I Woke Up Like This

For Anyone Who Doesn't Love Who They Are

I Woke Up Like This #51: On Being the Drama Queen

I remember being called a drama queen by my Mother as a child. Each time I would have an emotional reaction to something this phrase would come up and I'd be labeled. I was The Drama Queen. Everything I did emotionally was in excess. My reactions to my surroundings and those in them. My reaction to pain or heartbreak. Even my happiness was excess. I was a rollercoaster. A quiet, shy rollercoaster. 

In reality, I live on the Borderline Personality Spectrum. And the Schizoaffective Spectrum. Like this participant, my symptoms were hidden by the unhelpful, invalidating, and gaslighting phrase "Drama Queen". My inability to control the regulation of my emotional reactions was not seen as a medical problem but a behavioral character defect. I was seen as overreactive, illogical, crazy, and invalid.

When in reality, I was reacting how my brain is literally formed to do so. 

I feel things so intensely sometimes. Hate, love, passion, fear. I feel it all on at the greatest volume allowed in my body. On my inside. I have learned through therapy to control this part of me, but at the cost of great mental burden. It isn't easy to withhold your own emotions, for the sake of others comfort, without invalidating yourself as a result. And with that invalidation of our emotions, comes an age old shame for how we behave. We're locked into this space where we can't react as strongly as we wish, and no amount of validation is enough to make it feel okay. We're forced to find our own form of validation or we won't survive.

Shame is a toxic, deadly force. It eats you away bit by bit. Piece by piece. If you're a perfectionist like me, a coping mechanism commonly employed by Borderlines, you ignore the shame when it's in the room out of fear of expression. But that doesn't mean the need for expression goes away. It simply grows into unhealthy behaviors and secondary disorders like addiction, eating disorders, OCD, and codependence. It leaves you without a real identity, because the real you is made up of so many mental road blocks that you can't fully express yourself without being seen as needy. Because your identity is wrapped up in a false perception of yourself, a perception we create to please others. 

If you don't address that shame, it bubbles up to the surface in many ways. 

When I tackled my shame, when I acknowledged it, it changed me entirely. It broke a ceramic mask I molded myself over the years and hid behind. It illuminated all my flaws and made me more uncomfortable than I've ever been. I gained 100 pounds and lost every single friend I had. I changed career paths after working my whole life to do just one thing. I stopped wearing makeup and I cut my hair short. I took a sledgehammer to the mold on the outside and revealed someone who was desperate to be loved by others. And understood. It destroyed every part of my old self that was the mask. 

But it saved me. From me.

I'm not shutting people out anymore. I'm not hiding from relationships. I'm trying to spend more time outside of my home with people. I'm being 100% vulnerable as a person and caring more about those in my life now that I know what differences I can make in my behavior towards them. I believe Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help anyone with my condition. Even just a little chisel off the outside can help you see so much more on the inside. 

Enjoy this persons story and be kind to those with Borderline.
We fight hard to function too. 

Be Kind to Yourself, 

Jillian
 

What is your self esteem from 1-10?
It varies from day to day. On a deep core level, it's probably lower than my average day to day acknowledgment of it. Today is like a seven. 

What goes into rating?
I like myself and overall I'm mostly happy with the way i look. its when i get deeper than that when it starts to get real twisty. As far as appearance goes. There are definitely things I don't love. That aren't exactly what I'd like them to be. But I'm working on them. My body gets me through the day and has done a lot for me. Even when I didn't take very good care of it at all. So I really appreciate it.

What does taking care of your body look like now compared to the not so good days?
I have a drinking problem. Aren't you supposed to say it's forever? I stopped drinking a year and a half ago. I officially haven't had any alcohol in a little over a year. I'm in a place where I'm taking better care of my mental health. I'm in a treatment program that is very helpful for me. I'm a lot more physically active than I've been right now. I still don't eat great but its definitely better. 

Just generally working on loving myself. Being more accepting of exactly what I am. 

What steps did you have to take to get sober?
The interesting thing is I didn't intend to get sober. I entered a really codependent relationship and moved across the country. I think in that new place, I just replaced my addiction to alcohol with him. Even though I was technically sober, the hard work didn't start until I finally left him. 

What did leaving him look like?
I had a turning point where I realized everything was messed up. He just kept promising it would change. I don't know the exact turning point was. Looking back, I had a dream. I was writing about it recently. One night, in the dream, I looked down and there was a cow suckling at my left breast. This mother cow was feeding a baby cow. As I watched, my breast got smaller and smaller. Until it was barely there. I later equated this with me giving all of my energy towards my inner mother to take care of him. And not anything for myself at all. Around that time I decided I wasn't going to be able to wait around for him to change. Ultimately, it ended in a blow out fight and me calling a friend to come and get me in the middle of the night. 

What have you learned from the relationship?
I definitely am able to see a lot of patterns in my relationships now that I wasn't always aware of. I just allowed myself to be treated that way, and didn't love myself. I was basing my worth around another person. It's never a good thing to do. 

Are your a feminist?
Definitely. Intersectional. 

What does feminism mean to you?
First off, equality. It's about acknowledging the ways that our learned behaviors perpetuate the inequality. 

What do you think is the biggest struggle with the feminist community right now?
I'm from Louisiana. In the bible belt in general, people don't have an understanding about what feminism is. It's more just people thinking that it means you hate men. I was raised surrounded by a lot of this idea that I'm a Drama Queen about civil rights issue. 
 

Let's talk about the term Drama Queen. When did you start to hear that?
Middle school was the first time I remember a lot of that invalidation. I had a hard time in middle school. I switched to a smaller private school where everyone had been going to school together since they were kids. I just struggled. I remember having "friends" who'd call me bipolar or dramatic. They would try to tell me I was faking when I was upset. At 26, I was finally diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. 

Tell me more about that. 
I had just gotten through a breakup and lost a pet. I'd also started taking hormonal birth control, which I now know is a good way to myself suicidal. I reached a low point and watched all the Harry Potter movies in order. By movie four I was really scared because I was pretty sure that once the movies were over I was gonna kill myself. Instead, I called my friend and she took me to the hospital. I got moved to an inpatient facility. I was there for about a week and as soon as my doctor met me and found out about my history of self injury; he asked me if I had ever heard of BPD. And handed me a copy of I Hate You, Don't Leave Me. 

As soon as I started reading it, it all pretty much clicked. 

It's good that he recommended a book to you instead of just telling you what you were and having it end there. 
Definitely. I have frustration with that experience and I am also grateful for it. That's actually a dialectic! Which is the type of therapy I'm in right now. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Two seemingly opposing statements that are both true. Borderlines have trouble making gray out of black and white. 

What other ways have you changed your life to accommodate this diagnosis?
I'm still really learning to use healthy skills to manage my mental health. Mindfulness and practicing patience with myself are making a big difference. 

Anything you want to say to people reading this?
Thanks for being a part of this step journey! 

Learning to Live with A New Diagnosis

"How do you feel about the diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder?" my neuropsychiatrist asked me. Baffled, I remember thinking.  Baffled. After all this time...after years of being told I was Bipolar; it's not the truth. I don't. I'm not. 

I waited a long time for her to say what she said to me. To get answers. My case was complicated, but whose isn't? I spent three years on and off medications that all did nothing for me as they were diagnosing me incorrectly. These pills all induced mania, invoked severe agoraphobia, they caused me to see things, and worst...they made me gain 100 pounds. But after three long years of insanity, manic insanity, I found the right doctor. And he believed I wasn't bipolar now that I had a diagnosis stating otherwise too.

So, he medicated me successfully. The first of five psychiatrists to do so. I'm functioning again and making strides to get my education back into the running. I'm seeing my friends more and more, leaving my house, and facing my responsibilities from the last three years of being out of service. I'm doing good. 

But.

I'm...different. Now. I feel different. I feel changed. Knowing that I'm on the Schizoaffective Spectrum doesn't make my symptoms any better but it does make me feel less alone. Less out of control. Less unknown.

But even with my answer; nobody speaks about Schizoaffective Disorder. I get drawn out, "Ohhhh" when I share it with others. I dare not speak about it on my Facebook page where my clients can see, out of fear they will fire me. But here I am safe to share. 

My name is Jillian and I have severe mental illnesses. I have complex PTSD from childhood neglect, abuse, and sexual assault. And a young adulthood filled with the same. I also have Schizoaffective Disorder. It's a mood disorder combined with schizophrenia. I have what is called "Mood congruent" psychosis. In other words, I'm the moodiest person you'll meet at times without any control over it besides my apologies. I've spent four years in therapy working on myself and no longer struggle to control my emotions in the ways I used to. I have to be care about who I trust as a friend, as many have taken advantage of me in my emotional states. Either by gaslighting me entirely, or taking advantage of my kind giving nature.

I wish everyday that people would learn about my disorders. In order to be understood better. This month is Mental Illness Awareness Month. And I'd like to come out with my diagnosis in hopes of finding others like myself. I want people who are struggling with less accepted mental health conditions to come out from the wood works and share their stories. If anyone reading this would like to participate in the project; just inbox me. I'd love to share anyones story if it is similar to my own. It helps me feel less alone, and hopefully it will help whoever I photograph as well. 

Mental illness isn't black and white. And I aim to write about mine more from this perspective. I think the spectrum theory of perspective is far more helpful than a dichotomy of "healthy or not". We can explore this further in other blogs. Comment below with your stories. I'd love to hear them, at the least.

Be Kind to Yourself, 

Jillian

I Woke Up Like This #50: On Being Yourself

We don't listen to each other deeply enough. Especially in the case of black women in activism spaces. Anyone with a brain can see this but it takes some real practice to sit down and earnestly have conversations with people whose opinion really differs from your own. It takes time to understand how someone perceives the world differently than you and accept that more than one way to exist...exists. It's hard to agree to disagree and put ourselves in others shoes. 

But we can be so much better with practice. We can listen more. Empathize more. To and with people like this woman, who so desperately wanted to participate in this to model her beautiful, black, fat body. So others like her don't feel so alone, or unloved. She wants everyone to understand that bodies like hers exist, and they're more than okay. Exactly how they are. She also pushes this all encompassing respect for our mind. And it's freedom to feel. You see this in her parenting in detail. Her children are emotionally nurtured, as well as fed and housed. And sometimes, that's a rare occurrence.

It was her feminism that really drew me in, though. Her experiences were so infuriating, and diminishing. At times. Her determination beats out any of that. Her willingness to be heard isn't silenced to far. She knows who she is and she isn't sorry. And I love that. 

It was a pleasure to meet and discuss all that we did. Enjoy her session, learn a thing or two about your white privilege, and open your mind to the viewpoints of those who differ from you. That's the only way we can make change happen.

Kindly,

Jillian  

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How would you rate your self esteem from 1-10?
Probably about a 7.

Why?
Turning thirty really launched me into this self confidence. Like, "I don't give a fuck!" I just don't care. I’m trying to get to a better place with my health. But you know, obviously we all have insecurities. I feel like our insecurities hold us back sometimes. I still have some things going on, but at the same time I’m like Hey! You know. I’m trying to feel good, I sorta feel good. I’m trying to feel better.

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What made you want to participate?
I feel as though there aren't very many women portrayed who look like me. It’s so funny, I was thinking in the shower earlier...I was ten years old when I was watching an old episode of Oprah. There was a model on, and the photographer came right when the model woke up. She was the stereotypical model. Beautiful, skinny, blonde. I remember laying there watching this. And then...I started pretending to be the model. I was like, “Oh! Take pictures of me!” and I was just a little kid. It was a little dumb but when you grow up without seeing representation of your own body or skin or hair; it’s disheartening to see this. So, I want to be that person for someone who is black and full figured. Natural hair, piercings, tattoos. If they see someone like me, maybe they will find their confidence as well. And I am a Mother. Moms are not stereotypically supposed to take nude photographs. You know what I mean?! It’s about still keeping yourself and who you are separate from Motherhood. I’m a Mother but I’m still a person.

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Are you nervous?
Yes and no. I’m not gonna lie and say I haven’t gone back and forth. But let’s just do it! Conquering fears is a part of me; especially with chronic anxiety.

How do you feel after the shoot?
That was fun! Still nervous. Especially about the frontal shots. Because that’s just my insecurity.

How would you rate your self esteem?
I don't know! With all this caffeine about an eight now!

Tell me what good self esteem means to you?
Good self esteem means honoring your body for what it’s been through and what it is going to go through. For it’s past, present, and it’s future.

What does bad self esteem look like to you?
Dreary, they have sadness in their eyes.

Like their giving up?
Yeah

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Have you ever dealt with negative self talk or other means of body shaming?
Absolutely! I am hard on myself as a mother. I’m hard on myself about my health. But you know those changes we go through...I try not to hush those voices. I try to learn from those voices of critique and force myself forward as a better person.

How do you model self esteem for your kids?
By helping others. I tell them it is so important to help other people and also take care of yourself. Intellectually taking care of yourself. Your mind is the most important part of you. You need to read, listen to music, and really listen to your emotions.

What has the biggest struggle with parenting been for you?
There are a lot. It’s a lot of push and pull. On one hand, I want to give my kids freedom. I’m all about that. But then again, it’s also about being safe. My youngest daughter is nine and she is well on her way to being a young women. She has already been bullied in the past. We keep moving forward by teaching her what we feel are the right things to do.

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What advice can you give parents whose children are being bullied?
I am definitely far from what people think are the perfect parent. We are constantly having talks with our daughter. We keep a very open case of communication with her from day one. That’s one of our things as parents. We don’t ever want to feel like our kids can’t speak to us about whats going on. Or their feelings. Or even as what we are doing wrong as parents. We don’t like to make our kids feel little, or that they have no voice in their home.

A lot of parents take on a military like approach to raising kids and you don’t find it very often where a parent will allow their child to critique their parenting. How do you feel about families like this?
Every family is so different. Brian and I are a biracial family. Our oldest is black, white, jewish, and she speaks fluent Spanish. She’s a dancer, she loves art, painting, reading. All these things. I don’t ever want to feel like I am defining who she is. We want our kids to find themselves. Brian went to art school, I went to fashion school, so we’re definitely unique when it comes to families.


How do you feel your parenting benefits your children? Compared to the average parenting we see today?
I feel like they will get more confidence. When I was younger my parents were very, “I’m the parent. You’re the kid. That’s it.” Well, yes, when it comes to the safety of our children we are very different. But...they are their own people.

I think it’s refreshing to meet a parent like you. Who respects the feelings of their child so much that you give them the power to vocalize their emotions rather than compact them for the sake of respecting authority.
Yeah. You know. We’re just open. We want our children to feel open enough to express themselves and that’s it. We may get irritated with the answers. I can be the mean Mommy sometimes. I get the casual door slams or stomping up the stairs. We even tell them, "I’m not your friend; I am your parent." But at the same time I want them to know that they can come me. My daughter told me, “You know, you’re the diary I never write in. Because I can tell you everything”. So, so far; our parenting has been working for us.

