Three Things to Keep me From Jumping off a Cliff

This week, no, this year, I have been met with more disappointment in my professional life than I know what to do with.  Jobs I was certain I had -slipped through my fingers, publishers I was sure would offer-passed, everything I thought would happen, the plan I had dreamed in my mind for myself, is gone.  Each week there are rejection slips in my inbox, each month there’s another person/publisher/editor/chairperson telling me I’m not good enough, my writing isn’t good enough, my credentials aren’t good enough.  This is the life of so many of us who write and teach or teach and write.  It’s what you sign on for when you decide to become a writer.  It’s not just my experience, this trampling of ego echoes through the masses, I know that, it’s just so, so, so…. humbling.  And before you send me hate mail, or call me a whiner, yes, I know there are writers who are way more talented than myself who have been plugging away for twenty-some odd years without catching a break.  This is not a competition.  This is just me, telling you, how I plan to deal with this influx of negative energy.

girl_cryingI’ve been here before.  After my divorce it was the same feeling only the destruction and utter disappointment was happening in my personal life.  I had broken up with my ex to search for a better life, a better mate, a better fit, and I was finding…well, not that.  So I slowly began to work on the things I could control.  I began to exercise, lose weight, read more, focus on my job, and in the end, I was better for it.   More importantly, I took the risk of leaving a bad yet comfortable relationship in hopes of finding something more, and in the (very) long run, it paid off.

Four years ago, I took another risk.  I promised my husband that if he supported my decision to go back to school, it would pay off someday.  I told my kids as I dropped them off at daycare every morning so that I could finish my MFA, that this would all be worth it someday.  Now, that someday seems to be fading further and further into the distance.  I know it will come, the risk will pay off, but it’s getting harder and harder to keep looking up.  But these are things I have no control over.  I can’t control the fact that publishers and editors don’t think a book about a fat girl is going to sell right now.  I can’t control the fact that the job market is in the toilet.  The only thing I can control is me, and what I do with my life and my family, my writing.

In honor of this, I have decided that I’m going to do what I have done in the past at every lull in life.  I have reinvented myself more than once, and I’m ready to do it again.  I’m going to commit to doing three things everyday.  If I can do this for a month, I will add another.  So, just in time for April, I’m asking you, too, to make a list of three things you can do everyday to nourish your mind, body, and spirit.  Here are mine:

Mind:  I’m going to read for thirty minutes a day (at least.)  My life right now is full of “too busy to read.”  That needs to change.

Body:  I’m going to drink 100 ounces of water each day.

Spirit:  I’m going to spend an hour a day doing something my kids love.  Playing Candyland, reading Pinkalicious, building with Legos.  Whatever they want, one hour.  That’s the deal.

These three small things will help me to feel better about myself, connect me with my children, help hydrate my body after a long, cold winter, and help my writing by reading great stories every day.

These are my three things.  I will do them every day in April.  This may not solve my problem, but it helps to exercise control over something.  By the end of April, I will have read, played, and hydrated myself to a better frame of mind.  Hopefully.

Get the X Out of Here

stick-figure-kids-hiAbout a month ago, my husband yelled at our six-year-old daughter, Penelope, for something silly.  She wrote in permanent marker on her sister’s magic erase board (these are the exciting things your life will be filled with should you decide to procreate…)  Anyway, he was mad that Penelope acted this way seemingly out of spite and so, he scolded her.  Nothing over the top, just a yell.

A few moments later, her sister, Samantha, came out of the playroom and told me that I better get in there to see what Penelope was doing.   A few weeks earlier, Penelope had  drawn a wonderful stick-figure drawing of us holding hands and she taped it to her playroom wall. And now as I stared at it, I saw a huge black X drawn over P’s little stick body.  I was stunned.  She is six.  Could the bile of self-loathing already be present in her little belly?  Have I passed on some defective gene that will damn her to a life of never feeling good enough?

“What did you do?” I asked her, almost in a panic.  She said nothing.  She just dropped to the floor and sobbed.  Her black hair flowing bouncing up and down with each heave of her chest.  I scooped her up and held her tight against me.  If I could, I would have shaken every bit of this poison from her.

