On Agelessness*

* I was inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: age to re-visit a blog post from last year after an incident this morning further pointed out to me my continued sensitivity around this issue.

On this fine morning, I went to the grocery store after a run. I was wearing a NYC Marathon shirt, and the man ahead of me in line had one on as well and sparked up a conversation. He nicely offered me participation in a neighborhood running group. I asked if it had a variety of levels of runners (I am not a fast runner,) to which he said, “Oh, yeah, there’s a woman who everyone loves who is your age. Yeah, there’s lots of people your age.”

Now the thing is, I was thinking we were pretty near in age. I certainly wasn’t thinking I was in some whole other generation than him! Yikes!

Clearly, I have more work to do.

You see, I discovered two years ago that I am severely prejudiced.

It was a shock. I didn’t know that lurking within me were truly vile and discriminatory feelings and thoughts about a huge portion of the human race.

I didn’t know I was an ageist.

According to Wikipedia: Ageism (also spelled “agism”) is stereotyping and discriminating against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. This may be casual or systematic. The term was coined in 1969 by Robert Neil Butler to describe discrimination against seniors, and patterned on sexism and racism.

Lemme back up. I was having an especially terrific day.

There are days when, as an actor, you are just filled with joy because you feel so in the flow. This was one of those days.

I was on my way from a great voice lesson. I had a while to do an errand and then later was going to rehearse and then do a staged reading of a very special play that held deep personal value for me, with amazing fellow actors. What could be better than that?

I stopped at a grocery store to pick up some kale (what is it about me and the grocery store and this issue?!) I was at the register when it happened. The woman checking me out said the following words:

“Do you qualify for the 55+ discount?”

I was shocked. Then outraged. Then mortified. And ashamed. In that order. Appalled and dripping with disgust, I looked at her.

“What?! Do I look like I’m 55?!! Oh. My. God. Kill me now.”

(Yes, I actually said “Kill me now.”)

Poor thing tried to backpedal it.

“Oh, I just thought…you eat so healthy…so maybe…”

Which made it worse, because she was inadvertently inferring that I’m actually older looking than 55 but eating so well that it doesn’t show?!

I left the store, kale in hand, attempting not to spin out on this.

I wanted to enjoy the rest of my day, but knowing myself and how my brain works around such things, I knew I had a triage situation in regard to my frail ego.

First, I tried different paths of logic. Oh, she didn’t really take me in before she said that. She probably says that to every one, right? I don’t look my age. Everyone says so. And my real age is not 55, so she obviously didn’t even take me in.

I’d slip into anger occasionally.

How irresponsible of her. They really shouldn’t let those cashiers  offer that discount willy-nilly. They are just asking for it!

By the time I got home, there was a new voice inside making itself known. A voice that said, “Hey, you. What’s so bad about being associated with being 55?”

I mean, truthfully, the level of disgust I felt at the mere suggestion that I could ever be 55!

I began to examine this, go deeply into it. I discovered that being over 65 felt OK. I mean, I know I’m going to be a rocking 65-year-old.

And 70? Look out! I want to be one of those cool Septuagenarians who astounds people with their vitality and continued accomplishments.

But 51-64? I want no part of THAT club. No way.

Where did this come from? This abhorrence of people those ages? I wasn’t born rejecting a whole segment of the population. How did this hidden inner belief system come to be so strong in me?

And better yet, what can I do about it now that I know about it?

I don’t want to feel such a distaste for any of the years I am lucky enough to have ahead. I thought I had embraced ageing when it first started appearing in my mid 40’s…I looked at how I felt about it then and really thought I had decided I was gonna forge a new pathway for generations of women to come by embracing my later ages. By celebrating the changes as they came. By being a vibrant, sexy woman at EVERY age.

I thought I had decided that I was gonna be a one-woman revolution and reject societal, cultural pressure to look young no matter what the cost for as long as possible. To be on TV and in films at my age and not be ashamed or embarrassed because I am not young anymore. To blaze trails. To be a part of a change that embraces beauty at every age instead of the age-shaming we are bombarded with from infancy through all forms of media.

I thought I had chosen this path.

Little did I know that sure, I was great with aging as long as I still looked 38-48. That was cool.

Little did I know that when I looked in the mirror, reviewing the changes I could see, there was this part of my brain that must have decided “Sure, this is acceptable. I can live with THIS.” But that all the while that seeming acceptance actually held a hidden silent caveat: “As long as it doesn’t get worse than THIS.”

How insane it seems now. But that must have been the invisible internal logic.

Oy.

I can’t stay frozen in time. I cannot choose the face I will keep for the remainder of my life in this body.

My face and body WILL continue to change as time progresses. I am like every other human who has ever lived and aged.

But. I can choose all of the things I thought I chose before. I CAN embrace. I CAN blaze a trail. I can be a one-woman revolution.

