It’s pretty much a given at this point that this blog has become a place for me to air my personal experiences as a way for myself, and sometimes others, to grow and learn. I’m not the best at keeping up with it regularly and tend to only put fingers to keyboard when the universe moves me but through word of mouth as well as recognitions, I do believe my words can, will, and do help people. That’s why I put myself out there, so to speak, to let people know they’re not alone, that they aren’t the only people going through these experiences.
I know it seems like I’m rambling, but stick with me. I’m doubling down even harder on being open and vulnerable. We’re gonna get real personal, real fast, but I promise there is a larger point to be made than simply discussing my personal life.
Outside of judging, it’s been a very rough year for me. Towards the end of last year, financial stumbling blocks and an unforeseen living situation began the snowball effect of thrashing my mental health. At 29 years old, I had never expected to go back to living with my parents. Once I left for college at 18, I hadn’t really ever come back to reside there for long periods of time. But the transmission died in my old car, I was forced to buy a new one, and not two days after moving to a new place and my car dying, my living situation became untenable and I had to attempt to find somewhere to live, so back ‘home’ it was.
I… don’t have the healthiest relationship with my mother. There’s love there, but when we share the same living space it doesn’t really show up. Most of the tension comes from the mental image she has of what she wants her daughter to be, and at the time a 29-year-old living at home who hated her job and resented being treated as if she was still a teenager didn’t really fit the mold. We bickered, we fought, there was yelling and tears occasionally, but at the end we would mend things as well as we could and move on.
My step-father was another thing entirely. To be frank, he resents me and having come from a generation where he walked onto a job site with only a high school diploma and landed a job that let him advance, he simply didn’t understand why I had come home. Whereas my mother and I bickered, my step-father and I clashed. He is very much used to always getting his way and is steeped in traditional familial roles. Essentially, women should be seen and not heard. That’s not a game I play and it got to the point where I would avoid him for the sake of my mom; there was more than one occasion she got between us for fear of where his anger would lead.
Things came to a head early one morning when he woke me from a dead sleep, bellowing about the latest thing I had done that he couldn’t stand. While he was several rooms away from me, I could hear every word and this time his anger and reaction were so intense, I was scared for my life. I scrambled out of bed, barricaded my dresser against the door and hoped against hope he wouldn’t go for the gun that was in his closet. It was the most terrifying three hours of my life, because even after my mother calmed him down enough for him to go to work, I didn’t move for fearing of him coming back.
That ended up being the final straw for me. Mom didn’t want me to leave but once I laid it out for her in terms she understood, she agreed that maybe I should leave.
“Mom, if I was dating a man who acted the way dad did this morning, you would tell me to leave him.”
It was March at this point and while I had some money saved up, I didn’t make enough to live on my own in my area so I put a call out on social media to see if anyone had a place to lend. I got one answer that would mean a much longer commute to work however once I got a look at the room (and the two lovable dogs I’d get to share my space with) I had to say yes. I think that ended up being the first step on towards my sanctuary.
While I was now in a much safer place, I still felt adrift. You wouldn’t know it from interactions with me while judging, but the anxiety monsters were strong and my perception of myself was probably at the lowest point of my life. It was very much starting to feel like everything I did was going to end up as a failure.
Enter GP Pittsburgh and Meg Baum and Megan Linscott.
Now this event happened shortly before I left home but some of the interactions I had at this GP, with Meg in particular, stuck with me. It was starting to become a running gag about which Meg you were referring to as we started to get staffed more and more on the same events.
“Which one, the one with dark hair?”
“The one who smiles a lot?”
“The one with the glasses!”
“You mean Megan Linscott?”
We had a bonding session over some of these interactions and it sparked a friendship. Towards the end of the day on Sunday, Meg got an ‘Ah ha!’ look on her face and told me to wait there while she ran off somewhere. A few minutes later she walks over with another female judge.
“Meg, this is Megan! I think we should take a selfie together!”
Thus a tradition was born.
As the months progressed, my new living conditions helped me start my inner healing process.
But I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without the support of Meg and Megan. It may seem like such a small thing, but bonding over names (which is partially due to the small percentage of women judges in the program) led to kindred spirits.
And it didn’t stop with events! It became a running joke that bled into social media, to the point where Jeff Higgins commented about us not having our own chat. Not five minutes later I found myself in a chat with five other female judges: Meg Baum, Megan Linscott, Megan Hanson, Megan Holden, and Brogan King (who was dubbed an honorary Meg). While I didn’t know the other Megans that well, I felt an instant sense of welcome.
Not to mention hilarity when I changed the chat name.
It could’ve just ended up being a short lived gag; it has instead become a bastion of support and a sounding board for concerns, both judge related and otherwise. Just knowing it is there in case I need to rant or if I want to share a rough judging experience or to send cute pictures of fluffy animals has led to a huge improvement on my mental and emotional well-being. I think it was the last step I needed to really start healing from the trauma of fleeing home and the self-loathing I felt as having failed in my personal and professional life.
Fast forward a few months to now and I am happier than I have been in a very long time, possibly ever. A large part of this was taking the leap of leaving teaching but I believe it is more so the connections I have made in the Judge Program that have helped me recover. I now chat with at least one of the ladies in the chat every day, when before I would be anxious to send any message for fear of being an annoyance. This casual acceptance that people are okay talking with me has spread to communications with other judges and friends as well and it has helped to beat back the anxiety monsters who lie to me and tell me that I have no friends and no one likes me. Don’t get me wrong, I still have my bad days but they are less severe than before.
I certainly wasn’t the only one making use of the chat either. We all rejoiced in that ability to communicate and feel validated or to help coordinate projects and idea.
I know this feels very much like I was just talking about my experiences to garner sympathy, but that is far from the point. I listed my experiences in order to better illustrate a point: find your sanctuary in the program, in your living space, in life. Having a space you can flee to, whether actually fleeing or going off on a tirade to welcoming ears, is integral to your success and happiness.
In the Program, outside of the mentor/mentee process, I went on my own for a long time. I was raised in a way that viewed asking for help as weakness. I think it hurt me in the long term and I now firmly believe that if I had had a place like the Meg chat when I started out, I would been in a better place in judging and in life.
The term safe spaces seems to get thrown around with derision most often in our current climate, but it’s a term for a reason. Form one that can go with you, and even when you’re standing on your own feet, you can know you have the support of those who care and who want your success as much as you do. It’s invigorating, empowering, intoxicating, and it helps you believe that can do anything.
Speaking of accepting places, I had another motive to sharing my story. I’ve recently become involved with a project I’m really passionate about. The Collected Company Mentorship Project came about from the desire to empower and connect female judges to help them achieve their potential in the program. Check it out!