We’re Not Fine: Simone Biles and Journey from Good Girl to GOAT

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Source: ABC News

When I watched Simone Biles warm up before eventually withdrawing from the women’s gymnastics team event at the Tokyo Olympics last week, the hardest part wasn’t watching her fall out of her vault. It wasn’t even watching her eyes as she clearly lost her sense of where she was in the air.

It was after, when she walked back to her teammates and they asked her if she was OK—clearly sensing that something was very wrong with the woman we all know as the GOAT of women’s gymnastics. But Simone put on a smile (that didn’t reach her eyes) and said two words that sounded too familiar:

“I’m fine.”

How many of us have said those words, knowing they were a lie? How many of us have said them fighting back tears or pushing down anger or pretending we didn’t just have a panic attack in the bathroom?

We say we’re fine because we want to be fine—we want to pretend. But often, we also say we’re fine because we know the alternative—the truth—is uncomfortable. And we’ve been taught for our whole lives that making other people uncomfortable is a lot worse than being uncomfortable ourselves.

So we say we’re fine when we’re not. We try to push through and push down and put on a smile.

And every time we do, we shrink a little bit more so we can fit more easily into the cute little box the world wants to keep us in. Everyone’s box has a different label, but for many of us, our labels all boil down to the same thing—a label we were given when we were too young to understand all that it would ask of us:

Good Girl

A Good Girl is always fine. She never makes a scene, never makes herself the center of attention, never asks for more than what she’s given. A Good Girl takes care of the people around her, and she’s often so busy doing this that she forgets to take care of herself. A Good Girl is self-sacrificial, always putting the needs of others above her own.

A Good Girl is selfless.

Because a sense of self is too big to fit in that tiny box.

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Right in the Feels: Anna Does “The Next Right Thing” in Frozen 2

I’ve seen dark before
But not like this
This is cold
This is empty
This is numb
The life I knew is over
The lights are out
Hello, darkness
I’m ready to succumb…

This moment in Frozen 2—as Anna finds herself trapped in a cave and totally alone after watching Olaf disintegrate and realizing that meant something horrible had happened to Elsa—isn’t for kids. In fact, when I saw Frozen 2 in theaters on its opening night back in 2019, I remember hearing lots of tiny sniffles as Olaf turned to snowflakes and thinking that this was going to traumatize a heck of a lot of children for years to come.

Luckily, the trauma is short-lived—this is a Disney movie, after all (and not Bambi). But as with all emotionally compelling media, the point isn’t that we know Elsa and Olaf are most likely going to be fine because we know how these movies work. The point is that Anna doesn’t know this. And she’s written so well—and her moment of grief is written so well—that we’re able to suspend our disbelief as if we’re right in that cave with her, trying to figure out how to survive in a world that’s suddenly changed beyond recognition.

Trying to figure out if we want to survive in a world that’s suddenly changed beyond recognition.

It doesn’t seem like a moment Anna should have. She’s the perky princess who sees the good in everyone. She’s the ray of sunshine to her sister’s ice and snow. She always has a smile, always tries to find the bright side, and always seems to make the best of a bad situation (see her entire childhood and adolescence kept locked away in a castle without even her sister to talk to). She’s a woman of action, never giving up—even in the craziest of circumstances.

But that’s exactly why it matters.

Because grief and depression are things that can affect anyone. And the idea that “happy” people can’t be depressed, extroverted people can’t be lonely, and take-charge people can’t be immobilized by grief does so much damage to people who are suffering but feel they have to do so in silence because struggling doesn’t fit their personality—that no one would believe them if they said they feel like they can’t keep going because they’ve always kept going through whatever else life has thrown at them.

Anna—one of the most popular Disney princesses in the most popular Disney animated franchise—is so consumed by her grief that she can’t see a reason to keep going. If she stays in that dark and isolated cave—the physical representation of depression—she’s going to die in there. And for a moment, things seem so bad and she feels so hopeless that she seriously considers it.

It’s an important moment for kids to witness—even if they’re hopefully too young to understand what she’s describing. Because they’re going to internalize the message that sometimes even the brightest people feel the darkness pressing in, that there’s no shame in struggling with loss or sadness—no matter who you are or what your life looks like on the outside—and that they’re not alone if they ever start to feel that way as they grow up. Because even Princess Anna felt hopeless and lost once too.

