The Mirror and Stuff 

You guys, I had a fat day. I had a fat weekend. I’m having a fat week. 

On Saturday my bras and a camera told me I was fat. I started that wonderful 7 days where my boobs and pants go up two sizes, I eat everything, I have no self control, and oh yeah- no matter what I’m wearing the word fat springs to mind. I changed my bra and my mom asked “can you push those things up any higher?” Well, no mom I can’t- they effing hurt, they’re swollen! You did this to me!

I totally said that. I’m my mind. 

We attended a going-away party Saturday night. I fought some social anxiety, the room overwhelmingly full of happy conversation . My anxiety only lasted about 5 minutes- I conquered it quick and then proceeded to eat anything I could fit in my face- and everything fit in my face. 

Later, I spotted a picture of myself taken at the party. I was in the background and, of course, immediately my brain screamed “ENHANCE! ENHANCE MORE! ENHANCE UNTIL YOU MAKE SURE YOU LOOK LIKE SHIT!” There are certain angles that seem to make me look like I’ve lost nothing. I’m still nearly 300 lbs. That 135 lbs comes back within seconds when I turn a certain way. Stupid arms.

This afternoon I sat on the bench at the end of our bed, in my underwear, hunched over, putting on my sneakers. I caught my reflection in the mirror over my shoulder and tried not to fall off the bench. The 135 lbs was back again. Surgeries, hard work, blood, sweat, tears, overcoming cravings and bad habits- all for nothing. I looked the same. Stupid back. Stupid thighs. Stupid all of it! 

Did I somehow break out and fix my attitude and give myself some love? No. I ate grits and bacon. Did I sit down and pep talk myself? No. I avoided mirrors. Stupid food and mirrors.

My counselor taught me something I use when I’m anxious or depressed- this feeling came for a visit, it won’t be here forever, it will go away- let it be, don’t focus on it, understand this is your brain signaling a lack of needed chemicals or flood of hormones. 

I’m telling myself it’s ok. My body hasn’t changed that much, unless I’m carrying someone else I can’t weight that much again- is impossible to gain 135 lbs since Friday. My brain is fighting back by saying- it doesn’t matter, that’s what you look like! Give up! Eat a bag of Skittles and 6 Twix bars! Everyone else looks wonderful and you look like a whale (geez brain- you’re kind of an asshole).

So I’ll keep fighting. For now I’ll keep avoiding mirrors. I’ll continue to understand the mixed signals are ok, I’m extra sensitive, everything is swollen, and remind myself that I look precisely the same to my husband on my worst day as I did on my best day. 

Now to figure out how to avoid being in public for the next 3 days… ugh. 

My Body and Stuff 

Watch this, please. Then continue on if you’re so inclined. 

Embrace Official Trailer

For 32 years I’ve fought a demon. One that takes hold of my brain and squeezes all the joy out of life. One that won’t let me have a day where I don’t criticize something about myself. She’s cruel. She’s deceptive. She’s relentless. She’s me. 

I became aware of the word “fat” as it applied to my chubby little 9 year old body when I finished a whole box of Screaming Yellow Zonkers on a camping trip. I asked my mom if I could have more from the second box as I handed her the empty. Horrified, she looked at me, grabbed my wrist and with barred teeth shouted “No, you’re getting fat!” I wilted in her grasp into the dust of of our camping spot and began to cry uncontrollably, hitching breath and whispering over and over again “I’m ugly, I’m fat.” My mom jerked me up off the ground to swat me. I pulled out of her grasp and crawled into the back of the pickup truck and hid, curled up in a ball, sobbing. 

I don’t remember what happened next, I just remember knowing I wasn’t good enough, I was ugly, and I was fat for the next 32 years. I’m not blaming my mom. She had a serious eating disorder (not that she’ll admit it), she was in an unhappy marriage, she was sleep deprived most of the time due to my brother’s illnesses and she’d just had a miscarriage. Yeah, I’m going to defend my mom all day long. The truth is, even at 9 I could have overcome that incident, but I chose to live my life by it instead. I certainly never ate Screaming Yellow Zonkers again (if you don’t know what those are they’re like Fiddle Faddle or Cracker Jacks- probably delicious, I don’t remember).