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What was your childhood like?
My parents tried. Financially. Emotionally? Not there at all. And that’s one reason that Brian and I are definitely there emotionally for our children. It’s definitely as important as putting a roof over their head.

What do you mean by your parents were not emotionally present?
My Dad, being a black man who grew up in the 60s and 70s seeing all these racial changes..it hardened him. My Mother is biracial and moved from the south to California. She has definitely been through a lot. I feel like she has had some traumas she has never dealt with. My parents together? They just didn’t...get me. I was a slacker, I was into the arts. My dad was really into me going to USC and being into academics. And that just wasn't me. Especially when you don’t get the help you need to go to a university.

What do you mean by that?
My dad is from Detroit. He was raised around people who just weren’t good. My Mom worked at USC for 23 years. USC would pay for the tuition. But my parents never knew about PSATS or act prep. I grew up in the suburbs. I was a black woman who listened to Papa Roach and Taking Back Sunday. I just didn’t have the tools. So, my Dad just really did not get it. I don’t hold it againsts them at all. I went through my angst, and I was angry. But I don’t have time anymore. I’m married, I have kids, I have to change diapers. I’ve moved past it. So now, my Mother has a guilty conscious about our upbringing.

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Tell me more about your Mother.
My Mom, she’s crazy. Everyone says that. But now we get along great. We’ve definitely had our times for sure but now we’re fine. She loves the kids, she loves Brian. She wasn’t happy about us moving to Chicago, though.

What is something you’ve noticed about Chicago culture that is different from Anaheim?
I definitely feel the people are not as laid back. Like, is it the weather?! Maybe it’s just all the vitamin D in California but people are definitely not as laid back here. For sure.

What brought to Chicago?
Family.

What was middle school like for you?
Horrible! Who loved middle school?! I don’t think anyone liked middle school. It was fucking terrible. I was a new student. We moved to a new town. I went to an out of district middle school, then a high school within. So I didn’t know anyone. Again, I’ve been the awkward black girl my whole life.

What were some defining moments with school?
In high school I was busted for weed. I had under a dime sack of weed on me. A girl who was my friend slipped a note to the principal about my marijuana. And they searched me. Found it. I had to go to court, probation for six months. Drug classes. At sixteen. Did the whole pee in a cup thing in front of a stranger. A little embarrassing for a sixteen year old on her period. My parents were pissed.

And now it’s just a slap on the wrist?
Right!

Are you a feminist?
Yes!

What does being a feminist mean to you?
Being a feminist means, well, the text book definition is equality of the sexes. But also, I am a Black Feminist. Which is different. I’m also an educated, fat, AND black, feminist. I’m intersectional. It’s true. We always hear that word. So, it's true. 
 

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Why does this moment stick with you?
It’s a constant. It’s a constant of black women explaining their world. It’s a constant, ”We’re hurt, we’re struggling”. But non-women of color want to tell us, "We’re all women!" and "We are all in this together." Erica Heart, she will always say, “What are here for? Who are you here for? Who is this for?”

How frequently do you find yourself being spoken over in feminist spaces?
All the time! You know, I will bring up topics of differing opinions. It’s a constant battle of them telling me, ”Well, we need to stick together as women.” But I’m also black. I’m also a mother. I’m also fat. I’m all these other things as well. So, I don’t feel like it’s acceptable to talk about race and gender openly for myself just yet.

What empowers you as a black woman?
Seeing our past, seeing where we’ve come from. My parents, at the age of ten, that’s when they had the talk with me. They made me sit and watch Mississippi Burning. It may not have been the most age appropriate, but it definitely got their point across.

What were your parents trying to teach you with this movie and the talk?
That racism still exists. That you’re going to have to work harder. And hold your head up longer. And you won’t be coddled. And all these things about being a black woman growing up today and in the nineties.

What is your advice to white feminists who are trying to be more intersectional?
Keep listening. It’s okay, you know. The problem is when it comes to differences, they’re always seen as being negative. There is nothing wrong with me growing up differently from you. It’s okay. But for some reason, it’s always perceived as bad.

To mention intersectionalism?
Yeah.

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What is the biggest problem with feminism today?
Racism. I went to the Women's March with my daughter. It was not my first protest so I took her with me. She held up a sign that said,”We may be tiny but we’re strong” and I took a sign that had a picture of a black woman side profile with an Audrey Lorde quote. It also said, "Black Womens' Lives Matter." We were at the train going up to LA when an older white woman walked up to me. She said, ”Show me your sign.” So, I showed it. And she looked at me with the mosts bewildered look on her face. And walked away. She just walked away...

What keeps people from reaching a point of understanding most times?
Everyone has a different story. Nobody will ever be able to fully grasp another persons story. I get that. That is fine. But! It is all about learning. Growing. We have arguments online because it’s so hard to have a real conversation in person. Trust me. It wasn’t easy for my parents to have that talk with me about race. Just like it was hard for me to have the talk about guns in school with my daughter. If you don’t talk about issues, how do you expect change to happen?

I think there are so many things white feminists don’t see because they don’t see it.
But stand behind the people who are constantly talking about their struggles. Like, “I may not get it but I support you.” It’s just that simple.

Have you ever struggled with your mental health?
Yes. After I had my first daughter, I was diagnosed with Postpartum Depression. I was thrown on Zoloft, 100mg. It was brutal. I had no idea what was happening. I was young when I had my daughter, so not a lot of my friends had kids. My husband and I had no idea what shit we stepped into. Mothers couldn’t talk about postpartum depression ten years ago but today you can. That’s one thing I love about our generation. The open communication. It’s astounding.

What was the hardest part of your PPD?
The isolation. When we had our daughter we lived in a 400 square foot apartment in Long Beach. When she was six months old we got a house in Anaheim. I didn't have any friends. I became agoraphobic. I didn’t drive. I didn’t leave my house. I’d only go to the local mall and the park; that was it.

It was lonely. I had no idea that Mothers were so lonely. We had an emergency c section. It was Obamas Inauguration and I was in surgery. I didn’t see her for three hours. Eventually, after a year, I got out of it. For five years after, I researched how to prepare for my cesarean sectioned body for my other daughter’s birth. It was a success!
 

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What words can you leave those reading with?
Being true to yourself has got to be one of the hardest parts of growing up in this era but it is also the most enlightening. I still have growing to do, I still have some loving myself to do. I still have a lifetime of learning to do. We all do. Some days we will push ourselves to do better than the next but some days we won't even get out of bed. And that's okay. Tell yourself you're okay. Everything will be okay. 

Finding Balance and Going Back to School

Being able enough to go to school, being wealthy enough, is a privilege. 

I had these privileges before my mental illnesses manifested fully. My whole life I was able to use my mania to help me through hard times, and there were many, but now? With fibromyalgia as well? It blows me out. My body can no longer do it. I can't just ride my mania through the hard times; I have to face them. 

It took me five years of facing my problems to be well enough to say I'm returning to school. This is a big deal to me. I've always dreamt of a four year, but stayed smart and aimed to finish my general education at smaller schools first. I have one more class until I have my associates degree finished...I was held back by my learning disability and several staff who needed a doctors note to believe I had it. All my hard work, all the hours of headaches from studying so much, wasted. Because a doctor needed to validate all the things I went through that has given me brain damage. 

You see, when you experience trauma, the trauma causes black outs in parts of your brain. The more you experience, the less activity in certain areas. Our brain is trying not to hurt us further by doing this. It's a clever masking mechanism, but unfortunately, we lose our ability to control feelings associated with certain situations. 

I was abused heavily as a child. I was raised by one of the hardest working people in the world. In fact, my entire family consists of workaholism. It's how we cope with our genetically inescapable anxiety. It's why addiction runs rampant in our family. Being raise by a workaholic perfectionist and a workaholic alcoholic who feels nothing sounds as enticing as you could imagine. There were moments where my Mom was the best. Where nobody but her could support me like she did. But, there were moments where things would fly into the wall and create holes. Testimonies of her anger and frustration with her life. A child can only blame themselves without explanation.

Because sometimes, I was the wall.

So as I find myself here, sharing about my brain damage, something most people aren't able to admit they have, I am hoping you can understand it is a miracle I'm finding my way back to school. To life in general. It will take every ounce of me to do so, and if I do it, I'll be the first in my family with a degree. Second in my entire family, cousins included. I'll have done it with only grants and financial aid. I'll have done it despite having mild cognitive dysfunction and test anxiety that causes me to dissociate through minutes of my limited test time. People will give me the accommodations I need. I'll make some friends who love to study what I do. Maybe I'll even meet another asexual person there.

It's going to be something I should have done a long time ago, but I'm learning to appreciate it for it's existence at all. I am so, so lucky to be here. Alive. But also thriving. Because kids like me? They usually don't make it past 25. I celebrate this year knowing all I've endured was all a part of me finding my balance. It took 25 years to get here, but I'm starting to live a life I'm proud of.
 

I Woke Up Like This #49: Model the behavior you want your children to see. Don't assign it, model it too. 

What resonates with me most about this session is how similar our stories are in the intersection of disability. This person has PCOS, endometriosis, arthritis, Bipolar disorder, and a slew of other disorders connected to the psychosomatic pain it causes them. They've also survived abusive relationships, sexual abuse, parental abandonment, being a child of an alcoholic, and the hell storm of symptoms all of those things cause in a person. 

I relate because my disorders are also caused by similar beginnings. I was raised by four alcoholics. My parents divorced very young, I was only three when my Father was kicked out of our home for throwing plates at my Mother for not having his dinner warm enough or his clothing ironed. I was shoved into the pavement as he walked past me to leave and not really want to come back. I feel the abandonment she speaks of, to a far lesser degree, but at three...your Dad is your Dad. So when he leaves, and hurts you on the way out, you feel worthless. Even as a child. Tears still roll down my face as I tell this story, even just writing it out in a blog. It's triggering to have the flashbacks. And to feel like I was nothing to him for so long. 

But we can't always get what we want from the world. I've learned that sometimes, given the actions of others toward ourselves, we must cope and move along. Nothing can change what happened to me, or to this person. But we are better, stronger people now. Much smarter, braver, and sure of ourselves. I wish that for everyone without the trauma it takes to get there. But if I've learned anything in this activism fueled adventure of a life I lead; it's that those who experienced the most pain are, socially, the smartest people I know. We survived. 


Be Kind to Yourself, 

Jillian
  

BEFORE SHOOT

What's your level of self-esteem right now? 1-10?
Um, it's never very high...so I'd probably give it like a four.

What made you want to do this project?
I was doing burlesque. I started doing it fresh out of treatment for an eating disorder and all my mental stuff. I was terrified of it before but it was something I wanted to do. I got on stage, and it was amazing. It really boosted my self-confidence. And now I want to do things that terrify me. 
 

So this project terrifies you? 
Yeah! Haha. Not as in, what a bad and scary project. But it was like, in a lot of my previous sexual experiences I was like..."eeeeeeehhh don't look at me" but now; I'm going to be looked at. 

And now, you'll be forced to look at your nude body from a completel non-sexual standpoint. 
Yes. I have a very weird relationship with my own sexuality. It being from a non-sexual standpoint doesn't bother. It's more so like, you putting it on a website where everyone else can just look at me. And I can't control that. 

But it's also going to be super empowering because the jig is up. Everyone will know exactly what you look like underneath what you do to present yourself for society. 
I am very excited about that! I spend so much time hiding myself, even doing burlesque. The hair, makeup, perfect poses. It's so controlled. I'm used to being controlled in my movements. It's nice to see what I'm like when I take that all away. 

Are your nervous?
Yes! Hahaha. It's just something I've never done. I've taken my own nudes, but even in that...I can take a hundred and if I'm lucky...I get one. I tend to be a perfectionist or I give up. This is something I cannot give up. I have no control over these photographs. 

It's radical, and somewhat forced, acceptance of your own body.
Yeah!
 

AFTER SHOOT

How would you rate your self-esteem now?
A little higher! The highest it's been is a six, it's definitely a six right now.

What changed?
Relaxing a little bit, I don't do it very often. 

Like taking care....of youuuu? Self care?
Maybe. I should do that more often...just maybe. 

What are your greatest life struggles right now?
Definitely resurgence of a lot of my eating disorder tendencies. As well as my bi-polar disorder and PTSD. Which I'm focusing on now in therapy. As well as a panic disorder, and a lot of physical conditions. And grieving over the loss of friendships and my grandfather.

My grandfather was really important to me. He was one of my best friends. It was painful to lose him.
Yes, I think he was more of a parent to me. 

How so?
My parents were there, it's not like I grew up an orphan. But they were not ready to be parents. They were both drug addicts. My father an alcoholic, my mother severely mentally ill. There was never really any focus on their children. I have an older sister, lost my younger brother. Seeing my grandparents....they always gave me and my sister the upmost love a child could receive. They taught us some things that children need to know growing up. 

Tell me more about your relationship with your grandfather.
This story captures it perfectly...

When I was really little my parents would tell us they loved us, but we never felt it. My grandfather never told me that he loved me, or my sister. One day, I freaked out and threw myself on the ground and asked him why he didn't love me. He picked me up and said, "Of course I love you, it's my actions that tell you I love you" I didn't get it now, but as I grew up he said it frequently to make me feel loved. I saw him one last time, and he said, "Don't worry baby, you know I love you, I'll see you soon." But I never saw him again. He died of cancer. I never questioned whether he loved me again.

What goes into your self-esteem?
Definitely my body image, what's happening in my life currently. One of the things I often do is turn emotional pain from an event into pain against my body. Because it's easier to cope with than focusing on that event. And how I feel about my personality goes into it as well.

Can you give me examples of those things that's happened in the past?
When I got out of that abusive friendship and relationship; I couldn't understand it all. When I cannot understand something, it was easier to blame my body than deal with those things. When I lost my grandfather, even it didn't make sense, I turned my loss of my grandfather into body hate. That's what I naturally do. 

How was middle school for you?
I went to a catholic school and it was a really crummy experience. I used to faint a lot and we could never find out why. Kids would say that God hated me. And that's why. As a young kid, that means a lot. It was a break your knees type of school. God hates gay people and stuff. And I was a bi-sexual so....there was just a lot of teasing and it was not a fun time. 

I think a lot of parents undermine their children's feelings and belittle them when it comes to other kids bullying at school. 
I never really went forward and told my parents. Rather, I would get so much anxiety and I'd miss school. I'd worry myself so much I'd miss school. My grades dropped, my teachers...and both my parents among others said I was faking it. It just wasn't very good...and it felt really bad. That's when the eating disorders started, and bipolar was diagnosed. Nobody understood and I wasn't willing to talk about it a lot. 

How do you think other parents can avoid this happening to their children when they experience similar things?
Modeling is really important to children. I've taken a lot of psych classes specifically for children. Modeling is key. Parents will be telling their kids these coping mechanisms of "turning the other cheek" or "that you're beautiful despite" and see their parents exemplifying the opposite...it gives mixed messages. Model the behavior you want your children to see. Don't assign it, model it too. 

