November 20, 2011

Mall Madness...And Mourning What Once Was

I went to the mall today. Let me clarify – I very begrudgingly went to the mall today. It all started out with an iphone. Yes, shudder, about a month ago I got an iphone. If it’s possible to be in love with an inanimate object, I am - though I feel like I need to hide this amazing piece of modern technology because I’m so stinkin broke that I have absolutely no business owning one. Just for the record, my contract on my cell phone was up so it was only $99 when I signed my soul over for another two years. Still, it was $99 more than I should have been spending. I kinda justified it with the reasoning that I work an average of 12 hours a day and I really haven’t bought anything for myself in years outside of the necessities and the occasional latte. I deserve something for working my ass off every day. Yeah, I’m rationalizing. Truth is, I probably shouldn’t have spent the money. And I would have major buyer’s remorse if I wasn’t so in love. So, here I am, a month with this amazing toy, and out of nowhere the battery starts draining in like two hours. For 3 days I charge my phone, go to work, and two hours later it’s dead. Now, my iphone is great, but it doesn’t do me much good without a working battery. I start to get super depressed at the realization that my toy was short lived, and because I didn’t spring for the $100 warranty package I’d have to go back to my old phone for another two years. Suck. My last hope was that the guys at the apple store could help me. Turns out, there’s an apple store at the mall right next to my house. And they were, by the way, able to fix my battery problem for free. But to get to said apple store, I had to brave the mall. I dislike the mall. These days I tend to avoid the mall like the plague.

So, I’m getting ready to go to the mall. I do what any girl would do…put on my running attire. Yes, I wore my running attire to the mall because looking like I’d just gone on a run seemed more acceptable than the frumpy look of having no decent clothes that fit me. That, and being my day off, I had absolutely no desire to spend time on my hair and make-up. Not that I spend time on my hair and make-up every other day when I do go to work (It’s not really my first priority when I roll out of bed at 3am). But...I was feeling particularly lazy today.

Aaaanyways…I find a parking spot and do my best to hold my head up high and not feel inferior as I walk through the doors of Nordstrom. I do a little speed walk to the entrance of the rest of the mall (I am in my running shoes after all) and then it hits me. I see the wide expanse in front of me and I start to panic. So many stores. So many glorious stores that I can no longer afford. My chest starts to tighten as I trudge straight ahead to the apple store. I get there and breathe a sigh of relief. No more clothes…no more reminders of what I used to have…no more tiny mannequins glaring at me and the body I am not the slightest bit comfortable in. Just me, my running shoes, and my iphone. I talk to the guy at the front of the apple store and he puts my name in the computer then tells me my ‘apple genius’ will see me at the ‘genius bar’ in exactly 55 min. 55 minutes? Crap. I decide to suck it up and kill a little time by roaming the mall.

Out I walk into what used to be familiar territory. I almost feel disassociated as I’m walking, trying to stay present while being accosted by all the people at the kiosks lined up one after another in the center of the walkway – ‘try an herbal tea sample…learn Spanish in a week…this skin cream will make you look 15 years younger…try our new weight loss formula and lose 10 pounds in a week’. Obviously the best defense was to stay as close to the perimeter of the walkway as possible, where sales men and women couldn’t attack. I hadn’t walked more than a few yards when I look up to see it…BANANNA REPUBLIC. Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, White House/Black Market…all right there. My three favorite stores. I had a walk-in closet made up entirely of clothing from these three stores - back when I was financially secure, and confident in my career, my future, and where I was going. Back when I was headstrong and hopeful (okay, I’m still headstrong – just not always in a productive way). Back before I lost my business, before I lost everything to an eating disorder that landed me in hospitals and treatment centers for years. I still have a lot of that wardrobe, though very little of it fits, and even if it did, the phrase ‘all dressed up with no place to go’ comes to mind.

I decided to dig the knife a little deeper by wandering through my coveted Banana. The smell…oh that lovely familiar smell. I look around at the lighting. Did you know I used to do the lighting design for Banana Republic stores while I worked at an electrical engineering firm in Austin? Yep…I did. Oh, to wear slacks and heels to work again…to feel like a professional. I find myself gravitating toward this gorgeous sweater. I turn over the price tag…$188. I fight back tears as I’m reminded of how much my life has changed. Not that all of the changes are bad. But it’s different from what it used to be, from what I wanted it to be, from where I thought I’d be at 33…oh so different.

Today I look at the $188 price tag on the sweater and think of all the homeless people that could feed. I think of how much less stressed I’d be if I just had an extra $188 to help pay bills or buy groceries or gas. $188 means a lot more to me now than it ever did before. I’m grateful now for the ability to see things from a different perspective. I know I’m still very well off compared to many people. But I also know what it feels like to be one paycheck away from not being able to pay rent. I do have some luxuries. I have internet and cable (and now my beloved iphone), but I also wrap in blankets in the winter and sweat in the summer to avoid spending extra money on heating and cooling. I do my laundry at the Laundromat. I now shop at the DI for my work pants. Sometimes I get lucky and find someone’s used pair of Banana khaki’s for $6. That’s a good day!

