Thursday, August 30, 2007

I hit a trifecta of body image remarks today, which was kind of interesting:

My friend Genevieve lost about 60 lbs. after her wedding with the Atkins diet, but has since gained about 20 of it back. I personally think she looks great...tanned, muscular legs, an average frame, and only a little noticeable lumpage around her stomach and back. But since it's Gen's body and Gen's neuroses, she is completely devastated by the extra poundage that's crept on in the five years since she was married. She decided about two weeks ago to recommence her Atkins-ing, and has been so meticulous about counting carbs that when another teacher accidentally knocked over a canister of sugar as we were all preparing our morning coffee, I actually saw Gen duck as the granules cascaded over to her side of the counter, and even though she claimed she didn't want to get her shirt all sugar-dusty, I think she was really secretly terrified that somehow she'd snort sugar through her Eustachian tubes and then Dr. Atkins would rise up out of his cheese gilded casket and take away her ketosis privileges for a month.

Gen eats some pretty nasty shit when she's doing I saw her eat a hot dog wrapped in a carb-free tortilla and she turned down my offer of organic strawberries in favor of some turkey jerky her husband left in the glove compartment of their car after a fishing trip. She's cranky and miserable and she thumbs through the food and wine section of our newspaper like she's poring over letters from a lost love. When someone walks in with a cookie or bread or pasta she acts like we're about to sit down to a meal of anthrax and hand grenades and she turns away from the table, shrieking, "Get that stuff out of my sight!". Basically, Gen is annoying the shit out of me with her diet and how much she's punishing herself and her incessant talk of "being good" or "being bad" or "cheating" and how she's only lost 4.5 lbs. in two weeks and even though that's perfectly acceptable by nutrition standards it's not good enough for her because she's not perfect yet.

And when she said that...that she's not perfect could kind of feel the wind sucked out of the room, because even though we were all offering our Diet Platitudes and I was hawking the Intuitive Eating book and feeling a little smug because I had dropped a little weight this week (albeit mostly because my new allergy meds make me not want to eat as much and our librarian has brought frog legs into lunch ever day this week and her graphic discussions of catching and gigging the frogs have rendered me appetite-less, and yearning for a trashcan and a quiet corner where I can dry heave until someone from PETA comes with the van and takes me to a better place), we all knew the feeling of being not perfect...not good enough. None of us is an Eva Longoria, or a Cameron Diaz. And feeling the collective weight of a dozen women all knowing what the others were thinking was extremely powerful and sad.

#2: NBC reran the "Womens' Appreciation Day" episode tonight. It's one of my favorites, and this clip from it was the second time my eyebrows raised over some body-image stuff today:

And this is kind of how I feel about the whole "Real Beauty" campaign in general. Every time I read the articles and the blog posts about how celebrities benefit so much from the art of Photoshop and that the media sets unattainable standards for beauty in our society, I roll my eyes, because we've been bleating out this same complaint for at least a decade now, and nothing's really being done about it. Nothing substantive, at least. If we're so adamant about being happy with who we really are, and not participating in punitive, damaging beauty rituals and exercise and dieting, then why aren't there more people putting out more resources on how to accomplish it? Why are the celebrities who claim to be the most ardent proponents of being natural and self-possessed still the ones who voluntarily drop twenty-five pounds to make the cover of Vogue? Why does Oprah still binge diet, and the Dove "Real Beauty" campaign still used coiffed and primped models, albeit plus-sized ones sometimes? Taking the point to its comedic extreme like they did on The Office just reminds me how the self-acceptance movement has great intentions, but there's a flaw in the execution somewhere because as long as we're preaching "You're gonna have to be tolerant of our flaws", even while giving us every available tool to still obsess over them, then women are still going to feel like shit about themselves.

And then I ran across this link on Tom and Lorenzo's site (I like how the Internet can let me pretend I'm on a first name basis like fabulous faux-celebrities like La T.Lo...Les T.Lo? Whatever.), and it blew my mind. I don't really care about how Brittany Murphy has awful undereye bags and how the Vastly Inferior Second Mr. Darcy has cystic acne, but the pictures of Beyonce and Kelly Clarkson and all the modifications they made to their bodies are remarkable. They seriously shaved off two pants sizes from Kelly's backside, at least.

