I need to revise/clarify my last post, because I now realize it was, frankly, insulting to a lot of people (including my best friend).
What I tried to convey but failed:
I used the wrong word in "prevented." (I'm frequently guilty of using poor/incorrect word choices. And I hate that.) I don't think eating disorders can be prevented. They're a deeply psychological disease, one that we can't fix by happy thinking or "just eating" or envisioning jolly vegetables growing in gardens. I thought I had expressed that, but I hadn't.
Rather, I do wonder if, in addition to group and individual therapy/medication/lots and lots of time/lots and lots of tears/lots and lots of support/etc., participating in the growing and creating of food had been involved in my treatment it might have, I don't know, made a difference? I'm finding more joy in growing and cooking and eating now, but perhaps that's only because I've had a lot of time and treatment and this wouldn't have made a difference two years ago.
And I still struggle. I still engage in unhealthy eating disorder behaviors. Sure, it's far less frequently than it once was, but it still happens. But I'm hoping as I'm eating cleaner, learning about growing seasonally and buying locally, I'll move farther and farther away from those bad behaviors. Perhaps it's wishful thinking. I don't know.
What I know is: I think a lot of my post yesterday came out of a desperation to spare myself and others the pain of struggling with food demons. From the panic that comes from eating anything and the relief that a porcelain toilet bowl can bring. For living all-consumed by trying not to eat or trying to eat or just trying to pretend food doesn't exist. I was grasping at straws, trying to find some kind of answer.
But as I sit here and think, I know there's not an answer. There's not a quick fix. And there's certainly no one thing that will work to help everybody. (Even though I believe almost anyone who has eating disorder-related behaviors would benefit from counseling/therapy and possibly medications.)
I hope all this makes sense. I apologize if I trivialized the pain anyone's gone through by suggesting they could've done something different to prevent it. It wasn't my intention.
Also — please know that if you're struggling with food-related problems, there are ways to get help. There are online support groups, too. I'm happy to pass any resources I can along. My email is listed on the right side of the blog.
I've had this nagging thought sliding around in my head the past few weeks: what if I could've prevented my eating disorder?
Hear me out, now — I know it wasn't a choice, per se, to succumb to these years of battling food demons. There are wires in my brain criss-crossed enough that I think I'll always struggle with compulsive eating. But hear me out.
I've been reading Barbara Kingsolver's luscious book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle as we've been watching our own garden grow. Let's just say it's been like a weed (a glorious, wonderful weed) that's planted itself deep inside my head and won't leave. My thoughts are consumed with buying locally and seasonally — embarking on weekly trips to the farmer's market instead of the big-box grocery chain, and buying what's available there, and not much else.
We're lucky that our local markets supply dairy, eggs, and meat alongside all manner of seasonal produce. I was able to pick up fresh cow's milk yogurt last week, a radical change from my Chobani or Fage once-a-day Greek habit. We came home with multicolored Swiss chard, kale, and bulbs of bok choi to go along with the 21 pounds (!) of fresh strawberries we'd picked that morning at a local U-Pick-Em. Those greens, and the leftover carrots I had in the fridge already, became the staples of my diet this week — alongside strawberries at every meal and organic almond butter slathered on Cait's homemade bread. (We bought the almond butter, but are looking forward to making it ourselves as soon as we can find an almond supplier.) It's been lovely, really.
The past few weeks of veggie-heaven have forced me to contend with my kitchen fears. See, I hate to cook. I hate it. I'm bad at it, and I'm scared of it. But I'm also tired of eating raw veggies all. the. time. and am looking for more creative ways to jazz them up. So I've set goals to cook at least one new recipe a week centered around whatever vegetables are at the market. I'm being more deliberate with food, and I'm happier about it.
For so long, I remember pleading with the universe to take away my hunger pangs. To somehow bless me with the ability to not need to eat, because the idea of eating multiple meals per day every single day was just entirely too much to handle. Calorie-counting. Obsessing over fat grams. Never eating enough so that the compulsive binges inevitably followed. Purging. Starting all over again a few hours later.
But something about the idea of seeing our tomato plants growing taller, our lettuce filling out (we can pick and eat some now!), and the first little green pepper on one of our pepper plants has filled me with enormous pride. I'm taking ownership over food and eating, for the first time in I don't know how long. Actively working to grow or seek out local, seasonal foods is both blowing and changing my mind in one fell swoop. And it feels so good.
