Tag Archives: Eating disorders

Why Taking a Walk in the Woods Won’t Cure Depression

sadmandaI was a weird, weird kid.

I used to sit on the bus and stare at the back of the seat in front of me.  It was dark green and had lines running through it.  I remember the light filtering through the window, passing above my knees in a streak. I was five, and I was newly aware of mindfulness.  “Now is now”, I repeated to myself.  My mind was blown – almost to a dissociative level – time seemed to stand still when I thought that now was truly now, and there would never be another moment like it.

I wasn’t really aware of my uniqueness until I grew older, and realized all of my friends watched shows I never did, and did sports, and were just KIDS.  Most of my teenage years were spent going to stores with my mother and Nana, checking out in my head, living in a fantasy world, perhaps because reality was too hard.  Who knows.  All I knew growing up is that gratitude didn’t help me – it made me feel guilty, because I knew I had privilege and had some nice things but it just didn’t register.

As I got older and went to college and grad school and self-medicated with alcohol and restriction of food, I wasn’t aware that I was wearing a different pair of glasses than everyone else.  I wore dark, shaded sunglasses, while the rest of you wore regular near-sighted glasses.  You could see things as they were, the good and the bad.  But I could only see the bad.  Everything had a dark shade to it.  And the thing is, I thought this was completely normal.  I thought everyone laid in bed for hours on end and cried everyday and had fights with their friends because of it. So when I saw peers moving on and having successful relationships and having confidence I began to be bewildered.  Why couldn’t I get it?  In fact, a friend in grad school once remarked, “Amanda, I will be so happy the day that you say things are just “good”.”

10 years later, with 7 years of sobriety, individual and couples therapy, self-help groups, and medication, things still seem darker than I believe they do for most.  And let it be known I’m not negating “regular” people’s troubles or moods.  Everything everyone feels is valid.  However, I’m a sensitive soul, in all meanings of the word.  If I don’t get the right amount of sleep, my depression is triggered.  If I don’t exercise (which is a natural antidepressant), I run the risk of having a worse day.  This can get tricky when it comes to the eating disorder, because I also can’t get into repetitive, joyless exercise that I only do for my waistline.

When I have normal events in my life happen, I only see the bad.  For example, when my daughter was born, everything seemed tortuous, because I wasn’t sleeping which triggered my depression which also made it impossible to exercise because who can  or should exercise on 2 hours of sleep anyway?  I could see she was beautiful, but couldn’t enjoy it.  When it comes to being married, my dark sunglasses show me only the fights, the unnaturalness of staying with one person the rest of your life.

And when Robin Williams committed suicide?  I got it.  I wouldn’t ever do it, because I have a beautiful daughter to take care of, but I got it.  When life’s stress piles up over those dark sunglasses, it can seem like too much to stay here.

Do you see how it is chronic?  Well-managed but still chronic.  Easily affected by any little change.  And isn’t simply cured by a walk in the woods.

Don’t get me wrong – things are WAY better.  I get to help people with the same problems every day at my job, and I consider myself to be somewhat of an emotions ninja, someone who can, on a good day, utilize my drive to master any shots depression takes at me. And I’m a really good interpreter.  When my daughter asks me questions about emotions, I know what to say.  I know what to say in a current world full of people who call emotional souls “snowflakes”.  Which is sad, because emotions are directly connected to our medical health.  Why do you think married couples die so close together, so often?

Here’s how I try to live my life.  I don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color, super poor, or LGBTQ.  So I don’t try to tell those people what their perspective should be.  Because I’m not them, and I simply don’t know.  But I do know something about mental health, and eating disorders, and alcoholism.  So listen up.  This shit can’t be cured by just a walk in the woods.

 

My Daughter Called Someone Fat

It was a beautiful autumn Friday in New England.  My daughter had just completed two successful, confidence-inspiring hours of gymnastics at the Little Gym.  (In a blue shiny leotard we had just purchased, nonetheless!)  We walked back to the car, hand-in-hand; I was proud of this time.  She was a baby who had low muscle tone, and I had put her in gymnastics purposefully.  Now, she was doing flips over the bars.

As I unlocked the car, Fiona started to gaze off into the distance.  Stare, in fact.  I followed her gaze to her classmate and parents, who were walking together.

A slow smirk spread over her face, as her gaze focused on the obese father.

“Mama, he’s fat.” She continued smirking, and an implied sense of power washed over her as she realized she was NOT and he WAS.

Not my daughter.

