Category Archives: mental health

Why I Stopped Trying to Have Another Child

IMG_9846
Time to rest.

Last night, for the 414th time, I heard it again:

The unintentionally-offensive-you’re-lucky-you-only-have-one-kid remark.

You know the kind.  It also comes in the form of, “Is she your only?” and “only children are so lonely and spoiled” and “I would never do that to a child, have them be the only.”

This time, instead of a meltdown, it was nothing a knowing grimace from my husband couldn’t fix.  This time, instead of letting it stab me like a knife, it was a momentary wince and I moved on.   I watched my daughter trot from house to house, collecting candy gleefully.

*****

Today, I was thinking about how much I’ve had to fight.

First, I thought about how much I’ve fought to have a second child.  I tried for two years.  My husband and I tried having sex every other day, at points.  We got pregnant – to have it end in miscarriage, and to have a D&C I had to fight for because it was a holiday and no one wanted to stay late at the hospital.  I paid $1600 for acupuncture that wasn’t covered by health insurance, took herbs and stopped running.  A family member paid $500 for a failed IUI that wasn’t covered by health insurance, and since we don’t have 7,000 extra to spare, an IVF or even extra IUI’s were out of the question.

Second, I thought about how much I’ve fought in my life thus far.

In early school years, I fought to understand why the students at school hated me because of my weight, and I fought to understand why I was being touched by a classmate inappropriately in the fourth grade and why no one was doing anything about it, even though I told them.   I fought to understand why drug paraphernalia was in my house at a young age.   I fought to understand why people wouldn’t just leave me alone as I became smaller and smaller, since it solved everything anyway.

I fought harder still in college to understand why I couldn’t drink like everyone else, why guy friends had to carry me home after I insulted or hit one of them.  I fought to understand why my father refused to accept that I had an eating disorder, as a social worker confronted him in treatment.  I fought to educate family members, close ones, that I needed to eat at certain times during the day right out of treatment, and that I just wasn’t trying to be a nuisance to older family members.  I fought to stay sober, one day at a time, and fought to make family members understand that my sober anniversaries were actually a big deal and something I wanted to be recognized for.

I unsuccessfully fought to have extended family members unconditionally love me after I spoke my truth about our family, and fought to have in-laws see me as something more than “that antisocial girl who’s too serious”.  I fought to understand how the bomb near the finish line my husband stepped on somehow didn’t detonate during the Boston Bombing.  I fought to get my dad’s brain researched after he died, just like he wanted, packing ice around his head.  I fought back snarling insults as I felt others’ judgment about choosing to live with my mother and bipolar brother.  I fought tooth and nail to climb in my chosen career, only to live paycheck to paycheck.  I fought for my marriage in couples therapy as it floundered.

So yes, I guess you could say I’m tired of fighting.

And I’m good with fighting anymore, for anything else, including a child.

In fact, I’m all set.

If you want me, come and get me.

*****

I’m gonna go ahead and liken infertility to a regular old loss.  It doesn’t hurt any less as the years go on; you just get more used to dealing with it.  You get used to the remarks, seeing bright, shining pictures of families with at least two siblings beam at you from Facebook, and you feel that old, familiar pain.  But this time, it’s in the rearview mirror.

I have a family.

And I have me.  And I tell the truth.  And a lot of people don’t like that and never will.

And despite what a lot of people think, I’m fucking remarkable.

 

Why “If Mama Ain’t Happy, Nobody’s Happy” is a Bullshit Lie I Live

IMG_6863There comes a time in you life when you are doing something really mundane, like going on your daily run, when you realize,

Shit.  I’ve been selling out.  I’ve been settling.  I’ve been settling for behavior from others and myself.

And there are layers to these epiphanies.  My first one?  Came when I realized I wanted to recover from my eating disorder.   My second?  When I wanted more from my life than forgetting the night before because of too many rum and cokes.

My 45th came today when I realized I don’t want to yell anymore.  And I don’t want a partner who yells either.

*****

I am a mother.

I am a wife.

I am a co-owner of a business.

I have a shit ton of stress.

Because, as a woman, I’m expected to “do it all”.  So not only do I manage the money, I make the majority of the money upfront, and I also am expected to do all of the housework, manage my child’s appointments, playdates, extracurricular activities AND manage the psychological well-being of my child.

It was very furtive, wasn’t it?  How, in the span of 70 years, men have continued to deftly sidestep responsibility in any way they can.  Shit, I have to chores now? Guess I can still be lazy emotionally.  Sweet.