I can choose to reject what advertisers and media cram into my psyche on a practically moment-by-moment basis. Anti-aging, this, anti-aging that. (“Anti-” opposed to, against!)

I do not have to believe/embrace or live from the beliefs that:

After 40 it is all downhill. Middle age is something to dread and fear. Women become invalid and invisible once they hit menopause. Life is meant for the young. Old people have no relevance. Old people cannot remember things. Old people are “out of it” when it comes to modern technologies or cultural references. Blah, blah, blah.

Bullshit. It is all designed to make me fear getting old and to buy skin creams and such as if my life depends on it.

When I shared my grocery store story with a friend, she said she could relate to my outrage. She said she wasn’t going to age “without a fight.”

But I don’t want feel like there’s anything TO fight, you know?

Or rather, I am gonna fight. But not aging.

I’m gonna fight Ageism.

Look out, world. Here I come! Who is with me?!

To find out more about ageism: www.legacyproject.org

#beautifulateveryage

Body Electric*

I used to search for the Truth “out there”

Let myself be told what was real and what was not

I was taught what to believe by my elders

To accept what I read in textbooks and such

I learned to analyze it all, think it through,

Used my brain and thinking to try to figure things out

But no more.

 

My body, in her intimate, ultimate wisdom,

Has taught me a new way to believe, to know

My body knows my truth, my body knows the world

I have learned a new way to answer my questions

Now, I ask my body for the answers, and I listen to her

My body never lies.

 

* Borrowed with Great Love from Walt Whitman

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: believe

A Critical Juncture

I am a recovering perfectionist.

In “A Skin Horse Awakening”, I wrote about my perfectionism, and what I believe the genesis of this “ism” to have been in my life. (Or perhaps I should say “who.”) I don’t believe I was born with the affliction of perfectionism.

Let me walk this back. Perfectionism is bandied about a great deal these days. People jokingly refer to themselves as a perfectionist, and we all think things like “Oh, they work really hard to get things right,” or maybe that they are a bit anal (as in detail-oriented,) maybe a little bit OCD.

According to Wikipedia, Perfectionism, in psychology, is a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.[1][2] It is best conceptualized as a multidimensional characteristic, as psychologists agree that there are many positive and negative aspects.[3] In its maladaptive form, perfectionism drives people to attempt to achieve an unattainable ideal while their adaptive perfectionism can sometimes motivate them to reach their goals. In the end, they derive pleasure from doing so. When perfectionists do not reach their goals, they often fall into depression.

When I say that I don’t believe that I was born a perfectionist or with a perfectionist gene, I am saying that I learned to be hyper-self-critical. I guess maybe perhaps you could argue that my being extremely sensitive is genetic, and therefore in a way that part of my perfectionism is genetic, as in I am extremely hard on myself and yet I am very sensitive to feeling like I am being criticized…maybe that being “so sensitive” is genetic?

If such a thing even exists. I can never know another’s internal experience, what life feels like for them through their nervous and other systems. I can only know my own.

So really, how can anyone, from my family (“You’re too sensitive!” “You are so sensitive.” “Don’t be so sensitive!”) to psychologists/people we label experts at such things be able to say that someone is “highly sensitive” or whatever? What do they mean? Are they really saying we are very emotional? More emotional? What does that even mean?

(I think perhaps it means that they are uncomfortable with our amount of feeling so they label us as “highly sensitive.” A label to explain away their discomfort.)

And if someone doesn’t “feel life”the way I or someone else labeled sensitive does, are they “insensitive” or unfeeling? Just because they do not seem to experience life the way I do, they are less sensitive? You see what I mean? (It is somewhat crazy-making for me, actually.)

Anyhoo. Perfectionism. Not genetic, in my humble opinion.

I learned to be hyper-critical of myself and to expect extremely high standards of performance from myself. I learned to care deeply and to depend greatly on what I thought others’ were thinking of me. To value other’s evaluation of me above all else, especially my own.

This relationship to myself and the world and myself in the world was learned. I learned it from a master, my father. I am not sure where he learned it. I am quite sure he suffered as much from it as I have. I am also sure that he had great regret later in life around the price of his untreated perfectionism on his relationships with himself, the world and the people he loved.

I am so grateful that I am in recovery around this. I do not have to suffer at my own hands anymore, or cause undue suffering in my loved ones out of my perfectionism.

One of the most tremendous sources of help around this for me has been the work of Brene Brown. You may have heard of her TED Talk on Vulnerability. If you have never watched it, I highly recommend it. Seriously, stop reading this and go watch it! Then come back ; )

She has been on my mind the past few days as she posted on Facebook from Houston, where she was volunteering her clinical services, making a plea for donations of clean, new underwear for those recovering from the hurricane. First things first, please take a view.

