Thursday, February 25, 2016

the B list

I love New Year's Resolutions so much that I basically reset them month to month, though mine, mostly, is always the same: stop being so crazy. (It's less painful and discouraging to call myself crazy than just say that I have an eating disorder, one from which I am mostly better but which almost killed me and ultimately screwed up a lot of my life, but it is Eating Disorders Awareness Week, so there you go.)

A lot of people publish their stories of recovery, and I believe those stories are brave and valuable, but mine's actually incredibly tedious and lacks the narrative structure that makes for good reading, so, briefly: what happened is I started eating and stopped throwing up, but kept feeling all the varieties of shitty that facilitate addiction.  I kept people in my life who made me feel diminished, and then I wondered why I stayed so small. I took personally my assumption that there was something flawed about me that made it impossible for my child, my patients, my parents, my erstwhile best friend, to love me. I gained weight but stayed miniature. 

Well, I got a very effective therapist, which is necessary when you no longer have the time to lose ten pounds in response to every perceived slight, and now I'm like every other recovering addict who just has to tuck her head down and say the things that she didn't get to hear or doesn't remember hearing at seven -- that she matters, that it's going to be okay, that her day to day screw ups don't constitute proof of a fundamental inadequacy on her part. I tell myself every day that I matter and I am important, and I feel vaguely ridiculous when I do, and unless you are one of those people who holds those particular truths to be self evident -- in which case I regret to tell you there's nothing for you to see here -- I wholeheartedly recommended this. 

Also, I stopped having friends who think they are better than me. I try to be loving to these people, in my head and in my best moments, sometime around 10:30 each morning and again right after therapy -- but I'm pretty much back to not calling people whose actions suggest that they are doing me a favor by giving me the time of day. They fell off easily since in most cases, you know, the relationship is mostly happening in my own damn head in the first place. 

Not only that, but I'm done being mad at these people. I go on compassion runs, charging along the treadmill and not being pissed on my own behalf. The opinion of a single person doesn't have the power to determine who I am, what I'm worth. 

I have very little to offer adults in the place of functional advice -- most of the "pro-tips" I discover are things like, Stop wearing shoes that make your feet bleed, even if they were a great deal, and Wearing pants with a twenty six inch waist doesn't give you a twenty six inch waist, and Crackers are never a meal, and no one is even impressed with these nuggets of wisdom. 

But I will say this, because I don't think I am the only person still getting the hang of this one: No one has to be your friend. 

These are, you know, the lessons a more functional person might have internalized at nine or fifteen or twenty two. I thought I had mastered them. I just kept thinking I was done being hurt over being a kid, that I no longer thought of myself as fat and gay -- not sexy femme gay, but awkward, immutably gay, gay the way seventh grade boys mean it when they say it to each other. Gay that has much less to do with actual or perceived sexual orientation and is more shorthand for "I am so disgusted by you that I cannot rest until I am sure that you, too, find yourself disgusting." 

Really, of course, I just moved away -- from my parents and the kids with whom I grew up and for whom I could never be good enough. I just learned to avoid the question of whether it was worth being my friend by never really investing much in a friendship. I have ex girlfriends who I never referred to myself as dating; if I called a woman my best friend for fifteen years only to find myself not invited to her wedding, well, we went without speaking for for several weeks first, weeks in which I also had a phone, and that phone had her number programmed into it. Life: you get what you pay for.

But what I believe does matter about me is that the decades of feeling as though I never measure up have wrought something besides a whopping monthly therapy bill, a grimness to my jaw that seems eased exclusively by running, and a postpartum body that people just can't seem to not comment on. I may have nothing to add to your witty banter about media, social or otherwise, and I can't cook for shit, but I'll wipe your incontinent ass no matter how many times you've peed yourself or how high in my throat I'm carrying my existential dread, friends. I got you. Because my ability to love and respect myself is something I am building, not out of a cheery compilation of humblebrags and selfies, but out of the realization that I have intrinsic value, value that exactly equals that of both the most glamorous, perfect-hair-having, etsy-dress-wearing Cool Girl and that of the alert-and-oriented-time-zero flaky guy with an ostomy and seven wet briefs a night. My whole deal now is to see the three of us, not on a continuum of value, but as equally worthy of love. My petty hurts and jealousies, my knee-jerk desire to avoid other people's poop, these things are equally irrelevant. You're a little fecal right now, I'm unable to eat my hamburgers on buns, and that guy can't return a phone call, apaprently, so whatever, man, we all have feet of clay. 

And that's the best version of me, the version I'm attempting to be with my kids, my patients, with friends who are more interested in that than in the million of uncool things about me up to and including a distinct lack of vision and commitment when it comes to hating political conservations, a passe kind of soft spot for straight white boys and their white boy tears, and an absolute zero of effs to give about Doctor Who. 