Before any right-wing idiot or plainly, insecure men jump down my throat, I want you to do something.  Walk up to the woman in your life.  Ask her what she’s worried about.  Chances are, her experience will be more rich than yours. She’ll be worried about being able to schedule their child’s gasto-intestinal appointment in between the clients she sees.  She’ll be thinking about how her husband yelling at their child mimics the traumatic experience she had as a child and how she’s failing.  She’ll be wondering if she can work out while the baby sleeps because somewhere, in the back corners of her mind, a demon tells her to be attractive for her boyfriend.  Now ask yourself if you have those same thoughts.

The pressures are not equal. NOT.  YET.

So when I hear, “If Mama Ain’t Happy, Nobody’s Happy”, I want to scream.

Why?

Seems to be yet another misogynistic turn of phrase, so eloquently masked as feminism.  It’s misogynistic, because it puts all the pressure on the female to chart the course, when males are perfectly capable of doing some of the emotional work. They’re perfectly capable of putting themselves first, taking care of themselves so they don’t take it out on their children.

It’s just that we haven’t EXPECTED them to, since the dawn of time.

And it reinforces that disgusting, martyr-like dynamic in older women that I despise. “Poor me, I’ve put up with so much from your father.”

EXACTLY.  You put up with it. You’ve enabled it.  Women have enabled it.  And that’s our part.  And that can be changed.

*****

Am I a sanctimommy who expects herself or others to never yell?  No.  But let me tell the truth and talk about yelling, because a lot of us have a ton of shame over it.  And it’s important to talk about during this time of year, when kids are going back to school and transitions are driving us parents nuts.

We’ve been yelling too much in my house.  I know my part – part of me has been justifying my and my husband’s trauma histories.  A refined form of “If we were ok, then she’ll be ok.”  “I’m a good parent.” “I’m doing the best I can.”

Maybe I’m fucking not.

Maybe I’ve been enabling years and years of the masculine approach to things.  The masculine approach of anger, of forcefulness, of yelling.

All I know is, This Mama Ain’t Happy.  Period.  And I’ve been justifying stuff I’m not OK with.   That’s my part.

And it’s my husband’s job to work on his.

How Telling Your Child to Be Positive Is Worsening the Opioid Epidemic

IMG_84791It is a crime to teach our children to “Be positive”.

I’m sure you think I’m nuts.  It’s totally fine.  People have literally thought that about me since I was 5.  I stand by what I say – we do ourselves and our children a disservice every time we tell them, “Hey, it could be worse!” or, “Be the change you wish to see in the world!”

In fact, you could be contributing – not causing, but contributing – to the opioid epidemic that is happening right now in our country.

Now I bet you think I’m really crazy, eh?

Let me explain a bit further.  There are positively viewed emotions like happiness, joy, silliness.  And there are negatively viewed emotions like anger, jealousy and sadness that are typically stereotyped as morally “bad” to experience.  Think about it.  Would you want to be labeled as a jealous husband who rants at his wife about where she was?  Or an angry mother who yells at her children seven times out of ten? No, of course not, because if you’re emotionally abusive you’re in the “bad” category.  Even though the wife most definitely played a part in his jealousy. And if you’re the shouting mom, you most certainly are not as good as all those attachment mothers.

But here’s the thing.  Anger and jealousy isn’t good or bad.  They are simply ingenious little signs our bodies gave us to tell us where to go.   Here’s a little answer key, courtesy of Pixar’s “Inside Out” and Glennon Doyle:

Anger: Tells us when something is not fair.

Jealousy: Tells us when we want something someone else has.

Fear:  Keeps us safe.  Physically and emotionally.

So yeah, negative emotions aren’t that negative, it turns out.   They’re actually pretty fucking vital to our existence, and if you’re making fun of them, you’re living by an extremely outdated code.  However, in a Trump era, where pull-yourself-up-by-the bootstraps-baby-boomer-either-or attitudes exist, this can be hard to remember.  And some people can make you feel like embracing emotions means you’re weak.  This, I tell you, is complete bullshit.  Humans can hustle and work 12 hours a day and still tune into their feelings.

The smartest, healthiest, most successful people I know follow their gut intuition about situations and others.

Let me get back to my point about all of us contributing to addictions.

Say your child got up and started whining about going to school. “Mama, I’m so tired.  I can’t go to school today.  I hate going to school.”

“Honey, you have to go.  I can’t do anything about it.  You can do it!”

VERSUS:

“Mama, I’m so tired.  I can’t go to school today.  I hate going to school.”