And I guess that's how it trickles down...from the celebrities who stake their bank accounts on silently accepting the fact that they're not good enough for America without Photoshop, to their doctored photos that subsequently land in our mailboxes and on our computer screens to torture us and make us feel completely inadequate next to their unattainable beauty. It's funny to think that somewhere in the monied hills of L.A., starlets and A-listers are having the very same conversations over their $25 salads and Fiji waters that Gen, the teachers, and I had at our plastic lounge tables over plates of beef jerky and frog legs today.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

I looked forward to yesterday afternoon as if it were the commencement of some grand vacation, like if I could just hold on until Tuesday afternoon I'd win an all-expenses paid trip to the magical kingdom of Prozac Land and never have to look back. I worked with one eye on my kids and the other on the clock, and when our contract time was up at 4:00, I speedwalked out the door and cursed at the drivers, most of whom seemed to have rescheduled their Sunday afternooon pleasure cruises for mid-week rush hour, the entire 30 mile drive from where I work to where I get to be crazy with impunity.

I arrived, furious at myself for being seven minutes late, and affixed the fake smile I always wear when I go into the office complex where my doctor works, because grinning incessantly at the other elevator riders CLEARLY means I'm just popping into the mortgage company down the hall and not following the woman who is currently pulling her six-inch pink vinyl wedges off her feet so she can pick at the dead skin on her toes into the psych offices. Because I am a horrible person, I always do a scan of the other patients in the lobby and play a quick "What's wrong with them?" game inside my head. I've found this is way more rewarding than in an ENT lobby, because while deviated septums and chronic tonsillitis people are pretty obvious to spot, it's hard to figure out whether the same lank hair and dark circles that I sport everyday as symptoms of not caring enough to take care of myself equates to the same issues for the woman across the room who also looks weary and haggard. It's always women in the lobby when I come to this place...forty-something housewives clutching their office copy of Good Housekeeping to their chests like some sort of genteel, suburban shield...a teenager curled up into a corner chair, fingers tracing over the oyster-pink lattice of scar tissue on her forearm and staring sullenly at the profile of her anxious, harried mother who seems to be trying to balance maternity with the laptop perched precariously on her knee. Everytime I see a self-harmer, my own fingers brush instinctively against the nearly invisible half-moon scars on my own wrists and arms. I don't do blood, so I was a cigarette lighter burner. Somehow that seemed more romantic in college.

As I worked my way through the lobby, then the receptionist desk, and finally back to my doctor's office, I went through my same routine of trying to be ask perky and seemingly normal as possible...."Yes, Erin!" "I'm here to see John!" "New insurance card!" "Great! Thanks!" "I need regular treatment and maybe medicine! Depressed and suicidal, yes!" I'm pretty sure had I kept it up for much longer, there would've been a lithium prescription marked FILL ASAP at the bottom of my purse by the time I left.

But I made it in, and we talked, and for the first time in all the times I've visited John it didn't feel like I had solved any problems, because of the handful of therapists I've visited in my time, John is a world-class champion of helping you figure out the problem and finding ways to solve it. The small, wan woman who saw me for six months in my college town squeaked her office chair back and forth and fingered the trim on her omnipresent beige cardigan (from Scotland, she told me once), and never once offered advice or opinion until the day she prescribed me a tranquilizer and OCD medication, neither of which I apparently needed so I spent the next half-year basically either in a coma or irritable as hell. But the reason I keep coming back to John, besides the fact that in our first session he dropped the f-bomb twice as my heart erupted in a celebration of foul-mouthed kinship and exhilaration that if he felt comfortable saying "fuck" to a stranger then we probably wouldn't be doing much putzing around in our sessions, was that he helped me feel like the crises I perceived in my life were really much more manageable than they seemed at the time. So that's why I could go in once, work on my own for a few months, and then go back in if I needed extra help or feedback.

