Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Year in Pictures

January
High hopes

February
Birthday bouquet

March
Sibling rivalry

April
I'll love you forever, my monkey boy.

May
Put it in ink

June
Summer green

July
Miss my beautiful boy

August
Oh, Michigan.

September
New York rain

October
Roof-gazing

November
Close to my heart

December - How to capture an image of a year that ends this way?
...my engagement ring in its dusty, black box?
...my pillows, smudged with mascara from the gallons of tears I've shed?

Maybe it's something that can't be snapped in a still frame.  Maybe it's the hope that 2012 will be better.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Rue the Day

I had dinner at my brother's place the other night, while I was upstate for Christmas.  We listened to music, deciphered the strange noises coming from his fridge, and after three glasses of wine apiece attempted to convert a Jamie Oliver risotto recipe from metric to...American?  Whatever is the opposite of metric?  The risotto turned out deliciously, I have a whole list of new artists to listen to, and we talked.  A lot.  About girls, relationships, and life in general.  We talked about having our hearts broken and about being dumped for reasons that we don't understand.  We also talked about what to do in the aftermath.  How to pick yourself up and get on with your life.  I'm scared, I told him, of falling apart the way I did after my first serious relationship ended.  I literally came apart at the seams: I drank too much, I drove too fast, I skipped class, I was late for work, I had hangovers that lasted for days, I lied about why my assignments weren't done - in short, I made a lot of really bad, unhealthy choices because I felt like, fuck it, my life is derailed?  Might as well be the runaway train heading for a crash.  I was lucky.  Nothing too disastrous happened and I made it out of that dark period intact (ironically or not, meeting Alix played a huge part in getting me out of the mess I was making of my life).

But what do I do this time around, to make it different? I asked.  You tell yourself this, he said.  You say, six months from now, I am going to be a better person than I am right now.  I am going to make changes that make me happier, healthier, and better for myself.  And - you are going to make her rue the fucking day that she let you go.  I smiled.  He smiled.  We ate risotto, had a bit more wine, he hugged me goodbye and told me to keep my chin up.

I got home tonight to Boston.
I went for a run.
I took my vitamins.
I ate dinner.
I'm going to bed early so I can run again in the morning.
I have a job interview at 10 AM (3-month-old twins - squee!).
Me?  I'm going to be okay.  I don't know when, but I know that I will.

So yeah, go ahead.  Rue the fucking day.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The End.

When broken bones heal, so it is said, they are stronger than the original bone.  The new growth, the knitting together of tissue and fibers that seal a fractured limb is supposedly more resistant to future breaks.

Not so with hearts.  A healed heart, one that has relearned how to trust, how to love, how to beat in concert with someone else's heart is no more resistant to the pain of breaking again than a taped-together photograph doesn't show where it was ripped.

The scars open, the pain pours in, and your body is flooded with the aching, numbing sensation of wretched familiarity.  Ah yes, you remember.  This is how I fall apart.  This is how it feels to lose it all.

"I love you, Cait, but I just can't do this anymore."

Thud, thud, thud.  The blood pounded in my ears as I heard these words, the words I never thought I'd hear again, the words she swore she'd never say, the words that ended it all.


"Why?" was the only thing I could think to say.

Because I didn't support her enough, I didn't do enough, I couldn't be what she wanted or needed or hoped for, especially over the last five months of incredible difficulty, sickness, and loneliness (for both of us).

I want to fight for this, I told her.  I'll do whatever it takes.  I made a promise to you when you asked me to marry you, and that promise was that I would always, always fight to make this work between us because there is nothing that means more to me than being with you.  I've been fighting so hard for us these last few months, she said.  So have I, Alix.  So. Have. I.  Every day that I got out of bed when I didn't feel like I could, I was fighting for us.  Every time I ate a meal when the demons in my head were screaming, telling me not to, I was fighting for us.  Even when I made the incredibly hard decision to move to Boston in order to surround myself with a support network to help me grow stronger and healthier, that was me fighting for us.  I won the battles but lost the war.

I asked if she loved me.  She said that she did.  I said good-bye.
I hung up the phone.
I grabbed a pillow, clutching it to my heaving torso and called - who else? - my mother.
"Mama," I gasped.  "I need you.  I'm coming home."

Eight hours of empty highway stretched before me.  Dry-eyed, I drove and drove and drove, until, shaking, I collapsed into my parents' warm bed.  The dam broke.  I cried like I've never cried before until, finally, I was able to get the words out as I tried to explain what I couldn't (and will probably never completely) understand.  "I tried so hard," I told my mama.  "I tried so hard.  I did the best I could, every day, to support her, to be there for her, to be what she needed.  Why wasn't it enough?  Why wasn't I enough?"

"Sometimes," she softly said, holding my hand with both of hers, "sometimes, there are needs and voids in people that nothing and nobody can fill."
It hit me then - "I can't bring back Alix's mom," I said, "and I can't change the hurt in her family, and I can't take away her sickness."
"No, you can't," my mother said.  "No one can."

A wave of peace washed through me.  This isn't about me, I realized.  This is not my fault, I realized.  Everyone has demons.  And we are all, every day, fighting like hell against them.  I will fight my fights, I realized, but I cannot fight hers too.

I gave it everything I had, and then some, and when push came to shove, I was ready to keep fighting for what we had.

I will mourn the future that she and I had planned.  I will grieve for the children that will never be ours, the dreams that will never be fulfilled, and the love that could have grown over the decades to come.  I will cry when I hear our songs, when I see old photos of us, and when I see my engagement ring tucked away in my nightstand drawer.

But I will also get up, every day, and keep fighting.  My feet will hit the floor and the fight will begin.  Because in the end, what matters is this:

I am enough.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Labels are for jars, not people


The conversation started off innocently enough.  You seem more down, lately, my boss told me over the phone on Monday.  Well, it’s nice of you to be concerned, I said, thank you, but now that I’m moving into my new place, hopefully things will start to even out.


Caitlin, we know you have bipolar.  (Well, yes, of course you know.  You also know I have an eating disorder, given that it was relevant for you to know both of those things since I leave work early on Wednesday to get to therapy on time.  You also know that I see doctors regularly, take medication, and work actively and conscientiously to remain in control over the demons I fight.  I never felt the need to hide any of this from you, given that it has no bearing over the quality of care that I provide for your daughter.)

Would it be alright with you if I spoke to your doctor just to make sure that you’re fit to take care of Birdie?

Translation: Would it be alright with you if I blatantly invaded your privacy, insulted you, delegitimized the excellent care you’ve provided Birdie over the last three months, and stomped all over any self-respect you might have shakily built for yourself?

No.

No, it is not alright.

A question for you, J.: have I given you any reason to be concerned about how I care for Birdie?  Anything you’ve seen or heard or felt uncomfortable with?

No! she vehemently replied.  No, no, sweetie, we adore you, we think you’re wonderful and that you do a fantastic job with her!  It’s just that I asked my doctor about bipolar and he told me that I should speak to your doctor to make sure you’re okay around kids.

Hmm.

So let me get this straight:
You asked a doctor who has never met me, seen me, or potentially heard anything about bipolar disorder since his psych residency thirty years ago about bipolar.  He gave you an off-the-cuff answer. 
His answer and advice became law?
It takes precedence over the last three months that you have seen and witnessed first-hand how well I care for your daughter?
It takes precedence over your own feelings that I do a fantastic job?
It takes precedence over the fact that you can’t think of a single instance where you’ve doubted or questioned my abilities?

