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. 

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