The Truth: Be You With BlogU

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The theme of BlogU 2016 was Be You With BlogU, and even though it is a conference for bloggers and freelance writers, the takeaway I had from my weekend in Baltimore with all the people who live in my computer was this:

With the right tribe, with the right goals, with the right motivation, and with sweat-your-ass-off-effort, you can be successful and stay true to yourself. Not just in writing, but in everything.

If you’ve followed me for more than half a minute, you know I don’t fit all the molds. There was a very long time that I lamented this fact. My personal style is random. My music choices are all across the board. On any given day I am a strange blend of Tiger mom and Free Range Parent. I’m not the same as anyone else, and that was hard for me to accept. To revel in.

But now, I do.

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No one has the thoughts or experiences that I do. No one but me can tell my story. And while there are quite a few people who, like me, are good enough at a ridiculous amount of things but not great at any one thing, no one else can integrate my purple-filtered view into those things.

Aside from spending some amazing time with people I admire and fan-girl after, I was able to spend a lot of time reflecting on my role, my skills, and my purpose. Throughout the amazing sessions we were offered, the theme “Be You” ran loud and clear. We were encouraged to think about our skills and our passions. We were encouraged to revisit childhood dreams of what we want to be when we ‘grow up.’ We were asked to take a moment to find that clear voice that said, “I want to do ________ with my life.”

And this year, as I turned 30 years old on a big-ass campus, sweating all the sweats with my tribe, I remembered what I love doing.

I support. For years I was encouraged to be a therapist, because when my friends needed advice, I was there. Before motherhood, I planned events for a large non-profit organization dedicated to helping consumers navigate issues with local businesses. I became certified in our state’s Meth prevention program and took trips to help local law enforcement teach kids about the dangers of methamphetamines. As a parent the past 10 years, I get sick of the day-to-day drudgery of motherhood, but when push comes to shove, I am there when my kids need me. When a friend has a baby, I ask when I can bring a meal by. If there is a special occasion for someone coming up, I always offer to help. I plan parties, outings, gatherings, and intimate coffee dates. I see the need for the village where there is one lacking and I amplify the comfort that the village offers where one already exists.

It took getting lost amongst the old brick buildings of a campus on the complete opposite side of the country for me to realize that I was home. Not in a place, but in my mission. My goal for the weekend was to be the helpiest helper who ever helped. I think I did that and I was so. genuinely. joyful. the entire time. Why? Because this is my role.

This is why I want to be a birth doula. I want to lend strength and comfort where ever I can. If it is not in my power to make it better, I want to be a safe-space to turn to during the hard times. I want people to know that if there is a problem they can turn to me.

This is what drives me.

Caregiving. Supporting. Helping. Creating a nurturing space. Being a source of comfort wherever I go.

Thankfully, this is something I can apply to all the other things I love to do.

Writing. I empower. I offer a hand that says, I struggle with this, too, and you are not alone. We will get through this together.

Mothering. The ultimate role of caregiving. It won’t end with diaper changes, it will become different. It will always change and I will always greet new challenges to make sure my kids are given the best chance possible.

Friendship. Marriage. Crafting. Gardening. Cooking.

All these things require an aspect of caregiving that I finally feel, deep down in my heart of hearts, is my purpose.

It took a credit card and a day of flying across the country for me to understand that I have been so entrenched in the actions of my purpose that I couldn’t see I was already living it. This is what they mean when they say you can’t see the forest for the trees.

I see it now.

I spent the entirety of my 20s growing my family. A full 10 years of pregnancies, breastfeeding, diaper changes and sleepless nights. I plan to make my 30s MY decade. Where I tackle my goals and reach for my dreams. Where I become more than mom. Where I learn who take-everything-away-and-what-do-you-have Jessica really is.

She is me. And that is just perfect.blogU 16 Collage

When I have an anxiety spike, I buy tea.

cup of tea

The calendar doesn’t lie: Summer is almost over.

I am simultaneously relieved and disappointed.

I love sleeping in during the summer. Now that the kids are old enough to help each other get some cereal and find an appropriate tv channel, it was rare to see me out of bed before 8:30.

Days without structure and routine really appeal to the laid back, okay, lazy mom that I am. Being able to pile into the car at a moment’s notice to head to the river, meet friends for lunch, or even take a road trip is definitely my style, too.

But the Cabin Kids are all up in my business, all the time:

Which doesn’t suit the changes I am trying to make…

Captain and I have decided that I need a job. Though it’s less of a job decision and more of a housing decision. We’re finally buying property to build our forever home on and if we want to maintain our lifestyle, an extra income is mandatory. We’re keeping it modest, but the mortgage is still going to be a substantial increase from our relatively low rent.