And they’re also going to internalize the message that there’s a way out of that darkness if they ever feel stuck in it.

Do the next right thing.

They may be 5 small words, but they’ve left a big impact on so many people.

People like me.

Do the next right thing.

Late at night last week, I had a panic attack in the shower. It was exhausting and awful, and one of the few things I remember from those moments of shaking and crying and feeling like I was drowning was saying out loud in between sobs, “I just don’t know what to do.”

I have a tendency to spiral when I’m left alone with my own thoughts for too long. That’s always been true. My thoughts race ahead faster than an Olympic track star, and they tend to go in circles like one too. I’m someone who likes to always have the right answer, but lately I’ve been grappling with some big questions that don’t seem to have one. I’m someone who believes in listening to her gut, but lately I’ve been having a hard time hearing it—or maybe it’s more that I’ve been having a hard time accepting and acting on what it’s been telling me.

But in that moment—when I was at my lowest—I could hear it loud and clear:

Do the next right thing.

There it was—the answer to maybe the biggest question.

What do I do?

Do the next right thing.

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Learning How to Love Myself

Needy. Selfish. Self-centered. Demanding. Attention whore.

These are all words I have used to describe myself—most of them multiple times in the last week alone. Sometimes it’s with more than a little guilt. Sometimes it’s coming from deep in the pit of self-loathing. Often, it’s said with a laugh or in an attempt at self-deprecating humor.

But somewhere along the way, it stopped being funny.

Somewhere along the way, those words became how I defined myself—above other words like passionate or friendly or warm or kind or good.

I take more than I give. I ask for too much. I need too much.

I am too much.

That’s a common refrain for me when I feel myself wanting to ask for help on a bad day, when I feel the gnawing emptiness in my chest that says I’m having a hard time and could use some love, and even when someone who loves me shows me they do and the guilt settles in because I’m not supposed to need that. I’m supposed to be stronger than that.

I’m supposed to love myself enough that I don’t need to ask other people to help me with that.

I’m supposed to get enough satisfaction out of showing other people that I love them that I’m not supposed to need other people to show me they love me too.

But I do need it.

And I need it in different ways than most people I know.

I’m an extrovert who loves words and hugs—whose primary love languages are words of affirmation and physical touch. And I am surrounded by a beautiful group of introverts whose primary love language is typically acts of service—and who are very good at never asking for anything in return.

I have spent a long time wishing I was more like them. I know that the ways I most clearly and confidently show love and feel loved are things that make a lot of people uncomfortable to even think about. Not everyone likes cuddles. A lot of people get shy when it comes to compliments. So I have told myself that I should never ask for these things from other people—because that’s the selfless thing to do. But most of the time, I fail. I fish for compliments or ask for reassurance or hug whoever will give me even the tiniest glimpse of not hating the physical contact.

And then the guilt sinks in. And then the words come.

Needy. Selfish. Self-centered. Demanding. Attention whore.

They’re words I would never think about saying to someone I care about if they asked me to do something for them or to spend time with them or if they told me they were feeling bad and needed a little love in any of the ways they believe it most assuredly.

Other people deserve to have their needs met—and to not feel ashamed or afraid or guilty for asking that they be met sometimes in a way that makes them feel happiest. That’s something I believe with every piece of me.

But why is it so hard for me to believe that about myself?

I’ll let the boys of BTS explain it:

Loving myself might be harder
Than loving someone else
Let’s admit it
The standards you made are more strict for yourself…

The first time I saw the lyrics to “Answer: Love Myself,” those were the ones that immediately jumped out at me because they’re so painfully true. Loving other people has always felt easy to me. But loving myself has always been a struggle.

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Right in the Feels: Ted Lasso Reminds Us We’re Not Alone

“I promise you, there is something worse out there than being sad—and that is being alone and being sad.”

I didn’t see it coming.

I thought I knew the playbook Ted Lasso was using. I’ve seen a lot of sports movies. I’ve also seen a lot of comedies that look at the world through the rose-colored glasses Ted always seems to have on. So, despite the fact that I should have known AFC Richmond needed to lose in the Season One finale to secure a second season for the show, I genuinely believed  they would do what all underdogs do in these kinds of stories—shock the world (and comfort the audience) with a win.

