Leaning Back…


As I write this I am prepping to leave for a meeting in New York in the morning and coming off a long weekend trip to Texas to attend a conference, which capped off a week of lots of work, appointments, meetings, blogging and truly exhausting personal obligations. Oh yeah, and that whole “book” thing. I am bone tired; weary to the point of collapse and yet there is an voice in my head saying “You are not doing enough. Try harder.” Have you ever heard that voice? I bet you have.

As women I think we have it pretty tough.  I think we are fierce competitors, more-so then men in many ways, and we are easily and often overlooking our health in order to maintain crazy schedules, our families, friendships and bodies.  I feel there is this obtuse goal of becoming the impossibly perfect woman who has a demanding full time job, is a wonderfully engaged mother and wife, amazing cook (gluten/sugar/dairy free of course), attends five spin/barre/yoga/pilates classes a week, sleeps 8 hours, voluteers for the greater good  and is dressed to the nines and, while doing so, is perfectly relaxed. Namaste.

But no one can do all that (with out a team of full time personal assistants and nannies, at least).  In this Lean In era though, the pressure to do more and be more is everywhere.   I don’t even take time to draw in full breaths never mind meditate.  It’s not a sustainable pace of life and I am starting to feel like as a gender, we need to both lean in as well as know when to “lean back”.  I came across this article from the Washington Post about just this- the working woman (that includes you stay at home Moms) and her inability to stop and take in life’s true joys because we’re trying to do too much.  This quote in particular sums it up quite perfectly:

Americans work around the clock to be a success, wearing exhaustion like a badge of honor. In the process, they miss a lot of important stuff. Success is less about money and more about valuing wisdom and wonder, giving to others and well-being.

I’ve totally felt like there are other bloggers, writers and designers out there working until 1 a.m. and felt guilty when I turn in at 9:30 for bed.  I’ve berated myself for not more fiercely going after new, bigger business when I already have a wait list.  Just as I’m sure there are others who feel the need to stay in the office until 9pm and still get up for a 6 am run instead of sleeping in an extra hour, or moms who feel they need to produce some incredible Pinterest-sourced kids activities when really all they need is to put them in front of a Disney movie for a little and sit down with a magazine. There is this guilt associated with taking a break, this feeling that others aren’t and so you shouldn’t either. But in reality what we need to do is feel proud of what we’ve accomplished, keep working hard (of course) but also balance that work with more healthy behavior.  For example, I’ve stopped doing yoga in favor of working more.  I’m not taking that time to get myself off the grid anymore and it’s showing now. I feel out of shape,  sluggish and so much more stressed.  And while I know that my career and life are very blessed, that doesn’t mean I don’t feel broken from the pressure and pace sometimes.

So I’m asking you if you have felt this pressure and what you’ve done to try to get off the hamster wheel?  For those working busy jobs, how do you give yourself permission to check out? And of course when you’re a Mom there are no breaks until the kids are asleep or the babysitter shows up (this video perfectly explains that), but perhaps there’s a technique you’ve developed that helps you relax a little?  I’d love to hear what YOU do to give yourself a break and enjoy your life’s little details more and turn this comments section into a little tip list for all those reading.  Or perhaps a forum to vent, because sometimes a nice little venting session is the best gift you can give yourself. :)


Oh the Irony…

One of the best things to come out of this blog is discovering how much I enjoy writing.   Growing up I never really tried to write, but always felt I had a lot to say.  If you’ve been reading for a while you know that I occasionally post personal essays exposing my  fears and struggles, which prove both therapeutic for myself and according to comments, for some of you too.  To me there is no greater success than hearing from someone that my gut-spilling makes them feel less alone. The essay I wrote (read here) on being an awkward child and my struggles with anorexia and Body Dysmorphic Disorder was by far one of my most popular and personally gratifying.  So I was beside myself with the editors of Ladies Home Journal called and asked to buy the essay for publication.  I could not believe that someone wanted to PAY me for my writing and publish it in one of the biggest women’s magazines in the country! And then it hit me, that mulleted, buck-toothed  middle school photo would be published with it! It’s one thing to have my readers see it, but quite another to imagine it in every supermarket in the US. And it’s there, now, in the June issue of LHJ, probably in your very grocery store.