The summer of my 11th year I discovered “fasting”on a church missionary trip (that month of my life was insane, that’s a whole other story- cults are real, you guys!) We would fast every Wednesday, nothing but water, all to be closer to God. If we went 2 days, we were praised, if you didn’t fast at all you were shunned. I remember I ate a pickle one fast day and was told to make up for it I needed to fast the rest of the week. So I did. At 11 years old I went 4 days without food. We knocked doors to pass out flyers and by Saturday I was too weak to go more than a block. When told by my host family that I hadn’t eaten anything since Wednesday (except the pickle) the leader of the group was incredulous and refused to acknowledge he had told me to fast that long. Out of fear for his reputation (it became a whole thing with the church sponsoring us that week) he sent me home. My Dad and Grandpa picked me up in Salt Lake and both commented on how skinny I was. I dug into the cooler in the back seat and ate a whole pack of sliced ham and half a loaf of bread. My Dad asked me why I was so hungry and I told him I hadn’t been allowed to eat for 4 days because I was fasting. When I saw he was becoming upset and threatened to track down the group I’d been with to have a “talk” with the leader I changed my story from hadn’t eaten anything to hadn’t eaten enough because of the flu.

After that summer it was easier to go days without eating. I’d binge and fast often and became an anorexic. At 16, while getting ready for prom I fainted in a friend’s bathroom (scared the shit out of both of us). I hadn’t eaten anything for over a week so I could fit into my friend’s size 2 dress. Living on diet coke and cigarettes. Her mom found out and called my mom. They agreed I had to eat, so I agreed to eat a salad. My friend’s mom sat there with me and watched me eat the whole thing. When I look back on the pictures that night I see how tiny my arms were, how the dress hung on me rather than hugging my curves (because I no longer had any). I went from a 6/7 to what was probably a 0 in a week. I weighed 102 at 5’5 and to this day I wish I could say the same now. 

I’ve fought with this body for so long. As an adult I’ve been 280 lbs, I’ve starved myself down to 137. We’re still fighting.

That demon in my head tells me to eat whatever I want so it can punish me later when I look at the scale. While writing this I got on the scale and noticed I’d gained a pound since yesterday, then proceeded to request pancakes (which I just tried to cancel, too late.) The guilt sets in. The demon starts squawking. 

I long for the day when I no longer care what my body looks like or what the scale says. I continue to try and love this body, flaws and all. I try not to pick apart my appearance. My thighs are too big, I have back fat, my arms show how big I used to be,  my tummy is still swollen after surgery earlier this year, if only I could lose 10 lbs life would be perfect, I can’t see my cheekbones, I have a double chin. I know none of these things are strictly true, but I still think them every day multiple times a day. Sometimes my brain gives me a break, but it’s rare and usually after a compliment or pep talk from my husband (who’s been putting up with this for 23 of the 32 years I’ve had this demon.)

I realize it’s up to me to not only promote body positivity but to accept it myself. I’ve been aware of Taryn Brumfitt’s work for a while now and am in awe of what she’s done and continues to do. Often women don’t support each other until weight loss becomes the headline. You’re losing weight, getting fit, looking good in a bikini, body building- cool I’ll give you a like, an up vote, an encouraging word because we, as humans, in this day and age are trained to value bettering oneself by physical results only. We should also encourage comments, posts, statements like “feeling good today!”, “ate cheesecake, no guilt”, “made it through a week of depression unscathed”, “love my body, love myself”, “these stretch marks have never looked happier”, “gained 5lbs, don’t care”, “I look amazing”, “haven’t worked out for ages and still feel like super woman”. Am I encouraging an unhealthy lifestyle? No. But shouldn’t your psyche be healthy first? Who am I to judge what’s unhealthy for you? I only know what’s unhealthy for me and that’s judgments of others and of myself. 

After losing 135 lbs in 2012 (during a weight loss challenge)* someone at work, who used to be a personal trainer, told me about clients who were called skinny-fat. According to her, in the fitness industry, these were the “little old ladies” who used to be overweight but lost enough weight that there’s just skin and left-over fat, no muscle. She followed up the explanation with “but, I don’t mean you.” Well, you just fucking said it to me with little to no context other than me complaining about some excess skin! You’re always saying perception is everything. How could you not mean me? Me with my 26″ waist, me at 140 lbs, me who worked 3 years to get there. The attached selfie was taken that same day to prove to myself I was in no way fat!

Ladies, be careful what you say to others and what you take in from others. You have no idea the damage you can deal with what you believe is an innocuous, flippant comment. To those I’ve ever personally hurt by something I’ve said, I deeply apologize. I never want anyone in my life to feel the way I felt that day, or the way I felt the day my mom told me I was fat. Take that negativity and analyze it. Maybe you intimidate that person. Maybe they see your personal power and feel you need to be knocked down to pump up their own. Maybe they see humility and don’t understand it. Maybe they don’t understand true weakness is the need to bully and control others. Maybe they’re experiencing what I feel is the most damaging emotion, jealousy. Analyze your own negativity, why are you so hard on yourself? Would you say the same things you say to yourself to a friend? A daughter? A total stranger? 

