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Polarized

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From an early age, girls are exposed to images that help them formulate their beliefs on how they should be, how they should look, how they should behave. I remember being very aware that some people were fat, and fat was bad, but the long-legged blondes on TV were an ideal every woman should aim to emulate. Our moms talked about dieting…counting exchanges on whatever Weight Watchers plan was around at the time, attending Jazzercise classes, carefully measuring out every bite they put in their mouths.

I grew up thinking I was fat. I look back at pictures of myself and know that I was not, but by the time I got to middle school, my impression of my body was that it was bigger than everyone else’s, and that was bad. By high school, I was dieting. Also by high school, according to the criteria for Binge Eating Disorder in the DSM 5, I had an eating disorder. I would not be diagnosed with an eating disorder until I sought therapy after my divorce five years ago. By that time, I had had this unrecognized eating disorder for twenty years.

I wish I could say that having a diagnosis made things better. I am a nurse. I believe in medicine. I believe that the treatment following a diagnosis can lead to a cure. Therefore, when my therapist first suggested I might have an eating disorder, I was relieved. I was not just fat and lazy. I had an actual illness. And if I had an illness, I was sure it could be treated.

So it has been five years. I have binged. I have restricted. I have purged. I have exercised compulsively. I have stayed in bed for three days at a time. I have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and OCD is also on the table. And during this time, I have tried to use the experiences of others to help me make peace with my body. I have read every book that Geneen Roth has written. I have read Jenni Shaefer and Brené Brown and Glennon Doyle Melton. I have read scientific journal articles about the relationship between compulsive shopping and binge eating and shame. I have read about hoarding and chronic disorganization and shopping addictions. I have racked up over $40,000 of credit card debt (and have paid off over half of it so far). I have been searching for something…I don’t know exactly what it is, but I certainly haven’t found it yet.

Here’s the thing…when does weight loss stop being about how you look and start being about how you feel? This is where I can’t get on board the body positivity train. Do I like the way I look right now? No. But more importantly, I don’t feel well with this body size. My knees hurt, and the foods I eat don’t always agree with me. I get heartburn, and I sometimes lack energy. I don’t sleep well. And my brain is always on, reviewing what I ate that day, deciding if it was a good day or a bad one, resolving to do better tomorrow.

For most of my adult life, I dieted whenever a relationship went south because I always thought it was because of my weight. When I was rejected, I would decide to become my best (thinnest) self so that I could show him what he was missing. I did this in college. I did this in my first serious relationship after college. I did this with the man who became my husband and then my ex-husband. I am happily single now…I don’t know that there will ever be a man in that role in my life again. I don’t have anyone to stick it to. So where is my motivation to come from?

In my ideal world, it would come from a place where I want to take care of me. A place where how I feel is more important than how I look. A place where my eating disorder would STFU and stop messing with my head and take all the power away from food and restore it to me. I would eat vegetables because I liked the way they made me feel, not because they were a trade for some later “sin.” I would avoid processed food because they make me bloated and give me heartburn, instead of having them make up the bulk of my diet because that is all I am worth, anyway.

The body positive activists are trying to help. I get that. They are trying to normalize all body sizes and teach women (and men) that diets don’t work, and how we feel inside our bodies is more important than what we look like on the outside. And so many of these body positive activists are not the women who look like me. They don’t feel pain every time they stand up from a chair (some do, I am sure…there are plenty of overweight body positivity activists who are living in larger bodies and seem to practice what they preach). It’s all well and good to say it is not about weight. But don’t we all deserve to feel our best every day? Shouldn’t self-care be motivation enough for eating in a way that makes you feel good and healthy and strong?

I continue fighting this monster. But I can’t say that weight loss will not continue to be a goal. I want to participate in life and do big things and go to bed at night feeling like every day has been a good day. And the way I feel is getting in the way with that. My health is important…but my eating disorder keeps trying to make me forget that.

