So I can state, for the record, that 2014 has been one of the best years of my life.
Of course, it’s easy to say that now, looking back to 2012-2013 and living through some of the crappier years I’ve experienced. While learning how to run and launching back into the world of dating were two major year goals, I think I’ve left the heavy lifting until the end: embracing my true self and coming to a place of acceptance and happiness with my body.
Instead, I ran my first long distance race, led a team of 20 people at WalkMS and raising over $5000, dated most of Arlington, VA, and found a funny and loving boyfriend.
Let’s face it; somehow training for a long distance race was easier than figuring out how to have self-esteem. What the fuck is with that?
Looking at my 2014 Holiday Council goals and desired outcomes, I identified this issue as the biggest and most difficult challenge in front of me. Figuring out how to accept and love the Maureen in the mirror would be the real test and require dealing with a lot of crazy emotions I may want to keep hidden.
In fact, my Elevate application includes this paragraph:
What do you think is holding you back from reaching your goals?
I believe my tendency to tie my success with how I look and how I perceive other people’s opinion of me. There are days at work where I could receive positive feedback or navigate difficult political red tape, but it will not mean anything to me because I look tired or feel ‘gross.’ I will spend an extra ten minutes in the morning staring in the mirror thinking negative thoughts. That’s ten minutes I could be at work finishing something, or ten minutes I could be running. Or simply being present in my life.
If I’m reading those words as Maureen the senior policy analyst, they seem so dumb and needless. Yet, if someone were to ask me right now to say the first few thoughts that come to mind when I think about my body, they are (and have always been): ugly, fat, broken, and/or undesirable. As I write this post, these feelings are so raw and tangible. During my marathon training run a few days ago, the negative self-talk was so bad that I could not celebrate that I completed 20 miles–the farthest I have ever run in my life. Instead of feeling accomplished, I feel miserable. Right now, I’m still really upset about a training run that didn’t count towards anything and really has no bearing on the rest of my life. In my head, my inner critic Fran is listing things that prevent my success:
- If I didn’t have MS (which I didn’t choose),
- If I were the same weight I was in 2011 (achieved through starving myself),
- If I ran every day (nearly impossible factoring in a high impact job, increased MS-related fatigue, and wanting to maintain a social life), or
- If I was thinner I would be more successful (whatever that means).
Where does this come from and how do I get it to stop?
For me, I didn’t know I was fat until the fifth grade. Until then, I was just a girl trying to figure out the scientific method and quadratic equations. Yet, in 1992, my legally blind grandmother kindly informed me that I was too round for my age. I didn’t know what to do with that kind of information, but it left a mark. After her comments, I became hyper-sensitive to every sideways glance, heard every whispered insult, and spent most of my free time figuring out how to change every part of my being to be different. Over the years, I’ve bought pills, followed the fad diets, implemented two-a-day workouts, and purchased enough shaping garments, makeup, and creams to supply the Oscars for years. Factor in the MS diagnosis and its serious (yet more and more unlikely) ramifications with my skewed self-image, and BAM. You get a very driven and impatient lady, wanting to be everything and everywhere at the same time, looking perfect. I’ve wasted god knows how many hours being disappointed with myself, seeing every imperfection and disappointment.
Now, I’m down to the wire. Come December, I won’t have the easy access to Molly and her oracle-like wisdom anymore, and the 2014 sisterhood is spread throughout the US and Canada, potentially never really talking to each other again. I see the calendar pages turning and I feel this internal pressure to get everything accomplished and come out on the other side a changed/better Maureen. The assumption being that I needed a lot of fixing to begin with, and that I haven’t already changed quite a bit. There’s Fran again, telling me that I haven’t done enough. She’s focused on one part of a complicated year plan, not allowing for the times when shit happens. As Molly mentions in one of her September posts, “Perfection is a trap.” It’s my trap, for sure.
I can hear Molly say “what happens if you free yourself from Fran?”
What if I just stop giving a damn and just focus on what is going on right now? What if I give Fran another role in my crazy head? What would that be? What if I just stop lying to myself about what I should be and celebrate what I am? Then, I’m pretty sure that’s the freedom I need. I’ll have another 45 minutes to list five gratitudes instead of being stuck ripping myself apart in the mirror. I’ll have the head space to enjoy huge accomplishments like completing a marathon or being a bad ass at work.
Having those internal conversations, hearing Molly inside my head and asking the right questions of myself in the midst of a busy life, all of these things just may well be the ultimate success of my Elevate year. I am coming out of a year of intense introspection stronger and ready to take on the next challenge ahead of me. I suppose after this post, I’ve got my goal for this year’s Holiday Council figured out and my Elevate year has provided the tools to develop a successful way forward.
Maybe this year it will stick?
WITH LOVE FROM
Maureen , soon-to-be marathon completer, 2014 Elevate Sister.
Maureen is a hopeless optimist, reformed tomboy, and has a strong and snarky voice of reason. She roots for the underdog, which comes in handy being a Notre Dame fan. When not discussing U.S. foreign policy, Maureen organizes fundraisers for her favorite charity, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, attempts to hold crow pose for more than two seconds, and is still trying to figure out who talked her into running a half marathon this spring. If not at work, yoga, or running, you can find Maureen watching shows about handsome vampires or discussing how cute sea otters are.