Apparently.  Apparently the job I do is less important or relevant than the advice of a “trained professional.”  Unless, of course, I acquiesced to her request to speak to my trained professional who could vouch for me.  Got it.

Well, no.

Leaving the expletives out of this: it’s none of your business what I talk about with my doctors.  It’s none of your business what I deal with, because I don’t bring it to work with me and it has never – by your own admission – affected how I do my job.  And it is a choice, your choice to place more importance on this doctor’s advice than on the last three months’ effort, energy, and love that I have poured into caring for your daughter.

That’s your choice.

And here’s mine:

No.

No, because it’s not relevant.

No, because it’s none of your business.

No, because I respect myself too much to let you walk all over me like this.

No, because I am more than a label that might describe me and if you can’t see that, then I don’t want to work for you.

No, because when I went and spoke to my trained professional last night, you know what she told me?

That she was proud of me for standing up for myself.  That she would have been more than willing to vouch for my ability to care for children, but that I was absolutely, irrefutably correct in deciding that it wasn’t necessary and was blatantly disrespectful of someone to ask for that validation.

Who lost in this situation, my doctor asked me.  Them, I said.  They lost the best nanny they’ll ever have and they lost my respect.  That’s right, she said.  And who wins in this situation?  Me, I said, and I smiled.  I win.  I get to live in one city, not two.  I get to find a new job, one where I am respected and valued for the work I do, not the words that fill my medical chart.

I win.

I win because in saying no to someone else, I said yes to myself for the first time in a long, long time. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Confessions of a Chronic Bus Rider

The idea of putting mayonnaise in guacamole makes me sick.  I'm in shock that there are people who actually do this.

I drink at least twelve cups of water a day.  Usually closer to sixteen.  I am aware of coffee's diuretic properties which inspires some of the excessive water consumption, but honestly, I am always thirsty. 

In order to consume so much water, I am never without my Nalgene.  I am also never without a book of some kind, in the event that I might have to wait for something for more than two minutes and need something to occupy my brain.

At a pool party when I was eleven, a girl made an off-hand comment to me that my toes were hairy.  I have since become incredibly self-conscious about it - despite the fact that I am so blonde that my body hair is practically translucent - that I take care to shave the tops of my toes every time I shave my legs.

On several occasions I have had dreams about things that have then happened in real-life.  They're mundane things, like conversations or sightings, but I will have seen or heard them the night before in my dreams and then have ridiculous deja vu because of it.

I never remember to bring an umbrella.  Even if it is visibly pouring rain as I am preparing to leave the house.

If I'm not within driving distance of the ocean, I feel claustrophobic.  The summer I lived in Kentucky, I routinely had nightmares that I was going to be swallowed by the mountains because I was so landlocked.

There are few foods that I don't feel are improved by a generous dose of Sriracha hot sauce.

I develop guilt complexes about accruing library late fees.

I have all of my children's names picked out - three boys' and three girls', with a couple of sidelined possibilities in the event that I have more than three of either one.  Better safe than sorry.

I never swear around the kids I take care of, but I doubt that I will heavily censor myself around my own children.

My all-time favorite nanny memory is of the way that Monkey used to reach his hand up to hold my face turned towards his while I fed him his bottle.  If I looked away for even a second, his pudgy left paw would be on my cheek in a moment, pulling my chin around so his eyes could find mine again.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dream Date


I loved this cartoon as a kid.  I still love it.  I also love the part in the movie Stepmom where Susan Sarandon arranges a dream date with her little son (yes, that Stepmom, I know it's a horrible movie, but I like it, okay?  OKAY??).  H. and I regularly schedule dream dates when we're apart from each other - like now, when I'm in New York for my weekly stint with Birdie.  Yes, we go three days a week without seeing each other.  Yes, we miss each other when we're apart.  Yes, it's mildly pathetic but so is the movie Stepmom and we've already discussed my feelings on that, so there you go.

You know what I dream about?

A place where I'm happy with my body.  A place without eating disorders.  A place where I don't base my self-worth on the shape of my stomach or the number on a scale.  That's why they're called dreams, right?  Because those places don't exist in real life.  I wish they did.  Tonight, I'm wishing so hard that they did.  Instead, I'll try to find that place in my dreams and enjoy it until the sun rises, the alarm rings, and a new day begins.

Where do you go in your dreams?  Do you bring anyone along?  I'd like to think I'm not the only one.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Moment of Thanks

When I was young, it was customary at big holidays for us to go around the table and say something for which we were thankful while breaking off a piece of the traditional Polish Oplatek wafer.  We usually did things in order by age so that the least patient among us (who, me?) could go first.  My father recalls Thanksgiving dinners growing cold as I attempted to hold the proverbial floor by desperately adding to my list of thanks before the focus of everyone's attention could turn elsewhere: "I'm - I'm - I'm thankful for...puppies!  And kitties!  And bunnies!  And horsies!  And - and -and..."  And you get the idea.  While my thanks was not insincere, it certainly didn't encompass the larger, truer things I was lucky to have as a child - things like family and safety and food on the table.


Twenty years later, I'm better able to verbalize my thanks for things like family, friends, and all those other things people are thankful for on Thanksgiving.  But this year, I'm hundreds of miles away from both my family and my fiancee, I'm struggling financially like I never have before, I don't have a home of my own, and it is work - work - to get through each day.  Is it work worth doing?  Well, yes, I'd like to think so.  But so here it is.  This year?  This year, I'm thankful for the hard.  For the messy.  For the getting up each day, even on - especially on - the days when I feel like I can't. 

There's often an unspoken (or sometimes spoken) question that arises around mental illness.  It goes like this:

If you could, would you give it up?

If I could, would I wish away the bipolar disorder?

The bipolar disorder that makes it so that I can't get out of bed sometimes, that makes it necessary for me to swallow handfuls of drugs every night, the bipolar that landed me in a psychiatric hospital for a week when I was only 20 years old?  No.  I would not.  I think that my manic depression is what allows me to feel for people as intensely as I do, which is often difficult but ultimately I feel it's valuable.  I think I am empathetic because I've experienced such a range of emotion, at such intense highs and lows, that there's relatively little that I don't feel like I can relate to on some level.  I think that my empathy will help me to be a strong mother and a gentle midwife, even if the degree to which I feel is exhausting sometimes.  However, I don't see my illness as being some sort of window into the meaning of life, or as being essential to my being or something like that.  I see it as the hand I was dealt and it's up to me to navigate the world with and through it.  I would never romanticize this illness - I wouldn't wish on anyone the hope of death, unbearable helplessness, mania that makes one a danger to oneself and others, depression that renders one completely nonfunctional or the pure exhaustion that comes from swinging from one extreme to another like a pendulum you can't control.  But it's part of who I am, and wishing that I could give it up is like wishing that part of me doesn't exist.  And when I came through the period of time where I did want to die, I did so with the knowledge and appreciation that I was blessed to be alive and loved, I was worthy of existing, there was good in the world that I was meant to do, and choosing to give all that up was stealing value, hope, and joy not only from myself but from anyone that loved me and wanted to see what I could do with this life.  So accepting who I was, and that I was valuable, meant accepting every part of who I was - bipolar and all.

There are the moments when I feel like I'm cemented into bed.  Moments when I lie awake at 3 AM and wish for my heartbeat to slow down.  Moments when I wonder how this will all, ever, work out.  But there are also moments like this.
And it is for those moments that I am thankful.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Confessions of a Chronic Insomniac

Doesn't matter if I'm walking or driving, I find bicyclists annoying. 