“Honey, I bet you’re super tired after your first week back. I can’t even imagine.  I feel like that about work too.”

Because the thing is, we do indeed live in a super insane world that doesn’t provide for enough sleep for our children.  And it’s ok to validate that for them.  It doesn’t mean you still can’t teach them the value of showing up for something when they don’t feel like it.  They’ll feel seen and they won’t be taught by you that their negative feelings need to be squashed immediately.  Because what’s one way addicts can start to be addicts?  By having strong emotions, and being told they’re “overdramatic” or to “get over it”.  Then they find tricky ways to numb their strong emotions that their community or society rejects.  Eating a whole pan of brownies.  Drinking their mother’s beer.  Shooting up the next town over.  All because they were taught not to sit with themselves and their strong feelings.  I’m sure some 12 Step programs will disagree, but that’s ok, I didn’t fit in there either.

The truth?  We all have to feel a feeling until it’s done coursing through our brain.  And the more we push it away, the bigger it will come back.

A lot of people – including my husband – accuse me of being too cynical, too pessimistic.  Nah.   I’m usually just telling the truth or calling the situation as to how I see it.  I, in turn, think they’re (typically) uncomfortable with the negative emotions I point out because society has socialized them that way.

Humans are these super amazing, instinctual beings who literally know the way like Moana, if only they listened to every emotion.

And am I the perfect parent who meets her daughter where she is every minute of every day? No fucking way.  On a bad day, I push my anger away, which makes it bigger, and then makes me scream like a crazy woman at my daughter.

But I’m shooting for meeting myself where I am.

 

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 Only Kind Of Bad Fat You Can Be

I love Jewel.  Go f$%6 yourself.  I love running to Jewel at the end of my workouts, cooling down while simultaneously basking in the imperfections of her folky, yodel-y, touchy-feely birdvoice.  And I love the song Goodbye Alice in Wonderland; it is my story.  As my bad knee started to kick in at the end of my run, and I rounded past the cemetery back to my apartment, her voice warbled into my ears,

Fame is filled with spoiled children
We grow fat on fantasy

And internally, I stopped;

because that was the story of my food addiction.

******

I grew up with big dreams.  I dreamt of becoming a musical theater star, and of falling in love with the perfect man at 25 and having this perfect family that would make up for any trauma I experienced.  I dreamt of leaving the little town I grew up in and never fit into, and moving to the big city and showing everyone that I was really meant for something bigger.

The problem with big dreams and being a big dreamer is that you often live not in the real world but inside your head, and you don’t seek outside help or opinions and ideas.  You rely on magazines and images and other people’s injured self-esteem to tell you what is right and standard and spin a world so small that you can’t see outside of it.

Translation?  I thought I had to do it all perfectly, and look like the 113 lb, 5 foot 11 chick in People (yes, they used to post their weights in the 90’s, and yes, I remember it because I will always have an eating disorder I am grateful for).  And I did it!  I lost 65 lbs in five months, because that’s what it took to fit in and be beautiful and be happy.

You see, I was “fat on fantasy”, just like Jewel said.  Because things were sad, and disappointing, and just plain tragic growing up, I escaped into fantasy.  It’s all I had, before I realized I could escape into food.  I escaped into the glamorous life I would lead someday, being successful and perfect and beautiful and therefore worthy of some man’s love.

And in that fantasy, I despised fat.  Fat meant failure and disappointment and wanting too much and loss.  But I was wrong; physical fat isn’t bad; it’s just fat.  Yellow, squishy fat.  But what was bad and what was hurting me was the fat fantasy I lived on.  I didn’t live in reality.  Into my twenties, I lived in a world where I rehearsed social situations and scenes that never took place because I was scared shitless to step outside of it.  Things were dramatic and romantic and dreamy in my head, and messy and unpredictable and scary outside of it.  And the more I expected my reality to be like my fantasy, the more I starved and binged.  It isolated me from that messy, unpredictable world – when I used behaviors, I didn’t have to feel anything.

I think I’ve gotten better.  I know I’ve gotten better.  When I first put down unhealthy behaviors, I could barely carry on a conversation for fear of what others thought of me; now I can banter a bit better.  But my “fat fantasy” still remains in bits and pieces – it’s there when I expect my relationship to be perfect 24/7 in order for it to be long-term, or when I think everyone should act perfectly at a party I host.  The fantasy still bugs me.

