The Phoenix and the Crucible

The Arch, Northwestern University

The Arch, Northwestern University

#depression #suicide #sexualassault #eatingdisorder

About once a year or two I find myself here again. It’s been a little over two years now. I don’t live in New York anymore. I have a graduate degree now; the diploma hangs in my office along with the one I got here. I joke that it’s the most expensive piece of paper I’ll ever have, but I don’t just mean the tuition. The cost that diploma carried with it weighed even heavier than my six-figure student loans.

Considering how everything happened, I should hate it. It was supposed to be my refuge, the place where I’d finally be able to be myself. Instead I got almost the full catalogue of college hazards: depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicidality, disordered eating, sexual assault, sexist shaming and harassment, bullying, homophobia. Almost every adverse event a person of my demographic could experience in college, I did, some of them multiple times.

So now when I think of Northwestern I inevitably picture a kaleidoscope of papercuts that, taken together, tore apart my confidence, self-worth, and desire to live. Getting sexually assaulted and worrying that I’d cheated on my boyfriend. My assailant leering at me across the table at the student group meeting, the student group that wouldn’t deny him a leadership role because, after all, I never reported it. My editor asking me if I’ve seen today’s op-ed in the Daily, the writer of which felt empowered to insult my intelligence because he felt that my blog post was too angry. Losing my best friend when I asked her to stop making homophobic comments to me. My supervisor sheepishly telling me that in their RA evaluations, my residents complained that I dressed inappropriately, presumably to try to get back at me for writing them up when the stink of their pot was so strong in the hallway that I couldn’t ignore it and still keep the job I desperately needed. (“There’s nothing wrong with the way you dress,” she reassured me. The whole thing would’ve been less offensive if there actually had been.) The way the men I slept with treated me afterwards, every single one. (The idea of casual sex is still mildly triggering, and the thought of someone wanting me just for sex is still triggering enough to keep me awake for hours.) The things I put my body through to try to make it look right. Getting groped at parties freshman year; it would be years before I felt comfortable drinking and partying again. Sobbing alone in the snow after a failed exam. Hoping I fucking got pneumonia from it and died. Cataloging all the places on campus where I could kill myself. Winding up in bed with a knife with no memory of how I got there. How humiliating it was to reach out to the one person I had at the time, who could barely conceal their irritation as they tried to make sure I didn’t end that night in the hospital or in a coffin.

I had to stop myself from continuing to write that paragraph, because there are so many of those stories and eventually it would just seem gratuitous. But that was my life for four years. It *was* gratuitous.

What ended up destroying me even more than all that was how casually cruel my classmates were. These people will be your network for life, we were all told. I met plenty of great people, but of course what I remember most is the cruelty. Being emotionally vulnerable and open at Northwestern is all but an invitation for people to gleefully rub salt in your wounds. I don’t know how I managed to not only stop myself from becoming hard and calloused, but to celebrate my vulnerability even louder. This sort of writing I’m doing right now came from that. I do it in defiance of my classmates’ vicarious embarrassment, their averted glances, their ridicule, their patronizing advice that I should become someone else. Fuck you. Instead I became even more of myself.

Yet I can’t hate it. I came out of that crucible like a fucking phoenix. By senior year–the only year I even remotely enjoyed–I had become more or less who I am now, the version you know and love, or at least tolerate. For whatever it’s worth, college is where I finally became someone people could actually like.

(Even now, I question that. Did I become someone people could finally like, or did I become someone *I* could finally like?)

(I feel like almost everything about me now comes from what happened then. I’m so adamant about boundaries because of how mine were crossed. I’m a feminist because of the unrelenting sexism. I’m an anti-racist because no matter how bad I had it, I saw how much worse the students of color had it. I’m a therapist because none of the ones I went to back then could ever help me. I hate casual sex because of how I was treated during and after it. I hate pot because after I was essentially forced to write those residents up for it or else lose my job, they and their fucking frat brothers decided to harass and bully me for it for my remaining THREE YEARS of college. Over a fucking recreational drug. I always think about that when people say that pot is a harmless drug. Harmless to whom? It harmed me before I ever even tried it.)