In short, not much fun at parties and unlikely to generate a Twitter account worth following. Also,  if a gun were held to my left freaking temple I couldn't take a flattering selfie, so there's that. 

But on any given day, honestly, I more or less approximate the person I want to be -- a person who cares about none of the above, whose big project is something more along the lines of loving those people who are made available to me or who choose to be around me, to remembering that I'm a person, not a G-D OkCupid profile, and to celebrating the way in which my status as everyone's B-list friend left me vulnerable to the charms of other onetime fat kids and the rest of us who were wearing Goodwill before it was vintage and getting called dykes before "gender fluidity" was "brave" or "honest".  I don't know what they told you about yourself, but I've exchanged witty repartee with dudes while assessing their pee-blood for clots, so chances are we can work around your perceived shortcomings. 

So, fat kid, left out kid, kid who grew up understanding that people would put up with you never quite getting it, but only as long as you remembered your place: 

Your place can be right the eff over here. Because I just went and declared 2016 year of the lame kid with nothing to say at parties, the kid with the boring hair who was furtively lapreading all through Harry Potter Night. Keep it up, friend, whatever it is -- keep doing your thing and tuning out anyone who suggests you're only halfway to adequate as you are, that you can only be accepted conditionally, that you're a thing to be worked with or worked on or made over, that you need to change a goddamn thing. I'll just be over here thinking about how you've been truly awesome all along. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

making America great already

God, I miss New York. And I feel like a defunct adult because I possibly could have romanticized parts of the middle class New York experience such as "eating bagels for every meal" and "never owning a home", if it weren't for the fact that my family is here and the people I loved in New York, the ones who neither fathered my children nor actually are my children, almost always had someone better they could be hanging out with, something better to do. The person I believed I'd grow up to be would have fit right in there, but the person I actually became could never quite compete. New York was out of my league -- but it never had the time to disinvite me, and when I daydream about her, she and I are always friends.

It is inopportune that we moved to rural Pennsylvania when we did. Here, we are welcomed on the one hand -- I had the babies, I pay my bills, I have a real job that doesn't entail writing antagonistic essays about the inherently oppressive nature of discourse -- and, on the other, I do a lot of keeping my mouth shut. 

I miss living in a place in which most people took for granted that children should always get to eat and women should have control over their bodies and education is for everyone. There are people who believe that here, but it's also disconcertingly acceptable to believe that no, some kids should have thought of that before being born to poor parents, or, we came into the country the right way (by being born into the Trump family? by being born white?) and it is hurting us if we allow political refugees to stay here and take out (minimum wage, unfilled) jobs.  

We want the job to go to the best person, the most deserving person -- provided that that person is white. We'll extend a Supreme Court hearing to a white girl whose GPA couldn't get her a seat in law school because somewhere there might be a black student with a lower one who got in, but we have nothing to say to someone who, by virtue of her birth, gets to choose between watching her babies get shot and watching her babies drown. We'll celebrate the courage of a woman who forgoes cancer treatment because of her fetus --at least, we'll "like" her on Facebook -- but we want a wall to keep out the mothers who will risk their lives to smuggle their children across the border so they can live. We complain about the flagging work ethic of "the millennials", but we cheered as Trump used our fear of one group of brown skinned people to promote a wall to keep out an entirely different group whose members ubiquitously do all the jobs white hands are loath to set their iPhones down in order to do. 

I wish I had the courage of your average illegal immigrant. I wish I had that kind of love. I am glad, of course, that my circumstance doesn't call for it. But I like to think that, if what stood between my children and life were something as abstract as laws, they'd be pulling me off that boat and out of the water. 

We don't actually need to make America great again. America is great. If Donald Trump knew the Americans I know -- the teachers and nurses and shelter directors and volunteers and parents and friends and citizens -- he would know that. 

I'm a selfish, mentally ill, flawed person; but three nights a week I make myself as useful as I can to people who are sick and need care. But I do my best to love my kids in such a way that they will be better than me. But I try to recognize where the privileges I have actually come at the expense of others, and to look for opportunities to do the right thing, the fair thing, the kind thing. And I am like the lowest common denominator of people. Almost everyone I know is doing greatness better than me. 

That's what actually makes a country great. It's what makes anyone great. If Donald Trump had picked up a g-d book at some point in his life, he'd know this. Calling names, threatening people, pitting the "strong" (that is, those of us bowing with bumpers on from the time we apply to college to the time we retire) against the "weak" (those for who "no one helped me" isn't overlooking one's college educated parents, consistently-visited pediatrician, and adequately funded school) -- these things don't make anyone great. 