And poor fat!  I projected all of this fantasy onto fat, this morally-meaningless substance and made it bad.  When you know what?  It never was.  It just sat there.  And it sits beautifully on me and others today.  Today, I understand that a size 14 woman who is honest with herself is way better off than a size 2 who isn’t.  It may sound trite, but it took me a long time to get there.

So to those who get annoyed by my truth-telling; I do it because it’s hard and because I can’t afford to grow fat on fantasy again.  I do it because I see the world as it is, not as it should be or how my partner wants to see it or how it might look with an Instagram lens.  I do it because it’s how we move forward.  I do it to survive.

And I keep running.

Five Reasons Why BMI Report Cards Need To Stop.

BMISo, I’m a little late to the game.  Apparently, for a few years now, some schools have been including a BMI (Body Mass Index) score on children’s report cards.  In 2011, The Huffington Post reports that BMI scores are “the latest weapon in the fight against the growing obesity epidemic in children”.  I’m sure you can already guess my reaction to this, but before I get into the more objective reasons, I’ll include a little personal history.

You all know I was an overweight kid.  An overweight kid who carried a lot of shame about both her body and imperfections.  Those imperfections included my less-than-stellar grades in math.  Report cards, a necessary evil, filled me with anxiety and dread every quarter.  Why?  I knew, deep down, that I wasn’t a perfect student; I occasionally turned in homework late and periodically made careless mistakes on tests.  I held a deep level of shame due to these peccadilloes – I feared I was a bad person because of it.  I feared my parents’ reaction to it and hated myself around report card time.  “I should be doing better”, I would mutter to myself.

Can you imagine the amount of shame I would have had if BMI’s were added back in the 90’s?  Can you imagine the ridicule I would have gotten from fellow students?  Can you imagine the reaction from “trusted adults”?

“Well, your BMI is 4 points too high, and therefore, you need to lose weight, Amanda…”

So.  Here are my reasons for banning BMI report cards.

  1. Let doctors and nutritionist do their jobs, and let teachers do theirs.  Is it important that we model a healthy lifestyle for children in our schools?  Absolutely.  Teaching them to obsess about a number is not modelling a healthy lifestyle.  Especially when schools continue to pack their vending machines with candy bars and less-than-healthy foods.  Hello, mixed messages?  More importantly, who are the people who are trained to deal with an individual’s weight, activity and nutrition level?  Their PCP.  Their PCP can do a much more thorough job of determining whether or not a child is healthy or unhealthy.  Better than an index number.  And better than an untrained teacher or administrative personnel who is transmitting this information to a child.  (I’m not knocking teachers, I just think it’s clear kids’ personal doctors are probably better equipped to assess that stuff.)
  2. BMI’s can trigger, but not cause, an eating disorder.  I’m a firm believer that a multitude of factors need to be in place to cause an eating disorder.  But, an environmental trigger like a BMI report card can trigger a child who is already predisposed to having one.  Kids at school are already influenced by bullies at school telling them they need to weigh less, wear better clothes, or don more makeup.  But if adults told them this?  We may forget adults in our lives wielded an unusual amount of power, power that has the ability to influence us for decades and haunt us.  Some kids may not care two ways to Sunday if a trusted adult in their life tells them they’re fat.  But a vulnerable child?  A child who comes from a traumatic home or has low self-esteem to boot?  They’ll take that as truth, and they’ll run with it.  People vulnerable to eating disorders tend to be people-pleasers, and if someone tells them to lose weight, they’ll do it.  I personally know someone who has been triggered by BMI report cards.  This is no joke.
  3. BMI’s are not the most accurate predictor of fat mass.  In general, can it tell you if you need to lose weight?  Probably, I’m not a doctor.  But there are other scales – two are Body Fat Mass and Percentage of Body Fat.  It’s completely possible to have an obese BMI and a normal or overweight score for BFM or PBF.  I’ve also known people who weight train, lose inches from their waist, and watch their BMI scores rise.  Go Kaleo talks a LOT about this (she’s a WARRIOR, check out her blog/fb page).  And, here you can see how she’s clinically overweight by current indexes.  Ridiculousness.
  4. BMI scores are not going to change a perpetually unhealthy household.  I’m guessing that national health advocates are hoping that BMI scores will “wake up” parents who don’t keep a good eye on their child’s nutrition.  As in, maybe they’ll change their family food habits if they see their kid weighs too much.  Mmmmkay.  I believe this might work for a total of two weeks.  Why the cynicism, you ask?  Well, I’m going to take a wild guess and say that the majority of households who constantly feed their kids donuts, soda and McDonalds may not have access to food that is healthier and therefore, higher-priced.  So, there’s financial blocks, and there’s mental blocks too.  I’m going to go a step farther – which may get me in trouble here – and posit that these same families may not be in the best place mentally or spiritually.  And the solution to this is not a number on a report card.  It’s a change in family communication patterns or beliefs.  You don’t work from the outside in and put a band-aid on it; you treat the actual wound.  Bottom line, NUMBERS NEVER HELP PEOPLE TO LOSE WEIGHT OR CHANGE LIFESTYLE BELIEFS.
  5. Isn’t the medical profession’s oath “Do No Harm”?  I can’t take credit for this one.  A couple of weeks ago, on Good Morning America, one of their medical correspondents “weighed in” on this subject.  GMA had interviewed several teenage girls who had communicated that the BMI scores ultimately made them feel bad about themselves.  The reporting medical correspondent insightfully noted the medical profession’s possible betrayal of its oath.  If GMA’s small-scale interview translates to the rest of the teenage population, then harm is being done.

