Three Questions About Living My Life The Right Way

Today I’m going to answer the next three questions at once, because I feel as though they can all be answered simultaneously. the questions are: What is the difference between living and existing? If not now, when? and, have you done anything recently worth remembering?

If you know me, or rather, if you knew me, you’d realize that I’ve been trapped in a really crappy mood recently. Not just the January Blues (although January does really suck), more like the September, October, November, December, and January Blues. 2011 was a year I gave my self to stand still, but it left me feeling despondent and desperate to reconnect with my inner self.

I have a great “life”: health, house, husband, and hound. I have a job and a car and great friends. My brother told me that, financially, I’m in the “top 1% globally” (this is out of all 7 billion people, please don’t “Occupy” my driveway), and I can really believe it in many ways: I never thought I’d have all this at the tender age of 26. It’s a great life.

But living, to me, is backpacking across Asia, or learning to weave in India, or building a school in Africa. That was the plan I had for my life, which, for very reasonable reasons, didn’t play out right. Before anyone thinks I’m husband-bashing, the primary focus of my disappointment is myself. I get bouts of paranoia where I doubt myself, and think that I no longer have “what it takes” to do any of the things that I ever wanted to do.

Which brings me onto our second topic. If not now, then when? We all have dreams, some big, some small. Most of our dreams don’t allow us to choose the exact time that we get to realize them; however, there are those dreams, few and ignorable, that actually do focus on something that we can control. For me, that dream has been running. I was a runner when I was younger, WAY younger, over ten years ago. I used to run a lot. But a painful knee condition and the crippling self-consciousness of being an overweight teenager caused a fracture in my self-confidence, and, even after my knees were stronger, I never really ran again. Over the last few years I’ve dappled with 5ks (my fastest time being in the 29th minute), and have been known to run outside on nicer days here in Kansas City. Something in me has wanted to do a longer run years, and I’ve always held myself back, telling myself that I can’t do it, that I’ll fail. Or worse, that I will do it and no-one will care or value it.

This year I turn twenty-seven: the age I always believed I’d have my shit together. I finally realised that this is my year, and that I will train for that half marathon, and I really don’t care what people think or if people think it is an achievement. I’ve decided that 2012 is the “when” and the “now”, and that running this distance race will be the first step towards re-discovering all of my dreams of adventure.

As for the thing worth remembering? Well, I feel like we should remember every day, even the bad ones, as we can’t learn from things we forget. But that aside, I believe that today I did something worth remembering. I took the plunge, I signed up for The Race… I have a great friend who has committed to keeping me running, and I’m going to go for it.

Fingers crossed….

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Do you celebrate the things you do have?

Today I would like to make a list of the things I am grateful for:

1) The fact that, by some strange mercy, it was 64 degrees in Kansas City today. And sunny.

2) My husband, who is one of the kindest and funniest people that I know. Watching him chase my puppy around the house is a highlight of my life.

3) My puppy, Batman, who has taught me that I am a “Dog person”. No matter how bad my day, how sick I feel, or how loud I yell; he always follows me around with a happy face and a wagging tail. His love is unconditional.

4) My job. In this economy it is rare to have a job, let alone a job I enjoy as much as the one I have. I take an immense amount of pride in my work, and am thankful that I am in a career I want to be in.

5) My house. I’m fortunate to be able to afford a home, and all the luxuries that I really need or want. It’s easy to always want more in a country that puts so much emphasis on commodities; however, today I am thankful for what I already have.

6) My family. Even though I am so far away from them, I contact my family every day. I wish that I could be with them, but we are lucky to live in such a technological world where it is possible to be in constant contact with the people I love. I have always been close to them, and they are my constant companions on everything that I do.

7) My friends. I love my friends, both on this side of the world and the other. Today I was able to talk to my oldest friend; Donna and I have been friends since we were three, and I was blessed enough to be maid of honour at her wedding. This afternoon we skyped for the first time, I was able to show her my house, my dog, my new haircut. It didn’t feel as though we were 3000 miles and 6 hours apart. I am thankful for her.

