A Life, Replotted: On Tearing Down Walls

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chelsea henderson for wardrobe oxygen

A few weeks ago, my introverted 11-year old announced with great pride, “Mom, yesterday I really pushed myself outside my comfort zone.”

“Really?” I responded, shocked as much by his announcement as his semantics. (We don’t use phrases like comfort zone in our house.) He proceeded to tell me he participated in a singing contest with a group of his peers, and how in the process, discovered he not only that he likes singing but also that he’s “pretty good at it.”

His experience stuck with me. While I made some dramatic professional moves in the last few years, I continue to default to deeply rooted bad habits in the everyday management of my life. For example, I hate to admit when I don’t know how to do something. Whether figuring out where the Senate floor is located or how to pitch an agent, I’m not good at asking for directions. Instead, I figure out through careful observation how to tackle a new-to-me task, learning from example.

Similarly, I have a hard time asking for help. I just manage, usually with the stress knotting my insides into a tight little ball. I don’t know where this reluctance stems from, as I have a supportive network of family and friends. But I’m the queen of “everything’s fine” even when my current situation is far from it. I don’t like to admit when I’m struggling.

If you know me IRL, you may have noticed that if you ask how I am (or how the book is or how my dating life is) I provide an answer but then change topics before we can get to how I’m feeling about the situation. I might say my agent has submitted my manuscript to ten publishers, but not all of them have responded to us yet but what I leave out is I feel despondent over the prospects of getting published and wonder whether I actually have any talent. I might admit dating in your 40s sucks and go on to describe my recent online experience, but what I leave out is I’m afraid I’m going to be single for the rest of my life.

The crazy part of this realization is that I write a personal blog where I detail intimate life experiences (last month’s Wardrobe Oxygen column being a prime example) but honestly I’m not so great on expressing the accompanying feelings. While I’ve been accused of over sharing, I recount occurrences, often embarrassing ones, but don’t know how to share the sentiment behind them.

I’m working on letting myself be vulnerable, whether it’s by asking for help, admitting my shortcomings or sharing my emotions. I want to let the feelings in instead of shoving them aside. My son has inspired me, except I’m not looking to perform a song in front of my friends. He had to steel his courage, but I want to chip away the armor.

chelsea hendersonChelsea Henderson is an aspiring novelist and recovering Capitol Hill staffer. When she isn’t sneaking time to finish writing her second book, she advocates on behalf of clean energy and environmental policy, reads, practices yoga, and single parents her perpetually hungry pre-teen boys. She also periodically contributes to her lifestyle blog, the Chelsea Chronicles and is intermittently good at Twitter.


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  1. Chelsea – and Alison – you hit on an interesting dichotomy, that of over sharing, but using it as a wall. In my struggles with food, I’ve learned that I feel All the Feelings when I don’t eat them. That alone is a huge step, feeling them. Naming them, both to ourselves, and then out loud, even to trusted, safe relationships, is another thing entirely. Lately, I’ve shied from that process, and hidden behind tactile things. This realization of yours is massive. Use it well. Xo

    1. It’s a powerful discovery… I often tell my stories for comedic effect but each time I do, I’m placing one more brick on the wall to shield me from feeling the true emotions behind the story.

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