christina recommended an online writing course called The Story Intensive that I completed in the fall. It was difficult and uncomfortable, and I learned a lot about my writing and myself. I also wound up with new writing friends around the world, a draft of a short story of which I’m fairly proud, and a renewed relationship with writing.

Morro Bay Girls: Out of the blue, I got an invitation to spend the weekend at a beach house in Morro Bay (on the Central California coast) with three cool women, none of whom I knew well (outside of Facebook) before that weekend. Just hanging around those girls in that sleepy, beautiful place was a balm to my heart. We’re having a replay this weekend and I can’t wait.

Last night, I was ranting about what a terrible year it was; how glad I was to see it go…and this morning, after making this list, I realized that there was a lot to be grateful for. I want to notice the good things in real time and not let the pain of life cancel out all the joy. So, more lists, I say! Lists every day! Notice the good things, document them, celebrate them. Train my brain to be constantly on the lookout for what’s positive.

Happy New Year—regardless of what kind of year it turns out to be—let’s be happy in 2018.

Loneliness & Solitude

You know what’s terrible when you’re lonely? Facebook. It’s like watching a parade through the three-inch window of your prison cell.

I used to be great at being alone. I was proud of my independence, my lack of neediness.

Something shifted, though. For whatever reason, I’ve been struggling with loneliness in a way that I never have before. This is a brutal sort of loneliness that ambushes me at all hours. It’s accompanied by a vicious cataloging of all my flaws, all of the “reasons” why I’m alone. And it’s bleak, casting long shadows over my future, a doomsday prophet telling me to get used to it; this is how it will always be.

I’ve done my best to fight it. I packed my schedule with activity. I made to-do lists and set goals and started projects and joined groups. I drank too much. And the internet dates…ugh, the internet dates.

I’ve heard many times that if you want to get over something, you have to first let yourself really feel it. I thought maybe I would try that. Lean into the loneliness. Own it. Thoroughly experience it so that I could then let it go.

I don’t recommend it, leaning into loneliness. If you go looking for evidence that you are alone, you will find it, and it will hurt.

I decided that if I was going to be alone, I would be alone. I stopped trying to convince people to spend time with me. I stopped reaching out, and I stopped expecting them to reach out to me. I stopped scheduling every minute. And, probably most helpful, I turned off social media. I forced myself to stop the endless casting about on Facebook and Twitter for I don’t know what…Company? Attention? Distraction?

Once I did that, the clamoring inside me subsided a bit. I was left with something quieter and more peaceful: solitude.

Solitude is the graceful cousin of loneliness.

Loneliness stems from comparison and envy. I see a happy couple and immediately compare my state with theirs: loneliness. I see friends checking in on Facebook and feel another stabbing comparison: they are out having fun together and I am here, alone. Loneliness is a lack, a feeling of less-than, a focus on what you’re missing.

Solitude, on the other hand, is just the state of being alone. It’s being present with yourself, only yourself. Solitude focuses on what is, not what is lacking.

In solitude, there’s freedom. Do what you like. Listen to what you like. Sleep if you’re sleepy; eat if you’re hungry.

I spent a gorgeous weekend in solitude, puttering in the garage like I used to, in those days when I was great at being alone. I left my phone in the bedroom and forgot about it. I finished a painting. I worked in the yard. When the daylight faded, I curled up with a glass of wine and a book. These are things I love. Solitude gives me time to do them.

I began to recognize both loneliness and solitude as spirals. Solitude gives. Loneliness takes.

When you’re drowning in loneliness, you’re not just reaching for people; you’re clutching. You feel it. They feel it. You approach relationships—both existing and potential relationships—from a place of scarcity. When you show up with that sort of neediness, it’s a negative experience for you and for those with whom you interact, which may cause them (or you) to withdraw. Negativity and withdrawal reinforce your loneliness.

On the other hand, solitude allows you to fill up, recharge, and come to your relationships open-handed. You come from a place of abundance. You’re in a position to give, which feels good to you and to others, making you more likely to seek their company and them more likely to seek yours.