8) My lucky number is 8. I am thankful for knowing my own mind, and for being strong enough to live the life I want to lead. At the end of all things, the most important thing I have is my own mind and my own personality.

What would you do differently if you knew nobody would judge you?

I am behind on my questions. I’ve been meaning to write, but life interfered. This is the story of the last five years. Actually, I got sick, and exhausted. I get tired of staring at a computer screen, especially after a 60 hour week, and putting my thoughts down can be difficult. I’m going to try to catch up, so bear with me.

What would I do differently if I knew no-body would judge me? Well, this question could be asking one of two things: either a specific event in my life (“I wish I’d never ridden that rollercoaster”) or a daily action (“I’d smoke every day if it wasn’t for all the cancer stuff”). I’ve deliberated, and I’m going to go with the latter, it’s less incriminating.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve though about both, and I’ve considered what my life would be like if I’d chose a different university, or a different course, or even a different study abroad program. If the hubs and I had never met. It’s entertaining to consider that I really might choose to alter that, no questions asked. But, you know, truthfully. I really wouldn’t want to change that. Yes, I could have gone to a far better university, but would I exchange that for the life I have now, getting to fall asleep next to my unshaven, midwestern husband? Of course not. I’ve been successful enough on the education I have. True story.

I thought about this for some time. I think the one day to day thing I would do differently if it had no impact on my life would be my attitude towards exercise. I work out a lot. I’m not super skinny, but I work out a lot. Five times a week. And I watch what I eat. Maintaining a size 6 figure is hard work for me (especially hard when people think I should aim for a size 2). I would love to be able to eat take away food every day like some people I know, I’d love to never have to go to the gym. Right now I’m on a mission to lose 25 lbs… I’d love to not do that, to have an extra 90 hours a day to sleep, or read, or attend happy hours with my friends. But the professional world is superficial, and I know I have to keep in shape.

We live in a world of size zero, or “anti size zero”, whichever side you fall on. I’m ambivalent. I don’t believe anyone that is unhealthy (too skinny or too fat) should be featured in ad campaigns. This would rule out 95% of the modelling industry. It’s a pipe dream. But it’s trickling down into our companies: will an obese person reflect negatively on a company brand? No-one wants to “endorse” the nation’s stereotype. So many companies, including my own, are adopting “keep fit” programs. This is a great idea, if it truly focuses on fitness rather than size. I am 5′ 7″ tall, and I weight 150lbs right now. I’m normally more about 143. I’m not overweight, and yet I feel compelled to log hours in the gym to prove my self respect to the people I work with.

While I’m exercising I think about all the things I’d love to eat, if I could afford the calories. I usually get a low calorie shake and head home. If I could change one thing about my life, I’d love to grab that Five Guys burger on my way home, and not see the disapproving looks. I’d order pizza for my team, without worrying what the company consensus was. If I had friends coming over, or if it was snowing, I’d skip the gym and not beat myself up about it. This is what I’d do differently, If I knew society wasn’t judging me.

Do you think crying is a sign of weakness or strength?

I have been silent on this topic for a couple of days, unsure how to proceed. Truthfully, this question really irritated me, but I didn’t know how acceptable it was to express that in a public forum.

I had a long conversation with my Father in Law this evening as I was driving home from another long work day, and he provided me with some insight. When I first hit on the idea for this blog I invited him to join me in “answering a question a day”; he, by nature, is not as sado-masochistic as I am, and didn’t seem as inclined to post his answers in a public forum, but has been giving thought to the questions each day. I laugh, because that’s probably more than I do. We can be polar opposites: he gives a lot of thought to things, and I give a lot of words to things. Our conversation this evening covered many topics (as is our way), from the iPhone, to whether cloning pets is ethical, and hovered around my blog for a few minutes. I expressed my concern that this question didn’t seem valuable to me, and he agreed. So I decided to share my opinion.