In the last few weeks, I've been focused, first, on cutting back to a single job with consistent hours, and, second, on cleaning out the discouraging amount of space my eating disorder continues to occupy in my mind and life. The better, I hope, to spend 2016 doubling down on Trump's project of "making America great", on continuing to make America great, on making America greater. It's just that I think that looks like fewer old people sitting in feces and developing non-ventilator acquired pneumonia, like more kids reading, like fewer of us looking the other way as black children and adults are shot and unfairly imprisoned, like the incredible and beautiful people that make up our country getting what they need to flourish. It doesn't look like a wall, it doesn't look like a sneer,  and it doesn't look like the mean girl's table in your average junior high school. 

We can do better than a president who "says what he thinks". Blame it on the raging sinus infection, but I am sure that any day now we will realize that. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

going through the unimaginable

This month, I began the important and terrifying work of establishing a sense of who I am apart from my weight, how much I eat, or how much I work out.

Two realities, one short and one long, in this vein:

I don't love running lately. I hit a point in which I do, but that usually happens when I'm more well rested and better fed than I have been lately, because as my dad acknowledge on our last family outing, "Your shit's still not all together." (I said it first!)

I'm an ordinary person who, through some compound of off-kilter brain chemistry and growing up in the 80s, came to feel that I need to do extraordinary things. And I never see anything I am doing as extraordinary enough: enrolled in a PhD program and with a  real possibility of becoming a published writer, I decided writing for a living was for the bourgeoisie and left to work in education; finally working as an educator, I decided education was ultimately hopeless and political and became a nurse. 

Now, I drive all over in the middle of the night because someone's parent or husband has fallen or died or gone to the hospital or stopped responding when their family says their name. You would think, in those situations, a person would get someone remarkable or extraordinary. But no; they get me, and I do the best I can to make the situation seem somehow manageable. And because people -- male and female -- are mostly strong as hell, they get through, ten seconds at a time, and then they thank me, though I can't imagine they mean it sometimes, because there's really so little I can do. I tell them the time of death and that their mom looks peaceful, I call the funeral home; if I can, I stay until their mom or dad is gone. 

I do these things, and I wonder why I don't feel more, and then I drink too much wine and cry on the kitchen floor about the Hamilton soundtrack. 

It becomes almost meditative, a constant bringing back to this moment -- all of anyone's patients, all of any group of people, are going to die. But my patients are only seeing me because they are going to die, and in the face of this I can only say: today, things are okay. Tomorrow they will be harder, and then they will become unimaginable, and then you will find yourself living through what it impossible to imagine right now. But today, here is what we have, and here you are, living through it.

And then I say it to myself. I can't keep my parents or my children or my husband from dying. But today, things are okay. Today everyone I love is here. 

I am learning to do this -- to let go of everything that I can't prevent from happening in ten years or two years or tomorrow and holding on to this exact moment with both of my hands -- because of my job. It is an incredible thing to be learning at work, though I feel lucky to complement it with plain old nursing in my off-call weeks -- to go into a hospital and care for some people who don't expect to die soon -- and with the act of mothering my children, whose death still stays firmly in the space of the unimaginable to me.

It is a remarkable thing that I get to do, and I am learning to respect and value myself for being the specific kind of ordinary person who chooses to do this exact remarkable thing. Just as you, whether you are teaching children or writing articles or recording music or preparing food, are doing exact and remarkable thins with your day, which is to say, with your life. 

I want for my awareness of this, for the attention I pay to the extraordinary nature of my existence and of the existence of the people I encounter, to constitute an identity that matters more than the size and shape of my body. I want to believe that it does, and for that belief to feel more real and immediate than the belief that I must run every other day or weigh less than a hundred twenty pounds or else I am worse than nothing and everything's all over.  

I want to be recovered from my eating disorder in the sense that my well being is no longer predicated on having worked out a certain number of times this week, to be enough of a person without that qualifier. 

It's frightening to consider the possibility that it never was, and that I am the bad guy who has insisted it was -- that all along, I never had to be doing this, no one was making me do this; that I could have weighed two hundred pounds and been the same mother and nurse and person I am right now and it's only me insisting that it matters whether I run or not, go to the gym or not, maniacally patrol whether my soda is diet or not. 

It makes for lousy, unbalanced blog posts -- but sometimes, this is where one is, teetering along the ridge of a paradigm that seems to have shifted and that feels ready to shift back any time. 

You are more than your body and its dimensions(?)

It doesn't matter how much you run or weigh or eat (?) 

Actually, you have always been enough (?)

Later, I think, I'll affirm each like everyone around me does without really thinking: Yes, and Yes, and Yes. As though it is obvious. But it is not obvious to me, not really, because if it were I could let go of my eating disorder entirely, and I either can't, or I can, but haven't yet. The other things about me matter, but really they only matter if I am also thin, or if I am also a runner. The idea that

I am the same person whether I work out or not (?) 

and that

I would be the same person at two hundred pounds as I am today (?)

are still turning up at their ends, still dogged by question marks.

But at least I've started to say them.