Is obesity healthy?  No way.  But neither are eating disorders.  Our nation has missed the mark and swung the opposite way with food obsession.  We uselessly obsess about gluten and sugar and numbers.  And I’ve harassed you all before about the dangers of obsessing about food and numbers.  Obsession about numbers = obesssion about outside appearance = not solving your food issues.  But working from the inside out works every time. Building your child’s self-esteem through encouragement of esteemable tasks?  Works.  And modelling a balanced diet and positive self-esteem will protect your children from any imbalance.  But an index number?  No way.

Feeling The Burn.

I burned my thumb badly yesterday.

I had been cooking dinner for Fiona, and my mind was preoccupied with some current stress that’s been going on.  Fish sticks were on the menu, so I had preheated the oven, and was getting ready to pop them in.  There was another baking pan in the oven I hadn’t seen, so I put an oven mitt on one hand, and proceeded to absentmindedly grab the 425 degree pan with my bare thumb and forefinger that was not covered.

It hurt like f&$*.

And I felt like an idiot.  If I didn’t have stuff going on, then I wouldn’t have been distracted by my thoughts, and I wouldn’t have burned myself.  And if I didn’t burn myself, my entire attention would be on Fiona, and not on submerging my hand in a cup of cool water whilst dowsing it with aloe.

And it hurt for awhile.  It bubbled and swelled up.  It was most likely a small second degree burn, and the severe pain lasted for a couple of hours, more than the medical website said first degree burns should last.

I kept my hand in water for a really long time, because I simply couldn’t tolerate the pain and take care of a 19 month old at the same time.  I would take my hand out periodically and gage how severe the pain was.  When I first took it out, it STUNG.  It hurt.  So I pushed it back in the water.

But as the hours passed, I noticed something.  When I initially took my hand out of the water, if I could just sit with that painful burn, that passing glaring sting, then the pain would slowly decrease.  It got used to being in the air.  And by the time night fell, the pain was almost nonexistent.

And if you’re thinking this is a big goddamn metaphor for how my addictive side can deal with pain, then by George, you’re right.

******

I hate that sometimes I slip back into avoidant behavior.  But I do.  When you deal with any kind of addiction, avoidant or numbing behaviors can creep back up on you in the sneakiest of ways.  Yesterday, once I got over the embarassment of burning myself accidentally, I was able to see how it paralleled my (rapidly decreasing) ways of handling feelings.  The pattern, as detailed above, is as follows:

 

1.  There is a problem/incident

2.  I immediately judge myself for having the problem/incident happen, and the subsequent feelings that come up,

and

3.  I push the feelings away and numb them in some sort, whether it be by getting attention, skipping a meal, binging, or whatever.

 

The good news is, these days, I seem to find my way back to feeling feelings again.  With a small u-turn at avoidance crossing.

I do this with the help of several friends and spiritual guides; I cannot do this on my own.

Glennon from Momastery talks about the role of reducing shame in conquering addiction.  Getting rid of that shame is such a big player.

Your feelings are your feelings, bottom line.  They are amazing signposts of where you should journey next and what your truth is, but in certain communities and families, we’ve been taught to push them away.  They’re non-existent, in some cultures.  Which is a shame, because when we avoid our feelings we are avoiding one of the most human experiences in the world.  And at the end of the day, they’re just…feelings.  A body’s reaction to the circumstances around us.

A very wise woman has told me frequently, “Pain is a great motivator.”

She’s right.

I think it’s kind of funny that after a couple of weeks of not blogging and taking time to process some things, literal pain is what motivated me to write again.