But funnily enough, that’s not the photo I’m struggling to accept.

It just so happens that I am currently having a really hard time with my BDD. Like, really hard. Since writing the blog post it’s gotten way worse. And it’s so hard to explain and understand, but when life gets pretty stressful I take all that negative energy and channel it into hating my appearance, which happened to coincide recently with a few photo-shoots, exacerbating the issue. Again, it’s a diagnosed mental condition and I have been working with a specialist on it. I know to some it sounds like false modesty and bullshit, but trust me, it is not. I’ve been dealing with this my whole adult life. And when I saw the “new” picture of myself in the magazine I felt panicked. It’s not a good picture of me, even my friends and Andrew have said that it doesn’t even look like me.  For a few days I let my misfiring neurotransmitters sway me into forgetting about how proud I was of the article and instead focus on the picture and not share with you that it’s out.  Which is the exact OPPOSITE of what the article was about and totally a step backwards in learning to not only accept myself but also not place such importance on the exterior.

Then last night I read the story again. And I cried. And I remembered for a moment what it was about and how honored I am to be published and thankful to LHJ for believing in my words and my message. And I took a little of my own advice and am letting you know it’s out. And am using these feelings as yet another tool in working towards healing myself.

So what if it’s not a great picture, I’M PUBLISHED! :)

Fashion Friday: On Beauty

As I stood in the horrific light of the Gap dressing room yesterday trying on several bikinis I had a bit of a meltdown. After spotting one of them on a lithe, tan model in one of my many, many magazines I devour monthly (and being fresh off a sweat inducing yoga class and self-tanned to a decent color) I felt like I was ready for a little bikini try on time. You have to be “ready” to try on bathing suits, not in a “post-cheeseburger-pasty-white-and-pissed-off” mood. Like many women, I struggle fiercely with self-esteem. I’ve been wanting to write about this topic for a very long time, but always feared what people would think (hello-self esteem 101, Erin) and if I could possibly put into words the incredibly complex emotions I feel about the importance placed on beauty these days and my personal relationship with my looks.  If I keep waiting for the perfect sentence and the perfect time, I will never write it. So here we are and here I go. No little outfits for you today, just deep thoughts….

I was not a cute adolescent. People who did not know me then like to argue with me on this. Let me assure you I was not. Let me assure you even further still with this assault on your eyeballs:

Me in fifth grade, I believe.

I’ll give you a minute to take it all in while I go wretch in a trashcan about the fact that I just posted that on the freaking internet for all the world (and my ex-boyfriends) to see.  But hey, Tina Fey put her not-so-flattering middle school photo on the back cover of her best-selling book (the whole thing an inspiration and a half to me, by the way) so I’m in good self-deprecating company. Where shall I begin? The walrus teeth? The unibrow? The extraordinary mullet topped off by the world’s ugliest headband? Or perhaps the collision of chubbiness and my spectacular 80’s clothing (I wore that sweatshirt in TWO professional photos that year, TWO!)  My mother still insists I was “cuuuuute” while my dad is more realistic in saying “people will think you’ve had plastic surgery.”  There are even worse pictures, one specifically involving a Debbie Gibson hat, brocade vest/plaid shirt combo and crash zoom lens- but I must have lit it on fire. Or perhaps it spontaneously combust from it’s own revulsion of itself.  Even my husband, who is the first to pay me lavish compliments, looks at photos from this era and stifles a laugh and thanks Baby Jesus I “matured”.