The idea that crying must mean something is insufferable to me. Sometimes, tears really are just tears. I’m very emotive, I cry at everything. I’ve cried at multiple episodes of The Simpsons, pretty much every romantic comedy, and any sentimental story I read on pinterest. This girl has overactive tear ducts. But I didn’t shed a tear when I learned my Mummy had cancer; or even when I watched the dim shores of England disappear for the final time behind a wreath of clouds. Forever. My home lost.

My best friend, the strangest and most wonderful person I know, has never cried in front of me in 25 years. We have shared broken hearts, broken families, and broken countries. The night before I married the hubs (God love him), I shared a bed with my bestie for the last time. She, I, and my twin, shared stories from the last 20 years, but we didn’t shed a tear. Crying doesn’t mean anything, at least not to me. I don’t even remember the last time I cried properly, but that doesn’t make me strong. And it sure as hell doesn’t make me weak.

This question is antagonistic, or self serving, depending on the reader (or the writer). A strong person shouldn’t view crying as weakness, and a fragile person shouldn’t view silence as strength.

Weakness and Strength are measured by more valuable things than tears. There are very few things I am certain of in life, but two of the strongest beliefs I have are freedom of speech, and that tears are biological.

What can you do today that you were not capable of a year ago?

I think that to answer this question I need to think about myself a year ago. Realistically, not much have changed. I weigh the same, do the same job, drive the same car, hang out with the same people. 2011 was a static year for me (I think 2012 will be MUCH better). I think that I didn’t really aim for anything in 2011, I just allowed myself to exist as I was. I don’t feel bad about it, I think I’ve achieved a lot in my life by comparison to a lot of people, and I think I just needed a break from improving. If anything, I probably let myself slip a little.

Actually, 2011 is the first year of my life that I seriously considered seeing a psychiatrist, getting some counseling of some sort. Yeah, that was kind of a low.

However, I think I became better acquainted with myself. More honest. I’ve definitely become more willing to stand up for myself, more honest about what I want and what I think is unfair.

Today, I can stand and look in the mirror and be honest about my faults:  I need to lose about 20lbs, I’m tempestuous, prone to laziness, and messy; I can also be honest about my good points: I have great hair, I’m a very loving and loyal friend, and I really do make the best tea in the world. I can also admit when I’m wrong (well, sometimes), or when I’m hurting. I don’t have to pretend everything is okay all of the time anymore.

Maybe it’s not anything remarkable, but I think it’s a step in the right direction, all things considered. And I really do think that 2012 may be one of the great years of my life.

What’s a belief that you hold with which many people disagree?

And so I’ve found myself at a point where I need to be totally, brutally honest. I am really not a very controversial person. Opinionated? Yes. A bit of a loud mouth? Frequently. Controversial? Erm, no.

My journey to middle-of-the-road-dom was pretty uninteresting, as you might imagine, and include everything magnolia from a middle class family to a 2:1 honours degree in Literature.

I’ve never been “Political”, even when I lived in a country where I could vote, and my only foray into political outrage was after watching “Brassed Off” as a teenager and getting terribly upset about the plight of the coalminers. After my blood pressured dropped and I realized I was over a decade too late to do anything to help, my political interest became dampened, and waned. Of course, I participated in the obligatory late night university conversations about all the things I was told I didn’t like. I had left wing friends and a right wing boyfriend (not hubs), which left me very much in political limbo. However, it was my sister that dyed her hair pink, sported a nose stud and an orange jumpsuit, and spent months at a time chaining herself to things. She’s lucky that she can pull off orange, I just know it would look terrible on me.

Over my adult years I developed a hybrid religious-political belief system that is impossible to really explain to anyone other than myself. I shy from conversations regarding my opinion on policies, especially now I live in a country where the political system is a foreign language to me, and I can’t vote anyway. However, social topics I do take a stronger line. Yes, Gay people should be able to get married, but I attend church (and think gay pastors are fine too). But that’s for another conversation.