A lot more attention needs to be paid to children's mental, that's for sure. 
Even thought people take child development, we all forget it. Everyone thinks children don't remember, they don't get it, they don't understand. But they do. I've nannyed so many girls and boys and kids and they all do. Kids know when you're upset. One day I came in and I was visibly off my game and the little girl I was watching came up to me and smashed my face between her hands and said, "I WILL LOVE YOU UNTIL YOU DIE". And that was really helpful for me.If they can pick up on those cues, and have a deeper understanding...we should be able to pick up their emotional cues and have a deeper understanding. 
 

How is your relationship with your parents now? 
I do see and talk to both of my parents now. But it was never a full relationship. My father an alcoholic, my Mother mentally ill, and them hating each other was a volatile environment. They met and got married because my Father was her drug dealer and he knocked her up. They do think there was love at some point, but I don't think it was what it should be when you raise children. 

His alcoholism fueled her addiction, which fueled her mental illness. It all came down to a day when she thought he stole the prescription pills she was addicted to. She just forgot she took them all. He locked her out, and when she got back in she had a lighter and a gas can. She said.

"You took away the only thing I love, so I'll take away the only thing you love; your children"

And you remember this?
Yes, I was very young. I don't really remember the aftermath of her getting arrested. I don't remember her even being away too long...but each time she got arrested I still thought she was the good guy. She always told me it was my Father that caused everything. His alcoholism was bad, belittling...but you can't excuse trying to kill your own children. He degraded her, she degraded us, and she'd take us to hotels where she'd meltdown and tell us she wants to kill herself. 

How do you feel about it today?
I don't blame my parents fully but I do think they had a hand in the development of all my eating, anxiety and bipolar disorders. And being in so many abusive relationships.

My father acknowledges it but he doesn't. It's like an elephant in the room. His one acknowledgement was, one day, in the car, he cried for five minutes and cried to me about how sorry he was. Because my Mom ran away with a new family. But we still don't really talk about it...we work together. Everyone at work knows, but nobody really talks about it. 

What kind of physical conditions do you have?
The eating disorder really messed up my insides. I'd go back and forth between starving and purging. So I greatly messed up my digestive system. I have the arthritis going on, which may be caused by the eating disorders. I have a bad immune system, one year I got mono and pneumonia in a few months span. Anemia. And then I have a whole host of reproductive issues. Endometriosis, Adnomyosis. Which is a condition which the lining of the uterus grows into the uterus. Which prevents childbirth. I also have PCOS. 

With all of that, it's funny because, I have two giant overies. So I could have as many kids as possible. 

How has your chronic pain affected your self esteem?
It definitely makes everything really difficult. It constantly feels like you have something wrong with your body. I look at all the things my friends can do...and I can't do them. It feels crummy. It's the physical pain, but the emotional pain they cannot understand. I have a headache, and they try to tell me to just stop it. And then I spiral into how I cannot actually do that. I think physical pain gets very tied up into emotional pain, so it's harder to work through for some. You can take medication and be fine if you only struggle with physical pain but when it's a disorder thats sensitive to your other mental disorders...it's not easy.

How do you cope?
I've formed a lot of really great relationships. I went to breakfast recently with a good friend and her new partner. Who is the bees knees. But when we started talking about our past relationships, I began to talk about mine. When I get nervous, I can't stop talking. So I mentioned the time my ex had sex with me when I was unconscious and it really bothered me. I never called it rape or abuse. This guy said, "isn't that rape?" and all of my physical symptoms and mental symptoms just stopped. 

What other non-conscensual experiences you had?
My old roommate, who was having a secret relationship with my boyfriend at the time, started to get really manipulative and abusive. One of her ways to control the situation was to convince me we should have sex together. So she could have sex with him. I explained I wasn't comfortable, I really was not okay. Her premise was, "What if I'm gay and I don't know it? I love you why don't you sleep with me?" I explained it wasn't working that way and she coerced me to do it. I felt so physically ill afterwords.

From then on, any girl who put physical attraction on me I felt incredibly pained to the touch by them. I'm still trying to accept it, but my therapist tells me...reminds me...that it's abuse. That this is sexual abuse. 

Women rarely talk about when women assault other women. 
The fact that they might see this...is one of the things that freaks me out the most. But I also feel like if I don't talk about it...I'll never be able to talk about it. And like you just said...I don't know how many people talk about this. But if they see that what they did is wrong, it could stop further assaults. 

How did that relationship pan out?
I obviously broke up with the boyfriend. I kicked the girl out. Before she left we had another interaction. She had planned an intervention for me, regarding him abusing me, and I asked her, "What makes you think he won't do what he did to me, to you?" and she said, "Because I'm not like you. He's not a rapist." And this was after me finding out he assaulted one of my other friends girlfriends. 

Do you think there was any good in him?
I think there was a good person, but when he started drinking and doing cocaine and heroin....it warped him. He can't take that back. I hope he, one day, does realize, that there is so much not okay with what he did and said to me. I still hope, even though his new girlfriend is okay with it, that HE gets it's not okay. He furthered a lot of my body image problems. 

What do you wish more people know about living with chronic pain?
I wish they understood that there is a lot about the pain we cannot control but there is also a lot we can do. I wish people understood that they shouldn't try to take it from us. Don't make us feel powerless. I am in control of my body, I know my limits, listen to me when I reach them. But don't make me feel like it's this wild warlord dictator when it's not. 

And that's 100% part of how to treat someone with chronic pain correctly. I'm also going to add that people should assume the opposite either. That we don't we don't want help, because we want that control and simply lack it at times. We need understanding at that time, not judgement, because we already judge ourselves for what we cannot do. 
I think that's very true. It's nice to have help with anything. Like moving a table, or not being able to get up physically. A lot of people intertwine being helpful and unhelpful with control. Like, help me up but don't keep taking me with you after that. 

I feel that so much when I'm going up stairs really slowly, and the person behind me tries to like...encourage me by putting their hand on my back. When really, that's just kind of to make them feel better and creates this really awkward situation where someone else touches me without permission. I'll get up the stairs at my own pace. Be kind about that, you know? Haha. 
When I was going through the worst with my reproductive issues, I was a dog walker. And it affected that greatly. My boss was trying to be understanding and she was really into homeopathic methods. She'd try to give me things, and keep pushing things on me. Which works for some but not for me. I just had to put my foot down and say, "Thank you but no thanks! I know this helps you, but it doesn't help me!"

And I think that's one of the most important things about being a person in someone with chronic pains life. Being able to understand when your suggestions aren't necessary, and thinking twice about the things they may have already tried given how long they may have had their condition. 
One of the crucial things here is sympathy versus empathy. Sympathy makes others feel bad, while empathy is like, "Wow that sucks, let me put myself in your shoes to help you feel less alone." Empathy helps others not throw out those million not so helpful suggestions out there and just accept others circumstances.

When you become ill, those around you who care want to heal you. Because that's what we're told to do when people are sick. It's hard for people to stop and understand the context of the chronic long term or permanent disease. And how specific treating it can be. That you have to accept you simply can't cure some people. And to try and do so fights against a part of their identity and invalidates their ever shifting identity struggles. It defines us as something that needs to be fixed rather than accepted. And accommodated. 
Definitely. I feel like it's almost insulting. I'm not okay with these things. My eating disorder, my endo, my arthritis....will never go away. I can manage it, but it's a part of me. And if I'm going to like me, I have to accept that. So for someone to try to cure me, it feels like their preventing me from accepting it myself. 

Which is why hearing people discourage me from labeling myself as disabled hurts a lot too. 
There isn't anything wrong with being disabled.

I personally don't consider myself disabled, despite the breakdowns....because I can still have two jobs and go to school and see my friends. I'm very privileged. While you had to stop working. When you're disabled, you have to stop doing a lot. That label makes sense to you. People say rapists are the guys in the alley, and being disabled is being the person in the wheelchair. But it's not always that way. A lot of times it's not the guy in the ally, that person is not always in a wheelchair. But they're still disabled. We don't see cancer but we give them a lot of empathy. 

The comparison of "Oh well it could be worse, you could have cancer" always pisses me off too. 
Being a nanny, I found that; yes, it could always be worse. I used to tell off parents who invalidated their kids for crying over a stubbed toe. I say, why shouldn't they cry? That's the greatest pain they've felt. Yeah it might suck more not to have a roof, or be homeless, but I don't know that pain. So I feel what I feel to the fullest extent. You can acknowledge that things could be worse, but it doesn't stop you from feeling the worst you've ever felt. 

Do you have a message for the audience? 
Talk about it. Be emotional or notice physical pain. When you don't talk about yourself, you reinforce the "let's not talk about it" and "ignore" taboo surrounding those topics. It gets worse. People said I was attention seeking, a child, and that I need to get over it but...if I don't talk about it I may never talk about it. I could never help someone else avoid the things I didn't see when I was in an abusive relationships. If you don't feel ready to talk, give yourself time. But even when there is a tiny bit of you that wants to talk about it, try it. Give it a chance. I don't know where I'd be if I didn't talk about it. Talking about it gets me closer to figuring things out. 

I Woke Up Like This #48: Cry more, talk less, and listen more.

This guy is a pal of mine I met through Shakespeare in the park. Off the bat; I recognized the he was aware of his masculinity and confident in his interests. He also has strong roots in his Italian culture and ideals. He is a true mixture of how gender is represented and I love that about him. I think we need more male identified people pushing back at the expectations of masculinity. While I spend much of my time fighting for womens rights, I also pay very close attention to the expectations of males as well. It's always interested me. In high school, I found out that most mass shooters are male. An alarming amount. As I grew older, I researched why. In sociology books, in books I could get my hands on from the library, my gender studies book.

Men are seen as weak if they display passive emotional responses to challenging mental stimuli. They learn to repress their emotions in ways that harm them, just to conform. As do women, as we often play passive to survive. These rigid expectations are one of my focuses with this project as much as it is about body diversity. I want to display, via research and photographs, that your gender doesn't have define you. That gender is not only assigned, but that the roles we are shuffled into as a result can be damaging. We cannot all fit in a one size fits all mold that society expects us to conform to. 

And with that, I challenge you to think about your gender identity. Cis (not trans) or trans. Think about how it defines who you are. Ask yourself is this me or expectation and would I be happier doing something else? Would I be more free?

Be free. Be kind to one another. And enjoy this bit about my theatre pal.

Love,
Jillian

How would you rate your self-esteem 1-10?
7

How do you define self-esteem?
To me, self esteem isn't as much about liking who you are as a person. It's more about feeling like a moral person that has qualities desirable to someone else. 

What parts of your body do you like and dislike?
I feel like my head is too small. I'm also balding way to early. My hands dry out pretty bad in winter. Like, they turn red and crack and bleed. I'm a super tactile person. Touch is probably my favorite sense out of the five so I get worked up being afraid of someone touching my hands and them being scaly. I just really want people to feel comfortable and my mind tells me that it would make someone uncomfortable. 

I like my arms they have good shape and they are long. I'm all about practicality. Long arms means more opportunities to get things and reach weird places. I just feel empowered realizing all the stuff they can do and they look pretty good (to me anyway) while doing it. I also just like my face a lot in general. I act in my spare time, so I spend a lot of time in mirrors making faces. My eyebrows are expressive and my facial hair comes in fairly nice. My eyes are probably my most versatile feature there. I know how to look at some one lovingly, in a sincere way or a creepy way, or sardonically, and thats just one look! I work on many looks for each character.

What parts of your body do you like and dislike?
I feel like my head is too small. I'm also balding way to early. My hands dry out pretty bad in winter. Like, they turn red and crack and bleed. I'm a super tactile person. Touch is probably my favorite sense out of the five so I get worked up being afraid of someone touching my hands and them being scaly. I just really want people to feel comfortable and my mind tells me that it would make someone uncomfortable. 

I like my arms they have good shape and they are long. I'm all about practicality. Long arms means more opportunities to get things and reach weird places. I just feel empowered realizing all the stuff they can do and they look pretty good (to me anyway) while doing it. I also just like my face a lot in general. I act in my spare time, so I spend a lot of time in mirrors making faces. My eyebrows are expressive and my facial hair comes in fairly nice. My eyes are probably my most versatile feature there. I know how to look at some one lovingly, in a sincere way or a creepy way, or sardonically, and thats just one look! I work on many looks for each character.

How are you impacted by gender norms?
I should explain the culture I grew up in shapes my opinions in a less conventional sort of way. My grandparents are off the boat Italians and I'm the only male in my generation. I don't know if you know anything about Roman Catholicism, especially in an Italian family, but since the day I was born there was the assumption that if my father or aunt were not around; it would be on me to take care of my family. Provided that I was at an age to work. On top of that, everything goes to me in the will because I'm the only one that can pass on the family name (in their eyes at least). And from there I'd have to distribute that to the others.

I grew up surrounded by women. From my five foot nothing Nonna to my no-nonsense mother. Then there is my lovely sister. My sister is my prettier best friend. I learned that I'd have to work hard and eventually raise and provide for a family. As my Nonna likes to say, "find a nice Italian girl".  My father? Well, we just butt heads on everything. He wasn't as close to his sister as I am to mine. To be honest, from an early age, I've never really like how my dad talks to women or children or me or really anyone. Maybe its the generation gap...but I always thought he sounded rude or entitled. I don't mean to talk shit about the guy! Yes, he is my Dad. But. I am 25 years old and I don't really feel like my dad has thought that anything I say or do as particularly meaningful or competent. I can think of a bunch of times he has made me feel inferior. I hate how much I bask when I get even a backhanded complement from him. I don't know...I just don't think I should go out of my way to love and to respect a person when they have done only the bare minimum of societies expectations to love. My father was my example growing up. I saw someone who cared about his feelings more than others and I decided that I won't be that. I feel like I see so many men like that and I pity them in a way. I just don't think true happiness ever exist for people who have a narrow worldview. You can be so certain of something that you never notice the things that can make you the happiest or healthiest could be just one culture or conversation or book away. 

Which of those ways is the most damaging to male identified people?
Spoiled men children who think its their God given right to whine and complain about stuff that makes them unhappy. Who then laugh it off when someone expresses to them, "Hey! That's not fucking ok!". It's amazing how we treat those below or outside of our station. I can describe watching men who think less of women. It's like a guy who drinks beer after spending all day in the desert. Fellas I implore you take women seriously. They are the single greatest untapped well of labor and brain power on the planet. I think the job of anybody alive is leave it nicer than you found it. EVERYBODY HAS SOMETHING TO CONTRIBUTE AND NO ONE SHOULD ARGUE OTHERWISE.

