An open letter to women everywhere

Dear women of the world,

I want you to know that I see you.

You sit across from me in the waiting room, or next to me in a restaurant, and tell me you could never do “that.”

"That" varies.

You say you could never slog your way through a 10k, survive a Tough Mudder obstacle course or do a chin up.

I'm telling you today that you can do those things.

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I'm going to believe it for you until you can believe it for yourself.

Ok?

I want you to know that I see you.  

You hurry past mirrors and avoid your reflection in windows. You scoff at every photo you see of yourself. 

“Ugh,” you say. “I look like that?” 

“Don't you dare take my photo,” you say. 

“Do not post that picture to Facebook,” you say.

“I’ll take the photo,” you say. 

If you do let yourself be photographed, all you can see are the flaws. You pick yourself apart. You stare at your belly, at your chin - you compare yourself to others, or to the 22-year old version of yourself.

You can look at your friends, your children, your co-workers with kind eyes and a compassionate smile. You offer encouraging words to family members and strangers. 

But you struggle to offer these words to yourself.

So I want you to know that I see those beautiful things in you.

I know you don’t see them right now. Because you wear your shame like a cloak, you use that self-deprecating sense of humor to change the subject or bow out of a conversation. You work hard, everyday, to see the good in everyone but yourself. 

Because you can’t stand your own reflection.

But here's the real truth.

You. Are. Beautiful.

You. Are. Strong.

You. Are. Capable. 

I know that you struggle to believe those things. I struggle to believe them about myself sometimes too. 

I'm going to hold these beliefs for you until you can believe them for yourself.

Whether or not we’ve ever met, I'm pledging to you today, this one promise: 

I will hold a space for you.

I am going to believe for you what you cannot, right now, believe for yourself. I am going to see in you, right now, what you cannot see in yourself.

I am going to hold a place, free of judgement, where you can shed your shame, where you can embrace your vulnerability, where you can be you. I’m going to do my best to create and hold that safe space for you, until you can hold that space for yourself.

I’m going to believe that you are, right now in this moment, everything you are supposed to be. 

That you are, right now, in this moment, all that you need to be. 

I’m going to believe that for you, until you can see it and believe it for yourself. 

Stumbling into gratitude

I stood at the bottom of the mountain, penned in a box with 150 other participants, thinking of my typical Saturday routine. Sleep in a little, maybe meditate, then sit down with a fresh cup of coffee to write while Rooney sleeps on my feet. 

Today, instead of sipping hot coffee, I was staring disbelievingly at the side of the mountain that I was about run as part of the 2018 Tough Mudder Half. A mountain that in winter, is reserved for skiing.

Down.

Not running up.

 So that’s a hill. And those specs are people…

So that’s a hill. And those specs are people…

All around me people were fidgeting. Some were jumping up and down, others were cracking their necks, while a select few others were screaming.

Like just randomly screaming.

Loudly. 

I stood, cemented in place, unable to shut off the steady stream of sarcasm rolling through my mind.

I looked at my teammate Lauren. 

“I’m not doing this next year,” I said.

“Yes I know. You said that last year, so I’ll remind you that you told me that when we’re standing in line for next year’s race.” 

We both laughed. 

I stopped laughing abruptly. 

“Yeah, that’s totally going to happen again isn’t it?” I asked.

“Yup,” she said. “Totally.”

*****

Next thing I know, we’re schlepping our way up the side of the mountain and I’m dishing out a healthy stream of bad one-liners. 

“Why would I want to be at home drinking coffee and watching College Game Day?” I asked to no one in particular. A guy who was doing his 100th race swept past. 

“Because this is so much more fun!” 

“Yes,” I said. “Yes fun. That’s the word I was searching for right there. Thank you.”

I’m not always proud of my sarcasm, because I know it bumps up pretty hard against negativity. I toe that line of negativity and often cross it, and I crossed it a lot more on Saturday than I wish I had.

Humor is how I cope. And Saturday’s course provided a lot of opportunities to work on coping skills. This was by far the most difficult course I’d ever attempted.

