Category Archives: depression

Pretty

momdadfionaThe sunset was pretty tonight.  It’s always pretty to me.  Halloween night, the sky was patterned with spotty white clouds, one perfectly like the next.  Tonight, there was a tinge of yellow and pink on the horizon.  Nothing spectacular, but enough to remind me of one of the perks of being alive.

I was told twice this weekend I was pretty.  I’m not sure if that amounts to a hill of beans, but it’s always something I “had”, at least since I stopped being an overweight pre-teen.

I’m fairly sure half of my readers just gave up on this post; I wouldn’t blame them, for thinking I’m vain.  I am.  I can be.  I think we all can be, at least most of us.

My father always talked about sunsets.  And so the sunset made me think of him, which made me think of time.  Because it’s almost been a year since he died.  And how time can strip you of many things – people, energy, health, looks.  Time is frightening.  Pressing, like a weight on your chest until there isn’t space anymore.

I find it frightening that I once was 15 and could operate on six hours of sleep with no problem, and now it’s twenty years later and sciatica is a common word in my vocabulary.  I find it frightening that I once had a tiny five pounder, and now I have a three year old who acts twenty-five and regularly asks me what words “In Spanish” are.  I find it frightening that a year ago, my father existed, as emaciated and twisted as he appeared at the end, and now…he just doesn’t.

Eating disorders are a good distraction from the real issues at hand.  Want to avoid your feelings?  Eat only raw vegetables and protein during the day for prolonged periods of time.  Want to forget that you’re a living breathing human being who will one day, too, stop breathing and stop existing?  Fixate on the fact that you’re becoming less pretty.  It’s a nice “smoke and mirrors” to the friend who you’ve lost from your life, or the brother that just won’t get well.

That’s where I’ve been lately.  Pulling at my jeans because I have gained weight, and I’d rather focus on that than on the fact my Dad’s been dead for a year.  Looking at my growing-out hair, and grimacing, because it makes me look old and fat.  Rather than think about the fact that some of the friends I had in my life last year aren’t here now.

Change: it’s a real ball breaker.

Don’t get me wrong; I love the compliments.  But it always gets my disordered brain thinking, “what if I wasn’t?  Would they still like me?  Would they pay as much attention to me?  What will happen when I’m old, saggy and grey?  Will I ever be able to let go of this attachment of self-worth to appearance?”

I’m sure this all sounds remarkably self-involved; I don’t know what to say.  Parts of me aren’t pretty on the inside.  It’s just the way it is.

“Mama, Will I Take Pills Too When I Grow Up?”

prozacThe complexities of raising a child when you have a mental illness

Every morning, my daughter and I have breakfast together.  It’s imperative to me that she has it every day; studies have touted the multiple benefits of having breakfast.  Plus, she’s honestly Linda Blair from the Exorcist when she doesn’t have it.  That’s an added incentive.

I either have oatmeal or cereal mixed with yogurt; she often has cereal, fruit, and yogurt.  She drinks milk and I drink my coffee, just with cream.  And beside my coffee lay my two magnesium pills (for my migraines) and my tab and a half of Prozac.

We are not a house who hides things.  We burp loud and have loud emotions and make big mistakes and both the parents and kid say sorry in our house.  We also don’t hide the fact that Mommy takes two different kinds of pills in the morning: one for her muscle health, and one for her brain health.

The learning process started slowly.  My daughter first noticed the black and white pills on the table, and exclaimed as any three-year old would, “Me have!”  I then proceeded to educate her that she cannot just pick up any pill and take it; that these were for adults, and if kids had to take them, adults would inform them what and when.

She then asked, “What dat do?”

“One helps Mama to have less headaches.  The other helps Mama’s brain to work well.”

This was followed by a few days, where on the playground, or after nap time, my daughter would trot up to me and ask, “Where is my brain?”  And I’d point to her head, and she’d remember, and trot off.

I was fully confident in the way I was handling things until a few days ago, when bleary-eyed, I turned to my daughter at breakfast, and she asked quizzically,

“When I’m an adult, I will take pills?”

I wanted to choke on my cereal.

In the sentence she uttered, I felt the judgment of a million anti-medication people yelling at me, thinking I’ve set my kid up for a life of drug addiction.  I felt the despair of a mother who, having her own mental health struggles, was worried she was raising a child who had to be on medication to be happy.  I felt the uncertainty of my daughter, who knew that these “pills” held some importance, and, was it something desirable?  Something to be scared of?