After a little healthy solitude, I can show up and be gracious again. I can feel happy for the happy couples instead of resentful and jealous. I can relax and joke with my friends. They laugh; I hear that they enjoy me, which makes me feel valued—an upward spiral.

I wish I could say that the loneliness is gone, but it isn’t. It’s right there, like a bruise that hurts if I touch it. The sensible thing, then, is to stop touching it.

No more leaning into loneliness. If you’re lonely, lean into solitude.

If you're struggling with loneliness, lean into solitude.

Thoughts on The Whole30

I have this friend who’s been on the gluten-free bandwagon for a long time, and here’s what I’ve always told her: if you take away beer, pizza and cookies, I don’t have much left to live for.

Okay sure, there’s the kids, but whatever. All I’m saying is that giving up wheat is really not consistent with my world view.

But then the Universe would not shut up about The Whole30, and all the wonderful things that would happen if I gave up wheat, AND all the other grains, and sugar and alcohol and dairy and even legumes, for chrissakes. (Everyone knows that black beans are healthy, right?)

Shut up, Universe. There’s no way I’d ever do something THAT crazy.

Still, there were an awful lot of people making an awful lot of claims about The Whole30 that really appealed to me: clearer skin. Better sleep. Reduced joint pain. And of course, weight loss. These are things I want badly, and have wanted badly for a long time. Badly enough to give up all those foods? Even drinking?

Finally, after a high school reunion weekend that involved way too much alcohol, I felt fat and lousy. I decided it was time to try something drastic. And there was that damn Whole30, coming at me from blogs and social media and bookstores…

At the same time, I started working with a life coach. I heard myself telling her all the reasons I couldn’t possibly do The Whole30, and I sounded like a big loser.

So I decided I better do it.

And I did. Perfectly. The whole damn thing—no cheating. I don’t have a great track record of sticking with diets, and I’ve never tried anything this strict. However, I think that’s exactly why I was able to do The Whole30: because you can’t half-ass it. You follow the rules, or you start over. Simple as that. No negotiating in your head, no hemming and hawing; this is all-or-nothing.

Honestly, it wasn’t difficult to give up those foods. After the first couple days, I genuinely didn’t miss anything except wine, which I’ll discuss later. The most difficult aspect for me was the lack of convenience. Because you are using no processed foods, you can’t just hit a drive-through on your way to work because you overslept. You can’t pick up a pizza on the way home if you don’t feel like cooking. You must plan ahead and prepare most of your food from scratch. Cooking everything from scratch is time-consuming. The change to my lifestyle was much tougher than the change to my diet.

The Whole30 promises to change the way you look at food, and I can attest to that. Here are some ways it did that:

  • Once you stop eating junk, you stop craving it. So instead of choosing food based on cravings, I was free to choose food that I knew would make me feel good and keep me full. That really happened; I just didn’t want junk food.
  • I knew there was a lot of sugar in processed food, but I didn’t realize it is EVERYWHERE. Did you know rotisserie chicken has sugar in it? Once you start reading labels, you really get suspicious of food manufacturers. I would walk in to a 7-11 (for Perrier! My new love!) and I would get angry at the rows upon rows of brightly-packaged JUNK. I’d think, “Here is a whole room of things people eat, none of which are food.” It wasn’t a holier-than-thou feeling. It was frustration. Where is the actual food?
  • I realized that most of the reasons I eat certain things were not because of hunger, or even moods—just triggers. I want popcorn because I’m watching a movie. I want wine because it’s Friday. I want diet Coke because I always have one while I’m out running errands.

Once I got my groove on with the cooking and food prep, I really enjoyed my Whole30. I tried new foods (rutabaga, anyone?) and new cooking techniques. I even had a dinner party with all-compliant foods. It was like a fun experiment.

The Results

Sugar cravings: you already heard about the cravings being gone. My Whole30 ended over a week ago and I still haven’t had any sweets. I really don’t want them. On the other hand, fruit tastes delicious! So sweet! Beer and wine taste sweeter to me, too. My palate is has definitely adjusted to appreciate the natural sweetness in food.