And you know, maybe I could’ve had a college experience that wasn’t almost entirely horrible and still become someone I respect. Maybe I would’ve still become a therapist, a sex educator, a progressive writer and activist, an unstoppable defender of human dignity and autonomy. Maybe I would’ve. Maybe I wouldn’t have. Maybe I’d be a journalist covering the tech startup scene. Maybe I’d be a professor and researcher. Maybe I’d still be someone great, just in a different way. Maybe there are many paths that lead to the same place, or maybe I would’ve gotten lost in the shortcuts and detours.

That’s why I regret it and I don’t, and I miss it, and every time I walk through Ohio State’s campus back home I remember the full ride that was waiting for me there–the path I didn’t take–and I imagine who I’d be if I’d spent the past seven years in the city that has made me so happy and healthy at last.

I can’t hate it. I miss it like I miss everything and everyone that ever hurt me when I really thought they wouldn’t. I miss what it represented before the dream became reality, and then nightmare. And I miss the parts of it that were truly good. Because for all that my darkest times happened there, it was also there that the worst of the fog lifted for good.

So I walk through the arch with a shudder, but not for the last time: I know I will pass through this place again, and again, and again.

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I Don’t Actually Get Monogamy

#polyamory #what some might classify as being judgmental of monogamous people

When polyamorous people talk about polyamory and monogamy, we often feel obligated to add little disclaimers like “but of course polyamory isn’t for everyone, some people just prefer monogamy and that’s fine!” or “of course, I understand that for some people monogamy is what’s best!”

To be honest, I say these things because I have to, not because they feel genuine. Yes, I do understand that monogamy works just fine for many people and that they prefer it, but I don’t grok* it. I don’t actually understand why monogamy is preferable. I just know that it is, because people say so and I believe them when they talk about their own feelings and experiences.

Sure, I’ve heard all the reasons; this isn’t an invitation to leave them in the comments. It’s simpler, there’s less negotiation and coordination involved, less awkwardness with family and in-laws, don’t have to deal with jealousy (except when you do), don’t have to worry they’ll leave you for someone else (except when you do), you get more time with them, you get to feel like you’re The Only One For Them, even though they probably had other partners before you and may have others in the future.

In that sense, many of monogamy’s supposed advantages seem illusory or conditional at best, which is part of the reason I can’t grok it.

But the other reason is that like…it still involves telling your partner what they can and can’t do with their body and time and relationships. That makes as much sense to me as telling my best friend that I don’t want her to have any other best friends and if she wants a different one then we have to stop being best friends with each other. Many of us tried that in elementary school, probably without much success or mutual happiness.

Some monogamous people say that they’re not controlling each other at all because neither of them happens to want any other partners. That’s, obviously, legitimate, but then I don’t see why they’d need to have a rule that says they can’t be with other people. Rules are made to keep people from doing things they want to do but shouldn’t do for whatever reason, and are  completely superfluous if nobody actually wants to do the thing.

The real test would be this: what if tomorrow or next month or next year, one of them meets someone else they want to get involved with? Would that be an actual open discussion, or would it be shut down with “no you can’t do that,” or never even brought up at all because a “no” would be expected?

Personally, I like to construct relationships (and other life things) in ways that allow for the fact that I will inevitably grow and change in ways I can’t predict at all. I understand that this isn’t important for everyone, but I can’t grok why it wouldn’t be.

Maybe part of the confusion is that “monogamy” seems to mean both “we are not allowed to have other partners” and “we do not have other partners.” There isn’t a perfect correlation between those, though. Plenty of couples who’d be open to having other partners nevertheless don’t because they haven’t met anyone or they haven’t had time or the stars didn’t align or whatnot. (And, of course, plenty of couples who are not “allowed” to have other partners nevertheless don’t, and this often gets called monogamy even though it technically isn’t.)

The important distinction to me isn’t “do you have more than one partner right now,” but “do you insist that you partner commit to only be with you.”