How do you feel about masculinity? As an expectation for all men? 
I think its unrealistic. Not every boy wants to grow up to be a sole provider for the house. I think, in every sense, you and your partner should play to your strengths. You should work together to shore up your position. A lot men grow up thinking they are going to be in charge by default. This leads to entitlement and controlling behavior. I see that as a waste. I want a partner who CHALLENGES ME and I challenge her and we do our best together to sort out the issues whether it social, fiscal, or emotional. Men need to stop assuming you they are suffering more then anyone else. You have your own personal understanding of suffering and no one should demean that for anybody. Cry more, talk less, and listen more.

Are there any parts of you that don't seem to match up with societies expectations as a man? I don't like sports, cars, or being in authority. 

Are you a feminist?
Yassssss!


You Do Not Qualify for Social Security Benefits

I'm triggered. 
Do you know what that means, in general?
It means that something or someone has provoked my PTSD. 
For me...
For some? 
It means entering pyschosis, a state of being where you're detached entirely from reality. 

I often think, "How do people make fun of triggers when they know how frightfully encompassing it can be to enter psychosis?"

Do they even know? Probably not.
Should they know? I believe we all should. 

I've been triggered for a day now. I couldn't really understand what did it until now. That's how it works for me. I have so many triggers, from having so many counts of trauma, that sometimes I can't even pinpoint what is causing me to dissociate. 

Dissociation is like taking a break from reality. Your brain pulls the plug on being present, to avoid the stress of the present, and you seemingly " zone out". For periods of time that can last for hours. If you don't have someone to help snap you out of it. All my life I've suffered from this symptom. I've dissociated my way through school in many respects. I have done it while I drive, making it to my destination purely on auto-pilot alone. I've done it and had men take advantage of my state of confusion. Which makes dissociation dangerous. 

It's a symptom not many people know of, or fully grasp the severity of. We, those who struggle with it, we don't want to make it something big. We want to minimize our problems, like all else. But me? I want everyone to know that when I space out, when I am pausing in conversation and fumbling over my words, it's because my brain wants out. It wants to destress. And I fight it to stay in the moment all the time.

This trigger, as I've realized, was being denied by social security. I knew, I promise I knew, that this would happen. This isn't a shock to my conscious mind. But to my subconscious, it is devastating. And invalidating. And personal. Because my ability to just function is so much lower I fear for my long term survival. And while I fear for my future stability; I dissociate into a depressed version of my reality. The fact that I was denied shifts my reality into something unpleasant, no matter how much I assure myself that I will eventually be accepted and the system will pull through.

Often times; it doesn't. I am also, in the back of my head, aware of this. I'm aware we live in a very, very broken and corrupt system. One that is lead by people who have never had to choose between food and gas to work. As I have many times. 

Being triggered isn't a laughing matter. 

Did you know triggering a combat soldier could throw them back into the line of duty, in a reality where you are now an enemy and target? Did you know triggering me, by touching my head or my waist, compels me to throw my elbow into a person or immediately back off and ask not to be touched? 

The worst part of being triggered is that some people do it on purpose. To control you. 

And as someone who takes a back seat to all my illnesses already; I'm tired of being controlled. I'm tired of people thinking that triggers are always momentary. For me, they last days, and some days I feel provoking one should be a crime. A dangerous, cruel, and inhuman crime. 

But I'm always dramatic, they say. A symptom of having lost my mind to so many cruel instances my brain reacts strongly to even the slightest now. 

Today, I pulled myself out of a paralyzing fit of anxiety and went to work to write this blog before my shift started. This is how I cope; expression. Otherwise? It stays inside. And festers. And soon I won't leave bed. I won't go to work, I'll lose all hope. Psychotically, but validly. I wish even more than anything else that we'd stop using psychotic as a negative descriptor. It is what it is and many people struggle with it. 

We're just quiet, out of fear, that we won't be accepted as the same person we were before stating the fact. I know I have hesitated to tell my truths in fear. I can only imagine how many others do to. And that's why I do IWULT. I want to call out those fears, the stigma, the negativity, and I want light shone on those topics to make them less alien. Less Other. 

Do you get triggered? What is it like? How do you cope with it? Write in the comments. I wanna hear your stories. In the meantime; I'll begin to accept the long journey it will be to get disability. 

-Jillian
 

Hooligan Turns Four!

This past Saturday I congregated with a bunch of the coolest queer people I know and headed down to sell prints from my project at this gigantic Hooligan Magazine celebration. Four years now, this magazine has been killing it. Hooligan was created by the amazing Morgan Martinez and Rivka Yeker year back. The local scene didn't have any decent publications running stories about the local artists or musicians. Now, there is a great platform for them to speak from. One that is attracting more and more attention every year. Rightfully!

I love the team over at Hooligan so much for accommodating me this year. My team of helpers were more than happy to score of loot around while I schmoozed anyone who made their way to the booth. They came back with photographs, tshirts, and some hand knitted hats. I stayed with my prints and diligently urged anyone interested to buy. I didn't make my way around too much; stage fright really. I was barely able to make it there this year, thanks to some very dedicated friends of mine. So, here is what you missed and I photographed!

If you missed the show, feel free to click the button below to buy prints online!
 

 

Makeup Artist: Sommer Rodriguez @ sommerarielle  Model: Megan Mia @ megann.miaa

Band: Goody Gel

Band: Goody Gel

Makeup Artist: Sommer Rodriguez @ sommerarielle  Model: Megan Mia @ megann.miaa

Makeup Artist: Sommer Rodriguez @ sommerarielle  Model: Megan Mia @ megann.miaa

Band: Goody Gel

 

Musician: Nicholas Ryan Abel of 1996

 Musician: Howard of  1996

Musician: Howard of 1996

 
 

Musician: Nicholas Ryan Abel of 1996

Guest Vocalist: Aleczanden Ryanne Jones

Musician: Nicholas Ryan Abel of 1996

 
hooligan-turns-4-jillian-powers-34.jpg
 

Musician: Mykele Deville

Musician: Mykele Deville

Musician: Mykele Deville

Musician: Mykele Deville

Shirts By: bee_daddy

I Woke Up Like This #47: A Dash of Vitiligo

This person is one of my dearest people. 

There are hundreds of words to describe her, but I'll stick with just a few. This is a friend of mine who put together the entire San Diego series. She used her resources for good and helped raise enough for me to fly out to her to stay for the week. Without batting an eyelash. 

She's good at that kind of stuff, I've found. Adapting and excelling and creating. She is one of the strongest souls I know, no doubt. Having been through her own plethora of hard times; she gets me very well. Which is not an easy feat, mind you. I'm not one to go around claiming my trauma as some unique marker, but it does tend to alienate me from others. Make me feel, disconnected from reality. But while I was with this friend of mine, there was only connection and creativity and a general warmth I wish from my own Mother. She is a sister to me, and I am deeply grateful for her leadership as an example. She has taught me I deserve better, I am a whole person, and that even when we make mistakes we are worthy or forgiveness. 

Enjoy her session, she is one hell of a person and an even stronger Mother.

-Jillian

How would you rate your self-esteem from 1-10? 
I would say its like an eight. 

What goes into that?
I feel really good about who I am inside. I am a little bit hard on myself physically. I feel like my physical self really reflects how hard the last two years have been. I've been really stressed and I've comforted myself with food and I haven't worked enough to keep myself strong and that's really reflected in my body right now. But that's changing. It's not like I don't like my body, it's just sometimes I feel like it doesn't represent who I am on the inside well enough. 

Why did you want to participate?
I just really like what you're doing. I think it's been empowering for me to read other peoples stories. I'm a lot more aware of my relationship with my body as a result of your project and feminist reading. If I can contribute to your body of work at all, I'd love to be of help. 

My eight year marriage recently started to dissolve and I've been in the process of figuring out who I am now that I am completely in charge of my life. I think that participating in this will help with that. 

What body part are you least comfortable with?
My tummy. I have a fold of skin that's partly from being over weight and partly from having babies. When I was younger, i was very judgmental of people who had rolls on their body. I am over that now and I have so many friends whose bodies look all sorts of ways and I think they're all beautiful but...I have a harder time being gentle with my own body. 

Are you nervous? If so, why?
Yeah. Hahaha. I'm not nervous about sitting for you. I'm a little nervous about sharing myself in a public way where friends can see. But I feel really loved and supported. And when I really think about it; I feel safe. 

AFTER SHOOT

How do you feel?
Great! I feel like I should sunbath more. 

Being naked in the sun is one of my favorite things. 
Hahaha. 

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Was it different than you expected it to be? How?
Yeah! It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I feel like my body is in transition and sometimes I get impatient that things aren't happening as fast as they should but I felt really mindful of my body when we were shooting. I felt really aware of what I can do right now. 

How did you expect it to be?
I think I expected to be more negatively self-conscious. Maybe I felt more embarrassed about all my bruises and blemishes but I really didn't think about them. 

What distracted you from that?
I think it helps that I trust you a lot. Playing with Jack during the session really impacted my attitude toward my body because...I think...he...my pregnancy is the source of the tummy issue. Holding him and playing with him reminds me that it doesn't matter what my belly looks like because he came out of it. Both of my kids did and they are awesome! 

How would you rate your self-esteem now?
I think I'm maybe a nine. I definitely still...there are times when I'm moving and I can feel the extra weight on me and I'm so looking forward to that changing but I don't dislike my body right now. 

How do you incorporate body positivity into your life?
Well, I have two kids and I think setting an example of self-love to them is important to me. I try never to speak negatively about myself in front of them. If I put on makeup and Ada asks about why I'm wearing it; I say that it's fun. We talk a lot about the importance of a bodies functionality. The more I explain that all bodies are beautiful to my kids, the more I believe it too. 

I had a lot of fears about my body after my divorce went underway. My husband said some really unpleasant things about my body. I had a couple of weeks where I went to a dark place with that but I think spending time with my kids, shooting boudoir, talking with other people about their bodies, and being able to get things done around the house reminds me that my body does everything I need it to and it does it well. It's hard to be unhappy about that. 

How do you educate your children on ableism in respect to body positivity? 
One of the cool things about little kids is that they don't have a filter. So, if were out at the store and we see a paraplegic in a cool wheelchair; Ada would ask questions about it. When she was little, I was afraid she would embarrass them by asking questions. Instead, I found people are really willing to talk about how they accommodate what their body can do. 

How do you think asking a disabled person about their disability makes them feel?
My experience so far has been pretty positive. Ada will see someone in a wheelchair or with braces and ask, "Ohhh! Why are your legs shiny? Why do you have wheels?" And they'll explain that they need wheels because their legs don't do what they tell them to do. Like, they say "My body doesn't do what I tell them to do" 

I always get this sense of power from people who talk about their disabilities. Sometimes I get a sense of relief when kids ask, because they do sometimes feel like the elephant in the room. And kids diffuse that. It must be freeing for someone to address that for them. But that said, I've never talked to a total stranger out of the blue about their disability. It's only when we're grocery shopping or something that we encounter people who we strike up small talk with. 

As someone who is disabled herself, I really enjoy educating people about my disability. Especially children who may grow up around very ableist thinking. I like to be the person who opens up and shows them that some of us, not all of us, are open to sharing. All you have to do is ask politely, and if they say they aren't comfortable with sharing or look frazzled or like they are struggling to do what they're doing; don't ask. Respect it. 
Totally. 

Tell me about your childhood?
I moved a lot. I went to a different school every year. I got to do a lot of cool stuff though. 

What were the downsides?
I never really stayed in one place long enough to grow roots. My times in San Diego is the longest I've been in one place. I didn't have a lot of social accountability as a child, because we moved so much. I think living in one place has made me a much better person. 

You've mentioned you have a few groups you frequent. Tell me about them? Why are they important to you?
It's such a vital resource for me to have safe places I can go to to discuss concerns I have with people I really identify with. I have a Momma group. I have a breastfeeding tribe. I have a couple of photography groups. I have an atheist Mom group. So when the kid at school tries to convert mine I have someone I can talk to about how to tackle that tactfully. Haha. 

I can't imagine raising children without groups. I sincerely believe that one of the biggest sources of stress we face as modern Americans is the loneliness of trying to conduct our lives without these groups. 

Because inevitably, we all have these interests and life experiences that we can only celebrate in the presence of those who have encountered the same. 
Yes. 

You're a successful business owner of a photography business here in San Diego. What emotional obstacles did you overcome to get to the place you're at right now with your business?
I think admitting that photography is vitally important to me was very difficult because I haven't always felt supported in that. It's been an important outlet for me for a long time. My previous partner had some resentment about my business and my practice so it was a big source of conflict for us. I feel like I have to be emotionally available to make the work I want to make. 

What does that look like?
It means that I have to love them. I think if you really want to see someone as beautiful as they can be you need to turn an eye of love on them. You really need to be open to emotionally investing in them. That's been challenging, especially over the last year, because of the drain on my emotional tank at home. 

But an empty tank doesn't stop you from doing what you need to do. 
Right, I just learned how to fill it better. I don't feel drained anymore, and when I do face that in the future I now know how to fill my tank now. Learning how to take care of myself has been challenging but it makes it a lot easier to express myself in my art and love my clients. 

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We've spent a whole week together now, thank you for hosting me! With that said, we've also had a million lengthy emotional conversations whenever possible and I'd love to share with anyone reading what you've learned about yourself.
I'm leaving this visit with a greater weight on emotional honesty. When we were talking about the point of a wedding, and involving family and friends in it, preserving their memory and involvement; it really had me considering what is important in relationships and my work. The ability to invite others into our lives and be honest with them and allow them to hold us accountable is invaluable. I'm excited to bring that perspective to my work and life going forward. 

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I'm starting work on a personal project about how we keep our homes. We were talking about all the scraps of paper and yarn on the floor when they play all day. I really like them. I like the way it shows the way we've been exploring the world together. How the mess tells a story about our day. I'm so actively engaged with my kids sometimes that I rarely take notice to the bread crumb trail behind us. Society has a lot of support for the way our bodies change after we have kids but there's a lot about how our bodies and relationships change but not our houses. Society generally doesn't see the value in a messy house. We're judged by others for not spending all our time tidying up. But there are so many hours in the day. Being meticulous with my house cleaning is not important enough to waste those hours.

A messy house is a house well lived in. 
Yes! 
 


Anything you want to leave with the readers?
I feel like right now what's important to me, as an emerging theme, is that it's okay to have goals but it's okay to love where you're at throughout the entire process. I will probably be spending my entire life being in the process of evolution. Who am is always evolving. Finding the value in growth and putting my focus on measuring growth as opposed to valuing a finished process has made it easier for me to be happy with life. It's better to say, "I was more patient than I was yesterday" than it is to say, "Am I a patient Mom?".

I Woke Up Like This #46

This beautiful person reminds me a lot of myself. Like many of those I photograph; she is strong yet beautifully vulnerable. She is a beautiful human. Her mind is determined and hardworking. She is a sharpened knife, and she moves beautifully in the light when you photograph her. Her intellect, her raw understanding of how to feel things with beyond your furthest breaking point in the flash of a second. We connected in a way you don't forget. I felt the pain in her soul when she shared her story with me. And I admire the hell out of her for who she is. A kind, giving, and nurturing leader. I hope you'll all see what I saw in her through these photographs and her interview. 

