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Old Selves in New Outfits
Imagine: wanting to wear actual pants
On Saturday I put together an actual outfit. I wore jeans, a new (old) sweatshirt, and a vintage coat I found at VV for $11 (because it was ripped, but who cares — not I). I did my hair, and wore eye makeup, and capped it off with sunglasses and a bag that pulled the whole thing together. I felt amazing. Strong! Someone prepared to run into an arch enemy or even better: a crush. And then I felt weird because I felt like myself. Or maybe more specifically, a self I didn’t really think existed anymore.
I’m not the first person to tell you that in the midst of grief (again, all kinds — not just death), sadness, depression, anxiety, and/or pure and unfiltered unhappiness, you change. Your priorities shift as you begin living for every minute, considering each one lived through a bona fide victory. “Getting ready” is a pie-in-the-sky dream when your world shrinks to consist of only yourself and a couch, and should you run into anybody you know, it doesn’t matter because on a scale of one to i-don’t-give-a-fuck, you have transcended all forms of measurement.
The day after my dad died, I realized I didn’t need to wear eye makeup anymore because I didn’t know when I’d start crying, and I was tired of smearing mascara all over my face. Then, that temporary solution evolved into a permanent feeling of “who gives a shit?” Who gave a shit how I looked. Who gave a shit if my outfit made sense. Who gave a shit if my uniform was now sweatpant-shorts and oversize t-shirts? I showered, I made sure my hair looked okay, and I filled in my eyebrows (as a child of the 90s/2000s, if I don’t fill them in I look like Charlize Theron in Monster), but outside of those things, nothing mattered. I had joked so much about nothing mattering before, but this time it rang true in a profound sense: people I loved had died. The pandemic has changed us all down to our marrow. I’d started to resent the past incarnations of myself who used to care about pairing a certain purse with a certain jacket, and I was embarrassed to have identified as someone who formerly invested in trends. The silver lining was that having recently started recovery for an eating disorder, my weight gain barely registered. I had a body that could survive and take care of the people around her. That was a big deal. I couldn’t believe I used to take selfies. Nothing mattered. I wanted clothes I could curl up in, lose myself in, and snuggle amongst. I didn’t feel like a person. I felt like a bruised banana.
I don’t think that feeling entirely ever goes away, TBH. Grief doesn’t care about time or milestones (as I’ve said before and will say forever), it likes to show up when a song you always equated to driving around with your dad comes on and renders you crying in the car alone outside of a Loblaws. The parts of yourself that get lost when you lose people or things or places you love go someplace else, destination TBD. And in the acute stage of that process, your entire self disappears and you’re forced to rebuild into a person who now carries the ‘ol rock of sadness around with you. For me, that meant making grandoise statements about what I now valued and what I no longer did (having fun with clothes or having fun at all), and being left with no sense of who I was anymore, outside of the events responsible for this transformation. That feeling sucks for a bevy of reasons, but especially because you don’t think it will ever end. Your fate, you tell yourself, will be to wander through the world with a sense of purposeless, fighting the urge to scream “BAD SHIT HAS HAPPENED TO ME!!!” in the faces of anybody who dares experience joy. Imagine giving a shit about shoes in the middle of that! Dear readers, I could NOT.