I knew this wasn’t true; that one day, she’d have the cognitive ability to wrap her mind around the fact that I’d made a healthy decision for myself, but for now, it stung.

Even in today’s somewhat-enlightened society, being a mother on medication is not something you yell from the rooftops.  There are the types who believe that everything can be solved through the chiropractor and through organic, gluten-free food, but that is simply not true.  And those types feel free to pass judgment on those who actually have experience with mental illness.  There are cases, cases like me in which the person feels suicidal unless they are on the correct dosage of medication.

More power to the people who can solve their depressive episodes with a change in exercise routine.  I cannot.  More power to the people who can take away their anxiety by practicing mindfulness skills.  I cannot.  People like me are wired differently, perhaps by biological makeup, or perhaps by early trauma.  There is nothing worse about us.  We haven’t tried less or made less of an effort.

I mean, perhaps I wouldn’t experience depression or anxiety if I didn’t work full-time as a therapist and mother, and didn’t owe thousands of dollars in student loans.  My life simply doesn’t afford me time to spend at a Zen Buddhist retreat for weeks on end.

So what do I want my daughter to know?  When she’s grown and ready to handle this information?

I want her to know her Mama spent years trying to self-medicate her depression and anxiety through alcohol and numbing eating behaviors, and that during that period, her cholesterol went up and her blood pressure reached dangerously low levels.  I want her to know she tried exercise as a form of endorphin release, but that it ended up becoming obsessive.  I want her to know that once Mama took those prescribed-by-a-doctor pills, she was able to stop screaming and she was able to be a good Mama.  I want her to know that her Mama finally realized her therapist was right about it being ok to rely on something to feel like she wanted to live on this planet.  I want her to know her Mama chose life, and not being a martyr, and not suffering.  And I want her to know it’s ok to rely on something, if need be, too.  That it wouldn’t be something she did wrong; it would be an act of bravery to admit she needed help.

Most importantly, I want her to know:

Just because Mama takes pills, doesn’t mean you’re going to.

And that’s what I told her uncertain, quizzical face that morning.

“No, your brain works great.  You might not ever need pills honey.  Mama’s brain just works a little different.”

And at that, she grinned and burped loudly.

 

I Just Don’t Think It’s That Simple

Today it was painful to be alive.  Every fiber of my being was uncomfortable; I couldn’t stand the weight of my body today.  It hung on me.  I felt it in my jeans and felt every bite in my stomach.  If you think I’m being dramatic, I’m not; this is how I experience things sometimes, as someone in recovery from an eating disorder.   Ask someone else you know who’s in recovery from one.

I have days like this.  Bad days.  Days when I envision myself swinging into a binge cycle again.  Days when I envision swinging into a restrictive cycle as a result of the aforementioned binge cycle.  And I went into recovery ten (!!) years ago.  Sad and destructive?  Hardly.  Realistic, I think.  Given the other comorbid diagnoses I’ve dealt with.

I’ve talked about the “once you’ve recovered, you’ve recovered!” camp for a long time.  The people who claimed they had a “lightbulb” moment and never turned back, never put their body down again, never consulted with ED once more.  OK, being a bit (a bit) more humble now, I’ll bite (no pun intended): I bet there are a select few who’ve had this experience.  Perhaps the same amount who’ve married someone they’ve never fought with, or who had a mind-numbing spiritual experience and never craved a drink again.  But for most of us bozos on the bus, I just don’t think it’s that simple.

(Speaking of that, I really wanted to drink today.  But I didn’t.  Whoop de frickin da.)

For most of us, we wake up and don’t have time to meditate for twenty perfect minutes, and no, we weren’t going to wake up twenty minutes earlier, because we were up tossing and turning/up with our kids and needed that extra 20.  For most of us, we’re shot out of a cannon when our kid peels our eyelids open with their fingers/when our cat meows in our face.  We then head downstairs to find cat puke right in front of the bathroom doorway, and in between reaching for the bathroom cleaner, silently bemoan the fact that we still owe 25,000 in student loans and will never be able to afford a house – now, now we are judging ourselves for not being mindful and worrying senselessly, and our daughter is yelling for the TV to be turned on, that ever-destructive-causer-of-doom TV, and we’re reminding her to use her manners.  And that’s only the first 5 minutes.

