Tag Archives: personal growth

Finding Humility at the NY State Fair

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My family went to the New York State Fair every summer. We visited The Dairy Building to check out the enormous butter sculpture and, afterwards, waited in a ridiculously long line to get a free baked potato, topped with butter and sour cream. We admired the plants and flowers, the oversized fruits and vegetables, the goats and cows and swine. I looked forward to sipping fresh-squeezed lemonade out of a chubby yellow straw.

The last time I attended the State Fair was August 29, 2012.

My son and I and met my parents there. We stopped at the US Army exhibit where officers encouraged passers-by the try a pull-up challenge. When no one was participating, they demonstrated how “easy” it was to do ten pull-ups with pronated hands.

I’ve always admired that kind of raw strength.

I watched a few people struggle to do even one, and I remember thinking, “Wow, these people are really weak.” (Not so nice, I know. but that’s where I was.) And it was with great swelling pleasure, I stepped up to the bar and showed the world how a 45-year old woman could do 7 pull-ups.

No problem.

Just a few weeks later, I got sick.

Very sick.

I couldn’t go to the gym for over 2 years, and my muscles wasted away.

Now that I’m back to taking care of my body, I’ve been lifting weights again, trying to regain all that I lost.

When I was going thru benzodiazepine withdrawal, I never thought I’d ever be able to leave the house again. The symptoms lasted for months and years, and I didn’t know a single person who could tell me that my symptoms – though horrifying – were temporary. There were no support groups. Doctors told me that my illness was evidence that I needed to stay on the medication. I just keep holding on, white-knuckled.

Going to the Fair was a goal I set for myself this year.

I never thought I’d ever be able to do it, but there I was doing it.

I parked my car, figured out how to get in, walked to The Antique Tractor display…all by myself. I met some people and, together, we walked to the Iroquois Indian Village, watched men and women dance in slow circles as elders beat a drum and chanted. We walked around the midway,  saw the cows and goats and horses.

It was as if nothing had changed, not one moment had passed.

I remembered how I’d once easily completed those pull-ups, how my father had commented on my strength, how the men and women in uniform had praised me and joked that I could have a career in the military, so when I saw the familiar US Army exhibition, I was curious to see if I could still do it, three years later. Tossing my purse on the ground, I stepped right up. The bar was higher than I remembered, but I grabbed it.

There was no turning back.

I’ve always prided myself on my physicality. I was a dancer, a gymnast and a cheerleader. I was graceful and strong. Just a few weeks earlier, I’d helped my father use a chainsaw to take down some thick branches.

Using all my strength, I found – to my horror – I couldn’t complete a single pull-up.

Not. One.

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The Agony of Defeat.

So there I was.

And here I am.

Feeling humble.

Realizing I’m not be as strong as I once was.

That it is unlikely I’ll ever be that strong again.

And yet feeling strangely grateful.

I mean, at least I have arms.

I can embrace people that I care about fully.

I can touch and hold and offer.

And I’m laughing.

Because it’s important to remember to laugh at ourselves.

(Y’all, I looked like a doofus.)

And I’m realizing that despite my lack of physical strength, well… I can celebrate the fact that I’m growing my inner strength, how all this adversity has proved that I am a survivor.

(Even if I never make it on the TV show.)

It feels good, this coming back to life.

I’m a baby phoenix.

This time, with each failure, I realize I’m learning to fly.

When is the last time you embarrassed yourself in public?

tweet me @rasjacobson

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Professional GROWTH: a wee story & art

I’m feeling better each day, y’all. I’m volunteering weekly at a local elementary school, I’m working a part-time job;  I’m exercising and reconnecting with friends and family members, and I’m feeling confident as a mom again.

And, of course, I’ve been painting.

With my creative process ever evolving, well… I’ve had to learn more about how to run the business end of things more effectively. I figured out how to create invoices and take payment PayPal.

And then I realized I have issues.

Not long ago, an enthusiastic buyer sent me dozens of messages via Facebook, email and text message. I thought we’d finalized things so I got to work; apparently – she sent me a Tweet requesting that I revise a few things. Needless to say, I never saw it, so I didn’t make the piece the client wanted. After this snafu, I realized that corresponding on so many platforms didn’t do me any favors. Now, I only communicate via email, and I make sure to confirm orders with people before I start any work.

GROW is a 4×4 canvas featuring acrylic paint, texturizing medium & buttons. Just $20. Interested? Type SOLD in the comments or email me at rasjacobson.ny@gmail.com

GROW is a 4×4 canvas featuring acrylic paint, texturizing medium & buttons. Just $20. Interested? Type SOLD in the comments or email me at rasjacobson.ny@gmail.com

Another one of my issues involves asking for money.

I feel uncomfortable every single time I ask for payment.

Every. Single. Time.

Until recently, most of my orders came from people with whom I’m friends with on Facebook. It felt weird to ask friends for money. I thought people were just being nice by buying my little canvases. I felt unworthy of being paid for something that I was dabbling in as a hobby. And then I opened my Etsy shop and the orders started flooding in. That’s when a friend told me she was concerned I was undervaluing my work.

“Just because you make small paintings doesn’t mean they’re worth small dollars.”

I squirmed around with that for a while.

