The $70 Lesson

I haven’t posted in a while. Yes, I started out with lofty expectations of at least two posts a week. But life got in the way. Exciting life stuff, which I’ll talk about in my next post. But besides that, I haven’t written in a while because things have been good. Really good. Good at home, good with my husband, good with my daughters. Good with the body image and maybe-kinda-slightly eating disordered thoughts that sometimes softly knock at my door and whisper, “Hey. Remember me? I lived here once.”

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No one has been knocking for a long time.

A few weeks ago, I heard something, though. Bang bang! Bang! Bang! The former owner of my brain, the jerk who made me feel so special for so long, poked me in the shoulder.

“Hey. Want to feel special again?”

I really like to run. I really like exercising. It makes me feel strong and capable and energetic. It calms the part of me that can get anxious and gives me an adrenaline boost.

I was also hopelessly addicted to it for a good ten years.

Many times when I was really sick, I wished that I was an alcoholic instead. Or a drug addict. Not that I really wanted to be one, but those illnesses seemed easier to me in a way.

Addicted to alcohol? Give it up. BAM. RECOVERED.

Addicted to heroin? Give it up. BAM. RECOVERED.*

*I am in no way stating that drug addiction is an easy illness to manage or recover from. I am simply stating what my formerly ill mind thought.

Food I couldn’t exactly give up. (Although at that point, I desperately wanted to.)

Exercise I couldn’t exactly give up. (Okay, I could, but I really did enjoy it at the same time that I reviled how it had taken over my life.)

I still struggle with this balance sometimes, how something I really enjoy doing can also take over my mind.

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Like it did over the past month.

I did a half marathon last fall and really enjoyed training for it. I enjoyed running it so much that I did early bird registration for another one at the end of next month. Then life got in the way. Not bad things, just busyness. Busyness that made me really not want to stress out about fitting in long runs every weekend. Or following a training plan.

Busyness that was exactly how I envisioned my life would be someday, when I was placed on “activity ban” in a residential treatment facility.

I didn’t want to run this half-marathon because I had a life now. A life that I value and adore. A life with goals other than beating my “old” time.

That’s where the sick part of me comes in. Because there’s another reason I backed out of the half marathon. Because I could already tell, before I had even started training, that I was starting to worry about “beating my time.” About running faster, like running fast is some measure of self-worth. Like if I didn’t get a PR, I’d have failed.

I didn’t like that. I didn’t like feeling myself morph back into SuperRunnerGirl, who feels superior to others in a single bound! I didn’t like how I was starting to see running as the “best” exercise.

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THERE IS NO BEST EXERCISE. Sometimes even doing NOTHING is the best exercise.

So I decided that even if I did like running, I didn’t want to run the half marathon. I didn’t want to start training for something that could prove toxic for me.

I wanted to run when I wanted to, without focusing on a specific time or pace.

The only problem was that I’d already bought my number. $80 down the drain. Luckily, I found someone to take it over for $40.

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All right. That’s okay. It was fine to sacrifice $40 for my mental health.

So I brushed my hands of the matter, patted myself on the back…and signed up for a 10K.

Yes, you’re totally rolling your eyes at me. I’m rolling my eyes at myself. Because man, my brain is good at tricking itself.

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I told myself I was signing up because it was a shorter race that I didn’t have to train for. That I was signing up because my  four-year-old desperately wanted to do a fun run and it’d be great to do something together. Because at least it wasn’t a half. Because races are FUN!

Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Right, Jen.

Those were all reasons. In some ways, they were all true reasons. But the bigger reason was that I was still holding on to that old identity of mine: Runner Jen. Jen who achieves. Jen who competes against herself. Jen who needs this “thing” to feel like she’s special.

I don’t like being in that Jen’s head. Which I realized the day before the race, when my husband and I were trying to coordinate race logistics. (With my daughter’s race starting a full hour before mine and him having two kids to keep track while I was running.)

So I decided not to run. $30 more dollars.

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Except I’m choosing not to think of it like that. I’m choosing to think of it as money I spent to learn a lesson. Money I invested to see how I’d react in a potentially triggering situation.

And you know what? I was triggered. Maybe not in action (I didn’t go super crazy exercising or start running ten miles a day), but in thoughts. In the thoughts that started out as a wisp of a breeze (“This will be a way for me to prove that I’m good“)* but that I knew had the potential to turn into a tornado that would tear me apart.