Working from home with kids who are used to you being at their beck and call is a serious pain in the ass. Kudos, seriously, to those of you who have juggled that particular type of chaos, because I am failing at it. Miserably.

Once school starts, two of the Cabin Kids will be in school full time, one half time, and the only one left at home will be The Kraken, who still, blissfully, naps every afternoon. I plan on using those two hours of naptime in the afternoons to get some work done, then finish up what I need to in the few hours between when Captain gets home and we put the kids to bed.

As awesome as the plan sounds, I am feeling super anxious about the change. What if I fail? What if I just can’t juggle being a fully functioning work at home parent with my health and mental wellness goals? I am already counting on squeezy applesauce packets and GoGurts to make mealtimes for the kids easier. What if, for as many unnecessary things that I cast aside until I get my bearings, our life is total and utter chaos until our home is built and we’re settled in enough space with school bus service for the kids? Will I have the energy and desire to put the extra effort into my relationship with Captain that I need to?

Needless to say, my anxiety is spiking again.

And for some reason, when I find myself struggling to breathe without pressure in my chest, when there is a headache constantly lingering behind my ears, when the slightest thing makes me crumple into tears or explode in ridiculous rage, I go looking for a cup of tea.

But it can’t be any cup of tea. It has to be a new tea.

Suffice it to say, I’ve anxiety shopped for tea a few times in the past year…

cupboard of tea

I buy the tea thinking that it will be the catalyst for a new routine: Have a cup of tea while I blog in the morning. Finish a chore then curl up with a book and a cup of tea. You know, the romantic, cushy version of life that usually involves a hot, steaming beverage.

For a few days, it does help me stay grounded in my new goals…

cup of tea

For the most part though, it just takes up space in my cupboard.

Brave Enough to be Me

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It’s 3:30 a.m. Another night of being too itchy to sleep… it could also be the prednisone I am now taking that is making it impossible for my mind to switch off. If nothing else, I know now that I can function very well, thankyouverymuch, on very little sleep, with the right drugs.

I can totally see how people get addicted to prescription meds. As one of my favorite bloggers, Jen Mann of People I Want To Punch In The Throat frequently laments, it’s quite the well kept secret. Not sleeping well? Pop a pill! It will give you energy! Out of focus? Take this! It will keep your mind on track! Libido need a kick in the pants? Try this new medication! Your partner won’t know what hit them!

Anyway, this post wasn’t intended to be idle chat about the new steroids I’m taking in lieu of my anti-anxiety meds. This post is in response to the creeping doubt I’ve been feeling lately.

I know recently I said I was saying Fuck You to my biggest hater. But it’s far easier said than done.

I look around me, and surrounded by so many people who know what they’re doing. They have a voice, they have a plan, and they know what they need, and want, to do to make their goals a reality. But sometimes it just feels like my world is too crowded by talent. Too full of so many people saying the same things in vastly different ways, how on earth could there ever be room for my opinion, my way of saying things, too?

And then there are the times that I do venture out, put myself out there, in places aside from this little blog and my meager facebook fan page, and I am rejected. They say it’s not because of my work, but because it’s just not a good fit. My voice doesn’t quite jive.

I need to find my niche. Is there a “Nothing In Particular” niche out there for writers and creative hopefuls?

This whole train of thought was brought on by this graphic from YourTango’s Facebook page:

braveI just want to be me, and be accepted, and celebrated for it. And there are days, more often than not, that I think to myself, DAMN IT, Jessica, get your shit together. No one wants to high five you for thinking about writing, you have to actually do it. There are no awards for people who meant to do great things.

I want to be my weird, makeup inept, tattoo obsessed, pirate loving, purple haired self, and throw caution to the wind and just put myself out there.

What the fuck is holding me back?

Misery at Midnight

It’s just me, the computer, and a bottle of J.D. The honey kind.

I don’t normally do this. Drink straight from the bottle. But the circumstances I have found myself in this weekend are not normal by any means.

I’m struggling to keep my hands on the keyboard. To keep my nails away from my skin. To prevent myself from breaking open new sores. Ever fiber of my dermal layer is in agony. I am simultaneously in pain and itching.

I have scabies.

I’m not sure where I could have picked it up from. I only know of one person who has had a case recently, but we have not been in physical contact.

But I am sure that I would rather be in full blown pitocin induced labor with no pain meds than continue to deal with this.

