Love: You First

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I’m fifteen, standing on a scale.  I’m at the house of the two little girls I babysit at the end of every summer, but they’re absorbed in play, prancing around their My Little Ponies, so I take a moment to escape. I’ve ducked into the master bathroom so I can weigh myself.  Just as I do every day, multiple times a day.

I’ve gained three more pounds.  That’s it, I think.  I will not let this number increase.  I decide to skip eating for the rest of the day.  My body doesn’t deserve calories.

—–

I’m sixteen, staring into the mirror, analyzing every inch of my face and finding fault with all of it.  My cheeks are too plump.  My eyes are too small and my lips are too thin.  I’m generic, forgettable.  I wish I were more exotic looking, beautiful in the way the models that grace the covers of magazines at the grocery store are.  I want darker hair.  Greener eyes.  Fuller lips.  I’m not enough.

—–

I’m seventeen, driving home from a sleepover where my friends and I, despite being seniors in high school, spent the night giggling and bingeing on Doritos with sour cream and frosting straight out of the can while watching our favorite movie, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton.  I feel a little sick and my stomach bulges out uncomfortably.  I am fat.  I feel miserable.  The rest of my day is ruined as I am consumed with thoughts on how to fix myself.

—–

I am in the bathroom of our favorite Mexican restaurant, emptying the contents of my stomach.  I feel guilty and ashamed and terrified that someone will walk in and discover my secret.

—–

 

It’s hard to share this.  As I type this, the feelings come back–raw and real.  I’m that teenage girl again, full of self-hatred as I analyze myself through the lens of what I didn’t realize was Body Dysmorphic Disorder–an incredibly common affliction among women (and men).  I never, ever thought I could like myself–much less love myself.

But I do.

I never thought I could be satisfied with who I am–my flaws and foibles, my strengths and weaknesses, my talents (or lack thereof).

But I can honestly say that I am.  And I am so proud of that.

As of this moment, I can truly say that I like myself.  I like who I am, I like the way I look, I like the direction my life is heading.  I’m okay with my stretch marks and wrinkly stomach skin.  I’m okay that my now-deflated breasts are past their glory days.  I love my hair and my eyes.  I spent years comparing myself to other women, anguished that I didn’t look like them, wasn’t as beautiful as they are.  But–as trite as it sounds–I don’t need to be look like someone else to be pretty.  I am me, and that is enough.

My transformation from self-loathing to self-love wasn’t swift.  It didn’t happen over the course of a couple months or even a couple years. It took a while.  Of course I still have insecurities–it’s part of being human.  But I can finally be alone with myself and not feel like I’m abiding with the enemy.

We’ve all heard that you can’t really love anyone else until you love yourself.  Maybe it’s because when you are dissatisfied with yourself,  your love comes from a place of insecurity, of need–the need for someone to complete you, to validate you.  The need to be saved.  And that’s a heavy burden to place on someone else.

Or maybe you put up walls, protecting yourself, never allowing yourself to be really open or vulnerable.  You can’t give your whole self to someone else–after all, if you can find all of these inadequacies, how could someone else possibly overlook them?  How could anyone else really love you?

But when you can be completely comfortable on your own, and like what you see in the mirror, you’re in a place where you can let someone else in.  Let’s be real–vulnerability is hard no matter how self-assured you are.  It’s scary, terrifying even–but also necessary if you want to form deeper connections.

And interestingly, I’ve found that only after I decided to just accept myself as I am, right now–not thinner or stronger or smarter or more disciplined–only after I could do that could I start to make lasting changes.

And sometimes, I’ve found, you don’t need to change at all.

 

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The Spectrum

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“So how was this week for you?”

“It was…surprisingly good.  I’ve actually been feeling really normal for the last few weeks.”

“Define ‘normal’.”

“Well…not, you know, crazy.”

“And what is ‘crazy’?”

 

Therapists.  Always with the questions.

 

Crazy, meaning manic cleaning sprees and compulsive decluttering (RIP, toys and clothes that I found on the floor in my mad dash to toss anything superfluous), and that overwhelming feeling that my space does not feel ‘right’ and that chair needs to go.  Right now.  I have to throw it away.  There are too many pillows on the couch.  I need them gone.  There’s a plate in the sink WHY IS THERE A PLATE IN THE SINK WHY IS EVERYTHING FALLING APART THE HOUSE IS A MESS I CAN’T TAKE IT

That kind of crazy.

Crazy, like the rootless anger surging just below the surface, searching eagerly for an outlet.  Crazy, like the lighting-quick switch flip that takes me from semi-rational to out-of-control rage, as though some cruel demon has decided to take my body for a spin.  Crazy fists pounding, broken glass.