BEFORE SHOOT

How would you rate?
At this very moment right now? Five. 

What goes into that rating?
I think right now I'm feeling very neutral with my body. Not my life. I'm very happy with my life. I am the heaviest I've ever been at this moment but I workout more than I ever have in my whole life and I'm stronger than I've ever been physically. I'm at a balance where I see myself being somewhere different than where I actually am.

 What made you want to participate in this project?
I really admire your outlook and what you're doing. That you're showing all different body types. I met my fiancé about five years ago and he is an extremely body positive woman. He loves women with curves, any curves whatsoever. He changed how I look at myself and I didn't know people like him even existed. He really encourages all women to love themselves exactly how they are and I really admire him for that. The things I hate about my body, I love the most. 

I specifically enjoy focusing on the things that people hate about their body so I can show them my perspective on how beautiful they are to me. 
It's funny, I've started noticing more about women's bodies and how they're shaped shooting boudoir photography. Things they might be uncomfortable with, I think is beautiful. 

Yes! I love those back rolls, half lit. Beautiful.
I photographed my friend, who is quite thin, I had her lean over and she got one of those little rolls. She asked me to photoshop it and I told her "Every single person have that when they bend over." She came back to me and she told me that it was a moment where she realized it didn't make her ugly or different to have that; it was just the human body. 

Are your nervous, and if so...why?
Oh yes! Haha. Definitely. We're so conditioned to cover up any additional weight and given clothes that hide parts of our body that we aren't "supposed" to show. It's just engrained in me to cover myself. I really feel strongly that I want to take it all off to prove to myself that its okay. 

Are your ready?
Yes.

AFTER SHOOT

How would you rate your self-esteem now?

Seven. 

What changed?
The fact that I could just feel comfortable around you after initially taking off the clothes. You and Chris were also very sweet to me and said things that really made me feel better. Words have a lot of meaning to me.

You know what we just pointed out the obvious right?
Ha! Oh, it's for someone to see that about themselves. 

Why do you think that is?
We're just way too critical and we don't feel like what we have is good enough. 

What was your favorite part about the shoot?
Getting to know you! Haha. I feel very strongly about making new connections with people. I talk to strangers and listen to peoples stories to figure out why they do the things they do. Making new friends and connecting with people is what's important to me. 

I loved looking at you shooting me and seeing that image that I wanted you to see. Seeing you in a way, that I'd want to share with, and photographing you was something I wanted to give back to you. 

What is your favorite body part?
My boobs. I was planning to get plastic surgery. Strictly for the fact that I thought it'd make my body look skinnier. Then I met my fiancé and he changed the way that I look at them and showed me how beautiful that they really are. 

Describe your fiancé.
He is the most generous, giving man. He would put anyone else, first, in front of his own feelings and needs. He goes out of his way to make sure everyone else in the room is comfortable. 

What things does he do to increase your self-esteem?
He constantly tells me that he loves all my curves and that he would love me at any size that I was. He touches me in places like my stomach, where I'm not comfortable, and he doesn't let me push him away. 

How did you feel about your body before you decided not to get your breasts done?
It was probably the lowest point in my life self-esteem wise. I had gained my weight pretty quickly over the years and I really felt poorly about my body. I was desperate to find something to make myself feel better about it. Which is where the breast reduction came in. 

What would you say to yourself at that time, as you right now?
I would say, "Well, you're beautiful. There are men out there that find you attractive at any size. Be patient until he comes along. You need to work on your perception of how YOU see yourself, rather than making physical changes to make you happy."

I think a lot of people think it's normal to change your body for others. That mindset stems unhealthy perceptions of beauty and societal perfection. It isn't practical, and it makes us sick. It gives us body dysmorphia (viewing your body as larger than or small than it actually is)drives us to the extreme of changing the way we were born to become someone else's idea of perfect. 
That's totally true. I was in the mindset for the wrong reasons. I would lie to people when they asked me why I was doing it. I never told one person the truth. 

What made you hide the truth?
The fear of people thinking I wasn't confident or happy with myself. 

And do you think that fear was healthy or normal at that time?
Oh yeah. I mean, my self-esteem was so low that I didn't even KNOW it was at that time. I came off from an abusive relationship, an abortion, and a divorce from two different men. I was feeling really low and unattractive and lonely. 

I used to get a lot of attention when I was younger because I was skinny and blonde with big boobs. After I gained the weight, attention started turning to my friends and not to me. I was constantly looking for things to do to my body and find ways to look more attractive to men and be what they wanted. 

When I was younger, I was teased relentlessly about my weight. I was incredibly thin. People who looks at my pictures from that time don't even think that it's a picture of me now. I remember feeling that drift away from the part of my life where people embraced my thinness and over emphasized the beauty of it. 
I discovered that I was hiding my body in sweatshirts and jeans for years. I finally allowed myself to buy clothes that flattered my body shape for how I wanted to show it off. Not how society thought it should be. 

And as a result, you're in a much healthier place. 
Mhm. And dressing way cuter. Haha. 

Throughout your childhood, what impacted your self-esteem the most?
My Mom has always been very body positive. Both of my parents have been extremely healthy and in shape. I was in really good shape. But even when I weighed 100 pounds I still felt that I wanted to change my body. I had major body dysmorphia. 

What's your definition of body dysmorphia?
Seeing yourself in a different way than everybody else does. Wanting to change things on your body to help your self-esteem. 

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Was your fiancé the first to help your question that?
I hadn't realized men like him existed. I thought all men wanted a Victoria's Secret model.

Do you think our society needs to focus more on body diversity? 
Yes. I think that lately there has been a bigger push for that, and I enjoy seeing that. I enjoy seeing women with more realistic bodies gracing the covers of magazines and ads. I think our cultures is coming around to the fact. More people are openly admitting that not everyone is attracted to VS models. I think it's going in a good direction.

In what ways could we improve it even more?
More anti-bullying promotion. I think cyber bullying is a big thing. I remember the first time I was cyber bullied. People like to hide behind a computer and make people feel more miserable than they are. Actively being nicer to everyone around you in general.You go out of your way to cheer someone up because they may need more support than you know of.  

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How do you incorporate body positivity in your life at this time?
One thing I do is...my resolution this year was to compliment one person everyday because I really enjoy the feeling of helping another person feel better. Because we don't know what each other is going through. As far as body positivity, I like to talk openly about my struggles with my body and self-esteem to help people realize that they're not alone. I talk to my friends and I have no problem telling them how beautiful their bodies are at any size.

What things do you do to increase your self-esteem?
I love dressing up in clothes that he finds sexy, like lingerie. I love working out right now and feeling my body get stronger everyday. It boosts my confidence everyday.

What made you feel safe and comfortable enough to voice your opinion on your experience with abortion?
I never had a problem talking about it because I knew it was the best decision for me at the time, period. I would...no, people would, make me feel guilty and strange for bringing it up. About a month ago I read an article about this with people talking about abortions through a positive light and it struck me as, "That's how I want to live my life." 

Besides guilt, what other type of emotional stigma have you felt?
That I had to hide it. You're not supported to have them. you're not supposed to talk about them. They are a mistake. And once it's done; you never talk about it again.

More than ever, women who choose to have abortions need emotional support afterwords because of the way society will choose to look at it.
It's important to have family and friends who understand that and listen to you when you need to be listened to. 

Most people didn't know what I had experienced and why I made the decision. I felt like I had to explain myself and make up a good reason for getting an abortion. But truthfully; I don't. And I don't need a reason. 

It's amazing how many people, just like you, still don't understand that they don't need any reason. Anything you want to leave with the readers?

Don't wait until you lose ten pounds to do something. Don't wait until you're a certain age to do something. Do the things in your life that make you happy and if somethings not right with you on the inside; figure out where it stems from and work on it. 

I Woke Up Like This #45

This womxn is one of the bravest people I know.

She has endured so much hurt in her life, so much trauma. And not the type of trauma we talk about to one another everyday. I'm talking about things you only read about. Or hear about. Things in crime shows, things that make you and I well up with tears of both discomfort and sympathy. And yet, despite these traumas, she remains this radical symbol of strength, perseverance, and independence for those around her. She is a Mother. She is a business owner. She is a survivor.

All of which are fiercely independent and creative positions. 

We cried together during her session. There came this intense movie like moment during her shoot where the therapeutic affect of it all hit her like a pile of bricks. She began to cry as I took her photograph in the garage. We were getting ready to take the last photograph of the session. The one of both of us together. And we just, stood there. Letting it all sink in, letting conclusions, of which I know she needed help getting towards, boil to the surface. She let some tears trickle out of her eyes, I joined her, so we could rest easy in our hearts about the experience. I felt her pain so strongly, magically.  As I do with each person I photograph...but something was different with her. It was a deep connection. Inexplainable. As we both cried, and stared out the window, thinking of how far she has been. And it not only helped her on her healing journey...it helped me too. 

I have been raped. I have been molested. I've been neglected.
I've been manipulated, gaslighted, and cheated on.
So my tears were knowing tears. I know that pain. It's unbearable to endure alone. 
Our moment together confirmed we were not alone. I think that's why it was so powerful.

When you have that experience, and you're with someone else who shares it with you; your heart reaches out to that person with all it has to embrace it within this emotional hug of knowing. You connect in ways those without these experiences could never comprehend the profound impact of. And profound is a great word for it. 

Part of healing, I've found, is surrounding yourself with others who are healing as well.
It was a moment I'll never forget. I took her hand as tears streamed down her cheeks and mine. The cameras timer went off. We capture the moment and we'll remember were not alone now. 

You aren't alone, Ella. You're never alone. And you are very loved.
You have come so far, and I am so happy to show you these beautiful images.

Find someone to share your pain with and heal with them. I promise, it will change you for the better. 

Be Kind to yourself, 

Jillian

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BEFORE SESSION

Why is this project important to you? Why did you want to be a part of it?
The self-healing part. I am in my journey towards self healing. I feel like whenever I feel extreme resistance to something; I need to do it. Chris posted about it and I had this extreme anxiety. I knew I had to participate. I feel like it will reveal something about myself that I need to face. 

How would you rate your self-esteem from 1-10? 
Like, a six.

What goes into that rating? Positive and negative. 
I just had a baby. Right now, I feel really good about my body. I feel better than I have in a long time because I always loose weight when I give birth. I am just soaking in that I am skinny. I've never really been happy with how I looked, even as a kid. I didn't look like my Mom. But I figure...I have a daughter who I want to have a really good self-image and I want to show her that she can too. So I try.

What parts of your body do you love?
I really like my hair. I like my hands, because they're small and really feminine. I don't know...it's hard. 

It is! So many people find themselves struggling to list something they love.  
It's a thing I've never really thought about. 

What parts do you hate? 
My skin. I've had really bad....wait I want to rephrase that...I've had skin that needs more attention. On my arms and legs I have something called Psoriasis. With some materials, I know I am going to regret wearing them. I've had it since I was a baby, it's genetic. The cells regenerate skin and it stays in the follicles. I have to exfoliate tons. Black heads, pimples. Body and skin are never even. I'm a picker, too, so I'm sure that makes it worse. 

I haven't worn a sleevless shirt since I was fourteen. My legs, I used to be so toned but now its super flabby. My butt needs to be bigger, and lifted. Haha. I've always made the joke that if I had the money I'd get ass implants. 

Are you nervous? If so, what makes your most nervous?
On my way here, I addressed that I was nervous to myself and asked myself why. It was because I was going to open the door to accept the little girl that has never loved herself. 

AFTER SESSION

How do you feel right now?
Really relaxed. It's like I just meditated for an hour. I'm totally clean and clear. It's like I let all my secrets out and you still love me. Haha. I feel like I wanna go tackle stuff now. I feel lighter. I can do anything. Super empowered. 

It all sounds so cheesy until you experience the AHA! moment yourself. 
The doubt and the fear and the anxiety and the "whats the point of this?" that's completely...I don't even remember feeling that. Because it's so overpowered by this feeling, this moment right now. 

How would you rate your self-esteem from 1-10 now?
Like an eight. 

What changed that number?
Looking at my body. Having you get naked...and being naked together and feeling that sun on my skin...I felt like that's my skin again. It's my body. Its not that thing I've always had an issue with. It's mine, and I can feel it as a unison. That's really empowering. I'm okay...like I'm okay. I can't stop smiling. It's this bliss of "This is me". 

Have you experienced any unhealthy/dysfunctional family structure?
I grew up with my grandpa when I was a kid and he was a crazy alcoholic. Me and my Mom would go take him out of the bar and take him home. As soon as I was strong enough to start carrying him. I had to.

People with alcoholics in their life have a hard time growing into adulthood and dealing with their residual emotions from the experience. 
When my Dad died, my Mom moved here illegally. With no papers. We were forced into a home with her parents. My grandfather didn't want us there. He felt we were a burden. Especially me, as a girl, he was ready to push me off as soon as possible to breed. I feel like that has a lot to contribute to my trauma. 

Do you find yourself relating and gravitating towards friends with similar situations?
Yes, similar backgrounds. Absent parent. My friends parents passed too, and their from Chicago too. It always has to do with our partners. Daddy issues, haha. It always contributes to the partners we choose. 

People who come from abusive or dysfunctional family relationships tend to seek out people who will reinforce the negative coping patterns and behaviors learned up from the experience. You don't notice how your mind makes you gravitate towards people who experience trauma and stress the same way as you. It can be good, or bad. Depending on what they take from the experience. 
When everything happened with my Dad, the abuse and when he left when I was pregnant, all my friends didn't contact me. That really really hurt. I always depending on them to have knowledge and reach out to me...and that really hurt me. I'm at a place where I understand why, it's not me or them. It's them not knowing how to deal with what happened. 

People like your friends have trouble addressing how to best help when the stress and trauma you experience is beyond their emotional comprehension. 
*she cries and nods* It was so much of a trigger that they couldn't help. 

The best way to handle trauma is surrounding yourself with people who will cater to your emotional needs but also call you out on them if they're unhealthy. Therapy, for that reason, is incredibly important to recovering emotionally from a very emotionally distressing experience, like yours and mine. 
Literally, I was pregnant and I had no job. My midwife told me I'm not a person who sits on my ass and I need to go to therapy. She said, "Why don't you go to a therapist?" and sitting through therapy is how everything came and unraveled. 

Things get very rough in therapy. All those little things we've repressed from our pasts unravel bit by bit, or very quickly. 
I'm very happy...no thankful...that the trauma of everything happened while I was in therapy. 

What trauma specifically?
We weren't married legally. We had been together for four years. The last year had been really tough for us. I was working. He was a stay at home dad. He started having conversations with strangers and we were both unhealthy. And it turned into physical violence. 