Towards the end of the run, once we had sponges for shoes and mud in places you never thought mud could go, we came around a corner to another mountain. But this one was too steep for walking. We had to scale the mountain on all fours. 

I’d like you to take a moment to recall the famous Chevy Chase tirade about a happy family from the movie Christmas vacation. 

Then add another minute of expletives.

That’s roughly what came out of my mouth at the bottom of that mountain - sans the Santa hat.

There was no way around this obstacle. Literally, the only way out was up. So all of us, many of whom shared my thoughts, threw ourselves into the mountain and just started climbing. 

Half-way up the mountain, I lost my footing. Up to that point I’d been methodically choosing my footholds and hand holds, moving quickly, not giving myself enough time to think.

But suddenly, I had nowhere to put my foot or my hands. I looked down. 

If you do this course next year, let me give you some casual advice when you arrive at this stage of the race. 

FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS SACRED DO NOT LOOK DOWN. 

So then I looked up. And I’d like to take a moment here to add a second piece of advice. 

FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS SACRED DO NOT LOOK UP. 

Not gonna lie - I kind of panicked a little. (I don’t think I peed my pants, but it was hard to tell, since I was drenched.)

But here is what’s cool about these kind of races. I said I was stuck, and the woman behind me put her hand up for me to step on it. So I did. And I was able to get my footing again, and after a few minutes, I could see flags in the distance and hear my teammates cheering me on at the top. 

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(When people cheer for me in sports, they can’t help but call me Kimmie, because they need that extra syllable. And for some reason, in that context, I find the name Kimmie oddly comforting).

Once I hit level ground and could stand up, I leaned up against a tree to catch my breath. I looked out at the view. I looked down at the others still climbing. 

And in that moment, I stumbled straight into gratitude. 

Gratitude that I have a body that allows me to scale a mountain. Gratitude that I didn’t have to go it alone. Gratitude for my health. Gratitude for a growing sense of camaraderie with my teammates, many of whom I had the good fortune of getting to know a little better on Saturday.

At the end of the night, a shower never felt so good. Sweatpants never felt so warm. And my bed never felt so soft. And I was grateful for all of those comforts.

But I’m not doing this next year….

Listen, I have pants on okay?

Sometimes when people ask me hard questions,  I give a pat answer.

Co-worker: Have you seen the stapler?

Me: I have pants on. What more do you want from me?

 I put these on today. 

I put these on today. 

Usually I’m making a joke. 

Sometimes though, I’m not joking at all. Sometimes I’m using humor to cover the truth that, on this particular day, I got out of bed, brushed my teeth, took a shower, put clothes on and drove to work. 

Hell, I even plucked my chin hair. 

There are days when those basic tasks feel far from basic. 

There are days when everything feels just a bit harder. I don’t know how else to explain it. The difference between snowshoeing on unbroken snow and on a well-worn path, maybe. In both cases, you’re following the same path - but in unbroken snow, those steps take a lot more out of you. You’ve got to work a lot harder to get where you want to go. 

On those days, the self-judgement and guilt that follow is relentless. At least for me. 

Many days, I battle a constant feeling of “why does it feel so hard to write one *&^&^^% email?” 

Why does everything feel so hard? 

Why can I not just buckle down and get things done? 

I just, as of last week, completed a fitness product (Stronger You: The Ultimate Fitness Guide) that I began in January. My goal for completion was March, then April then….well, August. The disappointment I feel in myself for taking so long to finish far outweighs the accomplishment of completing something.  

Sure I finished, but it took me forever. 

I don’t always know how much of those delays are laziness and how much are my weekly, sometimes daily struggle with this thing I’ve spent the past decade plus trying to understand. That thing is dysthymia, also known as persistent depressive disorder. I write about it often on this blog because….well….I believe we need to talk about it more. 

Last week, I wrote a post about fears, and I mentioned that my greatest fear is that I’ll never give to the world all it is that I feel I have in me to give. That I’ll spend so much time spinning my wheels worrying about what I should do, that I’ll never get around to the doing part.  