Sleep: I slept like a baby on The Whole30–deep, wonderful sleep. I habitually woke up before my alarm, and towards the end of the month, I even stopped hitting the snooze button. I did have some wacky food dreams, but I hear that’s typical of detoxing.

Periods: OMG. I can’t believe how much better my PMS symptoms were. I typically have two brutally emotional days just before my period—weepiness, horrible thoughts—I’m a wreck. I started the Whole30 four days before my period and finished it two days before the next one. I had NO weepy days. Also, I typically take Advil to manage cramps for at least three days of my period. Both periods required Advil on the first day only. I can’t even remember the last time I had it that easy.

Mood: I’m a moody girl, very prone to depression. I noticed that my general outlook was markedly better during The Whole30. Fewer bad days and better good days. Some days I felt so happy, it was kind of ridiculous. The world may not be ready for Super Perky Meg.

Diet Coke: I kicked a lifetime diet Coke habit. Seriously, I was like a crack whore for diet Coke. I drank it first thing in the morning and often exceeded 64 ounces a day. I know that’s gross and dangerous, and I was actually pretty ashamed of that habit. Now, I don’t want diet Coke at all. I drink iced tea for caffeine in the morning (I don’t like coffee) and I drink sparkling water (unsweetened) when I want something fizzy. Diet Coke actually tastes gross to me now. I have absolute confidence that I am done with diet Coke.

And finally, weight loss: I lost 10 pounds. That’s pretty good for me. Usually, two pounds per week is the best I can expect. I wish I had taken before and after pictures, or measurements, because I’m pretty sure my gut shrank, and my face seems thinner.

The Less-Than-Stellar Bits

My skin didn’t clear up much. This was disappointing for me because so many people rave about what The Whole30 does for their skin. I understand that skin takes a long time to respond to changes—dermatologists have always told me it takes months to see the effects of medication on skin, and I’ve read the same about dietary changes, so I suspect it just didn’t have enough time.

I really missed alcohol. I didn’t struggle with cravings; I just missed it. It was hard to go to parties without drinking, and I abandoned all hope of internet dating without the help of wine– forget that. I realized how much the world revolves around alcohol. Giving it up wasn’t fun.

Many people experience significant reduction in joint pain on TheWhole30. My old lady hip felt a little improved, but not significantly. Again, I may not have given this enough time. Overall, my body felt much less stiff on the Whole30, but that one hip continued to hurt.

I completely bombed the re-entry. You’re supposed to re-introduce foods gradually, one group at a time, and note the effects they have on your squeaky-clean system. Because I didn’t plan well and I had social events immediately following my 30 days, I got sloppy and mixed up the groups. Also I drank too much. Not out of hand, just more than I should have introduced into my system. Sure enough, I felt lousy, but I can’t tell you which food-culprits are responsible.

Did it change my life?

Somebody asked me whether The Whole30 changed my life. I think it did, and after a week off the Whole30, I can tell you why. This week, I’ve been eating less carefully, but I’m really not enjoying it. I had pizza the other night—good pizza that I’ve always loved—and it was fine, but it wasn’t delicious. Certainly wasn’t worth feeling lousy for. And beer doesn’t seem so great anymore, either. I took one bite of a cupcake the other night and threw the rest away. Who am I?!?

After being off it for a week, I realize more and more how different I feel when I make poor food choices. My mood tanked. I’m sad because my sleep is no longer amazing and I feel like I screwed it up. All I want is to get back to Whole30 health as soon as I can, for as long as I can. I know what healthy feels like, and I want that feeling more than I want pizza, beer or cookies. That’s a pretty significant change.

Probably the biggest life-changer: I did something that I thought was really hard, something a lot of people can’t seem to finish. I felt very strong and in-control, which was a great feeling. It’s been a while since I felt this sense of accomplishment, and it makes me want to take on more goals. If I can finish The Whole30, what else can I do?

Why I Really Don’t Care About Your Grammar

Click on the image to learn more about Grammarly. Thanks for inspiring this post, Grammarly!

Click on the image to learn more about Grammarly. Thanks for inspiring this post, Grammarly!

