Easy as 1, 2, 3–In Which I Struggle More On Purpose

Dear Lily June,

One Bit of Background

I’m not much for optimism when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. I’ve lived long enough to fill a balloon up with their hot air and ride around the planet. Twice.

In fact, in the past, I might have even taken a hard-nosed Fight Club stance,

valuing the depths to which my depression could sink more than the heights to which my idealism could climb. Depression, after all, is awfully fond of whispering in your ear, with your earlobe caught between its teeth, that its reality is the real reality–the only reality that matters.

I’ve read some blogs like that already this year, and to you, shadowboxers, I genuinely tip my hat. Yours is a hard row to hoe, and it may, in fact, be the most reasonable row.

I seem to recall (though don’t trust anyone who’s read something, Lily, and can’t provide you with the actual source) reading somewhere that those who are depressed can actually, more accurately, assess how others feel about them. And yet, how much is the chicken and how much the egg?

How often do depressed people guess that they aren’t well-liked when, in fact, their depression makes them difficult to know and their ideas sharp to swallow? This is coming from someone who’s experienced depression down to its “I might as well just be the furniture I sit on” near-catatonic depths, so I’m no way mocking the Eeyores of this world. I’ve been there and may be again.


Two New Identities

I’ve always been a writer, from the moment I wrote some dark murder mystery on my mother’s typewriter at the tender age of four or so. But in May of this past year, I became a mother to you, Lily. And by July, I was a blogger. And for some reason, those two second identities, donned in my third decade on the planet, lent a sense of immediacy to that first identity I’d always carried with me: Writer.

Suddenly I knew who I was writing for, and it wasn’t just me or your father or a slew of professors or editors or unnamed, faceless readers as was the case when I was publishing in literary magazines. I’ve always been drawn to the epistolary, and in writing this letter to you which, my dear, may take both of our lifetimes for me to complete, this blog has become like a microphone cord connected to a ventricle in my heart that keeps beating a song for you.

I don’t know how the lyrics will unfold in 2016. But I know how I’m starting the year: anew.


Three Stolen Mantras

Though I couldn’t actually find the words when I went back to look on her page, the blogger of &OtherLongStories gave me this mantra:

“Love yourself through it.”

I’m not going to lie, Lily, and I’m not going to sugarcoat it. That shit is tough. Like, takes a lifetime to achieve, tough. Like, some people die by their own hands because they can’t get there, tough. Like climbing an emotional Mount Everest with the aid of toothpicks instead of grappling hooks, tough.

For someone who has wrestled some days with even liking myself (or trying just not to loathe myself even), this has been a stretch. I have had to, for the past week, set down my pack of coffin nails cigarettes. I have had to, for the past week, hold my head up. I have gotten out of my office chair at lunch, and I have forced my body, grown large and unwieldy like a tuna net full of peaches, up and down dark and empty campus hallways. I have listened with humiliation to the sound of my breath, sucking and gasping at air I had, for almost a decade, deprived my lungs of.

I have caught sight, in the sharp square glass of classroom doors and stairwell windows, of my ballooning body. And I have wanted to look away, to not meet who I am now head on and imagine instead I have the body I did the last time I thought I looked like anything resembling beautiful: my skeletal seventeen-year-old self. She has been gone for fourteen years, Lily, buried in the dunes of my chin, the valleys of my hips, the expanse of my, um, land mAss. I can’t keep chasing her down anymore.

I have to look with love into my current body’s reflection. I have to walk, not because I hope to chisel her down into something I can stomach seeing, but because it gives me an opportunity to see her, really see her. And without seeing her–her stretch marks, her rolls, her double-chins–I can’t love her. I’m not going to get healthy out of vanity anymore, Lily.

I’m going to strengthen my arms the better to lift you with. I’m going to strengthen my legs the better to run after you with. I’m going to strengthen my heart the longer to love you with.

For the past week, I’ve set a new routine that I intend to stare down the barrel of for the next year. I hate stairs and sweat and side-stitches, but I’m going to take them all because of the second mantra that I only just read on a blog I’ve only just started reading, Veuve Noire:

“Struggle more.”

It was just a caption to this New Year’s post’s subsection on Choosing a Goal, and yet, I think it is the goal I’ve set. I think I’m willing, this year, to let the hard things–like getting in shape or kicking bad habits–be hard.

As children raised in a home of violence and neglect, my sister and I became hard-wired only to do a thing if it got us attention, though we went about it in completely opposite directions. My sister chased trouble in the form of addictions and affections so that punishment could become her love.

I chased attention in the form of goody goody gumdrops and grades and competition. I wouldn’t do a thing unless I could become the best, as if being the best would turn my parents’ necks and fill their faces, gazes to glistening grins, with praise. Neither strategy worked, but it did give my life a trajectory when a couple of teachers discovered I liked words and encouraged me to keep pursuing them like men pursued my sister. I did.

And now I wonder, though I don’t lament, who I might have been if I’d let the hard be harder. I wonder if I’d be a better writer if I knuckled down and wrote until my poet’s heart calloused over like the fingers of a guitar player. I wonder if I’d be a different person altogether if someone had thought I’d have an easier time with algebra or painting or soccer.

But what I’m doing now suits me fine: I’m not walking on my lunch breaks and trying to eat less and giving up smoking because it’s so easy, or because it turns the world some delightful shade of rose-colored. It sucks, and it hurts, physically and emotionally. I’m losing sleep and struggling to breathe and my feet hurt and my calves sting. I’m trying to struggle more because it occurs to me, quite late in this life (though I’m loving myself through my prior naivete) that the point to living might not just be in making things easier.

