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Today’s Special: Virtue with a Heaping Spoonful of Self-loathing March 29, 2008

Posted by Jae in Body Image, Fat, Jobz.
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2 comments

So our healthy lunch program has begun, and it is…awkward. I decided that since I couldn’t stop the program, I would just personally avoid it, but that’s pretty much impossible to do because there are always questions from coworkers about who tried the food and who didn’t, who liked it and who didn’t, and the slightly judgmental why that comes along with taking no part in it.

Truthfully, I’m not finding it that hard to deal with, but a year or two ago I would have found it excruciating. I have never been good with eating in public; in fact there was a time when I could barely manage it. I feared, as I suspect many eating-disordered people do, that I was being judged for what I ate, that people were looking at my plate and tallying calories to decide if I was virtuous or a total pig. And in some way this is true; I don’t know a single soul who hasn’t had someone, sometimes a friend, sometimes a relative, other times a total stranger, comment on what they were eating.

For me, these comments definitely left their mark. When I was in high school I went on a field trip with my English class; a couple of my traveling companions were guys I had known for a couple of years. As we sat in the grass in the park enjoying our lunch, one boy, who I was starting to fall for, remarked that my turkey sandwich was the first thing he had ever seen me eat. I (sadly) how proud I felt in that moment (even though they in no way expressed admiration for my food-avoiding skills). They noticed how little I seemed to need food! I was a worthy girl-type human being! I can also remember comment that came from my grandfather, the sweetest man to ever live. He remarked that I seemed to be eating more at dinner one night and I stopped fork in midair and didn’t eat another bite. In retrospect, I can only imagine how bad I made him feel. My grandfather believed in food; happiness for him was taking people out to dinner. Here he was, happy to see me eating, and there I was paralyzed by the voice in my head screaming “PIG!!!!”

Even though I’m a hundred miles away from those moments, I doubt I’ll ever forget them or the feelings they inspired. So having the girl who sits across the room want to know why I didn’t eat a pasty plate of pasta with cardboardy meatballs can be extra unpleasant for me; I still feel a little like I’m being accused of something.

But the more I hear the questions, the more I realize that they aren’t really questioning me; they are questioning themselves. Just the other day we were sitting down to lunch when one of my coworkers passed by on her way to the gym, lamenting the fact that she had to go to the gym instead of eating lunch. It wasn’t that she wanted us all to drop what we were doing and join her on the treadmill, but that she wanted to drop what she was doing and have some diet chicken salad, but she wasn’t allowed. She had no choice (in her mind) but to spend her thirty-minute lunch running at the gym. Now, if she had been psyched about working out during lunch, there wouldn’t even be a need for discussion; she would have been doing what she wanted to. However, the longing look she gave us as she ran out the door told anyone watching exactly how much she wanted to go to the gym.

And it’s this same kind if thinking that fuels questions and comments about food choices. My coworker doesn’t really want to know why I think I’m too good for a diet lunch –she wants to know why she isn’t good enough for a real one. I only wish I knew how to tell her that she is, but somehow I doubt she would believe me.

Confession Time March 24, 2008

Posted by Jae in The Crazy.
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6 comments

For almost ten years, I have been living with a secret. Though there are people who know it, they never bring it up, never want to talk about it; even when they heard it for the first time, they had very little to say. It is the kind of thing that needs to be talked about, begs for it in fact, but at the same time it seems to stop all conversation. When I told my former best friend she was stunned and said she needed time to think; the next day she asked me never to bring it up again unless I really needed to. Another friend who shared my secret never wanted to talk about it either. Eventually, I stopped trying to talk about it with anyone.

But this month is Tell Someone Month, and so I decided that now might be a good time to break my silence: I am a cutter.

(Note: I don’t intend for this entry to be especially triggering, but if you feel you are very vulnerable, you might want to stop reading here.)

Wow; that was actually harder than I thought it would be. Truth be told, I never found it easy to call myself a cutter, or a self-injurer, or a self-harmer, or any of that; somehow I never thought my problem was real enough to deserve naming. Though I have had occasional relapses (my last was nearly seven months ago), I have been in recovery for the past three or so years. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I would ever get to a place where that was possible.

I had an accident the summer before my fourteenth birthday that left me with a bum knee and a constant sense of terror. The randomness of what happened terrified me; it might have been the first time I really realized that terrible things could happen that I couldn’t control. Suddenly everything about the world seemed frightening. I had always been shy, but I became crippled by fear of interacting with people (I was also still dealing with a very negative friendship, though I had not yet realized how much it had affected me). I also became terrified of injury and disease for the first time in my life; I was sure every headache was an aneurysm and every occasional flutter of my heart a sign of congestive heart failure. I also hated my body. For awhile, I ate compulsively, but eventually the pendulum swung the other way and I lived on one tiny meal a day.

