Friday, September 12, 2014

survival, and also kites

Shift one of three: completed, including my three back-to-back admissions, each of whom was lovely and as low-maintainence as a hospitalized person can be. 

I celebrated, not with my eating disorder, but with bagels and conversation with the incomparable Lena, who made me homemade ginger ale because her response to existential agitas is to just pour the care onto everyone around her. 

I walked home and remember that New York in September is amazing and beautiful and ridiculously alive, like teenagers and puppies. 

I am going back tonight, trying to love my patients and mainlining lousy coffee and Eckhart Tolle and breathing and breathing and breathing because this is what survival looks like. 

And then tomorrow I do this

And Sunday, this:

Because why. not. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Amazing and Beautiful, Loved and Chosen

Apropos of the million reassurances the world seems eager to give me that I, too, am beautiful (so buy This Thing!), I recognized at some point in the forty eight hours, probably while running, that I feel very tense around the whole world beautiful. That beautiful, actually, may not be something I want to be at all.

Is that okay?

It is, so it must be.

I'm okay with it, anyway. I've decided it's more interesting and cool to be a perceiver of beauty, to walk in it and seek it out and see it, than to be it, myself.

Again, if you, like me, have spent years or a lifetime fighting yourself over this -- believing you should be beautiful, but that you aren't, or that you need to be beautiful, when Beauty always fit more like someone else's shoes --

You don't have to be beautiful. You can just not be beautiful, and do other things, and it's exactly the amount of loss you count it as. 

I don't think I'm beautiful, but I do love myself. I do think I'm worth your time, whoever "you" are.

And here's some things that legit are beautiful:

  • The smile on Elsa's* face when I rub her head and sing to her. Elsa is some variant of profoundly retarded; she doesn't move, speak, or focus her eyes. I can't tell if anything else I do -- talk or read or sing -- matters to her. But her face when I rub her head is exactly what yours or mine or my son's would be, only better. 

  • And also Jasmin's*, when she and I are talking math a few doors down from Elsa, or when she's telling me that the social worker is getting her back into actual high school rather than the wildly inappropriate "high school" on the unit, in which no other child is over eight years old or can understand language. 

  • My amazing and ordinary and perfect son, making a bridge out of my arm as we wait for his vaccination and then kissing that bridge, right to the left of my wrist; brave in the face of his last IM injection until age four; zooming all the cars all over the doctor's office/bookstore/apartment like he personally invented joy. 

And running in the mornings, and walking in the mornings, and the park in the mornings, and walking home with my family at night; and kids coming home from school in primary-colored uniforms, and the painstaking butterfly my sponsored child from India added to his mandatory thank-you letter, and, I've heard, U2's new album, the New Yorker's requisite snobbery aside. (You lose me entirely when you complain that someone "wants the world to be a better place" too much.) 

It occurs to me that my problem was to look for beauty in my own face and body rather than in everything around me all the time, where it is literally dripping onto the ground at all times. 

It occurs to me that this sort of misdirection is how one might miss huge chunks of my life. And that the lesson that I Don't Have to Care if I'm Beautiful is actually one of the biggest gifts the universe has handed me, like, ever. 

If your own beauty or lack thereof has been on your mind, or bringing you down -- for, you, my friend, a hearty mug of Don't Give a Flying Fuck. To me, you probably are beautiful, anyway; who knows, if I had world enough and time, but that you'd be on my list. 

But you actually don't have to be. I'm pointedly not bringing sexy back, replacing it instead with "loved" and "chosen" and "valuable". All of which you are, and so am I. 


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

This post also has an epilogue! Are you curious about the epilogue?

So, as it happens, of the two IVs I failed to obtain -- the nursing fail that launched a thousand words of self-recrimation, though, by the grace of God, no episodes of self-injury or kitchen-floor meltdowns -- the oncoming nurse and her protégée failed to get one and forgot to even try to get the other. 

In an effort to externalize some of my broodery and forestall another bout of inside drama, I said, "See, that's why I was so offended when you gave me a hard time for not getting it!"

Reader, she did not even recall the conversation in question. 

Appropriately enough, I've been simultaneously reading Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose and the latest in my Christian-mommy-blogger reading list, Jennie Allen's Anything: the Prayer that Unlocked My God and My Soul, which, if you know me, may do much to explain why I am blogging less lately, because honestly, I'd be less embarrassed to advertise that I'd been spending hours of my finite existence reading the Twilight series. 

But there it is: the challenge of my life right now is getting over my eating disorder, and all the subsidiary craziness that I've managed to keep with me as I've gained weight and "made progress" -- what we like to say when you're still kind of crazy, but not so much as to demand immediate intervention. 

If you know addicts, and if you really know me, you will understand and believe me when I tell you that, at least in my life, anorexia and bulimia function much more like cocaine addiction than like your average diet. 