That is how most of us go through our day.  Well, you’ll have to excuse me.  That’s how I go through it; I can’t speak for all of you.

That’s why, when I hear people speak of “never turning back” on recovery and being “free of ED”, I am skeptical.  Did never turning back account for those six weeks post-birth when you couldn’t exercise because your body was healing and your mind when nuts because of it?  No, it didn’t.  And did being “free of ED” chide you relentlessly when you decided to restrict your eating when your father died because it was the only way you could cope?  Yes, it did, because wasn’t I supposed to do this recovery thing perfectly?  And here I was, nine years in, having a small relapse?

Being perfect at recovery doesn’t work for me because being perfect was the essence of my life-killing eating disorder.

It’s important that I can screw up at this thing, and know that it’s still ok.  That it doesn’t mean this time I lose my job because I’m too weak; that it just means I go to more meetings and therapy.  I think, unfortunately, this is a chronic disease, and that’s not marketable in the field of recovery.  It’s not marketable to say, “You’re going to deal with a little of this for the rest of your life.”  But that’s how addiction is.  You have to keep an eye on it.  It’s always in wait.

And keeping an eye on myself everyday?  Is that a tedious thing?  No, it’s actually a beautiful, heartbreaking and staggering undertaking that has only served to better me as a person.  I’ve heard people in self-help meetings claim they are grateful for their addiction, and I jive with that.  The things I’ve discovered about myself due to this journey.  And, I think it’s really healthy and humble when one can name all the parts of themselves.  The addict, the fighter, the daughter, the singer, the crier, the writer.  To dismiss one part of yourself, even a dark part, would be doing a disservice to yourself.

Don’t get me wrong; I hope to God I wake up tomorrow and magically have the hypomanic get-up-and-go that I usually have; I hope I go for a run and get those wonderful ol’ endorphins rushing.  I wish I could have someone else’s brain.  But I don’t.  I have an eating disorder and I can’t drink and I have depression.  The grace in all of this, the marker that tells me that I’m growing, is that I now know this too shall pass.  I didn’t always know that.  And that’s a gift that didn’t magically appear to me one day.  It came to me after years of hard work on myself that really wasn’t all that simple.

The Real Issue At Hand

I’ve been struggling lately.

(UGH, that sucks to say…)

Not like, using full-out behaviors struggling, but having eating disordered thoughts popping back in my head.  And when they do, my wise mind quizzically says, “huh?” and pushes them away, at least for the time being.  That’s the cool thing about working so hard on my recovery – having old thoughts doesn’t  mean they become old behaviors.

Eating disorders are just a distraction from the real issues at hand.  For me, they’re a way of “numbing out” or dissociating from current emotions because they’re simply too hard.  And if you have strong emotions, like me – it’s deceptively helpful, because who wants to live with sky-high and below-ground emotions 24/7?

In an attempt to not slip back into old thoughts, I’m going to tackle one of the issues at hand.

Yesterday, Father’s Day put me in a really bad mood.  And I felt really fucking guilty about it, because I have another Dad to celebrate now – my daughter’s father.  But I couldn’t get out of it and here’s what I’m guessing was the cause:

My Dad’s health.

My Dad is 83.  He was born three months before the Great Depression.  Up until two years or so ago, my father was unstoppable.  He lived 5 lives before he even met my mother, flying airplanes in the Air Force, schmoozing with celebrities as an actor, teaching classes and co-opening his own theatre.

And then old age struck.

But it wasn’t just physical health – in fact, the emotional health fell away first.  He stopped working, started getting depressed, and then his physical health began to fail.  He needed to use a cane.  He needed to use a walker.  And then he needed to use a wheelchair.

Not to mention the fact that the stuttering which he struggled with as a kid mysteriously came back about 8 months or so ago.  So basically, he can’t talk.

Or hear well, or see well.  He has hearing aids in both ears and has macular degeneration.

My mother takes care of him, and also takes care of my daughter two days a week.  One of those days, she brings my father with her, and he lights up at anything my lady does, but it’s a production just getting him in the house.

So, you’re thinking, I must be torn apart.  And I am, on one level.  But let me give you a little history.

My father is from a totally different generation.  The kind that thinks mental illness doesn’t exist, or maybe that it’s a choice.  So he’s had trouble understanding or even acknowledging what I’ve been through at times, and denies any depression on his part.  I jokingly remind him that I’m licensed to diagnose him, but he dismisses it.

