Monday, February 28, 2011

Don't Know What You've Got Til It's Gone

I have never considered myself to be pretty. I don't say this for an onslaught of compliments to be sent my way, I won't believe them anyway. I grew up being tall and painfully thin, with the kind of face that could never be considered cute but apparently I've grown into.

When I look in the mirror, I don't see the same thing that others see. I see the awkwardly unattractive girl I was when I was thirteen. There was a time I refused to pose for pictures and even now I delete a majority of the photos that I am in. I am always genuinely surprised when I complimented on my looks. I'm not good at accepting it. I always relied on my personality to be my most attractive feature-I'm funny, smart and kind. I'm not pretty.

My mother used to say to me that she hoped I'd never know what it was like to be ugly. That i was so lucky and didn't even know it. That one day something would make me appreciate myself from an aesthetic standpoint. She told me I was beautiful and exquisite and that many people would love to look like me. I rolled my eyes. I never realized she was right. That one day I'd wish i could look like the old me.

I woke up in December with these weird red bumps in my arms. I, being the hypochondriac, googled every possibility, and diagnosed myself with ridiculous ailments. I figured it was either some crazy disease or an allergic reaction. I couldn't have predicted the truth.

I went home for Christmas and got blood tests, convinced for some insane reason that it was syphilis. (There is NO REASON at all I should've suspected this, it would actually be impossible. I have not engaged in any precarious activities-or non precarious for that matter...but it's what came up when I googled "small red bumps on arms") Not surprisingly, I tested negative for it and everything else. I waited for my appointment with my superstar dermatologist, convinced that he'd be able to tell me what was wrong. Why an allergic reaction wouldn't go away. He took a quick look at me and delivered the news: I have psoriasis. A lifelong skin condition that covers one with unattractive scales and flares up for seemingly no reason at all. He gave me some cream and told me to get moderate sunlight and that I'd be ok.

I left the doctor feeling very happy, knowing what was wrong with me. I stupidly didn't understand the implication. I had no idea that the red bumps would disappear and be replaced with BIG WHITE SPLOTCHES that cover my arms and part of my legs. That the cream would do nothing to alleviate the unsightly condition that had developed on my arms and part of my body. That I'd have to rethink short sleeve shirts, that when I looked in the mirror I'd see a leopard standing back at me. That I finally had a legitimate reason to complain about what I looked like. That my mother was justified in her prior disdain for my cries of being ugly. I can't help feel like I've gotten what I deserve. And I have to deal with it for the rest of my life. There is no cure for psoriasis. I will constantly have to battle this, feel self conscious, and hate myself for being such a idiot before.

I know I am supposed to be better than this. That beauty is only skin deep. That there is more to life than looking good. I know I sound like a whiny superficial bitch for writing this post. That there are people with actual problems, serious health problems that they are battling, and my situation is pathetic in comparison. of course I know that, but it doesn't make it any easier.

This weekend it was gorgeous sunny weather, and I wore a tank top and saw people staring at my arms, wondering what the hell was wrong with me. I tried on many different outfits for my birthday party and opted out of the one I wanted to wear because it would expose the spots. I can't bear the idea of going out exposed because it'll evoke stares and add to my my already increased self consciousness.

I don't know how I am supposed to stop feeling embarrassed about this. How to stop caring. How to rise above it. How to look in the mirror and not see the stark contrast between my skin color and these patches. How I am supposed to tell myself to stop crying because I've lost whatever confidence in my looks that i was somewhat starting to gain. How can anyone possibly think I am pretty now? I certainly can't imagine how they could, because I certainly don't. I can't help feel that this is going to be what everyone notices about me when they first see me.

I really dislike that I am so upset about looking bad. I had always prided myself on not being vain but the truth is, everyone, I don't care who they are, wants to feel attractive. No one wants to feel like a freak or stand out for having some kind of physical aberration. It doesn't matter how intelligent you are, or how in touch with your inner self you claim you are, no one is immune to physical beauty-not just admiring it but wanting to feel that they, in some way, possess it.

I am not saying I'm ugly. Or that all I have to offer is the way I look. All I am saying is that for 26 3/4 of my life, i didn't appreciate what I had. I wasn't perfect but I had no real problems regarding my looks. Yeah I was gangly, my hair was a frizzy mess and people called me big forehead but I had nothing that made my physically different. I didn't have to think about covering my arms for fear of stares. I was a stupid self conscious girl without any justifiable reason (unless you want to blame Hollywood)

But now I do. Now I have an affliction that I have no real control over that I will never be able to get rid of. The only thing I can try and do is take whatever they recommend to alleviate symptoms (which, as I said, hasn't worked for me) and try and convince myself to get over it. That I should appreciate the other beauty I possess. That I am luckier than most.

I'll try and do those things. but until I have that down, I'll wear long sleeves and have the occasional sobfest in my bedroom.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Shape of My Heart

I think it's pretty apparent to anyone who knows me or has been a consistent reader of my blog that I am a hopeless romantic. I LOVE love. I love cheesy chick flicks, flowers, love letters, and the whole notion of soul mates. There is nothing I look forward to more than finding someone who is "my other half" and taking on the world together.