*whatever good means.

So maybe I can’t give up food. Or exercise.

But I can give up races. I can live with that.

I closed the door to my sick thoughts before, but maybe I need to seal that door up even tighter.

This is my soundproof barrier.

I don’t want to hear even a whisper.

 

 

 

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Learning to Take My Medicine

I’ve been sick all week. ALL week. I went to a writing retreat this past weekend and apparently, a good number of people returned with the plague.

I’m not good at being sick. I’m not one of those people who whines and moans and acts like they’re on their deathbed, but I am someone who heavily denies being sick until it’s blatantly obvious that I’m hacking up a lung, choking on the unmentionable “stuff” that’s coating my throat, and stumbling around the house with a body that feels more like a concrete block.

This winter, I’ve really had to change my preferred method of operating. Because it hasn’t just been this week in my house. Some illness or another has been infecting us pretty much all winter, cycling from Big Sister to Little Sister to Daddy to Mommy and then back around again. It’s like the worst game of Tag imaginable, where everyone gets a turn to be “It” and the game never ends.

Also, the game involves feeling like crap and watching your loved ones feel like crap.

Boy, do I love winter.

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This week was a bit worse than “normal,” though, so my husband went out and bought a massive bottle of Mucinex for us to share. (Because you know the old saying: “The couple that chugs medicine together, stays together.”) And as I tipped that capful of blue liquid into my mouth, I remembered something:

I used to be afraid of taking cough medicine. I used to jump on the computer and look up stuff like “calories in cough drops.” I used to lace up my sneakers and go for a run, even when my head was pounding and my body begged me to crawl back into bed.

I used to see rest as a sin and denial as a virtue. I used to deny myself medicine on the off chance that it would make me “fat” and trust my body to make itself better, all while still pounding it into the ground.

I trusted it (or “said” I trusted it, because really I didn’t trust it in the slightest), but I didn’t do anything to prove that it could trust me.

I forced my body into an unnatural shape and lived a life of constant motion. I said no to cough medicine like it was chocolate cake. I denied it all the deliciousness that life has to offer (both in food and in experience).

I’ve learned over the years that my body is meant for deliciousness. It was meant for growth, in so many different ways.

So this week, I took my medicine.

And even though I’m still sniffling and occasionally hacking, I feel better.

Imagine that.

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Mom Guilt, Part Seven Thousand, Five Hundred, and Two

This morning, soon after my four-year-old woke up, I told her that today’s plan was to go to the trampoline park. She screamed with excitement. I smiled. We got dressed. Then my husband groaned and stumbled out of bed into the bathroom. Soon after, he plopped back down in bed, struck by the same illness I had a few days ago.

Then my two-year-old woke up and turned into a whiny snuggle monster. A whiny snuggle monster with a 101 fever.

And I learned the “Mom Lesson” that I probably should have learned a good three years ago: never tell a child that you’re going somewhere fun until you’re in the car, EN ROUTE TO SAID FUN PLACE.

Because oh, man, was that child disappointed. That child has also been chronically sleep deprived over the past month or so, waking up in the middle of the night once or twice despite NEVER HAVING DONE THIS BEFORE. Which made the letdown so much worse. So now I had two whiny kids on my hands. And a husband in bed.

Wheee!

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It wouldn’t have been so bad if we didn’t have a vision in our minds of how the morning was going to go. If I didn’t feel bad for taking that excitement away from her. If I didn’t then have to focus most of my attention on her sister, who needed snuggles and Tylenol and wasn’t very excited at all at the idea of going outside to play.

It’s hard to feel like you’re neglecting a child. It’s even harder to feel like you’re neglecting a child when that child is struggling, too. But tired and whiny isn’t as bad as sick and whiny. So sometimes you have to make a choice. You have to focus your attention in a certain place.

I know that she’ll be okay. I know that it’s just one day. I know that she’s learning about disappointment and that me scolding her about her whining is going to teach her something.

That doesn’t make it any less sucky, though.

Mom guilt, man. It never ends.

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Fuller House, with Commentary

Fuller-House

I’ve never been one to claim that I was “cool” as a kid. I rocked the glasses and braces and even though I begged my parents to buy me the oversized flannel shirts and Doc Martens, I always felt like I was faking it. I always had a book (or two) with me at all times and our middle school principal informally proclaimed that my best friend and I were his favorite students.

Oh, yeah. Way cool.