Here are three ways to give NEW (still in package) underwear. Please keep in mind that we need a variety of sizes for men, women, boys, and girls, including XXL.

1. https://www.amazon.com/…/2O89ZX93O…/ref=nav_wishlist_lists_1

2. Collect new, packaged underwear and mail it to the address below. It’s our local Hillel and they are collecting for us. This is a really great neighborhood or school project. If you’re purchasing, we recommend Hanes or Fruit of the Loom. UFE doesn’t process or give out anything but underwear!

Undies for Everyone
1700 Bissonnet St.
Houston, TX 77005

3. Give cash and Undies for Everyone will purchase wholesale: https://secure.lglforms.com/form_e…/s/uFpr61ITEItxPeN4Lo9zpA

Brene is an amazing woman. I could write blog after blog about her and how she inspires me. It has been through her work that I have had true shifts around my perfectionism.  I mean, I could understand before that I was one, but then what? What do I do to help myself out of it? Through it? She defines perfectionism a bit differently, and that difference has made all the difference in my being able to make shifts and heal. She defines it so:

Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: “If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”

She writes further:

Perfectionism is defeating and self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal. Additionally, perfectionism is more about perception – we want to be perceived as perfect. Again, this is unattainable – there is no way to control perception, regardless of how much time and energy we spend trying.

Perfectionism is addictive because when we invariably do experience shame, judgment, and blame, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough so rather than questioning the faulty logic of perfectionism, we become even more entrenched in our quest to live, look, and do everything just right.

Feeling shamed, judged, and blamed (and the fear of these feelings) are realities of the human experience. Perfectionism actually increases the odds that we’ll experience these painful emotions and often leads to self-blame: ‘It’s my fault. I’m feeling this way because I’m not good enough.’

To overcome perfectionism we need to be able to acknowledge our vulnerabilities to the universal experiences of shame, judgment, and blame; develop shame resilience; and practice self-compassion.

When we become more loving and compassionate with ourselves and we begin to practice shame resilience, we can embrace our imperfections. It is in the process of embracing our imperfections that we find our truest gifts and strengthen our most meaningful connections.” B. Brown (2009).

Wow. I mean, just yes. And yeah, this is a daily practice. It is a struggle one day, a breeze for the next three days, and then the shit hits my internal proverbial fan and it feels like I am at day -4. And then I feel free of it again. But Wow and Yes. And I’ll take that over interminable suffering in the depths of the hell of my own mind being run by unchecked and uninformed perfectionism.

If you know of what I speak, I recommend her work and any of her books.

It is a lifelong process, but it is truly gratifying to find true relief.

Oh, what a journey it is, this coming to life. This learning to relax into all of the things I used to hate so about myself. To even begin to embrace and yes, even find love for all my parts. Especially the ones most imperfect.

To pull my own self down off the self-built marble column I had constructed so long ago into the real world where I can be with others, be a fully-fleshed human being among human beings. To smash the statue-like full body persona I had so carefully made and let the flawed imperfectly beautiful person I am start to live and breathe and love.

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: critical

The Comeback Kid

“Are you a boy, or a girl?” she asked, lip curled in a grin that implied she knew but just wanted to make me feel small. It worked.

“I won’t even dignify that with an answer!” I said…

…silently, in my head.

I felt the familiar rush of shame blush my cheeks a rosy pink, and stood, frozen, eyeing the group of kids standing behind the most popular girl in my new school.

My heart pounded in my chest so hard I feared it might explode through like a fist.

That image gave me some comfort: the blood would splatter all over Susie (Jenny? Brittany?) and crowd, so there’d at least be that.

Ruing the short haircut my Mom had talked me into just before we moved, my flat-chested, barrel-like bigger-than-most-girls-my-age body, and my fair, freckle-speckled skin, I tried to think of something to say that would get me out of this encounter with some teensy shred of my dignity in tact.

This was it. The way I handled this moment would set the tone for my future in this new environment, this new social strata. I searched the memory banks of my mind for some comeback that could get me out of this mess relatively unscathed. Perhaps even ahead in some way, having won them over with my wit under duress.

Nope. I got nothin’.

I felt a bead of sweat drip from under my left arm, causing a tickling sensation that, unfortunately, made me start to giggle. Hearing myself giggle made me feel a bit hysterical, which then caused me to actually start laughing hysterically.

And so what I actually did when faced with the elite of my new school was I stood there like a laughing hyena while they stood and stared in a mix of disgust and curiosity.

Eventually, the ringleader (Alyssa? Mandy? What was her name?) flipped her blond hair and said “Whatever!” as she turned and led the rest off.

Alone again, after the hysteria had crested and eventually receded, I took a deep breath in, and gave myself a silent “Welcome to your new school, Loser!”

The laughing jag had worn me out and left me with a hollow feeling that I knew all too well.

It was gonna be a bumpy year.

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: dignify