I said to the the sun
“Tell me about the big bang”
The sun said
“it hurts to become”
-Andrea Gibson, “I Sing The Body Electric; Especially When My Power Is Out”
Hello there! Welcome, one and all, to ~Sara’s Introduction Blog of Dreams~ (patent pending)! It feels a bit strange to introduce myself only a few months before the end of the program year, but nevertheless here are few fun facts about me: my favorite scents are pine and rosemary, I love wearing clothes that make me feel like one of the Von Trapp children, and (contrary to what he may have indicated in his own introduction blog), I am the most important person in Emlyn Doolittle’s life.
Also, as my housemates will tell you, I DESPISE conflict, and I have a very hard time verbalizing my needs. A theme of this year for me has been learning to advocate for myself, in the context of intentional community as well as my work placement. But before I go into that, let me give you a quick run-down of just a few of the reasons why I think I am Like This.
(Just a quick warning– the following section goes into body image issues, disordered eating, and fatphobia, so if that may be triggering for you, please take care!)
First of all– I am fat. Culturally, it feels very strange to just state that as a fact, but it is one! I have red hair, my cheeks are perpetually pink, and I am fat. As a child, however, my fatness, while it was my greatest source of shame and always the elephant in the room, was never stated out loud. Then, as I approached adolescence, as it became clear that my baby fat was no longer baby fat, the ways I engaged with food and exercise stopped being neutral to the people around me. A family member commented that I ate “like a pig,” and should learn to eat more like my (thin) sister, who ate “like a bird.” Someone would suggest I exercise with them, and if I refused, they would be upset with me, and interpret my refusal as evidence of my inherent laziness. If I requested food that was considered unhealthy, or worse, if I was caught eating more food than I was permitted to eat, I would be chastised for it, and so I started hoarding food, and hiding the evidence of my transgressions. Through years of this policing, alongside my consumption of a barrage of media that presented fat women as loud, hysterical, and overbearing, I made a conscious effort as a young teenager to avoid being a burden to other people. Basically, I resolved to take up as little emotional space as possible, in an effort to compensate for the physical space I occupied.
Second, I am SUPER socially anxious. This anxiety was certainly amplified by others’ perception of my fatness, but, at least according to my parents, I have always been a very anxious person who worries deeply about how others think of her, even as a toddler. The fear of other people being upset with me, or not liking me, or thinking negatively about me in any way, has at times been so great that I struggled to order food for myself at a restaurant. To this day, even with medication and therapy (which have helped tremendously), I have a difficult time asking for help with tasks or admitting that I am not great at something, because I am so afraid of being seen as incompetent or unintelligent.
Third, I was raised to equate kindness with caring for others’ needs over my own. I distinctly remember a family vacation during which we were all expected to abide by the same rule: “your job on this trip is to make sure everyone else is happy.” I do not resent my parents, who are genuinely kind and thoughtful people, for this impulse– they were extremely well-intended, and they instilled in me a consciousness for others that I value dearly. However, this lesson compounded with everything else I was experiencing at that age left me with a message I did not even realize I had internalized prior to this year: you are responsible for others’ happiness, and if they are unhappy, it is your fault.
This list is certainly not comprehensive– it doesn’t even address my being gay and being socialized as a woman– but in the words of John Mulaney, we don’t have time to unpack all of that.
Fast forward to a few months ago– a dinner conversation about how the house spends money starts to get heated, and I proceed to cry and have a full-on anxiety attack. My housemates pause the argument to check in on me, and I start to panic even more, feeling like I am selfish for diverting attention away from the issue at hand, and towards my own feelings. They reassure me that they are shifting focus to me because they care about me, and want to understand why I am reacting in the way that I am. The conversation moves on, but that night I come to realize several things. I had been refraining from asking for things from my housemates, whether it was for us to buy a fruit other than bananas, apples, or oranges, or to make sure to lock my car after they borrowed it. As a result, I had begun to resent my housemates for the ways in which I was unsatisfied, despite the fact that I had not made my feelings known to them. I thought I was being kind and making things easier for everyone, but in reality the suppression of my feelings was harmful not only to me, but to my housemates.
I have learned so much about self-advocacy this year from the people around me. I am perpetually in awe of how both Emlyn and Corban are able to assert their needs and boundaries, even when it is uncomfortable to do so, and I am so, SO grateful for how they encourage me to do the same for myself. When I make a request, I know that it will be treated with respect and taken seriously, even if my request can not be met for whatever reason. When they sense that I am not being completely forthright with my feelings, they gently probe. The two of them have been the highlight of this year for me, and I love and trust them so very much. Likewise, my supervisor at my partner organization, Julie, represents so many things that I have always feared being perceived as– direct, assertive, outspoken, etc.–, but those are some of the very things that I value most about her as a supervisor (alongside her passion, intelligence, drive, and many other qualities– l just love Julie). I never question where I stand with her, I am amazed by how much she is able to take on in any given week, and it is always apparent how much she cares about the young people we serve, and that the services we provide for them are the best that they can be. Her directness is not at all at odds with her compassion, and in fact complements it.
Of course, I will probably never be a person that could be described as “direct” or “assertive”– it’s just not who I am, and that’s okay! But the extremely agreeable and passive disposition I created for myself is not genuine, either; rather, it was constructed out of fear and shame. One of the many gifts this year has given me is the opportunity to start deconstructing that front and build a new, more honest expression of myself in its place, with new friends and mentors to help me through that process of becoming.