Monday Roundtable: Change Is Good

The first month of the year doesn’t have to be about making big changes, but for a lot of people, it is. In that spirit, here’s the Autostraddle team sharing with you the things they’ve changed in their lives that has meant the biggest improvement. We’d love to hear yours in the comments!

Laneia, Executive Editor

I went from exclusively dating men to exclusively dating women and now I can open all the jars and my skin cleared up and I never get hangovers.

Heather Hogan, Managing Editor

The main thing that changed my life for the better is probably the main thing that changed almost all of our lives for the better which was realizing I’m queer and coming out and living openly as a queer person. The second thing that changed my life for the better (the most) was this leap I took when I was 29 and decided I wanted to be a writer. I have absolutely no professional training in writing whatsoever and had never been published anywhere besides my own personal blog when I was 29 years old. I just wanted to write so badly! It’s not something I grew up wanting and probably that’s why I never studied or concentrated on it in school (and also it wasn’t practical and when I was 20 I needed money to take care of myself and my family very badly) — but by the time I was an adult I understood that good writing is the closest thing to magic humans can do. I wanted to tell stories that made people laugh, the moved them, that changed their minds and their hearts, that got inside of them and tweaked their actual alchemy. I love writing. Nothing on earth has made me consistently happier or more fulfilled. Anyway when I was 29, I’d had a veerrrrry small amount of success writing personally, and I quit my last oppressive, homophobic, sexist-as-hell office job and decided I was going to put all of my hope and energy and skill into making it as a writer. And I did!

June Gehringer, Writer

I quit drinking about six months ago and it’s been the best decision of my adult life so far! Obviously abstinence isn’t something that works for everyone, but since quitting drinking, I’m happier, healthier, and my skin has cleared up too, which is a really nice extra perk. I was at a point where my alcohol use was negatively affecting every relationship in my life, none more so than my relationship with myself. Getting sober has given me the space to fall in love with myself again. My sober self is so bright, charming, and kind, and I couldn’t be happier to get to be this person in the world full-time.

Carrie, Contributor

Embracing my disability — and, by extension, my identity as a disabled person — changed the whole game. It felt sort of like coming out, but even more fundamental in its own way. I didn’t even realize how being disabled granted me entry into a community, or a culture, or a political movement until my late twenties. That’s a long time to hang onto shame and contort yourself to compensate. Recognizing cerebral palsy as fundamental made everything simpler; now, instead of having to fight something off all the time, I can walk into a room confidently, I can build and navigate healthy relationships, I can assert my entire self and the value I bring to any and every situation. What a relief.

KaeLyn, Writer

Like Heather, my life-changing moment was deciding to be a writer. Unlike Heather, I definitely did grow up with dreams of writing, completed creative writing classes in high school and majored in creative writing in college. My life after graduation took a different turn and I ended up leaning into my other passion, being with people and fighting for equity and justice. It was a fulfilling path, but it left no time for writing. Throughout my 20’s I had this lingering guilt around giving up writing and a longing to bring it back into my life as a hobby. (The idea of writing as a job seemed impossible to me.) After years of skirting around the edges of actually doing my own writing—writing a sexual health column for the local LGBTQ paper as part of my job at Planned Parenthood and writing grants for nonprofits and supporting friends at open mic nights — I started my own blog. A few months later, I was inspired to apply to write at Autostraddle based on my little blog’s success and was shocked when they invited me to join the team. Fast forward to this year and I just released my very first book! It all started with the decision to blog for myself in 2013 at the age of 30. I still write “on the side,” meaning I have a day job in organizing and advocacy and writing is my freelance gig. I also still want to get back to my first love, poetry and fiction, but I think I can definitely call myself a capital “w” Writer. I don’t even feel like I’m exaggerating!