Also, I watched Full House. And by watched, I mean “was obsessed with,” way past the point where it was considered normal to be obsessed with a sitcom about a ridiculously cheesy family who hugs at any opportunity. I thought DJ was the coolest. I wanted to be Stephanie. (Or at least be her best friend. I mean, seriously, Jodie Sweetin was the same age as me. It’d totally work.) I even read most of the licensed Stephanie books that were published around that time.

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So of course I was absolutely thrilled to hear that Netflix was releasing a updated version of the show, to be called Fuller House. I knew it’d be cheesy, but it was my childhood, after all. My middle school-hood, too. (Yeah, that’s totally a word.)

So I started watching it. I’m actually enjoying it, too, even though it’s so ridiculously cheesy. (Was it this cheesy when I was a kid? Maybe it was and I didn’t realize it, but those older episodes seem way more genuine. These newer ones seem forced in a way, like the cast is often breaking the fourth wall and trying to share a joke with us. Which they are. It just…doesn’t always work.)

Here’s a conversation between me and my husband:

Me: Ohmygoodness that was so corny.

B: So why are you watching it?

Me: Because it’s fun. And I’m taking it for what it is. I knew it’d be corny. So that’s what I’m expecting it to be.

My friend Justin expressed the same belief in his own blog post. Why do we need to mock things for not being “fine television”? I didn’t go into Fuller House expecting to watch Mad Men. I didn’t go in expecting some Emmy-winning documentary or The Good Wife.

I expected to reconnect with my favorite old characters, get flashbacks to my childhood, laugh, and enjoy myself.

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And I have. Yeah, I could be watching “better” things. But what is “better,” after all? Can’t I have a mix of things in my life–the Lost and the Orange is the New Black, the Fuller House and the…whatever else is inevitably remade?

It’s like I say about books: there is no such thing as a “guilty pleasure” book. ALL books can give you pleasure and there’s nothing to feel guilty about. You’re not wrong to read a romance novel and you’re not wrong to read James Joyce. You’re reading and enjoying yourself.

Enjoy away.

That said, I have a few quibbles with the new season. Inconsistencies, utterly lame plotlines, and other amusing observations. I’m only five episodes in, but SPOILERS BELOW!!!!

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Episode One:

Breaking the fourth wall to stare at “Michelle” for like ten seconds. Honestly, the show works better without her. And it’s the actresses’ prerogative to choose their career path. This came off as rather mean-spirited and petty to me.

Seriously? Joey Gladstone somehow has a thriving comedy career in Las Vegas?

Tommy looks only around 10 months old. So did DJ’s husband die before she gave birth? This is both incredibly sad and something you’d think they’d mention.

So DJ doesn’t have a daycare or childcare situation set up at all? What happened before everyone moved in? Her Dad was obviously still working.

Episode Two:

Max is utterly adorable.

Episode Three:

The girls come back from their nightclub outing to find the kids still up and Joey running around outside. What time did they leave for this club–7:00? And they came home when? 10pm? Also, that was the most uncrowded nightclub ever.

Macy Gray? Wow, I thought that celebrity cameo was dated in the  Spider-Man movie.

Man, Jodie Sweetin has a gorgeous voice.

DJ’s in a bowling league? Really? She has time for that?

Episode Four:

It was quite cool to see that school hallway again. Made me flash back to the Stephanie and Gia days.

That looks like the most unpractical outfit ever for DJ to wear to a day at a veterinary office.

DJ doesn’t particularly seem devoted to her job. Her interest in animals is barely mentioned and she leaves the clinic at a moment’s notice when Jackson gets in trouble. Couldn’t Kimmie have picked him up, too?

Oh, Stephanie. Because lying to a man is the best way to start a relationship.

Stephanie in the tomato soup with the baby was rather creepy. Also, isn’t it tomato juice for skunks?

I gotta say, the moment where Kimmie talks about how she’s afraid she hurt her daughter was perhaps the best moment of acting I’ve seen on this show yet.

Episode Five:

Why did Stephanie take the magic scarf back from Max in the first place? That makes no sense.

So all of a sudden Stephanie is the one to fill in for this DJ guy? She’s that famous? And really??? Coachella crowds will rally that fast to cheer for Max?

Does Tommy ever cry?

Ah, their last name is Fuller!

Stephanie turns down a trip to Italy because she misses the kids and is afraid she won’t see them grow up, date, say first words, etc. Um….you weren’t going to Italy for that long, honey.