Turn your demon into the angel on your shoulder that reminds you to love yourself, that you don’t have to be perfect, that you never have to live up to anyone’s expectations. You have the ability to work miracles, but it starts with you. It starts with me too.

I’ll be watching this movie and I hope you will too. I know it will be cathartic for so many women struggling with their self image and there’s nothing like catharsis for exorcising your demons. 

Love you, love me!

*edit for clarity: I’d lost 135 lbs between 2009 and 2012 by using lap-band surgery as a tool in conjunction with diet and exercise. We were doing an additional challenge and I wanted to lose some inches. Full disclosure, I had a tummy tuck to remove the excess skin this year. 

Happiness and Stuff

About a month ago a I was driving back to our house with a much younger friend who told me that my husband (Joe) and I are very fortunate. He listed some specific ways in which we’re fortunate and it hit me hard. He was so right! Normally I wouldn’t even mention age. I’m a true believer that when it comes to friendship age just isn’t a factor, but in the context of that conversation youth was important. 

I remember being his age, Joe and I starting out like he is with his girlfriend. We didn’t have a lot, but we were working hard to build on what we did have. I remember being in awe of those whose accomplishments I felt I’d never achieve. I remember making goals based on the lives of one couple in particular. 

They had it so together (still do as far as I’m concerned). Great house, careers, kids, a dog, stability, talent, love for each other. Everything I wanted for Joe and I. I could see that their life wasn’t idyllic, their marriage wasn’t perfect and yet it was the imperfection that made their life together enviable. It seemed they weathered whatever storm came their way. Granted, I watched from the outside, idolizing and trying to emulate a wife I truly wanted to be. She treated her kids like humans who were capable of rational thought, not babies. She’s always been outspoken, never not sharing her opinion. She scared me, still does a little because I know she’d never hold back in telling me I’m being an idiot. I still feel like I’m only able to say the most ridiculous vapid shit around her, not because she makes me feel that way, because she’s so much cooler than me. I seriously adore her. I adore both of them, I adore their relationship. Had Joe and I not been able to look to them during some very rough times (generally me being selfish and imbalanced) I’m not sure we’d still be together. I’d often tell myself, if they can make marriage work so can we. 

And now we have it. A working marriage. Joe and I have that life we wanted. We have a great home, careers,  a kid, a dog, stability, talent, and love for each other. We have a life where the things that make us worry most are miniscule in comparison to what our parents dealt with at our age. We worked hard, we achieved what we set out to do, we made a happy life for ourselves. 

Happy. Not something I say very often. Although not always, I’m generally happy. I can only hope that maybe Joe and I have encouraged someone else. Someone just starting their lives together. My friend certainly woke me up that day, telling me how lucky we are to have so much, especially when I was taking things for granted. He made me step outside myself and realize how much I now have that I always wanted. That conversation was tremendously valuable and I’ve thought of it often. Thanks Eric! 

Last spring I had the pleasure of spending some time with the couple I’ve looked up to since I was 18 (23 years!!) I always savor that time because I don’t see them very often. After one of these meetings something very small, yet profound happened. I watched the two of them walk away down the street together. They grabbed hands at the exact same moment and continued walking down the street holding hands, talking, oblivious to anything but each other. I punched Joe in the arm and said “oh my God look” pointing. He smiled and went back to whatever it was he was doing, but I continued to watch and felt a couple of tears try to escape down my cheeks. It was so dammed sweet, not just aw cute sweet, sweetness that makes your heart soar. I quickly rubbed the tears away, in case they turned around. I couldn’t stop grinning.  

I want another 22 years of happiness. I want Joe and I to naturally hold hands as we travel through life. I still smile and tear up when I think about that moment because two people I love are still so much in love and it gives me joy and hope that the love I feel for Joe now will continue to grow, blossom, and mature.

I want that for every couple, at every age. 

It Happened to Me

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This is hard for me to write. A large part of my ego is screaming at me to stop right now, turn around, go back, delete, think of your job, think of your friends and family, think of your reputation! Ego. That coping mechanism we use when things are hard and we want to hide from them.  That voice inside my head that stops me dead in my tracks from saying something that might make me completely vulnerable and strip me of all pretense; baring it all in front of anyone and everyone witnessing the breakdown.

What am I doing? Why am I writing this?