 

The Indigo Girls and my search for enlightenment…

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The first real notice I took of people fighting for social justice occurred right around the time that the first Lilith Fair occurred. I started listening to the Indigo Girls as a camp counselor at Camp Mosey Wood in the summer of 1995, and I never looked back. The words, the music…like Joe Fox in You’ve Got Mail, who can reply to anything with a quote from The Godfather, I pride myself on being able to pull an Indigo Girls quote out of thin air to encourage in any situation. They were on the main stage at Lilith, and while I did not get to see them perform, I started to pay some attention to what was happening behind the scenes. I realized that people were doing work to fight against injustice and raising money for causes I had never even considered. I was a white female in my early twenties attending a conservative Christian school, complete with a chapel requirement and strict “intervisitation” policies. I was about as far from an activist as I would ever be. It just never occurred to me to challenge the status quo.

That summer started a longtime love affair with the words and music of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers. I had never been much of a music lover, but these days I tend to be pretty all-Indigo-Girls-all-the-time with my music choices. I have seen them numerous times in concert and hope to see them many more times. And I finally get what they were talking about when they were singing on the Honor the Earth Tour and raising money for PETA and leading some of the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. If I don’t do something, who is going to? If we all, as a collective group, refuse to show up, how can things change?

I certainly benefit from white privilege every day. My parents provided to me a comfortable (more than comfortable) upbringing. I was able to go to college, and when my first career didn’t work out, I was able to go back to college and then to grad school and am now in a post-Masters program. I am not food insecure. I have my own car and a full-time job. I can go most places without worrying about someone acting out against me in hate. And back in my college days, I didn’t really think beyond that. I belonged to service clubs, and I went on a missions trip in my senior year of college, and I thought I was doing a lot of good in the world. My world was just really small.

I have gone from being Roman Catholic to a nondenominational Christian to identifying myself as spiritual but not particularly religious. I have felt a shift in myself, especially since this most recent Presidential campaign, and I am no longer okay with riding the wave of my white privilege and ignoring all that is wrong in this world. I am a baby feminist, but I am a feminist. I believe love is love, and if I find love again, I will hold on to it for all it is worth. I believe I am here to make a difference in the world and speak out and be seen. I am here to fight for you and for me and for anyone else out there that needs my voice. I will show up.

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What do I like?

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This is the time of day that I would usually be sitting in front of Facebook, staring at my laptop screen, maybe with my mouth hanging open a little. And then I would blink and three or four hours would have gone by. So now that I have logged off of Facebook and deleted the app off my devices, I find myself with an active brain and nothing to dull that with. I do a lot of things that kind of seem like leisurely activities but are actually ways to kind of check out for a while. The internet is a big one. Eating is another one. Online shopping is a third. All of those things are not, in and of themselves, bad. You can practice self-care and do all three of those things. But that is not what I do. Instead, I numb out and escape from my feelings and whatever hard things are going on, and all of those activities have little zaps of high points (winning a game on Facebook, eating something yummy, having a package show up on my front porch), followed by either a return to blah or a dive into shame. Someone who purports to care about herself would not do these things, right?

The problem I am facing right now is this…what else is there that I would like to do? In The Runaway Bride, Julia Roberts’ character has gone through her life changing the kind of eggs she likes depending on what type is preferred by the man she is dating. I have done some things that I have really enjoyed in the past that were introduced to me by someone I was dating (or married to). And those things were fun, and I am glad that I engaged in them, but I also don’t feel like they are of interest to me anymore. I no longer follow baseball or football. I don’t spend a lot of time with large groups of people. I don’t go to anyone’s house for a Sunday dinner. And I don’t have a partner in my life right now, so I don’t have a need to change my interests to better suit someone else. It’s me, myself, and I. But what do I enjoy?

