Stepping on My Own Feet

My pants are too small.

Some of my pants are too small.

In a size that was falling off me three years ago during another bout of starvation, deprivation and channeling the strength of my eating disorder. A look I’m admittedly wistful for when looking at pictures. A look my best friend called gross. (It’s okay, I love her because she says things like that to me).

Self-worth shouldn’t be in my clothing sizes. I’ve spent the year working out after a few years hiatus from doing so, and actually attempting to eat more than once a day, past 4:00. My Instagram feed is full of body acceptance, love yourself messages mixed in with fitness gurus who do moves I kick myself for not being able to achieve at the same skill level. This is how I try to combat this disorder that has owned my brain for 22 years. By these minimal efforts that still leave me with doubt and dislike for myself. As I dwelled this morning on my new habits likely bringing my body to its natural point; it’s set point as I approach 40 (holy fuck), I realized there hasn’t been one full day in all this time that I’ve liked my reflection. I don’t get dressed and think “I look good.” I find the flaws. The bulges. The parts I believe in my mind people make fun of. I hide the “bad” stuff. Because that’s what this disorder tells you.

I know, I write about this topic all the time. But it’s hitting me hard right now as I find myself in a balance of attempting to accept that this is me. That I have an athletic build and working out emphasizes that. That eating is something most people do throughout the day, without panic. That I may have to go up a size, which shouldn’t matter but I know people can see it. I know people are thinking I’m getting big and wondering if I’ve let myself go. It’s all incredibly exhausting in finding my worth in my appearance. When a habit is ingrained for so long, there’s no other way. You want to see the logic; the path you’re taking and how long you’re going to stay on it. But then I look in a mirror and see how pudgy and unattractive my face looks, how large my legs are and the rationale goes out the window and all I know is I don’t like myself.

I miss the unnaturally sustained gross waif I once was even as unrealistic as that might be. But I also know I wasn’t happy then, either. I still felt too big, too much and like I was taking up too much space. I could still find the flaws in the mirror. I somehow put blinders on to all of the health effects years of abusing my body have caused. Intolerance to certain foods, digestion issues, a metabolism that’s been confused for as long I can remember and that’s not even to say what additional long term effects I will see. Even correcting certain behaviors can’t eliminate what I’ve already subjected myself to. Yet, it doesn’t seem to faze me in considering a dalliance with an old friend. Because all I know is what I see in each mirror, in each reflection, when I look down, when I put on pants… I truly don’t know how to conquer this, I don’t know how to accept what I look like, and while I realize how vain and shallow that makes me sound, it’s still a disease that doesn’t let me remember that enough. An addiction that tells me I need it to be happy, yet, somehow it’s never made me happy.

And as I find myself exhibiting those familiar behaviors and experiencing those difficult thoughts, I battle with the part of me who finds it all so ridiculous. I feel uncomfortable in my own body, like I’m shrouded with an imposter that is too much of me. Yet, I know I should be grateful I’m healthy. I check for rolls when I sit, and I also know that life could be much, much worse. The part of me who hates this tries to combat it with logic and sensibility and the fight between the two can be exhausting. I know all the thoughts people might have when they read of the experiences of someone with this type of disorder. I know they’re not all positive. As I walk toward a mirror in the gym and see how wide I am, I should just be pleased that I can work out and get stronger at the gym. It just doesn’t end up working out where those motivating, self-accepting thoughts win out. I’ve danced this dance before and I keep stepping on my own feet. I’m a terrible dancer.

So here it leaves me. Buying new pants because every morning ends near tears and considering discontinuing working out and definitely scaling back on this whole eating thing. Which, the logical portion of me, that has been louder of late, understands this is just not the right way to handle things. But the me who has always found comfort in finding value in my size just can’t see through the haze that is this dysmorphia. I’d love to use body acceptance hash tags with the confidence and tenacity that others seem to possess. I’d like to believe them. But I don’t. Not enough to feel as though I’ve conquered this. All I can do is keep trying, and I suppose that has to be enough. Revel in having to shop for clothes, even though, I just don’t want to. Know that I’m keeping myself healthier than I have in a long time and my body is trying to reclaim its rightful place and shape. Hopefully, one day, those words won’t ring so hollow as I stare in the mirror and mentally circle what’s wrong. Because right now they feel like lies so I don’t go completely back off the deep end.