I can make five strand braided challah, a gingersnap-crusted cheesecake, a blueberry pie so good it made Alix fall in love with me, and the best vegan blueberry muffins you'd ever had.  It makes me sad that I'm too scared to eat and enjoy any of those anymore.

I wish I owned more flannel, lesbian cliches be damned.

I simply do not understand the obsession with red velvet.  Seriously.  It's chocolate with food coloring.

On a similar note, I hate food coloring.  It freaks me out.

I have two dreams: to learn French and to learn to play the cello.  Deep in my heart of hearts, I hope that someday I'll be able to do both.

I judge people who don't know the difference between it's and its; there, their, and they're; loose and lose; and aw and awe.

Is the effort it takes to eat a grapefruit really worth it?

I'm self-conscious about my height and rarely, if ever wear heels.

Did you know that tulips are the only flower that continues to grow after being cut?  That's why they start to droop in their vase, because their stems are still getting longer.

I have four tattoos.  With the exception of my first one, each was conceived, pondered, and inked onto me in less than 48 hours.

I deeply covet a Le Creuset Dutch oven.

I will never, not ever eat jello, Smarties, or drink Gatorade.  Why?  Because I know I would hate all three.

I think all my siblings' names are cooler than mine.

I'm obsessive about covering my mouth and nose when I sneeze but will blatantly forget to cover a yawn.

What the hell is the point of Twitter?

Things that make my world go round: a hot cup of coffee, a good book, a sleeping baby on my shoulder, a warm blanket, a hug so tight it takes my breath away, and the feeling of being needed.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Hither and Yon

I'd pretend to be sleeping
When you come in in the morning
To whisper good-bye
Go to work in the rain
I don't know why
Don't know why
-Top of the World, by the Dixie Chicks

Those lines get to me.  Probably because I've done exactly what they say.  I've sat and listened while someone called my name, I've pretended to be asleep when I'm not, I've made an art form out of wanting to be found, but hiding all the same.  I remember being tucked into the hall closet in the old farm house where I grew up, listening to my mother yell for us to come down for dinner.  I'd sit, curled up, waiting.  Please, I'd think.  Please come find me.  Please come look.  With seven kids to feed, I can hardly fault my mother for not wanting to traipse through three floors of shadows, in pursuit of her youngest, most stubborn, most exasperating, and ultimately baffling child.  Why, for god's sakes, was I hiding in the hall closet when I had clearly heard that it was dinner time?  Eventually, when it became obvious that no one was going to come looking for me, I'd scramble out of the dark folds of winter coats and wrapping paper rolls and gallop down the stairs, away from the monsters I was sure were living in the closet I had just vacated.  I'd run into the brightly lit kitchen, only to find the rest of my family calmly filling their plates and just sitting down to eat.  "Where were you?" my mother would ask.  "I called and you didn't answer."  "Hiding," I would say, and it seemed to suffice.  It wasn't true, though.  I wasn't hiding, I was waiting.  Waiting for something that would not come.  Waiting for a pursuit, a search, a rescue from something I could not name.

In some ways, I feel like I'm still waiting.  If that's the case, then I'm still unsure of what I'm waiting for.  Proof that people care where I am?  Evidence of others' concern for my well-being?  I have those things, in spades.  Maybe there's just something about feeling like I spend half my life in transit these days: more often than not, you could find me on a bus, on the subway, on the T, on the NJ Transit, or sitting, shivering in a station waiting for the doors to open, my ticket to be punched, and the wheels or rails to creak into motion.  Back and forth I go, happy in each place, but in transit nonetheless.  GPS, text messages, and online schedules assure anyone who cares to look exactly where I am at any given moment but it doesn't make me feel any less lost.  Knowing where you are is a far cry from feeling like you belong.  Landing is different from coming home.  And it's only as I've gotten older - and been sought out and found and picked up and carried to safety more times than I can count - that I've realized with an aching heart that even being found when I'm trying so desperately to hide won't take away the demons from which I'm ultimately running.

Years ago, the dark hall closet held me secure but also trapped.  Folded in amongst the coats and winter boots, I was hiding just as much from myself as from my mother.  In the same way, running back and forth can start to look an awful lot like running away.  I want to land.  I want to come home.  I want to unlace my metaphorical sneakers and feel like I belong.  It won't always be this way, I tell myself.  This is part of being young; going with the flow.  Feeling like I'm riding the waves of change instead of fighting to keep my head above water is an art form I have yet to master.  For now, I'll make my iPod playlists, I'll read my library books, I'll pack lightly, and I'll enjoy every hug at the end of every journey.  I'm a lucky girl, I tell myself.  There's love wherever I land.  That is more than enough.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A few minor changes...

My life. Has changed. So much.

Here are the facts:
1.  On Wednesday mornings, I take a 6 AM bus to NYC, where I work for J. all day, then take a train to NJ to see my therapist at 8 PM at night (God bless this woman for staying late to see me) and then I take a 9:30 train back into the city before returning to J.'s apartment to collapse.
2.  Thursdays, I will be babysitting a little boy for a few hours, puttering around NY, taking care of things, and then taking care of Birdie for her parents' date night starting at 5 PM.
3.  Fridays, I work for Birdie all day and take a bus back to Boston around 7 PM.
4.  Saturdays, I collapse, do laundry, hug my best friend, go grocery shopping, etc.
5.  Sundays, I go to a local horse barn where I shovel shit in exchange for the chance to ride.  I also do this on Mondays and Tuesdays.  I AM THE LUCKIEST GIRL EVER.
6.  Right now, I am camping in the room of this girl I talk about all the time.  Starting in December, though, I'll be living in the apartment upstairs with two roommates (yet to be found, inspected, and approved).
7.  I'm looking for a part-time job in Boston for Sundays-Tuesdays, to help bring in more money.  I've applied to every coffee shop and bookstore I could find, so we'll see what happens there.
8.  I miss my boys terribly.  For the sake of Rupert, his need for more consistency, and the ease of me finding a place to live, he is living at Alix's dad's house for now.  I have shed more than a few tears about this, because he was (and is) the light of my life and not snuggling up with him every night has made a part of me die.  In fact, I'm tearing up right now just writing this.  But I know he's in a better place right now, this is temporary, and yes.  Okay.  It's better.  I know it is.  But oh, I miss him.
9.  Until I move upstairs, Tucker is staying with my brother so as not to continue to overcrowd H.'s apartment with warm bodies.  So I'll be counting down the days until December 1st when I can begin our staring contests again.  (He usually wins.  But I feed him.  So technically, as the wielder of all things edible, I WIN.)



The gory deets:

Living with Birdie's family three days a week is going surprisingly well.  We genuinely get along, we have fun together, and it's not awkward.  (This is remarkable.  I am the queen of awkward.  I could make a coffee table feel uncomfortable, if I tried.)

I am eating.  More.  Every day.  It's hard.  I am trying.  The end.

I applied to Yale.  I wrote a damn good essay (if I do say so myself), and the office of admissions is being very understanding about the lateness of two of my letters of recommendation due to the snow/ice storm that took out power in the town from which two of the letters are coming.