So I wonder: what if we involve our kids in this kind of thing from day one? If I make the effort to have my own garden, to celebrate the food that grows in it, to support other local farms by buying their yogurt or milk, to consciously cook meals that mean something to the food that goes into them...will my children perhaps be spared seeing their mother's awfully unhealthy relationship with food? Will my daughters (and my sons) be spared stressing and hating food like I did?
I'm not naive enough to think that this would've been the fix-all for everything. But I do wonder: how can more conscious eating make us all healthier people, both nutritionally and emotionally?
One thing I do know: I'm enjoying eating more than ever.
Lord knows I have no green thumb. I think I've killed every plant I've ever owned, including Mimblulus Mimbletonia, the ivy Cait gave me. When I expressed some hesitance about accepting it, she said "COME ON, you CANNOT kill an ivy. It's, like, DIFFICULT to kill an ivy."
I killed the ivy.
I didn't mean to! I really didn't! I watered it faithfully (maybe too faithfully?) and sang to it and sent love into it and meditated over it and did all the other things Good Plant Owners are supposed to do. But still, little Mimby died a sad, slow death.
Hey. I can keep kids alive. I can keep cats alive. Hell, I can keep FISH alive. Remember Severus? He survived the three-hour trek from Boston to New Haven in a UHaul, for pete's sake. But bless my heart, flowers wilt in my presence.
Which is why the idea of starting a vegetable garden in our neighbor's beds across the street reeeeeally freaked me out. Because remember! I kill plants! All of them! I'm not allowed in arboretums anymore!
We did it anyway, though, cause the thought of fresh-picked tomatoes warm from the sun just makes my mouth water like nobody's business. So then this happened:
Bok choi, cherry tomatoes, lettuce, two kinds of heirloom tomatoes, two kinds of kale, three kinds of sweet peppers, cilantro, rosemary, basil, oregano, lemon balm, and mint. Planted. In the ground. Done. Wham-bam-thank you ma'am.
Luckily Cait has some garden knowledge and our neighbor (whose beds we're using) is an expert. So maybe, if I tiptoe softly 'round the beds and read them lines from Emily Dickinson's "Nature, The Gentlest Mother" and only handle them under direct supervision, these plant babies will have a chance in life.
Twice last week I came home from work, beelined for the bathtub, climbed in — shoes and all — and let the water wash the sandbox out of my flats. Those were two very good days.
It seems like mid-April is marking the beginnings of spring around here — tiny buds on the trees, green shoots sticking out of the ground, and one morning spent planting tiny peas in the ground with Cait, chanting, "Grow, peas, grow!" while we dug and sewed and buried. The middle of April. Welcome, spring, we have missed you something fierce.
Warmer weather means we get to stay outside longer with the kids (hooray!). Warmer weather means phasing out of the boots-snowpants-gloves-jacket-hat routine for every. single. child. before every. single. time. outside. Warmer weather means sunshine and sandals and short sleeves and oh, sweet jeebus, LET IT BE 90 DEGREES NOW!
It's been a very long winter.
With this spring coming, I feel like I'm stretching out my mind and body in this still-new place, hearing my joints crackle and pop as I continue to settle into New Haven. I ordered new lavender curtains for my bedroom this morning in an ongoing attempt to make my room more me, and exchanged my flannel bedsheets for cotton. I'm going to school and going to work, occasionally going on dates and going out with friends. I'm settling, here, and it feels pretty good.
So, is this adulthood?
I turned 24 a little over a month ago. That's a number that a younger me thought of as ADULT. That blows my mind. Frequently. My younger self had a million and one plans that I wanted to have accomplished by age 24 — namely, having forsaken college in favor of marrying young and popping out babies. And while I sometimes (frequently) wish that had been the path I somehow would've taken, I didn't, and there's no use dwelling on it.
Instead, I am here, one degree under my belt and another about to be started — I'll apply for nursing school this fall. With fingers crossed and lots of luck, I'll have my RN in 2016. I've got no babies of my own, but I've got a slew of gorgeous little ones on whom I get to lavish love, affection, and occasional (well, frequent) redirection every day. I don't have a spouse, but I have an incredible network of friends who buoy me and give me rides when my car breaks down and who come over late at night when I'm alone and sad, just to talk. I am truly lucky.
It may not look like what I had planned. But if this is adulthood, then I'll take it. Here's to a continued spring — of warmer weather, happier days, and lots and lots of sandcastles.