But this time, as John and I talked, there were a lot more of those characteristic therapist pauses, where he'd squint at me and try to telepathically extract whatever I waswithholding; what it was that was making me feel so incredibly black and hopeless. But the thing was, I was searching my brain too, and I couldn't come up with anything at all. Should I have told him that I recently saw a picture of myself smiling with my mouth open and I looked so much like James Gandolfini that I've since refused to do anything but half-smirk with my lips clamped shut? Was I supposed to say that the single nicest moment of my day is when I check my email one last time before bed, pick up the cat who sleeps on my feet and put her next to my pillow like she's a baby while my other cat follows us into the bedroom and assumes his position next to my hip? That I think the very idea that I'd sate my maternal instinct with an animal while being too terrified of screwing up or neglecting my own child to actually have one is incredibly pathetic? Should I have just advanced three months worth of therapy and had the breakthrough right on our first session back and tell him that a decade of avid navel-gazing gives me the authority to say that every single problem I think I have...of the relentless anger, of not feeling wanted, of feeling worthless, of having overwhelming guilt when I want to have a more exciting job and a more extravagant life...that I can trace every single one of those things back to my relationship with my mom and that really the only big problem I have is how to forgive her but still keep my distance and get over it on my own terms?

Because if I thought those things would've helped in the half-hour time we had, I would've blurted them out. I would've talked and talked and journaled and did worksheets if it could've stopped the way I was feeling right at that moment...the awful melange of relief and terror when John finally wrote out a list of recommended medications on his eggshell blue Post-It pad, turned to me and said "Well, you're officially depressed". So right there on his bone-colored suede loveseat that's almost too comfortable because if you try to lean back you recline so far that you look like Ed Bundy I almost started to cry. And I don't cry unless Grey's Anatomy is on and there's a pint of ice cream and maybe a glass of wine involved. My eyes started leaking when, as I turned to leave his office, he gave me a look of such genuine sympathy that I forgot for a second that he gets paid to be kind and caring. The look he gave me, the little pat on the shoulder, and the fact that he asked, "Are you okay?" and then kept listening...I've been waiting for those things to happen for two years now from somebody...anybody at all. I used to look hopefully at people in stores, at restaurants, on the street, just to see if maybe they saw the actual me who was drowning in all this fat, these emotions, this self-abuse and that they'd rescue me. No one did, of course, so I stopped thinking about it. And it's weird, because when it finally did happen, I had absolutely no idea where to start.

It's funny, because when you finally decide to stop pretending that everything is okay, and you give yourself or someone else permission to start stripping open your veins to see what's really in there, you start actually FEELING things again, and it's so excruciatingly painful. I made it to my car okay, but when I dropped my keys as I was trying to unlock the door, I lost it. I started gasping out enormous, heaving sobs that didn't stop until I pulled off for bottled water at a fast-food restaurant twenty minutes later. I cried when a friend popped up on my IM and sent me a link for a pair of Gucci pumps she had just splurged on. Another friend, whom I was tentatively planning to visit in New York City for Labor Day, called to cancel, and I blamed my broken voice and sniffs on the cold I'd been fighting all week, and when he hung up the phone I burst into tears again and cried for two straight hours until I was finally so sick of crying I started laughing and then I took a bubble bath and cried there too because it seemed poetic and right while my cats sat by the tub and judged me as they are fond of doing.

And the thing was, were I pregnant or a hormonal woman in an hour-long network dramedy, this would be totally funny, because I'd be played by someone fun like Sara Rue or that new Hairspray girl and I'd be crying and spluttering and dabbing at my eyes with a handkerchief that my best guy friend (who I didn't notice for the first half of the season but who later seduces me in some sort of zany but touching episode during May sweeps week where I learn what true love is) gave me at a coffee shop where we meet for breakfast each morning and interact with the charmingly eccentric citizens of our quaint New England town called Stars Hol...oh wait. But anyway, since I am decidedly NOT that girl and yet I was still crying at ridiculous things. I mean, I wasn't REALLY expecting to go to New York City and it absolutely couldn't be helped that he had to cancel, and I shouldn't have gotten so excited at all, but for the late part of Monday and all day Tuesday I got more and more excited because I really wanted to see my friend and I'd never been to NYC, and my brother was going to be there that weekend too, and I just wanted so badly to get away from my town and its black hole of culture and knowledge and the rough people in it and the sad children with permanent Kool-Aid stains on their cheeks and rotting teeth and, and, and...