I thought everyone loved the first season of this show because it gave them a happy ending at a time when so many of us could use one.

I was wrong.

Ted Lasso isn’t a show about what it means to be happy. That’s not why people love it.

It’s a show about how we deal with sadness.

And that’s why people need it.

Everyone on this show experiences sadness—and not just because Richmond loses in the end. Rebecca’s divorce, Roy’s injury, Keeley’s issues with Jamie, Jamie’s issues with his father, and Ted’s own marital struggles—they all highlight an important fact about being human:

In the words of another brilliant recent comedy that had a lot to say about how we handle hard times, “We’re all a little bit sad, all the time. That’s just the deal.”

Sadness is part of the deal. It comes with the territory. When you feel and care and love, there are going to be sad moments. So much of Ted Lasso’s appeal—especially in this last year—is in the way it acknowledges that sadness and setbacks are a part of life. And sometimes we can’t make it better, for ourselves or the people we love.

For a show that’s been praised for its positive outlook, Ted Lasso’s positivity is never toxic. It’s not a show that says, “Don’t be sad! If we all help each other, everything will turn out fine in the end!” Instead it’s a show that says, “Sometimes life is sad and things don’t turn out fine, but if we help each other, at least we won’t have to be sad alone.”

For all his optimism and openness and belief in the power of teamwork, Ted knows what it means to be alone and be sad. We watch him struggle with his crumbling marriage on his own and we see how his belief that growth matters more than wins can isolate him from even those closest to him. But then, there are the moments when someone sees him and reaches out—when Roy stops him from walking into traffic or when Rebecca gently eases him through his panic attack. It’s in those moments that the sadness feels a little less overwhelming and the loneliness fades a little. Because when we’re seen, when we lift our head up and meet the eyes of someone who cares, it doesn’t magically fix what’s broken in our lives, but it makes it a little easier to live with the broken pieces.

That’s what having a team is all about. They’re not just the people who celebrate the good times with you; they’re the people who see you and sit with you in the hard times too.

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Using It: Pain, Purpose, and a Year in a Pandemic

I knew it would be hard.

But I had no idea it would be this hard.

Exactly one year ago today, I sat down at my dining room table to work from home because COVID-19 was spreading into my part of New York State.

I thought it would be for a couple of weeks. Once we flatten the curve, it’ll all go back to normal, I told myself.

Then two weeks went by. Once summer comes, it’ll start to get better, I told myself.

Then summer came and went.

I stopped telling myself anything.

This pandemic has taken so much from so many. And I’m luckier than most—a year later, I still have my job, my health, and my family.

But no one escaped this year without losing something. A graduation. A wedding. A vacation. A concert. A movie’s opening night surrounded by friends and fellow fans. The sound of laughter in a classroom before a teacher says to quiet down. The feeling of hugging your best friend. The sight of a stranger smiling when you compliment their shoes while you wait in a long line for coffee.

The version of you that you used to be. The version of you that you were becoming.

Exactly one year ago, I knew who I was. It had taken me 31 years to get there, but I felt confident and content in a way that I’m not sure I’ve felt since I was a kid. I knew what made me happy—what made me feel the most like me.

Planning trips. Flying to new places by myself. Saturday afternoons in a darkened movie theater. Sitting with my team at work and helping them through problems and giving them advice. People-watching at the mall. Making little kids laugh. Walking into a crowded restaurant or hotel lobby or airport in my high heels, finding the friend I’m supposed to meet, and hugging them like my life depends on it.

I thought I’d just be giving up those things for a few weeks.

Then, I thought I’d just be giving up those things for a season.

Now, one year later, I’m still trying to figure out who I am—what makes me happy and what makes me feel the most like me—without those things.

It’s like the last year slowly, painfully dug these deep holes in my sense of self, and there’s a whole lot of nothing where my plans, dreams, and extroverted energy used to be.

I know I’m not the only one with those holes. I know we all have them to some degree. But I also know so many resilient people who’ve worked to fill those holes with something new—who forged new fandom connections, picked up new hobbies, and learned new things.

I admire these people so much.

I envy these people so much.