I want what I once had. And I feel guilty for that. Is it wrong to want to have extra money for material things? I don’t just want material things. I want to have money to donate to charities and time and energy to volunteer more. But I want my Banana back. I want to have fancy dinners to go to, and concerts, and wine tasting events to wear my nice clothes to. I want to feel like a professional. I want to not feel like I’ve been defeated when I walk into a mall. I want to have money to finish my dietetics degree…to move back to Austin. I work soooo so so so hard, and I’m proud of that. Once I get over the fact that I’m working in a retail setting I’m even kinda proud of what I do – I’m in charge of a hell of a lot of stuff. But…I want more. I don’t care to be super rich. But oh what I’d give to be comfortable again. Is that wrong? Is that gluttonous? Sometimes I think I need to mourn what I once had and move on. After all, in many ways I AM a completely different person…a person that I’m still trying to figure out. But I don’t know that I’m ready to move on entirely. Somehow that feels a little like admitting defeat.

November 10, 2011

Who wouldn't love a face like this...

‘Picture yourself as a little girl…How would you treat that little girl?...Would you starve her?…Hurt her?’ How many times have I heard therapists ask me that question? Too many. Far far too many.

I know how that scenario is supposed to play out. ‘I would never starve that little girl - She didn’t do anything wrong – she deserves better.’ And then the therapist says something sickeningly sweet about how I am that little girl and I don’t deserve the pain I put myself through…I need to start treating myself like I would treat ‘Little Amber’. Time after time I’ve sat and smiled through that little exercise and pretended like it was some sort of enlightening experience. Time after time I’ve bull shitted my way through that conversation because the real answer makes me sound somewhat pathological. What kind of person doesn’t want to nurture a sweet little child? Me. I’m that person.

The last time a therapist asked me the dreaded question, I was sick enough of the whole charade to answer with some sort of honesty. ‘I hate that girl. That girl is evil. I want to starve her and torture her and make her disappear.’ Insert look of horror from therapist here. ‘Little Amber? Picture 4 or 5 year old little Amber. You’d hurt that innocent little girl?’ Yes. Yes I would. First of all, I hate, hate HATE the phrase ‘Little Amber’. I want to obliterate ‘Little Amber’. The term itself makes my skin crawl. Second, that ‘little girl’ wasn’t so innocent. Third, I have so much disgust for that girl that I don’t want to acknowledge she even existed.

I don’t like kids in general. Not as in, ‘I’m not really the mommy type’ (which, as a side note, I most definitely am not). No, I look at most children and see something small, dirty and needy – oh so needy. I look at children and berate myself for ever having been one, as if there were any other alternatives. The thought of anyone bathing me, taking care of me, touching me, or talking to me with those damn cooing noises sends feelings of absolute revulsion though my body. I wish more than anything that I could erase that vulnerable, chubby, disgusting, naked child - and anything to do with her.

So, anyone need a babysitter?!

I do actually have a couple friends with kids whom I’ve grown fairly fond of. Mostly because I can see the joy they bring those friends. I’m not completely cold hearted (and for the record, would never ever hurt a child). But I’m also fairly certain this isn’t a ‘normal’ response. I hope for the sake of all the kids out there that this isn’t a normal response!

Therapists over the course of time have asked me, ‘What happened to that child?…Who hurt that little child?’ Once I get over the initial internal cringing at the reference to me being 'that child', I get frustrated. I get frustrated at the calm, soothing tone. I get frustrated because I don’t want to be coddled or treated like I’m weak or sensitive - I just want somebody to understand…I want somebody to ‘get it’. I’ve built up walls around that despicable child and then dug a mote just to be safe. I don’t want anyone knowing that part of me ever existed. I don’t want to have needed anyone or anything. But apparently that’s not serving me so well in my current life.

I want to know that someday maybe I’ll be able to lower my walls just enough to let someone in…that I won’t be forever trapped alone in a place that no one can get to. I want to know (and believe) that I’m allowed to need, and even more so, to want things like food, or water, or sleep - and to know that wanting those things doesn’t make me a horrible or weak person. I want to know (and believe) that it’s okay to want to feel cared for by others. I want to know that someday I might be okay with being just a little bit vulnerable.

November 04, 2011

Identity Crisis

Identity…Who Am I? Does anyone ever really know the answer to that question? I’ve spent so many painful years working on recovery and still I find myself dragging my heels – holding on with all my might to the very thing that has taken everything from me. Why? I’ve matured…I have better insight now…I want more. So why the hell do I hold on? Identity. I have no idea who I am without my eating disorder.