And let’s just say he wasn’t given the best upbringing emotionally.  So, he and I were never particularly emotionally close.  Maybe it was because I clung to my mother in the early years and he took it personally.  Or maybe it was because we were too alike and clashed during my teenage years (We are so alike.  Stubborn as anything, intelligent, independent, ambitious, curious.).  Either way, the “Daddy’s girl” thing always eluded me.  I’m not putting him or I or our relationship down – it just wasn’t us.

So, now that his health isn’t great and it’s obvious that he probably doesn’t have 30 years left to spare, I’m left thinking I should feel something different, or do more.  I’m sad – it’s fucking inhumane to watch your parent decompensate like that.  And I feel bad on a daily basis that I can’t do more because I have my own family.  I feel bad for my mother.  But I also have about two minutes to spare on a daily basis, and when I do, I try to take care of myself.

It always comes back to that issue – that I’m not doing enough.

My partner likes to remind me that I have, however.  He likes to remind me that I’ve made my amends to my father for past transgressions, and I’ve set up VA services for them, and  made calls to the Council on Aging to look for any services they could utilize.

I don’t know.

It just sucks, and this is the work I have to do, writing about it and talking about it, instead of  distracting myself with useless thoughts and behaviors.  And I usually don’t do it out of fear of insulting some family member, but I’m sick of living my life for others, and I think everyone would agree with what I’ve written anyway.

Have you ever had to deal with the loss of a parent in one way or another?  How did you healthily cope with it?  Did you ever catch yourself numbing out?

Media Mondays: Does Body Acceptance Mean An Unhealthy Lifestyle?

So my friend sent me this article because she thought I might have something to say about it.  (Me?  Never.)  And I did.  So, here’s the link –

Real Women…?

So this lady’s argument is that there’s this common theme today of saying “real women” are only size 14, with curves, and that thin or healthy women get shit on in regards to being “real”. If you scroll down, she tells you that she was one of the overweight women in the second set of pics, and then she became a bodybuilder.  Can I tell you something?  I agree with ONE of her points.  And that is:

There has been a backlash against slender people since the body-acceptance movement.  It’s true.  I bet most naturally-tiny people have felt discriminated against at times, with the boatloads of body acceptance size 14 memes floating around the internet.  The truth is, all women who don’t have botox and don’t photoshop their pics have “real” bodies.

But I don’t agree with the rest of the article.  And here’s why.

1.  One thing that bothers me is the name-calling.  Lady, how ’bout you don’t shame people by telling them they have “shitty” eating habits.

2.  She’s using her story in the wrong way.  This gal apparently lost like 50 lbs or so.  OK, good for you, I was overweight as a kid too and lost it (albeit through unhealthy ways.)  Just because I am society’s standard of “normal” doesn’t mean you see me taking the “real women” movement personally.  I’m confident enough to know I have a real body, a body that is just as real as those size 14-ers.  It’s like a white person crying because black people have their own equality organizations.

3.  I’m sorry, but if you’re a bodybuilder, I’m guessing you use extreme measures to maintain your appearance.

4.  WHAT ABOUT DEPRESSION?  This lady makes losing weight/getting healthy seem supremely easy.  And you know what?  It is, for some.  But others have to battle co-existing illness like depression and anxiety which compound the ability to lose it.  You don’t have a choice when you have depression; it’s a disease and you have symptoms that prevent you from making choices.

5.  And oh yeah, there’s class status.  Not everyone is white and middle class and is able to shop at Whole Foods!

6.  And lastly, God.  Lady, I am guessing when people say “God gave me this body”, they mean their genetics/biology.  And guess what?  That does have an impact.  I’m never going to be Anna Kendrick-sized, but I’m also not ever going to be Geena Davis sized.  Science does, in fact, happen!

Bottom line:  I just hate that women like this get 47,000 likes on an article of this quality, which is basically a shot to get money and publicity through emotional manipulation.  And my little blog just plods along…albeit happily…

(and if you’re wondering the answer to my title, it’s this…)

grumpycat

Blissful Body Fridays: How Being A Kid = Loving Your Body

Me, before I cared.
Me, before I cared.

In case you didn’t know, Good ol’ New England is having a heat wave; the temps are expected to hit 93 before the end of today.  So naturally, I went to Revere Beach this morning with my 17 month old daughter.  It was 85 degrees by 9 in the morning.  Crazy.