Me? Charge more? What if no one wants my paintings anymore? That will be so embarrassing. And how do I change prices. And won’t people be mad if they’ve already bought a 4×4 canvas and now I’m asking more?

I have a tendency to be a people pleaser, which is to say that historically, I’d go to great lengths to make else comfortable, to my own detriment.

I’m done with that.

So here’s the deal: effective immediately, I take cash or payment via PayPal. (No more personal checks.) I won’t start work on anyone’s canvas until I’ve received payment. If payment is not received within 48 hours of placing your order, that order will be canceled. Starting in the new year, 4×4 canvases are $25, plus shipping and handling (if applicable). Oh, and I’m not delivering canvases anymore. Folks have to pick them up or I’ll pop them in the mail (for an extra $5.95).

These are my policies. (There are a few others, but you get the idea.) As my friend reminded me, policies establish boundaries for acceptable behavior and guidelines for best practices in certain situations. They offer clear communication to buyers as to what they can expect from me, the seller, and also how I expect them to act.

Still, I can’t help feeling like my policies sound rigid and kinda bitchy.

Professional growth for me is learning that it’s okay to create boundaries, to say yes or no to something and then stick with that decision. It’s believing my work has value, that I’m good at what I do, and that I have a right to request payment.

To that end, the 4×4 canvas above – GROW – is yours for $20. Because it’s still 2014. Interested? Write SOLD in the comments or email me at rasjacobson.ny@gmail.com.

Do my policies sound reasonable? And what are doing to promote your personal or professional growth?

tweet me @rasjacobson

Limping Back to Life

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It is said that each year on Rosh Hashanah, “all inhabitants of the world pass before G‑d like a flock of sheep,” and it is decreed in the heavenly court “who shall live, and who shall die . . . who shall be impoverished, and who shall be enriched; who shall fall and who shall rise.”

Thirteen months ago, right before the Jewish New Year, my life fell apart and, since then, I have been forced to drastically slow down in an attempt to to settle in to this new normal.

Slowing down has been difficult for me.

Ridiculously difficult.

Probably because I was a real mover and shaker in my former incarnation, so I often feel like I’m not doing enough for my family.

I beat myself up, saying I should be able to do X easily, the way I used to.

Like it should be no big whoop.

Except, sometimes, even completing one thing on my to do list is wicked hard.

I know a few people who have been through benzo withdrawal. These good people reassure me that the burning mouth and the fatigue, the dizziness and the agoraphobia will eventually all go away.

I want to believe them.

I do.

In the meantime, I have to surrender to the idea that my life may never be the way that it was.

To accept what is right now and enjoy today.

This moment.

Right now, my cat is resting next to this keyboard. His body is relaxed, his breathing even. He is a living meditation. Nothing bothers this cat. Even when I clumsily step on him, he never makes a peep. He eats and cuddles and plays and sleeps. He isn’t concerned with the idea that he should be doing more. He just is.

I want to live like my cat, without worrying about what I should be doing.

I’m fortunate to have people who care about me: folks who continue to check in with me via telephone or Facebook. It’s easy to feel forgotten when you’ve been sick for a long time, so I’m grateful to these people who keep showing up for me.

I’m trying to stop beating myself up about the things I can’t do and congratulate myself for the little things I am able to do.

Yesterday, my husband and I went apple picking.

Apple picking has always been a family ritual. This year, however, we didn’t have our son with us. And we didn’t ride the tractor. Holding on to my husband’s arm, we walked slowly up the path to the orchard. I’ve been feeling particularly dizzy recently, feeling like I am being pushed to the left by an invisible hand. It’s a frustrating feeling, and a distressing one too.

Part way up the hill, a woman emerged from one of the rows of apples. She held a camera, and asked if we’d be willing to pose for a photograph for a nearby small town newspaper. At first, I was uncomfortable with her request. I hardly feel like my best self these days, and it’s been a long time since I’ve felt well enough to wear anything other than yoga pants. I didn’t have any makeup on and my hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail because that’s about all I can muster these days. I didn’t like posing for the camera. I felt exposed and raw. It’s hard for me to smile these days, due to the emotional blunting caused by the drug.

And yet.

I did it.

More importantly, I was there: taking in the view from the orchard, grateful to see the apple trees heavy with fruit; able to appreciate the leaves turning from green to red and yellow and brown.

I couldn’t have gone apple picking 13 months ago.

And this year, I was able to go with assistance.

This is where I am today.

Caught in an the middle place.

Desperately uncomfortable, but alive.

I’m here, limping along, like everyone else.

I’m challenging myself to write more, to paint more, to get out more… but many times, I am still too sick.

I hope that next year at this time, I’ll be able to easily attend Rosh Hashana services, to listen to the rabbis words, and feel that my life has been enriched in ways that I cannot yet imagine. For now, l’ll dip my apple into honey and wish everyone a sweet year filled with good health and happiness. If there is a reason for my suffering, I sincerely pray that it will one day end so that I can be of service to others who are going through their own dark times.

For now, apparently, it is still my time to receive.

I’m sharing a photograph of myself, the way I am right now, in hopes that one day I will be able to look at photos of myself and see how far I have come.

September 26, 2014

L’shanah Tova, everyone.

For better or for worse, what has changed for you in the last 13 months?