Last week, when H. was helping me pack, it was quite honestly, the most exhausting 72 hours of my life, between packing up all of Alix's stuff to put in storage, going to Boston to go job/apt hunting, coming back, packing up all of my stuff, loading a moving van, driving to Boston, unloading the van into a storage unit, and then driving me and H. and my essentials to her apartment.  ANYWAY - we were packing.  We were tired.  So, we decided to get coffee.  Then, we decided coffee was boring.  So, we added Bailey's.  Irish coffees make packing A LOT more interesting.  Please see below:
In case you can't read: (H) AIR (Y) Conditioner (and golf clubs).
The last time I picked up a golf club was...oh wait, never.  So yeah.  Around 3 AM, everything was in boxes, labeled (although you can only imagine how much more fun the labels got as the hours swung by), and organized into piles for van vs. car.  A couple hours later and we were up, bumping furniture down three flights of stairs and soon on our way to Beantown.

I was so tired when we got there that I almost fell asleep on the floor.  Of the living room.  With the lights on.

Today, I took a walk in Riverside Park, just for fun.  Just because I wanted to.  Because I had enough energy to do so.  Because the sunshine felt nice, and I had nothing else to do, and I was happy.

Further gory deets, though: I am still swinging like a monkey on a tree between moods.  Definitely hanging out in the depressed section these days, for way longer than I have been in a good long while.  I'm hoping that my medication changes will help, as will all these other huge life alterations that were all done in the name of saving my sanity (even if temporarily, it's disrupting it completely).  Eventually, I will even out.  And so will my life.  And life will go on.  And all that stuff that they say, but it's true, and it bears repeating.

Holding this close to my heart tonight, and trying like hell to believe it:
You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fighting for Sara

Something happened to me tonight that rocked me to my core.  I stood, on the sidewalk, shaking and near tears for a good two minutes before I managed to plant one foot in front of the other in order to keep moving.

Let me back up a bit.  Today was a day where I took care of Birdie all day and then rushed home to walk Rupert before heading to another regular babysitting gig that takes me about thirty minutes to walk to (it's a tight fit, getting out of work at 6 and trying to make it here by 7).  I was booking it along, in the rapidly fading light of a New York sunset, when I looked up and locked eyes with a woman coming towards me on the sidewalk.  There were a good six other people surrounding both of us, walking in either direction, but our eyes caught, and without even a millisecond of conscious thought, my brain saw her and thought: eating disorder.  Her cheeks were sunken.  Her eyes were haunted.  She was clutching her coat around her in the chilly night air.  I saw myself in her, except she was much, much sicker.  Then, the unbelievable happened.  She stopped me.  She told me she needed help.  She said she was sorry, that she wasn't asking me for money, but that she needed help.  She had an eating disorder.  Today was her first day home from being in a residential facility in Florida.  She had gained forty pounds (she looked as if she weighed around 110).  Her OCD was out of control at the moment.  She had just eaten with a friend and had left the house so as to avoid purging and the door had locked behind her.  She was lost and didn't know what to do.  She didn't have a phone.  Could I please call her sister?

My mouth hung open in shock.  I ushered her over to the side of the sidewalk.  I told her in the calmest, quietest voice I could that everything was going to be okay.  I said I understood.  I said I have an eating disorder too.  I said that we would call her sister.  I dialed, and it went straight to voicemail.  She looked panic-stricken.  I asked her how far away her sister lived.  She said all the way down in Battery City and she started to shake.  Hey, I said.  It's okay.  Look at me.  It's okay.  I want you to take this money.  Go to the Duane Reede right here and get a Vitamin Water and drink it, okay?  And then get in a cab and tell them to take you to your sister's house.  Take a deep breath.  You're going to be okay.  Everything will be okay.  She looked at me and insisted that she couldn't take the money without having a way to reimburse me.  Please, I said.  Please just take it.  I want you to be okay.  I know you can do this.  You can get through this.  You can fight this, even though right now, it feels so, so hard.  We can fight together, okay?  Her dark eyes locked with mine and she bravely asked me: You said you had an eating disorder too.  Are you better?

I took a deep breath.  I'm getting there, I said.  I'm getting there.  And so are you.

I will never see Sara again.  I will never see that money again.  I could give two hoots about the money, never mind the fact that I'm dirt poor right now and I desperately needed that money.  She needed it more.  She needed so much more than I could give her.  But I'm sitting here tonight, and I am hoping with everything in me that she is okay.  That she made it to her sister's.  That she is safe.  That she believed me, even if only the tiniest bit, when I told her she would be okay.

Everyone you meet is fighting demons.  Sometimes you glimpse those demons and you try like hell to help.  Please pray for Sara tonight.  Tonight, I am fighting my eating disorder for her.  I hope she is still fighting too.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

What This Blog is Not

Who wants their blog to be depressing?  Come on, let's see a show of hands!   No, really, no one?  Shocker.  Me neither.  Problem is...I've been really depressed lately.  Like, can't-get-out-of-bed-without-help kind of depressed.  Like sitting-in-the-shower-for-an-hour kind of depressed.  But the best advice I've gotten (yay for my therapist!) is that - and I swear I have heard this countless times and yet I need to hear this a gazillion more times before it gets through my thick, thick skull - the best thing to do when you're depressed and all you want to do is lay in bed all day is to go through the motions.  Get up.  Shower.  Put on clothes.  Go to work.  Do it all, even if you're miserable while you're doing it.  Because it's only going to be a hell of a lot more miserable, lying in bed all day crying.

So.  Going through the motions also equals writing, even when I don't feel like it, because writing is as therapeutic for me as is well, going to therapy.  I've been trying for days to think of something to write about that does not turn my blog into a Debbie Downer, even if that's how I feel, so here are a few happy things.

1.  I wrote a short essay for my Yale application today about my volunteering experience.  I was (and am) proud of the essay, and it made me think and remember and be grateful for the two years I spent volunteering at the Northampton Interfaith Homeless Shelter.  My life was changed by the experience, and I am grateful that I had the chance to be a part of so many lives even in such little ways as playing cards, serving dinner, and hearing the guests' stories.  I will always remember them.
2.  I got to see my amazing mother this past weekend.  She listened to me, she talked with me, she helped me clean, she helped me pack, she took care of Rupert - she was my wonderful, sweet, supportive, loving mama.  I am lucky to have her and I am grateful every day for her.
3.  My mom and I had the following conversation after I returned from the pharmacy:

Me: What does it mean if a guy pharmacist tells me he likes my scarf?  Does it mean he's hitting on me, or he's gay?
My mother: I think it means he likes your scarf.

Touche, mom.

4.  I got to ride a horse on Monday for the first time in a couple of years.  Someday soon I'll write a post about how much riding means to me and how excited I am that it's back in my life.  Suffice to say now, settling into the saddle on Elvis's back felt like coming home.

There are big changes going on in my life right now.  Some good, some not so good.  But change, whether I like it or not, is inevitable and it's happening and there's nothing I can do about it.  So I'm just trying to hang on for the ride and go through the motions.  And limit my shower time to less than twenty minutes.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Up, Up and Away!

You guys.

Something important happened this weekend.  Actually, several important things happened this weekend, but there will be an organized, itemized blog post describing them all once they have all been thoroughly sorted out and I can type with two hands instead of using one to knock on wood the entire time I type.

ANYWAY.

This weekend - I grew an inch.  Yes, that's right.  My entire life (well, since I was 14 and stopped growing), I have been 5'6".  Quite literally, every time in the past 4-5 years that someone has asked me how tall I am and I tell them, they say something along the lines of, "Wow, you don't look it, you look much taller!"  I smile and nod, and think something along the lines of, "My goodness, your eyes must be far more accurate than the measuring tool at my doctor's office."