Which brings me to my third mantra, stolen from Thomas Jefferson by way of one of my favorite bloggers, Allie Potts Writes. She quotes,

“If you want something you’ve never had, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.”

What is it I want?  To love myself so I can teach you to love you. To treat my body with more respect, so I can live out the promises I made to it back in the first post I ever wrote that got Freshly Pressed. To make an honest, earnest, lasting change in my life to prove to myself that people, myself included, are capable of making a metamorphosis.

It’s not about having a stereotypical beach body, Lily. It’s not about get slim quick schemes or even about proving something to myself. It’s about attempting to do a thing I want you to someday see: That you have power over your own life, though not full control over its course. That you have the ability to heal yourself with, and in, health and heart and hearth and art. That there is nothing, young lady, you can set your mind to that you can’t achieve.

Love yourself through it. Struggle more. Do something new, as I’m trying this one on for size for the first time in my life:

This year, I’m going to BELIEVE.


Picture Credits:

15 thoughts on “Easy as 1, 2, 3–In Which I Struggle More On Purpose

  1. Eva. says:

    I feel honored to be quoted in this amazing opening article. I feel honored to have written an article in which you can identify a mantra. I am happy to follow you . “Lily remember, Mom is a fighter, she decides to struggle more” . Thanks again

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Allie P. says:

    Like Eva, I am honored to be mentioned, especially in a letter like this one. Believing is one of the hardest things we can do. While it might not make it easier to achieve, I just want to say I continue to believe in you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. BunKaryudo says:

    The part about your sister was particularly sad. It must have been awful for you both to have had the childhoods you did, but I wish your sister had tried your way of dealing with the situation. Her response seems so tragically self-destructive. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dearlilyjune says:

      Either extreme is destructive; I actually have two autoimmune disorders from the toll all the stress took on my body. But still, I wouldn’t trade lives with my sister, who was older, understood more of the abuse going on, and thus chased after relationships that repeated its cycle. She just can’t seem to see how much more she deserves, and I wish like hell I could break through that wall for her. Some walls we can only dismantle ourselves.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. BunKaryudo says:

        I guess you’re right about the last part. Sometimes we can give people all the support we can, but we can’t actually make the changes for them. That’s something they have to do for themselves.

        I’m sorry about the toll your horrendous childhood took on your health. I remember from your earlier posts that your husband also grew up in an abusive home. I have a lot of sympathy for you both.

        I’m afraid I had a miserable school life when I was a child for a number of reasons, but my parents and my brother were very loving and supportive and that was what kept me going. I think your and your husband’s situation was far, far harder.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Amy says:

    You help me want to write and be and strive and rest and love and stop and move. Your beauty is so truly pervasive that the words remind me that there is more than all these many appearances. May we all grow more into ourselves and this life we’ve been given in the year ahead (and beyond). Thanks for writing beautiful, hard, wonderful, true things. And I was you and your sister; different seasons brought different tendencies. I can relate to both ways and am still trying to find healthy alternatives to both. My all caps word this year is HONEST. Like you (I think) I’m desiring a truer way. And yes, that means a sometimes more painful – though blessedly sweeter for the fruit it bears – way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dearlilyjune says:

      So Amy, I’m curious: A year later, would you say you lived up to your all caps word? Were you HONEST with yourself and your way of life? With others?

      I’m HONESTLY grateful to have found you. You have opened my mind in so many ways. I wish you an indescribably meaningful 2017.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Amy says:

        I hope so. If nothing else, I was maybe more aware of my inability to be healthy so long as I maintained a chameleon-esque existence (which for me translates to not being who I am, which translated to dishonest in January of 2016.) I think grew up a little in some really hard ways from some really hard things last year, which I hope means that I’m getting “better,” though I don’t know if that also means honest. Regardless, I’m so grateful for your asking the questions and pointing me back to this. It feels a little like accountability which I could probably use a whole lot more of in order that I live more HONESTly.

        And thank you for the kudos. They were helpful on a day when – remember that bit in a recent email about praying for protection from “attack”? – turns out I needed some prayer support. Your kind words feel to be the soothing balm encouragement a person needs on such a day. Thanks, as always, for both encouraging and challenging me in all the best ways.


  5. ShitHappens2U says:

    I LOVE this. Reading parts of it brought tears to my eyes, while others made me chuckle a bit. You are amazingly strong. Kids do not what we tell them..but what we show them. You are so far ahead of the curve by recognizing this and being the person you want your daughter to be. Standing with you friend…standing with you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dearlilyjune says:

      That I never responded to this–an entire year ago–is criminal to me today. I just want you to know, even if you never blog again, how much your words and your perspective meant to me in 2016. Be weller than well in 2017, stranger-friend.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ShitHappens2U says:

        Thank you so very much!!! Even though I haven’t written in a while, I am STILL here in the background. I have TONS to say and TONS written…just need to release. But, with all that has been going on, I found myself overwhelmed and needed to unplug. BUT, I do miss talking back and forth and I will start back up soon. I am well though.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. &otherlongstories says:

    This was perfect ‘get back on the horse’ read. Thank you for referencing my blog; it gave me a good feeling ( and a wonderful surprise!) . It was just the encouragement I needed as I have noticed that I slowly started spiraling into 2015 ways. As always, thank you and thank you !

    Liked by 1 person

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