With the recent ridiculous and disturbing slap on the wrist a Stanford student received for raping a woman I can’t help but fall back into memories of my own experiences. The ones I’m not supposed to talk about. The ones that should remain buried. The ones I still blame myself for. The experiences that shaped who I am today and many of the battles I’ve always fought and am currently fighting against myself.

I’m so proud of the victim in this case, speaking up; telling her story- it’s completely terrifying. Whether you remain anonymous or not, sexual violence is beyond humiliating. The act of writing or talking about it can cause you to relive the whole experience.  I wish I didn’t have to say she’s brave. I wish the stigmatization of rape didn’t exist. I wish we could all talk about it without fear of repercussions. I certainly wish it didn’t happen to anyone.

Two weeks ago, during a quiet drive in the rain, I started to dig into why I have such crippling insecurity. Taking stock. Why do I continue to require validation from others? I know this behavior started when I was a child from  the abuse that was part of my daily family life; but I feel most of it came from experiences I had from 13 years old until I met my husband at 18. Five short years is all it took to break me down.

From the time I was too little to remember, my Dad was a preacher. When I was 12 we moved to an area that still gives me panic attacks (we avoid it like the plague any time we’re near it).  My first truly negative and painful experience took place the spring/summer of 7th grade.

I had a crush on a boy at church. He may have been one of the most sadistic people I’ve ever met and to be clear he moved away and I don’t believe he ever moved back to that area. Further, there were plenty of boys I dated during that time that were incredibly sweet, but this guy- he scared me. The more he scared me the more I was drawn to him. He knew it and capitalized on it taking every opportunity to tell me I was ugly, stupid, fat, worthless and then end the insult with “Just kidding” so that would make it OK. It wasn’t OK.

I was very close with his sister and he’d frequently tell me to get away from him when I said hi or tell me to stay away from his sister because I was gross. He got pretty creative with the insults and eventually stopped saying he was kidding. The more he insulted me the more attention I paid, trying to get him to like me. After a couple months he switched to telling me I was pretty and even beautiful. For a few seconds my heart would soar until he brought it crashing down by saying “Just kidding.” He’d flirt with me relentlessly to get me to sit next to him in church. When I did he’d punch me in the arm, grab my hand during prayer and bend my fingers and wrist back, give me what he liked to call shark bites by pulling up my skirt and pinching and twisting the skin on my inner thigh or behind my knee between his middle and index fingers as hard as he possibly could, always resulting in tears and severe bruises. On two occasions he broke the skin by flicking what he’d pinched until I screamed and finally wrenched myself away. He smiled and laughed when he saw the blood and told me I must be on the rag.

He was older, a foot taller than me and had a decent amount of strength to work with; he would use his size against me frequently. He’d tell me to hop on his back and then jump up and drop me, kick me if I bent over to tie my shoe (while calling me fat ass), punch me in the arm hard enough to leave a knot, even pushed me off of a dock into the river once. On multiple occasions put me in a headlock.

You might be saying, why didn’t my parents notice? Sometimes they did and I quickly developed a reputation for being clumsy (even had to start tripping or bumping into things on purpose in front of them so they wouldn’t suspect). To this day I laugh at the “she ran into a doorknob” jokes when I have a big bruise, but inside all I can think is if they only knew. His sister helped me cover for him. She said that since he met me he’d stopped abusing her as much and this admission completely cemented my decision not to tell anyone what was going on.

My brother knew something wasn’t right. My best friend at church knew something wasn’t right. They both asked me about him frequently and even threatened him with bodily harm if he didn’t leave me alone. He told me if they said anything else to him he would tell everyone that I was a slut, hurt my little brother, and never talk to me again. The thought of anyone hurting my little brother or anything happening to him absolutely mortified me. I’d never let that happen.

Why didn’t I just ignore him? I tried, but his sister would get upset because he and I couldn’t “get along”. If I ignored him she’d get defensive and angry. He’d tell me to apologize for being so sensitive and get over it. So I’d apologize and the cycle continued. His Dad even went as far to say if I couldn’t get along with him that I couldn’t be friends with his daughter any more and told my parents that I was the problem (to which they lectured me and I, of course, didn’t stand up for myself). He’d broken my confidence down to nearly nothing at this point, so what did it matter?

The whole horrible 5 months came to a head the night before the family moved. Our families were close so we had them over for pizza to say goodbye. My brother, his sister and I were hanging out in our backyard talking. It was pitch black, no lights on with the exception of some street lights down the hill. I swear he was hiding there in the dark. Stalking me. Planning how it would all go down.

I hear a quiet voice drift out of the darkest part of our yard, “Hey Gen, come over here.” My heart leapt into my throat. He sounded like he was being nice. After all the physical and mental abuse I could tell when he was baiting me and his tone sounded genuinely nice.