So this weekend, my friend got fed up with the whole argument, lined me up barefoot against the wall, penciled a mark at the top of my head and I AM FIVE FEET AND SEVEN AND ONE QUARTER INCHES TALL.

(I think that quarter inch is just as exciting as the full inch before it, by the way.)

So, that was my exciting weekend.

Anyone else experience any recent bodily discoveries that blew them away?  (Let's keep this G-rated here, people.)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Too Much

Yesterday and the day before, the internet in my apartment stopped working.  I at first assumed it was a problem with my dinosaur of my computer, but after restarting it three times and then taking it to Starbucks where it instantly connected problem-free to their wireless, I knew the problem lay deep within the mysterious cable box that sits on the TV stand.  Then, for kicks yesterday, I turned on the television.  "You have no cable," the screen helpfully announced.  I started to cry.  (Been doing that a lot these days.  Including, but not limited to: on the subway, on the sidewalk. over my painstakingly-eaten dinner, when Rupert wakes me up, when I only sleep two hours a night, when the coffee shop is cold, when I can't find anything to wear that doesn't make me look 239908908920 pounds, etc.)  I was definitely not crying over the lack of cable television.  Selfishly, I was a little peeved about the lack of internet, since it's how I blog and Skype with my best friend.  But mostly, I was crying because I just can't do this all alone anymore. 

I just cannot handle every single piece of mail that comes into the apartment, addressed to both me and Alix, some of them with bills, some of them with past-due notices, many from our respective insurance coverage denying coverage or demanding astronomical co-pays.  I cannot handle going to bed at 11 PM and waking up at 1 AM.  I cannot handle arranging dog walkers and pet-sitters in order that I might earn the paltry amount of money that my 2-3 day a week job is bringing in.  I cannot handle paying a rent that is easily three times what I can afford.  And I definitely cannot handle all of this while fighting two eating disorders with every fiber of my being.  I don't know when Alix is coming home.  It sure isn't anytime soon.

Which is why, at the end of this month, when my lease ends, I'll be moving.  Almost definitely to Boston.  It's closer to a support network that I desperately need and it's way more affordable.  The complications arise when I factor in that I'll still be trying to come to NY a few days a week in order to continue caring for Birdie, because, honestly, it's the happiest job I've ever had and happiness is in short supply these days.  I've also just recently found a therapist who gets me, who pushes me, who I finally feel like is in my corner and is going to help me fight these demons.  So...lots of bus trips back and forth!  The relief I feel about getting out of this place is at least equally matched, if not surpassed, by the additional stress that this all adds to my plate (no pun intended).  In the next 20ish days, I need to: write an application, get letters of recommendation, update my resume, pack up all of Alix's things and put them in storage, sort through my things and put some in storage, find a place to live in Boston, pack the rest of my stuff into a U-Haul, drive to Boston, move in, convince Birdie's parents to agree to the convoluted work schedule I'm going to offer them, find additional work in Boston, and, oh yeah, eat.  Pesky little thing, this eating-every-day idea.

I'm trying to stay positive about it all, I really am.  I'm trying to focus on the good things that are coming, but it's hard when ever-so-conveniently, my bipolar disorder has decided to crash and burn and become unresponsive to my meds, thus necessitating another (expensive) trip to the psychiatrist, in addition to my weekly visit to the psychologist that is keeping me sane enough that I feel I should offer her baked goods or wine in exchange for my weekly hour of tears and word-spewing. 

I know that if everyone in the world stood in a circle and tossed their problems into the middle, I'd probably be pretty damn quick to grab back my own.  After all, there are many, many others who have it a lot worse.  But right now, all I'm feeling is the kind of overwhelmed where your heart skips and your hands shake and your eyes are constantly brimming.

Can it be November 2nd?


Or can someone step in, rub my forehead, shush me quietly, and tell me that it will all be okay and that everything will get sorted out and that somehow, I don't know how, but somehow, I'll make it through this?

I even put my own name into the prayer box last night.  That was a first.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

GRE: Good RiddancE

Yale held up the hoop.  I jumped through it.  It's pretty much as simple as that.  (And I'm so glad it's over.)

I am a freak about not being late for things, and so I tend to arrive ridiculously early.  Cue Thursday morning, when I left the house at 6:05 AM for an 8:30 exam.  Yeah.  Like I said, a little ridiculous.  But it was all good, because after inspecting my ID, giving me a key to use the restroom, searching my bag, turning out my pockets, taking my picture, and waving a metal-detecting wand over my entire person, the very kind proctor let me start my exam early.  I wrote two essays, I picked out words to finish sentences, I read passages and answered questions, I scribbled math equations and figures and angles and oh dear god, the angles, but then, THEN - it. was. over.  And I said YES, and then YES, REALLY, I MEAN IT when the computer asked me if I'd like to submit my scores, and then it asked me one more time and I was like DEAR GOD JUST STOP ASKING ME AND SHOW ME WHAT I GOT.  And I looked, and I squealed (silently), because you guys, I did it, and it's over, and *knocking-so-hard-on-wood* I think it's good enough to get me in.  I think.  I'll find out my real scores in a few weeks, and I have the rest of the month to whip out some essays for the application and then November 1st will roll around and I'll have to hit SUBMIT and then YES, REALLY SUBMIT, and then probably again, DEAR GOD YES SUBMIT THIS APPLICATION NOW BEFORE I CHANGE MY MIND.  And then, if nothing else, it will be out of my hands.

When the exam was over, and I was doing a happy dance in front of my locker, I had a moment.  I had a moment that all at once thrilled, terrified, and saddened me (mostly because it was gone in a matter of seconds).  For a moment, I felt like I was more than a number on the scale.  I felt like I was smart.  I felt like I had used my brain, my brain that I was given and of which I am sometimes proud, to learn and to study and to work hard and then to sit down and do the very best I could and it had meant something.  I had done something with my brain other than count calories.  I had done something that I was proud of other than lose weight.  And even though that moment was brief, it gave me the tiniest bit of hope that there will come a day when maybe, just maybe, I won't always feel like a failure.  Because then, right then, I felt like something more.  I felt like me again.
I hope.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Get Yourself Some Enemies


One day, someone who had something against me did something to Alix.  It was rude.  It was uncalled for.  It was degrading, immature, and embarrassing.  It was also, depending on how you look at it, maybe not that big of a deal.  To me, it was.  And I make no apologies for that.  It was an act of meanness against someone I love and it pissed me off.  I didn't let it go.  I found the person who did it, I raised a stink, and you can bet your sweet ass that I made an enemy out of it.  You know what?  Good for me.  I stood up for my girl.  And I'd rather have that to say for myself than be able to claim that I've walked through life without making any enemies.  I have a spitfire personality, I often speak without thinking, I jump, guns blazing, to defend those that I love, and the following words probably wouldn't spring to mind to describe me: Zen-like, easy-going, or anything that involves the metaphor of things rolling off of ducks' backs.  But you know what I am?  Loyal.  Loving.  Compassionate.  Empathetic.  Hard-working.  The picture I paint isn't always pretty.  But it's nothing if not authentic.  I'm not perfect, not by a long shot.  But I'd rather stand for something than fall for anything.


By the way, that quote is by Winston Churchill.  Cool guy.  Not a clue where the idea for this post came from, but yeah, here it is.  Off I go, guns blazing, into my test tomorrow.  But first!  To sleep!