That being said, I don't like Valentine's Day. Not really, anyway. Out of the last 10 Valentine's Days I've had a Valentine for 7 of them. Not bad. Certainly not anything that would make me complain about the day or harbor resentment. If anything, my Valentine's Days in the past have been filled with love and adoration. Huge bouquets, delicious chocolate, and the occasional sparkly present. No, I have no bitterness towards the day.

What I don't like about Valentine's Day is that it is so contrived. I don't like the concept of doing something because you feel you're supposed to, and I don't think over the top gestures are accurate depictions of the heart. I've always been of the mindset that flowers are great, but give them on a random Tuesday, not a holiday or birthday. If you want me to feel special, make it on a random day, not a day that tells you you're supposed to. Also, going out for dinner is a process. You can't get a reservation, the prices are too high, the menu is limited, and there is this underlying pressure to make it perfect and meaningful, therefore ruining the evening. I'd much rather have a home cooked meal (or take out, I guess) and watch a movie and talk. We can go out to dinner another night. In fact, it'll mean more if you plan dinner on a different night because it'll show you put thought into it not just because it's Valentine's Day.

As hopelessly romantic as I am, I don't value material things as much as I value thoughtfulness. If someone displays thought and consideration, just because, it goes miles beyond doing something showy. I've had guys plan the most "romantic" nights...walking along the beach at night, only to "find" a set up of roses, romantic music, chocolate and a necklace. That was beautiful. That guy cheated on me. A lot. Worth it? I don't think so. I'd much prefer the small thoughtful gestures, that show that you know me, are listening when I speak, and that you care. My stuffed rhino, Emily Dickinson poetry, HP set, and Berlin mug are all unconventional, little (except for HP set) gifts but meant the world to me because they were indications of consideration. Nothing sexier than that.

I also dislike Valentine's Day because it allows people to feel bad about themselves for no apparent reason. Just because you are unattached on this one day is no reason to feel miserable, yet people do. My boyfriend of four years and I only spent one Valentine's Day together on account of his job which (conveniently) required him to be out of state on this day. This meant that we couldn't be physically together but didn't change that I had someone who loved me, and he displayed it EVERY DAY, and on Valentine's Day he made sure I was showered with cards, flowers and chocolate. I really don't care about Valentine's Day, and I knew I shouldn't feel depressed and lonely but somehow I couldn't help it. As I sat alone in my apartment while all of my friends were on dates and my boyfriend was in New Orleans or Phoenix or wherever he was, I found myself feeling utterly miserable for "being alone." Even though I wasn't. Even though there were many nights I was alone in my apartment and never thought twice about it. Even though the man I was with had a way of making me feel loved and special and cherished 365 days a year. Valentine's just had that effect on me. And it does others as well.

I guess the bottom line for me is that there shouldn't be a day that marks being in love with someone. And if you insist that there should be, then make it private, like say, an anniversary. But love should not but something that is expressed on a single day but shown daily. Love isn't contrived, it's real, and it's honest and expressing it should come from within, not from a date circled on the calendar.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Chuc Mung Nam Moi

There is something incredibly special about being in Vietnam during Tet. Not just because it means I got to have two "new year's" celebrations but because of the meaning and culture behind it all.

In the US, and other western cultures, we celebrate the New Year with alcohol, parties, and resolutions that barely make it through the month but there is no real meaning or significance to it. Just the start of a new year and the underlying notion of new beginnings.

In Vietnam, it's so much more than that. There are stories and traditions and beliefs that surround the whole time of year. Working in a Via real Vietnamese office, i began to see the holiday as not just a time that prices rise, streets crowd, and purses get snatched but as a real new beginning.

The Vietnamese reflect on the past year, and centuries almost and take the time to honor their ancestors and enjoy the time they have with their current loved ones. They pray to Gods to help bring love, happiness, health and prosperity in the new year, and what's more they actually believe it. Their strength in this makes it more than just revelry but turn it into something significant, something far greater than anything I've experienced before.

The time is about giving, peace and love. The debts and grudges from the years before are eliminated and they look at the new year with a fresh perspective and openness that is something I'd love to adopt and am trying to.

This goes back to the whole tradition and national pride element that I cherish so much about this amazing country. The people who reside here have followed the same rituals and routines for centuries and it is ingrained in their very being.

I was supposed to go to Thailand, but due to finances, I found myself in Hanoi in the eve of Tet, watching fireworks over Hoan Kiem lake before heading to Hoi An the following day for a week of sun and relaxation. As I observed the nationals at this time, I saw that of course they were engaging in partying for the new year, they weren't using it as an excuse to party, but felt genuine joy and love for the events going on around them. I think they are the ones who have got it right.

On December 31st, I danced around with my friends and drank and enjoyed the party. I made silly resolutions that I'm pretty sure I've broken but seeing Tet has made me rethink how I want to handle the new year.

This year is going to be another year of self discovery, self love and prosperity. I am going to start looking at things for what they actually are and valuing the greatness that has been thrust upon me. I have been given an immense opportunity out here, not only from a professional capacity but also from a personal standpoint as well. I am tired of claiming what I want, or who i want to be. I have decided, from this day forth to embrace who I am, to make necessary changes and to most importantly be happy in my own skin. I'm letting go of the past; past debt, past inflictions and everything else that I was allowing to hold me back and I am running forward to a bright and happy future.