A few weeks later, I was teaching at a local university and noticed a student of mine was visibly upset.  Her eyes were rimmed red and her cheeks were brushed with tears.  This was unusual for her, she was always chipper and ready with an answer when no one else was.  After class, when I asked her what was wrong, she released the flood gates.  She had been in a fight with her boyfriend.  She was angry with him over what I agreed was a justifiable offense, yet, the boyfriend ended up convincing her that she had done something wrong and he ended up dumping her.

“Do you think you had a right to be mad?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she replied.

“So why aren’t you?” I responded.

“I…I don’t know,” she stumbled.  “He said I shouldn’t be.”

I wanted to tell her that she should never let anyone invalidate her feelings.  Who was this shmuck  to say what she should be feeling?  She should stand firmly behind what she feels and never back away from herself.   I wanted to spare her the sixteen years it took me to learn those things.  (She is nineteen and I am thirty-five).  But how could I?  I had people in my life who said those very things to me at her age, and I didn’t listen.  Maybe these are things you have to go through in order to get to the other side of adolescence in one piece.  In the end, I told her to have confidence that it will work out if it was meant to be.  Then, I threw up in my mouth a little at the cliche I had become.

There you had it.  Penelope was yelled at and her immediate response was to take herself out of the family, to internalize her pain and frustration.  My student voiced her anger over something she felt was an injustice against her, and the minute her feelings were met with any resistance, she immediately questioned herself and backed down.

How long does it take and how much pain do women have to go through before we start allowing ourselves to stay in the picture?  Are we predisposed to X’ing ourselves right out of the equation?

The Monster Rears its Ugly Head

I’m young, too old for high school and too young for babies, when I first hear about the disease I have given myself.  PCOS: Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome.  I’ll save you the medical jargon, it sucks.  It’s a syndrome which means they can’t really isolate what it is, they just know what it does.  It is triggered by a hormonal imbalance.  It makes you fat(ter), it prevents you from ovulating, it impedes your ability to conceive.  From where I’m standing now I see it for what it is: an unfortunate condition which will seemingly complicate, but in the end actually save, my life.

But I’m eighteen or so, and I’m confused and I’m pissed off.  All I see is something inside of my body designed to further torture me.  When coworkers make fun of me, and they do, I tell them about this beast growing untamed inside of me.  I explain that I am fighting something I can’t see, something they can’t see, but you know what?  They’re bullies and they don’t give a fuck.  (It takes me almost a decade to discover this)  A crack starts to open up in my head and in it seeps a truth I start to accept: I am a defect.  I cannot get pregnant and I will always be fat.  I am not worth the materials it took to make me.

This might be where it starts.  This might be where it ends.

In my twenties, I discover an online support system: Soulcysters.  When my ex-husband and I try to make babies, it is this group of anonymous women that suffer through it with me.  Together we chart basal body temps, fail pregnancy tests, and synchronize our medicines.  A few of them become rising stars and leave our discussion boards (TTC=Trying to Conceive) for the greener pastures of (BFP=Big Fat Positive!!!).  I miss them, I send them my best wishes, I never get to join them.

PCOS is a barrier.  PCOS is a parasite, sucking away my female parts, saddling me with the androgyny of infertility.  There is only one way out of this tunnel.  There is only one way to reverse the damage I’m doing to myself.  It takes me ten years to get control of this disease, of this syndrome.  Ten years before I’m hunched over in a bathroom peeing on a stick and nearly fainting as the second pink line appears.  And that is how PCOS saved me in the end.  It saved me from having babies with the wrong man, from being anchored in a port I did not belong, and it saved my fertility for my babies.

Caught with My Pants Down

This morning, as I was weighing myself half-naked like I do every single morning of my life, my five-year-old daughter crept around the corner of the bathroom door and stood watching me as I stared down at the rather large number.

“Mommy, what are you doing?” she whispered.

I froze, not because I was startled by her presence, but because I was startled by her question.   I mean, I knew eventually one of them would see the scale, would see my morning ritual and ask questions, but I was stunned because, despite months of dreading this very question, I was completely unprepared as to how to answer it.