Come onnnn, Friday

Yesterday, Birdie would. not. stop. crying.  I think she's teething.  Cold washcloths, pacifiers, and being carried around constantly were all only semi-effective.  In the light of this morning, I feel much more sympathy for her, but yesterday, much of my sympathy was directed at yours truly.

Yesterday, Rupert ripped open two trash bags and strewed their contents across the entire apartment.

Yesterday, I got started on a crying jag around 2 PM that didn't stop until I fell asleep.  No joke.  I was even sniffling as I said goodbye to Birdie's mom and met with Rupert's future dog-walker.

Today, my alarms (two of them) didn't go off and so I am up an hour later for studying (MY LAST DAY OF STUDYING BEFORE MY GRE HOLY SHIT HOW DID THIS HAPPEN) than I had planned to be.

Today, my studying will be interrupted to go buy an alarm clock.  Preferably one of those big honkin' black ones with red digital numbers that has an obnoxiously loud alarm.  Missing my test because I didn't wake up is NOT in my plans for tomorrow.

Tomorrow, my test (that will determine my entire future...no, I am not the slightest bit dramatic or fatalistic or prone to blowing things wayyyy out of proportion) is at 8:30 AM.  This is during rush hour, which means all the trains will be running wonky, and cabs will be impossible.  I will most likely be leaving two hours early and showing up at the center by 7 AM.

Sooo....can this week be over now?  Please?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Today is a Day...


It's a day to remember what's good.
And a day to redefine what is "bad."
It's a day to ask questions.
And a day to maybe not find the answers.
It's a day to be gentle
with yourself
and with others.
It's Thursday.
It's today.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Count 'Em Up

Want to know ten things that made me happy today?

1.  Autumn-ifying a summer skirt by adding tights, boots, and a sweater.
2.  Snuggles with Birdie, especially as she slooowly woke up from her long afternoon nap.
3.  Watching Rupert bound up the stairs to his best friend's apartment.  Coco is spending the night here and Rupert could not be happier.  He's bursting into wiggles about every ten minutes.
4.  My first sip of my first cup of coffee on this cool, gray morning.
5.  Talking to my mom four times in one day.  Especially happy is the fact that she doesn't get sick of me calling.
6.  Making plans to drink cheap wine with a new friend next week.
7.  Kind thoughts and words from blog readers.
8.  Not getting spit-up on, peed on, pooped on, or even excessively splashed by bathwater today.
9.  The faint citrus smell pervading my apartment.
10.  Knowing that tomorrow is a new day, full of possibilities, and ready for the taking.

Your turn.
xo

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Missing Her



 


'Cause then came you.
Then there's you.
I keep your picture
In my worn through shoes.

When I'm lost
In your eyes
I see the way for me.
"Someone Else's Life," by Joshua Radin

Monday, September 26, 2011

This is your brain on an eating disorder

"That girl is so skinny, she must be anorexic."
"Ugh, I can't believe I just ate that huge dinner.  Maybe I'll just go puke and feel better."
"I am so jealous of people who are anorexic!  I wish I could have that kind of control, just for a couple of weeks so I could lose this weight."
"She's been in the bathroom a long time.  Haha, I bet she's throwing up!"
"People with eating disorders are so stupid.  It's not that complicated: eat when you're hungry, don't eat when you're not."

How many times have you heard comments like these?  How many times have you said things like these (or thought them, but didn't say them out loud)?  Maybe while you read this blog, you think things like, She doesn't look anorexic..., or Really, Cait?  What is the big deal about food?  I'll be honest, I had a lot of hesitations about "coming out" with my eating disorder on this blog, and one of the biggest reasons was that I was afraid people would look at pictures of me and dismiss the whole idea; say I'm exaggerating, I'm faking it, I don't really have a problem because I'm not wasting away in a hospital bed at 66 pounds.  All I know is, I wouldn't wish my daily battles with food on my worst enemy.  I don't have all the answers to the endless array of questions you could ask, that's for sure.  But there is a lot of information out there that may help combat the confusion and misconceptions that surround eating disorders in our culture.  Allow me to elaborate.

1.  People with eating disorders do not choose to have them.  If you want to read a great blog entry about this very fact, go here.  In a nutshell:
A.  Anorexia is a phobia of food.  It's a dangerous phobia, because we need food to survive and we can't just avoid food like how someone with a phobia of spiders can stay out of musty basements and not go to see Spiderman on Broadway.  Telling someone with anorexia to Just eat, is like telling someone with a phobia of heights to Just get over it and climb the ladder.
B.  The compulsions behind bingeing and purging in bulimia and binge eating disorder are akin to the compulsions behind OCD.  It is not a choice we make, to eat compulsively, without stopping to breathe.  It is not a choice to then go and throw it up.  It is a compulsion that is as impossible to fight as the need for a person with OCD to wash their hands repeatedly, or count, or have certain rituals. 

2.  Eating disorders are based in genetics.  Genetics is the loaded gun, and environment pulls the trigger.  It's no use - and it trivializes the issue - to blame the media, or society, or celebrities for the presence of eating disorders in our culture.  This delegitimizes the struggle that everyone with an ED faces, because it insinuates that since we are all exposed to the same culture, those who have eating disorders must be weaker than others or more susceptible to those messages.  People with eating disorders have a genetic predisposition towards them.  Things like emotional trauma, the onset of puberty, mental illness, and a host of other things can be the spark that initiates the use of an ED behavior, and the use of these behaviors solidifies the existence of the eating disorder itself.  It's not my fault that I have an eating disorder.  It's not my parents' fault, it's not my friends' fault, and it's definitely not society's fault.  I got stuck with a genetic hand of cards that is chock full of mental illness.  That's just the way it is.

3. The use of eating disorder behaviors (restricting, bingeing, purging, and excessive exercise) are all coping mechanisms.  They help the body and mind deal with certain situations, stress, anxiety, and trauma to prevent a "system shutdown."  The use of them reinforces their own power, and in so doing, trains the brain to need them in order to cope with everyday life.

4.  There is endlessly complex biology behind how these behaviors function as coping mechanisms and here is the short version.  The important chemicals involved here are endorphins, the neurotransmitter serotonin, and the hormone vasopressin.
  
Endorphins are pretty well-known.  What releases endorphins?  Exercise!  (And lots of other things.)  Someone with an eating disorder who over-exercises does it as a means to flood their system with endorphins, again and again and again.

Serotonin is a fun guy.  Antidepressants work on serotonin, by preventing cells from sucking it back up, and instead making it hang out for longer in our synapses (the space between neurons) so it can do its thing.  Serotonin is kind of complicated, but when it comes to mood, suffice to say that it's good stuff.  It keeps us feeling good - balanced, not anxious, and generally even-keeled.  SSRI's (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, i.e., most antidepressants) are the most commonly prescribed drug in the US.  So you can see that serotonin is pretty crucial.
A.  Restricting works with serotonin in this way: when a person severely restricts their food intake, not only do they lose weight, but their brain actually shrinks.  As the brain shrinks, though, it doesn't alter the levels at which it is producing neurotransmitters.  So all of a sudden, an adult who is heavily restricting is flooding their smaller, shrunken brain with enough serotonin for a much larger brain.  Hello, feel-good stuff!  Hello, positive reinforcement to keep restricting in order to keep up the serotonin flood!  Your brain can actually compel you to continue restricting in order to maintain the serotonin flood that has begun.
B.  Bingeing works with serotonin quite differently: people who binge almost without exception report bingeing on carbohydrate-heavy foods.  There is a biological compulsion going on here.  The precursor to serotonin is an amino acid building block called tryptophan.  When we eat carbs, the insulin that is released causes the uptake and processing of everything except tryptophan.  Tryptophan hangs out in the blood and enters the brain where it gets made into gads and gads of serotonin, flooding the brain with feel-good stuff.

