The other day a Facebook friend posted a link to a free online quiz.
The title read, “What is your brain gender?”
Of course I had to take it (I mean, who knew my brain had a gender?!)
The quiz asked me a series of seemingly easy questions.
I felt confident in my answers.
My result? My brain is 88% “female.”
To be honest, I wasn’t surprised (although I will admit to a moment of wondering what the other rogue 12% might be up to).
The moment I got done with that quiz, the website presented another.
The title read, “What is your inner age?”
I was so on this – I leaped right in and began answering more questions.
I’ve blogged a bit here and there about my ongoing work to resolve conflicts between “me now” and “me then.”
One of the most effective techniques I use is a simple Q&A.
For instance, if I wake up (like I did this morning) and realize I spent all night dreaming about painful periods from my past, I will ask my younger self questions.
Since my younger self is, well, younger, I use simple, open-ended questions.
I might ask, “What do you need from me?”
Or “What can I do to help?”
I also use statements.
Sometimes I say, “I’m so sorry.”
Or “Thank you for not giving up.”
Sometimes I just wait and listen and let my younger self vent.
Recently we’ve been chatting (via blog posts at least) about a number of, well, less “naturally desirable” character traits and where they might have come from.
And what (if anything) we can do to get them to go away.
The other morning I was snoozing as usual. The night before I had watched a Netflix special about the link between Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens.
Needless to say, after a night of dreaming myself back in the jungle, quite hairy, covered in mosquitos and wielding a spear held together with tree resin “pitch glue,” I was in full-on contemplation mode about the intersection of evolution with invention.
The next night, I watched a special on Yellowstone National Park called “Battle for Life.” The special featured pronghorn – a type of mammal similar to the antelope – and how they evolved to become the fastest land mammals out of a desire to evade a now-instinct type of cheetah.
And it hit me.
The other night I was watching something…..I think it might have been “Longmire” but don’t quote me on that.
Speaking of which, while watching, I paused the show to write down this great quote:
There is no past that we can bring back by longing for it….only a present that builds and creates itself as the past withdraws.
Since then, I have read it every few days (on account of having written it down right on my in-phone grocery list).
Each time I re-read it, the quote makes me pause yet again.
You see, I’ve never been a “past gazer.”
I’ve just never wanted to go back – not a day in my life.
If anything, I have spent more time gazing into the future, wondering when it will finally get here.
Perhaps this is because for approximately 20 of my 44 years to date, I struggled with anorexia and bulimia.
Even after that struggle ended, I had another good long decade to follow of fighting tooth and nail with cyclical anxiety and depression.
Maturity, medication, meditation (and feathers – plenty of feathers) helped me break free at last.
When I broke free, I felt like my past had released me into my future – the future I had been longing for ever since I was born.
Last month I shared a post about how to stop judging other people.
The post generated some interesting comments.
One particular reader suggested that perhaps the sensation of “jealousy” might have a similar survival-based purpose.
I was most intrigued by her idea!
The truth is, I am personally more apt to look to animal behavior rather than human behavior to better understand why I think and say and feel and do the things I think/say/feel/do.
This is because when I watch animals there is less subtext to wade through.
The link between motive – action – desired outcome is clearer.
In the judging post, I used the analogy of a lady eagle choosing a mate and why judgment might be helpful to that process (especially since eagles mate for life).
In the same way, when I watch television shows about animals, I notice what appears to be a fair amount of what I might call “practical jealousy” – jealousy that could be useful for successfully navigating the various facets of a survival-based daily life.
Pearl doesn’t try to hide his jealousy. If anything, he amps up his efforts at self-expression (perhaps assuming his large featherless housemate is too dense to pick up on anything less than the most extreme outbursts).
You might be wondering, “How do I know that Pearl is ‘jealous’?”
Recently I read the story of Robin Korth – called “My ‘Naked’ Truth.”
Truth be told, I’m not exactly sure how I came across it.
But once I started reading, I couldn’t stop.
Here is a beautiful woman, vibrant and alive in the decade just one ahead of mine (Robin is 59, I am 44) being told by her 55-year-old boyfriend that she is “too wrinkly” to be desirable in the bedroom.
Lately it feels like everywhere I turn, I am confronted with another story like Robin’s.
And lately, each time I read another one of these stories, I discover another courageous mentor – someone I desire to emulate, to embrace, to thank, to join.
Here I have to share that, in the two decades since my eating disorder battle subsided, I have maintained an uneasy truce with my ever-changing body.
I have agreed not to mention the parts I don’t like, and it has agreed not to flaunt them in my face when I look in the mirror.
But I know they are there. And it knows I don’t like those parts.
After reading Robin’s story in particular – and even though her tale is not unlike many others I have heard in the last several months (years, decades) – something inside me just put her foot down.
