Midway Mindset

DO ONE THING TODAY THAT MAKES YOU FEEL BRAVE

I felt the eyes of an older gentleman behind me in line at Home Depot staring at the purple splotches on my arms that were peeking out from underneath my long sleeved shirt. As I yanked on my sleeves to cover the imperfections, he looked at me with concern and said,

“My wife had bleeding like that when she wasn’t much older than you. She died a short time later. Are you sick like that?”

I replied with a weak smile and said,

“Gee, I sure hope not.”

He laughed and said he was relieved. He said I reminded him of his wife and that she hated the marks on her arms too. The man said the marks were beautiful because they were a part of her that made her who she was, and that he missed them. He then looked me in the eye and said,

“Listen to me. Whatever is wrong with you, please don’t ever hide it behind smiles or long sleeves. It’s 90 degrees out. Go home, put on a tank top and take care of yourself. Your arms are lovely. You should be proud of them.”

I teared up, nodded, and stumbled off with my flowers and mulch.

 On the drive home I thought about what the man had said. I began to realize how much time and energy I have spent in life hiding my imperfections, cowering behind smiles and long sleeves.

There’s the large skin graft on my right inner thigh the size of a baked potato– the one that kept me from trying out for cheerleading because I didn’t want to wear the short skirt. There’s the ten-inch scar from having my gallbladder removed in 1985 that kept me out of a bikini for the past 30 years (thank you, Dr. Waldenburg and your giant, giant man-hands.) I have deep facial scars and rashes from lupus that compel me to slather on foundation and concealer obsessively. I haven’t been seen without makeup since 1986.

The invisible scars in my life have taken more effort to conceal: The after-effects of rape; the loss of my parents; a host of serious illnesses, struggles with depression, the ending of a dysfunctional marriage. For years my Facebook page told my friends that I had it all figured out, while I woke up each day scrambling for new and clever ways to hide.

I concealed my pain by over-extending myself. I was a ‘yes’ girl. Yes, I’m fine. Yes, I’ll be happy to help you. Yes, I would love to go out. Yes, I’ll host that party. Yes, please, one more glass of wine. Yes, let’s go dancing.  Yes, I have the perfect life. Yes, I’ll do anything to keep from being still because being quiet and reflecting hurts way too much.

I hid in the open where everyone could find me, but no one could see me.  And while I was hiding, no one thought to look for me. It was the perfect ruse. Until it all catches up with you. Until you’re hiding so much you don’t remember who you are. Until you cast a shadow even you don’t recognize.

We all have moments of being fine, stretches of good days, or a even a fine month if we’re lucky. But the truth is, the vast majority of us are not fine. We’re scared. We’re sick. We’re disappointed. We’re lonely. We’re tattered. We’re battered. We’re flailing. We may not want to be here most days. We are all covering up secret parts of us. And some of us are really good at it. And we’re exhausted. And we wake up one day and just can’t do it anymore.

So, why do so many of us wear long sleeves and smiles? Why are we afraid to flaunt our scarred bodies and share our damaged souls?

Here’s what I found when I came out of hiding and started to gently (and sometimes not so gently) speak my truth.

Some people really liked me when I was hiding, and not so much when I started seeking.

Yeah, I know. Ouch, right? But see, the fake me was fun, She was agreeable. She was self-less. She never argued, didn’t complain and never stood up for herself. Everything was always fine. I was the perfect friend. I required no effort. They felt duped when I began to have an opinion, when I started saying no. Unfortunately, they found it impossible to see past the scars. As you can guess, those relationships didn’t survive.  And that’s okay. They were never meant to.

But, when I stopped smiling all of the time, and shed the long sleeves, there were family that surprised me. Friends that surrounded me. People that encouraged me to keep stripping off the layers, waiting patiently for me to figure out who I was and what I really wanted. People that said how sorry they were that they didn’t come looking for me. A friend that said, “Holy crap, your arms look like a heroin addict. What’s going on? Can we have dinner next week? ” And when I said “Yes, please,” I truly meant it.

It’s been a few years since the old man changed my life at Home Depot. I have fewer relationships, but the relationships that have held on are richer and deeper…because they’d been hiding too. We’d been together, cowered in different corners of the same house, waiting to be found. We just never knew to look for each other. Sometimes all it takes is for one person to say, “Olly Olly Oxen Free” for all of the good people to come out of hiding, to agree to play a different game.