I walked toward his voice, away from my brother who called after me, obviously concerned. I told my brother everything was OK, I was only walking a few feet away. He continued to protest that he couldn’t see me and I assured him it was OK. I took a few steps and my leg bumped into a reclining law chair. He was in the chair. Waiting for me.

I still have nightmares about that moment.

I stood over him. “What?” I asked, trying to sound tough. If this was a joke I wasn’t going to fall for it.

Very softly he said, “Sit down.”

“Where? I’m not gonna sit on the grass, we have dogs back here.”

“On me!” He said cheerfully and patted his lap.

I’m completely suspicious at this point. “I’m not gonna sit on your lap. You’ll push me off.”

“I won’t push you off. Come on, I promise. Please?” He sounded whiny, like he was trying to give back some of the power he’d stolen from me for so long.

I continued to say no. He resorted to begging. It worked. I sat down on his lap.

“I’m too big, I’m gonna squish you.” I started to get up.

“You’re not squishing me. I’m fine. Now be quiet.” He pulled me back down and put his hand on my cheek, gently turning my face toward his. He kissed me. I felt like my head was going to explode! I was so happy. I asked him if this was a joke and he said no, he’d always liked me and wanted me to be his girlfriend.

I already had permission to spend the night with my friend in their RV, provided that her brother spent the night in their house. He snuck me out of the trailer and I spent the night with him. We didn’t sleep. I had a lot of firsts that night, some that ruined certain things for me until I met my husband. Most that made me feel deeply ashamed (part of being a preacher’s kid is a healthy dose of shame on a daily basis). I snuck back into the trailer to get ready for church in the morning.

I went home with them again after church. The three of us decided to go for a walk in the trees in a nearby park. That’s when it happened. That’s where it happened.

We laid down a blanket and he told his sister to go away. She asked me if I would be OK and I told her I would be. She walked away toward the water. We started making out and he took my clothes off. He held me down. I said No. He said no means yes. I said no again. He didn’t stop. I was silent and before long I heard leaves crunching. His sister came back and said it was too quiet and asked me if I was OK. He shouted that I was fine, she countered with disbelief and rushed over, pushing him off of me. She pulled me away while gathering up my clothes. Although I did bleed that night he didn’t complete his mission, she got to us before he could technically take my virginity. Over the past months he’d taken a lot more than that.

That night I tried to apologize to him at youth group. I still tried to get him to pay attention to me. He told me to get away from him, told a group of our friends that I kept following him around, wouldn’t leave him alone, thought I was his girlfriend, was in love with him, that I was gross and fat and generally horrible. His sister apologized for everything. I was physically bruised and emotionally eviscerated.

I was 11 the first time thought about and I tried to kill myself. A group of girls were bullying me on a church trip. One even suggested I kill myself. The second time I made a plan was that very night. I didn’t go through with it, but the guilt of what happened to me sat like a 200 lb weight on my chest for another 4 months.

We’d moved to Idaho, settled in with my Grandparents and a church I’d gone to on and off since I was a toddler. I was finally feeling safe again. I was watching Oprah reruns one Saturday afternoon. My mom was doing the dishes in the kitchen. Rape and attempted rape victims told their stories. Victims of date rape and rape by strangers. I sat straight up, watching the show attentively, feeling my heart racing and hot tears spill down my cheeks, the lump in my throat so large I didn’t think I could breathe, let alone talk. I tried to calm myself, I knew my mom might come in the room any minute and ask me what was wrong.

It wasn’t long before she did just that. I explained that the Oprah show made me very sad. It was so sad those things happened to other girls. I had a friend it happened to. I began to tell her everything under the guise of another girl in our former church. My mom listened quietly, urging me to go on when I couldn’t. When I was done she narrowed her eyes, looking at me intently and asked, “Are you sure this didn’t happen to you?” I insisted it was another girl, it wasn’t me. My mom said that she hoped the other girl would tell her parents and told me that if something ever happened to me I wouldn’t be in trouble and I could talk to her. I saw the look of concern and scrutiny on my mom’s face. I was afraid I would break her heart if I told her the girl was me. I thought I could save her from the pain I was experiencing. I thought about how I would feel if I had a daughter that had been raped. Most of all, I thought about the possibility of my mom telling my Dad, tracking down the family, eventually getting the police involved. My mom went back to the kitchen to start dinner and I thought about these things for another hour or so. Finally, I got up and walked to the kitchen. I saw my mom standing at the sink, holding a dish towel limply, staring blankly out the window.