Parks and Puppies

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

As another birthday passes, I tend to have high hopes in that this is the year I get my shit together. Sometimes I feel like I have most of it at least contained, but for a good portion of the time, it’s still the same uphill battle. My well-earned façade is great at first glance, yet it masks more than anyone would guess on some days. It’s like shutting a bunch of puppies in a room together. If you’re outside, it’s just a closed door. But inside it’s probably one big mess.

I’ve finally, after 20 years, figured out how to manage my eating disorder. The one that has made me hate myself every day I look in a mirror; throw tantrums over how my pants fit and essentially decimates the rest of the day. It’s exhausting to live in constant dislike for everything you see when you look down. To wage mental abuse for how I’m shaped. I’ve longed for (and had) bones extruding, knowing that’s not my body type. I feel massive guilt if I’ve crossed any food boundaries. Yet, within the last year, I’ve reached a point where I’ve been able to move past some of that. I eat meals, and sometimes I even let myself eat before noon. I’ve learned to be okay with what size I wear and if certain pants don’t fit, to just not wear them. These are huge strides for me that have taken so much work; so much rationalization and constant, unending dedication to preserving my self-worth.

There are trade-offs, though, as none of this is without negotiation with the thoughts that linger. These allowances are all as long as I continue working out. So I’m still striking deals with myself, but they’re healthier than striking the deal to avoid food to make up for any I’ve allowed. Yet I still find times where it would be easier to be waif thin; going against my athletic pre-disposition. Making sure I work out, so I can eat still feels like a compromise with my disorder and at times it’s just exhausting. I don’t just work out to stay “thin” or to eat, I do appreciate how strong it makes me feel and the progress I can see myself make. But the caveats are still there, latent because of how I’m wired.

Despite my affinity for working out and desperation to just accept who I am, I find myself sabotaging it consistently with poor outlets and vices that quiet my brain. These vices tend to negate any hard work or effort I make to stay healthy and be happy with myself and go against the thoughts demonstrated in the above rambling. Therein lies the crazy circle that is my brain. It’s like an amusement park. A really lame one. Where the rides are all broken. Every week I set new goals, or measures of moderation. Every week I slip far away from those intentions and set new goals for the next week. Excuses, rationalization, promises, etc. are all my tools of holding off another week on making those difficult choices to limit myself.

As the above starts to crumble, my depression sets in further, like fish hooks, curving back in which makes them much more difficult to remove. The smallest things trigger my anxiety and dark feelings and it compounds in that same little amusement park. Suddenly it all feels out of control, unsettled, like happiness is too far reaching of a goal and the rollercoaster is stuck at the top and none of us have safety restraints on.

Now, at this age, that usual, familiar cycle is wearing out but beyond that, now I feel like I’m too old to ride this ride. Yet I can’t shut it off and it’s often going too fast to jump off. Even as much as I champion for acceptance of mental illness and struggles, I still lambaste myself for experiencing them at times. Why can’t I get myself under control, why does self-harm have to cross my mind as an option. Will I be 60 years old and experiencing suicidal ideation? I sometimes want to just stomp my feet, and say it’s not fair because I truly don’t know what else to do to manage it.

I certainly don’t intend this to sound self-absorbed or whiny; more in that when I’m struggling, I really struggle. I’ve done such an okay job of managing it and learning the best ways to do so, that if I’m crumbling, it’s been a long time coming. My mental health collapses are now cumulative potentially due to ways I handle it, but also because I’ve learned to be strong through so much, I let less break me until I just don’t have any other idea how to maintain my composure.

This is probably the most selfish thing I’ve written in my blogs; the most juvenile and elementary. But I just want things to be fucking easy and maintain that smooth flow for longer than the blink of an eye. While I understand that things aren’t all bad. I do have positives in my life, things I’m appreciative for and treasure. But mental illness and strife just doesn’t allow you to experience those. You’re too busy surviving invisible monsters who just don’t know how to stay under the bed.