******

For those of you who don’t know, I was a FAT kid.   I was mocked for it by classmates, I was deemed “disgusting”, I was even sexually assaulted by a classmate in music class “because I was fat.”  (Because I deserved it, because I was fat.)

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There are people who will view this who will argue with me and say that there’s no negative connotation with being fat.  They will tell me that I’m too sensitive and that I put too many expectations on my daughter and I say to them, I AM DONE WITH YOU.

I LIVED it and I continue to live it every time I lose 5 pounds and I am praised for it.  I continue to live it every time I gain weight and I notice people give me less compliments about my appearance.  You are bullshitting yourself if you think there is no negative connotation with being fat.  There is less today, but it still exists.

When Fiona uttered this sentence, I panicked.  Where did she pick this up?  I, for one, don’t use the word fat.  I use the word heavy and overweight, but not fat, because I know what it carries with it. We also refer to foods as being healthy, or having “vitamins to make you run fast”.  Had she picked it up from her friends?  Seen it on an ad?  I was a little stunned, and a little disgusted, even know the intellectual side of me knew she was four years old.  She reminded me of that blonde in my class on the playground who always made fun of my awkward body during Project Adventure.

“Fiona, we do not say that.  That is not nice.  Get in the car.”

I buckled her up, prayed, and said to myself – Do not be hard on her.  Do not project your experience on her and shame her.  Just be honest, factual, and tell her your experience.

“Fiona, I have to tell you a story.”

“What?”

“A long time ago, Mama was overweight when she was a kid.  A lot of people made fun of Mama and called her fat and it made Mama feel really, really bad.  So I know how it feels, and it doesn’t feel good.  That’s why we don’t call people fat.”

I don’t know if was blood memory, or a sudden lightbulb that went off in her head, but Fiona’s face turned ashen.  Her face crumpled, and she GOT IT.  Like, mourned for her mother got it.  Like, cried all the way home got it.  I immediately felt horrid, even know I know I maintained an even tone (isn’t this motherhood thing fucked?)

On the way home, she turned her face into the seat, ashamed.  I tried to reiterate my unconditional love for her. “Baby, Mama doesn’t think any differently of you – Mama would love you even if you punched somebody!  It’s just important we’re kind to people.”  It didn’t seem to help.  She whimpered and finally started to come around after I distracted her with a joke.

*****

Parenthood is brutal.  It’s even more brutal with a trauma history you have to dissect and not project onto your kids whilst maintaining some sort of a lesson for them when they’re unkind.  Childhood is brutal too – imagine not knowing you were being unkind, and then being told you were being unkind in a way that hurt your parent when they were kids?  Imagine being so innocent and then not, knowing your Mama was hurt for the way she looked?  And would that happen to you?

Yesterday, someone on my husband’s facebook feed disagreed with the meme that Donald Trump’s words about sexual assault leading to the actual crime did not matter, and that words are very different from actions.  I sit here enraged, thinking about that, because I know the effect of words.  Words that lead to sexual assault.  “FAT” leading to “less than” leading to “it’s ok to touch her in a sexual way because she’s less than”.

Not my daughter.

 

 

 

Loud

cropped-mybody-e13679720998001.jpg“You gotta be loud, if you want their attention.”

Last night, at my weekly self-help meeting, I gazed back at the well-intentioned man who stood before me, trying to help me start some announcements.  He was right; my quiet-when-in-a-group voice wouldn’t be enough to call over the crowd.  But his statement brought up a thousand hurts.

“Be a strong woman!” I was told by the aggressive female professor at the University of Hartford after I met with her, uncharacteristically struggling in an English class.

“Don’t worry; Alan will get rid of your shyness,” said the girl I huddled offstage with as we worked crew for The Battleship Potemkin freshman year at Hartt.

“Oh, I admire someone like you, who is shy and still tries,” said the asinine former supervisor at an outpatient counseling clinic, as he signed off on my clinical hours.

The message I received over, and over, and over again:

You are not enough.

You are not enough.

You are not enough.

Until I received the message that I was too much.

******

First of all, the hilarious thing is, I’m not typically quiet.  My mother, my husband, my former voice teacher, anyone in my inner circle could tell you – I’m opinionated, emotional and snarky.  I’m quiet in two scenarios: when I’m in a group, and when I don’t trust you.  And here’s how it all began, and how the eating disorder commenced: I was taunted daily by classmates for my weight, for simply being.  I learned early on that the more quiet you were, the less space you took up, the less people noticed and the less likely they were to sexually harass tease you for wearing pants that weren’t so in style.  So it became a protective thing.