Reneice, Writer

Everything in my life changed for the better when I stopped hating my body. It allowed me to make room for self- acceptance and eventually an overwhelming amount of self-love. My confidence increased tenfold, I realized more of my value, and experienced a complete shift in world view. I saw more beauty in myself and others, and started to realize the ways I’d been mislead by society. Releasing body hatred allowed me to feel safer and more present in my body which in turn helped me see myself as a sexual being ( i didn’t before) and eventually truly embrace my sexuality. Shifting from hating to accepting the body that carries me through life was absolutely the most positively impactful change for my mental health i’ve ever experienced. 10/10 would recommend.

Alexis, Contributor

Quitting my job and getting a new one! Like, definitely coming out/going to therapy/etc. are definitely up there but in this moment, quitting my job is one thing I’ve done to actively like. Keep myself here. Coming out and going to therapy like are why I’m still here, quitting my job showed me that I can actually *do* something. Therapy, yeah, technically I was *doing* it and still am, but it takes a long time to reap the benefits of it. Quitting my job was one of the ways I could see how therapy worked. Quitting was the biggest improvement because for at least one anxiety-filled, tear gushing afternoon, I told myself I was worth more than being sexually harassed and did something to make it stop. I’ve always wanted to be the person that could stop something from happening, or at the very least, do as much in my power to care for the person surviving, but it’s been really hard to do that with myself. Like, I volunteered with a resource for abuse survivors, I’ve done a lot of emotional labor for others, and I’m thankful and happy to have done it and still do it, but this was a big improvement because I finally showed myself the same strength and care that I try to give others. Usually, I find reasons to back out and keep myself hanging on, but this time I showed up for myself. And it shows me that I can do that, and I can keep doing that, and it’s already making a huge difference.

Vanessa, Community Editor

I stopped dieting. As a kid, I was taught it was perfectly natural – encouraged, even – to hate my body and work very very very hard to change it, specifically, to make it smaller. By the time I was 21 I had been on various diets for more than a decade. I don’t want to detail them because I hate when people push their diets into public spaces, even to complain about them in the past tense or talk about how great it is not to be doing that anymore, but I will say that the shit I tried out in an effort to shrink my bod was BLEAK and I feel so sad that little 10 year old Vanessa thought the answer to all her life problems could be found through Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig or fucking cabbage soup. Anyhow, a few years ago I moved to Portland and met a lot of hot radical fat queer babes and realized if they were allowed to love themselves, and if I loved them, I could… also love myself? And my body? It was a wild time! Truly before that I didn’t know I was allowed to just… eat food and not hate myself for it?? TRULY LIFE CHANGING I AM NOT BEING HYPERBOLIC. Anyway now I don’t diet and I post a lot of thirst traps of my hot fat body on Instagram and trust me when I say it’s a big improvement for everyone and also, you’re very welcome.

Valerie Anne, Writer

Coming out was obviously a huge one, and becoming a writer was big for me too (it all started with an email I sent to Heather Hogan, one that I wrote and re-wrote for two weeks before sending), but folks already talked about those kinds of things so I’ll pick something more abstract and recent. Over the past few years, but especially this year, I have been slowly but surely embracing the idea that social obligations are a myth. Sure, there’s a base level of human decency, and I like to think I’m a kind-hearted person by nature, but I’ve learned that you’re not a bad friend if you don’t go to the bar on a Saturday night because you don’t feel like going to a bar that day. And it’s okay to not have an excuse. It’s okay to say, “I can’t make it, sorry!’ and stay home. It’s okay to say no. A real friend isn’t going to make you justify your decision, demand to know why you’re declining an invitation. A real friend will understand and not take it personally or hold it against you for years. A real friend doesn’t qualify your friendships based on the amount of random parties you attend. I’ve started saying “no” to more things that I know won’t bring me joy and “yes” to more things I know will, and my quality of life has improved for it.

