May 22, 2011

Life as I Know it

I sometimes wonder where I’d be in life if any number of circumstances had been different. Not just the eating disorder, though that does seem to be the biggest variable in the equation. I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t moved in third grade from southern to northern California…if my dad had worked in a different job…if my parents had been divorced. I would have grown up in a totally different atmosphere…with different schools, different friends, different everything. Would I still be the same person? Maybe I would have continued to be abused, dropped out of school, become pregnant at 16. Maybe I would have had wonderful opportunities and received scholarships to Harvard to become a doctor. Maybe I would have been a drug addict. Maybe I would have become the first woman president. Would I be married? Would I have kids? Where would I be living? Would I be happy? Would I even like the same things? Who knows. I don’t need to know, really. Life is what it is, and I have to say that despite all the hard times, I don’t know that I’d change it. It’s just crazy to think of how a person’s entire life can be shifted by one single event. The butterfly effect…can the flutter of a butterfly’s wings really cause a typhoon halfway around the world? Apparently I think too much!

Ten years ago I never ever EVER would have guessed that I’d be living in Utah and working at PetSmart. Ten years ago I had recently finished my undergrad in interior design and was working at an engineering firm in Austin doing lighting design for Banana Republic…in a different atmosphere and state than I would have imagined even a few years prior to that. Fast forward a year and I’d transition to doing electrical design for high voltage substations, going to job sites with the engineers in my hard hat and boots, applying to the electrical engineering department at UT Austin. A far cry from picking out wallpaper and curtains, as I’d imagined I’d be doing when I first started college.

Five years ago I was back in California, thanks to an eating disorder interfering with my career and ability to take care of myself…not that I’m bitter! Whatever. Point being, I unexpectedly ended up back in California. And in that unexpected move, I somehow started an architectural design business, almost by accident. How does that happen? Well, I know how it happened, but who would have guessed? Five years ago I was using that business to put me through grad school where I was graduating with my Masters in Counseling Psychology, starting my degree in dietetics at CSU Sacramento, after which I planned to move to Malibu to attend Pepperdine and work on my PhD. I had it all mapped out. I had a goal…I had a plan…I had a mission. I knew exactly where my life was going, how I was going to get there, where I would be living, and precisely what my future looked like.

Five years and 6 hospitals & treatment centers later, I live in Utah and I work at PetSmart. My biggest obstacle right now is my pride. I’m embarrassed to admit that I work in a retail setting. When people ask me how I wound up in Utah I lie (‘I was in treatment here and lost everything so figured I might as well stay’ generally isn’t the most socially acceptable response when first meeting someone!). In that respect I’m ashamed of who I am…or rather, who I’m not. But you know what? Once I get past those things…I’m pretty okay with where I am, and dare I say, even happy? Things are HARD. Really REALLY hard. I never imagined that at 32 I’d be struggling so much financially, that this once successful, ambitious girl would be buying work pants at the DI. And yet, I like my job. I started PetSmart right after treatment as a part-time job, then moved to full-time, then management, and about a month ago got a promotion and jumped up three notches in the management hierarchy. I’m a presentation manager now. I’m in charge of the product, displays, organization, and presentation of the whole freak’n store! I'm in charge! How cool is that?! It’s FAR more involved and FAR more stress and hours than I imagined a retail job could possibly entail, and all for FAR less money than anyone should have to work that hard for. But I thrive on the stress, and in the grand scheme of things, I really do like it.

There is still more that I want out of life. I hate hate HATE that financially things aren’t working so well. I absolutely need a second job. I’ve been trying to find some contract work as a designer to supplement my income, which has been unsuccessful so far. I did, however, find the PERFECT job on craigslist tonight as a contractual designer, with the ability to work from home, and my qualifications are EXACTLY what they’re looking for. So…keep your fingers and toes crossed! But if that doesn’t work out, I’ll keep trying, and I’ll keep marketing. I like where I am, but I want more. I want to not stress about how I’m going to pay my bills. I want to be able to finish my dietetics degree. I see myself moving back to Austin someday. But for now, I’m thankful to have a job I (mostly) enjoy. I’m thankful that as crappy as things have been lately, and as much as my life has diverted from plan, that I’m still alive and fighting. I’m thankful for the strength I’ve been given to get through it all. I’m thankful for moments of being content…moments of knowing that while some situations aren’t ideal, I can still enjoy the present. And in many ways I’m thankful that I was forced to go down a different road…to open my eyes, and to accept myself in a way I had never imagined. That’s not to say I don’t have my fair share of ‘it’s not fair’ and ‘why can’t I catch a break’ moments. But all in all, I’m thankful for all that I’ve experienced and I do believe in the end I’ll be a better person because of it.