I can actually see myself in a situation where I happen to have found a person who I fit so well with that I lose interest in dating others (though I think this is very unlikely), but I don’t see why that means I should tell them that they shouldn’t want to date others either. So what? They can do what they want. I can do what I want.

Many people talk about it being “unfair” if one person in a couple dates others and the other doesn’t, but I don’t see what’s unfair about that as long as the latter person isn’t being “banned” from dating others. Nothing will ever be fully “equal” in a relationship–even if the relationship itself is egalitarian, one person might have a better, more fulfilling job, or make more money, or have much more supportive family, or have more friends and social outlets, or be more skilled at certain important things, or more social privilege. Yes, these things can be difficult to navigate and can cause jealousy and resentment in a relationship, and all of that has to be brought out into the open and worked on. But it doesn’t make sense to solve these problems by forcing the partner who’s more fortunate in some way to give that fortune up.

What I do get is when someone’s mental illness makes aspects of polyamory triggering or otherwise unmanageable. I do disagree with the popular narrative that mental illness and polyamory are always a bad mix–for some of us, it’s monogamy that’s incompatible with mental illness–but clearly for some people they are. I can definitely grok not being able to do something because your mental illness won’t let you, and then to be unwilling or unable to change that. (Even if it can be changed with therapy or whatever, not everyone has the time, money, or energy to do that work.)

But I don’t know how I could ever ask my partner to just dump all their other partners (that’s what it means what you “become monogamous” or “close the relationship,” though it’s rarely spoken of in those terms) for the sake of my mental health, which is my responsibility. If my partner offered of their own accord to stop/not start seeing other people, that might feel different, but asking them to–with the implication that if they don’t agree, they’re to blame for any worsening of my mental health–seems manipulative.

On the other hand, sometimes you have to be manipulative to save your life.

Most polyamory-or-monogamy decisions aren’t a matter of life and death, though, or anywhere close to it. Some people can’t be poly because it would make them miserable and wouldn’t be worth it, but most people who choose monogamy seem to do it without seriously considering polyamory, and if they do consider it, they dismiss it immediately as being “too difficult.” That’s what I can’t grok. If I were seriously considering telling a partner what they can and can’t do with their own body and free time, I would want to make damn certain that it’s for a really, really, really good reason. (Although, honestly, if I wanted that badly to try to control someone, I would probably leave them.)

I don’t usually say any of this, not only because it makes people mad at me, but because it’s not nice and nobody asked my opinion. I don’t evangelize polyamory; honestly, the last thing we need is more poly people who don’t really want to be poly or who haven’t thought about it thoroughly. There is nobody I want to date who insists on monogamy, so I definitely don’t have a dog in the fight. I am happy for my happily monogamous friends. Et cetera et cetera.

What I think is notable isn’t that I don’t “get” monogamy, but how many people don’t “get” polyamory, and say so–frequently, loudly–without any pushback. How many times have I heard “Wow, I could never do that,” “But how would that even work?”, “But how could you truly love someone if you’re okay with them sleeping with someone else?“, “I had a friend who tried that once and they were miserable and quit it after a few months,” “That’s just wrong,” “Why can’t you just be satisfied with one?”, “That just sounds so awful!”? Many times. Except, unlike me, they won’t even say, “But I believe you when you say that it’s what works for you.” They usually deny, if implicitly, that my own feelings are valid at all.

And usually, nobody calls those people “judgmental” or “self-righteous,” and nobody accuses them of trying to “evangelize monogamy,” and nobody writes screeds about how “annoying” they are, the way they do about polyamorous people. Monogamy is invisible; polyamory is marked. That’s why anything that polyamorous people say about polyamory is given extra scrutiny in a way that the things monogamous people say about monogamy are not. Moreover, many of the things monogamous people say about monogamy aren’t even interpreted as Defenses Of Monogamy. They’re just “obvious.” They’re just “how things are.” Monogamy needs no defense.