But really, my beliefs are not extreme, white bread and butter type beliefs. I highly doubt I would ever find myself in a situation where I was the only person at a party with my belief on any one topic. There was a time when I wanted to be the person with the placard and the strong moral compass, staring into the eyes of Wall Street and laughing. But I’ve matured into gratitude for my tepid politics, if for no other reason than the fact that I know hands down that a picture of me in a jumpsuit will never surface on facebook!

Who do you love, and what are you doing about it?

I’d like to pause for a second and revisit the first time I read the article that inspired this blog. Clearly, I was impressed enough by the list that I was inspired to dedicate a year of my life to writing about it, but there were a few points that niggled me. The main frustration I have with the list is that many of the questions seem very intentionally phrased. It’s as though the writer is trying to coerce a certain response from the answer – in many cases, a response of self-depreciation, admissions of failure, laziness, and emotional subsistence living.

This question is one of those. I imagine many people answering this question will confess to unrequited, silent love, or a string of failings in their current long-term relationship. How I need to try harder, and cook proper meals, and make more of an effort with my outfits. Etc.

My answer is not going to follow this pattern. Not that I think i’m doing everything right; we all have things that we can improve. However, I don’t think any relationship is ever improved by people beating themselves up. There is nothing I enjoy less than my poor husband (God love him) listing all the ways in which he thinks he’s a failure. I dislike this for two reasons. Number one: If you were really that dysfunctional I wouldn’t have married you. Number two: I now have to spend equal or greater time telling you how you’re none of those things, and in fact are the exact opposite in every way. This is exhausting to me.

Additionally, I don’t have a secret unrequited passion, and if I did I would be highly unlikely to expose it on the internet. Even if I wasn’t married.

My husband is the “person I love”, in as much as he would inherit my life insurance money if I died, and that we have a mortgage together. This differentiates him from all of the other people I love, like my friends, family, co-workers, pets, celebrities, fictional characters. Etc. I have a big heart, capable of a LOT of love. But clearly, the fact I married this person when I was a (ridiculously young) twenty three years old is a testament to the fact that I love him. And that’s before you consider that I had to move 3000 miles from home and start my career and social life from scratch.

I’m not complaining. Okay, maybe I’m complaining a little bit. Marriage gives back for the most part, it’s a pretty uncomplaining and easy to life most of the time. But it can also be the single hardest thing in the world. Sometimes. There are those days that I don’t want to go home and play with the dog, do laundry, mop floors, or talk to his friends. There are those days when everything seems like too much.

Yes, it’s a taboo to talk about it, especially as hubs and I really do have a great marriage most of the time. But being married can be hard, especially when most marriages include so many more people than husband and wife. It’s a process, and there have been weeks, even months at a time, when I have had to work hard at just being here every waking minute. That’s not to say I didn’t want to be here, or wasn’t happy, it was just that every thing I did was so foreign to me. Now we’ve been married for close to four years, those moments are fewer and more far between.

But some mornings I wake up, head full of fog, and it seems as though I’m probably the worst wife in the world. The bathroom needs cleaning, my work clothes are creased, the dog keeps whining, and there is nothing edible in the fridge for breakfast. Hubs will get up, equally frustrated, and it’s easy to feel at fault, that he is judging my abilities. Sometimes, as I’m sure a lot of married minds might wonder, it seems as though it would be easier to leave than to stay; I say this not because I’m unhappy, but because this constant pressure to perform in insanely overwhelming.

But when those days come around now, I approach them with a clearer head, knowing that there is nothing I can do except wait them out. I’ve started to realise that part of being married is enduring these days of self doubt, pain, and crippling self-consciousness. But it’s worth it for the good days (which most of them are), and because I love my husband, and this is what I have to do for it.