Want to know the funny thing though?  At this age I thought I was the shit. I believe I even told my mom I wanted to be a teen model and made her take “modeling” shots of me.  My confidence knew no bounds, and my mom deserves an Oscar for not dying of laughter while clicking away as I tried to get that mullet to flow in the breeze. I never thought about calories, clothing size, comparing myself to other girls or clearly waxing (even though I was more Teen Wolf than “teen model” material).  I wouldn’t think twice when absolutely crushing a Croissantwich at Burger King on Sunday mornings (as in every Sunday).  Or fret when I needed to go up a size in my Limited Too cranberry colored jeans. I was “me”, and there was no other “me” out there so why would I be worried? Appearance, beyond copying Blossom’s illustrious fashions, was not of the up most importance.  Puffy Painting everything within my grasp and finding my brother the perfect bridesmaids outfit to go with my dress up wedding gown were of more concern.

And one day things changed, and I don’t really know why or how. I could “blame the media” or my genetics or social pressure (there’s only so many times you can not be asked to dance by a boy at a school function until it starts hurting and changing you), but I can’t pinpoint a specific “a-ha” moment or traumatic taunt by a peer, but all of the sudden I started to worry, compare and diet.  I began to try to “fix” myself  and once it started, it spread through me like a flame on an oil slick.  I began to hate my body, hate my face, hate that I wasn’t cool, hate that I felt invisible, hate that I wasn’t perfect.  And that hatred fueled a near-death battle with anorexia that left me a ravaged shell of skin and bones and locked up in a mental hospital insisting I looked normal and that everyone ELSE was crazy. The hard part to explain (and fathom) was that I did think I looked totally fine and I did think that eating 250 calories a day was totally healthy.  At 5’9” and 95 pounds I assure you I looked anything BUT healthy (more “Crypt Keeper body double”-ish).

But this is where and when my Body Dysmorphic Disorder developed and I now have to admit, it’s never left (cut to me in the dressing room yesterday).  Recently I was asked to contribute to a great book by Aimee Liu about recovering from eating disorders and while reading it I realized in all honesty I am still not out of the woods. I feel so far less confident and happy with how I look now then when I was that pudgy little buck-toothed girl of twelve but I’m not sick like I was either. Inside I am still the girl no one asked to dance and I will always be no matter how much the outside of me changes. I assumed that the BDD had been beat alongside the anorexia, like two evil culprits linked arm in arm, skulking off in the night.  But these things do not exist exclusively together, one of them can linger and even hide for a while, only to resurface when it senses the slightest chink in the armor. So while I now eat with abandon, I still hate looking in the mirror because I cannot do it without the fiercest of criticism.  The reflection I see is vastly different from what others see- something many doctors have corroborated.  And the hardest part is that people think this is a case of false modesty or fishing for compliments, when really it comes from a far darker, sadder place.  I’ve turned down TV shows for this reason, shied away from photo-shoots and stopped posting the “What I’m Wearing” segment I know a lot of you liked.  The added attention placed on how I look sent me many, many steps back in my life-long goal of self-acceptance and valuing the internal over the external. It’s frustrating for those who care about me, and it’s torture for me to live with.  But I AM working on it. And I hope that someday not only will I like what I see, but more importantly, I WON’T CARE.

Not everyone has such an extreme relationship with their appearance, but I have yet to meet a woman 100% confident in every inch of their bodies or faces- just look at the money being made on cosmetics, creams, procedures and diets and make-over T shows.  Some of the most beautiful, famous women in the world have lower than low self-esteem- probably because once you’ve become “known” as beautiful, having to maintain that and feeling like it’s importance is so intertwined with your self-worth must be scary; especially in today’s society in which so much value is placed on outside appearances (“plastic surgery for EVERYONE!!!!”).  I know that so many people have issues with themselves they may not like to acknowledge or talk about with others.  But admitting them is the first step to overcoming them- so here I am, posting the picture that my family used to joke would be excellent fodder for UsWeekly if I ever became famous in an attempt to hold myself accountable to be stronger and work harder.