Every once in a while, a friend will express concern that I’m judging their grammar.*
I’m not. Yes, it is my job to communicate in writing and yes, I notice misspellings and most mechanical errors. I can’t help it. But much of the time, I don’t care about your grammar. I only care about mine. So I would appreciate it if everyone would just relax.

Three main reasons I’m not uptight about grammar:

1.  In casual usage, formal grammar can actually be distracting.
*Did you notice the subject/pronoun disagreement in that first sentence? Yeah, that bothered me. It bothered me because it was my error and I don’t want anyone to think I don’t know better. But that particular error never bothers me when someone else makes it, because that’s how most people speak. And sometimes, using the plural pronoun is less distracting than using the singular pronoun and having to choose a gender. (As in, “A friend will express concern that I’m judging her grammar,” which would imply that the friend was a girl, and might have you wondering if I meant you or your sister.)

You may also notice that I don’t give a rat’s patootie about starting a sentence with a conjunction, though that is technically incorrect, too. I’ve already done it at least four times in this post, because I’m a rebel like that. Which brings me to point #2.

2.  Sometimes rule-breaking works better.
In a blog post, I will write run-on sentences when I’m trying to convey breathless excitement. I will write fragments for emphasis. Occasionally, I will incorrectly structure a series, because I prefer the rhythm with a whole bunch of conjunctions instead of commas. I break rules to establish tone or to create an effect. I try not to habitually break rules, because that can become a distraction of its own. But in my own writing, I use the rules to my advantage and disregard them when it suits me. It’s a choice I make, and other people can have that choice, too.

 3.  Lots of smart people suck at spelling and grammar.
I learned this early in life. Some of my super-smart friends were terrible spellers. Spelling and grammar come naturally to me. You know what doesn’t? Math. So if you don’t mock my inability to do quick math, I will not raise an eyebrow if you occasionally misspell things.

Language is just a tool for communication. Communication is sending and receiving messages, right?

If I’m sending a message, I want my grammar to support that message and not distract from it. So I follow rules to the extent that it helps my audience receive the message. Sometimes that means following formal rules; sometimes it doesn’t. I guarantee you, when I’m commenting on Facebook, the only reason I care about my grammar is because some smartass will point out my errors, especially if they think I’m a Grammar Nazi. Which I’m not. (Fragment for emphasis, see?) When I’m texting with friends, I don’t even think about mechanics.

If I’m receiving a message from you, and you are a friend of mine who’s attempting to communicate with me, whether that be on Facebook, via text, or in conversation over dinner, the only reason I’m going to be concerned about your grammar is if it garbles the message you’re sending so badly that I can’t receive it. Usually, that’s not the case; I can figure out what you mean.

Bottom line: I care about your message much more than your mechanics.

Proper grammar has its place, but the burden for proper grammar is on the one who sends the message. My job as a listener is to receive your message and seek to understand it, not find fault in its delivery.

Someone once told me, “Over-attention to other people’s grammar is the mark of a small mind.” I wholeheartedly agree with that. The truth is, I don’t quite like the way he structured that sentence. My brain struggles with the awkward subject clause. But I am not small-minded, so I didn’t pay attention to his sentence structure. Instead, I received his message. And I have never forgotten it.

Birthday Thoughts: 43 and Rollin’ With It

I’m turning 43 today. I don’t really care so much about that, but my birthday might be making me a little more introspective than usual. (That’s saying something. Somebody here might be a narcissist. If you have a personal blog, there’s a pretty high chance of narcissism. Just sayin’. But it’s okay to be a narcissist on your birthday, right?)

There is a very positive development on the horizon for me, and I can’t talk about it because it’s not official yet. But the possibility—the likelihood, even– is so exciting, it’s spilling over into the rest of my life and suddenly everything seems all rosy and full of possibility. I feel happy and beautiful and abundant. I’m actually walking around smiling, buzzing. It’s pretty wonderful.

And, at 43, I finally recognize this for what it is. Basically, this is a mood swing. Nothing in my life is any different than usual. More money may be coming into it, and that’s fantastic and it will feel great. A younger me would be thinking, man, if this happens, everything will be perfect. I will have arrived.