I crept up behind her, “Mom?”

She continued staring out the window. “Yes.” she sighed heavily.

I could barely force the words out. I started to say never mind, but screwed my courage up the best I could. I choked it out haltingly, that lump threatening to smash my vocal chords.

“It was me.”

She turned and ran to me, took me in her arms and said, “I know. I knew there was something wrong with that boy. I knew something happened. It was that night you spent the night over there. I knew it had to be.”

We held each other, we cried. She explained to me that it wasn’t my fault, that I didn’t do anything wrong, that I didn’t make this happen, that the things he said weren’t true. I made my mom promise not to tell my Dad until I was ready. I made her promise not to do anything, not to get the police involved (although she wanted to). She then told me about her own experience, something that had happened to her at 16. She understood every ounce of my pain and had already felt it herself.

I’d like to say that was the last time something like this happened to me. I’d like to say that I was more careful as I grew older and became sexually active. I’d like to say that I listened to my gut when it said someone would hurt me. I’d like to say that I fought off the next person who brutalized me. I’d like to say I never thought about suicide again. I can’t say those things.

I believe this experience and others are all part of the tapestry that makes up the dark and light sides of my personality. The voice that’s always there to tell me I’m not good enough, I’m ugly, I’m fat, I’m worthless. That shadow that plagues me during my deepest bouts of depression. They’re also the magnet that draws me to those with similar experiences. Throughout my life I’ve had more friends that have experienced sexual or domestic violence than have not. I’m drawn to give love and understanding to others that hurt in this way. I have a deep sense of compassion and empathy for any being in pain and I’m crushed if I feel I’ve cause that hurt myself. It’s drawn me closer to Buddhism and given me a better understanding of the term “Do no Harm.”

My husband helped me save myself from these memories. He’s tried for years to help me love myself. He’s taught me that healthy relationships are two people doing the work to make it easy, that the nice guy is nice all the time and is worth trusting (something that has been very difficult for me.) He’s proven that during the toughest times I won’t be abandoned, that he’ll always be by my side.

I know it wasn’t my fault. I know I didn’t deserve it. I know it doesn’t make me a bad person, or a weak person. I know it’s happened to others and I’m not alone. I know it’s helped me raise a son that respects and reveres women. I know it’s helped shape who I am today, and she’s still working on really and truly being OK.

If it helps someone else feel less alone, then it was worth the pain and doubt of writing this post.

 

Anxiety and Stuff

I’ve never been officially diagnosed with panic disorder, I don’t have panic attacks often enough to need medication. Maybe one every couple months and I’ve learned to deal with them by controlling my breathing, self soothing, and being in the moment. I know what to do when I feel one coming on, I know how to prevent them, and how to recover after they pass. I’ve had them alone, with my husband (he’s been there for my most scary severe attacks), I’ve had them with friends right in the middle of a disagreement. The last was awkward because I then had to explain that, even though we’re close, I never mentioned that I have panic attacks.

I remember my first attack, I was six and had just had my tonsils out. I woke up in a foreign environment without my mom and found that I couldn’t move or breathe. My fear built until I was gasping for breath and I began to thrash about as I regained movement. I started to scream, my mom came in and tried to comfort me- didn’t help. Nurses came in to check my vials and I later heard from my mom they accused me of being spoiled and throwing a fit for attention. This lasted for what seemed an eternity, my mom says it was only half an hour (that is an eternity to a panicking six year old). For years I assumed this was a reaction to anesthesia until I started to compare those symptoms to what I now know is a panic attack. It all makes sense.

I take an anti-depressant that also helps with anxiety. It can keep the panic attacks at bay when I avoid triggers- although sometimes there’s no trigger to be avoided. It helps with macro anxieties but not micro anxieties, and there are many of both. Macro: pat down and search by TSA (every time- WTF?!); micro: waiting in line for TSA, checking a bag, getting to my gate, boarding and possibly smacking someone with my purse. Macro: posting a selfie; micro: comments, likes, lack of comments and likes, fear of judgement from others, showing insecurity to others. Macro: going to see a band, in public, with a crowd; micro: running into people who remember Joe and not me, finding a place to stand/sit, wearing the wrong thing, being judged for the music I like/lifestyle in general (how can I like pop, metal, rap, elitist sub-genres all at the same time). That last micro anxiety pops up over and over again in my life.