It started out as some minor itching. I figured I just needed to shave my legs and apply a hefty dose of moisturizer. But shaving and moisturizing didn’t help. After a few days, pink bumps showed up everywhere I scratched. The itching spread from my shins, to my thighs, to my hips, belly, and lower back. Then my arms, hands, shoulders, and upper back. Now they’re even in between my fingers and toes. The itching is creeping into my scalp, and has crossed the barrier of my pubic hair.

Skin mites. Burrowing into my flesh and laying their eggs. Inside of me.

FUCKING. IN. MY. SKIN.

I put on the prescription cream that’s supposed to kill them, but it does nothing for the itching. I’ve taken cool oatmeal baths and bought expensive bars of soap that are supposed to alleviate the constant need to scratch. My body is a mass of itchy bumps and open sores. I can’t help it. I have to scratch. I have to dig them out of my fucking skin.

I’ve changed clothes 10 times a day. Washed everything in hot water. Vacuumed carpets and scrubbed couches like the goddamn POTUS was about to show up on my doorstep. Sprayed disinfectant on every cloth surface that I even glance at.

I can’t touch my kids. Every time I do, I imagine these bugs rushing onto their perfect bodies. Sending them through the same agony that I am in, without the understanding of what is happening to them. This is nightmare fuel like I have never experienced it. My touch is like poison.

I can’t sleep. The feel of clothing is unbearable. The bedsheets send my skin into spasms. I tremble with the effort it takes not to scratch until my nails are nubs and my skin is strips of raw flesh.

This is embarrassing. Humiliating. Disgusting. Overwhelming.

I have never experienced misery like this.

Through chronic pain, depression, surgery recoveries, labor and deliveries, and anxiety, never have I ever been so miserable that I have thought of ways to purposefully render myself unconscious.

But I have bugs digging into and breeding in my skin, so I’m thinking of some ways now.

Which is why my friend J.D. and I have some catching up to do.

This feeling is grief

My stomach is in knots. My chest aches. I have a nearly uncontrollable urge to cry. I let go a little and tears stream silently down my cheeks. Soon the tears are unstoppable and I cannot help the sobs ripping from my throat.

This is too much to feel. The physical discomfort feels familiar. I have experienced this sensation, like my soul is twisting away from my body, trying to get away, to get a break from the emotional torment my brain is going through.

Then I remember where I have felt this pain before. It is the same way I felt when I learned of my Uncle’s death by suicide. How I felt when I thought I was going to lose Captain when I fessed up to a stupid mistake. The agony of learning about each of my 3 miscarriages.

This feeling is grief.

It feels like my dream has died. Is dying. Right here in front of my eyes, pieces of my dream are being snipped away. It no longer has the beauty of hope and promise. The allure of potential and possibility.

My dream is now a shell. A mish-mash of the few pieces I have refused to let go of. It is barebones and compromise. It is changes and restrictions. It is tiny whispering chances for YES in The Chamber of Echoing NOs we are struggling to escape from.

Tomorrow might be better.

But today, in grief, in despair, I am letting go of hope.

Success is no longer friends with modesty.

I don’t know where to begin. The beginning seems passe: Our family is searching for property. The details are tedious: A typical laundry list of needs/wants. The feelings are normal: Eager, disappointed, hopeless.

There are a few things that I have been forced to speculate on though, and to understand I will need to flesh out the situation a bit.

We are a single income family. The Captain makes a comfortable living as a journeyman power lineman. It affords us everything we need, and a few things we want. Each month we are able to put a little bit away into savings, for our 10th anniversary vacation and our forever house fund. I want to go to school to obtain a degree in creative writing, editing, and publishing. Since my husband makes a comfortable wage, we do not qualify for assistance. That little bit every month that goes into savings for a house? Counts against us. Childcare costs for our children would far exceed anything I could make right now if I chose to work, since I have no formal education. Our family of 6, just trying to find a modest home in an area where we can have a garden and chickens without an HOA calling for our heads, has to choose between an education for me and a home that suits our needs.

Of course right now we are choosing the home.

It’s far easier said than done though.

All I want is a home that’s big enough for us to live without our kids constantly being on top of each other. Cabin Girl deserves to have her own bedroom. As of now, she is tucked away in the corner of the playroom, where her siblings constantly trash her things and jump on her bed. I want space for laying hens. An extra 1/8 of an acre would be an awesome bonus so we could have milking goats. We need green space for the kids to play and practice their sports. Room for a vegetable garden so we can be partially self-sufficient. A few fruit bearing trees for jams and canning. We want a mini-homestead with a modern twist. A place we can invite friends and family for weekend bonfires without disturbing the neighbors. A quality school and a caring community. We have had to scratch ‘nice view’ and ‘proximity to natural water’ off of our want list, as needs trump wants.