It seems that two phrases keep popping up everywhere following Friday's massacre — gun control, and mental illness. Across the country, people are demanding we examine our gun laws (yes! we must!) and pleading for some sort of something to help those who are mentally ill.
A lot has been made of the gunman's mental status. That's the way it usually is following these mass tragedies we humans inflict upon one another. In our hurt, scared minds, we try desperately to figure out WHY a person could do such a thing. He must be mentally ill, we say. There's got to be something wrong with him.
I'm not arguing with that. Actually, I strongly believe that any person who purposefully harms another creature (human, animal, whatever) has something wrong in his or her brain, regardless of whether or not that person has a diagnosis.
What makes me sad is that the only times we really bring up the topic of mental illness on a national scale is most often following a tragedy. Yes, that's absolutely a good time to talk about it, because honestly? The system we have in our country to assist people with mental illnesses is shitty, underfunded, and inherently stigmatized. We DO need to change these things.
But these things only shed light on the relatively small percentage of people with mental illnesses who commit large acts of terror. We talk of destigmatizing the name of mental illness, and encouraging people to seek help if they need it. But by continuing to only show examples of the sickest among us who do terrible things as poster children of mental illness, we are contributing to said stigma.
Mental illness comes in a range of symptoms, behaviors, and diagnoses. People like the gunman are on a very, very sick, extreme part of that spectrum, and they certainly do not represent everyone with diagnoses of schizophrenia, or manic depression, or severe anxiety disorders. There are hundreds of thousands of people with various diagnoses of mental illnesses who walk among us and function well in every day society.
Who are those people? Well, me, for starters. My diagnoses of anxiety, depression, and bulimia land me squarely in the "mental illness" category. And my best friend. What about you? Your friends? Your co-workers?
I vote that we begin the discussion of destigmatizing and overhauling the mental health system in our country by highlighting people who have been helped by medication and therapy and other forms of treatment. People who are just as sick as a gunman, but who by the grace of god have had access to care and support and who are able to live relatively stable lives. The Bloggess comes to mind. (You guys know how much I respect and am grateful for her presence on the internet.)
If we highlight the good that can come from treatment, and the glorious, beautiful lives people can lead (again, I'm thinking of The Bloggess) with their mental illnesses, perhaps then we can start to remove the stigma. We can change how we equate people with mental illnesses = GUNMAN to people with mental illnesses = JENNY LAWSON (The Bloggess. Because who else would I talk about). Or people with mental illnesses = other cool awesome people who lead pretty fucking amazing lives with/despite/because of/in spite of their diagnoses. Because that means that a diagnosis is nothing to shy away from, and if we're not ashamed of saying we have mental illnesses it's a hell of a lot easier for us to accept treatment.
I'm not one for math, but that seems pretty simple, right? Now. Let's start talking.
Note: I am purposefully not using the gunman's name. He does not deserve that attention. If we remember any names from this awful situation, let it be those of the victims and their families.
Yesterday, getting the children to sleep at naptime was a breeze. One teacher led our class of twelve two-year-olds in a few deep breaths to ready their bodies for rest, and the other two of us helped get the children settled on their little cots. Blankets pulled up to chins, loveys tucked into chubby arms.
A few of our children can put themselves to sleep on their cots. The rest need some help -- which means we teachers move from cot to cot, patting backs and soothing them while soft music plays in the background. We usually have a few children who are more difficult to get to sleep than others, but for some reason, yesterday was blessedly easy.
At 1 o'clock, I went next door into the toddlers classroom so that the toddler teachers could go on their breaks. Seven peaceful toddlers (miraculously) slept on their cots, so I sat down to check my phone. At that moment, our director walked into the classroom. She was white as a sheet, and reached out to hug me immediately.
"Something awful has happened," she said. "I need to come hug everybody."
She proceeded to tell me about the soul-crushing events that happened just a few hours earlier in Newtown, a small city about 45 minutes from our little school.
I was in shock. She went to tell the other teachers, and I frantically googled for information on my phone. One of the toddlers woke up, and I immediately picked her up and held her to me. Normally, if a child wakes up early from nap, we try to pat them back to sleep on their cots. Not yesterday. I gathered her in my arms and rocked her back and forth. Then I went from cot to cot, hugging and kissing each sleeping child, knowing their parents were likely aching to do the same.