So to me, it was never a shy thing.  It was more like, I’ve got my eyes on you.  I see right through you.  I can tell you’re not trustworthy so I’m shutting down.  

So I’d say nothing, I’d tuck my hands under my legs as I sat, and I lost weight.

Until I got tired of restricting myself and started to binge.  My body ached for food, for things I craved, to be satisfied for once.  And I would go overboard.  This bled into alcohol in my twenties.  When alcohol was put in the mix, there were no holds barred.  I could be as carefree, loud and crazy as I wanted because I didn’t have to worry about you judging me as too something.  And oh, was I loud.  Was I obnoxious.  Especially the night I tried to punch the bartender for giving me a glass of water.  Or the night I stole my best friend’s date.  Because fuck you.

I’d wake up, dehydrated and unsure of what happened the night before.  I’d receive angry, incredulous phone calls from friends.  And I was confused, partially because I couldn’t remember the night, and also –

Isn’t this what you wanted?  For me to be loud? To not give a fuck and be your version of strong?

******

And on that note.  I find it incredibly alarming the average person thinks that a loud person is strong.  Trump is a great example of the idiocy that comes from this theory.  God forbid we have people who think before they speak.  God forbid we have listeners who observe.

And – the punchline to the joke?  Now, there are people who judge me for putting this stuff out there.  I suppose I’m too loud, too much, too emotional for them.

To all of those who thought or think me meek, I would say this:

Sure, I guess I’m not strong in that I’m not physically loud.  If that’s your definition, I guess it makes sense.  I mean, I only went on to get my Master’s Degree and become a licensed mental health counselor after working on my own alcoholism, eating disorder, and depression, in addition to surviving some pretty intense sexual and emotional bullying in Littleton, and growing up in an alcoholic household where the police frequented and I ran screaming from the house because I was afraid of who was going to be hit.  I only went on to tackle my own trauma history and successfully emotionally parent a child of my own despite going against habit.  I only screamed in the face of a 6’4″ man in a Somerville gas station, because goddamnit, he stole my spot.

But you know, I’ll be louder next time.  For you.

“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.

How My Eating Disorder Handled a Wedding and a Death.

I thought I might never write again.  Really and truly.  I thought,

  1. I’m too busy with the business I work for, or
  2. my daughter’s too old now and doesn’t take naps which doesn’t give me a chance to write because the nights are shot anyway with counseling until 8 and then the writing of notes for an hour or so, or (and most eating disordered-ly)
  3. The meager amount of time I have for self-care is usually spent at the gym.

And then I remembered that I watched my father take his last breath and uttered my wedding vows within the same two weeks, and I figured,

“Fuck.  That’s worth documenting.”

*****

Around the time John proposed in June I was at my “normal, I dont-give-a-shit-what-I-eat” weight.  My cheeks were full as a Campbell’s Soup kid, and I could feel the tug of my pants as I hadn’t weighed myself in a while.  This was *fairly* healthy for me.  When I eat whatever I want, I have to be careful I don’t binge either, but it seems to be a healthier place for me than restricting.

normalmanda

In fact, I remember the Nutella milkshake and the blue ice cream we had in Rockport that day…they were delicious.

After that, it became apparent that Dad was going rapidly downhill.  He had been declining for a while, but things were beginning to suck hard.  He really couldn’t talk much any more due to stuttering, and he was starting to look skeletal.  For a man who took pride in his jellybean-induced belly, it was alarming when he started to eat less and less.  He even started to attempt less to ask me things.  You couldn’t interact with him when you spent time with him.  You had to sit in silence, hoping the love would somehow transmit through the airwaves.

We wanted to at least plan the wedding with the hopes he’d be at it.  We knew he didn’t have a ton of time, so we hoped six months would be short enough.

It wasn’t, but that’s ok.  At least we tried.

So wedding planning went into rapid-fire action.  I fought hard between wanting a beautiful ice wedding party and scolding myself for wanting it.  “Why can’t you just get married at City Hall?” I’d ask myself.  “You’re so selfish.”  People added their two cents in, saying, “I didn’t need to stress”, and “keep it simple”.

But you know what?  Keeping it simple is really hard when your Dad is dying, and you want to please both him and the part of you who’s always starved herself of wanting anything.

So I tried to remember it was ok to want, and picked out silver and white ice branches for the centerpieces (at a discounted rate).  I spent a lot of money on a wedding dress, because that’s what I enjoyed spending money on.