But even what we need is out of our reach.

Because we are too middle class.

It is not enough to have a budget of a quarter of a million dollars anymore.

It is a luxury to grow your own food and raise your own laying hens.

It is frowned upon to be self-sufficient in a family friendly community.

It is looked down upon to want modesty in our world of excess.

I am not ashamed of wanting a manufactured home. It fits our needs and suits our budget. It has walls, a roof, hot water, and air conditioning. It will hold our memories and help us raise our children just as well as any stick-built home.

But modesty and quality are not traits that blend well anymore.

Because success means stone pillars and expansive lawns of perfectly manicured grass. Huge 4,000 square foot homes with a shop to contain all the boats, atvs, and gun safes you could ever need. Custom decorated foyers and memberships to dancing academies or spots on competitive league baseball teams.

To us, success would be a yard our kids could play in, food they can have a hand in growing, animals they can have a hand in raising, and a modest home they feel excited to invite their friends to.

It is beginning to feel like there is no room here for our version of success.

I’m saying, “Fuck You” to my biggest hater: Me.

Their Fucking Red Lipstick

I had an epiphany recently, thanks to my love affair with Project Runway and Project Runway: All Stars: I’m a mega bitch. Not to others, though. Just to myself.

It’s really thanks to Lori Goldstein and a little interview snippet that QVC shared during commercial breaks that I started to realize maybe I needed to rethink the way I talk about myself. In my internal monologue. Okay, I guess I talk to myself outloud sometimes. FINE, all. the. time.

In the commercial she’s wearing several different funky outfits, all her style. Almost none of the pieces are anything I would ever wear, but I still think, “Damn, she’s rocking it.” Put me in those clothes and people would be all, “Oh, are you letting your toddler dress you for the week?”

The more I saw the commercial though, the harder I thought about it. “I actually like that vest,” I’d say to myself. “I love the color of her pants.”

“But it would never work on me…”

Jumpers. Skinny jeans. Fluorescent colors. Red lipstick. Shin length skirts. None of those things can be incorporated into my wardrobe. As much as I love them, they look too weird on me. Out of place. They work on these people I see on TV, but they’re pioneers. They are leading the charge in what it means to have style and a sense of fashion.

Lori, though. Lori says, “…make these clothes your own. Buy one piece, or 100 pieces; whatever works for you! What is so exciting is that everyone is really making it their own.” And she means it.

This week I’ve been trying something. I’ve been wearing the outfits that I put together in my head when I buy new clothes or shoes. High heeled ankle booties with my skinny jeans. Long maxi dresses and oversized shrugs.

Short skirts, long sleeves, and ankle boots.
Short skirts, long sleeves, and slouchy ankle boots.

It’s not contained to just clothes, however. My writing, for one, always feels out of place. The timing isn’t right. Or the platform is better suited for a different voice. The theme might be right, the subject matter and technical aspects are spot on, but the delivery is off. Like a pair of jeans that’s just an inch too short, if I was a hair different (and by ‘different’ I mean closer to average), we’d go together like rama lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong.

The suckiest part in all of this is that I see others who, like me, don’t fit that average mold and I think they’re amazing. More than that, I cheer them on. Breaking the made-up rules we have for ourselves left and right with their style, their voice, their lifestyles.

Case in point: Women in bikinis. I want to wear a bikini so badly. But I can’t. Because stretchmarks. Because jiggly thighs. Because weird armpit-fat sideboob things. I will rip my physical appearance in a bikini apart up one side and down the other so hard that there are barely shreds of myself left to shove into the control top skirted one piece I always fall back on. I could, however, see a women with a body identical to mine, blemishes and cellulite included, and think, “Whoo, look at her rocking that bikini! Way to go, mama!

WHY?!  Why does this person who I have no freaking knowledge of deserve celebration more than I do? Am I so much better than her that I should be holding myself up to insane standards while cheering her on for just being the way she is? What makes her so much better than me that I can applaud her self confidence but bitch-slap myself for thinking I am vain for feeling good about myself?

I am a troll. I am a hater. I say the worst things about myself, always. ALWAYS. Whatever horrible thing you may think about me, I promise I have thought it 1,000 times and worse.

No more though. Starting now, I am just going for it. I will be one of those women I admire for owning themselves. Their style. Their voice. Their path. Their destiny.

Their Fucking Red Lipstick
Their Fucking Red Lipstick
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