Each time I write one of these darker pieces, I sometimes leave it unresolved. Other times I throw around magic fairy dust and claim I’m going to start living and stop fearing. This one, though, leaves me neutral. I’m admittedly struggling with my age and again, wondering if this is how I’ll continue through life. Stumbling, surviving and managing instead of thriving and enjoying the vibrancy that’s often dulled. What do you do when you feel as though you’re too old to be broken? There are paths I haven’t taken in life I’m starting to realize I may never get to and suddenly I face accepting my story. There’s been so much time spent learning from the last hurdle that the next one is upon me before I get to enjoy walking a road with no interruptions. As I get older I start to wonder if I bartered my happiness and levity in some unknown deal that has been wiped from my memory. That’s extreme, I know. But these are all the only ways I can truly express what goes through my mind during these bouts.

On this one, I really am lost currently. How do I find inner peace and learn to navigate depression and everything else in a way that I am able to find joy again. It’s there in little ways; my kids, a joke, that one moment where I’m okay with me. I’m striving for it to be there without interruption. For it to be easy. I know I can never be too old for any of the issues I face; but I do kind of wish I could “grow out of it.” It’s the part they don’t tell you, or at least broadcast as much. We’re stuck with these brains, and we can do all the work in the world and find progress and really apply therapy the best way possible. But we’re still all wired in that one finite way that certain aspects will find little flexibility and that’s not something we can grow out of. I’m seeking a balance and I desperately hope I find it before I age another year.

Untitled

The air conditioner kicked on, its slight rattle either from her poor installation or just its standard machinery awakening. The air conditioner would only be needed for a few weeks longer. Summer passed like that, by degrees and the reduced layers of clothing; in moments that somehow seemed emphatic when bathed in sun.

Summer was nearly over. She thought about what summer had come to mean, as an adult.

Your days still go on; you’re still following nearly the same schedule. If there are children, you try to find more time for them when it’s available, yet realize too late that you haven’t.

This summer seemed lost to her in a way. A blur of confusion, choices, fear, laughs, reassurance, stress and aimlessness.

She had survived, she had fought, taken a chance. Yet, somewhere along the way, she felt sad.

Sad that she hadn’t done enough. Diminished in her ability to be the parent she wanted to be. Hell. The person she wanted to be. Worried that she had worried too much. Certain she’d continued patterns she’d hopefully outgrown.

At an age where it all felt in the balance. You keep learning as you go, but the more lessons you encounter, the more chances you’re hampered by the weight of experience.

She spun in the chair, where she had sat far too long; yet was too tired to do otherwise. Worn out by her thoughts and her days. Thoughts whirling enough to just bump against each other at this point. Somehow summer’s vigorous energy felt as stunning yet cloying as the chilly air ahead.

For some reason she identified this as a pinnacle summer. No rhyme or reason. No inclinations how that would even be defined. But the same patterns, the same choices had led here. To a point where she wanted to ensure the experience was rewarding.

She knew she could potentially feel that way for the rest of her summers and maybe that was the idea. She wondered if she was missing the point.

Closing her eyes, she thought about what she wanted. She only knew the basics. To love and be loved. To be happy and know kindness. She wanted to know her children knew how important they were even if her skills in showing it were less than fine-tuned.

She wanted habits that haunted her to diminish in their hold; yet wondered sometimes if that’s what her identity stood on. She sought to feel content in a human way instead of constantly dissecting the flaws, real and perceived. Knowledge that it had started to get better because it was supposed to.

The fatigue from this many summers was catching up. Time doing its diligent best to tick down. She found she was focusing on the fears instead of relishing what emotions and experiences can inspire fear. Sometimes they’re not negative; just so your gut knows the difference between wanting to fight or finding flight away from what’s in front of you.

She sighed as she realized she’d always known, there would just come a point where she took ownership of the knowledge. How she could possibly have been missing the story, when she was the story.

Yet it all still made little sense. What seemed like it should be a somehow tangible thought was no more able to be held than the humid air outside.

So here she sat. Wondering how the answers were supposed to come to her when she was too afraid of actually looking for them. Too tired to pursue accomplishment and satisfaction.