I suppose my inability to grok monogamy is a failure of imagination or open-mindedness, but in any case, there’s not much I can do to change it now. Monogamy is ever-present in every book I read and every movie and TV show I watch, almost every conversation about dating and relationships that I hear outside of my own social circle, every magazine cover promising to help me find The One. If I don’t get it now, I probably never will. The least I can do is to not be an asshole to monogamous people (which means, as I said I do, believing them when they say monogamy is what they prefer), but also to continue showing people that polyamory isn’t really that weird, and it doesn’t feel awful at all, and here’s how to do it responsibly if you’re interested.


*Grok means to understand something intuitively, or through empathy. I use that word in this post to distinguish my failure to “get” monogamy from an actual belief that monogamy is wrong or ineffective or whatever. It’s not. I don’t think it is. I just can’t actually put myself in the shoes/brain of someone who prefers monogamy.  Another possibly-helpful way to say this is that I believe that monogamy can be preferable, but I don’t alieve that monogamy can be preferable.

The Canary in the Coal Mine

#depression #selfharm #suicide

At some point in college–years ago, now–I remember finding some of my old poems on DeviantArt. I wrote a lot of poetry in high school, but after I went off to college, the ability to do it mysteriously disappeared and I haven’t written a single poem for at least six years.

Whatever ideas you may have in your head about poetry written by teenagers, I was fairly good at it. I preferred to write structured, rhyming poems, and even tried sonnets and villanelles. It was fun. I gave them to partners sometimes.

As I looked over those old poems, I didn’t feel embarrassed or silly about them. Actually, I felt a little terrified, because I noticed something I’d never noticed before: they were completely full of suicidal imagery.

I don’t mean vague metaphors, although those would also be concerning. I mean lines like “I laid down on the railroad tracks / And waited for my train to come.”

Where did that come from? In those years before I ever consciously felt suicidal, why was I putting that stuff into my poems?

And then I felt even more spooked because I realized that dozens of people had read those poems. My partners read them. My friends read them. My teachers read them. They were published in my high school literary magazine.

Nobody fucking thought to ask why the fuck I was writing poems about willingly getting run over by a train? Or falling from a great height? Or going to sleep and never waking up? Really, nobody found that in the least bit concerning?

And then I thought, of course they didn’t. Because that’s Just What Teenagers Do. Because Hormones and Angst. Because They Don’t Know What They’re Saying. Because They Just Want Attention. Because it’s #JustTeenageThings to graphically imagine killing yourself and then put that in a poem that dozens of people read.

And look, I don’t know, maybe plenty of teens wrote poems like that and then went on to have absolutely no mental health problems whatever and live happily ever after. Or maybe they did have mental health problems but they had nothing to do with the thoughts that led them to write those poems.

All I know is, it could’ve actually made a huge difference if someone had noticed that and asked me about it. Maybe a few years later I wouldn’t be contemplating where the best place on campus to kill myself would be. Maybe by the time I was sitting on the couch in my dorm suite, looking over those old poems on DeviantArt, I wouldn’t be on antidepressants (there is nothing wrong with being on antidepressants, but it’s still nice to avoid it when you can). Maybe all of my friendships and relationships wouldn’t have been tainted by depression in some way, maybe today I wouldn’t have laid in bed till 1 PM trying to get myself to give a fuck about anything at all, because years later, I’m still not actually “recovered.”

Maybe I would be giggling as I tell this story to my friends: “Can you believe that back in high school they sent me to therapy over some dumb poems I wrote?” and everyone would say, “Wow, that’s so ridiculous, they make such a big deal out of nothing!” And I would never know what a bullet I dodged, and this, despite all my irritation, despite the money my parents would’ve spent, despite the embarrassment I would’ve felt, would be a victory. This is better than spending years wanting to kill yourself and then living the rest of your life in that shadow. Trust me.

We need to start thinking prophylactically about mental illness. It is easier to help a teenage girl who says, “But what’s really the point of life if I don’t have a boyfriend?” (yes, this is what I said, who’d have thought I’d grow up to be so gay) rather than an adult woman who says, “All of my relationships have been failures, I’m never going to get a job I actually like, I’m going to spend the rest of my life regretting all of my mistakes and also everybody hates me because I’m so sad and pathetic all the time.”

See, the time to unlearn all of these awful ways of thinking would’ve been then, not now.