But you know what, I am grateful I went through that awkward phase, if only because it served as inspiration for what was the most epic father of the bride speeches ever given, in which my dad recounted getting a call from me from a pay phone at the middle school crying because no one would dance with me. He came to pick me up and took me home and promised me someday all the boys would want to dance with me, but until then he would dance anytime I wanted.  And as I stood there some 14 years later, finally a bride for real, next to man who wanted to dance all his dances with me, he pulled out a roll of “Daddy’s Dance Tickets with Erin” and handed them to Andrew saying he was the only man he trusted to be my dance partner. But as he handed them over he tore one ticket off and looked at me and said “but I get one last dance” (I am fucking sobbing at my computer right now writing this, by the way).  I would not have traded being the most popular and beautiful middle school girls in the world for that moment.  I wouldn’t trade anything for that moment, in fact, and as I look up at that picture I have hated and hidden for so many years I feel nothin’ but love for that silly bucktoothed girl and know that she is going to be okay. No, I know that she IS okay.

Now, where is that damn headband? I think I saw one like it on Etsy.

On Love.

As a self-described quote whore I was trolling the interwebs for quotes on love to post for Valentine’s Day.  There are just so many ways to talk about love that selecting one quote became the most difficult of tasks. Finding one sentence to describe the experience of love is impossible because there are so many versions of it and every person in their interaction with another in this manner will feel something different.  Sure there are universal truths, but just for myself alone I could post seventeen different quotes- all probably contradictory to each other because of my own personal experiences in this department.

In my short 31 years I’ve experienced all kinds of love- real and imagined, true and false, reciprocated and unrequited, deep and shallow, healing and hurtful. Love is the most powerful emotion there is (in my opinion) and the nuances of it and the way it changes over time and with each new fall is what keeps it the most  important thing we experience in this life. If you think about it, it’s the driving force behind all we do and the one thing that can rock your world or shatter it in one instant. Being a chronic relationship person (i.e. I did not date around a whole lot before walking down the aisle) even I have had such a wide variety of experiences in love- I have had my heart broken and broken a heart or two myself. I’ve been cheated on and been the cheater. I’ve been the first to say I love you and had someone say it to me when all I felt was the desire to high five them at most. I’ve wanted to tell someone how I felt and never did. I have fallen in love with two little furry fellas with four legs and known the feeling that I would do anything to protect them. I’ve been asked by someone to spend the rest of my life with them and said yes.

But there are things I have not experienced too- the mind-blowing love of your own child, the pain of divorce, the thrill of a secret admirer (minus the creepy dude who sent me a picture of himself in ladies underwear after a particular piece of press- that, my friends, does not count). And even if you’ve found love, it changes because people change. And either that love changes with you or it changes in a way that means it’s time to move on.  See, as much as I love romance and all it’s warm fuzzy gestures, I’m not a die hard romantic. I’m much more of the “I don’t believe in soul mates” school of thought.  I believe there are a lot of people out there that I could be happy with, and so does my husband (so you can stop worrying that I’m going to get an irate call in a minute). I think it’s dangerous to think that there is only one person for you, just as I think it’s dangerous to expect to get everything from one person.  My life is made delightfully lovely by my husband, but it’s rounded out by the friends and family that provide things that aren’t in his nature. I can’t expect him to love all the things I do.  I can’t have a guy’s guy AND one who loves Twilight, yoga, celebrity gossip, museums and shopping for hours.   He doesn’t expect me  to scream at the tv during Patriot’s games just as I don’t expect him to do the same during red carpet shows (although sometimes he does join me in berating people’s fashion choices). And as I enter the phase of life where I have friends having babies and getting divorced in near equal measure- trying to predict my fate in love beyond getting up everyday and working at it and believing in it seems silly.

But as it’s said over and over in many ways you can’t love anyone else fully until you love yourself. Despite all my relationship highs and lows, the relationship with myself has been the most tumultuous and continues to be the one I need to work on the most.  I find it easier to tell someone else I love them than tell myself the same, and that needs to change. So this Valentine’s Day I am going to show myself some love- probably in the form of chocolate and chick flicks, but hopefully also in the form of confidence,  bravery and forgiveness.  That would be the sweetest gift of all.

Fail Better.