Crazy.  Pacing the same quick path around the apartment, my mind stuck in a mad monologue that keeps going going going without reprieve.  Crazy, when every sudden movement or sound makes my body tense; when everything seems so loud and someone is talking to me but the words are just filling my head, making no sense, and I can’t remember how to answer.

Crazy–reading the harsh judgment in every gaze I meet, flooding my mind with the invented criticism of others.  My heart beats faster and I go on the defensive, encasing myself in walls because everybody is bitches* today.  Paranoia, convinced that my neighbor thinks I’m a negligent mother and is going to call CPS because one of my children is crying.

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And then there’s the other side.  The endless tears with no source but the bleakness that has permeated my mind.  The numb, blind staring–mind unable to cope, body unable to move.  The heaviness, the utter bodily weariness, yet the dread of sleep because the thought of a new day is too much to bear.  The kind of days when the slightest request feels like an impossible demand, and being asked to find a shoe or push a swing can reduce me to tears.  Eating on autopilot, mindlessly munching not because there is any hope of filling the void, but because it’s something to do and doing things is so hard right now.  Knowing how pathetic, how teen-angst all of this sounds on paper, yet feeling so hopelessly lost that it doesn’t matter.

The isolation, feeling lonely so lonely and wishing hoping praying for something, someone, to come and relieve me of this despair. But God is not a genie, apparently, for no midnight caller appears to bring comfort.

And yet, in spite of all that, those days (weeks, months?) of ‘normal’–sad but not immobilized, angry but not out of control–those times when you get to step off the ride and just cruise along for a while…

Those times are glorious.

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*’Everybody is bitches’ is my favorite phrase for those days when I just can’t stand to be around people.  It amuses me when little else will.  I want to put it on a t-shirt.

 

——-

What is your ‘crazy’?

Sometimes Starting Over Just Sucks

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[Just so you know–bleaching and dying blue streaks into your hair should definitely be a two-person job. After all the work I put in I was supremely disappointed to see that only a few faded bits of blue showed up.  I’m going to try again another night when I have several hours to kill.]

I think I should start seeing another therapist.

The thing is, I have seen 6 or 7 therapists over the past few years, and none of them for more than a couple of months, max.  There were a couple I “fired”, but most of the time I ended up moving away before we could really get into anything helpful.

The thought of finding someone new, of having to tell my stories again, to re-explain everything and get us to a point where I feel like he/she knows where I’m coming from so we can actually start…the thought of doing all that again is exhausting.

It’s the same thing with making friends.  After 14 moves, I am just tired of starting over.  Tired of the weeks or months of “get to know you” small talk you have to wade through in order to even start to connect with someone.  Tired of making really great friends and then leaving them behind.

I hear the saccharine refrain of “Bloom where you’re planted!” echoing cheerily in my head, and I want to snap back, I’m tired of blooming!  I just want to keep my roots to myself and hang out in this pot.  Is that okay?  Can I just do that?  Do I have to make a rainbow out of every damn rainstorm that comes my way??

I probably should have given up pessimism for Lent.

 

——-

Does anyone else just want to do this all day, every day sometimes?   😉

 

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I Feel Weird Today

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I woke up feeling weird today.

Wrong, off.

This tightness in my shoulders–I press down to release it but it lingers.

This feeling in my stomach–the discomfort, it only grows.

Everything is a little too much right now.  I want to hide, to retreat to my cave, to numb myself and pass the day in nothingness, holding to the hope that tomorrow will be different.

To write these thoughts, it feels melodramatic–like the lyrics I penned on the edges of my notes as an angsty, attention-seeking teen.

Things aren’t really that bad–just uncomfortable.  And like any good 21st century American, I am an expert at avoiding discomfort and not at all good at abiding it.

I cannot hide.

After a quarter-century here, I know this.

But it is so

so

appealing.

 

 

 

So This is Anxiety

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I’m lying there, tucked in bed, soft pillow, eyes open.  The exhaustion that led me to collapse here is gone, evaporated, replaced by a palpable heartbeat—fast, hard–and that now-familiar mixture of nausea and nervousness roiling in my stomach.

 

Boxes are unpacked, the house is not yet in order.  Things aren’t right–too loud, too bright, too much stuff.  There’s stuff, needless stuff, in my space, and I need it gone.  I need to purge, need to throw things away.  I want to get rid of everything.

“Heather, we need the extra carseats.  We can keep them in the closet or something.”

“No!  I don’t want them, we don’t need them, we have to get them out, they’re taking up too much space, I want it empty, throw them away…”

I’m crying.

 

I said something thoughtless a few days ago, and now it’s all I think about.  I know, in that small, logical part of my brain, that’s he’s likely forgotten it, but it plagues me every waking and sleeping moment.  I obsess about it for three full days, replaying the moment over and over in my mind and sliding deeper into the abyss of guilt and regret until I can’t take it anymore.  I have to get it out.  I confront him and apologize.  He doesn’t even remember the occurrence.

