Thriving with Vitiligo

I remember this so vividly…I was in college, laying out on the grass in front of my dorm soaking up the last few rays of summer and I noticed it. Inside my index finger was a half moon-shaped white spot that the sun didn’t tan. I thought it odd that I would hold my finger that way, but shrugged it off as pre-adults do. Up until that point, I lived a life of sun worship; my Italian skin turning a beautiful coppery brown each summer that I cherished! At that age, tanning was everything! My fairer skinned friends would slather their bodies in Crisco and other oily substances trying to attain the glow that came easily to me. This spot was just a blip on my otherwise golden skin. Until it wasn’t.

As the summer faded and the leaves began to change, my tan began to fade but that spot never quite disappeared; it was always paler than the rest of my fingers. One morning, more white spots appeared. Just my hands. I happened to be home for a break and was at a friends home, his mom was a nurse so I asked her to look at my hands. She was puzzled. It felt like skin. It didn’t itch. She told me it was probably hormones and that I would “grow out of it.” I did not.

Over the next year or so, more patches, more places. Then it hit my face. I was overweight all of my life, but the one thing people always said is, “She has such a pretty face, if only she would lose some weight.” And while that was such a shitty thing to say, in some twisted way, I still had that pretty face, until now. These white spots had invaded the last part of my being that would still be considered ‘pretty’ — now what? That hurt. Long story short, that prompted me to go to the doctor, I was diagnosed with Vitiligo. No known cause. Chemical imbalance. Unproven treatments, spotty success. At 19, the world as I knew it, changed.

I began feeling uncomfortable in public. I wore long sleeves, even in the summer. I wore my hair around my face more. I shrank away inside my mind and avoided a lot of situations where I would come in contact with new people. I felt ashamed of the way I looked; and I ate a lot growing fatter by the day. When I knew I had to go into a new situation, I would get that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you did something wrong…you know that feeling I am talking about? It was awful, but I had to suck it up and go forward. I wasn’t (still not!) independently wealthy and this was way before you could make a living from home so I would have to leave the safety of my home and people who loved me and venture out into the cruel world. And it was cruel.

At my first real job, we had these smoky window dividers in an open floor call center. I remember being behind one of the glass dividers and seeing one of my ‘friends’ looking at me with a little grin. When I asked her what was up, she said, “You know, behind that glass, you almost look normal.” Normal. Fuck, I didn’t realize I was abnormal.

Second instance at this same company, we were having a potluck. I brought in a casserole; no one would eat it. I found out that one person told everyone else that my skin was contagious so everyone was afraid to ‘catch what I have’. Wow.

The third instance came when I finally worked for a company that I thought was different. It was (and still is) an amazing organization training other leaders to succeed. I felt like people saw ME and not my skin. I started in a part-time admin role and continued to move into more in-depth roles; it was the start of a career. At one of my performance reviews with a boss that I love (to this day), we were talking about my future goals at the company. I had mentioned that I wanted to train…that’s when she told me, as kindly as she knew how, that one of the other trainers didn’t think I would do well in the classroom in front of students. I think the direct quote was, “They would be staring at you the whole time and not picking up the content we are trying to teach.” I.was.devastated. I cried buckets of tears for days. This place (and people) that I had put on a pedestal, was no better than anywhere else and I was still a spotted freak.

I could tell more stories, but they are all the same. Strangers staring. Me feeling ashamed. People making mean comments. Me eating more. New situations. Me becoming more of a recluse.

I’ve lived with Vitiligo for over 20 years now and in the past five years, something has shifted, finally. I am beginning to love myself again. Love my skin again. I am learning to embrace myself for exactly who I am and what I look like in this moment. I am not hiding my spots by wearing long sleeves on the hottest days or keeping my hair down when I really would prefer to wear it up. Over the years I have been a staunch advocate of people’s rights and anti-discrimination but never applied that thinking to myself, until recently. I spent the last 20+ years being ashamed of my skin and ultimately me because of the way OTHERS saw me. I started to see myself as others saw me and lost my confidence along the way. That stopped. I now see myself with my own eyes and what I see is remarkable.

I am special. I am beautiful. I am funny. I am smart. I am strong. I am sarcastic. I have flaws; but they have nothing to do with my outer appearance. I now see myself as a woman who is insanely creative, overwhelmingly positive and startlingly beautiful. I am different.