But I’ve learned that that’s not the case, regardless of what new development occurs. Doesn’t matter if I meet a wonderful guy or get a great job or reach my goal weight or whatever. (I have a little shame that these issues are still the yardsticks, but they are. I can’t deny it.) I can be broke no matter how much money I make. I can feel lonely no matter who I’m with. I can feel fat no matter what I weigh, and I can feel sad even when I’m aware of how good I have it. The reverse is also true: I can feel rich when I have nothing. I can feel sexy on my frumpiest of days. I can feel perfectly content and loved when I’m alone.

The absolute crux of my whole existence seems to be mood–not my reality but how I relate to my reality. And when you’re me, with my moods, the one constant is flux. My mood will go up and it will go down. Two days per month it will go waaaaay down. And when stuff goes right, like right now, it will go way up.

Obviously, volumes have been written about this. Not sure what I, small-time blogger, can say that all the greats haven’t already covered. But just like I’m enjoying my UP mood right now, I’m enjoying my grown-up lady perspective that says, “Just roll with it. Don’t grab at it. Just enjoy it while it lasts and see it for what it is.”

This quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh is lingering with me lately, though the context is slightly off from my own. She’s talking about the ebb and flow of love within the context of a relationship, but I receive it in the context of ebb and flow between me and the Universe, or me and my reality—however you care to phrase it—this is true in the broader perspective, and it helps me to think like this.

We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity – in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.

The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. Relationships must be like islands, one must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits – islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, and continually visited and abandoned by the tides.

Note that she’s not saying there’s no pleasure in owning or expecting or hoping. There’s comfort in continuity; there’s fun in nostalgia. But in the end, there’s no security in it. You can’t bank on it. You are the bank. I am the bank. Kookookachoo.

Speaking of nostalgia, this quote brings back memories of trying to bodysurf as a kid. I grew up in Orange County and have many memories of charging fearlessly into the surf, deep enough so that the swell would lift me off my feet. If you stood in the right place at the right time, the right wave would deliver you smoothly back to the beach. If you timed it poorly, the wave would knock you under and tumble you around until you weren’t sure which way was up, and you’d wind up sputtering and gasping in the sand. I wasn’t great at this, so I did more than my share of tumbling and sputtering. But either way, I’d catch my breath and run right back into the water, over and over again. I’d spend hours in the water, then go home sunburned and exhausted, salty hair plastered to my head and sand stuck in my ears, nose and all the other nooks and crannies of my person. My favorite part was laying in my bed at night, still feeling the ebb and flow of the sea. I could close my eyes and be right back in it, and feel the solidity of my own form against the push and pull of the waves, feel the swell of the water against my legs and the rush of the sand from under my feet.

So at 43, I’ve learned that being a grown-up is about leaning into that ebb and flow. It’s not even knowing which way to lean, or avoiding the tumble and sputter. It’s knowing that there will be smooth rides; there will even be glorious, amazing, can’t-believe-I-caught-that-wave rides. And there will be also times when you hit bottom so hard, you’re still finding sand in your crack a week later.

Whatever happens, good or bad, more waves are coming.

Meg Birthday 43

Ruthless Self-Scrutiny: The Girl Who Put Herself Down

On a number of recent occasions, a well-meaning friend has pointed out that I often put myself down. Apparently that bothers her. It bothers me, too, because I try pretty hard to be positive. People who constantly put themselves down are annoying. I don’t want to be that girl.

The thing is, I don’t really think that I am that girl. But I also want to be open to criticism, especially from a well-intentioned friend. Time for RUTHLESS SELF-SCRUTINY.

Do I put myself down too much? I don’t think so, but it’s possible.

Could I be doing it without realizing it? Highly unlikely.

I pride myself on being self-aware. My four older siblings made sure of that. They found comedy in my every move, whether I intended to be funny or not. And they reminded me of my unintentionally hilarious behavior for years afterwards, especially on those rare occasions when I had a boy around.

