Broken eyes, broken brains and the things we don’t talk about

That’s me trying to hide in the back. I was probably 12 or 13 – about the time in my life when someone called me “fat” for the first time. Also, obviously, one of my more awkward phases.
It’s Sunday and I find myself muddled. Again.

I think it’s the weekends where I find myself with lots of time to do nothing, that I struggle. Sometimes it’s not that I have the time to do nothing, it’s that my body demands that I do nothing. Even though I try to embrace this reality, this physical need for rest, I can’t help but resent it. The best part of this is that I usually/used to/generally live for rest and doing nothing. The struggle against it is what I find so odd. And off putting.

Ideas come into my head randomly that I find myself wanting to blog about but I’m struggling to find the right story, or way to tell the story is probably more accurate. So I don’t write anything. It’s easy to write about the details of my newly diagnosed MS experience. The symptoms, the processes, the frustrations and the health system dysfunction because that shit practically writes itself. And there are so many bloggers out there writing about that very thing, sometimes I feel like just another voice in a sea of voices that really all sound the same.

It’s the other stuff I want to write about but find myself without the words.

Why do I feel so ugly? Why do I hate looking at myself? Why do I have a face full of zits like a 13-year-old-girl going through puberty (all while being a recently turned 50-year-old woman who is looking more wrinkled and more haggard by the minute)? Why do photos of myself make me cringe? Why do I avoid looking at my own reflection in random mirrors or plate glass windows? Why do I just want to hide? Do I feel ugly, so I look ugly? Is this a mind over matter kind of thing? Why can’t I even take a selfie that doesn’t make me want to throw up? I can usually find my beauty in a selfie – but only in a photo I take myself. I can usually feel OK just realizing that what I see in the mirror and what other people see in the actual world are not the same thing (my main motivation for ever taking a selfie at all! Well that and good make up.)…but lately I find myself hitting ‘delete.’ I even loathe the pics I take myself, these days.

Why do I find myself thinking about my single status for the first time in…years? I have lived alone, mainly alone, for almost 15 years. I genuinely love my life, my solitude and mostly my freedom to do exactly as I please. Why do I struggle to admit, (even to myself), how long it’s been since I’ve had sex? Or even kissed a boy? Why do I find myself afraid of growing old alone when I had formerly accepted, more like joyfully embraced, this fact almost ten years ago? Why do I suddenly feel like a freak for preferring my solitude? Why do I struggle to find value in my life lived alone when it was never a problem for me before?

What is even going on up in there, inside my skull? My broken brain shouldn’t be this broken. But it is. Obviously.

The only way I can explain any of it is to explore my old ways of dealing with stress. The Old Me Method you might call it. It was pretty simple (and not entirely rational or even reasonable, but I’ve never claimed to be entirely sane). 

In times of extreme stress, or even just regular crappy days, I used to be able to fall back on “pretty”. Pretty was what I was. It was easy. I might not have been able to see it myself when I looked in a mirror but enough people convinced me of it over the course of my life on this planet that at one point I just decided to accept their words as true and ignore my own (apparently broken) eyes. Even when things were falling apart, I still had to be grateful because I was healthy. I was better than healthy: I was pretty. And being pretty meant pretty much everything (pun fully intended).

But I wasn’t thin, which was a struggle for me because my entire life I equated skinny with pretty. You couldn’t be one or the other you had to be both, in my opinion.

How could I be pretty if I wasn’t also thin? The answer was, I couldn’t. Or, worse, I would always be the “such a pretty face” girl. You have such a pretty face! I’ve heard that for as long as I can remember remembering. I loved hearing it even though I never really believed it. I thought people lied to me just to be nice.

My first boyfriend (when I was all of 13 years old) made fun of me for being fat after we broke up. Mutual friends, who were also 13-year-old boys, told me about it so I would stop openly pining over this kid who was obviously acting like a jerk. 

My first big “real” love told me more than once that I would be “the prettiest girl on campus” if I lost 20 pounds (yeah, he might not remember saying that but I will never forget it). Many years later, my husband’s parents had many excellent reasons not to like me, in their minds. They thought I was a gold digger. They thought I was too NOT blonde. They knew I was definitely NOT thin enough to fit into their country club lifestyle and they never even attempted to hide thinking any of those things.

My first major relationship after my husband died ended with me being unceremoniously dumped for a skinny girl, who was older than me, and in my opinion not nearly as “pretty.” I had put myself on the line for this guy. I gave him my whole heart, judgement of other people be damned, and believe me, there were a lot of people judging me in those early widow days. Then he abruptly left me – while he was still living in my house rent-free, because he said he needed room. He was feeling like I wanted to “own” him. Whatever that meant. I thought it was because in his mind he found something better. In fact, he actually said these words to me himself, when I once directly asked him tearfully how he could betray me like this. He said, “She was just too good to pass up, I guess.”

The most recent “real” relationship I had was with a guy who told me over and over again that he knew I could be thinner, because he’d seen the pictures where I actually was thinner, and I was in total control over it. I just needed to eat less and work out more. Easy. What a fucking idiot. He told me it was my mother’s fault I was overweight. She solved everything with food, he said. He said these things to me over and over again over the course of three years or so that we were together while also clinging to me like a parasite, trying to change every little thing about me. All while claiming to be crazy “in love” with me. I find it mildly confusing that his current girlfriend of many years isn’t anywhere close to thin. She’s lovely, but she’s also quite normal person sized – kind of like me. Maybe he grew up? All I can say is, better her than me.