What type of violence?
When I was four months pregnant we were arguing. It turned physically abusive and that is how I got my scar here and here. (points to eyes) That was in March, when we completely separated from each other. Him on the couch, me in the room. I found out that he had a girlfriend and was sleeping with many women off craigslist ads. It was July 9th, I was driving away from him with my son in the car, I was eight months pregnant...he tried to hit my car with his car. The night before he came into the room and forced himself on me. I cried, told him I had a high risk pregnancy. I didn't want to be with him...he just stuffed my face into the pillow. And he raped me. 

How has that changed the way you feel about your body?
My body hadn't been good enough for him because he saw other women...but it's his to take whenever he wants without asking. I haven't felt like my body is mine since I was a child but that happening really solidified how I felt like I had no control. Especially since we have children. I was pregnant and I cried and said, "Your daughter is right here" and put his hand on my stomach...but he kept going. I'm sure that has led to the way I've felt postpartum. 

Having her here...I want to change it all. I don't want to live my life as the victim. I'm more than all of that. Than all that has happened. 

You are a survivor of sexual assault, domestic violence, alcoholism, and depression. You feel like it was all caused by something you did. That it's your fault. That's our story; it's my fault. But once you realize it isn't your fault, you start to feel powerful again. And you stand up and you say confidently; it's not my fault!  

My therapist has been teaching me to be mindful of my thoughts. My grandpa was going through his things, my boyfriend was. I'm more than that. 

Anything you'd like to the people reading this? 
Change is possible. It's okay to hide the little girl. I always think back to the little girl that I was. It's okay to go back and hug that little girl and acknowledge the pain. A lot of people say, "You can't change that" but at the end...when I looked in the mirror during this session, I knew I was changing that. It was just making that choice. I'm going to get to know that woman. And love that body. 

 

I Woke Up Like This #044: A New Beginning

Things have been hard.
I won't sugar coat the truth. 

 

How does one describe the shattering of their identity? Of their soul?

It has been one year since my last session was shared. One year of hibernation from everything and everyone. To preserve what small traces of my identity I had left in the wake of a tidal wave of pain smashing into my center hull.

I was misdiagnosed with Bipolar 2 and medicated incorrectly as a result. I developed precancerous cells at my cervix after recalling the rape that put them there three years prior. I escaped a toxic living situation from which my oldest, closest friends put their wants above my needs. I was triangulated, used, and disposed of by two very disturbed people who took advantage of my resulting vulnerability and loneliness. All of which destroyed the already rusted pillars holding me up as a person. No amount of attention, traveling, marijuana, therapy, or fake love would heal the damage these things caused to me. It was up to me, alone, to repair my soul from scratch. Hence; the long, long break from creating art. Because even art takes energy. Energy my mind could not muster amongst coping with the drastic changes to my identity. 

All I can say for right now, in this one post, is that I finally believe I am as strong as others tell me I am. Tears are streaming down my face as I write this. As I admit to myself that I am so, so incredibly lucky to be alive right now. I've traveled far and wide to grasp this. To grasp the reality of how I came to be who I am. And I am so, so excited to help others with my story. Please keep following this blog if you're lost. It might just help you find yourself too.

This session was with someone who held my hand through it all. Virtually, since she lives thousands of miles away from me. She is a sharp witted tell it like it is type of woman who helped me make sense of who I was when I was at a loss and mostly alone. Thank you, this is for you <3

Be Kind to Yourself.

Jillian


BEFORE

Tell me why you wanted to participate in this project?
A lot of things. I'm turning thirty this month and it just...I used to be so comfortable in my skin. I was thinking back to when I was most comfortable in my skin and trying to figure out what reason was behind that. And this seemed like the perfect thing to do!

How would you rate your self-esteem from one to ten? 
About a six.

What goes into that rating?
The sum of the parts, rather than the vessel. I find more worth in who I am and what I do rather than what people see. 

Are your nervous? Why or why not?
Yes and no. I think the last time I was naked in this way was when I had my son. 

What about being naked in front of others makes you nervous?
Anytime you try something new, it's scary. 

AFTER

What is your least favorite?
My back. It used to be the most athletic part of me. Unfortunately, it is now the part that derails the fastest. 

In terms of appearance?
Yes and no. It is no longer strong. It doesn't have the strength to do what it used to. 

When did you start to notice your back was changing?
After I had my son. The way it looked, the way my bra clicked. 

While in bedroom, what are you most self-conscious about?
I'm actually comfortable in bed. The hard work of a long relationship makes it easier. I've pushed a child out of my body, my husband is in awe of that. I am in awe of that. 

Do you feel pressure to get back to your pre-baby body?
Yes. It was my own pressure. I want to get healthy again but I am in no rush. 

Growing up, how did school impact your experience with your body?
I had a hard time with my body when I was younger. I went to a private school with a lot of teeny tiny people. I was the first to get big boobs and thighs and those are the things that lead to cruelty with each other. 

Can you recall any specific moment in childhood that hurt you the most?
There was a boy and he told me if I wanted to loose ten pounds fast; I could cut off my head. I was twelve. I kind of just laughed it off. 

You have a lovely little boy. What things about societies treatment of others, especially boys, concern you about raising him?
Honestly, we are all doing the best we can with what we have. As far as we can with a one year old; we try to be body positive. We don't shame him into thinking anything is out of the ordinary when it comes to bodies. I think it is different with a boy. You put more value on being strong, and tough, rather than how they look. Of course you want him to be strong and tough, but when he is hurting and having a tough moment; I don't want him to feel ashamed of not being the toughest, strongest, or the best. If he needs to cry, I make sure he knows that it is needed. 

What is the toughest part of parenting? Something you weren't ready for. 
The loss of my autonomy. I don't miss it, I don't regret it. I went into labor when I was 26 weeks into my pregnancy. I was in the hospital for six weeks. I had no control. I couldn't take Tylenol without getting it prescribed to me. People watched my blood pressure, how much I ate, how much I peed. Asked about my discharge. For a while; I had no decision making ability. It was only what was best for my baby. I would make those decisions anyways. When you lose the ability to choose these things for yourself, though,  you get into this state of mind; you want to put your child first in every way. You know you're are allowed to put yourself first but you put them first anyway. It is technically a loss of autonomy. But, again, I wouldn't have it any other way. I just didn't know that's what would happen. 

How did your pregnancy affect your mental health? 6 weeks in the hospital with your baby must have been very hard. 
You know...I was grateful. I was grateful to have that ability to stay in a hospital for weeks. It could have had a very different ending but I'm grateful. It was traumatic, but it wasn't what I walked away with. 

Why was it six weeks?
Bicornut Uteris. My uterus is heart shaped. There are two halves. 90% of women have it, not a big deal. But I am a small percentage of women where the two halves are separate and only one half had the ability to carry a child. He ran out of space. 

What things helped you get through the experience?
My husband. He kept his shit together. There were times where I was scared beyond belief and his strength was really what kept it all together. We reminded ourselves that this is going to end how this is going to end. Nothing we could do would change it.

So, it was mostly about letting go of your expectation of birth and going with whatever would inevitably happen with it.
Yepp!

Can you explain the sentimental meaning of your back tattoo? The quote with the books?
Peter Pan said it to Wendy as the water was rising around them after saving Tiger lily. Michael had let a balloon go that could carry one of them to safety. Peter made Wendy take it. Sacrificing himself to save her. In an act of pure innocent love, he looked forward not seeing a death as an impending doom, but seeing all that could be because of it.

And how does that relate to you personally?
I got it when I lost my baby before John. I would have given anything to save that baby. And when John was born so, so early; it meant more. I wanted to give anything and everything so that he would not suffer. So that every breath he took wouldn’t be a struggle. As I grow in parenthood and John grows and experiences new things, as this baby inside of me now grows and his early arrival grows near, it rings more true. The words are expanding within me and teaching me how to live and give mindfully.

What has Motherhood taught you about your self esteem?
That is a tough one. Your self-esteem changes constantly when you are young. Who you are friends with, what haircut you have, you are constantly judging yourself. Usually, very harshly. I've learned that Motherhood doesn’t give two shits about you. It doesn’t give you the luxury of thinking like that. It’s ugly and dirty and you are invisible. But you are so caught up in accomplishing things, going places, that who you are isn’t evaluated based on things you are subject to, but rather things that are subject to you.

Any last words for the audience?
We're all experiencing things that are valid and okay. My life doesn't look like your life. Johns life and how he feels is all valid. Nobody should ever make you feel any different than that. 

I Woke Up Like This #042

I've always felt pretty confident that I'd meet someone and at least live together if not get married. That I'd be meeting them for the first time right now at a friends party or online or somewhere, but I'm not. I'm sitting at home writing a blog about how having a chronic pain disorder can, sometimes, make you feel close to unloveable. I'm living in a one bedroom apartment with my Mother to get by because learning how to manage my mental and physical health hasn't been something I've been able to accomplish for the last few years of my life. I could sit here and tell you all of the ways in which I have personally felt just as unloveable as this woman had. I would list off the ways I hate my appearance, followed up by how my conditions and past trauma limit me physically and sexually. I'd also add that I'm an artist. A struggling one. All together I am a disabled, fat, poor, sexually dysfunctional, woman.

You're probably thinking, "Don't say that about yourself!" at a first reaction but it you break it down word for word it is the truth. It's society ringing in the back of your brain. Telling you that all of which I listed are bad things. And don't worry, sometimes I believe that myself. And feel unloveable. But I always remember that as long as there is empathy, your appearance and special needs aren't a barrier preventing someone from loving you. It may not be so easy anymore, but it's possible. 

I spent a lot of last year putting emphasis on mental health and body image, but I'm in a new part of my life where I'm struggling again with my body but for different reasons. Reasons that are very common yet we cannot see that. 

I create this work to make you think, empathize, and relate.
I want to you empathize with the women and men in these sessions. 
I want you to question, have I contributed to the attitudes that severely harmed this person?
Am I doing enough to help people like this?
I want you to relate to someone so you don't feel alone.
I advocate for the issues that nobody wants to talk about. 
Because society is uncomfortable with changing the conversation.
Here is one.

What made you want to participate in this project?
We're just really open people. We really admire the human body. Not even in a sexual way, just as a form of art. We've always taken nice nudes of ourselves as well, just around the house. The project hit home. I just thought, “Oh my god. We have to be a part of this! This is so us."

What issues do you want to discuss?
Physical things, and you taking pictures of me. I do have low-self esteem, I've had a couple of children. I'll be self-conscious about my stomach. As far as mental, the same. 


What parts of your body are you least comfortable with?
My stomach, that's about it. Haha. Everything else is comfortable. You know, having babies. It stretches you out. I really shouldn't complain, I'm blessed. Haha.

How would you rate your self-esteem 1-10?
I put on an awesome front but it's really probably like a 2. I feel fat all the time.

What types of things do you find yourself thinking about your body to yourself?
I feel a lot of pressure to be a lot skinnier. Which sucks. I feel like I have a muffin top. No matter what pants I wear. I feel like I look sick without makeup. But I adore my freckles all over my body, I like having a big butt, I like having red hair and my big lips. Definitely too much pressure to be skinnier though, which is annoying, because I like food. A lot. Too much.

How would you rate your self-esteem now?
Better! I feel like an eight.

And what goes into that number rating?
Some of the compliments you gave me, but doing some of this stuff makes you feel free. You worry about it less. Once you get out of your shell and get naked and comfortable...it just boosts your self-esteem. Once you are just naked, posing certain ways, it does make you feel better. It's really hard to explain.

Where did you get your stretch marks and scars from?
I have had two c sections. 

Stretch marks are my personal reminder of how much my body has been through in these last few years with my chronic pain condition and weight gain.
I love my stretch marks because they show I've carried babies and I'm strong because of that. My c sections show that babies can be born in different ways. I love my scars because they are memories. Reminders. Permanent.

What is your favorite body part of your body?
Maybe my butt? Haha. I guess. Because Brad compliments it a lot. I like that it's plump. I like my pubes too, because they're red.

Do people ask you about being a natural red head, down there?
A lot of times. But I like being a redhead so.

Are you a sexual person?
Definitely extremely sexual. I feel like it's an important part of life. Sexuality makes me feel good about myself. I know that I could never be with someone who wasn't on the same sex wave length as me. If you're not compatible in that aspect, it won't work. It's such an important aspect of a relationship that you have to make sure you're compatible.

And that goes for being a non-sexual person too. Date whoever matches up with your comfort levels.
Yeah, sex has always been huge for him and I. We've had some bad partners in the past, and it wore in the relationship a little bit.

Tell me about an unhealthy relationship that you've had?
There wasn't any trust. Everyday I would have to answer, “Oh, who did you sleep with today?” He'd come home from work and think I had people over because I was a stay at home Mom. But he was the one who had stuff on his computer. There was no sex. He'd satisfy himself, my needs weren't met, and he didn't trust me. He'd also lie to me about using drugs. I'd try to rescue him, but you can't do that for everyone...

How did being with a less than supportive partner affect your self-esteem?
IT was already really bad because growing up my family would compliment my friends or the waitress or the peers but never compliment me. Then when I got with him, he wouldn't either. I'd try to fish for them, but they wouldn't come at all. There was more negative comments than positive. His type wasn't even me, so I'd always wonder why he was with me.

How did your feel entering a new relationship with a child from another relationship?
I had focused on my child and I for a little bit. I wasn't even looking. It was an old friend that came back in my life, he was just so good with my child and understanding about everything. We would have time with my daughter, and time without. To make sure our relationship would work. It just kind of came about and everything fell into place.

I felt different than women who didn't have a child. Who went out more. Who didn't have stretchmarks. Not only looks but I was also worried he wouldn't want to take on that responsibility of taking care of a small child. I didn't let him see my stomach for a while, because I was super insecure about that. The first time we had sex, we kept our shirts on.

And now you have a beautiful little boy together?
Yepp!

What kind of struggles do you face with raising your children today?
Treating them equally. Disciplining, where to draw that line. As a kid, my parents would hit me. So in that respect, do we spank? Do we not? We want them to be well behaved, we're a little on the strict side. Finding the happy medium is a challenges. Making sure that we spoil them enough, but more so with doing things rather than toys. Memories are more important than things.

What do you worry about with your daughter growing up?
Getting pregnant at a young age. I got pregnant at seventeen. Feeling like her self-worth is based on her looks. When I compliment her, I compliment her on her intelligence. Her drive to thrive, ask questions, learn more. Non-physical attributes. I grew up with everyone complimenting people on looks, and I was left out. I'm trying to make her feel good about herself.

Growing up, my family told me art wasn't important. That art would get me nowhere. They wanted me to grow up and be something important, to make a lot of money, like a lawyer. Turning sixteen, having an eye for art, they didn't encourage it. Art was completely ignored. But now that I have a business, I'm doing well. My daughter wants to be a farmer. And we're supportive. I'm having her do a camp all summer for it, I support anything she wants to do because I didn't have that when I was kid. 