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Photographs via the Girls & Dreams series from She Hit Pause Studios (love the name)

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about what I want to be when I grow up.  I have a pretty fabulous job working for myself designing homes, writing this blog, penning a column in a local magazine and doing some fashion styling on the side as well. I know I have it pretty good. Yet, there are days when it doesn’t feel like it’s enough. Or that its right. Or that there might be more for me- more depth, more meaning, more something. I think constantly about all the things I want to try and do and be and it’s dizzying to say the least.  I remember when I was little and all I wanted out of life was a hatchback Ford Escort and a job as a checkout lady at the grocery store (and to be Mrs. Luke Perry, of course). Oh how far I’ve come in my desires from life. I don’t feel cursed by the urge to expand my horizons, but I do feel pressure and the head spinning speed of passing time as I hurdle into my thirties. As if the universe wanted to make sure I felt understood in some small way, I was suggested to read an article in O Magazine by my favorite author Elizabeth Gilbert.  “You might cry it’s so good” my friend said. And I almost did, and I don’t cry easily.  Like her book “Eat, Pray, Love” I felt like she was speaking to me personally and it was a great relief. I urge you to read it and then sit with it for a minute or two and read it again.

Gilbert’s point that we all feel this insane pressure to be all things and compare ourselves to others who SEEM to be doing all those things we aren’t is a tale I know all too well.  While I get emails from readers- successful lawyers, doctors, financial executives, mothers, teachers- all who ask me how I was able to craft this dream job of mine and admit that they are unhappy and want to do what I do- I sometimes feel the same about their lives and the importance of what they do.  I am a classic “grass is greener” type of person and am always imagining what it’s like walking in other womens’ stilettos (or Crocs as the case may be).  I wonder about doing other things with my life; other things that interest me greatly like writing a book, focusing on painting again, opening a store, opening a bakery, teaching yoga, teaching art or giving into the rumored bliss of motherhood.  I dream about moving into the city (check), moving far, far away from the city, moving out of this country, vacationing in a jungle, or on a deserted island (watching too much Lost perhaps?) or taking a vacation alone.  The thing is, I know in my heart I can try all these things, and some of them might be failures.  But something I am learning very quickly in my adulthood is that at least trying feels really good because you know something positive will come of it no matter what- you either succeed or you fail and know that you gave it a shot and it wasn’t meant to be.   As I’ve heard a million times over- people far more often regret what they didn’t do than what they did do so I’m going to make a commitment to DO more without thinking it through and picking it apart until there isn’t much left.

All these new adventures in my life make me recognize the growth they are bringing me mentally and spiritually. Failure is something I historically feared more intensely than anything else in this world and I’m starting to find I am less and less afraid of it.  All I have to do is ask myself “whats the WORST that can happen?”– and more often than not, the true answer is not as scary as the bloodbath I conjure up in my head. But it is hard to let go of old habits.  My worst one is trying to be what everyone else wants me to be (or what I think everyone else wants me to be).  Being yourself and owning it- the good and the bad- is a really tough thing to do, but so worth the fight.  I have accepted that I will never be (and probably shouldn’t be) a doctor (despite my penchant for self-diagnosing on WebMD), a business exec, a talk show host, a lawyer, a shrink, a “save the world” type, a vegetarian, an actress, a blonde.  Other people were born to be those things, I wasn’t. Following your passion and bliss won’t always bring you fame and fortune, but it might just bring you a little peace of mind.  And once you stop feeling passionate about that thing you are doing, you can switch it up and try something else that does get your juices flowing.  The second I get up in the morning and don’t feel the immediate urge to write this blog, I’ll stop.  I’ll move onto something else that I do feel excited about.  But I won’t think of it as a failure, bur rather a recreation of who I am.  People are constantly changing (look at Madonna!) and what once made you delighted may now annoy the crap out of you. Go with it. Make changes. Try new things. Take a few risks. But most importantly, relax a little and be a smidge kinder to yourself and your path (discovered or yet to be).

Sorry for the digression into my inner monologue, but I felt that sharing this article which you might have missed if you don’t read O (which I don’t typically) was really important. Now, back to the shallow stuff…. :)