Stephanie’s emotional revelation reallllly came out of the blue. It was done pretty well on How I Met Your Mother. Not so much here.

What’s your opinion on Fuller House so far? What amusing things have you noticed?

And will I keep watching?

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Guest Post on Teen Librarian Toolbox

Today I’m guest posting on Teen Librarian Toolbox as part of their Mental Health in YA Lit (#MHYALit) series.

In my non writing and blogging life, I’m a teen librarian, and you can read my post, “Eating Disorder” Books: Why They Only Show Half of the Struggle, here.

Read through the rest of their series, too, if you get a chance. The honesty and depth of these guest posts are incredible.

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Year by Year…

Yesterday morning before he left for work, my husband showed me a reminder that had shown up on his phone. “Meet-a-versary,” it said. Eleven years to the day since we’d officially met each other, since a mutual friend of ours organized a trip to the movies. It ended up being just her, her boyfriend, and us, and we capped off the night by going to my future husband’s house to hang out and play video games.

A few days later, he emailed me and asked me out. It’s been eleven years since that day. It seems like yesterday in some ways and it seems like ages ago in others. I remember that it was snowing that night, light flakes that blanketed the theater parking lot and fluttered in the air as I drove down his street. I remember what I was wearing (this actually isn’t a super lame fact, as I have one of those weird memories that tend to focus on stuff like this): a thick pink turtleneck sweater, brown corduroys, and a headband. (I always wore a headband back then, as I was in the thick of the hell known as “growing your bangs out.”) I remember being nervous that this guy was cute and nice, but also not knowing in the slightest how important that night actually was.

We’ve come a long way since then. I’ve come a long way.

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Thirteen years ago today, I was in the hospital, waiting for my insurance to approve my first stay in residential treatment.

Twelve years ago today, I was in the hospital again, waiting for approval of my second residential stay.

Eleven years ago, I met my husband-to-be, as I was starting to come into my own for the first time, trying to be strong but still walking on incredibly shaky legs.

Nine years ago today, I was engaged, planning for and counting down the days to our June wedding. I was trying to gain weight for the wedding, the complete opposite of so many brides. I was trudging through my first year in a job I didn’t love, trying to convince myself that it would get better.

 

Eight years ago today, I was a newlywed, but I was struggling. I’d relapsed and lost weight. I was addicted to exercise. I was unemployed, having quit that job that I hated so much. I proclaimed that I wanted to use this time to write, but my mind was still so focused on my body that I could never quite get the momentum that I needed to actually finish something.

Seven years ago today, I was in graduate school. I’d gone back for library science, and was so excited to be studying something I loved so much. I was still exercising a lot, but nothing extreme. My head was calmer, my life happier.

Five years ago today, I’d just had a miscarriage. I’d cried and sobbed and mourned and felt guilt and fear pressing down on me like a coffin lid. I didn’t punish my body. I knew that it needed to live if it wanted to bring forth new life.

Four years ago today, I had a one-and-a-half month old baby girl. I nursed her and cuddled her and rocked her to sleep. I read her stories and touched her soft skin. I dreaded going back to work, even if I did like my job.

Three years ago today, I was a stay-at-home mom. I started writing again, while my daughter napped. I wrote a book. I found a passion.

Two years ago today, I was a stay-at-home mom of two. It was stressful. I’d lost weight from breastfeeding and started thinking about my body more than I had done in recent years. I worried about what would happen if I got “fat.” (Whatever that meant.) I worried about stuff a lot. I wrote more books. I kept my anxieties inside.

One year ago today, I had a part-time job as a librarian again. I loved it. Juggling two kids was getting easier and it was time to take care of myself and my issues. I went on medication. I gained some weight. I pushed myself to face my fears. I was happy. Really, really happy.

Today, I finally have balance. I think. Or that’s the way it feels sometimes. Other times it still feels crazy. Stressful and exhausting. Love and hug-filled. I love and mother and work and write and talk and listen and sigh with exasperation. I giggle and kiss and yawn and snuggle and blog and write.

I wouldn’t trade any of it. Not what I have now and not what the past years have brought me. Every year matters. Every year has made me “me” and has led me here.

I can’t wait to see what next year holds.