I don’t want to feel like I wasted a year of my life.

I don’t want to look back on this year and realize I came out of it a worse person than I was before.

I don’t want these holes in me to turn into scars.

But maybe they already have.

And maybe that has to be okay.

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Understanding My Power: WandaVision as a Journey of Feelings and Forgiveness

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Source: TVLine

When I was 17 years old, I had a breakdown inside the Electric Umbrella restaurant in EPCOT.

Looking back on it, it’s easy to see what caused it. It was my last family vacation as a high school student, before I “grew up.” It was also my last family vacation with my grandfather—my Disney trip buddy for my entire life up to that point. He was getting older and slowing down, and we didn’t know it then, but we’d lose him about 6 months later.

But in the moment, I didn’t know what was happening to me. I couldn’t name it. All I knew is that whatever I was feeling was too much. So I cried into my Disney World french fries—not quiet, gentle tears, but ugly, loud, scary sobs that felt like they were never going to end.

I didn’t even feel like a person. I just felt a vessel for feelings that I couldn’t control.

And all I really remember were the looks on people’s faces. Confusion from my grandfather. Fear from my little sister. Embarrassment from my parents. Concern from the strangers around me.

In that moment, my feelings weren’t just mine anymore. They overwhelmed not just me but everyone in my path. And I couldn’t stop it.

Sometimes I still can’t stop it.

I have big feelings. I feel things deeply and express my feelings openly. And there’s power in that. It makes me a better writer, it helps me forge deeper and more honest connections with people, and it often makes me a bright light to be around—because when those big feelings are enthusiastic and warm and good, they’re infectious; they spread positivity and encourage others to embrace their own vulnerability.

But when those big feelings are dark and difficult and bad, that power isn’t used to help people. It makes me more impatient and melodramatic, it causes me to lash out or cut people off, and it can make me a hard person to be around—projecting my pain onto others just so I don’t have to carry it anymore and making myself the main character in everyone else’s stories because my pain feels more pressing than theirs.

Sound familiar?

Wanda Maximoff’s journey through WandaVision meant so many different things to so many different people. Some people empathized with her path through grief. Some people connected with her story of self-acceptance.

And for me, I learned a lot about myself through Wanda’s struggle with her powers and how deeply they’re tied to her feelings.

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Here’s to Women

Today is International Women’s Day, which means that it’s likely we’ve all seen this quote a million times on our social media feeds:

“Here’s to strong women. May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.”

It’s an empowering quote—one that I’ve said myself more than once and shared often. But this year, something about it isn’t sitting right with me.

I don’t feel strong right now. I haven’t felt strong for long stretches of the last year. And there’s a part of me—a tired, broken, sad part of me—that sees this quote and feels like the only kind of woman worthy of being admired, celebrated, and seen is a “strong” woman.

What about the women who are struggling? What about the women who cry, the women who lose their patience, the women who have days when they can’t get out of bed because everything feels like it’s too much?

Most of us will be these women at some point in our lives because to be a woman is to be human, and to be human is to fail and falter and feel big, overwhelming, messy feelings sometimes. But all too often, when we feel those big, overwhelming, messy feelings or when we snap at a loved one or when we spend most of our waking hours in tears on a bad day, we don’t give ourselves the grace to not be okay—to not be strong.

Because somewhere along the way, in our quest to inspire and empower, “strong” became synonymous with “good” and “worthy.”

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“The Truth Is Enough”: Wonder Woman 1984 and the Cost of Perfectionism

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This world was a beautiful place just as it was. And you cannot have it all. You can only have the truth. And the truth is enough. The truth is beautiful”.

Wonder Woman 1984 is a flashy homage to 1980s superhero movies. It’s a love story. It’s a story about grief. It’s a story about family. It’s a story about the need for people to collectively choose the greater good over their own selfish desires.

That’s the beauty of an effective piece of media. It can mean something different to every person who interacts with it.

For me, Wonder Woman 1984 is a story about perfectionism.

It’s a story about what we lose when we chase the facade of a perfect life instead of standing in our truth and loving our lives—and ourselves—for all of the messy imperfections, losses, and struggles that make us who we are.