Mommy’s weighing herself honey because her self-esteem is wholly dependent on a number.  Mommy’s weighing herself because if she doesn’t, she will grow really, really fat again and Daddy will go away.  Mommy’s weighing herself because Mommy is an addict and if she doesn’t check in with her “sponsor” every morning, she will become overtaken by her disease once again.  

All of these thing sound ridiculous in my brain, yet I believe them as truth deep down in the middle of me.  This self-sabotaging dialogue is a train track running down the center of me, charging through and blowing to bits any healthy infrastructure I have erected.  Yet…My daughters are untainted.  They are like cotton: malleable, soft.   My problems with body image are a deep dark canyon, and right now, they are on the precipice of self-loathing.  My answer can either push them over, or save them from this agony.

“Mommy is weighing herself because I want to make sure I stay healthy and strong.”

She wrinkles her nose for a second as if she is sniffing out the validity of my statement, and within minutes her attention  turns to the dogs and she is gone, chasing them up the stairs and into the ripples of her sister’s laughter.

I don’t know if I said the right words.  I don’t know the truth myself.  I don’t know if anything I say can make a difference.  When I think about it, my parents never said anything about weight.  They set a good example and exercised and took care of themselves.  So, I guess the question then becomes,  how did I get here?  And how do I keep my own daughters from this place?

Things That Keep My Fingers Out Of My Throat

As I was editing my book the other day, I came across this passage:

“When someone feels like a situation is endless, like there is no top to their bottom, no strands of light bleeding through the darkness surrounding them, hope becomes elusive.  Hope is that carrot not dangled, but destroyed in front of them.  It’s this thought, this internal belief that is built into my mind like a system of Lego bricks that has kept me morbidly obese for the last ten years.  When you are staring down the barrel of losing one hundred or more pounds, at the agonizingly slow rate of one pound a week, you give up.  A hundred weeks.  That’s two years.  That’s four seasons of American Idol, that’s two grades in high school.  That’s a long time.   So, I do what I can to accelerate the process.  I drink instead of eat, I eat pretzels instead of real dinners, I knock myself out early with wine as to resist the call of my grumbling (flatter!) belly.  I take laxatives some mornings.  But it is not enough.  Nothing is ever enough.  I am still the fat, desperate girl in the bar.  I am still the girl people look past, people see through.”

It’s amazing to me how connected my weight is to my self image, and how desperate I have been at times to “accelerate the process.”  Yet, despite my desperation, there has always been one thing I’ve veered away from: legitimate eating disorders.  Yes, I’ve consumed drinks instead of food for two days at a time, starved myself, and even welcomed the stomach flu with open arms, but there was one line I’d never cross, and I owe that to Tammy.

Tammy and I worked in retail together when I was only 18 and she was 28.  She had a boyfriend, an abusive boyfriend, although none of us realized it at the time.  I worked full time during the summer, so I was with this girl for forty hours a week, and despite never seeing her eat a drop of food, despite her obvious dramatic weight loss, despite her jittery hands and cloudy eyes, we never noticed, we never thought anything was wrong.  Then, one day, she collapsed.  Her mother came to see us days later and told us Tammy was going away to a rehabilitation clinic, that she had been suffering from Bulimia for years now, and that, sadly, she had damaged her body to the point where she was entering menopause.  She was 28, and would never have children.

When I think about her, when I write about her, I want to go back to that time and stop her, tell her of what’s to come.  I want to be more observant, have a clue as to what was happening, I want to slap her, and me, for allowing it to happen.

Watching what happened to Tammy scared all of us, myself and my three or four coworkers, also young women, to the point where the very idea of an eating disorder was forbidden.  But now I wonder this: is the very fact that I assumed an eating disorder was a conscious choice- the ignorant musings of a woman in her early twenties?  I don’t think Tammy consciously decided to destroy her body, just like overeating is almost an addiction, isn’t under-eating as well?

I’m not sure where Tammy is now, but I hope she’s healthy and happy.  I hope that she found what was missing from the center of her.  I hope she knows that she changed my life and the lives of her coworkers.  Hell, she may have even saved a few of us.