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I have long been a hobby jumper. I have tried out knitting, crocheting, scrapbooking, jewelry making, sewing, yoga, working out at the gym, running, walking, biking, blogging, journaling, art journaling, reading, watching TV…that is just a partial list. I usually get really excited about my new hobby and buy All The Things related to it, and then I realize that I don’t really enjoy crocheting or I don’t really have anyone to make jewelry for or there are only so many scrapbook pages you can do for the best dog ever. But I don’t know what I actually DO enjoy. I like watching TV…that one can stay, but in a more deliberate manner. When I spend the day streaming episodes of Air Emergency from YouTube, that is not deliberate. That is six to eight hours of traumatic events on my TV screen, with me sitting there and watching. When I decide to watch the two latest episodes of Grey’s Anatomy before I go to bed one night, that is some deliberate TV-watching.

I love reading. I am reading a great book right now. I have a couple of books in my queue that I am excited about. I especially love lying in my hammock and reading. I feel better after writing out a good journal entry (or sometimes sharing something on this here blog, but not all my writing is meant for public eyes). I enjoy knitting sometimes. I made my first little stuffed animal last month and enjoyed the process. I don’t think I am ever going to become a master knitter. Yoga is something that always makes me feel better after I have done it. My schedule does not always allow for regular attendance in my usual class, but I can get there once in a while. I run hot and cold with some of the other things…I sometimes feel like I want to be a runner, but I don’t really like running. I have enjoyed working out at the gym in the past, but my usual gym is closer to my old apartment than to my new house, and I can’t imagine going that far out of my way just to spend an hour on a treadmill. I have been walking the dog in our new neighborhood, and the entire area is pretty pedestrian-friendly (except for the fact that a walk that starts out comfortable downhill eventually has to turn around and head back up the hill to go home). But what do I really LOVE? What ignites a fire of passion in me?

I have been on my own for five years now. And I have been getting by. But I don’t want just to get by. I want to live. I want to remember who I was before the world told me I should be something else. And I guess giving up Facebook to make room for those pursuits is my good start.

A little late to Lent…

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There are two times per year that seem like the perfect opportunity to make things in life great again. And by that I mean the perfect opportunity to rub the slate clean and start over. The first is, of course, the New Year. Just head to your nearest gym on 1/2 or 1/3. It’s PACKED. It’s time to start over.

For those of us who were raised in the Catholic faith, the other good time to start over is Lent. After all, it’s time to give something up. Ash Wednesday comes along, and we don’t eat meat. We decide on what our Lenten sacrifice will be. It might be chocolate or alcohol or red meat, depending on the year. Sometimes, it’s a diet disguised as a Lenten sacrifice. And last year, it was Facebook…and that served two purposes.

The first purpose was that I am, quite frankly, a compulsive user of Facebook. It is easy for me to spend hours and hours wandering around to different pages and playing different games and following different links to whatever seems like a fun or interesting or especially disturbing article. So it would be psychologically healthier for me not to spend a lot of time on Facebook. But giving up Facebook is also giving up something that keeps me entertained and sometimes makes me smile and often makes me laugh. I get to see pictures of all my little NICU miracles and my friends’ kids and all the dogs and cats that share their lives with my friends and family.

This political climate is TOUGH. I see a lot of things that I don’t like coming out of Washington (and also coming out Harrisburg, honestly). And Facebook is like a rabbit hole of political commentary and horrifying stories and reminders of how awful people in this country can be to each other. Instead of going out and doing something to help the communities about whom I am worried, I am immersing myself in all the yuck I am seeing online. And it doesn’t feel good. And it’s like reliving the same shit over and over again.

I was listening to one of my new favorite podcasts today, Call Your Girlfriend, and they were talking about self-care and how important it is right now. And I am not doing self-care very well. And one great point they had was this: If you want to make a difference, pick one cause that you really care about, and make a phone call to find out how you can help that cause. Instead of reading the stories over and over again about things that you already know are happening and already are horrified by, turn off the news and step away from the computer and do something.

