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.

Life –

 

the letter

 

What are you doing with your dash?

If you know me, you assume I mean that completely inappropriately.

But this time I don’t. A good friend helped me see the side of this thought. Good friends are your heart. Your saving grace. Your life jacket.

Your dash is the point between the beginning and the end. It’s what you see on a gravestone. Birth to death.  The date you were born to the day you reached your end point. No one likes to talk about that end point.

Death. It’s so heavy. Somber. Scary. But it’s a fact of life. Sometimes it comes early. Other times it’s late, which is quite subjective based on what we want. It’s surprising, selfish, peaceful, chaotic, and so many more adjectives than we can express or come up with words for. It inspires grief, which is a monster in itself. Pain, hurt, closure, completion.

As someone who battles depression and is fairly open about it, death is a factor in thoughts that make you want to shake its hand. Is that selfish, completely. But it’s inexplicably and painfully something that crosses the lost person’s mind.

As someone who fights and conquers life’s darker moments, I’m ready to share something I’ve alluded to. Something I’ve touched on. A piece that has been the larger half of my puzzle.

When you need saving, you look to those who have either lost the battle, this time out of perspective or additionally you seek those who want you to be here.

I’m going to share a letter from someone who just couldn’t find those moments of peace. Those life jackets. Someone I loved deeply. Who was troubled and conflicted and made mistakes.

This letter hangs with me. It stops my own choices of selfishness. Whoever loves me going forward will have to accept this as a part of me. But this is a part of my dash. This supplements my story. It saves me.

The image included is an actual picture of what I’m about to share. It’s raw. It definitely happened. I’m sharing this because we’re all human. Very few loved ones of suicide victims get this. Very few. But I did. And I’m sharing it. Openly. Finally.

 

“Jessica,

I’m not really sure where to begin. I’ve been wondering what to say to someone who has not only given my life purpose, a family and meaning… As I write this, I go back to memories of us, of our first date, of the late night “conversations” and it’s good. It makes me smile, and more than a little sad that I won’t be there for you in the years to come. You deserve to be happy and have someone by your side, but it won’t be me. I’ve struggled to fix my life for the last two years, and have contemplated, many times, on “checking out.” I’ve done well to hide it from everyone, but you always seemed to pick it up, when I was in one of my more pensive moods. That said, you have been the one constant that has kept me from acting on it until now. You and the kids showed me what it was like to have a family and made it easier for me to forget the past for a time. I will always love you and those boys for giving me that. Both the memories and feelings of a true family. The reason I left, the reason I’m no longer here is because I can’t get past the past. With my ex, my job, losing everything. I’ve said to you I don’t feel as though I had a purpose, which was only partly true. I lost something after the divorce, after another leaving me. Hope. Trust. A reason for being. Respect for myself or others. To this day I feel listless. Lost and can’t truly imagine a future beyond tomorrow. I used to wake up every day and feel nothing but heartache and despair. It’s what made me drink, smoke too much, lie to you and everyone else I knew. I’ve come to realize I’m living just to live. I plan, scheme, and view everything with a singular thought, myself. It’s no way to live. You are the one bright, trustworthy and unselfish part of me that still exists, and I hope that despise all of my flaws, that I was a good influence in your life as well as the boys. I love you so much, love them so much, it makes me cry to know what you will go through. I want you to know, you were always enough. You were always there for me. Stood by me, by us and for that I am forever grateful. In the end I was just to broken to fix.

I love you, Jessica, forever and always. Maybe one day we’ll see each other again. Take care of yourself and those boys and damn it, woman, you better eat!

Also, I found that shirt you were looking for, the blue sweatshirt. I’m holding it now, and god help me, it smells like you. I’m going to miss seeing your smiling face in the morning. Hugging you, catching your scent as you walk by. I’m glad I have this shirt and photos of you to look at as I drift off. It brings me peace.

I want you to have my tablet and accessories. I know it’s not much, but it’s all I have left to give. I only wish I’d had more…

I love you, hun. Please forgive me.

Fred.”

 

And his dash ended there. It was a part of mine. It always will be. It shapes me. It saves me.  I’m sharing as much to honor the pain there, as much as to show how it can feel to be in that place. It happens to so many of us. I was his saving grace until I no longer could be. We find our purpose and either hang on to it or we let it pass us by.

We’re all human. Strange beings who are just trying to find the happiness.

We have to make the in between whatever we can, while we can.

 

Fight or Fight

This was originally an essay I wrote for an online community for moms with depression. It hasn’t been published yet, so I wanted to put it here, with a new intro. As like my other writing, it’s unapologetically raw and honest.

A dear friend said something to me very recently that rang very true and was the most understanding and accepting I think anyone’s been in a long time.

“Honestly, I don’t know how you keep going every day. You just keep getting hit with one fucktastic things after another. It’s unreal and and I totally get why you’d be suicidal. Are the boys the only thing keeping you alive?”