 

I’m driving on the freeway; I hate the freeway so much.  My kids are talking but I don’t hear them because there is a semi next to me, why is he driving next to me?  I’m going to hit him.  I’m going to veer into him, and I’m terrified.  I feel boxed in, he needs to move, we’re going to crash, I speed up to the sound of my fast, heavy, uneven breathing, and pass him.  Then I collapse into sobs.

 

My neighbor confronts me, we’ve been too loud.  The boys have been slamming the doors and it’s disturbing her.  She’s nice, but obviously irritated.  I smile and nod and apologize and promise to make things right.  She goes back inside and I feel sick.  I’ve never taken criticism well, and it hangs over me like a dark, thick, cloud for the next few days.  I lie awake at night and feel ill, replaying her words over and over in my mind.  I’m 25 years old and yet I still can’t stand to be censured, and in my mind I imagine how much our neighbors hate us and what they must think of me, and it gets worse and worse until it’s all I think about.

 

I wake up and feel immediately that everything is wrong.  The sound of my sweet boys talking is too loud and too sharp and it sets me on edge.  I clench and unclench my hands while I pace the house, my breath coming faster and faster, matching my frantic steps.  My bra is too tight, my pants are touching my legs in a way that grates on my senses.  A piece of hair touches my face and I think I might scream.

 

I walk into the kitchen and there is a plate in the sink and crumbs on the counter.  Things are out of place. Everything is dirty; always dirty.  Nothing is clean, nothing is right.  I won’t be okay until the messes are gone.

 

I’m sitting in the dark.  My whole body feels tight and strange, and I’m trying to control the quickly-increasing rate of my sharp, heavy, inhalations.  A small, warm body jumps onto the bed and crawls into my lap.  It starts to purr and the heaviness, the warmth, the lulling sound is comforting. Someone is there.  I feel a little better.

 

When wine and benzos (not together!) aren’t an option, a cat is a pretty close second.

 

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——

Disclaimer:  Mom, everything is fine.

 

🙂

 

 

8 Things I’ve Learned on My Intuitive Eating Journey

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1.  Perfection is a myth.  Tonight we had pizza and I wasn’t hungry at all but I was super cranky and irritable and pissed about everything…so I ended up trying to numb my feelings with 5 pieces of pizza.  Every time I think I’m past this, it happens again.  I may never fully overcome it, but it happens much less frequently than it used to, and that is how I measure progress.

2.  How not to respond to a binge or overeating episode: Taking a bunch of laxatives or other medication, going on a 2-hour run, swearing to all deities that you will not eat a single thing for the rest of the week, going on a liquid fast, mentally berating yourself and wondering when you are ever going to get your shit together.

3.  How to respond to a binge or overeating episode: Don’t freak out.  Seriously.  Acknowledge that it happened, acknowledge that you are sickeningly full and miserable and in pain–and realize that you will feel better tomorrow.  I try to go to sleep as soon as I can (as many of my binges happen at night), because by now I know that nothing is going to help the awful sickness pass but time.

4.  Food can be comfort, love, and an emotional painkiller.  Finding something to replace it is really hard.

5.  Talking about it helps.  Hiding your shame and pain and feeling like a worthless excuse for a human being with no self-control does not.  You need support.*  Find someone–a counselor, a friend, a family member, or an online support group–that you can talk to when you’re feeling shitty and all you want to do is eat your way into of a vat of chocolate frosting.

6.  You are not the only one.  You are not the only one who has ever eaten an entire pizza or package of Oreos by yourself.  You are not the only one who has pulled food back out of the trash and eaten it because you were like a (wo)man possessed and could not think of anything else.  You are not the only one who struggles.

7.  It is not about a lack of willpower.  You are not a weak person who just needs to suck it up and work harder.  You are someone who is dealing with something that others who toss “eat less, move more” at you may not understand.

8.  It gets better.  It can.  It does.  It will.

I promise.

——

*I am not qualified in any way to offer advice or counsel, but if you need someone to talk to and be on your team, I am always here.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year–and I’m Ruining It for Everyone

I love the end of the year.

Autumn (when you don’t live in Arizona, at least) always feels like a delicious preview of the upcoming season.  I love the sweaters and the hoodies and the cold cheeks and the scarves.  I love the wool socks (I have never actually owned a pair but I recently appropriated my husband’s and they are fantastic) and the hot baths and the switch from iced to burn-your-tastebuds coffee.  I love sipping anything from a mug as I pretend to contemplate the mysteries of the universe.