So even though Ash Wednesday is almost over and I have been using Facebook all day long, I am giving it up tonight. I am going to consider what it is I am most concerned about in this country today, and I am going to figure out what I can do to help, and I am going to stop watching the news and reading the stories and making myself continue to feel worse and worse about something I already feel pretty bad about it.

So goodbye for now, Facebook. I will see you on the other side of Easter.

And maybe occasionally on Sundays.

More things to say…

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I am probably at the point of my social media-induced, election/politics-related anxiety where I should turn off the computer and watch something like OITNB in its entirety over the next few weeks (days?). Everywhere I turn, there is some new piece of news that is almost laughable…except for how it’s not. Free speech? Nope. Easy access to healthcare? Not that either. Respect for the environment? Gone. A plan in place that will help our public schools? Not even close. Every single thing that is important in my eyes is being trampled on. It’s a lot to take in.

My particular brand of anxiety manifests itself in many ways, but one major way is OH MY GOD I WOULD DO ANYTHING TO AVOID MAKING A PHONE CALL. Fun flashback: I used to babysit every Thursday for a family up the street from us when I was in high school, and their mom used to leave me money so I could order Domino’s for me and her three (and later four) kids dinner. The oldest child was only about two years younger than I was, and I used to make her call and order the pizza because doing so myself was terrifying. Anyway, now I order my pizza (and anything else I care to eat for dinner that has to be delivered) online because the internet is one of the best things that has ever happened to people like me.

So here we are, some of us, feeling called to act and having to reconcile that with the fact that our natural instinct is to hunker down and curl up in a ball and wait for things to be okay again. I have, for the last three nights, slept greater than ten hours per night, which is well outside my norm, because life keeps feeling like TOO MUCH and my bed nest and weighted blanket call to me. But when do your self-protective instincts go from protecting you to imprisoning you?

I was scrolling through Twitter this morning and found a site called 5 Calls that makes it REALLY easy to find the information you need to call your senators and representatives. Here’s some more information on the site. Knowing that, at 6:00 in the morning, no one was going to be picking up the phone at these offices, I did a little bit of deep breathing, picked up the phone, and made a couple of calls. Senator Bob Casey is the Democratic senator from PA, and his voicemail was accepting messages. His Republican counterpart, Pat Toomey, had a full voicemail box. I would like to think that it’s because SO MANY people have been leaving him messages and NOT because he does not care what we have to say. I didn’t vote for the guy, but I guess he is my voice in Washington anyway.

Anyway, I called this morning to ask Senator Casey to fight the full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and I also called the Army Corps of Engineers to ask them to consider the people of Standing Rock when they complete their environmental impact study on the Dakota Access Pipeline. There was a script on the site for me to use for both these calls. I branched out a little bit (I had to plea the case of all my sweet preemie patients, who could hit their lifetime insurance caps early on just because they were born too soon), but you certainly don’t have to. Apparently, a phone call is more likely to get attention than an email or a letter or a Facebook message or a Tweet. So I made a few calls. And if I can do it, you can too.

Remember – we belong to each other.

Ostriching. And how that isn’t working for me.

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Oh, this world. I have thoughts. I have feelings. I have anxiety. I have anger. I have disgust. I am trying to hang on to hope.

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a solidarity rally locally for the Women’s March on Washington. I was so happy to be there. I had been sitting by and feeling kind of helpless as all the things that I was worried about with the new administration started to appear to come to fruition. But on that day, I was able to get together with like-minded fellow citizens and raise our collective voice to protest against a variety of very important issues. It was powerful.

And now…I don’t know where it goes. I am a fixer and a caretaker. I want everything to be okay, but I don’t have it within my power to make everything okay. So part of me wants to bear witness to all this stuff and become an activist and help the disenfranchised or underrepresented have their voices heard. And then the other part of me wants to climb into my bed nest and cover myself up with my weighted blanket and hope that it will all be “better” when I come up for air.