Vasopressin is a hormone that is crucial to the body's functioning, especially the heart.  Purging acts on vasopressin in a very compelling way.  When you vomit (self-induced or not), there is a huge release of vasopressin in the blood.  It does three very powerful things in regards to the brain: it acts as a sedative, an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) and an antidepressant.  This is why purging, the eating disorder behavior that is often the most difficult for anyone to understand, is so addictive.  Your brain experiences a huge rush of chemicals that calms it, lifts its mood, and decreases anxiety the instant you purge.  Now, because the brain is constantly adapting, as time goes on, it requires a higher and higher level of purging in order to get the same effects from the vasopressin (much the same way that an alcoholic must drink more and more in order to get drunk and feel better).

An eating disorder is based in biology.  It's an illness, just like diabetes or cancer is an illness.  It's also a hell of a ride.  Food is everywhere.  It's necessary for survival.  It permeates every social setting, every gathering, every aspect of our culture.  When you fight battles with food, every meal, every day, all day long, it's enough to make you want to be anywhere but here, doing anything but living life in your body that is alien to you, in your mind that has turned against you.  Please try and remember this and look with compassion on those who may be struggling around you.  We didn't choose this.  We're just fighting like hell to get though it.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ready, Set...WTF

The Good...

The Bad...

...and The Ugly


Hope your Saturday is off to a better start than mine!

Parenting Gods...

...a humble list of requests:

Please let me remember, when I am naming my child, that while names like Timothy are fine, names like Thymmoethieyx (the x is silent) are not.  Kid's got two moms, alright?  Enough is enough.

Please let me never spend more on an outfit ensemble for my child than I spent on groceries that week.

Please let me never get hung up on what the other mommies at Circle Sing or Baby ASL think about my lack of eyebrow grooming.

Better yet, let me not feel guilty about asking Alix to take the kids to Circle Sing or Baby Sign so that I can shower and pee with the door closed.  (Or, heaven help us, maybe we just won't go one week.)


Please let me never ask a babysitter to cook a meal for my child(ren) that involves more than five ingredients or three steps.  The world will not end if they eat frozen pizza.


Please let me remember that things like pajamas, diapers, security blankets, and formula should be in OBVIOUS places that are easily accessible to anyone caring for my children.


Please let me also remember that things like menstrual cups, sex toys, lingerie, and porn should be in extremely UN-obvious places, difficult to access by children and caregivers alike.


Please let me never refer to my child's genitals by anything other than the words "penis" or "vagina."  A penis is not a "unit" and a vagina is not a "hoo-ha."  Really.


Please let me remember that dirt, sand, grass, pebbles, and fur, if ingested in small amounts, will not kill my child, nor even seriously maim them.


Please let me never fall victim to claims that IT IS ABSOLUTELY CRUCIALLY NECESSARY that I buy this newest contraption, guaranteed to soothe/feed/transport/clean my child for the LOW LOW PRICE of $XXX,XXX.  I've got hands, arms, and boobs.  Please let me remember that those are almost always enough.


Please let me never schedule my child's life so much that he/she requires his/her own Blackberry to keep track of it all.  


Please let me remember that I grew up fine without television and so will my children.


Please let me relax and let other people take a turn when it's too much for me.  It doesn't make me a bad mom if I need help sometimes.


Please let me remember, then, that the more people that love my child, the better.  Please help me not to be jealous or resentful when this happens, and instead remember how much fun it was to love on kids when was a nanny.


Please help me to never, ever criticize my body in front of my children.  If "Mommy's belly" was good enough for them to live in, it should be good enough for me to live with.


Please, above all else, help me to be calm, to carry on, to do some things right, to fuck other things up, to hug them, kiss them, cry over them, scold them, pull them close, and eventually, let them go.



**This list brought to you by myself and a friend.  Nannying will give you nothing if not ideas of what not to do with our own children!**

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lies My Mirror Tells Me

A few weeks ago, I was chatting on Facebook with a dear friend who is living in South America right now.  In case you need to brush up on your earth science, this means that she's surviving the dead of winter (that is slowly changing to spring) while we enjoy the shift from summer to fall.  Months of living in snow and ice have worn her down, as has the need to constantly be building, tending, and maintaining a fire in her woodstove, lest she freeze and go hungry for lack of cooked food.  I asked how she was doing and her weary reply, "Tired, cold, the usual," came all too quickly.  She returned the question, and I, with a similarly bleak outlook, answered honestly, "Tired, hungry, the usual."  Thousands of miles apart, we both laughed.  The truth is often ironic, sometimes a little crass, and always hard to wrap your head around.  Does being perpetually hungry or cold mean that neither of us can be happy too?  Certainly not.  But feeling like you're fighting a losing battle against a seemingly endless winter or a seemingly unrelenting eating disorder can be a bit disheartening.

***

On my flight home from California, I had the incredible fortune to become fast friends with my two seatmates, G. and K.  G. is an artist and teacher based in Brooklyn. His passion and aptitude for both were readily apparent as he talked about his students and his most recent paintings.  K. is a director of photography based in LA and similarly, her passion for portraits that catch a glimpse into the lives of those around us was inspiring to me, an amateur photographer.  Never have I enjoyed a flight so much as I did those five and a half hours it took to get from LA to Baltimore.  The three of us talked constantly, covering topics from childbirth, to html coding, to the pets and children in our respective lives.  While none of us were parents, it only took an hour or so for us all to whip out our cell phones and begin showing off pictures of the kids we knew and loved.  Admiring the sight of G.'s chunk of a nephew in his mother's lap, K. laughed at his Buddha belly so big that his t-shirt had ridden up to his armpits.  "I love when babies are so big and their mothers are your size!" she exclaimed, looking at me.
Stricken, I looked back with a mixture of confusion, incomprehension, and utter terror.  What did she mean, "my size"?  Size huge?  Why is that cute?  Why is she saying that?  What the hell is she doing, noticing my size?  
 Seeing my look of confusion, she continued, "You know, tiny.  It always makes me wonder how they managed to have such a big baby when they're so small."
The conversation moved on between G. and K. for a few minutes while I attempted to collect myself.  You are NOT, in the slightest, by any stretch of the imagination, tiny, my mind reminded me.  As I took deep breaths to combat the anxiety that had rushed through me, I tried to be calm.  Any comment, no matter how benign or well-intentioned about my body sends me into a panic.  I literally cannot handle the thought that other people look at, notice, or pay any attention to my body.  It terrifies me.  It floods my brain with the message, FAT.  It confuses, baffles, and overwhelms me to hear people contradict what I feel I know to be true about how I look.  How can it be possible that other people see something different than what I see when I look in the mirror?

***

During my trip to California, my friend and I did some outlet shopping.  Clothing shopping is as terrifying to me these days as jumping out of a plane without a parachute.  There are just far too many opportunities to fall apart.  I was doing okay though, even mildly enjoying myself as I tried on shoes and scarves.  Gathering my nerve, I tried on a few pairs of pants in a style I liked.  They were all too big.  I tried a size down.  Still too big.  Finally, I put on a size of pants that I've never been nor have I ever considered it possible for me to be.  They fit.  My mind reeling, I stood frozen in front of the mirror, seeing everything I hate and not understanding how it was possible for me to be wearing the size that I was.  Driven to desperate frustration by my lack of clothes that fit, I bought the pants.  As I got dressed yesterday, I dreaded pulling them on, convinced that this time, they would surely be too small.  Nope.  Still fit.  Far from making me feel good, this fact only serves to send me into a panic similar to that brought on by K.'s innocent comment on the plane.  Why, oh why, can I not see what others see or what the facts seem to show?