This is the thing about the eating-disordered, and it's why the cultural expectations and narratives we impose upon women are so high-stakes for me: to everyone else, the problem is that I don't see that I'm thin enough, or I don't feel I deserve to eat -- forgivable little foibles that, insofar as they align with our general love of the insecure waif who doesn't "see her own beauty" and the self sacrificing mom who puts her needs last, actually make me seem more likable rather than less. My eating disorder has always seemed to me to be the most "feminine" thing about me -- my last best hope at being something other than the intense, focused, outspoken, demanding, ambitious child I was, a child, it was clear to me by about age eight, who was unacceptable in her natural state (see above, and ask yourself what a girl would need to do to have those traits and not be vilified for them. Lead the free world, maybe? Cure cancer?)

In point of fact, though, my eating disorder makes me a self-centered, irrational, miserly, withholding, petty, immature, angry person, one for whom everything -- relationships, values, goals, the need for the kid to get to school and the laundry to get picked up and life to happen -- comes second to whether one can see my abs more easily or less easily than they did yesterday and whether or not three pieces of toast is "too much". 

Was I "hungry enough" to eat them? Well, that's a hard question to answer because it does not mean anything. But feel free to ruin everyone's morning over it. 

In my efforts to be both less altogether and specifically less of all the masculine, ugly things I am (loud, certain, the kind of person who had to fight long and hard to insert those ubiquitous question marks at the end of each sentence), I actually overshot and just became, well, like an addict. So much like one that, even when I am in recovery, rather than in active crisis all the time, I act like your average character on some sort of biopic regarding the dissolution of some sort of eighties band. Some mornings, all I need is some sound equipment and a roadie to hurl it at. 

All of which is to say, insofar as I have any kind of story worth telling right now, I believe it is this one: a story about how, disastrous as I am, I am also saved. Saved in the epicly embarrassing vocabulary of the church in which I grew up, the stuff of camp songs and oil-on-the-head anointings. Saved in the sense that I believe in and talk to this Jesus like he's a guy, though I remain unwilling to commit to any specific set of beliefs about when and how he rolled as a physical guy in the first century. 

And it makes it easier, and better, and possible. My life, I mean. Whatever it is I experience when I experience God is the same thing that allows me to write blogs and take my kid to school and keep going back to the unit when, from another perspective, every experience I have there is just a story about my total failure at life and the sadistic nature of the world, to put such a worthless person as me on it. In my head, see, all roads lead to starving or vomiting or killing myself, except this one. 

I've been trying to write about my faith without writing about my faith, because it isn't cool, and I believe I don't have the right to believe uncool things, and that I won't be liked if I do. I think of people who know me and don't believe in God, and I feel like I have to sidestep or joke about this part of me, because no one wants to be friends with That Girl. Like the loudness and the insistence and the ambition and the drive to Always Be Doing Something, Christianity isn't a part of the person I want to be seen as. And when I started to lose weight, back in high school, it became apparent to me that I actually have a chance of being a cool and well-liked person if I just tone down these things about myself. 

But as great as it feels to see myself as something other than a loser or a pariah, to be located at the right lunch table -- or, at least, in the cafeteria rather than waiting out lunch hour in the school media center -- that story is lame when I tell it. The Phi Beta Kappa mom with words for Lena Dunham and words for Taylor Swift and words for everything that takes the risk of being obvious, cliche, or twee -- her story is awesome, but it's not really my story.  I bet that was cool. I ride a bicycle. 

You guys, I write in a prayer journal. I have written more than one entry about whether or not it's okay for me to have second breakfast. I not only need Jesus, but I need him for a host of super-lame failings regarding the amount of peanut butter I am allowed to eat in a given day. 

The only actual story I can tell is this one, in which there's this God, and not the cool postmodern God, but, like, Jesus God. And I pray to him about my meal plan and give money to Donors Choose because I really believe this is what he wants, what his kingdom looks like. And that's who I actually am, "even though I'm so smart" and even though I love science so much. I am a person who, crises of faith aside, feels that God is real, and attributes the good things in my life -- my recovery, such as it is, included -- to that God. 

So, fair warning: I'm going to keep writing, because it's one of the ways in which God is saving my life. And because, if you, too, can fuck with the Jesus, or if you can avoid being off put by the basic premise that God is  at least there enough to be healing me, I do think it's worth reading, this story about how my addiction set up camp in my brain and keeps trying to kill me with its bullshit, and instead, I live and become a nurse and a mom and a person who -- intrinsic loud-mouthed-ness and certainty and perfectionism and declarative statements aside -- starts to see and love the world and the people it contains as something other than a stage for my personal version of Intense Inner Drama All the Time: the Oft-told Story. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Shitty Nurse, or, On Being a (Minor) Disappointment

September 8

It’s my father’s birthday. My dad is wonderful, basically the best person in the world, and I spend considerable amounts of my time trying to just find a way to deal with the fact of him. You’ve probably read the dismal accounts of how our generation is the first to accomplish less, socioeconomically speaking, than their parents; in my case, I’ve also accomplished less in the arena of Being a Human. 