I have created a world for myself where people enjoy being in my orbit and I am comfortable being myself. I have facilitated large training sessions in front of a variety of audiences and never once has my skin been the focus. I have prepared and shared food with so many friends and family and not one of them have caught anything from me (except maybe a love of cheese!) and I have taken beautiful head shots, without filters or smoked glass, and felt perfectly normal. Memories of all of the hurtful words and stares are still with me, but they don’t make me feel ashamed any more. They fuel me. I don’t see myself with your eyes, only with mine, and I am beautiful.

52 job applications; 6 declines

Being unemployed is not for the faint of heart; even though I’ve gotten six declines, there are 46 out there that I haven’t heard from – at all. Not a peep. Those are the ones that really nag at you; they make you question your worth.

I really thought I would have a job by now – I thought it would be so much easier for me. I watched some of my former colleagues go through it and I wondered if they weren’t doing enough to find work. Every day I spend at least three hours online – most days eight hours, following up on leads, reaching out to potential contacts and researching new companies. Initially, I was looking within my city. Then I expanded to my state. Now I am looking at neighboring states, too.

Here’s the thing, though, throughout this process, I have realized that as much as I keep saying “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up” – I actually do! I am an operations leader. Operations Leader. The industry is less important; the opportunity to build structure inside an organization and develop individuals, that’s my gig. I am good at it and quite frankly, it gives me a charge! That’s what we want, right? To love what we do! Yes, exactly. I have always been so lucky that I every role I have landed in, I have been pretty happy (excluding my last one, ugh!); so I’m just going to keep on doing that.

So I will keep on applying for jobs that I think are a good fit for my brand. Whether its 52 more jobs to apply for or 152 more…I WILL find the right one for me. And, you know what? They will be pretty lucky to have me.

MY Jacksonville

I write for a lot of reasons, but all of them are for me. Usually I write because I have a script in my head that plays on a loop over and over again preventing me from thinking about anything else until I write it down. I play with it in my head, write more lines, change it, add more but it always starts with that same nugget. That same loop. So I write it down. If I am already asleep, I reach for my phone and text it to myself (its usually super hard to decipher the next morning). If I am at my desk, I will send myself an email. If I am out and about, I text myself. By the time I’ve finished typing, its gone – so much so that when I get that text or email alert, I’m always eager to see who texted me!

Last nights script was unforgiving. It was about the mass shooting in Jacksonville (Click to learn more about JAX shooting); the city I live in. Earlier on the news, I watched as two young men answered one of the inane questions the reporter posed, “Why do you think this happened in JAX?” I’m not sure if they were eager for air time, thrilled they finally had a platform or really believed what they were saying, but what they said was what ignited the loop.

“This is Jacksonville. This is what happens here. People are bored. There are no opportunities…” I don’t remember verbatim what they said, but this is what I heard – and it made me angry. We have four Fortune 1000 companies, three Fortune 500 companies, more than 20 higher learning institutions, twenty plus advanced medical institutions, the largest industrial park in the Southeast, more than 80 industry headquarters, the 4th fastest growing import port in the US…I honestly could go on and on about the stats and facts of this great city (More Stats & Facts). There are plenty of opportunities, you just have to be willing to find them.

I can not answer why this happened; I can only tell you my opinion. As someone who has been unemployed for two months now, I assure you, it is not for the lack of opportunities. Every day more jobs are added to our area businesses in a variety of fields, there are skilled trades, professional roles, hourly staff, contract work, you name it, we have it! The caveat is, you have to be qualified for it and you have to work for it. You are not entitled to it any more than I am. Every day I spend about six hours combing through on line job sites, following up on leads and reaching out to my networks. At some point, this work will pay off, until that time, I am not blaming my city. In this city I have grown and learned and laughed and played. This is the city where I got to watch my nephews grow their love and talent for hockey while becoming young men. This city has allowed my nieces to discover talents and friendships and step into their roles as confident little women. It has cared for my sister while she went through her cancer treatments like a bad ass. This city has allowed me and my family to chase dreams and continue to enjoy one another.