I made new friendships, and found a boyfriend. He has scars too. I’ve  learned to share my imperfections pretty quickly in social situations. (Hi, my name is Katie and I’m kind of  f***** up. Here’s how, and here’s what I’m doing about it.) It weeds out the weak of heart and leads me pretty quickly to my kind of people.

I still find myself plastering a smile now and then where it doesn’t belong. And the makeup has been a difficult habit to break (damn you, MAC and your Pro Long Wear foundation.) But, I’ve learned to wear a bikini and shed my long sleeves.  And when I smile, it’s a real smile. Feel free to look for me. I’m proud to be standing in plain sight, in the middle of the room, where everyone can find me.

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20 thoughts on “The Day I Stopped Hiding (and How I Learned to Wear a Bikini and Shed my Long Sleeves)

  1. alsumner says:

    You’re amazing. Most, including me, would find it very difficult to be totally honest. And congratulations on emerging from your chrysalis as a beautiful butterfly.

    Like

  2. derek says:

    You’re amazing. Most, including me, would find it very difficult to be totally honest. And congratulations on emerging from your chrysalis as a beautiful butterfly.

    Like

    1. Thank you so much, dear one. That means a lot. And I’ve never been called a butterfly before. I think I like it 🙂

      Like

  3. Sharon says:

    You and I are more alike than I ever realized. I hope you can feel my virtual hug right now.

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    1. That’s good to hear! And yes, feeling your hug all day today. Miss seeing you.

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  4. Cheryl McConnell says:

    I always want you to project the real version of you when we get to see each other…I can take it and want to always hold our friendship in the most real way. Just wish we could see each other more often. Please call anytime. I love reading your blog. It’s like you are saying these things in person. Take care and watch for information on my October visit..

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    1. Thanks, Cheryl. That means so much. I’ve never had trouble being myself around you. You attract that! Looking forward to seeing you in October. Much love.

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  5. BJ Cooper says:

    Katie, you really are a great writer. I too have purple bruises on my hands and arms, for a different reason, I have very thin skin due to medication and I am forever touching a stick, or like last week the zipper on my pants caused an ugly purple blood bruises that I hate and like you I try hard to hide with bandages or long sleeves and at times with makeup! People often ask me what did I do, or think to themselves who beat her! None of this, I’m just a gardener and love it, so I put up with the bruises because that’s where it happens mostly. I respond to people who ask me about the ugly bruises that “I just have old lady arms.”

    Keep writing, sweet Katie, people find themselves in some of your words!

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    1. Thank you so much, BJ. Mine are from a form of vasculitis and at times I “bleed out.” It’s really good to hear from you. Glad you found something to relate to! Miss you and Jerry.

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  6. Krista Wharton says:

    I love you, my beautiful and perfectly imperfect friend! My hurt hearts for all the yucky stuff you went through, but I love that you’re sharing that with the world to help those (and me) know we can be our true imperfect selves and still have true friends and family who love us no matter what! Thank you for sharing your beautiful writing with us! You are the most awesome Katie there is, and I’m so blessed to call you friend! 💗

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  7. evansithink says:

    Very moving Katie. Thanks so much for sharing.

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  8. evansithink says:

    Very moving Katie. Thanks so much for sharing.

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  9. willwork4theatre says:

    Well said! I completely understand the perspective too. As a camera guy, I spent years perfecting hiding in plain sight. It took me a long time to find my place, and then came the realization that not many people could handle the real me. It was working with theatre folks that really allowed me to be me.
    I’m glad you found your path there as well!

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    1. Thank you! I bet I can handle the real you! And the theatre folks are lucky to have you. Thanks for writing.

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  10. Irene says:

    Katie,
    Thank you for your bravery and strength. I really hate my awful old lady legs. I’ve have terrible spider veins since I was in high school. Terribly embarrassed especially being a model as I was younger. The pressure is very difficult and the constant makeup coverage.
    You are always beautiful. Your hear especially!

    Like

    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I feel the pressure too. Time to let those veins run loose! You glow from the inside out and the outside in. Those veins just can’t contain all of your light.

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  11. Janine Mancuso says:

    Beautifully written! You are such a strong woman on a great healing journey. Thanks for sharing❤️

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    1. Thank you, Janine. So good to hear from you! Healing one word at a time.

      Like

  12. We definitely waste too much time one what others may think. It is always good to remember to embrace and love yourself

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    1. I wish that I had learned that lesson a bit earlier! Thanks for reading. I really appreciate it.

      Like

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