Some days, it takes an hour for me to get dressed.  I've very nearly been late to work because of it.  Near tears, I will try on literally hundreds of combinations of clothes, only to reject them all into a towering heap on my bed.
Then, there are days when I do better.  Days when I manage to resemble normalcy, when the food isn't as scary, when I cook something healthy, when I eat with a friend and keep it down.  Still, it's hard not to feel like it's constantly one step forward and three steps back.  The frustration, fear, and weariness of the whole shebang often bring me to tears.  I know that I can't fight this alone.  It grows more obvious to me by the day that this is a war whose battles I cannot always win by myself.  Seeking help for this will certainly be one of the hardest things I have yet to do, but I know it's necessary.  With the support of friends and family behind me, I can only hope for the best.  Because I would desperately, more that anything, like a day to come when this doesn't crowd my every thought.  When I don't feel like I'm fighting to hold my head above water.  Hopefully, that day will come.  Soon.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

All Fall Down

As I stepped through the doors of La Guardia and into the New York air last night, I detected the change instantly - it was fall.  When I left for California, it had still been the tail-end of summer.  But even through the exhaust of a thousand cabs and the smog of low-flying planes, the shift was unmistakable.  The air had changed, bringing with it my favorite season.  September has always felt like the harbinger of new beginnings to me far more than January, or even late March, the very beginning of spring here in New England.  If I made New Year’s resolutions, I would make them now, not in the middle of a seemingly endless winter that stretches ahead of January 1st for at least another three months.  Though autumn has always brought with it a fresh school year (well, until I graduated from college, that is), beginning in 2007, it has also been the time of heartbreak, sadness, and despair.  Why it’s still my favorite season is a question that deserves an answer: because, for as many times as fall has been the season of things that knocked me down, it has also been the season during which I inevitably get back up.

In the autumn of my sophomore year of college, my first serious relationship went up in flames.  It was a long, drawn-out, messy affair, the pain of which I refuse to trivialize, despite the temptation to dismiss it as the inevitability of first love and all that crap.  I was with a person with whom I believed I wanted to spend the rest of my life.  She felt the same way.  Until, one day, I realized with gut-wrenching finality that I didn’t love her anymore.  So, it ended, and it was awful, and it was sad, and then it got darker and more twisted as we got back together and fell apart again.  We stomped over each other’s hearts, both of us too scared of life without the other to realize we were killing what we were so desperate to save.  Winter turned to spring and spring to summer, and it seemed that things were better, that they were okay.

In the autumn of my junior year, I fell hard, headlong, and dangerously quickly into rapidly cycling mania and depression.  Frantically, I tried to dig my way up and out of the hole I was in, only to feel like the more frenetic my pace grew, the sicker and sicker I became.  Eventually, I collapsed, hollow-eyed and utterly hopeless into a bed behind the locked windows of the local hospital’s psychiatric ward.  Slowly, ever so slowly, I picked myself up and dusted myself off.  I had help, or it never would have happened.  Doctors who listened, nurses who gave me extra socks, mental health aides who woke me gently from my nightmares, fellow patients who knew without the need for words what an awful, overwhelming, and terrifying task it was to simply exist some days.  My friends and family stood by my side, until, finally, the day came when I walked through the doors of the hospital and cried as I breathed fresh air.  Three weeks later, my fragile world crashed in on itself once more when the doomed relationship from the previous fall ended again, this time for good.  Sickness like mine was too much for her to handle and she made her exit with haste.  Barely, I’m still not sure how, I hung on.  I went to therapy.  I cried.  I needed my mom.  I cried some more.  I went to class.  I clung to Tucker.  I cried.  I took my medication.  I watched mindless television, huddled under mountains of blankets.  Eventually, I cried the last of the tears that she could ever possibly deserve, and I got on with my life.  Winter turned to spring and spring to summer, and light shone through the clouds because then, I met Alix.

In the autumn of my senior year, an ugly drama arose in my idyllic Smith world that threatened to ruin my senior year.  It didn’t, thankfully, and I escaped as often as I could to the haven of Alix’s New York apartment.  I hated that something so petty and ugly could take from me the cautious hopes I’d had for a better fall than the previous two, but again, eventually, winter came, then spring, and finally, graduation.

Last fall, Alix and I were weathering a terrifying health scare (for her) that left us both shaken and all too aware of life's fragility.  The word "tumor" that rested so innocently on the printed page of a biopsy report was the same that crashed unceremoniously and unwelcomed into our young, young lives.  The tiny mass was removed with surgery and classified as benign after toxicology testing; a freak development that will almost definitely never return, thanks to the thorough removal performed by Alix's surgeon.  The first night she was home post-surgery, I was frozen, numbed by exhaustion and fear.  I sat at our kitchen table in the gleam of a weak bulb, listening to her breathe, and I finally broke down and cried.  It hit me all at once that I could have lost the person I love most in the world.  Granted, the mass was small and completely benign.  But the fear was real, alive, and pulsing that night and for many nights afterward until it gradually subsided.

And this year?  This year, this fall, I’m alone.  In some ways, it’s the hardest yet.  In other ways, it’s the year when I look back at all the pain of years past and I am damn grateful to be where I am now.  There are days when I can see that where I am now, right here, is exactly where I am supposed to be.  There’s a quote by George Santayana that I love:
  
The world is not respectable; it is mortal, tormented, confused, deluded forever; but it is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these, the spirit blooms timidly, and struggles to the light amid the thorns.

 There are days when I feel like I’m running barefoot over those thorns, trying to get to the light shining through.  But I won’t stop running, this I know.  Those glints of beauty, love, and laughter are worth every sad autumn it took to get me to today.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Flying, Friends, and Pho

Months ago, Southwest had an amazing deal on plane tickets.  Guess who jumped on that deal right quick?  THIS GIRL.

September 15th finally rolled around, and after a 3 AM cab ride, two hours to Chicago, four hours to LA, one tearful reunion, five cups of coffee, and a dinner that reminded me that I am secretly Vietnamese (if only for my intense and undying love for the food...especially pho), I am finally here!

I can't begin to explain (at least, not without crying) how amazing this girl, this friend of mine, is.  She stuck by me through four years of college, holding me up when my world was falling apart and laughing along with me when it finally righted itself.  She's even vowed to host two bachelorette parties, bless her soul.  (Take two girls getting married to each other and multiply everything girly about a wedding by two.  Scary, right?  It doesn't faze her a bit.)

Here's the thing about me.  I don't have that many friends.  As I've gotten older, I'm more and more okay with this fact.  I had plenty of acquaintances in college, people that I lived with and ate with and had class with, but with whom ultimately I don't keep in touch.  I have a low tolerance for bullshit, and this includes bullshit friendships that don't have much beneath a shiny surface.  This can make for a pretty low friend density, I've found.  But - I could not be happier with the truly amazing, loyal, loving friends that I do have.  I can only count them on one hand and that's okay.  It leaves one hand free for holding on when we need each other.
Hiking in Hawaii post-graduation