The rest of naptime was a blur. I sat and held the little girl, and my mind raced -- this happened 45 short minutes from us. That school required people to be "buzzed" in, and so does ours. Someone had to let that gunman into that school. Can you imagine being that person?
I also was acutely (and perhaps irrationally) aware that these instances sometimes inspire copycat actions. I looked at the seven kids I was currently responsible for, and I looked at our little classroom with its multiple large windows and three glass doors, and I tried to think what I'd do if something happened at my school. Where would I hide those babies? How would I be able to move them all to a safe place?
We teachers received a flurry of emails yesterday about our emergency protocol procedures. I know we'll be having meetings next week to discuss this as well. I (and my fellow staff, I'm sure) am acutely aware that my first priority is the well-being of the children in my care. I would do anything, including give up my life, to save them.
But in a more immediate sense yesterday afternoon, as it pushed toward 2pm and kids were waking up from nap, we all had to set aside our emotions and keep the afternoon "normal" for the children. One by one, their little heads popped up on their cots, and they'd grin when they saw us. Thank god, thank god, our kids wouldn't know anything about what happened just 45 minutes from us. To them, it was a Friday afternoon at school, and they were safe and they were loved. So loved.
The rest of the day passed quickly. Parents were emotional at pick-up, and I was so glad to pass children along to their parents' outstretched arms. I know the 20 parents who weren't able to bring their children home yesterday were on everybody's minds. In our small school alone, there were three families who had friends or loved ones affected at Sandy Hook Elementary.
We cannot let this happen again.
Please, let this horrific event be a catalyst for change in this country. Please do not let those 20 children and six teachers have died in vain. Please, let's stop being intimidated by the NRA and actually do something with gun control. Please.
I feel like I need to take my blog out on a date — a reconnecting, catching up, getting-to-re-know-you kind of date. Maybe I should even offer to buy it a makeover, since it always patiently waits for me to come back to it and let's face it, T(O)ND could use a facelift. Except hi, I haz no monies. So, blog...have a virtual glass of merlot on me, okay? Let's catch up.
This post-grad life is a weird existence. Everything in my younger life was geared toward getting me to college, even if I didn't want to go. (Remember that phase in my life, mom and dad?) That was the goal. Gimme a diploma on my wall and I've made it in life.
But now I have my diploma (though it's not on my wall. I think it's in storage somewhere. Maybe in the basement?), and I've got a neat check mark in the box labeled "bachelor's degree" on my life list. Now what?
If I'm completely honest, right now I want nothing more than to be a wife and a mother. I'm 23 — nearly 24, egads — and I ache to be settled down with (a) baby(ies) on my hip(s). I don't want to be plugging away at more school, trying to achieve a more advanced degree. Not right now, at least. I'd rather be raising babies.
I always feel somewhat embarrassed when I tell people that. Yes, I want to become a midwife, someday. I can do that at any point in life. But right now I truly have no career ambitions, no drive to the finish line of another degree. I've finished college, so isn't it time for a family?
I wrote this back in February, and it's still what I want more than about anything in this world. I'm still yearning and eager to have a little village of my own. But that's not in the cards for me right now. Not with the pitiful salary I'm earning at a nursery school, at least!
Sometimes I get so overwhelmed with the amount of schooling I have left to do to become a midwife. And sometimes I get so sad thinking I'm no closer to settling down and having children than I was five years ago. It's difficult, trying to tame this wild desire to become a mother with the knowledge that it'd be nothing short of selfish to start a family right now. I'm not financially, emotionally, or physically in a position to do that.
So where does that leave me now? It leaves me in a weird limbo state, with one life goal checked off and a whole lot more work to do before another gets finished. It leaves me trying to focus on the joys of the every day: seeing the kids' faces at work when teachers wore pajamas to school, the Christmas tree we have in our living room, the gigantic new wooden drying rack Cait's mom gave us, the wonderful friends I've made in my coworkers, the boy in Boston who makes me smile, living with my best friend despite our ups and downs, a therapist who I'm pretty sure the universe handpicked just for me, and the underlying feeling of hope that I can usually seek out when I need it.
That's a whole lot of good, right there.
I'm pretty sure the only way to get through this limbo state is just to live through it. I know I'm certainly not alone in it. I trust whoever overlooks us all on this path of life will lead me to children of my own, however that happens. And in that same way, I trust that this new schooling I'm doing now and this job I'm working at will sustain and even nourish me until then.
So. I may not know what the hell I'm doing most of the time, but what I do know is that I'm just going to keep going.