Here’s an old answer for a common question.

My kids have saved my life. I’m a single mom who has faced a hellacious year; hell, tumultuous lifetime. Sometimes due to circumstances, other times due to poor choices. All while grappling with an ongoing 20 year battle with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and addictive behavior. I can’t truly pinpoint the moment I knew I could crack from the inside out. There are memories of my downfall, and rise back up. On repeat. I know the crippling internal paralysis of a panic attack while attempting to present the right image of a professional, mother, friend; whoever is required in that situation. Drawing hash marks on a note pad to diffuse my brain or counting backwards from 10, so my kids can’t see the monster on my shoulder.
The moments of darkness inhibiting my vision of how to act properly while feeling the crushing weight of depression on my chest. Being embarrassed for what is merely an acknowledgement of the faults in a non-perfect being. Not knowing how to explain whether this suicide note was real this time or merely an outlet of feelings to prevent getting that dark.
Outwardly and most of the time I am a chipper, happy and friendly person. I can find positives in the situations of anyone in my life, guide them through to a more peaceful state of mind. Locate the reflection that will lead them to their silver lining. I often wonder if I’m so good at that, because that’s the only way I know how. I certainly don’t always do the same for myself; I at times am merely living to accomplish the present without thinking of why or how. Just doing.

I don’t remember what’s saved me before my kids. But I know now, that even in my darkest moments, I can’t leave them with that legacy. I can’t resist fighting. Clawing my way from the bottom; even if only to get knocked back down to starting position. Again, and again. I do fight for myself as well, but ultimately, fighting for them is fighting for me. They are a part of me. Blood to me. I brought them into this world knowing what they might face. Knowing what I face. If I lose all other parts of who I am for a moment, I’m still their guide. I’m have to see them through and be here until it’s my time. Not by my choice, but the way it’s meant to happen.

I’ve cut, starved, binged, purged, drank, overspent, had emotionless flings with ease. I’ve been there most times without anyone even knowing. Hiding. Keeping my place behind the wall seen; living in the alley behind. I’ll never hide my life from my kids when they’re old enough. Those parts of my life aren’t badges of honor, but I don’t regret where I’ve been and what I’ve done. Those hash marks on the paper, the literal scars fading over time built me. They’re my story. It’s merely been my responsibility to get to the next chapter. That’s how I move forward, keep climbing back up; smiling the entire way. I’ll always be a fighter. I want my kids to know judgment should never easily be passed. Every person’s story is theirs to keep close to their chest or share with whoever likes a good story. And just because you don’t like that book doesn’t mean you shouldn’t understand that others do.

I fear for their emotional health. What they will end up with genetically and environmentally. There’s still so much to understand about our brains and our bodies; even on the surface. Grasping an in-depth and thorough understanding is not something I’ll see in my lifetime. On the flip side, I don’t want them to fear the world. To worry that what they’re feeling is wrong and also realize that how others feel can affect them and shape their outcomes.

And the darkest thoughts; what if I have to save my child’s life someday. If my recognition of very familiar signs puts me into fight mode; tooth and nail to get them help either saving them or never being able to do enough. That’s a situation of failure I can’t handle envisioning; but I have to if I’m logical about life and cognizant of how difficult simply feeling in control of ourselves can be. I like to hope that by being open to the possibility of anything can put me in a position to be there completely. If I see my child fall down to the bottom, I’ll do more than throw them rope. I’ll jump down there and show them how to climb back to the top. Doing my damndest to show them the way far from that edge.

In the hearts of men.

I don’t know anyone in Newtown. I’d never heard the town name before Friday. But I know moms and dads and how our hearts feel about our children. I know that I’m struggling to understand the tragedy that has happened. Again. Too often. And while every shooting, every death is heartbreaking and senseless, there’s something about losing classrooms full of first graders that is making me not be able to think about this without completely crumbling inside. My son is only three years younger than some of the victims. I unfortunately imagine him, in a classroom, terrified and I fight the urge to build a panic room and live in it forever. I read the victim’s names and recounts of the day and the tears well up again and again.

I won’t talk gun control. I don’t feel I’m educated enough on either side to offer valid opinions. But I want to talk about something I feel will be mentioned but not addressed. Because as I think of those victims, I also think of the family of Adam Lanza. They’ll live forever knowing what he did and wondering why. Wondering if they, as his blood relatives, should have been able to see this coming and if they somehow failed him. Mental illness continues to remain a stigma, a parodied, misunderstood condition that affects so many and yet never seems a reality to those not suffering. When I see pictures of the shooter, I don’t even see a man, I see a boy. A haunted, possibly ill boy who looks emaciated and as the mother of boys, his face and his actions haunt me nearly as much as the suffering of his victims. I am in no way defending what he did. His decisions were heinous and deplorable. I know how (guns), but I want to know why. We’ll never get the answers, but if we continue to ignore mental illness, questionable behavior and the severity of emotions any one person can be experiencing, this can only be the worst of all trends we could ever see.