Realizing she’d sat out the summer. With no self-pity for doing so; in that she wouldn’t wallow. What remained was what she would take with her to each season that followed.

She stood and opened the door.

 

A View from the Fork

I’m writing and re-writing this opening sentence, as it tends to be the springboard for the streaming rambling of my thoughts. My attempt at proper characterization of emotions is indicative of their actual definition. A gray area, written and re-written. Backspaced and re-typed.

I’m tired. I’ve said it more than people probably want to hear. I’m not entirely sure where it happened along the way. Single parenting, work, life, love; all topics that are nothing or out of the ordinary for really anyone. Yet I’m feeling swallowed whole. Somewhere along the way, I forgot who I wanted to be or at least an attempt to claim it.

I’ve spent my summer deciding to have a clear mind, yet failing. Living the same cycle I’ve lived again and again. Determined to figure out who I am and own it; no second guessing or debating with myself over my significance.

I might have a good day with my kids, but focus on the bad ones. The rough drop offs; the therapy sessions where I uncover emotions I’m proud my kids understand yet defeated in that they face them. Find someone who cares, sabotage it. Whether it be through second guessing or a brick wall around my soul I’ve pieced together somewhere over the last few years. Through my realization that my beautiful empathy has seen better days. Weathered storms that tore my sails and made me dock the boat. I’m defeated; and it sucks, for lack of eloquence in speaking.

I miss my sparkle. My sass that broke through even the most difficult of moments. I’ve referenced my laugh that carries and I know is too loud. It seems to be in a place where I make it loud in nostalgia of when it was there with little effort. A heart I bear on my sleeve, both metaphorically and literally in ink. Yet right now, it seems to be below the surface of my skin, much like the tattoo mentioned in the last sentence.

There’s nothing to pinpoint being wrong, and that creates the biggest struggle. I battle stress I used to thrive on. I have trouble feeling sufficient as a parent; yet my kids are cared for and loved and I work hard to meet their emotional and physical needs. I have someone who cares for me; which I’ve lacked as of the last couple years, yet I pick at the tiniest fissure I can find in an effort to tell myself not to get comfortable. I’m 36 and I still can’t eat freely without wondering how much I’ll gain and how I’ll feel in the morning. I resist wearing what makes me happy in an effort to cover what is currently haunting my comfort level with myself.  I have friends who are real and substantial and matter and I pull away, to hide the immensity with which I battle myself regularly.

I share this often, and now it rings true:

“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ was his response. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.”

I’m staring at this fork in the road, facing my path. Large grinned cat staring at me in the form of my doubt and questioning. My vulnerability to find myself on an unknown path that could mean I find the next phase that will bring me the peace I’ve sought. My acceptance to live one day at a time with whimsy and handle adulthood with one hand tied behind my back. I honestly don’t know what’s down the other path. It feels familiar. Like I’ve taken it before, and just keep following it to come back to the cat again and realize this fork has been my landmark through my life. I just don’t choose the other path.

This isn’t one I end with resolution. One of my more rambling pieces that visualizes what I’m trying to break through. How I’m trying to find my way out of this darker place and live like the person who has put it all out there before. Thrown caution aside and embraced the potential. I’m woeful of my fear because it means I’ve let it win. I’m not the same as I was before. I was much more. Muchier. I’ve lost my muchiness and I look to go the right way to find it and keep it much safer this time.

 

Body Shame

I tore the pants off and threw them to the floor. Atop the other traitors. The pile that had already demonstrated my failure. Shown me that I’d never be okay with me. I struggled with the shirt around my midsection, tugging it away from the rolls I could see; the unsightly bulges I couldn’t hide or avoid. Nothing fit right, nothing made me feel like I was okay.

I’m honestly not sure the more difficult part of having an eating disorder. Actually being in the midst of it or getting through the recovered portion. The point when your body is out of control; your habits unrefined. No one looking at you would believe you that you’d much rather be waif-like; sickly. When you’re supposed to be “okay” and when the voices telling you every bite is a pound should technically be quieted to a level that’s not so distracting.

