These pictures were taken about two years and five months apart. I am smiling in both and seem to have gotten my hair to cooperate.
The first photo was taken by a professional photographer as part of a photo shoot package to use for my upcoming book promotion. The second was taken by my partner after we had a delicious dinner to celebrate my upcoming birthday. One photo was taken pre-knee injury, pre-mental breakdown, and pre-weight gain.
Guess which one shows the happier, more authentic me?
Pretending to be perfect for over forty years finally caught up with me. I thought I had to be the perfect athlete, perfect artist, perfect employee, and perfect person in order to…I don’t know, survive, make money, put a roof over my head, and feel good about myself, I guess. Other than with my family and a few trusted people, I didn’t feel like I could really be myself. Part of that may be from societal pressures, part of it is from corporate culture, and I’m sure my own long-term personal hangups and biases made me get in my own way.
I thought I was crushing it at life, but I was so goddamn fake that I was just crushing myself with pressure to perform. I hated my life and everyone who praised me for my supposed accomplishments (and inadvertently asked me to do more and more because I was so “capable”).
You can only keep up that facade for so long. Throw in a pandemic, a major injury with a long, difficult recovery, the highs and lows of publishing a book, and a mental breakdown due to pressures at work (yes, I am admitting on the record that my day job caused my great mental health crisis of 2021), and…well…I had to make some changes.
I’ve written several blog posts about my mental health journey over the last year, including recovery from anorexia, burnout, and a mid-life crisis, so I won’t belabor you with all the details. The important part is that my life depended on me making the choice to change. I learned to accept things that I would have run away from screaming a few years ago. I’ve learned that I can be honest about who I am and what I want and not suffer repercussions from it. Going through major mental and physical health crises simultaneously forced me to get very real with myself and start treating my body and brain with the respect and care they deserve. Some of the fallout has been realizing that certain activities, people, and thought patterns can’t last much longer.
It’s still taking a while for me to open up and be more real with people, especially in the workplace, but I’m successfully chipping away at my very tightly wound boundaries. I recently did an interview about mental health with someone in my company’s communications department, so I imagine that will show me in a brand new light and help me connect with people in a very different way when the story is published. Being who I really am (or at least dropping hints here and there) instead of a fake corporate cutout feels is scary but freeing.
I don’t fit into the dress from the photo on the left anymore. I loved that dress and was very sad to have to get rid of it, but fitting into that dress would mean giving in to anorexia, one of the most dangerous and deadly mental illnesses. Along with this dress I got rid of many other items of clothing. Doing a closet purge made me realize just how much stock I put in my physical appearance–too much to be sustainable and healthy.
Recently I treated myself to some new clothing items that fit my healthier body. It felt good to celebrate making my mental and physical health a priority–a few new tattoos have helped too. 😉
I hope the woman on the right–the one who in that moment was truly happy–will make more and more appearances.