A friend of mine took a screen shot of that last line and told me to post that sh** somewhere I could see it everyday. 

Some days life is as simple as making a list and checking off the boxes of tasks that you want to get done. 

But some days, life isn’t that simple. 

I’ve said before that sometimes I don’t know where the depression ends and I begin. And that’s the daily frustration. 

Sometimes I lose interest in things like music, books, my guitar, exercise. Many days I lack productivity and on many more days, I’m overwhelmed with an overall feeling of inadequacy. I spend so much time thinking and feeling that I should be more. Dysthymia is sometimes referred to as mild depression, because you still function - until you hit a major depressive episode, as I’ve done in the past. 

The trap is that you feel like you should just snap out of it. Recently, I read in a post on dysthymia which mentioned the prevailing myth that a person can just look on the bright side. 

Stay positive! 

Stop being such a Debbie Downer!

If you’d just look for the good things, you wouldn’t feel this way!

Recently, I heard the expression that there are only good days and great days - no bad days. And that expression really wounded me deeply. Because it made me feel like I just don’t try hard enough to see what’s good. It played into those feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem that hit me so hard some days. 

I was relieved to see that concept written as myth, because so often, I feel like a failure for not snapping out of my funks. For not being able to counter a tough situation with straight out gratitude and positive thinking. Mind over matter they say.

And I say, what is wrong with my mind, that I can’t make anything matter?  

It was myths like those above that prevented me from seeking treatment for most of my life. It’s myths like those above that often still give me the greatest heartache at the end of a long day. I don’t always know and understand what I can and cannot control. I don’t always know how much blame is mine. And that is so, so, so, very hard. 

I treat my depression the best I can. I have an amazing therapist, an amazing spouse, I take my medication and I work hard to make the lifestyle changes I know can help. I exercise often, try to meditate, work to let people in to my life and my struggles and try to be open and honest about the struggle. 

That last one is harder than it sounds. 

Sometimes people think that depression is only obvious sadness; that it’s crying in the middle of your living room floor or bursting into tears when your boss looks at you sideways.

Those are often side affects of major depressive disorder, which is it’s own unique monster. I’ve crossed paths with that one before, but it’s the “mild depression” and I beg, beg, beg to differ with the idea that any depression is mild, that clips me at the knees. 

I wrote this post today because I got up and put pants on - but for some reason - perhaps the reason that I can seldom see but always feel - putting pants on felt like an accomplishment. 

So today, and many days, both behind me and probably ahead of me, the best I could do in a day is put pants on. 

But I’m going to do my best to celebrate those pants. And maybe even, if I can find it in myself, bedazzle the shit out of those pants.

 

Believe in your worth

Believe in your worth. 

I jotted down these words in my notebook as the speaker continued his presentation. I circled them, drew stars around, and more than anything, tried to do just that; believe. 

In my worth.

Worth.

I looked around the room at the other fitness professionals and wondered how many others questioned their worth. I don't think I was alone in chewing hard on this phrase - but looking at so many of my colleagues, in their twenties and thirties and mostly men - felt like I was in the minority.

I could be wrong, but I think women struggle differently with worth than men do. Not always of course - but often. 

The speaker was talking about finances - about literally believing in the value you provide to others and being willing to ask for money to be paid appropriately for your time, skills and knowledge. But it can be really difficult to believe your skills are worth someone else’s money if you struggle to believe in your own worth as a person. 

Researcher Brene Brown says that the practice of worthiness is about vulnerability. I mean, she does study vulnerability for a living so of course she says that…But she goes on to say that worthiness is about recognizing the voice of “never enough” and finding the courage and strength to persevere anyway.

Good enough

When I first started to hang a shingle as a photographer, I constantly battled the “good enough” mindset. Working in a camera shop, I saw plenty of photographers who were charging money for their work, and, in comparison, I didn’t think mine was that bad. 