And I hope that my emotional pain can guide me exactly where I need to go.

 

How about you?  Have you experienced shame when it comes to feelings?  How has it played a role in your eating disorder or experience in life?

Top Three Reasons Why I’m Finally Bikini-Ready.

bikiniready

I remember a time, long ago, when the internet was just a household fledgling and Sarah McLachlan played nonstop on my Walkman.

It was 1996, and I was so unhealthy and sick when it came to my body image.  Now keep in mind, I was also the thinnest I’d ever been.  Weighing twenty pounds less than I should have, my body cried out for nutrients.  But because I’d been told by many a person that I was “Super-skinny”, I decided it was finally OK for me to wear a bikini.  So I bought one and wore it on vacation to Panama City to visit my half-brother, who was stationed there at the time.

And I hated it.  I felt  like I was crawling out of my skin the entire time we went to the ocean or a water park.  I was paranoid people were staring at my body fat and shuddering in disgust.  When I developed the pictures from the trip, I despised looking at my stomach in them.  It seemed to pour over the bikini bottom and just looked, well, gross.

(And the fact was, it was just ill-fitting, and I was so weak I had no muscle tone.)

Fast forward eighteen years.  (Excuse me while I go have an age-related heart attack.)  I’m twenty pounds heavier, have had a child, and have some rumply skin right above my belly button since giving birth to my daughter.  I also have some rumply skin underneath my arms, just a little bit, that’s popped into existence over the past couple of years.  I have stretch marks, but I’ve had those since I was a kid.

Before this recent Fourth of July weekend, I briefly contemplated buying a bikini.  I hadn’t worn one since that trip to Panama City, and thought maybe I was finally in the right head place to do so.  “No”, I grimaced to myself.  “My abs don’t look like those people’s I see on the beach.  I’m too white.  I’m suppposed to be tan.  People would laugh.”

Then, I realized, I was listening to my old eating disordered voice, and f%$& that s*$%.

I’d been listening to it all along.  Who the hell CARED if my stomach looked fish-white?  I’m supposed to look like that, I’m Scottish, Irish, English, German and French!  Who the hell cared if my bikini bottom was too big and someone saw my ass for a second as my daughter climbed onto me?  It was at a freaking family BBQ.  I realized I’d been missing out on being me, crazy, “who gives a shit”, outspoken Amanda all these years because I was listening to an old tape inside my head.

So I picked out a polka-dotted bikini, and I wore it on the Fourth.  And here’s the reasons why I think I was ready:

  1. I stopped giving a shit about what others thought of me.    Was this easy?  Hell no.  It probably took about eighteen years!  But – the second you realize the things people say about you negatively are directly related to the way they feel about themselves, you are set free.  Seriously.  So that friend who always makes comments about what you’re wearing and how you look in it?  Probably hates herself.  And her body hate doesn’t have to influence the way you feel about yours.
  2. I gave love to the places on my body that needed it.  Some of you may remember the “Tummy Love Project” that I started on here.  I never finished it on the blog, but I finished it in real life.  One of the reasons I never wore a bikini was the amount of hate I had for my stomach.    So, I meditated about it, I gazed at it lovingly in the mirror, and I strengthened it (I find in my recovery that muscle strengthening exercise does not trigger me, but instead makes me feel empowered.)  You may be laughing at the gazing at it part, but it worked.  Why?  For years, I’d been pretending it wasn’t there, silently excluding it from existence.  For the first time, I acknowledged it and respected it.  And that started the hate loss.
  3. I respected my body for what it’s gone through.  The funny thing is, before I’d given birth, I loved my body way less than I do now.  Part of it is – I didn’t know what I was working with before.  I didn’t know that I had this amazing body, capable of producing and giving life to this world.  Again, you may claim corny, but I say it’s astounding that women can do this, and be up and walking the next day.  It’s a miracle!  So, I respected my body – and flaunted its magical prowess when I wore a bikini.  I gave birth, goddamnit.

I’m sorry if you read this article expecting some miraculous not-yet-discovered secret about weight loss that made me look bikini-ready.  I was only bikini-ready because I finally loved my body and respected it, not because I had finally achieved some weight loss goal.  My head had to be in check to wear one.  Interestingly enough, I was less bikini ready when I was thinner.

So here I sit, in my bikini, writing this out in the sun on our front lawn while my little one naps.  My legs are pale white, some fat hangs over my bikini-bottom (PS, we all have it when we hunch over)…

and I’ve never been happier with my body.