It was right around Memorial Day that I injured myself for the first time. I don’t remember much about it; the only thing that sticks in my mind was that I had just had a fight with my parents. By the next year though, I was harming myself several times a week; sometimes it was almost daily. To this day, I’m not 100% sure what my reasons were for doing it. My best guess is simply that I was loaded with a lot of destructive feelings and I had no constructive way to release them; I didn’t feel close enough to most people to confide in them. I also was a stereotypical “good girl” type; I didn’t engage in any other after-school-special behavior. I didn’t smoke or drink. I didn’t sneak out to go to parties. I didn’t cut school. I was too insecure to consider sleeping around. I was the girl who got good grades and was home every, single, night of the week. Occasionally I went out with friends, but that was it. And when you’re sixteen and everything about the world frightens you so that you don’t even feel safe in your own mind, when you hate yourself and expect everyone else to hate you too, and you’re carrying a little more baggage than you can handle…something has to break. For me, harming myself was sort of a way to reign in the madness.

I wish I could tell you how I got over it, but I’m not sure exactly how it happened. Things changed. I changed. Just a few years ago, I was convinced that I was mentally ill…and maybe I was. The smart thing for me to do would have probably been to see a therapist, but I was afraid. Though I was more than willing to admit something was wrong with me, indeed I had a list of different diagnoses in my head whose criteria I felt I fit in one way or another, going to therapy was too proactive for me; the only way I could recover was to take it so slowly that I barely noticed it happening.

Often, a person who is totally unfamiliar with the concept of self-harm will look at it as a problem in and of itself, and it is for a number of reasons, but in most every case it is just a symptom of a larger problem. I was lucky; I got away from the dark cloud that followed me everywhere. I am no longer crippled by fears and insecurities. And I learned other ways to cope with stress and emotional pain. In the past three years any time I have given in to the urge to self-injure, it has felt empty and mostly pointless, kind of like calling up an old friend who you don’t really like anymore.

I thought that once self-harm was no longer a part of my everyday life anymore, there would be no need to tell this story to anyone. My scars are hidden from public view, and in fact they have mostly faded; there is no reason the truth can not go with them. Except that my truth may matter to someone else out there.

Self-harm typically goes on in silence, and even when people try to break that silence they might find, as I did, that it isn’t as easy as merely telling someone. The important thing though is to keep talking, keep trying to get the truth out, because creating a space where people can truly be honest about what’s going on in their heads, is the only hope we have of preventing people from harming themselves in the first place.

For anyone out there who would like more information some excellent resources can be found at Secret Shame, Selfinjury.org, and LifeSigns.

Carnie Wilson: I Will Be Thin Again! March 19, 2008

Posted by Jae in Stupid News.
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2 comments

Carnie Wilson’s is the first weight loss surgery I can really remember hearing about. I was about fourteen when she had it and knee deep in self-hatred. I remember feeling so jealous that she had the chance to do something that was “guaranteed” to work when I was stuck trying to skip meals without my parents noticing.

But, unsurprisingly, that guarantee wasn’t worth all that much and now Ms. Wilson has put some weight back on and she recently sat down with OK Magazine to produce one of the most disturbing interviews I’ve read in awhile.

Some highlights…

OK: How are you feeling?

Carnie: I’ve hit rock bottom with my weight. Everyone can see that I’m bigger, but I cannot hibernate. I’ve never lied or been dishonest about what’s going on in my life. Even all these years later, having had such a great weight-loss story, being back in this place is so familiar. And it hurts. I don’t want to feel this way anymore. It doesn’t feel good when you have to struggle to get your pants on.

(Emphasis mine.)

I agree, it doesn’t, but, not to have a state-the-obvious contest or anything, might she feel better right away if she bought pants that fit instead of torturing herself trying to squeeze into her old ones?

OK: How did you react to the recent pictures of yourself on celebrity Web site TMZ.com?

Carnie: I actually thought my face looked pretty. Sometimes I get mad and think, “Why do the paparazzi follow me?” And then I thought, “I don’t feel mad. I feel determined.” Somebody is struggling just the way I am. They’ve gained some weight back; they’re reverting to some old habits. They need a catalyst. Why do I have to be scrutinized for every pound? The truth is, I just want to be a good mom. I want to be healthy and not revert to food when I feel anxiety.

(Again, emphasis mine.)