Some shooters have been bullied and I feel that schools, adults and parents have made steps (albeit, minimal in my opinion) to rectify the torture school children endure at the hands of their classmates. But mental illness, whether it’s depression or bipolar, autism or anxiety, are widely laughed off. They’re not tangible. You can’t see the suffering, so they’re not real. Maybe the person is making it up. But they’re very much fact.

Through my teen years and into adulthood, I’ve personally dealt with merciless bullying, severe depression, anxiety, anorexia, bulimia, self harm and most recently, postpartum depression following the birth of both of my sons. I’ve fought through; I’ve fallen down and gotten back up. Sometimes with my own strength and sometimes with the support of others.  While I could never imagine turning on anyone with any form of violence, I still to this day wince inside when I think about the bullying and hate that part of them that turned their insecurities and their cruelty on me. I know when I’m feeling emotions that may cause an eating disorder relapse and I stop them. I know my depression signs and can let others know it’s coming. While in the past, I would consider and did harm myself, I’m far too much of a bleeding heart to think of hurting another person. It’s unfathomable to me to consider the act of it. But I know the pain and the hurt and the confusion that you deal with when your brain just isn’t working the way society is telling you it should. It’s like being in a maze that has a dead end at every turn. You just turn in circles and go left and right and every time you run into a wall. It’s maddening. You scream silently for help, but in most cases you don’t feel you deserve the actual attention you’d receive if you spoke loudly enough for someone to take heed.

Our brains are so very confusing and there’s much we don’t know about them. There’s science upon science about our behaviors but there’s never any true way to know why one neuron may fire and another may not or who this might happen to. And there’s enough evil in the world to cause our fragile minds to process life in such different ways. PTSD from sexual abuse that may lead to eating disorders, mania and anxiety. Bipolar disorder purely from the genetic card dealt.  I recently read an article that detailed scientific evidence regarding our digestive system and its direct tie to our mental state. Our enteric nervous system, which is what lines our gut is so complex and influential that scientists refer to it as a second brain. The serotonin being produced there can directly affect our reactions and our stomachs. If our digestive system can be so complicated, I can’t even imagine what is going on in our brains.

My experience and knowledge of mental hurdles makes me afraid for my kids. Not only in sending them to school not knowing how safe they are, but also in what they may come up against emotionally. Will they be too ashamed to tell me if they’re feeling emotions that scare them or make them act irrationally? I tell myself I would notice if their behavior is amiss, but I fear in the fast-paced world, I might overlook a warning sign as just “being a kid thing” or that they’re just having a bad day. If they’re being bullied and don’t know how to tell me or their dad, I hope they reach out. I hope they tell someone, but I know fear of payback may scare them into painful complacency and mounting, confusing feelings. And if I’ve somehow failed them and they bully someone else, I hope someone tells me. When it comes to bullying and mental illness, we can educate our children, hang posters in schools and count on teachers, with their limited resources, to try and address any concerning behavior. But despite the video series, It Gets Better, I want to keep the secret from my kids that sometimes it doesn’t  Even as adults, we come up against bullies and confusion and mental anguish, it just happens. It hurts now, just as it did then. As parents we need to be the strong ones who power through and while we show weakness, also show our children how we deal with those weaknesses and come out on the other side. This means trying to understand each other, addressing the issues that are hitting our children, like mental illness. Not starting internet fights about gun control or whose fault this is. We owe it to our future to stop sweeping some issues under the rug because we’re not comfortable with them or we don’t understand them.

I want to stress again that my heart hurts for the families of the victims and I wish there was a way to step in and change time so that this never happened. The shooter’s mother may hold some responsibility in exposing an obviously fragile, potentially calculating (possibly even sociopathic, I’m not discounting that) to a stockpile of weapons. Weapons no person needs in their home. (Off that soapbox, quickly).  I question how so many of these people get to the point that we lose innocent lives at their hands. Are they shrinking violets, wallflowers who isolate as they calculate? It’s unfortunate I don’t know more details and am obviously making grand speculations, but I’m struggling to cope with this and the fear in my heart of this world.

There’s a story making the internet rounds about a popular high school boy who saw another boy struggling with a large pile of school books and instead of ignoring him, he helps him. This forms a strong friendship that grows over their years together in high school and the boy with the books goes from being alone and sometimes made fun of to having a wide circle of friends. As they graduate together, this boy, as the valedictorian talks in his speech about the day he was heading home to kill himself. Suffering from depression and feeling alone, he wanted to end it, and had chosen to clean out his locker and take everything home so his mom wouldn’t have to do it. And then a stranger had taken time out to go to him and see that he needed help and reached out. He saved his life.  I’m sure I could internet search or debunk this story with Snopes, but I’m not going to. Because this is how I hope and wish for society to be. Instead of laughing and pointing at the boy with the pile of books, help him.