I grew up overhearing tales of the old Revere Beach from my mother; she regaled us with stories of cotton candy and vomit-inducing roller coaster rides with her cousin.  It’s nothing like it used to be; it used to be a resort area filled with amusements and fast food.  Now, after a couple of conspiracy-story fires that were set, it’s just quiet.  Which is fine.

I camped out right where the dry sand met the wet, mushy stuff.  My daughter wanted nothing to do with the cold, rolling waves, but loved the sand.  So she literally bathed in it.  While I was leaning over to make a sandturtle, she had dumped a pile of sand on her head.  A thick layer of sand coated her scalp.  I groaned inwardly, but laughed to myself.  Because the best thing that’s ever been taught to me was by my daughter – the art of letting go.  The art of getting messy and not caring what things look like.

Before I had her, I would spend 20 minutes on my eye makeup.  I would have long pedicures at home and just curl my hair for fun sometimes.  Now, I don’t have time for that stuff.  Which sucks, sometimes, but it’s great, in another way.

Why?

When you are eating a mud pie and smooshing it all over your face, you don’t care if your blue veins are showing through your pale Irish skin.  You’re having fun and marvelling at the fabulousness of having mud pie ALL OVER YOUR FACE.  When you’re throwing sand in the wind, you don’t pay attention to the cellulite on your thighs because you’re jumping in big, funny lunges to avoid getting sand in your eyes.  And when you’re picking up shells, you’re not caring about your untoned tummy, because you are collecting little magical treasures, one at a time.

Don’t get me wrong.  I still have control problems; you’d probably all laugh at my nighttime routine, which is OCD-esque and consists of this strange “sweep-the-entire-house-feed-the-cats-change-their-litterbox” routine.  But spending time has done wonders for my body image; I use my body in way more fun ways now than I ever did.

Do you remember that time?  Before you hit puberty and all hell broke loose?  When you made soup in the ground with sticks and leaves?  When you rode bikes just as fast as the neighborhood boys?  When girls were equal to boys and just as capable?

It’s still there.

You can still have it now.

Have a blissful Friday.

 

Hi, My Name is Amanda, and I’m…Different.

normalIf nothing else, the following is true for me –

“Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.”

– Anonymous

*******

What I’m about to say goes against all advice given in any self-help meeting, but it’s how I feel, damnit.

I have often felt different than most, not a part of, less than.

Not always.  Sometimes, I feel on top of the world, totally present, and I love everything in my life.  And sometimes, I feel just like every other “bozo on the bus”, another nameless face in the crowd, which is honestly ok.  But often, I feel…different.

Why?

Well, let’s pick apart the seventy different kinds of recovery I’m in.  I can’t diet, I can’t drink in safety (in the words of Biggie, if you don’t know, now you know) and my therapist has diagnosed me with depression (that requires medication) and some trauma stuff for a long time now.  Let’s say this:  if you were a clinician, and you saw my rap sheet, you might wince a bit and say, “Jeez.”  You might expect me to be doin’ a lot worse than I am now.

Cause I am doing pretty damn well for the “stuff” I have.  I got my master’s degree, am successful in a field where I can turn my misery into someone else’s avoidance of said misery, and  have a family of my own.  I am fairly high-functioning; I am lucky.  Or resilient.

But there’s something funny about high-functioning anything-ers: they can slip more easily between the cracks.  They, in turn, can feel more different, because they mingle with the “normies” of society.  At work functions, at family parties, at friend’s BBQs.  They can be around people who drink or diet or binge or don’t experience the glory of mood swings, but it doesn’t make it any less hard.  In fact, it can be a particular kind of hard because they’re often the sole “different kid” in a group of “normies”.

So that’s why I feel different.

Self-help groups tell you to identify as just another worker among workers, which helps sometimes.  I’ll often use this example: I have a friend who is allergic to basically any kind of food.  So, I try to remind myself, “Wow.  She must feel the same way – like everyone is staring at her when she orders her food.  Maybe she feels different than, too.”

(And I do realize there is no normal.  And I do realize everybody’s got their thing.)

But I do think it can seem overwhelming to an individual when they realize –

“Hey!  I need an everything-anonymous!”

Fun.

How do YOU feel different?  Is there something that sets you apart from the crowd?