Carnie asks an excellent question here: Why should she be scrutinized for every pound? Why should anyone? There seems to be a glimmer of understanding here that she is not defined by her weight, but at the same time she thinks that the pressure to be thin will help her to lose weight. Guess she hasn’t seen the news recently.

OK: What was your biggest diet downfall before gastric bypass surgery?

Carnie: Doughnuts. You don’t get to 300 pounds by eating diet pie. Ice cream. I would go through McDonalds drive-throughs and have a Big Mac, Super Size fries, a 20-piece Chicken McNuggets, a pie and a shake. That would be one meal for me — horrid! Now, if I start my morning out with a piece of toast, I’m doomed for the day. It’s like, give me carbs! Surgery or no surgery, I’ve gotten to know who I am with food and how my body reacts.

If I had to highlight something there, it would have been the whole quote. It included every, single, what-fat-people-eat stereotype you can think of from doughnuts to consuming half the items on the McDonald’s value menu in one sitting, and obviously she paints this kind of behavior in a negative light. However, eating a piece of toast? Also bad! No eating at all! That solves everything! *rolls eyes*

OK: What was life like after the surgery?

Carnie: In 2003, I was drinking heavily. Maybe I couldn’t handle feeling that great. I remember driving down Coldwater Canyon [in California] and thinking I could just turn this wheel and drive right off a cliff. In 2004, I reached a bad low and stopped drinking cold turkey. Thirteen days before I got pregnant, I got sober.

She felt so good, she started binge-drinking and thinking about suicide? It’s a good thing I didn’t actually try to get this surgery when I was fourteen; I don’t think I could’ve handled being that happy.

OK: Any regrets about having the gastric bypass?
Carnie: No, it was the best thing I ever did. If I didn’t have the surgery, I’d probably be dead My liver was enlarged; it was toxic. I had sleep apnea — I was waking up choking 10 times a night. My cholesterol and blood pressure were high. I was pre-diabetic and had circulation problems, slipped disks in my back, acne and chronic headaches. The surgery taught me to be accountable for what I put in my mouth. The truth is that the weight loss happened so fast that I couldn’t absorb it. Everyone was watching and there was so much pressure.

Because teh fat, unlike binge-drinking, makes your liver toxic. Not to mention that all the research on the subject says that fat is the most deadly thing there is. And it causes acne! And headaches!

And finally…

OK: Have you thought about just accepting yourself as a plus-sized woman?

Carnie: I don’t think I’m going to be healthy at this weight for long. I feel those extra 50 pounds. Plus, I’ve got a closet full of clothes that are size 8 that I would like to get back into again.

Obviously the answer to that question is no, but I especially like how she doesn’t address it directly. To me, lusting after a closet full of size-eights doesn’t sound as healthy as embracing the size sixteen body she already has, but who am I kidding? That’s crazy talk.

A Dog’s Life. March 19, 2008

Posted by Jae in The Cast.
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2 comments

Two weeks ago, I adopted a dog.  She is a lovely little girl who enjoys sleeping, eating, and long walks around the neighborhood.  She is smart, friendly, and housebroken.  My whole extended family is smitten with her, and I certainly could not love her more.

However, from the moment I got her home my Dad, who sometimes watches her during the day, has worried that she might get fat.

When we got her she was on the thin side, probably because she doesn’t care for dry food (and that’s what the shelter was giving her).  Since she’s joined my family though, she eats like a champ.  She eats according to the feeding guidelines, and though she gets a good amount of treats, she also gets pleanty of exercise.  The vet did not seem concerned about her weight; hell, you can easily feel her ribs.

Yet my father has brought up the what-if-she-gains-too-much-weight scenario multiple times.  I’ve tried to stay away from the topic, because quite frankly, I’m not ready to get into an argument with my father over HAES for dogs or the idea that perhaps she might not been predisposed to fat in spite of the fact that she is a food vacuum.

I know that my dad really isn’t trying to be a jerk about it, but it really is getting on my last nerve and it makes me wonder exactly what is really bothering him.  My father is a heavy guy, and has been as long as I’ve been alive, but every now and then he seems to feel his weight crosses a magical line and becomes unacceptable.  He starts talking about how he has to “lay off the cookies” and he reminisces about the days when he used to walk everywhere.  After awhile though, the talk stops until another unknown phenomenon causes him to start up again.

And it sounds a little crazy, but I think he might be projecting his issues on the dog.  She looks less scrawny then when I first got her, much more like a healthy, lively, dog, but in his mind she seems to be just one MilkBone away from unacceptably big.  And it makes me really sad for him, because while I know he will never stop loving her no matter what she looks like, it makes me wonder what he thinks of himself.

Sometimes it seems like no one is safe.