And tinges of my eating disorder came back because I’m guessing a part of it wasn’t ok with that.

My mom went away for a weekend, and I stayed with him.  This was early August.  Dad couldn’t walk at this point, and had to be mostly carried from wheelchair to bed, wheelchair to toilet, etc.  This weekend was the first I remember that there was a piece of my ED back.  I loved taking care of my father and being there for him, but it was similar to having a newborn; it was really easy to forgo your own needs when you had to help him go to the bathroom, or eat.  I reveled in that old feeling of being hungry as I slept on the couch next to his bed.

(Not to mention that my mother did this for a couple of years, day in and day out.  I have irrational guilt about this too.)

But this time, it was so fucking grey.  A part of me, a healthy part of me, really wanted to be in the best shape I possibly could for my wedding day.  I wanted to lift weights and be strong.  And that part continued to trade places with my ED.  Sometimes, I was aware that I was using restriction as a way not to feel, and sometimes, I ate a super healthy protein/veggie/quinoa meal that gave me energy for the squats I did later.

Let me put it this way:  I couldn’t have done any better than I did at the time.  I’m amazed I didn’t/haven’t ended up in the psych ward.

And I had to keep going.  Before my Dad passed, I was constantly anxious, waiting for him to die, running around, forgetting to eat, keeping going so the bills could be paid, working out for the wedding, being a good mother, listening to my mother, and putting together the brain donation process.

So once we figured he wouldn’t make it to the wedding, we had the small ceremony at home.  The whole thing was heartbreaking, (yes, that’s right, I just called my first wedding heartbreaking) but I’m certainly glad I did it.  Dad could barely stay awake at that point (MSA robs you of your energy at the end; most patients sleep for days).

homewedding

And then, in November, we were informed he was “actively dying”.

For a weekend, we listened to his inconsistent Cheyne-Stokes breathing.  Would each breath be his last?  We continued to change his clothes and undergarments and whatever part of him was left would resist due to extreme pain.  I held his hands when we did that and spoke to him.  I’m really glad I was there for that.

And then, I left the room briefly to take some pictures of Polaroids of my mother and father from before I was born.  I returned to the room, watched him take a breath, and then didn’t again, for longer than before.

He didn’t breathe again.  I could tell the minute life left his body.

I then iced his head (as the funeral home didn’t have proper refrigeration.  can you imagine that?  the two days prior, I was making ice-cube tray after ice-cube tray, knowing this was going to go around my dead father’s head).  It wasn’t until after the funeral home director left, and after the hospice nurse offered some of us Dad’s extra neurontin (true story), and after we had slept for a few hours, and after I had dispensed of his medication the next morning, that I snapped.  I yelled at a couple of people, and then proceeded to eat nonstop and have great difficulty moving for the next two months.

I still do.

I guess I felt like I could stop running.  It had happened.

A week and half later, I still fit into my wedding dress (instead of feeling, it was easier to focus on whether or not my goddamn Lazaro would zip up).  And I walked down the aisle.  And something felt about 10 percent fucked up, but I actually really enjoyed myself and had a wonderful time.  John couldn’t have written more beautiful wedding vows.  And yes, I looked good.

skinnyamanda

I would like to think I looked good simply because I shined, but no.  I went to slightly extreme measures to look like that.

So…am I the eating disorder recovery hero?  No way.  I  never wanted to be.  I’m just another bozo on the bus, who wanted to look good on my wedding day, and who did extreme things when extreme circumstances surrounded me.  But I’m getting better.  How do I know I’m getting better?  I am honest when I go in my therapist’s office and with friends.  And I don’t have to give up my job for my ED.  But I’m certainly not perfect at recovery, and knowing this makes me all the healthier.

(Dedicated to Edward M Bruce…You gave them hell, Bruce.)

The Tragedy of the Modern Superwoman

I have succumbed to the tragedy of the modern superwoman.  I’m 100 percent, f%$^ing guilty.  And I’m not proud of it.

Who is the modern superwoman, you ask?

Here’s the definition.  I found it on Webster’s.*

Modern Superwoman: 1. The female, who is crammed into a society-created corner filled with relational, career, sexual and physical demands, pigeon-holes herself into a hardened, isolated, prison of one.  She decides she must be a perfect machine if she is to “cut it” as a female in this world, and subsequently, cuts herself off from others.  Because if she exposes herself to others, and say, goes out at night after putting the baby to bed without showering, she will be imperfect and displeased with herself the whole night.  “They’ll think I’ve slipped, I’m just like all the other mothers,” she thinks.  “I’m not pretty anymore.”  So she’ll go to the gym instead.  She’ll do everything she’s “supposed” to do.