Oddly, the only relationship I have ever been in (in my entire life) where I felt beautiful and accepted just as I am, is the one that I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone about.

He was not only much younger than me (way too much by all decent standards), he was also black which would have been frowned upon in my moderately racist Italian family, no way around that. But he wasn’t just black, he was BLACK. An ebony skinned Jamaican boy almost 10 years younger than me and totally inappropriate for me – not for any of these reasons. But because I got involved with him in the process of trying to get him un-involved with another one of my married friends. I inserted myself into a situation with the intent of making something right. It didn’t work, and somehow, we started spending time together. Lots of time. Quality time.

Don’t even ask me how that happened, it was really just twisted. But happen it did. I’m still being ostracized for it by those friends from my old married life. I honestly didn’t care. I knew what I was doing. I was happy. I felt beautiful and accepted for the first time in my life. It was worth being labeled a bad friend! I knew this relationship wouldn’t last (for very many practical reasons) and I was also OK with that. I didn’t really want a long-term relationship. I was mostly happy alone. But I loved it while it lasted and there’s no way around that one. How messed up is that?

What’s stranger to me is why can’t I stop thinking about things I thought I had dealt with years and years ago. I was happy! None of this mattered to me anymore. I worked my way through it. I never tried to run away from it. I faced all of it. I worked through it! Even Cheryl will tell you so. Cheryl has been with me through it all, guiding my work, making sure I wasn’t just playing. I was figuring it out. I won client of the year! More than once. It’s one of the things I am proudest of in my life (even though it’s not really a real thing, and I’m quite sure she says that to all of her patients – she can’t fool me). But I’m still quite proud.

Then suddenly out of nowhere, I get diagnosed with a chronic disease, my whole life changes in the course of a year, and all of the sudden all of this old, messed up shit starts flooding back…along with this hideous acne. My face is so messed up right now that my skin actually hurts.

It’s like I’m the Old Me again (in the bad ways, not the good young and fashionable Old Me) but without the freedom or the advantages Old Me had for disguising myself (those would be things like drinking too much, lots of sex, random dangerous behavior, really expensive and impractical shoes). I didn’t fear being alone because I knew I sincerely preferred it that way. But the truth was that if I decided that I wanted to be with someone, if I ever felt a little like “company,” I could do that any time I wanted. Hell, my cell phone was chock full of willing participants who I could summon with a quick text message (“you home?”) whenever I wanted to not be alone for a few hours at least…then I’d be blissfully happy to see him go.

I don’t feel that way anymore. I actually deleted most of those contacts from my phone.  That’s some final shit right there when you hit “delete.”

Being with a man can’t make me feel better anymore. Nothing can make me feel better except for me getting my head right. No movie or TV show or series of amazing books can make me better. No amount of alone time can do it either.

I am going to get through this (alone) just like I’ve gotten through every other thing. Why does this scare me so much, now? And why won’t these fucking zits go away?

Post Script: I almost didn’t post this entry. I felt too…fragile maybe? Vulnerable, definitely. My family reads this blog, some of my young family members. Maybe I’d like to avoid busting up the images in their heads of mostly wholesome Crazy Aunt Beth. People I work with read this blog and that’s even scarier. My entire career, hell the entire advertising agency industry, is based on your ability to project things like uber confidence, control and intelligence. It worried me to think what people would think, reading these things about me. I have to say, I’ve become a freaking expert over the years at mastering the art of the persona. It took effort and it was a full-time job. In some ways, it still is.

So, I decided to not “publicize” this post via social media where those people are likely to see it, click and read it immediately (places where I can’t easily control privacy settings). The reality is I write this blog for me. Part of me writes it in the hopes that I could help another newly diagnosed patient deal with this mess in a better, more informed way. Part of me writes it because I have always wanted to be a “real” writer. No, not even that actual bachelor’s degree I have in actual WRITING makes me feel like I have achieved enough with my writing to call myself a writer.

But mostly, I write this blog for me. I have zero idea why it helps me. I write in a journal every single day of my life and it has always been incredibly helpful to me. I still do it habitually. And it still helps. But knowing that actual people are reading my actual words, on this blog for some strange reason, helps me more. Could it be because I am a terrible narcissist? That might be part of it. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been accused of being such.

Another dimension of the phenomena made itself known to me recently, though, in a Facebook message from a friend who I really care about but don’t often see. It touched me so deeply – that someone I never see would not only think of me, but think of me as worthy of giving a very personal and special gift…it hit me like a ton of bricks. In my message reply to him I wrote, “You have no idea how much this means to me… Sometimes I feel like I’m disappearing.”

Or something like that. It hit me hard. I do feel like I’m disappearing. I feel like my edges are getting blurry and the things I believed to be right, true and reliable are just not. Call it growing up, call it a mid-life crisis – call it what you will.

But this blog helps me because it makes me feel visible, in some odd way. So, I am going to hit “post” on this really scary post. Luckily not many people will actually read it! I wish I knew how to get more people (not related to me) to read it. Maybe I should ask one of those digital marketing experts I’m surrounded by every day, about how to get more people to read my blog.