I feel like having an eating disorder makes me insensitive. Not intentionally; but in a way where I know I can’t ever truly admit to others how much I want to break every mirror; because those perceived complaints could be offensive to someone who struggles with their own weight. Callous in that the world has much bigger problems than how much I weigh. That the amount of time I spend with thoughts of my size taking over the world could be better spent on so much more. But I have no way to just shut it off. Make it go away. I’m not even going to delve too deep into the psychological aspects of it; but I can touch on the pure and utter self-hatred it inspires within me. The lack of control sends my mind reeling with how much better I could be doing. In the true foothold of the disordered thinking; this carries over to non-weight issues. If I’m no good at staying small, presentable, fragile even; am I good at being a decent person? Have I made other mistakes in how I’ve made it through the world? Do I have the ability to find enough pride in everything else that I can brush aside that fact I fear sitting when I’m feeling especially unsightly because I can’t handle how my stomach feels sticking over my pants.

I know. You could possibly be shaking your head at me. Rolling your eyes at my vanity. But there’s no vanity in purging. There’s no vanity in standing in front of a mirror and knowing the outline of your body will never match what others can follow with their own eyes. There’s no true perception of what’s there because I know that if my pants fit, I’m not doing the right things at all. Because baggy pants; too big and hanging from my hips is what means they’re wearable. If they fit, the sensation of the skin hugging the fabric is reminds me of my presence in its entire form. I can be just as uncomfortable in size 0 as I can in a 14 because I’ve been both of those sizes over the last 20 years. And each one in between.

I notice even the slightest fluctuation in my weight. Whether simply a food baby to an actual result of too much cake and beer (dinner of winners). Did that new vitamin I started taking make me gain weight? I should look into that and see… Did that flavored water the other night change my physiology and create puffiness? I should stop drinking that. How much did I eat yesterday? Did I miss a point where I ate more than I intended? Speaking of beer, that’s a lot of calories. That’s all what can go through my mind in a 30 second window.

But again the standard, stereotypical “I’m fat,” whines; the “my stomach is so big” complaints all seem so tasteless when to me they carry so much more weight than your average fat day. I struggle with not appreciating that I even have a body and just not being able to love the one I have, no matter what I do. No matter how many positive mantras I repeat; personal pep talks and perspective; deep breaths and looking again, they all come up against the wall of my sub-conscious. Reminding me of how thin I was six months previous. Or reminding me of when I was much larger and letting me know I’m headed right back that way. Those pants that used to fit. That shirt that wasn’t always quite so snug. Every morning of getting dressed and putting on something I haven’t worn in a while. The punch to the gut when the button doesn’t quite meet when conversely last time; they needed a belt. And to top it all off, none of this is evident to an outside observer; acquaintance, friend, etc. The one saving grace of this quietly screaming illness.

I see others who can easily and casually eat regular meals; like it’s natural. Easy. That it’s just obvious to them to do so. When breakfast terrifies me, because once I’ve failed that early; I feel set back in self-control. Lunch sounds great at times, but I just can’t do it.

It’s not only exhausting; it’s embarrassing. I’m a 35 year old woman. With good things in my life. Yet this just doesn’t seem to get better or to a point that I can relax. I’m not even “overweight” by society standards. I should like me. I’m not perfect, I’m certainly not saying that. I had enough concern with the previous statements that they would seem cocky or obnoxious. I certainly don’t see myself as better than anyone. Therein lies a component of the issue in that I struggle to find myself parallel. Being underweight is what I’ve been good at. How I’ve succeeded at an impossible goal; kept things in control. My outer fragility echoed some of how I felt deep down in a place I keep at bay.

I’m not even sure I can truly convey what I’m trying to express here. Just a glimpse of something that I know others struggle with in a variety of ways. That being human is sometimes so daunting; I wonder if I’ve just let myself be too fragile. That if I share it; I’ll see some message in what I’m trying to make known. That someday I’d like the half of my mind that fights me to come to a compromise with the half trying to fight back. I’m mostly normal; happy when I can be and as whole as a human is going to be. I just have this ongoing additional hurdle that blocks my path. I surpass it to be a functioning member of society; but I wonder how long I’ll have to keep moving it out of my way, only to have it show up again. And again.