And I needed to take a step back and realize that once I opened up this whole can of worms, there'd be a lot of nasty stuff leaking out before I started to heal again. And that instead of doing the whole "I'm all right! I'm excellent!" thing that I tend to do until I finally bottom out once every two or three months, I'm just going to have to be oversensitive and easily hurt and disappointed and I'm going to have to learn to deal with all of it until I can finally even my emotions out into some semblance of normalcy. And that'll be okay, especially after I go get a prescription on Tuesday to help me do that.

And funnily (health and weight loss blog...right. I keep forgetting), all this melodrama has resulted in a downward-trending scale again. I guess the same voice that said "You could totally just end this all, but the pills and the vodka are on an entirely different floor of the house and futon is just as comfortable as it was in college and you'd probably not want to commit suicide until you cleaned your bathrooms so your mom wouldn't be ashamed when the paramedics come to haul you out and who's going to feed the cats and would they eat your face if they got really desperate and you're out of black ink for your printer so you couldn't type a suicide note and you know you have a tendency to be wordy so it'd be hard to write it out..." Well, that same voice told me it probably wasn't the greatest idea to buy fifty dollars worth of junk food and eat it in one sitting. My eating habits have been surprisingly ascetic, because I just don't have the desire to do anything but sit around and mope. So, I guess that's good. I have an Official Erin Is Fucked Up Weigh-In of 220.4 lbs. for today, which is a loss of about 3 lbs. since two weeks ago. I'll take that.

Finally, now that I've officially written an entry longer than my senior capstone term paper, I just want to thank all of you very much for being incredibly supportive and kind and generous with your thoughts. I get attached to the little IPs I see scrolling through my site tracker each day...I like waking up with 121.48.73 from Australia, and seeing who's logging on from clandestine government offices or big fancy firms in New York and London. So when I see the names with the visitors and know that you're all human too and you've all been through or if you haven't you care anyway...well, it's the most humbling and gratifying feeling I've felt in a long time. Thank you very much.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A problem in my life.

Elementary school teachers have this bizarre practice of speaking loudly about their children and classes in front of said children in the hopes that somehow their discussion will spur on better behavior. Since I'm one of the cadre of teachers deemed a "specialist", meaning I see every kid in the school for about an hour a week to work on fine arts-related stuff, I get to go through this exchange five times a day with various teachers.

Even though every fiber in our beings are burning to actually talk about stuff like how hungover we still are from Teacher (Tequila) Book Club Night, or how Janeane from the fifth grade wing has been shacking up with her boyfriend who lives 40 miles away and you can always tell when its one of their early-relationship anniversaries because she calls in sick on the same day every month, teachers obviously can't talk about those things in front of the twenty-five or so little darlings who're lined up in the hall and hanging on our every word. So we perform our strange little public school Kabuki performance with one another so the kids can learn how not to be little shits to one another.

One of my favorite teachers in the building made me laugh the first time we had this exchange because as we were droning on and on about SELF-CONTROL, and BEING KIND TO OTHERS, and NOT COLLECTING BOOGERS YOU FIND DRIED ON THE SIDES OF THE BATHROOM STALLS, she finished our conversation with "Well, these certainly are problems in our lives." And that's when I broke my teacher character and started snickering because that phrase just struck me as something you'd hear in an AA meeting that it seemed kind of absurd to discuss as a concept to a bunch of second graders. When I started giggling, she did too, and I shot her a woman power salute with my fist held high and responded with "But we shall overcome." It's become our little tradition to wrap up our class hand-offs now, and the kids even mouth along when we come to our two favorite lines in the conversations, and it's funny. And then I go back to my life of singing "Froggie Went 'a Courtin'" for three more hours and wondering if we could lobby the school board to let us start bringing vodka in our Nalgene bottles this year.

Anyway, I guess that phrase sort of explains my having yet another absence from this blog, and from all of you. Because the Big Problem in My Life...even more of a problem than the fact that my hair will hold neither curl nor highlights, and that my 200 glorious channels of television (did I mention I can pause live TV?) did not include Fox Sports Midwest, so I will have to spend the winter and early spring in a deep state of personal reflection so I can decide whether or not I want to fork over 50 dollars for the MLB Package next big problem has flared up to the point that my life is rapidly becoming unmanageable again.

Since this is primarily a health and weight loss blog, I try to touch only briefly on the fact that I have a pretty major case of depression. I do so partly because I know how tedious it can get to listen to someone mentally ill talk about their mental illness, and also partly because I never really figured out which came first, me being fat or me being sad about being fat. But over the past several weeks, the realization that my untreated depression is screwing up every fact of my life is becoming more and more indisputable, and at this moment I'm pretty much in a holding pattern until I can do something about it.