My husband and son would never consider me fake or insincere- they accept me for who I am and sometimes laugh at my weird seemingly conflicting tastes. I always hope my friends see me as eclectic and real, but I’m often not sure. Woefully so with peripheral friends, those I don’t know too well or talk to very often. I love makeup, designer clothes/bags/shoes, reality TV, good food, dance, Stephen King, YOGA PANTS, Starbucks, Victoria’s Secret and I’ve now had plastic surgery. All things that those who enjoy items from my next list tend to write off as vain, trivial, roll their eyes at, BASIC. I’m passionate about art, collecting books and toys and whatever originals or prints I can afford. I’ve amassed a wealth of knowledge about Low-brow and pop-surreal artists. When I love something I research it voraciously. I’ve been fascinated by and live for music, underground or popular- doesn’t matter. I love Beyonce and Pinback, Mastodon and Neko Case, NWA and Built to Spill. I often feel like I’m being judged for this dichotomy of what I consider musical genius. “You can’t like both of those bands.”- not something that anyone has said directly, but it’s inferred. I devour movies and television- often horror. Sitcoms and documentaries. British factual shows. All of it. I feel less anxious about this, but there’s certainly times when I love something everyone else considered trite resulting in a feeling of “something is wrong with me.” I love clothes and I don’t have a specific style. Some days I dress like a pinup, other days I’m boho, sometimes I wear pentagrams, I have a collection of 100+ band and geek t-shirts, I also have more lingerie than I’d ever need (me: can’t find my favorite bra, husband: don’t your other bras get jealous?) I just want to look the way I feel at any given moment. Having a lot of options helps. I’m sure that money could be put to good use elsewhere and I worry that others feel the same.

So what can I do with micro anxieties? Seems like they take over my life and are often caused by Facebook (although a significant amount of anxiety is caused by face to face interaction). I can’t avoid all of my anxieties. I’m not going to stop enjoying whatever I want. All I can do is let that shit go and tell myself “this little anxiety is just stopping by to say hello and it’ll be gone soon.” Doesn’t always work, but it offers some comfort.

We all deal with anxiety and worry (can’t even start on the anxiety I feel with my son becoming an adult). Realizing you’re not the only person who feels this way and having a good support system makes a big difference. Understanding that your feelings are totally normal and trying to avoid triggers can make life much easier. If you can’t avoid your triggers then learn to deal with them by caring less about what others think.

Don’t avoid yourself. Love who you are, you don’t really get to be anyone else.

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XOXO

Loss and Stuff

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One month from my abdominoplasty and 4 days from going back to work I’m thinking “What have I learned?”

More than anything I learned to deal with loss. Loss of inhibition (contrary to the picture above and most of my selfies I did have inhibitions). Loss of self loathing. Loss of a loved one. Loss of who I thought I was.

Turns out I’m finding myself pulling down my shirts less and less. I’m totally comfortable wearing cute gym stuff  (uh…not that I can go to a gym for another 2 weeks, but a girl gets curious). I stopped over-thinking how I look, now it’s just a matter of comfort and wrangling my binder and boobs to stay in the right place. Stuff I didn’t expect to look different does. Mostly good, but I swear it’s going to take me years to accept this belly button as my own. Never have I been so obsessed with that thing and infuriatingly enough I don’t have a picture of it before I got pregnant with Jadon and neither Joe or I remember what it looked like 21 years ago. It’s on my body now, better get used to it.

The self loathing is still there, probably always will be, but I’ve let quite a lot of that go. I’m still picking things apart about my body, again that will take more mental work on my part. Something so deeply rooted in your psyche doesn’t just go away because some skin and fat are gone. Unfortunately I’ve taken a step backward and allowed myself to absorb some very negative and hurtful things that were said by someone I deeply respect.

That brings me to loss of a loved one, in a metaphorical sense. I never quite knew what it would be like to have a parent walk away from a relationship with me. I expected it to happen one day. I expected anger, bitterness, and frustration to eventually boil over just as I expected my parent’s divorce and my brother’s suicide. All my life I’ve seen relationships careening toward disaster and have done whatever I could to repair, fix, save, or borrow time to keep them alive. I have a 0% success rate, but I also understand that I can’t and don’t make decisions for people. The pain of that loss can be unbearable, especially when it involves your dearest loves. It haunts me, but has brought me closer to my Mom who loves me without limitations, without conditions, without judgement. I’ve learned that my husband and I have raised a son who’s endlessly resilient even when deeply bruised. I learned that I married a man who’s ferociously, yet appropriately, protective. While I mourn this loss, I’m not giving up and will try to mend hearts again. Time is needed.