I’ve always felt different. That’s how my eating disorder started in the first place. I was nine. I was at a camp states away from home. I sat in the University cafeteria with my teammates who were laughing and talking about boys, and things I just couldn’t relate to. I didn’t fit in…I never had. I came up with my own little game to keep myself occupied - How long can I go without eating? It was mine and mine alone. I had a secret that made me feel special. I didn’t need anyone else.

I’ve heard it said that people with eating disorders stop maturing socially at the age their eating disorder begins. I don’t know how much truth there is to that statement, but for me it seems about right. I’ve matured in many other ways, but socially I still feel like that awkward little girl who never fit in. I don’t know where I belong. I socialize quite well on a surface level. In business or work settings I’m confident and outgoing, but amidst groups of people my own age I feel like a misfit. My life experiences are quite different than most people my age. I’ve grown to accept and respect that about myself and in many ways am okay with it, but when I’m around others who have had ‘normal’ or ‘traditional’ experiences I feel lost and alone. I’m 33 now, and I still don’t know where I fit in.

For years…and years…and years I’ve held onto my eating disorder like a life preserver because it’s one of the very few things that makes me feel whole. It’s like a consolation prize. I have it to cling to when I feel out of place everywhere else. So much of me wants to get rid of it, except that I don’t know who I am without it. I’m a hard worker. I know that. But that’s not enough for me. I can (and often do) work 18 hours a day, but at the end of the day I go home, alone, and don’t know who I am or what I stand for. The eating disorder…the counting of calories…the exercise…the spreadsheets…the obsession gets me through the nights. How do you just let go of who you are?

In my all or nothing thinking I keep trying to find that one perfect mold that I fit into. But that one perfect mold just doesn’t exist. When I moved to Utah I came really close to joining the LDS church. My beliefs never aligned with the church…at all…but I kept thinking that I could change who I was to fit in with a group of people. They made me feel like I belonged. I think part of me was attracted to the church because it was one of the few places where I felt like I wasn’t a misfit for not wanting to have sex. Except that as it turns out, most people I met in the church couldn’t wait to get married so they COULD have sex. Lots of sex, and lots of babies. Epic fail on my part! Ironically, it was my Mormon therapist who talked me out of joining the church – about a week before my baptism date. I didn’t see it at the time, but he was right. I was joining for the wrong reasons. I’m not the slightest bit conservative…and I don’t want to be. It’s not who I am.

My latest obsession has been veganism. I’ve basically been a vegetarian since I left for college at the age of 17, minus a year when I ate turkey lunch meat on occasion, and of course my stays at CFC where I lost the battle to my dietitian after she upped the ante to 3x the calories in Boost. I could only hold my ground for so long! But recently I’ve made the transition to veganism. It really isn’t that big of a switch for me as I never really ate eggs and prefer soy milk anyway. But I get caught up in the details and the labels. I find myself stressing about the disclaimer on my box of granola bars…‘May contain trace amounts of milk’. It’s not made with milk, but manufactured on a machine with OTHER PRODUCTS that do contain milk. Is that okay? Is that ‘legal’? I have a few pairs of leather shoes that I’ve owned for a while now. Do I have to throw them away…because I kinda need them for work & don’t have money to replace them right now. I pretty much only buy ‘not tested on animal’ products, but I’ve tried natural fabric softeners and can’t find one I like so I went back to ‘Snuggle’. What if it’s not animal friendly? What then? Am I not a ‘real’ vegan? WHY THE HELL DO I CARE??? It’s a label. It’s a fucking label.

Why do I care if the fabric softener I buy pushes me over that vegan/non-vegan line? In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. Except…to me it does matter. It matters because I’m grasping at straws trying to find something…anything to cling onto. I’m trying desperately to find something outside of an eating disorder to identify with…something that’s mine…that’s me…that I can say, ‘this is who I am – this is what I stand for.’ I’m looking in all the wrong places. Logically I know that. I’ll never find myself in any one thing. But that young girl inside of me is still trying so hard to fit in somewhere…anywhere.

Last week in my ‘taboo topic’ post I wrote about being unsure of my sexual identity (or lack thereof). I threw out the word ‘asexual’ lightheartedly, without giving a lot of thought to it. But then I received a few comments directing me to articles & websites addressing asexuality. What I found shocked me – there are other people out there with the same feelings as me. I found this in one of the articles I read…

‘In a world where sex and relationships are everywhere, life for someone who has no instinct for those things can be very isolating, lonely and distressing…Many asexuals feel “broken” because they do not experience the same wants and desires as “everybody else”. Many asexuals are haunted by feelings of shame and face harassment from peers because they don’t fit in. Many asexuals lead unhappy lives by trying to be “normal”.'

Wow. Is that why I’ve felt different from everyone my whole life? Is that what started this whole mess that became a self-fulfilling prophecy? The not fitting in, so isolating myself with my eating disorder, which really made me not fit in, and on and on and on. But the question still remains, outside of all these things, who am I?