When I say that I've been on a diet since I was nine, I'm not exaggerating. Likewise, when I close my eyes and think back as far as I can remember in my childhood, I've been depressed. At least, I think. Or maybe I was just high strung and neurotic as my mom claims. But I remember so many times being so overwhelmed with sadness as a little kid that I'd just cry and cry, or I'd vomit, or I'd stop eating, or I'd eat too much. And the more I think about it, the less I can remember a time when the fact that I felt broken, or malformed, or just not right hadn't shaped the way I looked at everything and everyone around me, and that's fucked up.

There are so many things I despise about depression that I could spend a week just writing about it. I hate the way it makes your body feel like it weighs 6,000 lbs. so everything is harder, and how it turns your bed into the one place you can find solace, so that every evening involves a three hour nap because you don't feel like you can make it until bedtime. I hate how, in the course of writing half of a blog entry, I've had to lie down three times now because the act of not being in a horizontal position for more than ten minutes is just too fucking draining for me right now. I hate how it renders you a succubus to everyone you become this selfish wretch who can only take and take from people because you need so much attention and care, and you can never give back in a sufficient way. I hate how all I want to do is be alone because pretending to be normal around people is just exhausting, and then I sit and wonder why I'm so desperately lonely sometimes. I hate that it makes you seem like such a loser to the people around you...that your house is a mess and you're always broke and your makeup and hair are never quite right and you're always tired, and always behind and always trying to clean up one mess while hiding another. And it's not because you're lazy or slovenly or a fat pig, it's because when you're depressed, one little tiny problem seems so big that when you don't fix it, it causes all kinds of other problems that make your life out of control and no matter how much you work at it, or how motivated you are for a few days or a week, or how many books you read or techniques you try, you can never quite get it all together.

And I finally got fed up with it enough this week to call and schedule an appointment with my therapist...a very patient and indulgent man I manage to see twice a year in spring and fall. I would like to see him regularly, but I don't go because my insurance doesn't cover mental health treatment, and also because when I do go I'm usually not that depressed, so I can stretch out the benefits of one therapy session for several months before I realize I'm not getting much better. My shrink is a cognitive behavioral therapist, which means he prefers fighting demons with self-talk and rationalization more than drugs, but he's always offered medication if I thought I needed it. I've always turned it down in favor of the folders of CBT information and journaling exercises he's given me, because in my years of dealing with this, the medication has never worked. But I think I'm going to go in Tuesday and beg for something...Wellbutrin, maybe, because even when I do self-talk myself out of a major downward spiral, all it does is get rid of the immediate crisis. It never really seems to lift me to a point where I can say I'm not sad, and that's really a pathetic way to be.

So, I'm really sorry that this blog hasn't turned out to be what I hoped for. I'm sorry if this isn't what you come here to read, but I don't know how to write about treadmills and veggie paellas when really my life revolves around pacing between my computer and my bed and eating junk food on my couch. I'm so very, very sorry for not giving back to you guys like I should, because you're all wonderful and I really am rooting for you. Maybe if I can make it 'til Tuesday and turn this around I'll be back in some sort of fighting form.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Oops, I mean Saturday. Promise!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sorry for the absence the last two weeks, and I promise a catch-up post on Friday. Be well, everyone!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Seriously, just stop.

Remember Susan Powter? My earliest memory of her is from her Stop the Insanity! phase in the early nineties; my cousin brought a copy of the book to our family Thanksgiving and spent the weekend in my grandmother's rocking chair, her nose buried in the book as she gave my family scathing looks anytime someone proffering a bowl of mashed potatoes or wild rice dared to pass within her invisible force field of New Dieter Restraint and sanctimony.