Art is important to kids development.
Oh yeah, expressing themselves. Court took me away from my parents, because they were unfit. My grandparents took me in. They were great, but they didn't want me to grow up like my Mom. Depression didn't exist. Feelings didn't exist. Art isn't a career. And I love them, so much. But they had a different vision.

Being raised by your grandparents, how did that impact your self-esteem growing up?
I lived with my parents until I was eleven. I'm really close to them, they're my best friend. They would leave me alone with I was six though. My Mom had severe depression and BPD. She would hit me. But my grandparents took custody of me when I was eleven. They took care of me and loved me but they were very strict.

It probably has a lot to do with feelings of guilt, feeling like it's their fault for not raising your Mother “right” so she'd raise you the same.
It was so out of control that they were trying to control the situation. I do very much aprpeciatve everything they've done. We're very close.

Are you a feminist, why or why?
Yes. I am to a degree.

What degree?
I don't think it's okay to censor female nipples if you don't sensor male nipples. I think stay at home Dad's should be recognized. They're just as important to children as Mother's. I believe women should be paid the same as men. Not really sure what other topics feminists talk about. We don't circumcise women, we shouldn't circumcise men.

How has that affected your relationship?
Well, Brad's family is very functional. So when my Mom is very depressed and we haven't seen her in ages he doesn't quite get it. He's confused.

How was your childhood?
I was taken away from my parents. My grandparents raised me. But the fact they never wanted to talk or communicate, I'd find myself hiding things a lot. I think that kind of led to me getting pregnant at a young age. Them not talking to me about it, not purposefully, led to me not being educated about sex. The switching schools was hard. It was a better upbringing, but I lacked support and communication about what was happening.

What advice can you give to parents?
Always support what your child wants to do. Never make them feel like it's not good enough. Compliment them physically and mentally. Always keep an OPEN line of communication. Lying is not okay, telling the truth leaves room to work on mistakes.

Any last message for the readers?
Be comfortable with yourself. Parent, not a parent, naked, clothed. This is a healing process, to help myself be more comfortable naked. I want others to feel inspired and feel more comfortable with themselves physically and mentally. 

I Woke Up Like This #038

I've never photographed a nude man. I've never noticed how beautifully unique their bodies are. In fact, I've always been too concerned with how I typically look naked in front of a guy that I've never spent time just...looking at their body. Admiring it for all that it is and isn't. I encourage women to do that more often, because my choice to include men in this project is partially due to the lack of self-esteem many men suffer from. I've decided to take it upon myself to figure out just how much a man's self-esteem is dictated by his body. I think that's important too, don't you? I apologize that there aren't many photographs with this set. We had limited time to work with.

How would you rate your self-esteem from 1-10?
Maybe like a 7, I guess. Good days and bad days.

What impacts that number?
It depends on what is going on in my life. If things are going well, I feel better about myself.

Does your significant other make a difference?
Yeah! I’d say so. When she says something nice that certainly helps how I’m feeling.

Do you feel that you are pressured to look a certain way by society? How so?
I’m obviously a skinnier guy. So, I mean, right there certainly. This last year we’ve been going to the gym more, I don’t want crazy muscles or anything but it’d be nice to have more of that though.

What negative impacts do you face for not achieving these standards?
I think it tends to come across more often as jokes. Friends would make jokes, it’s never really seemed particularly malicious. It’s certainly something people are aware of.

Do those comments ever bother you?
Occasionally they have, for the most part it hasn’t.  More recently I’ve become more comfortable with it. A few years ago, I’d be more uncomfortable taking my shirt off at the beach. In recent years, it’s been better. Autumn likes me body so she definitely helps.

Are you a feminist? Why or why not?
I’ve heard you explain, “If you believe in equality, you’re a feminist” and in that respect I believe in it. But I personally don’t label myself as one. I don’t know how someone else views feminism, I see you share things on intersectional feminism. It’s kind of how I feel about taking political sides, I don’t subscribe to labels. It’s unfortunately a much more loaded word than it should be.

Why do you think some people don’t consider themselves feminists?
There’s definitely going to be a percentage of people who don’t because they’ve all been online and see things that classify as feminism but they don’t fully understand and don’t want to subscribe without knowing more. There is a lot of misinformation. There could be something you see that you don’t agree with labeled as feminism too.

Do you think people are afraid to show support for feminism in fear of being ridiculed by peers?
I’m sure there’s time that it happens. If you’re going to tell someone you’re a feminist, that automatically means something to them. And it might mean something different to you. You have to defend that point of view. A lot of people aren’t prepared to educate themselves enough to define what it means to them.

What is your opinion of chivalry? How does this expectation affect men?
I was always raised with certain things that my Mom taught me that have always stuck with me. I don’t always think a lot of them are strictly for men. I think the door holding thing, it’s just a thing to do in general for anyone.  I don’t unmanly if someone opens the door for me. I just feel polite doing it for anyone. In my current relationship, I took care of a lot of the finance for many years. Now, Autumn is taking care of those and that’s fine.

Are there any gender expectations you feel uncomfortable with?
I have. Personally; no. I’ve always felt okay doing nice things for anyone but especially on a date. Doing all those things is a nice thing. I would be fine not being that way also though.

Do you think that men are hyper-sexualized in the media?
There’s certainly a specific body type being pushed that’s not easily attained. Men have some of the same thing women have, in terms of models and having a fit body type. I feel like men have it a little easier, as far as the media goes, when it comes to having the non-ideal body type. For men, it’s played upon with comedy. When a male body that’s not similar is shown in media, it’s like, “Hey, it doesn’t matter if you’re not attractive in this way. You’re funny. You can still be the lead”.

Men are too often negatively portrayed in the media. Agree or disagree?
I think it’s certainly true that’s more common that they portray men that way. I feel like it’s almost like the medias portraying it that way it’s okay. It’s not always in a negative light. You see that all the time like, especially in sitcoms. The guys are usually the loveable oaf character.

What are some of the most insulting comments you’ve ever heard about your body?
It’s harder to find and think of stuff like that from a lot of guys. Because I think those things exist. I’m aware of my bodily flaws of being a little skinnier and stuff like that but I’m trying to think of a specific situation outside of close friends making jokes. I can’t really think of people making comments in a malicious way. That will probably be a little different from what women experience.

What are your favorite compliments?
I’ve always liked my eyes. So anything regarding that is nice to hear.
What’s your least favorite body part?
The upper body, I would love if that was a little bit more toned or something. Haha.  

Growing up, what was your high school experience?
I hung out with a lot of different groups of people, so that probably helped. I didn’t feel like an outcast. I was one of those people who missed high school after. I had a lot of younger friends, and hung out with them a lot in high school.

How do you encourage good self-esteem, if you do, in you daughter?
We do that a lot. One thing that’s we’ve always made sure we didn’t do was make sure she doesn’t see us talking negatively about our bodies. We always try and make sure that she knows about her positive traits. You try to walk a sort of fine line. You always want them to know that they feel good about themselves. But you don’t want to make it seem super important to them. You can go too far, like, “My parents tell me I’m so pretty all the time so I have to stay pretty all the time”. We let her see the positive things about her without putting pressure on her to be certain things.  

You raise her equal?
We don’t raise her like, “These toys are for boys.” No. We say, “These are all toys, play with them, if you want to play with them.”

What piece of advice can you give to other parents in terms of non-gender biased parenting?
The best advice would be, “Allow your child options. Let them choose what they’re going to do” And that means some girls will choose the pink stuff, but if you walk them around the store at least they have a chance to pick.

What do you think about the entire “man up” thing?
Guys like to play up their masculinity against each other. I don’t think a lot of people mean it in a de-masculinzing me. When I heard that phrase, I haven’t thought about it that way. A lot of gender skewed insults, you get used to the intention versus what it actually means.

How do people treat the make nude body versus the women?
It seems like a lot of the reason, when you ask someone “Why can’t you see nudity in public?” and there’s this answer, “Oh, well there’s people I don’t want to see naked”. That shouldn’t come into play when you’re thinking moral versus ethical. It seems weird to have a moral stance against being the way that literally every person in the world was born.

I think that anyone might feel uncomfortable with being nude because of that judgment.

Do you think that increased body positivity might positively impact the way people view nudity?
Yeah, it could. I’m kind of cynical. I’m not always sure you can change the way people view things. It’d probably help if everyone did feel better about themselves.

Is there a message you want to leave for anyone reading this?
I feel like society puts too much of a taboo on nudity to the point that people are more willing to let their child watch violent material over someone who is naked. It’s odd to me that people think about something natural, your body, and make it something negative. And hide it at all costs. That’s why I wanted to do this project.




I Woke Up Like This #040

I look at my body sometimes and imagine myself thinner. I imagine my stretch marks disappearing, my stomach flattening out, and my tiny perky boobs coming back. Essentially, I envision myself as someone I'm not, nor will I be anytime soon. I change myself, to fit a mold that society has created for women. A mold of thin, but not too thin, perky breasted woman with a flat stomach. A mold of a body that exists but hardly ever does on the average everyday woman. A body that is worked hard for, dieted for, exercised for...religiously. 

Other times, I look at my body and remember these few things.

#001: I cannot exercise most days, as I have no energy due to my fibromyalgia. My energy is limited, and I chose to use mine to run my business and take care of myself daily. 

#002: I am on medication that causes weight gain. Medication that keeps me alive. Medicine that keeps me from being crippled, laid out in bed all day, energy-less. 

#003: My stretch marks and my stomach and thighs and face weight are all battle scars from my war with depression and fibromyalgia. 

And all of these things make me the person who I am; a person I am proud to be.

/// BEFORE SHOOT ///

What's your level of self esteem? 

I think I high self esteem now. I like to, you know, think I'm an eight. I feel like I have good self-esteem because self-esteem doesn't come down to physicality anymore. It depends on your definition of self-esteem. I think if it doesn't come down to physicality or body image anymore then your self-esteem goes up. 

Are you nervous? 
I'm a little nervous, I don't know why? Not nervous to show my body, I could care less. It's just a different element. 

Why did you want to participate? 
I don't think that self-esteem comes down to body image, I think you should appreciate your qualities and your things within yourself without looking in the mirror. I think a majority of people have bad self esteem because we are accustomed to looking in the mirror when we wake up. It's social norm to have a mirror and worship vanity. 

So you live life as if you don't have a mirror?

I like to, I try to. 

/// AFTER SHOOT ///

How is your self-esteem now?
The same. That's the first time I was naked in front of people outside, I guess I feel better because I haven't done that. I feel like I can go conquer the streets naked now!

 

What goes into your self-esteem?
The day I took my makeup off, was the day I felt better. I stopped focusing on that, or if my clothes matched, and focused on what I'm good at. People benefit from who I am, I believe my purpose is to make other people feel worthy of life and feel beautiful. So I have to practice that and believe in myself. Just like you taking your clothes off at the end and shooting with me and the other girls. I hope I can show people you can be beautiful without all that, my hair is in knots. You don't need all that to be beautiful. 

What is your religion?

I would consider myself a theist. I go between polytheism and polentheism. 

Describe what those are.
Polytheism is the belief that there is more than one God, but the belief that God is everything. Polentheism is the belief in one higher power, but that God is in everything. It makes science and religion coexist instead of putting them on the opposite side of the spectrum. 

Are you a feminist? Why or why not?
No. I think that if all people are equal, we don't need to talk about it. I think it should just be, I think we should just treat each other this way. You have one extreme on one end, I think feminism is a bit extreme. It almost becomes narcissistic for a gender to feel owed something. We should be fighting the fight to be good people, not fighting a fight for everyone to come together as one for specific groups. 

Tell me about the issues you struggle with your self-esteem?
I don't think my self esteem came from phsyical things. It dropped based off of things that I went through in life. Not feeling worthy of life at one point in time, makes you feel not pretty. 

What's your story?
It wasn't like I had self-esteem problems from looking at myself. It started with a death. They took their life, it made me feel like I didn't do enough. I think grief and guilt are what make you feel ugliest. That's when I started not liking myself internally, I felt like I failed. Like I didn't save them. When I didn't feel adequate of being here, I started picking myself apart mentally, physically, emotionally. It's a domino effect where everything falls down until you're looking at every little hair in your eyebrow. 

What else makes you feel insecure about your body?
I wanna reach out to tall people. I feel like people who are tall, guy or girl. You're always going to be a bigger size than your 5'4 friend when you're 6'2. 

I feel the same way as a tall person. Like, you'll always be a size up and criticize yourself on that. 
Exactly. Even when you're super thin! I feel like only tall people will understand. 

No, totally. When you wear a size up than your friends, but you're just as thin, your bone structure has to be taken into account and most times we just think we're fat. 
Yeah, definitely. 

How was middle school for you?

I tried to find myself, I got really weird and really expressive. I had to make a point to everyone. I think that was a little insecurity. 

A way to cover it up?
I was masking myself, I feel like. A little bit. 

Where you ever bullied?
No. I was never a bully either. I kind of was friends with everyone, floated. 

You mentioned dealing with mental health issues?
It started with my boyfriend's death, my first love. After that, I got into another long term relationship that was completely toxic. When you feel that low, you feel like you deserve that toxicity. I was with someone who put me down for how I looked, made fun of how skinny I was, and I feel like that's where my physical insecurities came out. I never saw myself that way until he told me these things. I would even think I was chubby and he'd make fun or me for being thin.

What type of toxic interactions did you have with him?
He was a controlling person. I'm sure a lot of girls will relate to that. He was very good at convincing you that you're never going to be good enough for anyone else. 

How did he do that?
He would say it. To my face. 

How long did it take for you to step up to that?
It took three years and by that point I was isolated from friends and family and I had nobody but him and myself. 

Would you consider that mentally abusive?
It was emotionally, mentally abusive. Which is the worst kind of abuse because you feel like you're crazy.

And it's hard for family members to understand?

Those people are good manipulators so you can't see it. So I denied it for a long time. I think it's important to say too, that, when someone tells you they love you and put them down...you're going to believe that more than a stranger. You'll believe its the truth because you don't think they're lying to you. I don't think it's natural to not like yourself. 



I just lost my best friend to a mentally abusive relationship. 
Yeah, I think a lot of girls go through it. And you won't see it until you have nothing. It took me losing my best friend and family to see it. You become accustomed, you become comfortable with the abuse. Because you don't know anything else. It goes for guys too, not just girls. A lot of people don't speak up, don't tell their family. 

Why didn't you tell your family how bad it really was?
I was ashamed. I felt ashamed because I picked a person that did that to me. 

You're like, "I have to stick to my guns, hold my name up."
Right. I felt like I failed again, after my first relationship. That I was the failure. 

And how do you feel about that now?
I completely think I was naive. I realize that you can't save someone else, you have to save yourself. And that's kind of what this project is about for me. You have to love yourself, so you can be around people who love you too. 