But it didn’t happen that way, because not one of the dozens of people who read those poems stepped up and took them seriously. “Teenage angst” is a fucking punchline in our culture.

Except I never grew out of it, and eventually nobody was laughing anymore. Least of all me.

~~~

This is not something I’m willing to discuss privately with anyone, no matter how well I know them. If you have a response to make, please leave it as a comment rather than contacting me in some other way.

I Don’t Want To Talk About It

#depression #mentalillness

I feel like an ungrateful jerk when I say this, but I dread the moment when a friend says, “Do you want to talk about it?”

I dread it because I have to lie and say no. I do want to talk about it, at least sometimes. But I can’t.

It used to be that I measured the strength of a friendship or relationship purely by how willing the person was to listen to my bullshit and how well they responded when I vented it. I truly believed in the idea that True Friends will be able to listen to me at my most raw and vulnerable, because that’s how True Friendship is often described when it comes down to it. You can Be Yourself around a True Friend. Well, Myself was often very, very sad.

“If you can’t handle me at my worst then you don’t deserve me at my best,” and all that.

And then I lost a ton of friends and partners who couldn’t handle me at my worst.

They were good people, maybe not as good at communication and boundary-setting as they could’ve been, but then who is at that age? This wasn’t a case of shitty shallow people just not being willing to deal with any negativity; this was a case of normal people not being able to deal with someone’s mental illness.

Eventually something in me snapped, and my entire outlook on it changed. I no longer judge the strength of a friendship by how much the person can listen to me vent and cry. I almost never do anything I’d describe as “venting.” I do not consider it important to have someone I can “vent” to. I do not consider it important for friends and partners to see that side of me.

Am I bitter? Yes, a little bit. Many people who suffer from mental illness tell me that they don’t know where they’d be without their loving friends and partners who listen supportively to all of their completely unfiltered crap. It seems that my crap is of such an especially strong variety that nobody is able to handle it for long.

As if to test my resolve, plenty of people in my life try to convince me that they really can listen. “Yes,” they all say, “I know other people have let you down, but trust me, I want to be there for you.”

For a few years I fell for a few of these lines. Inevitably, “listening” and “being there” went along with “being determined to fix,” and you can’t fix a mental illness. So they’d try to fix me and they’d fail and they’d get frustrated and sooner or later I was such a source of negative feelings and it wasn’t worth it anymore.

It became a boy-cried-wolf situation. Every once in a while someone still tells me that, really, they’re a very good listener and they won’t get frustrated and they won’t expect to fix me and I really can talk to them.

I don’t fall for it anymore.

What is it about me? What is it that makes people so desperate to fix me that they lose the ability to set appropriate emotional boundaries and take a step back when they need to? What is it about my particular problems that make people think that they must fix them immediately or else it’s the end of the world?

I mean, certainly depression makes me feel that way, but as I said, plenty of people with depression nevertheless manage to vent to their friends without destroying everything.

There is a lovely Captain Awkward post that my friends and I often pass around at relevant times, called “The Sandwich Means I Love You.” It’s about a person with depression who worries that they are becoming too much of a burden on their friends, who are always helping them and generally being really great and supportive.

I love your friends. They are wicked practical about emotional matters, and when they say “Keep the pills at my house,” or “I will make you a grilled cheese now” they are really saying “I love you.

I’m sorry your Jerkbrain is translating that differently for you. I think it is hearing “I love you…for now…as long as you don’t actually like start to depend on that love and count on it too much and maybe become a burden? Enjoy this grilled cheese of temporary toleration and eventual judgement and abandonment.

But your friends? They’re just saying “I love you.” Really.

This post consistently makes me cry happily, but the truth is that I don’t really believe in it. I mean, I believe that the people who post it on my Facebook wall are being as honest as they can be, but I also believe that when they support me it’s more of the “temporary toleration and eventual judgement and abandonment” thing. Because that’s how it has historically been.