I remember sitting at the dining room table in my grandma's house, spooning forkfuls of the obligatory sweet potatoes with carmelized marshmallow into my mouth and staring at the top of my cousin's blonde head with a mixture of resentment and abject envy. My cousin was SO cool in my only child whose coddling was so thorough that by the age of nine she was already a full-fledged uber-bitch. She was the first in the family to own a Nintendo, the only kid I knew who was allowed to go to pop concerts, and who--gasp--owned Madonna's Sex book when she was 12. She also regaled me with stories of making out with junior high school boys and told me what the word "orgasmic" meant over iced hot chocolates at the coffee shop where she liked to hold court and draw abstract graffiti on her jeans with black Sharpie marker. My cousin J was a bona fide badass in my eyes, so anything that caught her interest was all the more exotic and alluring to me as a result.

Since my mother was determined to ensure that I would NOT become an cranky, adolescent sex-kitten like my cousin, she refused to let me buy the Susan Powter book on the grounds that Powter looked "a little like a Nazi" and that it probably didn't say anything that I didn't already know about weight loss. A few years later I checked out the book at the library, and confirmed my mom's suspicions: Susan Powter did, indeed, have an unfortunate buzz cut, and I already basically figured out everything she had to say.

So why is Susan Powter super healthy and I'm getting fatter and fatter by the week?

I guess if you asked me where I've been for the last several days, I'd have a lot of answers. For instance, I've been pausing a lot of live TV(!) with the DVR on my new satellite(!) and then looking triumphantly over at the cats like I just discovered fire or something. I've been trying to figure out what the hell is going on on Big Love because I still haven't seen the first season. I've been frantically getting my room ready for the beginning of the school year (yuck). I've been entertaining houseguests and catching up with old friends (yay). I've been tentatively stepping into the world of tango again, with plans to start classes again with my super-expensive but oh-so-totally-worth-it tango shoes I purchased from the very kind and supportive Veggie B!, and I've been taking stupid pictures of my cats on my cell phone, especially when they're cute and sniff said tango shoe, as seen in the picture below:
So anyway, all those things were great (except for actually having to work for nine whole months in a row again...le sigh), but the real reason I was gone was because I was doing a lot of thinking. And thinking ain't never end up good. I guess last Monday after I stepped on the scale and jumped immediately into my routine of cognitive behavioral therapy wherein I say my litany of "You Really Aren't THAT Fat" affirmations like, "It's just water weight"..."No way could you have eaten five whole pounds of food in one week"..."Maybe you just PMS, like, through the entire month" I sort of hit diet bottom.

And this diet bottom was different from all the other ones I've had where I've eaten a lot and not exercised and ended up a few pounds heavier and then I spend one evening sitting in my bed and pouting and promising desperately to go right back on the diet the next day and to really TRY HARDER and DO BETTER and WHY can't I just get this right just once and WHY am I such a diet failure and what's it going to TAKE and, and, and...

This diet bottom was the realization that I just absolutely cannot do the diet thing any longer. I am sick of totalling up calories, of bargaining with my food journal and figuring out how many calories of exercise (that I'll never do) it'll take to equal out an extra piece of cake, and whether I can go out to eat with friends and still eat the "right foods" and not be tempted by the "bad ones". I realized that even though I'm supposed to take a fairly relaxing mini-vacation with my family this weekend, I am absolutely going to pieces over the idea of maintaining a diet while we're going out to eat and on the road. It shouldn't be STRESSFUL to go enjoy myself. I shouldn't have a bad day or a good day or a bad or good WEEK just because the scale tells me whether I'm good at burning calories or not.

I've been dieting every day since I was nine. I can't do it anymore.

I've been reading Intuitive Eating, the book that a lot of people I know who've recovered from eating disorders have recommended to me when I talk about those same issues. I've been resistant for a long time, because the nature of the book makes it sound like you have to have a lot of faith in yourself, and I don't think there's ever been a day where I've trusted myself around food, ever. I have to admit, the book is boring as sin, but it does reassure me on a lot of different issues, especially the part that recovering the natural balance in your body between hunger and satiety is a long process that will involve lots and lots of trial and error. I'm actually, surprisingly, okay with all of that.

Anyway, I guess there'll be a lot of things to talk about in the coming weeks, especially as I attempt to figure out what the hell I'm going to do. But I do know that tonight, as I clicked open my nutrition journal/calorie counter out of habit, felt the familiar, nauseating wave of dread pass through my body, and then said "fuck you" to my computer screen and clicked out, that that was the nicest feeling I've had in a long, long time.

And it kind of makes the phrase "Stop the insanity!" take on a whole new meaning for me in the process.