But then, after the year milestone of the first loss and after I passed my exams and after I started to feel the familiar pangs of “I would like to do a thing” or “It would be nice to experience [anything outside of perpetual static]”, the cravings began. I began to crave the parts of myself I thought I’d shredded and forgotten about; the parts that had fun putting on eye makeup and choosing real outfits and spending an hour at Value Village, searching for tray-sures. I craved those things in the same way I began to crave sushi (the last thing my dad and I ate together — and a meal I swore I’d never eat again) and old music and the promise of the future (instead of the impending threat). I began thawing to the idea of reconnecting with old parts of myself I’d rendered obsolete. Maybe I wasn’t empty and vapid for feeling cute in a congruent ensemble — or maybe I was, and that’s fine sometimes because we all need a break from our goddamn neuroses. Maybe every waking moment didn’t need to serve “a purpose” because the tiny things always end up meaning something massive in the end. Wasn’t grief a culmination of slices of life, anyway? Weren’t those gentle, passive moments the ones that hit me where I lived? Aren’t the best and most important relationships built on stupid jokes and “oh my GOD, remember when”s and the smell of Jergens self-tanner (I miss the 2000s) and the way somebody texts and, and, and? If we really contain multitudes, than we can’t write off something as unimportant forever because it’s not a priority now. It’s not fair for someone like me to hold people not experiencing my life to standards I’d created in the depths of despair. Shit man, it’s not fair for me to hold myself to those standards, months out of the gate and in the process of big changes. “Nothing matters” was certainly a mantra I used to keep the pain at bay, but the tragic truth is that most things do. Also, I can be sad and angry and blah and whatever while wearing an $11 vintage coat. Re-introducing myself to an older version doesn’t mean I forget what I’ve learned, or what I’m learning. (Because, guess what: the fun doesn’t stop.)
And right now I’m learning to take a breath and stop assigning meaning to those previously-judged sources of joy. I like thrifting and wearing outfits. I like music that reminds me of being wee and the memories that go with it. I like eating food more than I like hating my body for not being that of a preteen’s anymore. (Although that specific one came with a lot of therapy and doctor’s office visits — I can’t stress enough that the ED world is one you can absolutely escape from, but is also one that tends to require a little outside help.) I like frivolity as long as it’s basically free and doesn’t hurt anybody. I like a selfie in a flattering light! And I also like taking a selfie and thinking, “Oh lord no” before putting the phone away because why would I torture myself over a weird angle and malleable mindset? I like this new phase where I’m letting myself hang out with the parts of myself that I assumed had died, too. It doesn’t take away from the big stuff. It just makes the big stuff a little easier to live with.
Nobody is any less serious because they feel like wearing jeans. And nobody is regressing or becoming stagnant just because on those infamously difficult days, they’d rather disappear into fleece and feel as soft as their hearts may be at the time. Parts of our old selves have survived because sometimes we still need them. And hell, they got us this far — the world won’t end if we let them sit shotgun sometimes.
Now for a little housekeeping! A few very kind souls pledged actual dollars when subscribing to this newsletter, which I absolutely can’t believe but am certainly grateful for. So going forward —> you can pledge if you want, but please think of it as a tip jar. AKA this newsletter will always be free, but should you think, “Eh — here you go!” I’ll gratefully accept and write you a thank-you card which I’ll send in the mail. (Because mail rules.)
Again, this newsie is free because a) life is expensive, and the last thing you should be spending your money on — especially if you’re on a budget — is my writing, and b) free shit rules. But if you care to tip, go forth, and please hit me with your mailing addy so I can send you an old-fashioned thank-you!
And speaking of THANK-YOU, Claire hit me up with the “I’m the problem” behaviour she will always exhibit:
I want to be the person who replies to emails/tweets/stories/articles/etc. to let the people who wrote them know that I liked it (if I liked it...I'm not interested in building egos when I despise the person or what they wrote. Who has time for psychological warfare? Me, sometimes. Not today though.) My bad trait is that I think about doing this and then do it like 10% of the time. Incredible. I love to set a goal and then fail and then beat myself up about it. I am also the worst at making plans in every area of my life when I have energy—only to find out that future Claire has no time or energy to do those things. I swear: I have never learned a lesson I haven't liked.
Energetic Anne makes SO MANY PLANS and then realizes FOR THE LAST TIME that FRIDAY NIGHTS ARE FOR BOBBY FLAY. (The TV show. I don’t personally hang out with him.)
Okay! That’s it for this week! Please send me your “I’m the problem” confessions! Drop me a line (if it’s a nice thing — please don’t be mean, I am too tired!), and take time to chill!