Life doesn’t always turn out the way you plan it…sometimes it turns out better.

May 18, 2011

Fighting Back

On my way to work today I heard a Subway commercial that just infuriates me. It’s the second time I’ve heard it. I can’t quote it exactly, as I was driving and couldn’t write it down word for word, but it’s something to the effect of…

If you’ve been eating burgers and fries all winter, don’t put on your old shorts and strut around like it’s okay, because it’s not. Do your part to keep your town beautiful…(insert something about how wonderful Subway is for you here).’

Do my part to keep my town beautiful? By not getting fat? (And yes, that’s exactly what they were referring to). I generally have a pretty good sense of humor, but not when it comes to topics like this. The media did not by any means cause my eating disorder. But I have to say, they certainly don’t make recovery any easier. Between the plethora of distasteful Subway commercials, the Gold’s Gym ads on the side of the bus telling me I’m too fat, I’ve eaten too much, and need to be at the gym, and the obscene amounts of billboards I pass on the 30 mile drive to work (liposuction, laser hair removal, breast enhancement, teeth whitening, blemish removal, and vein repair to name a few), I don’t know how girls these days have a chance. After three rounds at Center for Change I’ve had enough body image classes with Nicole Hawkins to make me want to fight back. And yet, I sometimes feel defeated.

I know advertising companies spend a lot of money to make us feel bad about ourselves. If we feel good about ourselves just as we are, why would we need their product? From that standpoint I get it. It’s their job. But it makes me sad. It makes me sad that these advertisements encourage girls and boys, women and men of all ages to feel inferior…not good enough. It makes me sad that there are so many people out there like me…like all the amazing, wonderful girls I’ve met in treatment, who are bombarded with these ads daily while trying so hard to believe that we are in fact okay.

I’m thankful for the recording artists I’ve heard more recently speaking out in their lyrics about self acceptance…

Lady Gaga, with ‘Born This Way’
Selena Gomez, with ‘Who Says’
And my favorite...Pink’s ‘Fuck’n Perfect’

I love love LOVE Pink’s music video, but won’t post it here as parts of it could be triggering. I will however post a clip from ‘The Voice’, another one of those reality singing shows that I’ve been sucked into! I love the harmonies, but moreso I love the passion. This is the passion that inspires me; that makes me believe I’m not the only out there fighting in this world; that gives me the strength to keep standing up when I feel like I've been beaten down.

May 15, 2011

Middle Ground?

As it turns out, starting a blog the week before you start working 14 hour days doesn’t exactly provide for much time to update said blog! But this is about finding the grey, right? Yes, this is my new write when I feel like it and don’t write when I don’t feel like it blog. An intuitive writing of sorts! Glad we’ve established that. So, I actually wrote this about a week and a half ago, but am just now getting a moment to edit and post it…

As I write this I’m sitting inside Barnes & Noble, leaning against a big picture window, sun beaming through and warming me as I sip my iced skinny vanilla latte. The mountaintops, still white with spring snow, rise above the surrounding buildings and blooming trees. I am in awe of the beauty surrounding me. This is one of those days when I remember why I thought moving to Utah would be a good idea.

I sit here mostly content, but slightly conflicted. I’m in a coffee shop inside a bookstore, listening to Michael Buble playing from the speakers above. This is my happy place. Big, corporate Barnes & Noble and Starbucks. And yet a few days ago I spent some time at a locally owned coffee house, served by baristas with dreads and tattoos, listening to live music, and taking note of the drum circle in the park on Sundays. ‘BUY LOCAL’ I thought that was my element. How can I like both? How can I want both?

This isn’t a new phenomenon…that I want two different, opposing things. I want to be all organic, hippie, Zen, peace and love, and yet I’d love to get back to a career where I can wear business attire and heels. I want to be feminine, but at work I throw around 50lb bags of dog food with my stockers and would rather be seen as the manager who’s tough, works hard, and holds her own. I love hiking, walking, and being outdoors, but I’m a city girl at heart and dream of living in a high-rise with a concierge. I’m all for self-expression and being able to show emotion and yet more often than not I’m hardened, jaded and too frequently find myself thinking, ‘suck it up and get over it.’ I want to promote positive body image…love your body, love yourself – but I look in the mirror and want to tear away at the excess flesh. I want to be a runner, but don’t necessarily enjoy running. I want to live the simple life, wearing jeans and flip flops, and I also want my perfectly arranged closet filled with Banana Republic and Ann Taylor.