But I still didn’t think I was good enough. When the local AA affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates hired me to take pictures, I refused to take their money. I was so surprised that they hired me that I accepted season tickets as my payment.

Season tickets that I didn't need because I had a pass to shoot the games from the dugout...

I mean you can't make that stuff up.

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I battled the same crisis of confidence over a decade later when I made the switch to fitness. I quit my job at Bates to take an unpaid internship in another state so that I could feel like I was good enough to do this fitness thing.

And yet still, at the end of almost every day for the past 40 years, I lean on the bathroom sink and look in the mirror. I scan my face, my crows feet, my laugh lines, that two inch chin hair that good lord, how have I missed plucking that?

And I struggle to believe that I'm good enough.

I write this post today, not because I want anyone to tell me that I am good enough - in fact - please don't. That message needs to come from within me. Just as it needs to come from within all of you.

It's up to me to work on my own worthiness. To meditate, to practice self-compassion, and to let go of comparison with others. But we all need a little help and support in keeping each other accountable for that kind of work too.

Sometimes I write what I call a head-nodding post. Nothing earth-shattering here. Perhaps just something that you read on your smart phone on your lunch break and think yeah - me too. I also feel that way. 

And maybe you think hey - me too - I'll work on the too.

Be strong. 

Be kind. 

Be gentle. 

What's the worst thing that could happen?

Fear is defined as "an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat."

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Or so says the Google when I look up the definition. 

One of the strategies for dealing with fear is to create a worst case scenario situation. I'd like to take this moment to differentiate between using a worst case scenario to eliminate fear, and jumping to irrational conclusions when someone is five minutes late. 

Text to Sheila: Why aren't you answering?

                        Are you in a ditch?

                       How will I know if you're in a ditch?

                       Me: googling the traffic on the highways

Text from Sheila: My ringer was off.

We call my alter ego Worst Case Scenario Wilma. 

But apparently, imagining a worst case scenario is also a useful strategy in managing fear. I remember using this strategy in high school when I was afraid I would fail a Trigonometry test. 

As it turns out, the worst thing that happened was that I failed them all, and realized my calling was in writing, as opposed to arithmetic. 

I decided to put this theory to the test of some current things that scare me. 

1. Heights.

I’m terrified of heights. Like, I watch something on t.v. where they show someone on a ledge and my legs feel funny. I suppose the worst case scenario isn’t actually heights, but falling off the ledge. Into a canyon. Thousands of feet down. To my death. Like Wile E. Cayote. 

That seems pretty bad. 

2. Snakes 

The worst case scenario if I encountered a snake would be….well….I'm too busy blacking out from panic to know what else might happen. 

3. Tarantulas

See above, but magnify it by 17,000. Then multiply that number by a billion.

And add infinity.

That.  

4. Looking stupid and falling on my face

Last year, Doug brought an Improv coach in to one of our team meetings. I had been wanting to take an improv class for a long time, but I when the exercises started, I felt like I was 15 all over again. I was terrified of looking stupid, and was self-conscious about everything I was saying and doing. 

Improv really requires you to let go of judgement and just react but I couldn’t. Stop. Overthinking. I've also really wanted to take a stand up class, but I have a similar fear.

If I run those two activities through the filter of what's the worst thing that could happen, well, I guess the truth is, the worst thing would be that I never tried, right? 

Which brings me to my last point.  

5. Not fulfilling my potential 

All kidding aside (though I am not kidding about the above), one of my greatest fears is not fulfilling my potential. I have a strong sense that I’ve got more in me to give to this world than what I’ve given to this point. I don’t know if that comes in the form of coaching, teaching, writing, or mentoring, but I feel like I’ve got more to give. 

As someone with a strong propensity for overthinking, I’m afraid I’ll spend more time spinning my wheels about what I should be doing that I’ll never get around to actually doing. 

Once again, the worst thing I can do is too much thinking and not enough doing. 

6. Elevators

What’s the worst thing that could happen if I got stuck in an elevator? 

Hahahahahahaha...ah....

You don't ever want to see that. 

Trust me.