March 9th, 2017
The Holiday is one of my all-time favorite movies. The scene where Jude Law confesses to being a “weepah” gets me every time! It’s funny, because when I first saw the movie I could identify with Cameron Diaz’s character Amanda so much – she couldn’t cry. That was me. I shouldn’t say couldn’t – just wouldn’t. Now I’ve made a complete 180, embraced my inner-Graham and I’m a full blown weepah myself!
Let me set the scene, because I have a feeling a few of you may have experienced something similar. Growing up, on several occasions and in a myriad of ways I somehow got the message that I was "too much". I have an amazing family and had a wonderful childhood. And I don't believe anyone ever intended to hand me that message, but it came through loud and clear. My home life reinforced it. School reinforced it. Church reinforced it. Later on, corporate America would also reinforce it.
I was too loud.
I was way too aggressive.
I had too many questions.
I was too emotional and needed to be more level headed instead of letting my passions get the best of me. Too much.
I was too bossy in group settings, but Andy was a leader.... which was confusing. Either way, I needed to be sweeter. Too much.
My body was too distracting whether I had on jeans, or a dress, or sweatpants and it made it hard for the boys in my class to concentrate according to the dean. Too much.
My hair was too big and crazy in my high school speech class according to my 50-something male teacher. I needed to straighten it so people could pay attention to my words, if I wanted an A, and especially if I wanted to be viewed as a professional later in life. Too much.
When I hit the workforce, my Southern twang was too unprofessional, until it was endearing, but sometimes it made me sound stupid... But gahhhh, why couldn't I be more professional? Too much.
When I asked for clarification around my compensation package based on workload and performance, I was too emotional again. But they could show the math behind everyone else's comp plans, just not mine. Ugh, why was I being such a “bitch”? I needed to be agreeable and likable and pretty and cooperative and selfless and if at all possible, quiet would be great too.
From the time I turned 17 until I was 28, my family battled through an extended rough patch. My mother is manic depressive and bipolar II, and had gone misdiagnosed her entire life. The stigma around mental illness was strong in the south. And as many Southern mamas are, my mom was big on keeping up appearances regardless of actual circumstances. We hid her illness for a long time, until she was hospitalized and we couldn't hide it anymore. When she was sick, we walked on egg shells and prayed for a miracle in the form of a pharmaceutical cocktail that would work to bring her back. When she was well, we pretended nothing had happened. Each time got worse. It was a deeper depression that lasted much longer than the previous crash. Her body rejected the old meds that had worked so well, and it was back to the drawing board each and every time. When she was sick, she was scared of being hospitalized, so she’d lie to the doctors which would draw out the process even longer. Once a new cocktail was found that did the trick, she’d take it long enough to be able to function and then stop. From there another crash was inevitable. She was a ticking time bomb. The back and forth did a number on our family. My dad tried to hold together a sense of normalcy for my brother and I. I played the role of model student, athlete and youth group enthusiast. My brother battled drug and alcohol issues coupled with sports injuries and his own depression. We were in rough shape, but you’d never know. All I knew was that I had to be strong. I couldn’t mess up. We didn’t have the time or the emotional capacity to deal with that.
So, perfectionism became my go-to. I was a people pleaser and I was really good at it. I knew what each and every person in my life expected of me and how to give it to them. Keeping up appearances was of the utmost importance, and I was a pro. I did so much out of obligation for so long, but that meant that no questions were asked about what was really going on with me. I could always screw on that smile and give the people a show.
Eventually this taught me to shut off my emotions completely. I felt that any trace of vulnerability indicated weakness, and it was my job to be strong and solid. If I was vulnerable, I’d let everyone down. That was something I couldn’t handle. Shutting off – I had that down to a science. That, I was good at. I numbed out in a lot of really unhealthy ways. And when things got to be too much, it’s like I would literally step outside of my body – I’d just leave. The longer I did this, the better I got at feeling....nothing. In doing so, I stopped communicating because I knew my words would always be too much. My experiences would be too much. My memories would be too much. My reality would be too much for the world I had been planted in.
Slowly though (as recently as last year), those emotions had to start coming out. Different things triggered them, and I didn't know what to do as these feelings bubbled up. They freaked me out. They made me feel embarrassed and weak. It turns out, I’m extremely empathetic - like, almost to a fault. I NEVER would have described myself as an empath years earlier, because it had a weak connotation to me. And I was strong, right? I was tough. I could handle anything – until I couldn’t.
Until I really started to delve into vulnerability and shame, that's exactly what my emotions made me feel – more of that same shame of "too much". In Rising Strong, Brene Brown describes vulnerability as not winning or losing, but having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. She goes on to say that if we’re brave enough often enough, we WILL fall. This is the physics of vulnerability. So let me get this straight. For me to truly be brave, I need to be prepared to show my authentic self? To let out all that “too much”? I really didn’t know if I could. I had worked so hard for so long to pack it down and keep it hidden.
Scrolling through Facebook one day I saw an article by Ev’yan Whitney titled “I Am a Too Much Woman”
A piece of the article reads:
“There she is. . . the “too much” woman. The one who loves too hard, feels too deeply, asks too often, desires too much.
There she is taking up too much space, with her laughter, her curves, her honesty, her sexuality. Her presence is as tall as a tree, as wide as a mountain. Her energy occupies every crevice of the room. Too much space she takes.
There she is causing a ruckus with her persistent wanting, too much wanting. She desires a lot, wants everything—too much happiness, too much alone time, too much pleasure. She’ll go through brimstone, murky river, and hellfire to get it. She’ll risk all to quell the longings of her heart and body. This makes her dangerous…Forget everything you’ve heard—your too much-ness is a gift; oh yes, one that can heal, incite, liberate, and cut straight to the heart of things.
Do not be afraid of this gift, and let no one shy you away from it. Your too much-ness is magic, is medicine. It can change the world.”
You can read the whole piece HERE
I read it over and over again, and I thought – THERE I am! This thing I’ve been running from, my authentic self - that’s my magic? But how is that possible?
The shift didn’t happen all at once, and it took lots of practice, research and professional guidance. But slowly, I started to try. I started to let the walls down. I started to feel. That was a huge victory for me. Now I know that what is most powerful, isn’t holding things in – it’s being present and willing to communicate.
Now I embrace all the emotions – the tears, the belly laughs, the fits of rage. I sit with them all. I literally cry at everything like I’m making up for lost time. Commercials? I bawl. When my clients cheer each other on through a tough set? I weep. Marriages, births, a sweet email, talking about literally anything I love - water works or belly laughs. And now, I love it! Because now I feel everything. All of it.
The power of vulnerability and communication is transformative. Choosing to feel what you feel and respect it, is the most freeing choice I’ve ever made. I'll be sharing more about my road to reclaiming my feelings in future posts. But for now, know this - Playing small, or watering yourself down serves no one – least of all you. It robs the world of what you were truly created to be and do and create. We certainly don't need more women striving to be less. We need more women choosing to be alive. So, join me. Go ahead and feel it all. Don't be less because it makes others uncomfortable. Sometimes too much, is just enough.