My mother also contributed to my exceptional level of self-awareness by promptly squelching what she perceived as attention-seeking behavior. Any time I put myself down, I was “fishing for compliments.” Any time I said something positive about myself, I was being conceited. Any big outbursts would get me labelled “Sarah Heartburn” and were regarded as disingenuous or manipulative. There really was no safe way to express feelings about myself.

I learned to watch every word I said. I still tend to think very hard about everything I say about myself, anticipate how it might be perceived. For instance, if I’m feeling fat and ugly, I’m sure as hell not going to say, “I feel fat and ugly,” because STOP FISHING FOR COMPLIMENTS. I will just feel fat and ugly quietly to myself. Never mind that everyone feels fat and ugly sometimes. DON’T SAY THAT OUT LOUD.

So, I’m going to rule out the possibility that I put myself down without realizing it. If I do it, I’m definitely aware that I’m doing it. But if I know it’s annoying, why would I do it?

Here are some situations in which I, knowingly, might say something negative about myself:

  1. For comedy. Self-deprecating humor, in small doses, is funny because it’s highly relatable. You’ve got to laugh at yourself sometimes. People get it and they laugh with you. Read the Mattress Adventures post about how I have no idea how to pick up a man. It’s true. And it’s kind of funny, don’t you think?
  2. For relatability in general. Admitting a weakness, like a lack of self-confidence in a particular area, helps people trust you. They see your vulnerability and feel safe to expose their own. Revealing vulnerability could be perceived as putting myself down, but I’m not going to stop doing it because I want other people to trust that they can be vulnerable with me, too.
  3. Because I actually need to talk about it. (This one only applies when I’m with my very closest friends. I don’t unload this stuff on strangers.) There are things I don’t like about myself. There are things I wish I could change. When I’m with my very close friends, I want to be able to talk about everything. I don’t want to pretend that everything is fine and I feel invincible. Sometimes I feel like a fucked-up mess. Sometimes I want to talk about that. Sometimes I want to hear that I am not a fucked-up mess, but usually I just want to hear someone else say, “Yeah, I feel like that sometimes, too.”

Those all sound like good reasons to me. I’m a big believer in transparency. When we hide the things we don’t like about ourselves and we pretend everything is great, we do ourselves and others a disservice. Insecurity feeds on shame and isolation. We’re so afraid people will find out what’s wrong with us…talking about insecurities discharges that fear and helps us feel connected.

But there’s another reason I talk about insecurities. Take this conversation I had with a guy on Tinder, for example.

During our very first exchange, we played The Question Game. He asked, “What are you most insecure about, specifically?”

I said, “My body.”

He said, “That’s too vague. Be specific.”

I said, “Man, you’re ruthless! Fine…I’m insecure about my weight and my skin.”

He said, “Great. Aren’t you glad we got that out of the way?”

And I was glad. I was relieved. When I eventually met this guy, I felt like I’d already pointed out the ugliest parts of myself, and since he hadn’t objected to them, he wouldn’t reject me based on those factors.

Telling this story now, I realize that I do that even when I’m not directly asked: I point out my shortcomings, the things I’m insecure about, before anyone can judge me for them. It’s like a preemptive strike– a self-inflicted preemptive strike. Under the guise of transparency or humor, I’ll tell you what’s wrong with me before you can point it out. You can’t hurt me; I’ll do it first.

Yikes. When I start to write about touchy-feely stuff like this, I figure things out. Obviously I have to knock that preemptive shit off.

But I’m not giving up my transparency or my ability to laugh at myself.

Owning your flaws for the sake of connection is fine. Pointing them out in a twisted self-defense maneuver is not.

In general, I feel pretty good about who I am. I don’t always feel beautiful or confident or like I have my act together. (Sometimes I do! Sometimes all three at once!) But I’m smart and funny and loving, traits that are way more important and permanent anyway. I don’t think I put myself down too often; I think I’m a vulnerable, open, self-aware human who is honest about her shortcomings and occasionally needs reassurance.

But just in case, I’ll pay attention to how often I speak negatively about myself. And more importantly, why.