Take nursing. Right now, as a career-changing nurse, I am here, exactly here: it appears that, while I believed I was a remarkable person capable of doing challenging things well, in point of fact, I was just doing easy things for the first fifteen years of my working life. It didn’t feel that way at the time. But as other new nurses progress, I am getting (what appear to me to be) pointed comments about how 

“[X younger, smarter] nurse is so hard working that [y borderline abusive tech] would never [publicly humiliate] him”


“You are crap at IVs; so was I! Now, [z better nurse than you, still wrapping up orientation], she’s great at IVs!”

I don’t like this. And I also don’t like it about me that my response is to obsess and want someone to reassure me that I’m a good nurse, which seems unlikely given that 1. this is far from a stipulated fact among my co-workers and 2. I am, after all, fully thirty-one years old. 

I want to believe that these other elements of nursing matter: the call bells I answered knowing full well that the caller wanted something he or she could easily get for himself; the way I made a point of checking my demented patient for wetness while she slept, rather than waiting for the tech, and right in the middle of med pass; the time I took to explain each medicine and procedure to her even though she believed she was at Mary’s house and her chief concern bore no resemblance to the medical condition for which she was admitted and seemed to involve a plot line from the Lifetime movie she was watching when I came in. I want points for how before I failed to get this lady’s blood, I’d both successfully drawn her 12 am labs and then called the doctor to request a blood order she’d forgotten, knowing it’d come stat at the end of my shift, that I’d have to try to get it, fail, and get berated for incompetence by the woman I’d spent the night caring for — and then get smugly reassured that the oncoming nurse, too, once “sucked at IVs”, unlike her twenty-five-year old protegee. 

More than wanting to believe that these things make me a good nurse, I want to be the kind of person who just sucks it up and deals; the kind of nurse for whom my job is not about my hurt feelings or self-doubt or need to excel, but the painful tubes going into and coming out of my patient’s penis. 

IV struggles aside, I was that nurse last night. In almost every instance, I did my best to be kind, to be reassuring; to listen. 

It’s, like, really embarrassing to not do IVs well — though at least I have the cold comfort that the senior nurse I paged could’t get it in, either. I end up basically wanting all my lucid patients discharged, so I can start over, and also, feeling petty that I’m upset not because my patient got stuck four times before someone got her blood out, but because she called me on my lousy phlebotomy skills and I want to be the nurse everyone’s impressed with. 

My dad would be better. But then, easy for him, since in my mind, my dad does everything expertly the first time he tries it. In all honesty, I should have called him to try to start my IV. And he has nerve damage.  

This is one of a small cluster of intense needs that push me back towards God, that make the Gospel so intensely appealing to me (though it occurs to me that this theme is not so entirely unique to Christ’s story as Christians claim): the need to believe that my worth lies in something other than my skill set and competence. I am (relatively) good at resisting efforts to reduce my worth, and that of others, to their appearance or socioeconomic status or professional success. But I’m incredibly vulnerable to the concept of meritocracy.

“People who do things well are special,” my physics professor and dean told us honors students on my first day of college. I believed it enough that I started an entire career based on how much I loved doing things well and being special. It’s been very hard to give up. I want to see myself as a good nurse, to look at the strengths I have and the work I do. But every day, I leave well aware of at least one solid fuck-up I’ve managed to work into my “workflow”, as the kids call it. And while my actual boss isn’t the one giving me negative feedback, and I’ve yet to be written up or called at home — unpleasant experiences from which, I gather, the nurses belittling/“mentoring” me speak — it’s corrosive to be giving report and get a sequence of: “Girl, you know…” and “You need to….” and “Why would you….” 

I want to feel good about myself, and I want to feel good about what I do. But the terms under which I allow myself to do either may be unrealistic for someone just learning the ropes. And my preoccupation with my image of myself, makes that image appear increasingly graven. 

For a person who oscillates between the legitimately damaging messages I received about my worth, courtesy of someone else’s God (thanks, bitter elementary school teachers!) and the current cult of I Must Feel Great About Myself Always, seeing myself accurately feels impossible and pointless. It gets to the point at which I’ll believe in anything — Jesus, Buddha, the Spirit Within — that will deliver me from myself.

What matters is this: my patients needed care, and I gave it. Imperfectly. At times, inelegently. But I don’t have control over how skillfully I perform my particular small acts, only the love with which I perform them. I have to try every day to do better because nursing is hard, and important, and my patients do deserve the very best care I can provided, and by definition, doing one’s best never feels easy. 

All the other things I believe I’ve done well involved their own moments of struggling and doubting and being called to task, often in even more demeaning ways than I’m experiencing now (hi, sixth graders!) 

Am I a good nurse? Maybe I’m not the best, but I’m also not the one in charge, here. What I can do, all I can do, is show up and do my best and strive to get better, like I do. Certainly there are enough people already on the task of tearing me down. 

I believe that the more I focus on the love at the heart of why I’m nursing and not writing, the more a non-issue my Nursing Ability will become. Because if I became a nurse to get my self-esteem built up, I made a fatal error. If I became a nurse to help people through shitty times, well, I don’t need to be Ms. Nursing Diva McLovedbyall to do that.