The real tragedy of the modern superwoman is that she will emotionally harden herself.  So much so that she expects everyone to function at her inhuman productivity rate.  And when they don’t, she grows impatient with them.  She expects them to react to things she same way as she does – perfectly, without missing a beat, without forgetting to wash the 6 sippy cups her daughter had dirtied that day.  She expects them to be able to pick up the phone whenever she needs, because she’s always available and ready to be compassionate, so why shouldn’t they be too?  She becomes a martyr, simply because she is a victim to others’ expectations of her.  And then she turns that vitriol outward.  Further creating a hard shell around her that can’t be broken.  And that hard shell keeps people out, and prevents them from seeing that she needs more.  NEEDS.  Or that she is having a hard time because her father has a terminal illness.  Or because her mother is an addict.  Or whatever.  Aren’t those things just excuses anyway?  As women, we pick up and we move on.

I am writing this because I lost a friend recently.  And it sucked.  And when I am able to step back from it, I see two women who are beautiful, wonderful, struggling, vulnerable people who may just need some space right now.  But I think we were both suffering from the tragedy of the modern superwoman.  One of us was afraid to reach out because she struggles with depression and was afraid to be vulnerable, and the other was hesitant to speak up and say she wasn’t getting what she needed.

In short, I think it’s f&%^ing really hard when we’re expected to take care of our elderly parents, raise a 2 year old, manage a career, wash the floors enough, maintain a swimsuit-ready figure, and be compassionate, loving friends all at the same time.  It’s not that I don’t want to do these things; I am grateful for most of them.  I know I’m not perfect at it.  I flat-out suck some days.  And I want to be able to flat-out suck sometimes.  I’m sure this point has been written about ad nauseum, but I’ve been feeling the brunt of it lately.

Long story short:  My depression, eating disorder and alcoholism affects my ability to reach out sometimes.  It’s not an excuse.  It’s a chronic illness I deal with every day.  And unfortunately, even though I work on myself as much as possible and try to make healthy choices, my sometimes-not-so-healthy choices affect other people.  Negatively.  And it’s always at that point where I feel I have it licked that something like this reminds me I will always have to be vigilant at not isolating.

I don’t want to lose anyone else.

So I guess I’ll try being imperfect, taking a crack at that shell, and calling people and having a conversation when my two year old is hanging off my hip screaming, “CHOCOLATE!”  I guess I’ll call my therapist and sob into her voicemail like it’s 2005 and try not to feel guilty for it.  And I’ll try to laugh at myself and screw up in front of my boss and not be my parents’ therapist and just have my own, personal, emotional reaction to losing my father slowly.

I hope you can feel free to screw up too.

 

 

*Obviously not true.

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.

Another Piece of Birthday Cake

Thirty-three.

YIKES!  I turned thirty-three!

And I was thrown a surprise (well, not-so-surprise-since-I-snooped-through-his-phone) party by my boyfriend.  What a lucky gal am I!

And, respecting my introvert limits, my bf invited a small, intimate group of people, including my parents and brother.  It was perfect, but can I tell you?  I still have trouble tolerating attention on ME.  Being a long-time caretaker, I have no trouble lavishing attention and care on others.  However, when it comes to me, it seems too indulgent and undeserving.  Inaccurate, isn’t it?  But it also reminds me of my old anorexic voice.  “Take up less space!”  “You don’t need anything!”  Which, of course, is so unhealthy.  So I gritted my teeth and accepted the best of the best of friends’ praise and presents.

So, I usually hate posting food, but I wanted to document the awesome spread that we had:

We had some raw veggies and veggie dip courtesy of a Pickety Place veggie dip mix:

 

veggies2

 

 

…And some delicious pumpernickel bread and dill dip which is a family recipe of my bf’s.  Yes, I eat bread.  It’s ok to eat bread:

 

bread2

 

Plus, some amazing salsa-and-cheese Mexican dip:

 

mexicandip

 

 

And let me go back to the amazing friends I have.  My best friend, Cory Norbutus, is the creator of Heart Healthy Tips.  I love her website and lifestyle because it encourages a balance of indulgence and activity.  She is a personal trainer who believes in both indulging in Chinese food AND doing a ton of burpees in the middle of a 3 mile walk.  We met at UMass in 2000 freshman year, and the rest is history.  I’d like to think our lifestyles complement each other.  Here is the two of us on my birthday:

 

corynme

 

 

I think, per usual, the challenge for me that day lay in a. sitting with being full, and b.  not taking care of others and enjoying my day!  Why is it so hard for some of us to accept love and praise?  For me, the whole role of perfectionism in anorexia lies underneath this issue.  For example – if I’m imperfect and make mistakes, then I don’t deserve love at all.  Which is so.  innaccurate.  In fact, I believe it’s a cognitive distortion called all-or-nothing thinking.  As I spoke about in a previous entry, we are all human and mess up from time to time.  It doesn’t mean we don’t deserve love.

We deserve it just because we exist.

I will leave you with this beautiful bouquet of flowers I was given – perfect red roses and gladiolas, my favorite flower (and incidentally, August’s flower).

rosesandglads

 

Do you have trouble accepting love and praise?  What about it is hard for you to embrace?

 

PS:  The only shot I got of my birthday cake was messy, so that’s why you don’t see some cake up on this entry.

Anorexia, On Vacation

I wish this article was about my anorexia going on a permanent vacation, but it isn’t.  There aren’t two ways about it: recovery is hard on any average routine-filled day.  So when you throw in a two-week period of little sleep, constant activity, and strange, indulgent foods, one in recovery can feel like he or she is on an anorectic rollercoaster.

I went to Los Angeles for almost two weeks, to introduce my daughter to friends she hadn’t the opportunity to meet yet.  (Oh, and I forgot to mention above the fun of putting a Boston toddler on Los Angeles time.  Joyful 3am awakenings where SuperWhy MUST be watched.  But I digress.)  Now, I love LA for many reasons – it’s beautiful, the weather is almost perfect, the people are relaxed, and I’ll admit, it’s pretty cool to see celebrities alongside of you shopping for groceries.  But it’s image-obsessed.  Two years ago, I had gone to LA, and when I got off the plane at LAX with a dream and my cardigan…wait…

No but really.  The first billboard I saw read:

“1-800-GET-SKINNY”.

I remember thinking how you’d never see that in Boston.

Also, the last time I went, I had gone out to a bar with my boyfriend and some of his friends.  I had excused myself to go to the bathroom, and when I entered it, immediately felt out of place.  The white hippie sundress and sandals I had previously thought were pretty attractive paled in comparison to the row of stiletto heels and skintight dresses I saw on the other women.  Now, I’ve never been one to follow trends, but I had to admit that my Boston-ness seemed glaringly apparent that day.

This time, I didn’t compare myself as much to other women, but I found the off-schedule eating pretty abhorrent.  Can you eat healthy on vacation?  Absolutely.  Is it harder when you’re dealing with low finances and a screaming toddler?  Yup.  So, long story short, I found myself eating more fast foods and sugar, and while you know I DEFINITELY don’t endorse abstinence from any of these foods, it was an imbalance for me.

candyamanda

 

The above picture was taken in this fabulous candy store, Dylan’s Candy Bar, in the Grove.  Think candy you haven’t seen for years AND a chocolate fondue bar where you could dip strawberries and rice krispie treats in chocolate.  This is me, overenjoying one of those delectable treats:

amandalickingchocolate

 

The folly for me always lies in this common anorexic miscalculation: linking food intake with moral value.  Because I ate a ton of candy that day, I was immediately a disgusting person…not.  I may have had uncomfortable feelings of my body breaking down sugars it doesn’t usually, but that doesn’t translate into my moral value.  Separating the physical and the emotional are so very important, at times.  And also…one can’t maintain a perfect food intake 24/7.  We are humans, which means we err.  Which means it’s ok to get off the bandwagon for a bit if we know we have the ability to get back on safely.  And at this point, I do.  I just need to remind myself it’s ok to indulge in healthy substances.  Writing, friend time, nerds ropes, and my daughter.

I will say this trip was not a total anorectic mental slip, and is documented by the following:  I wore a bikini with little to no shame, for the first time in my life.

amandabikini

 

I had planned this photo mentally, because I needed to challenge the irrational idea in my head that I looked disgusting in a bathing suit and needed to hide my body.  For some, this might be triggering, but for me, it was one of the most liberating experiences I ever had.  Truthfully, I’ve still found ways to pick apart this photo since then, but, it’s a work in process, isn’t it?

 

How does being on vacation affect your self-care?  Does it improve it or throw it off?