 

 

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The Real Value of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

Eating-Disorder-AwarenessI never know how to react to National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Of course people are aware of eating disorders. In this society, it’s impossible to escape hearing about them. Celebrity A loses twenty pounds and the tabloids are all plastered with “SCARY SKINNY” headlines. Celebrity B goes to “rehab” and emerges a month later completely cured and boasting about her extreme body love. Parents are told to be on the lookout for diet “danger signs.”

So of course there’s a need for a week full of activities raising awareness. Anything that can stop one more female or male from suffering is worth it. But in the end, what can a campaign like this truly accomplish?

What do we see out there this week? Flyers and statistics about how x percentage of girls will eventually go on a diet. Messages about loving your body and embracing your curves. Media literacy campaigns. Articles about how moderation in all things is best.

Makes sense, yes?

Helpful to those in the thick of it?

Anywhere close to delving down and yanking out the root cause of eating disorders?

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Not even close.

Because what these programs don’t often tell you is that having an eating disorder is utter hell.

I’ll repeat that. Utter hell. Yeah, it’s comforting to know that you’re skinny. And yeah, following that soul-tugging compulsion to exercise for one hour more is going to make you feel better for a little while.

But seeing a photoshopped cover model shot of Jennifer Aniston back when I was in high school didn’t set me on the road to anorexia. Barbies didn’t do it. Going on a diet didn’t do it, either. Because lots of people go on diets. Lots of people cut out carbs or desserts or fats or sugars or fruits or breakfast or whatever the hell they decide to do.

It’s the eating disorder that then makes you cut out the rest of your life.

Because that’s what happens. Maybe the diet started it, but there was something inside of me that kept going. That decided that, yeah, this was who I was now. I was the skinny one. I was the runner. I was the gym rat. I was the girl who could splay her fingers against her chest and feel bones rising up to greet her. I was the anorexic.

An awareness week wasn’t going to pull me out of that. At one point, hearing about awareness campaigns just made me happy to be part of a select club.

And I had to be the best member of that club.

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So who is Eating Disorder Awareness Week for? Maybe it’s for those people on diets, teetering on the edge. And maybe these body positive messages and media literacy campaigns will help pull them back to safety. I hope that does happen. Because if it helps one person, that’s a good thing.

Maybe it’s for the caregivers and loved ones, some of whom I’ve come to realize suffer just as much as those going through the disease. But what will dry statistics do for them? What good will knowing what percentage of middle school girls feel bad after reading magazines do if their daughter is hooked up to a feeding tube? Or screaming at them for putting butter on their mashed potatoes?

There’s no campaign out there than can put you in the mind of someone suffering from an eating disorder. There’s no way to understand how the simple thought of touching a spoonful of peanut butter to your lips or the concept of exercising for one minute less can fill your entire being with paralyzing dread.

You can’t be aware of a life like that unless you experience it for yourself. And no one wants to experience that. Not even the person with the illness.

That’s the tricky part. No one with an eating disorder actually wants the life they’re living. No one wants the obsessions and the compulsions. The hunger pains and the exhaustion. The loss of friends, the loss of connections, the loss of experiences.

The loss of a life, whether literal or figurative.

No one wants that life, but they still don’t want to give it up. They can’t, because even taking one step away from the disease is heart-stoppingly terrifying.

It makes no sense. Yet it continues. And continues.

Until something happens. And recovery begins. That “something” is different for everyone.

But for me, it started with removing all the labels I had placed upon myself. All the labels I had ever placed upon myself.

The skinny one. The gym rat. The runner. The perfect student. The smart one. The perfect daughter. The perfect wife. The perfect mother.

Perfect, perfect, perfect.

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So maybe there isn’t a perfect National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. And maybe that’s okay.

Because weeks like this are a step. To continue the dialogue and let people get their messages out into the open. To have people discuss what’s helpful and what’s not helpful.

To let the rest of society know that joking about a celebrity’s weight loss and saying she should eat more to look better isn’t the solution to what she’s struggling with. That saying “Oh, man, I’d love to have an exercise addiction” isn’t much of a joke.

To tell everyone that a label-less life is pretty damn scary at first, but it’s worth it.

To be aware that even amidst the hell, there’s hope.

Oh, there’s so much hope.

neda   The National Eating Disorders Foundation has created a confidential, 3-minute eating disorders screening questionnaire that is featured on their website this month. If you or anyone you know is or may be struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder, please click on this link. Then talk to someone about it.

http://nedawareness.org/get-screened

 

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