And it makes me sad when I share this and people accuse those ex-friends/-partners of being horrible or selfish or ableist or any number of other bad things. The truth is that dealing with depression is fucking horrible, and if a person with depression is telling you all of their thoughts and feelings, that’s not very far off from the experience of actually having it. The hopelessness. The going around in circles. The fact that nothing seems to ever help at all.

You are not a bad person if you can’t deal with this.

But this is why I feel like I can never fully open up to anyone again. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe that’s adulthood.

Except, I guess, for all the other adults who seem to manage it just fine.

“Don’t Cry Because It’s Over; Smile Because It Happened”

Is anyone actually capable of following this advice?

I’m genuinely curious, because I’ve never been able to. As a child I would inevitably waste the last day of any family vacation crying because it was ending, and then crying because I was wasting the entire last day crying, and then crying because it was actually over and I had just wasted the entire last day crying.

Of course, that was probably for two reasons: 1) I genuinely found the majority of my day-to-day existence pretty dreary and miserable, not in the “maaan I could sure use a vacation” sense but in the “my classmates and my teachers are bullying me” sense; and 2) as perhaps follows from 1), I had some sort of proto-depression that later became full-blown depression.

Now I cry at the ends of other things, like visits with family or partners, stays in a particular place (moving is horrible for me), jobs and school things, and sometimes relationships (though, by the time they end, I usually don’t care very much anymore).

No matter what the actual thing that’s ending, there’s always this same horror that that might’ve been the last good thing in my life and now there will be no more. It’s not rational; it just is.

“Smile because it happened” assumes that the reason it can or should feel okay for good things to be over is because now you have all those happy memories of them. That might be the case for people who get any joy out of thinking about happy memories. I don’t. My brain immediately jumps to sadness that that thing is over or gone.

That’s why the only thing I can do is just to not think about things that are in the past. (Unless, ironically, they’re uniformly negative, because it doesn’t really make me sad to think about sad things that are over now.) This means I compartmentalize everything and largely avoid thinking about family, friends, or partners who are not here and who I can’t see often, or past vacations that I took, or cool opportunities that I had.

And I probably realize this as these things are ending. I realize that I’ll never be able to think about those happy memories without becoming very sad, so for me, the end of a particular experience is truly the end in a way that it might not be for most people. It’s not just that I won’t get to literally experience that same thing again; I also won’t really get to ever think about or remember it, except in certain controlled ways (and then rarely without tears).

I don’t know if this is a depression thing or a me thing. It doesn’t really make sense outside of the context of depression, though, because I think that a more mentally healthy person would be able to understand that good things will happen again. I am not able to understand that on any sort of serious level. I’m only able to repeat it to myself over and over like I could repeat “Unicorns exist” or “I have a million dollars.”

But then again, maybe if “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” were a thing that normal people could actually do, Dr. Seuss wouldn’t have felt the need to say it.

Feelings of Hopelessness

#depression #mentalillness #suicide

One commonly cited symptom of major depression and persistent depressive disorder (formerly known as dysthymia) is “feelings of hopelessness.”

“Hope,” and by extension “hopelessness,” is one of those vague concept-nouns that most English-speaking people “just know” the meaning of, but it’s probably difficult to imagine what it’s actually like to have no hope. How that looks. How that feels.

I am one of those people about whom others speak using phrases like “bright future” and “high achieving.” When I graduated from college and joked that my diploma is the most expensive piece of paper I will ever have, my brother said, “But what about the deed to a house?” He said it with a tone like it’s self-evident that I will someday own a house.

I don’t think I will own a house. I don’t think I’ll ever own anything that costs more than a few thousand dollars at most, but that’s okay. That’s not really the issue.

I’m sure that the reason people are so optimistic about my future is part privilege and part the fact that I genuinely do come across as a capable person who works hard and accomplishes things. It doesn’t really matter. I don’t see what they see.

On “good” days, I just don’t give a fuck about what happens to me more than about six months out. It’s not anything I have any interest in. I’m sure it won’t be especially great or happy or fulfilling, so I have no reason to think about it.