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, Writer

I hate change. But for someone who hates change, I sure do move a lot. And not just moving between shitty apartments. When I move, I pick up my whole life and start over in a new city. It often comes, unsurprisingly, after a huge shift in my personal life. But my response is always to get the fuck out. I attach memories to physical places strongly and quickly, and if I start to sense bad or otherwise unnerving energy in the physical place I’m in, I flee. This means that over the span of four years, I lived in Ann Arbor, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Brooklyn. Every single time I made the jump, it ended up being a good decision. It’s super scary to move, but I’m always glad when I do it. (I also know that I am privileged enough to have been able to make these kinds of changes — moving is expensive as hell.) A new city allows me to reset, and it turns out I enjoy resetting once every few years. Even when I was young, I chose to go to a high school 40 miles away from where I lived, where no one else from my middle school was going. And I similarly went to an out-of-state college when that time came. I believe I’ll eventually get to a point where I want to be more geographically settled (the frequent moves are pretty contradictory to all other aspects of my personality), but I can already sense another one coming up. If you have the itch to move and the financial capacity to do so, I say go for it. It’s a huge change that can bring along a lot of fear and uncertainty, but it also can open up so many opportunities in all sectors of your life. And if you need a reset, I’ve found there’s no better way.

Rachel Kincaid, Managing Editor

I keep thinking I don’t have an answer to this; in a lot of ways it feels like I’ve been headed in more or less the same direction my whole life, with occasional corrections to swerve back onto that course. I mean I was already competitive about writing the best two-page short story in class in the fifth grade; I’ve been out in one way or another since middle school; I’ve been working with Autostraddle in some capacity since I was about 22. Looking back on it, though, I realize that there was a period where what my life looks like now felt like a distant theory, not practice. There were years where I had multiple jobs and internships in publishing, a corporate desk job, and thought my life trajectory would look like a mid-level publishing industry career and probably a two-bedroom in Somerville. Maybe I’d write books or news articles for Autostraddle in my spare evenings. That feels so far away now that it’s easy to forget it took a horrible year full of hating my job, messy breakups, too much drinking, and the realization that I just couldn’t do that to myself for me to pack up and leave Boston and get started on the path I’m on now. I haven’t worked a traditional full-time job since 2011, and since then writing has been my main focus in life; I’ve been cobbling together a career out of the things I truly love. I think my imagination of my life had been one that was neatly compartmentalized: I would have a “real” job that was legible to my family and had a stable income; I could pursue creative stuff without having to stake anything on it; my personal life and sexual orientation would be things I could disclose or not at my convenience. I could keep everything in my life separate, like food you don’t let touch on a plate. That is… not how things have worked out! But I absolutely made the right choice to give up on those things; having a less traditional career that foregrounds my most important values and experiences (and that is in many ways inextricable from my most important relationships) is such a huge part of who I am now and the most joyous and fulfilling parts of my life. I felt so foolish at 22 for giving up a regular salary and health benefits at the beginning of a recession; I wish I could go back and tell her that while that’s objectively true, it was also the right choice.

Natalie, Writer

For a whole host of reasons — most too self-congratulatory sounding to enumerate here — I found myself in my twenties carrying around the weight of a lot of other people’s expectations. They were always offered in good faith, from people who believed in me and my talent, and because I wanted nothing more than to make folks proud of me, I worked hard to live up to them. Slowly but surely, though, I started to falter under the weight of it all and I was struck by the realization that I couldn’t prioritize everyone else’s dreams and ambitions for me over my own. Of course, that meant figuring out who/what/how I wanted to be and dealing with people’s inevitable, but sometimes unspoken, disappointment, but it was a necessary change. Letting go of other people’s expectations made me whole again — I hadn’t even noticed how much I’d been diminished by all that weight — and allowed me to reclaim ownership of my future.

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  1. I think for me the most life-changing-for-the-better thing that even happened to me was getting my PTSD diagnosis. In my teens, I struggled with depression and anxiety, but a lot of what therapists told me to do didn’t help. There always seemed to be something more there, but I didn’t know what it was. I was re-diagnosed this past October and was surprised when she told me I likely had PTSD from my abusive childhood. Now I’m on the path of working through it and even just knowing what I have makes me feel a lot better–like it’s not that I’m just bad at managing my depression and anxiety, but there was actually this whole big other thing that I didn’t even know needed to be managed and now that I know about it I can deal with it. I can get help. I’m not always doomed to feel awful.