Lastly, I lost this perception of who I thought I was. I thought I was stronger than I am, that I was impervious to dependence simply because I’m mindful of it. Nope. Pain killers are good for a few days, but not 3 weeks. Turns out when you stop taking them life sucks and seems completely surreal. Floating around on a cloud of pharmaceuticals feels fantastic, not to mention all the energy I had to clean and organize. Coming back down to reality is horribly unpleasant. Now my energy is sapped and I’m coming off of a 2 day chest cold, but I haven’t taken any pain meds today. I’m done with them and my pain is minimal! Starting to feel normal again and the tightening around my lower abdomen is much better and less painful.

Speaking of tightening, turns out you do have to continue to eat a reasonable diet (ugh so much bread…) I can’t drink milk anymore and my body rebels against a lot of sugar- not something you notice when you’re on pain meds. However, NOTHING WILL KEEP ME FROM EATING CHEESE.

Yeah, still a work in progress. Still worried about meeting the expectations of myself and others. Still worried about perception. I think a lot less about how I look and a lot more about how I feel.

I think I’ve gained a lot in 4 weeks.

Thanks and Stuff

I posted a “before and after” picture of my body last night. It was terrifying. As I hit the button to post the picture on IG and Facebook I immediately felt like throwing up. I vacillated between changing the tags, changing the privacy settings, burying it under several timeline postings of corgi puppies and quiz results, or just deleting it completely.

Here’s the pic:

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Me in 2008 at my highest weight. All others taken the night before surgery and yesterday.
My husband, Joe, either checked IG or Facebook, turned to me and reacted with, “bold move, hun.” That was the best way to explain my posting. The fact that he voiced my exact thoughts about the picture comes as no surprise after 22 years together. What did surprise me was how that that statement made me wonder if I really should delete the picture. Was I being too bold? Was I crazy for posting this?
It’s not like I have a huge following (I barely have 100+ followers on IG). I don’t often see more than 60 likes on any picture or FB post. I thought this would probably just fly under the radar and no one would notice. I hoped no one would notice.
For 15 years I hoped no one would notice me. I hoped they wouldn’t notice my weight. I knew people looked at me because I was obese. I saw people turn to each other and giggle or whisper about my weight. Someone even spit on me in the mall once (yeah that happened).
As I lost the weight and my body changed I was left with what looked like melted skin/wax on my torso. I was happy to be healthier, to have more energy, to see better test results on my physicals year after year. I was not happy with my stomach/abdomem. I felt like people were still looking at me because they could see my stomach. I thought people were still giggling and whispering about my stomach. That fear of my appearance constantly being judged was still there. I felt like I’d worked so hard, but had never been able to enjoy it.
Insurance doesn’t pay for abdominoplasty. It will pay for a panniculectomy, which is just removal of extra skin, but only if you have a skin condition or medical necessity. My skin has always been healthy, but it has caused back pain- not extreme enough to result in a medical diagnosis. A panniculectomy doesn’t address the need for the rebuilding of the abdominal wall and is functional only. In order to achieve the results I wanted I would have to pay for a fleur-de-lis abdominoplasty fully out of pocket, including unpaid time off from work. It’s not something we take lightly, but Joe is as committed to my happiness and finally feeling good in my own skin as I am. I’m still recovering after 2 weeks (as of today). It still feels like my skin is being flayed off of my body if I sleep through or forget a pain pill. I still have a drain to remove any extra fluid that builds up around my incisions. I’ve gotten over an infection, but there’s still a lot of swelling and I’m pretty laid up.
When I looked at the before and after picture I posted all I could see was the melting skin/wax that I tried so hard to work off, to hide, to ignore.
That’s not what everyone else saw. I received so many words of encouragement. So many people expressed their support. It was humbling and comforting.
I’m still anxious about the post. I’m still worried that others will think I didn’t work hard enough or lose enough weight to lose my belly fat and skin. That I’ll be judged as harshly as I judge myself (I’m still working on self love).
I waited 5 long years to maintain my weight, to see if the skin would shrink. It never did. I’m slowly embracing and trying to love my body in the present and the past. It’s something I’ve struggled with since I was 10 years old and realized what “fat” meant. That it meant me. I’ll try as hard as I possibly can to block that negativity, to stop assuming what others see when they look at me, to love myself as I am.
Thank you to everyone who has passed on a kind word. To my core support team (you know who you are) and even to those who have looked at me with judgement or cruelty- all of it has shaped who I am today. Pun intended.

P.S. To Joe, my hero, thank you for everything you do for me every single day. Love you.

P.P.S. Thanks to Jadon for taking care of mom and always kissing my forehead when I need it. To Carolyn for my cozy blankie. To Jen for don’t go crazy being bored supplies. To all of my friends. Seriously thank you!