I love decking the hell out of the halls by draping every window and entrance in christmas lights, and I love being the first one to wake up so I can plug them all in and bask in their comforting glow.

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super hi-qual photo of our rather mangy-looking christmas tree. you can see a heavy distribution of ornaments right about the level that two preschoolers can reach.

I look forward to this last stretch, packed with festivity and wintry comforts, all year long.

And this year, I might just miss the whole thing.

Due to a lack of foresight and general on-the-ball-ness on my part (note to all: get your damn prescriptions filled WELL BEFORE they run out), I have been slowly deteriorating from certified functioning adult to weepy, irritable, anxiety-ridden mess that is pretty much the antithesis of all things Christmas and cheer.

I have been miserable, you guys.  And unfortunately, due to my utter lack of believable acting skills, I have been making my misery so apparent as to ruin every family function I attend.  (My deepest apologies to all who have had to share space with me the last few weeks.)

I went with family (my little nuclear + some extended) to see the Zoo Lights the other night.  It was magical.  Thousands of beautiful light displays, Christmas music, merriment and mingling…there was even a giant talking giraffe that my boys regarded with equal parts fascination and terror.  (note to self: add threats about possible future visitations from the aforementioned terrifying giraffe into discipline repertoire.)

Any other time (under the proper medication), I would have loved it.  That time, however…let’s just say I was not up to par.

We went on a Wednesday night, hoping to avoid the weekend crowds, but there were PEOPLE. EVERYWHERE.  Everyone was milling about in a festive sort of chaos, and I froze.  Standing in the midst of the laughing, chatty multitude, surrounded by flashing lights and the shouts of parents chasing after children, I could feel myself withdrawing, shutting down.

Too loud. Too much noise.

Anxiety unfurling, stretching itself out in my chest.

So many people.  Rushing past, bumping into me please don’t touch me. Other people I’m supposed to be paying attention to, interacting with, at least walking in pace with.  Go catch up to them, dammit!  They already think you’re avoiding them.

Arms folding tightly, head bowing slightly.  Walking a little faster.

All the noise, filling up my head.  I can’t think.  I can’t focus. Someone just asked me a question. Pay attention. What? 

“Oh, nothing.  I’m fine.”  Tight smile.  What is wrong with you? Stop acting so ungrateful!  You can do better than this!  “The lights. They’re…so beautiful, right?  Must’ve taken forever to put them up.”  Attempt a laugh.  “Heh heh…heh.”  Shit. I’m terrible at this.  

Over the foggy din in my head I recognize that my mom is asking me about our Christmas plans.  Where do we want to do Sunday dinner?  Christmas Eve dinner?  Christmas dinner?  When can we pick up the boys’ presents?  Are we going to spend the night for Christmas or just come over the next morning?

The questions are floating around in my head, expanding and crowding it, bouncing off of each other and I can’t make sense of any of them.  The inability to make decisions is a lovely side-effect of anxiety (recent experiences include the time I spent a paralyzed 30 minutes in the soup aisle at Target agonizing over the ramifications of picking one of two nearly identical cans of tomato soup.  TOMATO SOUP, PEOPLE.)

“Can…can I get back to you on that?”  Can’t think.  Family dinner, Christmas plans?  Too many factors to consider.  Why do I have to make this decision? I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know.  I wish I wasn’t here.  They’re giving me those looks and asking if I’m okay and why can’t I just suck it up and act normally for the family?

Anxiety is a bitch, man.

And it turns me into a bitch.  I start hating everyone and everything; the slightest noises or accidental touches become unforgivable offenses to my very person.  This makes me very difficult to be around.  And lucky for all of us, I’ve been an absolute beast this entire holiday season.

Of course everything was fine.  We all enjoyed the night and got home safely.  Children were put to bed and drinks were made (at the urging of my husband.  In a pinch, alcohol can be marvelous for anxiety).  I chilled out enough to be functional and we endured watched all 87 minutes (commercial-free!) of Psych: the Musical.

When I was lamenting my ruination of the Zoo Lights experience to a friend the next day, she told me exactly what I needed to hear.

“Don’t freak out about it.  Sometimes, you’re going to have a hard time, and you’re going to feel anxious and shitty and it’s okay.  It’s just okay.  Your family loves you and they’ll understand and forgive you.”

I thought about it.  I suppose being an asocial ass sometimes isn’t the end of the world.

I guess it really is…just okay.

And I guess my family really is eager for me to get back on my meds, if the gentle and frequent reminders to “make that doctor’s appointment so you can get your prescription!” are any indication.

———-

If you made it through that novella I’d love to hear your stories.  Has anxiety ever ruined any holidays for you?  Do you find yourself putting off making important appointments for no logical reason?  Have you ever used the authority of an imaginary character to threaten your child(ren) into obedience?

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