The plot of this film is based around three wishes: Max Lord’s wish for unlimited power, Barbara Minerva’s wish to be special, and Diana’s wish for her love, Steve Trevor, to return to her. Each of these wishes is made (not always knowingly) out of each character’s belief that their lives would be perfect—that the cracks in them left by trauma and loneliness and loss would be filled—if they could just have that one thing.

As Max says, “You can have it all. You just have to want it.”

For a moment, we get to see these characters having it all. We get to see Max turning his facade of power and prestige into reality. We get to see Barbara turning heads and charming crowds. And we get to see Diana gloriously, deliriously happy with Steve.

It’s perfect. Max gets his revenge on the businesspeople who doubted him and embarrassed him in front of his son. Barbara gets the attention she’s always craved—and the power to handle herself when that attention turns violent. And Diana gets to have Steve in her life—and her bed (or, more specifically, his futon)—again, eating breakfast and going to work the way he’d told her about all those decades ago. This is what perfection looks like for these characters; this is what they’ve always thought their lives were missing. This is what they saw in their mind’s eye when they looked with secret envy at successful oil magnates and confident coworkers and happy couples.

But what does it cost them?

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I’ll Be Home at Last: What Schitt’s Creek Taught Me About Vulnerability

Source: TV Insider

 

Everybody loves a winner
So nobody loved me
‘”Lady Peaceful,” “Lady Happy”
That’s what I long to be
Well all the odds are—they’re in my favor
Something’s bound to begin
It’s got to happen, happen sometime
Maybe this time
Maybe this time, I’ll win…

I never thought it would be Stevie.

Moira Rose is the iconic one—the one who belongs in the pantheon with Ron Swanson, Michael Scott, Liz Lemon, Selina Meyer, and all the other 21st century comedic icons. Alexis has one of the best character arcs in TV comedy history. Johnny makes me cry more than any other character. Patrick is basically my dream man. And I’m more like David Rose—charred marshmallow heart and all—than I should probably admit.

But somehow, I keep coming back to Stevie Budd.

Schitt’s Creek has been a beacon of light and laughter for me and for so many others during the dark year that’s been 2020. And when things seem particularly dark, I’ve found myself watching one scene over and over.

It’s not “A Little Bit Alexis.”

It’s not Moira’s fruit wine commercial. (Although that one is definitely high up on my most-viewed list.)

It’s not even David and Patrick’s first kiss, proposal, or wedding.

It’s Stevie in the Season 5 finale, opening up to Moira backstage during “Cabaret” about how she feels stuck behind the desk while everyone else finds their person and their purpose. It’s Stevie, taking her first steps out from behind the desk and into the spotlight to sing “Maybe This Time.” It’s Stevie, basking in a standing ovation and gasping in overwhelmed surprise—at her chosen family’s reaction…and maybe at herself too.

“Maybe this time I’ll win…”

Schitt’s Creek has a sense of utopia about it. It’s a show where homophobia doesn’t exist, where people are accepted and nurtured and loved for who they are while still being guided to the best version of themselves. It’s a show where families reconnect, where broken hearts are healed, where people of all kinds get a second chance and a fresh start. One of the most beautiful things about this show is that every person watching it can find a different thing to inspire them, a different storyline or thematic element to give them hope.

For me, it’s all about vulnerability.

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Back to Pawnee: A Night of Hope, Happiness, and Coming Home Again

 

Parks Reunion

Source: CNN.com

That was the hardest I’d laughed in months.

That made me feel good for the first time in so long.

That felt like coming home.

If you’ve been on social media at all since Thursday night, chances are you’ve come across similar reactions to the Parks and Recreation reunion special. And maybe you even felt those things yourself as you sat down to watch Leslie, Ron, Ben, and so many others (Perd! Bobby Newport! Johnny Karate!) navigate their life in this time of social distancing in the way only they could—with silliness, sincerity, and a song.

Something special happened the second that familiar theme song started playing. For 30 minutes, things felt okay. The world didn’t seem like such a scary place—because Ben Wyatt was still making claymation videos and Leslie was still calling Ann every day (and making up new nicknames for her like “desert fox”) and Tom was still coming up with crazy business ideas.

These characters still felt like the people they were the last time we saw them, which is a testament to this cast and the writers. And for 30 minutes, it made me feel like the person I was when I last saw them too.

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