On bad days, I’m actively afraid and horrified about my future. I don’t think I’ll ever find a stable relationship close to home. If I decide I want children, I will not have anyone to have them with, nor the money to give them a good life. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to afford to live anywhere I’d actually enjoy living. I think that my job, if I manage to find one after I finish my degree, will be awful, dreary, boring, low-paid, even abusive. (Sadly, this does seem to describe many jobs in my field, though certainly not all of them.) I think that my friends will start their own families and largely forget about me. I think that my own family will always be just out of reach, an expensive plane ticket away, growing older without me there.

I think about the frankly ridiculous notion that you can either have a low-paid but fulfilling job or a high-paid but unfulfilling one, and my friends’ frankly useless reassurances that “Well, at least you’ll be doing something you love, right?”, and I just know that I’ll be stuck with a low-paid and unfulfilling job for life, miserable while at work but with no money to do anything pleasant while outside of it.

Tell me truthfully–if you were certain that your future was going to look like this, would you be all that interested in seeing it happen?

Although I’m not suicidal at the moment, I have been in the past, and I can say that this profound sense of hopelessness influenced it. (There are other factors that contribute to suicidality, obviously, such as feeling like a burden to your loved ones, being in so much pain you can’t stand it, etc.) If the endpoints of the spectrum of my feelings about my future are “meh I don’t give a flying fuck” and “oh god please don’t make me,” well, what really is the point?

For now, the point is that I’ve managed to convince myself that my hopelessness does not follow from the evidence. There are reasons to be worried, yes, maybe not too terribly optimistic given the economy and the political climate and the profession I chose and the city I want to live in, but there is no reason to believe that I will never, ever, have anything I want in any domain of my life, be it family or finances or friendship or romance or career or location or leisure. That just doesn’t make any sense. Nobody with as much privilege as I have, and as many social resources, gets fucked that badly.

Right?

“I’m not hungry.” “Good!”

#eatingdisorders #mentalillness #bodyimage #weight #food

There was a point in my life–the point at which my body started “developing,” as they euphemistically put it–that food suddenly became Bad rather than Good for me at home.

If you have children or have been a child with attentive parents, you probably remember the squabbles over eating. “But I’m not hungry.” “Sweetie, you need to eat. How else are you going to grow?” “I don’t want any more.” “Just one more bite, and then you can have ice cream.”

I also had these conversations as a child, once.

Then it all changed seemingly overnight.

“I don’t want any more.” “Good!” “I can’t, I lost my appetite.” “Good!”

It must’ve taken a few years, but by the time I was in high school, the implications were clear: not eating is virtually always good. Any reason or excuse or motivation you can find within yourself to not eat, or eat less, is good.

“Wow, I was so engrossed in this book that I totally forgot about dinner.” “Good!”

I hate feeling hungry. Always have, still do. So it wasn’t that I wanted to “go hungry,” as it were. But lived for those things that made me forget about eating or to lose my appetite: distraction, sickness, tricks played by certain foods.

“I only had an apple and some almonds today!” “Good!”

Nowadays I don’t do that sort of restriction anymore. I try to eat at least two full meals a day, though sometimes that’s impossible because I’m busy and can’t cook and end up eating energy bars or pretzels instead. I eat bagels with cream cheese and chocolate and macaroni (sometimes with cheese) and ice cream and pizza and other Bad Things, usually without thinking about calories.

I also don’t think I’m fat or ugly; I don’t like everything about my body but overall I’m fine with it the way it is. I’m comfortable with the curves and folds that I have. Buying clothes does still cause frustration, anxiety, and even panic, but I recognize that that’s more because of the bullshit idea that humans can all discretely fit into categories like Extra Small, Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large, and Extra Extra Large with neither overflow nor empty space.

But my actual attitudes about food haven’t really changed. When I’m sick or when I realize I’ve been too busy writing to remember to eat, I still reflexively think, “Good!” When I get hungry, I think, “Fuck, again?” Although I don’t normally think of it this way, I “practice” eating normally several times a day, and I enjoy eating–I love the taste and feel of food–but I can’t stop wishing I didn’t need it.

I’m so much better off than I could be, given how dangerous and tenacious eating disorders are. But it’s not just about the symptoms. It’s about the ways in which certain thought patterns–entire belief systems, really–take root in your brain, seemingly for good.