This could also be called Temporary Pessimism: A Doorway to Reality & Growth or Complaining.
I was feeling very discouraged on Friday, June 6, 2014. I was confused about how to crawl out of the financial hole I’d created from being injured for many years and how to do that while simultaneously pursuing my acting career and still continuing to heal.
I needed to write a bio for the program of a small staged reading show we were doing at an old 1860’s opera house in Delaware. I wrote out a shiny-sounding paragraph of things I’d accomplished. I read it.
I hadn’t lied. They were all true things. But the words painted a picture so different than what my life has actually been. And wildly different than what I was currently feeling and going through.
I decided to write an All True bio. It was very cathartic to write:
Ruth is beyond excited that she just got approved for food stamps! The last time she was on food stamps was 1993 when her mom got sick and they got evicted from their house. She looks forward to receiving the EBT card in the next two weeks so she can focus on other things instead of the fear of hunger!
You may recognize her if you’ve come over to her house. In the past eight years, she stayed home a lot because she developed plantar fasciiatis that was misdiagnosed as a broken foot, sprained her ankle, tore the tendon in her wrist, knocked the tendon out of place in her shoulder, had a spinal injury, and got a stress fracture that became a broken foot, but was misdiagnosed again. She’s worked with chiropractors, acupuncturists, physical therapists, Egoscue physical therapists, massage therapists, chronic pain therapists, podiatrists, orthopedic surgeons, reiki healers, internal medicine MDs, radiologists, nutritionists, and cellular yoga instructors to become well again.
She recently won the award in her head for “Most Improved Foot Despite Never Having Funds To Go To Physical Therapy After A Prolonged Stress Fracture” when she was able to walk to the train yesterday. Her hobbies include doing a professional theatre play every three years, performing an improv show twice a year, and wishing. She lives in LA and is a web designer without her own computer to work on. She also enjoys volunteering as an auditioner for commercials. She wants to thank herself for her positive attitude that keeps her from noticing reality and nice homeless people for being nice.
I think it’s important to say that I am truly grateful that I’m getting food stamps! No sarcasm there. And as bad as this bio sounds, my two year-old foot injury had healed enough by January 2014 that for the six months before writing this bio, I was able to start to leave the house and participate in life again. Although I couldn’t walk enough to work consistently, I could take a weekly free improv class which let me feel my spirit again. My spirit was dusty and weak, but over the months, it was cleaning up and working out. Eventually, I got a weekly internship that earned me free, more-challenging improv classes, I got cast in an improv show, started having more commercial auditions, started teaching a weekly simple yoga class on the rooftop of a movie studio and because of a dear friend, The Daily Show looked at my stuff.
But despite all of these beautiful things, I was in pain, was unhappy deep inside, was unable to pay my bills, and was worried that I would never heal. I felt like I was tumbling in a dryer of habits and getting no where.
Strangely enough, this negative-sounding bio came at the right time and helped me so much. I finally let out my feelings and really let myself see how my life has played out in the past decade.
Usually, I don’t want to complain and I find joy in the smallest things. Explosive joy about the tiniest wonder-filled details. I see the love around me in my family, friends, and mate. I appreciate every time it’s sunny, and I live in L.A. where it’s always sunny. I relish in the color in the flowers, the color in the dying leaves, and the color in our food that gives us color in our cheeks. A gentle eye, a showing of the teeth, a guttural laugh, another’s honest appreciation of honesty or appreciation can keep my teeth showing for days.
When I start to think my life is hard, I see the people around me that are struggling so much more; the meth addict on the street with no shoes and a sunken mouth, the hungry mother of four in the dollar store with numb eyes, and the people in documentaries who don’t have water coming out of the only pipe in their town, with their only other hydration option being to drink the dirty river water that took their mom’s life. I think of my friend John, a Lost Boy from Sudan, who… if you are a sensitive person, please know that this story is achingly sad… when John was 8 years old, he walked with a huge group of boys his age, across his country to a new country, to flee from religious genocide, and while doing so, sometimes he would have to run from lions, and he has memories of hearing his friends behind him running… who were eaten. Sorry to get so sad so abruptly. But his story is true. And there are so many others with a reality as harsh as this.
So, there are ways I find to not complain. And while that is nice for the others around me to not hear complaining and focusing only on the good things helped me get through my problems for years, it doesn’t let me honor my truth. It’s true that my life has not been as hard as others, but it’s also true that I’ve been in a rough spot for years and I’m not letting myself say that.
So writing out a silly bio let me see what was bothering me. Now I had a list, a clear honest one, of things I wanted to better about myself and my life.
In the past few months, I did indeed get my EBT card, so while I’m healing my foot, I have money to spend towards food. Having the card has made me pay more attention to how much I spend on food and discover cheaper ways to still eat food I’m not allergic to and still eat healthy, organic food.