It said, “Enough.”
Enough of this.
Enough waffling over whether or not to really “go for it” – for the full experience of genuine body love.
Don’t get me wrong.
I don’t love making mistakes.
But I love mistakes themselves.
Mistakes are great mentors.
I usually hate mistakes when I’ve just made one (especially if other people notice) but then I start learning whatever cool new lesson it has to teach me, and everything shifts.
At that point, I fall a little bit in love with mistakes….all over again.
For the past couple of months, I have been successfully guarding a slip of fortune cookie paper from the sharp and eager beak of my parrot, Pearl.
The fortune reads:
It was when you found out you could make mistakes that you knew you were onto something.
Yet for most of my earlier years, I didn’t realize mistakes were okay….allowed….expected, even.
I didn’t think any of the people around me ever made mistakes.
I didn’t think I was supposed to make mistakes either – not if I was living right.
Yet mistakes kept happening, all the time and in so many ways.
I made mistakes about what I ate (or didn’t eat), what hobbies and classes I pursued, what friends (and boyfriends – don’t get me started on this one) I chose, what I wore, what I said, and what I did.
For a time I thought that I myself was a mistake.
This was the most painful time in my life to date.
The other day I cracked open a fortune cookie.
The fortune read:
Better face danger than be always in fear.
I nodded sagely….totally on board with this philosophy.
But looking at my own life, I can see how, time and time again, I still forget I am brave in the very moment a new danger appears.
For instance, I forget I overcame a deadly eating disorder.
My own tendency to judge (both others and myself) has long mystified me.
On the one hand – yuck. A life spent judging self and others isn’t much of a life at all.
Yet at times, judging others has also felt like it might serve some evolutionary purpose, perhaps even with my safety foremost in mind.
By this I mean – let’s say I am a lady bald eagle.
I tend to mate for life, which means I should choose my mate with great care.
Here, I want to choose a male who is coordinated (otherwise, we both might die during our unique courtship “spiral air dance”).
I also want a mate who is affectionate and persistent (no one respects a suitor who gives up too quickly).
Best of all, I want a mate who is a good hunter, since raising (and feeding!) hungry chicks is hard work.
So in the part of my brain that is wired to choose, as soon as mating season comes around, I am fully engaged in constantly judging, judging, judging.
The same may hold true for us human animals even in our top-of-the-food-chain, big-brained and oh-so-evolved state.
Perhaps we still judge with an eye towards survival.
Certainly we have evolved to judge so we can not just survive but thrive by selecting only the best – the best suitor, the best nesting site, the best victuals, the best of everything.
So then what if that part of our brain just keeps on judging…whether we actually need it to or not?
What if that ancient core of our brain is totally unaware that human life today is not nearly so dire – that it is not quite so absolutely necessary to notice and point out every little (real or perceived) flaw, foible, or fault in those around us?
What if we can’t even really be blamed for judging others – after all, it is in our DNA?
This month has been a month of interesting contemplations …. specifically, about the costumes we wear and how we relate to ourselves and others when those costumes look different.
For instance, my brother and his wife recently added a new little one to our all-Caucasian family – a sweet, brave, chubby Chinese infant who just set foot on American soil for the first time last month.
In the same month, one of my dearest friends has returned home to Houston to build a counseling practice supporting LGBT kids, teens, and young adults.
And my personal dreams lately have been full of memories of my long journey away from anorexia and bulimia and towards fully recovered life….a journey I consider to be still “in progress.”
So when I happened across a recent article in Time that focused on the plight of transgendered persons in America, it hit me right in the heart.
As I read about how transgender, transvestite, and transsexual individuals have been mis-addressed and mis-labeled through the DSM (the Diagnostic Standards Manual – a worldwide “bible” of sorts for diagnosing and treating mental illness) it reminded me of my own struggles with how eating disorders in the DSM have been repeatedly re-labeled and often mis-labeled, and how that has affected my experience of seeking support, treatment, and recovery over the years.
One line in the Time article especially caught my attention – a comment by women’s and gender studies professor Elizabeth Reis (University of Oregon):
Most people are happy in the gender that they’re raised. They don’t wake up every day questioning if they are male or female.
The article continues with author Katy Steinmetz commenting:
For many trans people, the body they were born in is a suffocating costume they are unable to take off.”
Over the years I have talked with and met so many folks who can relate – but not because they are “trans” in some way that is specific to body parts or gender.
Some of the people I’ve met who feel trapped in a costume they didn’t order and so they want a smaller costume. Others want a larger costume. Some people want a costume that is shaped differently. Still others want a younger or older costume, or a costume that comes with a different story, life, partner, or family attached to it.
In some way, we all feel “different” – oh so very different – inside our “costumes.”