So, no, this is not Jacksonville. This event is a symptom of a larger issue that doesn’t just belong to JAX; it is a you problem, it is a me problem, it is an US problem. This might be an unpopular statement and probably a weird one coming from a person who is admittedly not pro gun, but it isn’t a gun control issue. In my heart of hearts, I do not believe that tighter gun restrictions will solve anything – the problem isn’t the guns, its the people. The person who chose to use a gun to take the life or harm another person IS the problem. I will absolutely agree that there should be requirements imposed to own a gun; however, it will not stop the people problem.

Instead of pointing at the wrong issues (lack of gun control, lack of opportunities, etc.), we need to get at the root of why people turn to violence to solve THEIR problems. We need to learn to be kind to one another. We need to turn away from our screens and TALK to one another; only through true understanding will we learn how to solve this problem and not just a symptom.

It seems like we might all be on a loop…

 

Waiting…

It seems like I’m always waiting for something; the phone to ring, a husband, a job, a lottery win, a better body, excitement…something. But always waiting and wondering when it will be my turn.

I might be done waiting. I’m not saying that I’m giving up, but I’m really, really tired of waiting.

I’m the woman who is early for everything. Always. I’m talking a good half hour. I’m that friend that circles the block or parks nearby in order not to be the first one there all the time. I’m the one that shows up to meetings and sets up camp in a prime location prior to the meeting organizers stepping foot in the room. I’m the one on the plane that clamors to be first to my coach seat, get buckled in and settled prior to first class getting their first drink. Yeah, I’m that one. It calms me to be early. It’s ironic because that means I’m perpetually waiting.

With all this waiting, you wouldn’t think that the other kind of waiting would be stressing me so much, but I’m seriously about to have a full on panic attack. I’m not sleeping. At night my thoughts are filled with thoughts of losing my house, selling everything I own, depleting my savings and being homeless. I literally feel as if I’m being suffocated when I think about it.

I’m on all the job boards. I’m reaching out, networking. Doing things that don’t come naturally to me and nothing. Not even a nibble. I can’t afford to just wait this time. I can’t just sit back. I have to ACT.

Live, Love, Learn, Leap, Laugh…

These words have been my mantra for years…they are reminders of how to find my abundance…everyone’s is different, but for me, its these things. I really believe there is a key to unlocking each persons path and that each person has a different ‘pot of gold’ at the end of their path. In my mind, my pot of gold is abundance. That doesn’t mean exclusively money, to me it means a fulfilling life which could include money.

LIVE in way that you are always moving forward. Never revisiting past mistakes, LEARNing from them and moving on. Making sure to LAUGH frequently, even at myself. Deeply cherishing my friends and family and acting with LOVE toward all. Looking for opportunities and knowing when to LEAP instead of holding back. All of these things will lead me to my abundant life.

Filling Space

I really have a problem with saying something when there is nothing to say. I would rather sit in silence…and that is basically what I have been doing with this blog. Nothing has changed, I am still fat. I am still looking for a job. Interestingly, I am not unhappy about either of these things.

I have been able to spend a lot of time with friends and family as well as focus on some discovery about myself. I think I have unlocked my “what I want to be when I grow up” and honestly, its what I am already doing. I am a great operations leader. People want to follow me. I am inspiring. I help people reach their potential. I help businesses succeed. I am good at what I do and I like it. This last year was probably the worst one of my professional career but I still succeeded in a big way; I just didn’t like it.

This morning I was able to explain to my outplacement coach exactly what I want to do, now we have to figure out where. More homework. That’s ok, I am good at research, too :).

As far as my weight, I think I am letting go of the number. I do want to be healthy. That has to be my new focus. I am going to stop being so attached to losing weight and more attached to getting healthy. That’s the hard part, though, I hate working out and the eating right thing continues to elude me.

Its been a really busy summer and thanks to being laid off, I have been able to enjoy it fully without being split focused. I am grateful for this opportunity for sure.

My goal for September is to fill the spaces with abundance. Now to define what that looks like…

Unemployment is no joke…

I’m questioning everything I thought I knew about myself. What value do I bring to a company?