Is there a middle ground? Is there EVER a middle ground? I think that’s been my biggest holdup in this finding my identity dilemma. I’ve never had any single identity outside of an eating disorder to cling to. I’ve always hated those ‘who are you?...what do you like?...what do you want to do?...who do you want to be?’ questionnaires. They stress me out. I can never come up with the single, perfect answer. I don’t know. I can’t pinpoint who I am. I’m not all business…I’m not all sporty…I'm not all hippie...I’m not all chic…I’m not all musician…I’m not ALL anything. Where does that leave me? I’m a mutt…a hybrid of sorts. And where does a hybrid fit in? I don’t fit in. And I’m finally realizing that’s okay. I AM OKAY. Maybe I’ll never fit into the perfect mold of anything. Maybe I’ll never be married…never have kids…never fit the conventional, traditional, ‘norm’. And maybe that’s okay. I am me. Organized, obsessed, quirky, fun, confused, determined, self-critical, independent, hard-working, me. And I am the only person who needs to be okay with that. And I’m getting there.

May 05, 2011

New Beginnings

Watching Gray’s Anatomy last week, Meredith’s monologue really impacted me. So much so that it inspired me to reframe my journey, and to get back to blogging again.

‘After a trauma your body is at its most vulnerable.
Response time is critical so you’re suddenly surrounded by people; doctors, nurses, specialists, technicians.
Surgery is a team sport; everyone pushing for the finish line, putting you back together again.
But surgery is a trauma in and of itself.
And once it’s over the real healing begins.
We call it recovery.

Recovery is NOT a team sport.
It’s a solitary distance run.
It’s long, and it’s exhausting, and it’s lonely as hell.

The length of your recovery is determined by the extent of your injuries.
And it’s not always successful.
No matter how hard we work at it, some wounds might never fully heal.
You might have to adjust to a whole new way of living.
Things may have changed too radically to ever go back to what they were.
You might not even recognize yourself.
It’s like you haven’t recovered anything at all.
You’re a whole new person…
With a whole new life.’

This absolutely puts the whole recovery process into context for me. I’m thirty-two. My eating disorder began when I was nine. In that time I’ve been in and out of treatment centers and hospitals, have been surrounded by professionals, and have also endured one hell of a marathon on my own. So where does that leave me? I’m finding myself in a place of peace. In a place where I feel confident that I’m finally headed down the right path. I’m not sure what exactly to attribute this shift of paradigm to…perhaps to some amazing treatment teams, perhaps to the wonders of medication, perhaps it’s simply a part of getting older and maturing…more than likely, all of the above. Whatever the reason, I’ll take it. Would I consider myself recovered? Not by a long shot. Food, calories, exercise and weight still plague me 24/7. I look in the mirror…in the window…in the reflection of a shiny car, and I cringe as the thirty-five pounds I’ve had to gain in the name of health stare back at me. No, life is not all butterflies and rainbows. But I know without a doubt that I’m on the right path. And I feel a peace about the process that I’ve never felt before.

Let me repeat the end of that Gray’s quote…

…No matter how hard we work at it, some wounds might never fully heal.
You might have to adjust to a whole new way of living.
Things may have changed too radically to ever go back to what they were.
You might not even recognize yourself.
It’s like you haven’t recovered anything at all.
You’re a whole new person…
With a whole new life.’

This is what hits home. THIS is what I wish I would have heard 10 years ago. ‘Recovery’, in the literal sense of the word, is not what I should have been searching for all this time. I cannot recover the girl I was at the age of nine. I cannot recover the girl everyone thought I was in high school. I cannot recover the girl I tried to be in college. Too much has changed. I’ve learned too much. I will never be that person again, nor do I want to be. I’m a whole new person. I’m a stronger person. I’m a more passionate person. And I’m better for the fight. I don’t have to recover the life that I always thought I should have. I’m creating a new life. A life that is mine. A life that I’ve worked hard for. A life that combines all of my experiences. Circumstances may not always work out in the way that I desire, but I have the opportunity to discover and make of my life what I want. This blog is my journey to figuring out what lies beneath the surface.