My anxiety regarding social issues is through the roof. And that means that my tendency to do “behaviors” things is also way up there. So maybe I should have some ice cream for dinner. What can I buy from Amazon? Maybe some hermitting will help. Or I can make like an ostrich. I’ll stick my head in the sand and pretend like none of this is happening. That is not an unusual tactic for me.

So I want to “stay woke.” I want to take the energy that I gathered at the rally on Saturday and parlay it into something good. But I also want to take care of myself and make sure that I am not overextending and spinning my wheels and not getting anything done. I am not sure yet what my version of activism is going to look like, and maybe I don’t have to know right now.

I have never been one to wait though. So that will be hard for me.

ETA – Okay, I decided to take a baby step and email both of my Senators to let them know that I oppose Betsy DeVos for the Secretary of Education. It’s something small, but I did it. And maybe a bunch of small things can add up to be my way of being active without being pulled under.

January is hard, y’all.

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There are times that I am pretty sure that my depression and anxiety are afflictions I made up in some sort of bid to get attention. After all, what do I have to be depressed about? I have a great career, and I just bought a new home. My parents are healthy, my pets are happy, and my sister is married to an amazing man. I have friends. Why, then, am I depressed sometimes?

Now, we should all know the answer to this question. The reason I am depressed sometimes is because I have an illness called major depressive disorder that sometimes causes the chemicals in my brain to get jacked up and messes with my neurotransmitters. But one thing that depression likes to do is depression likes to lie. So while depression is up there messing around with my brain and screwing with my amygdala and making my corpus callosum a bit less effective than I need it to be, it is also up there telling me that I am an attention-seeker, that other people have real problems, and that I should just grow up and get over it.

And anxiety is like depression’s sidekick. When my depression is lying to me and telling me I am making up my symptoms, anxiety is kicking it up a notch and leading me into racing thoughts and inability to sleep and some ineffective coping mechanisms (Carbs. Online shopping. Candy Crush Saga.). They both help feed my eating disorder and my, um, spending “issue.”

And now it is January. It gets light out later in the morning and dark out earlier in the evening. The high times of the holiday season are over, and discarded Christmas trees sit at the curb, waiting to be picked up by the borough. Gifts have been put away. The promises of the New Year’s Resolutions that were made so earnestly just ten days ago have given way to that specific sort of shame that you feel when you “fail” at your new diet.

January and I are not friends.

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I had to do a LOT of adulting in a very short period when I was getting ready to move. I had to go to my leasing office and break my lease. I had to pack up my apartment and call a moving company and get the utilities at the new house put in my name and accept delivery of new furniture and new appliances. I had to deal with my first plumbing emergency (and had to learn how to turn all the water off to my new house).

I had to make a LOT of phone calls…and I hate making phone calls. I would rather order pizza online and text my friends and email my therapist than talk on the phone. I have such phone anxiety outside of work, which is interesting because, just as in so many other areas, the things that I can’t handle doing outside of work are no problem when I am in the NICU. Make a phone call? Split-second decision? React to an emergency? Not a problem at work. At home, however, I have to talk myself into a lot of things.

I am down to a just a few leftover things that have to be done. I managed to make an appointment to get my car serviced and inspected (it’s a little overdue), thanks to an online scheduling system, an email, and a call the service center made to me. I paid my tuition (had to call my financial advisor to free up the money to make that possible) and learned about the trash pick-up in my new neighborhood (had to call the borough hall and then go there to handle that). My final frontier is my cable service. I have to call the cable company and get my account transferred from my old apartment to my new house. It seems like an easy thing to do. But on top of all the other phone calls and arrangements I have had to make lately, it just seems like a little too much.

Luckily, I have a pretty large data plan and can use my phone as a mobile hotspot. And that is why I can write this blog post about how January is hard. I know I am not the only one who has a tough time at this point in the year. If you need support, please reach out. I moderate my comments and would be happy to converse with you!

As Glennon Doyle Melton says, we belong to each other.

I promise to be here if you need me.