I also couldn’t bear reading that I was a web designer with no computer to work on. I did have a computer, but it was from 2006 and too old to have Photoshop on it. So Shane would take his Photoshop equipped computer to work in the morning and when he would get home at 8pm, I’d work with it overnight. But I was still auditioning in the day, had an internship, and would need to be awake in daylight hours for other normal human reasons. We functioned like this for about six months before I wrote the bio and remembered my dad had offered to buy me a computer for my birthday, the year before. I hadn’t taken him up on the offer for two reasons, one because he thought computers cost $300, and two because I felt bad to tell him that the only computers I can use for work do not cost $300. I simply told myself I couldn’t have that and erased it from my head.
Ten months after his offer and ten months of puzzle piecing together my business, I finally let myself need help. This let my brain open and it thought of new options. Maybe I could use a desktop which is cheaper than a laptop, maybe I could get something with just the basics and slim down what my business offers until I make enough to get a better computer, maybe… he could give me a computer for my next birthday too and the combined birthdays would add up to more computer. We never expect huge gifts so asking this was completely out of the ordinary. But he is a loving father and was happy to help. And two days after I asked, a friend decided to sell their 2011 Mac laptop for cheap. It has everything I need on it to work. Thank God for my dad and my friend.
I also realized that I wasn’t telling people about my hurt foot. I could rest for a week at home to make it to my internship, an audition, or an event. And have a great time at the event, letting people only see a vibrant version of myself, but have pain at home for the next week or so. I could make it through an improv class, but not around the grocery store. I was being there for others, but not for myself. And although I wanted to be auditioning for film and TV, not just commercials, I couldn’t advance to those because I knew I might make it through the audition, but if I got cast, my foot couldn’t handle being on set for 12 hours or a few 12 hour days.
I just now realized that this also meant I shouldn’t be auditioning for commercials either because they can take just as long to shoot. But I first realized I shouldn’t be auditioning for them because the repetition of pain and hunger finally let me see it’s important to use that time to do things that will definitely pay my bills or help me be able to walk. Until the basics are covered, regularly taking hours of time to do something for free that might result in a large financial pay-off is technically gambling. As logical as that sounds, it kind of defines being an actor too, so it used to feel negative to see it this way. I wrote to my amazingly grounded and sweet commercial agent and asked for a break. She said a supportive yes.
And the most life-changing, breath-taking, unbelievable thing happened, three months after my dip into reality, a dear old friend, who is very good at looking at reality, told her folks how I’m doing… And they sent me money which meant I could finally go to physical therapy. This happened because of my friend’s ability to be objective, lack judgement, and be truthful. And her parents ability to do the same. And also to empathize, love, and take care of themselves well enough to be able to have any extra to help others.
It is a gift I don’t know how to repay. Beyond even the monetary value. The doors that it opened, the lightbulbs it ignited, the hope it rekindled, and the time that it gave are priceless. I didn’t cash the check for a month, frozen in fear that I would spend it wrong and somehow come out at the end of all of this without being healed. Once I stopped crying with fear and gave myself permission to use it to the best of my ability, which will probably include mistakes along the way, I started physical therapy.
And having a safety net let my mind open again. I started to see more and more how difficult I was making everything by trying to heal, work on my acting career, be social in L.A, and work on my day job to start earning enough to pay bills. I know that might be obvious to most people, but injury doesn’t come with a manual on how to switch your natural response to life during each chapter of healing. When I first get hurt, I often think it’s funny. Then I think it will heal quickly. So I don’t slow down or stop. And most of my friends are optimists that see slowing down as giving in to negative thought. So the advice around me rings true with my natural instinct. Then I try to push through. Years later, I haven’t healed and have also not succeeded at what ever I had kept pushing to do either.
So I stopped doing my improv internship, taking improv class, performing in improv shows, I stopped teaching yoga on the roof top, I stopped telling myself I’ll audition for TV soon, I stopped telling my friends I might be able to go to their shows, and I stopped going to as many social gatherings. I also stopped going on Facebook as often so that I would only be getting a feeling that something is happening when it’s really happening to me.
This was all very-crazy-wild HARD for me to decide to do. Right when I decided to take care of myself, I had my first TV audition, then an audition for Buzzfeed, I got a professional voice over gig, a bit part in a webisode, and a chance to start improvising with an old friend I look up to very much. I said yes to everything except the improv. And then I truly stopped. It felt lonely. It felt hopeless. It felt uncomfortable. But it felt right.
I was ready to be open to learning how to live in a way I’d never known. The pain at home had eaten away at my soul for years and I needed real change. I started going to mental therapy. I started saying no to friends who needed help. I started to try to honor that I need help first. I started to see that I need to learn to take care of myself.
I’m currently learning.
The point of this, though, is that I’m surprised that a sprinkle of honesty about negative situations can make your cake come out less sweet, but more fulfilling.