So a few weeks ago my brain made a crazy thought that was so loud, so angry, and so vicious that it made me cry: “What if [That Guy You Like] saw you doing this pole dancing shit? He’d be disgusted and repulsed, because you’re unattractive, and deep down you’re gross and unworthy of love.” Brain, you are a dick sometimes.
That Crazy Thought packed a pretty major punch. I’d been going to as many dance classes as I could squeeze in, but for the next two weeks I didn’t want to make the effort on the extra classes, and then I beat myself up for not exercising, and also for caring so much about a Crazy Thought when there’s a plastic island bigger than Texas in the Pacific Ocean and there are people with real problems and the state of our country, etc. etc., all of which a good, healthy, caring person would focus on, instead of on her body. I felt pretty down: this thing that I loved doing that had heretofore been freeing and empowering and soul-opening had kind of betrayed me, like “You were fooled into thinking this was for Every Woman, weren’t you? Idiot. Don’t you know love and happiness are only for the skinny and sexy? Quit this shit and focus on a real problem. Also, you’re getting old.” SHUT UP CRAZY, JEEZ.
So it left me reeling a bit. Well, great, what do I do now? If this thing that made me feel great can sneak attack me at any minute, then what’s the point of doing it?
My therapist is great; I should give her another shout-out, seeing as how she’s the one who told me to start writing a blog.* She let me cry it out the following week, and then we talked it out. First we talked about how to approach the next few weeks of class. I said that I hadn’t brought many dress-up thingies (fishnets, boots, skirts, leg wraps, etc.) that week; I just wanted to go and dance and let my body move and not focus too much on Being Sexy or whatever. She agreed with me—I needed to remember why I liked dancing, to give myself some evidence to use to refute the crazy. She was right. Dancing that night felt great. I worked on some technical issues like my grip and my spin, my breathing, my flexibility, my strength. It was fun, and it was also a chance to inventory what my body can do, as opposed to what she can’t do.
I’ve decided that when a Thought that is potentially Crazy occurs to me, I need first of all to recognize it (harder than it sounds– it’s much easier to recognize the Crazy in retrospect), and then examine it. Before I accept a thought as truth, I must ask myself “where is the evidence?” My Crazy Thought was loud and mean, but was it true? Well, for starters, [That Guy I Like] has told me I’m nice-looking before, but he’s also manifestly uninterested, romantically. So the likelihood of his ever seeing me pole dance is small, and I really don’t need to worry about it. My imagining him there, watching me, and having a negative reaction? The Crazy.
But but but, the nasty voice says, what about all those times So-and-So said Such-and-Such? That one time when you were 8, 12, 17, 26? See? Proof of your ongoing, long-standing horribleness. Au contraire, Nasty Thought, I didn’t actually like or respect So-and-So, did I? So-and-So did not speak the truth. I block out the Crazy for a minute, and I think.
How do we heal the deep wounds of self-disgust, of self-castigation, of self-loathing?
I’ve always been a little skeptical of the Power of Positive Thinking as a means of curing a mental or psychological ailment. I’m not here to tell anyone to Just Believe in Yourself! or Think Positive! or Hugs Make it Better! or Just Breathe! or whatever, because Just Thinking Positive, Silly! has never worked well for me on its own. I’m an overthinker with some depression issues coupled with mild anxiety, and if there is a way to turn an gentle admonishment into a stabbing critique, my charming brain will find it. Telling someone who struggles with negative self-image or destructive thoughts to Just Stop Doing it Wrong, and Then You’ll Be All Right! doesn’t work. How do I know this? Oh, years of beating myself up for feeling bad about feeling badly about myself for feeling bad and on and on in a super-fun shame spiral. My therapist has tried more than once to get me to come up with a mantra to say when I look in a mirror on days when my personal self-image is at a low ebb, and I always feel ludicrous and lame and cliched and self-helpy. I need time. I need time to think, to evaluate, and to examine.
And then one day I realized that when I stopped talking shit about my body and other women’s bodies, I felt better.
And then I sighed and said, “Fine, if getting rid of the negative language made me feel better, I reckon adding some positive language in might top that.”
I just couldn’t do a mantra though. I can’t look in the mirror and proclaim “You’re magnificent, you glorious creature of radiance!” That is silly. I am not remotely silly (says she who sings “You are My Sunshine” to Ruby, occasionally with original, Ruby-specific lyrics).
My new best friend Megan suggests writing: writing about how you feel when and why, over the course of several weeks, so you can recognize your own Patterns of Crazy (quothe Megan, “It’s like a Penseive, but cheaper!”), when they’re most likely to strike, and what seems to help derail them. She also suggests writing a list of things your body can do. “Ugh, lame” said Sweets. And then I read Megan’s list:
It gets to eat ice cream!
And drink seltzer!
And love on amazing people!
And laugh at its own really horribly inappropriate jokes!
And sing! LOUD!
It can type really fast!
And it looks cute in short dresses and tall boots!
Can reach high shelves in a single reach!
Feels delicious lying in the sunshine!
Gets to scratch kitty chins!
And wear a tiara!
And do handstands in a pool!
Um, yeah. That list is awesome.
And so the next day I found myself on the train, unusually awake, and I said a little prayer, because I hadn’t checked in in a while, and then I thought “Look, seriously, what’s on my list?”
Things My Body Is Good At (Besides Grammar, obviously)
- Well, definitely petting kitties
- I also enjoy drinking seltzer
- Enjoying the way my hair swishes against my neck when it’s in a ponytail
- Making crazy 78-step desserts
- Climbing a pole
- Touching my nose to my knees with my legs straight
- Giving really big hugs
- Reaching tall things in the grocery store aisle without help
- Walking really, really fast
- Wearing pretty underwear because I damn well can
- Singing like no one is listening as long as no one is actually listening
- Being really, really tall in really high heels
And then my attention span shorted out and I started to doze off. But hey, I did it! It’s not the most profound list, but it’s positive, and most importantly, it’s true. And now I have a new thought pattern. This week, when I’ve been feeling shitty about my body, I don’t just have to say “No, you’re lovely, just as you are” (which is always nice to hear), but I can also say “and remember your list? You can do stuff. There is hard, scientific evidence that your body can do stuff. So calm down.” Has it worked perfectly? I mean, no, obviously not. But it’s a step. It’s a new way of thinking. It’s a way to begin to heal the scars that negative thoughts have left over the years. It’s a way to begin to chart new paths for our thoughts to follow, out of the tangled maze of anxiety and onto a smoother, stronger road.
I would legitimately love to know what’s on other people’s lists, man and woman alike. They (clearly) don’t have to be profound, Olympics-winning, history-changing physical abilities. But are they abilities that bring us joy, satisfaction, peace, delight? Let’s share more of those.
*Full disclosure: Roommate’s Boyfriend suggested the name for a baking-and-underwear blog more than 2 years ago, so I guess behind every great woman is her therapist and her roommate’s boyfriend.