When I first got laid off a couple of weeks ago, I was a little…relieved. Ive known it wasn’t a good fit for me for two years. Every day I had to look for work for my team and constantly create busy work. I successfully created two roadshows that brought me all over the US because I recognized a gap and convinced the company that it needed to happen. They were both extremely successful and I was able to make something out of nothing. When I look at things like that, I know that I created value for my organization and for my team.

When I got the call that I was being laid off, I had two questions: one, was my team impacted (no) and two, would I be able to speak to them (yes). Caring for people I am responsible for comes naturally to me. I strongly believe that the ability to create relationships is the key to successfully building a team of contributing staff members. This is another place where I create value.

I have built teams; I have laid people off. I have created structure where there was none. I have identified and fixed gaps. I have former employees that would follow me anywhere. And yet, I’m left questioning my value to an organization.

Yep, unemployment is no joke.

Today I sit…

This morning I got on the scale and was pleasantly surprised to see it had gone down…almost effortlessly. I am eating breakfast and then really nothing until dinner, mostly because I am not thinking about it. I am busy. I am filling my moments with job searches, conversations, etc. and not thinking about eating all the time. Success one.

Yesterday, I had a lot of running around. Today too. That’s a good thing; its a distraction. I also spoke to an Executive coach and he was…inspiring. And, not that I needed it, but he gave me permission to just – sit. Sit with my thoughts. Sit with my feelings. Sit with my anxiety. Sit with my fear. Thats a hard one. My immediate reaction is always “whats next?” and spring into action, but maybe its time to do it differently. Maybe thats the only way I am going to figure out what I truly want to do. He said so many smart things, I am still processing. One of my favorites though was about purpose, profits and passion…determining which of those three really fill my tank. Purpose and passion feel so linked for me, its hard to differentiate. Even though money is for sure the “nice to have”, it doesnt get me out of bed in the morning and ultimately, isnt that what its all about? What is going to get you out of bed each day?

So today, I got up at 630, got a shower. I am going to put on a little makeup and start my day. Im going to read my devotionals. Read more of my man Steve Harvey’s book. And just sit in my jumble of thoughts…no action will be taken to find a job, not today. Today, I am sitting.

Unemployed

Woah, that word sucks ass. Unemployed. I am going to have to move quickly and remedy this situation. Im the kind of person who likes structure. The more time I have, the more time I waste!

I’ve been doing pretty good about using my mornings to focus on the job hunt and I am keeping my snacking to a minimum. Right now I am doing a lot of running around and my norm is to go through drivethrus but I am not doing that so that I can save some money. I really am trying to focus on the silver lining. Some days easier than others…its been one week today. I have basically until mid-August to find something otherwise, my insurance lapses.

The main thing is, I really dont know what Im looking for…actually, I do know what I am looking for but I dont know what to call it. I am a really good people manager. I am also good at facilitating conversations and helping people adjust, adapt and embrace change. I have people that have worked for me before, that would follow me to any job if I asked them to. I know I am an asset, I just struggle with how to package that and do something I love instead of just something that pays the bills. Wouldnt that be amazing? To do something you love and be able to live on it?

I just want to be happy, is that so hard?

 

Putting a plan together…

You know when you get so overwhelmed that you just start spinning in circles? I am in full on spin. I have given up on my diet, almost completely. We’ve already talked about how out of control I am there…and now professionally, I am starting my spin. Between my personal and professional lives, I am getting whiplash. I keep going back and forth between staying with what I know or “taking the path less traveled” (nod to Robert Frost). I know its only been since Tuesday so I have some time to figure it all out, but I feel so much pressure to put a plan together.

I feel like I can’t tackle all of it at once and if I don’t get my professional shit together, my personal shit wont matter because ultimately, I will be living in a box and wont be able to afford to eat so that will solve that! Oh wait, so that feels like a plan! Wouldn’t it be funny if that’s the real deal? Maybe not so funny.

I am starting to formulate a plan of action. My first one was to declutter. To take advantage of having some downtime and tackle some of the things that I was putting off until I take some vacation time…well since I am on this forced vacation, no time like the present. So today I am cleaning out my home office. I also have all the shit from my Citi office in the garage that I need to deal with…ok, one thing at a time, the spin is real, y’all. Again, for today, my plan is this office.

Today, I will organize my office. I will pay my bills. I will complete both of these tasks. Yes, that is me trying to convince myself.