I tried to give my little sister advice one day, she was in her first abusive relationship. She looked at me and said, well who are you to talk? Look at your relationship. That's what woke me up about it. No, she's not my daughter but I wouldn't want her to grow up that way. If I had a daughter, I wouldn't want her to be in that relationship. She felt it was okay to be in that relationship because I was, and I had no room to help her because she thought it was normal. I just thought, I have to get out of this because she needs to see it isn't supposed to be this way. 

I wouldn't be happy for anyone that was me a year ago. 

Any last words for the readers?
I wanna tell everyone to go a week without looking in the mirror. If I could get that to happen that would be awesome. Don't put makeup on. You'll be surprised, after seven days, what you feel like. I won't describe it, because you need to do it. And feel it. 

 

 

I Woke Up Like This #039

I'm sorry if it seems I've been absent lately. As do many of you, I struggle a lot with maintaining my life. Trying to manage my fibromyalgia has taken up a lot of my energy. 

Anyways, I just wanted to say that this woman is brilliant. Fierce. Sexy. Humble. Proud. Brave. And kind. 

She sent me an email when I was in Colorado shooting all of these sessions I've been posting. I looked at my phone, opening the email, and read a message from a woman with PCOS and MS asking me to drive three hours away from Denver into the mountains to shoot her. Of course, I agreed to do it. And man do I treasure this day. The beauty in her, the beauty of the location, and her story are all special to me. Above all, we related in terms of pain. She was the first person to actually reach out to me about my pain, knowing it all to well herself. So, thank you woman. You are an inspiration. And I hope we meet again soon!

Be Kind To Yourself, 

Jillian

////// BEFORE SHOOT //////

How would you rate your self-esteem?

Between a seven and an eight. 

What goes into that?
The positive thing is that I've always appreciated my wit, which kind of sucks because of the MS. It makes your mind slow down. I like feeling like I'm different. I've always tried not to go with the normal flow of things. Like my parents were ordained and licensed ministers and everyone in my family is religious. By the time I was twelve, I was questioning why I should take it all in faith. To me there was no proof of an existence of a God. 

Why did you want to participate?
Because I can relate to a negative body image. I have PCOS. That causes weight gain, facial hair, infertility, so growing up everyone used to pick on me for having a mustache and a beard. I would go one week being 148 pounds and three weeks later I would be 175 pounds. 

Explain what PCOS is for the readers. 
It's Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. The short of it is your pituitary gland overproduces insulin, which for some reason affects the ovaries, and causes them to produce extra testosterone. Testosterone in a woman will cause infertility, weight gain, depression, facial hair, acne, abnormal periods. Sometimes I'll have one for three months, sometimes I'll won't have one for three months. 

What would you rate your pain level at daily?
Between the PCOS and the MS, probably at a constant five and some days its an eight. It's frustrating having that because when I was a kid, I wanted to be a Mom and someone elses significant other. I tried a bunch of treatments, they put hormones. Sometimes with the PCOS I feel more like a guy, in my personality and what affects me. When they put me on progesterone and estrogen; I felt like I was loosing my mind. 

/////// AFTER SHOOT ///////

So how is your self esteem now? 
I'm about a 67/10 right now. 

Why?
It just feels good to be able to be who you are and not be ashamed of it. 

What was your favorite part?
It was sitting up on the ledge of the porch.

What is your favorite body part?
Idk my eyes I think, people always say they're really intense and you can see spark in them. 

Least favorite?
Definitely my lips. My labia majora. 

Why? 
When I was younger it was really nice and perfect and symmetrical. When I was 18, someone, who I thought was my friend, raped me. I kept trying to fight him off but he was a big guy. He reached down with his right hand and grabbed my left side to get me to stop. When he did that, he tore it. 

How did that change sex for you?
It was hard for me for a long time to be a guy. Because I looked down there and saw what that guy had done to me and what was taken from me. Anytime a partner would be down there, I thought he would notice.  Like, "There's something wrong with you and it's ugly." 

Did you get justice?
No. I was so ashamed. You know, like I said, my parents were religious. I thought by telling them; it would be my fault. Of course, it's victim mentality. We always think it's our fault. But if an bowling ball ever did fall out of the sky and land on him; I'd be okay with it. 

A lot of people never report their rape because of that victim blaming mentality. 
It's that right wing, southern mentality that leads that to happen. I wore a high necked shirt, I should be able to where a tank top or a burlap sack...the guy shouldn't touch it. It was just a breath of relief that he wasn't around me anymore in that same small town. 

How has that affected the way you look at your body today and in the past?
In the past, I just felt disfigured. Hideous, basically. There were some guys that would say it was beautiful and they didn't notice anything wrong with it. But my mind, every partner I was with, that was at the top of my mind. Now, I think when you get older you look back on certain things and you come to a point where you don't use someone else being a jackass as a reason for you to bring yourself down. There is an acceptance. I guess just when you get older, you see things differently. You realize the past is the past and you can't let that define who you are in the future or present. 

Are you a feminist? Why or why not?
Being a feminist isn't about the stereotypical male idea of being a feminist. It's not being a butch woman who just hates on men. That'd be like me calling every man an asshole, it's a stupid ideology. Not based on any real research. There is not empirical evidence to support that ALL feminist are butch man haters and ALL men are assholes. 

How was middle school?
I was homeschooled. We played with the kids in the neighborhood. My brothers and them would pick on me big time. They'd call me Sasquatch. It was endless. The kids in church were the worst. They picked on us, and me, but we were really poor. I wasn't wearing guess jeans like the other girls and had a mustache, I was always poked fun at and left out. 

Even when you explained it was medical?
I didn't even get an answer until I was eighteen because my parents didn't have insurance. When I was thirteen I started getting heavy periods, I couldn't move and we couldn't go to the doctor. 

Recently, I went on a sibling outing thing with my two brothers. This girl in her twenties was their complaining about her children and I jokingly go,"I'll take em" and she goes, "Why don't you get some of your own?" and I go, "Well, because I can't have kids." My brother goes, "What why?" and I didn't say anything. My brother looked at him with this incredulous look and makes the gesture towards the facial hair and goes..."That's all from the disease she has."

It's all to easy to ignore a persons suffering when you can't see it.
Pretty much. I had a friend who never wanted to have friends. She wanted to become a computer animator. She wound up having kids right away, then my sisters had kids, and then the meth addict four doors down walking with her baby....her house exploded a week later from the meth lab. 

And how does that feel to you?
It pisses me off. People like that, who don't even deserve to have a kid can have seven of them but I'm a responsible intelligent human being that would provide a great home for a child and I can't have one. It's true, people will be super insensitive. You'd think they could deliver it a little softer.

You think it's a good idea to stress to friends that you're sensitive about it?
Oh, they know. They knew. People ask you what you want to be as a kid. I said, I want to be a wife and a Mom. To not have that only thing I wanted in my life, that's a sore spot. But people get caught up and forget to stop and consider the people around them and how their actions affect everything. 


It goes without saying that people should be more sensitive and aware of friends and family who are infertile.
It's really just being considerate. Using common sense. It's like a friend who hates mustard and of course you're not going to make them a sandwich with it. And you'll remember that because they're your friend. People forget to consider how much what they are doing and saying will effect other people.

Is there any last message you want to leave with the readers?
Someone I was working with in town, we stayed late to have a drink and talk. I was showing my fiance a picture of a 65 mustang with the front clip of a 04 mustang put on it because we're both car enthusiasts. I work on cars, I come from a family of mechanics. And the owner comes over and starts joking about me not knowing anything about cars. Soon enough, he was heated and angry that at the notion that I knew more about cars than him...because I'm a woman. Those were his words. "There is no way, because you're a woman." I looked at him, I asked "What's lift and duration?" and of course he goes...uh...I knew a few years aog I can't rememer. I ask, "What's compression? 11 to 1? What does that mean?" And he didn't know. So, my take on feminists is that I am feminine. I am a woman. I like being soft. I like have curves, wearing high heels, and lipstick. I deserve the same respect if I can do something as well as a man or better. That's from both men and women. Because there were woman looking at me with disgust for working in logging and a typically masculine job. I'm still a woman, but don't say I can't do the same things you do. 

Do whatever your passionate about. If someone looks down on you, or says you can't do it, laugh in their face and prove em wrong. 

I Woke Up Like This #037

How was you rate your self esteem?
It totally depends on the day but I'm going to say a seven. 

Why are you doing this project?
I used to be very comfortable with my body and then I had a kid and my weight fluctuated. After my kid, I became a webcam model. I ended up getting super heavy right when I started that. You can see the fluctuation in getting very heavy in the webcam industry versus being smaller. It was less to do with the guys, but more to do with my fellow girls in the webcam community. 

How so?
When I first started, I would go to the conventions and meet all the girls and we would cam together. It was much easier to meet girls and have a good chemistry. When I got heavier, I went to a different convention and these same girls wouldn't cam with me anymore. They said,"I didn't fit the aesthetic of their room anymore." 

I went to a cam girl mansion, and that was when I found that out. It was insane. So that killed my self-esteem. I ended up then losing all of that weight. Went to another convention just recently, and everyone was trying to rip me apart to get me to cam with them in their rooms. 

You could just see it in my community. That's probably the first time I ever felt bad about my self-esteem in terms of my weight. 

Are you nervous?
I would say yes, more about the interview process. This is the first time being myself instead of a stage name naked on cam. 

Whats your self-confidence like now?

Either. 

Why?
I feel like you have a really great way of making people feel comfortable but also doing the interview and all this feels really good to get myself out there. Also, the other women in the project. 

What was middle school like for you?
My home life was not the best in middle school. We moved to tennessee. That was the longest I was ever really in one place, we were there for about four years. I was always out with friends, those were my family. Because I was bullied in elementary school, I was never mean to anybody. I had friends in every group. I did everything I could to rebel against my mother. So wearing all black, marilyn manson shirt, skater pants, ect. I started getting into death metal and smoking weed and having sex, all in middle school. It was the first time when I started getting boyfriends so I felt I had good self-esteem at that time, just not at home. Which got me into trouble, so I was always grounded. That's when I met my best friends from today. 

We just had our third middle school reuinion. We were all the bad kids, we got expelled back in eighth for adderall. There was like twenty of us. 

You mentioned elementary school wasn't the best, tell me more about that.
There was groups in elementary school, where there was popular kids. There was a group of cheerleaders and everytime i would come around them or anything there was one girl who would spit at me and say, "Ew. Why is she anywhere near us? She shouldn't be here." They told me it was because I didn't wear jeans. 

So, this was purely appearance based? 
Yes. I went to thrift stores and was wearing sweatpants. So that one girl who didn't want me there asked, "Why is she here?" and the girl who brought me said, "Because she's my friend." And we're still friends to this day. It was that time where I really started missing school and spending time in the nurse office. 

Did you ever face any sexual abuse as a child?
Yes. When I was nine, I was molested by my babysitter. He played the friend route, he would come over and bring my family dinner and really try to get up close to show he wasn't a threat. So my family really trusted him. It didn't start in the beginning, he did a lot of grooming to make sure I was comfortable. Taking me out, all that good stuff...nonetheless I didn't find out it was an issue really until he was going to move to Kansas and he kept saying, "You're not going to tell anybody about this right?" And I had so many friends that would come to his house. The pool guy noticed that every time kids came into his house, he would close his blinds. So he was the person who alerted the authorities that something was going in.

So, this was a serial molester?
Yeah. He would watch a lot of child porn so when the police would try to get his laptop he would tell them it was out for maintenance. At first, I trusted him and lied to my Mother when she asked about it. He ended up moving away after that and it had to have been two weeks after when my Mom first asked me. I had started grinding me teeth really badly. Then one day, we were in the living room, I just blurted out, "YEAH. It happened!" and we had a big cry session. 

You're doing so well, so calm and comfortable talking about this. 
Immediately, I never blamed myself because my Mother was such a support system for me. She told me he was sick and that it wasn't my fault and I believed it. When I grow up, and when I meet people I would tell people that right off the bad. It was like, there were no secrets about me so it was very freeing. 

I think often times, victims/survivors of molestation are pressured to erase it from their past through not talking about it.
This guy, he is currently one of Colorado's most wanted. He ended up being in the system for a while and complying but then he just fled. He did it to another girl in 2001, he's now one of Colorado's most wanted.

How has this affected the way you look at your body, past and present?
In the past, I was a lot more shy. And felt a lot of guilt in the beginning. These days, I just kind of say "Fuck Him." I'm not going to let him rule my life, he has nothing to do with me. I'm my own person. He has no rule over me, would be a better way to say it. My main concern now is to make sure it never happens to my daughter. 

How has that changed the way you raise your daughter?
I am extremely selective over who gets to be around my daughter alone. I almost have an issue. Now that I stay at home, we don't do daycare, when we meet someone who gives off vibes I don't want them to even be in my own life. There are only two men she is allowed to be alone with, my husband and my step-dad. 

Let's lighten the conversation, let's talk about feminism? 
It's had to really put it into a category. I grew up in the nineties but in a really cool time. Our sexuality was more accepted, our friends were all different races. I'm glad to live in a time where women are gaining rights and becoming more equal. You see these hard core feminism, where we're almost going opposite and a man can't say. We call all men misogynistic when they say anything, even agreeing with feminism. That initially turned me off. That was the first time I ever saw this.

You only see the most radical people in each movement making the headlines.
Yes. I used to believe that feminists must not like me when I'm so open about my body or I enjoy my role at home cooking. 

But now?
But now I found my place in it with other like minded women, especially with this project being about body positivity. That's such a big thing to each individual woman. 

I recently learned about intersectional feminism. It's essentially the belief that while we take our own sociological factors into consideration, we must also  consider how others social foundations such as race, sexuality, disability, class, gender, ect  effect their treatment in society and struggle for social justice. We have to think about how it all fluidly connects when we advocate for feminism.  
Initially, that's what threw me off from feminism. I can't tell someone how to live their life because I have been in their experiences. Gender roles are very hard when we have different cultures. 

Exactly, while one type of feminist would fight for no gender roles, it might be a vital part of someones culture that they enjoy. 
Mhm. 

What is your favorite body part?
My lips. They're the same as my mother, now that I see my daughter has them I love their shape. They never change. It's the one body part I don't have to worry about getting bigger, or smaller, or stretch marks. 

Least?
Currently now, my stretch marks. I'm learning to love them every day. It's still so fresh and new, I've only had them for five years. I used to hate having them on my ass in middle school. Now that I have a daughter, I dont wanna watch her go through the same body issues i watched my own family go through constanty asking if I looked okay, not wanting our picture taken because they aren't wearing makeup even though it would be creating a memory for us.Anytime someone walks into a bathroom, looking in the mirror and saying how gross they look. I have to learn to love my body completely. That's why this project is so important. Because I need to see myself without my shield up. 

Any last message for the readers?
This has been a really fun experience. It's always good, when you're comfortable, to push yourself. Find that thing you don't like about yourself and turn it into something you love. Because its uniquely yours.