  2. embracing my own instincts.
    for some reason i love to languish in self doubt- i feel criminally stupid and not funny or hot!
    but the reality is that i’ve been a reflection of the shit people i’ve surrounded myself with, and by distrusting my gut in favor of the bs they fed me, i did myself a disservice….in the past 6 months i’ve ended an abusive relationship, gotten financial freedom, and felt the most
    loved / lovable i ever have. i am so much less sad / angry now that i’m doing things that genuinely turn on my heart / soul instead of doing what i’m told. also have started wearing crop tops which i feel is a big deal.

  3. Reneice and Vanessa, thank you for what you say. I would so like to be able to let go of my hatred of my body and size. That others can do this gives me hope I might somehow find a way to do the same myself, even if I don’t know how that works.

  4. A few days before Christmas I quit my job so I can do my freelance assistant job full time! I’m hella excited and it feels so good to be able to have my own schedule, work with people whose values align with my own. It’s so good.

  5. Heather, I am always amazed that you just decided to be a full time writer one day, and then you did! And you are AMAZING at it!

    I am not at all a writer, and thought of people reading what I do write is terrifying, but it’s really inspiring to hear about the change that you decided for yourself, and to have it work out.

    I don’t know about my past changes, but this year I am uprooting my comfortable life and moving to a new city, just because. So I hope sometime in the future I can come back and say that was the change that meant the most. Or not! We’ll see what happens!

  6. i didn’t participate in this roundtable because i only believe in making things worse for myself.

  7. I really appreciated these! Especially those of you who talked about changing into writing. It’s a question I’m asking myself a lot lately. I loved writing growing up, even nearly went to a fancy pants journalism school (turns out, those f*ckers are expensive!).

    But since then I’ve taken some detours and after 8.5 years of teaching, I’m trying to sit back and figure out what I really want to do. And realizing that maybe I never let myself give an honest answer to that question because I limited what I thought was possible, buying into a lot of myths about genius artists driven by a mad passion and suffocating from my own perfectionism instead of thinking, eff it why not me?

    But if I am going to make a change in that direction, I need to work on some thicker skin and dismantling my perfectionism.

    Although I was never snobby about fan fiction – I loved that other people enjoyed writing it – it was never something I did because I didn’t want to write anything bad. I told stories to myself all the time in my head, but if I was going to write it down and share it, obviously it had to be EXCELLENT. But recently after I fell down a deep rabbit hole reading fan fiction, I actually wrote AND shared two myself and they were undoubtedly not truly excellent but I enjoyed writing them and some people enjoyed reading them and instead of the sky falling down it was… fun? I literally sat at my computer and asked out loud “why didn’t anyone ever tell me how much fun this is?” Which is ridiculous, because OF COURSE THEY HAD! But I heard them and thought, “How could it possibly be fun if I’m not GREAT at it?”

    And now I’m like, fool you tell your students every. damn. day. that the only way to get better when you’re bad is PRACTICE. But perfectionism and that genius artist myth man, strong shit.

    SO, don’t know if writing is actually the way I will go, but I’m trying to let myself be honest about what I would like to do and trying to learn not to set my own limits before I even think about beginning. And your sharing was a much needed reminder that it can be done! Cheers!

  8. one time i had an eating disorder and it was a terrible way to spend three years and i decided “this is awful and i miss eating pizza without feeling weird about it” so i decided to NOT have an eating disorder which is UNSURPRISINGLY NOT HOW THAT WORKS and a lot of things got really bad before they got better but i can now truly say that:

    1. normal “eclectic” talk therapy doesn’t work for me

    2. i can just decide to get better

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