When we started this blog for the documentary, I promised myself I would never go more than two weeks without posting. I also promised myself that I would never start a blog post with something lame and apologetic like, “Hey, sorry I haven’t posted in like, forever…” But if I look back on my history of broken promises I’ll see many a sincere coulda-shoulda-woulda littering my life’s highway like so many pop cans and Coolio CD’s. Truth be told, it’s not that I haven’t wanted to write, I just couldn’t. My normally low blood pressure has nose-dived in the last few weeks which means that in addition to chronic pain, I’m practically comatose, wandering through my days in a dizzy, headachey fog of fatigue and dimness. I’m just not very bright right now, literally and figuratively. There’s also another reason…
This time of year is historically difficult for me emotionally so I decided to get involved with V-Day because it’s an amazing cause* and because I wanted to focus on something other than myself. February 14th is the 28th anniversary of the day we buried my dad, it’s also the 15th Anniversary of the Vagina Monologues and will be celebrated worldwide with an event called One Billion Rising. It also happens that this week is Mental Health Awareness week, so I thought I’d share a little insight into my struggle with depression and how I’ve learned to cope. I should have done this on the 12th to coincide with ‘Let’s Talk’ day, but as always, I’m a little late to the party. In fact, any party I go to had better be in the middle of the day as lately I tend to nod off right in the middle of Double Jeopardy.
I’ve told you before about how I was the skinny kid. What I didn’t mention was why I was the skinny kid.
I’d always been the class joker but inside I was a pretty somber kid, always secretly fretting about something and when my dad died it got worse. After that I constantly worried that I was going to lose everyone that I loved. I became severely depressed and I stopped eating. I didn’t have an eating disorder. I didn’t think I was fat. I didn’t see another person when I looked in the mirror, I still saw me and I knew I was skinny but I just had no appetite. No one noticed because I was skinny to begin with so this went on for years. I became a master at keeping my sadness hidden. I worked in bars and pretended to be happy and fun-loving every night hoping that eventually I might one day get to stop pretending. I was working sixty hour weeks in three different bars just so I wouldn’t have to be alone with my thoughts. I figured if I was around alcoholics and assholes my life wouldn’t seem so bad. And my life wasn’t bad, and that made my depression worse because I had absolutely nothing to be depressed about and I felt like a selfish whiner. When I finally saw a doctor I learned the catch-22 about depression - you don’t have to have anything to be depressed about to be depressed.
When I started taking SSRI’s I got my hunger back, but it was short-lived, and I was more interested in cognitive behavior therapy than being dependent on meds to even me out so I slowly weaned myself off. I started writing again, more seriously than I had in years, and that helped but only in spurts. I went back to school and struggled to balance it with working in bars til 3am so I self-medicated with pot to get sleep and to not be so grumpy when I had to be at a 9am class. I drank coffee constantly and smoked a lot of cigarettes. I weighed about 110 pounds. Then I met Nick and it was like a switch got flipped. When I found Nick I found my home. I knew where I was supposed to be and everything made sense. I was happy. For the first time in a long time I was genuinely happy. And hungry! I ate like I’d been starving for years, which in fact, I was.
Within a year I was up to 170 pounds. Funny thing is, I didn’t even notice. I went from a size zero to a size fourteen but it never really clicked. If I went shopping and a size didn’t fit I’d size up, no big deal. I looked in the mirror and I didn’t see any difference. I still thought I looked good. Nick didn’t seem to mind either. It wasn’t until I saw a picture of myself that I saw just how unhealthy I’d become. Gone were the days when I could say, “Oh I can eat whatever I want and not gain an ounce”. I wasn’t yet thirty but I realized that if I didn’t take care of the situation immediately it would only get harder as I got older. The days of eating greasy 4am breakfasts and calling a ten hour shift ‘exercise’ were over. I became a gym rat and a food nazi. I dropped the weight pretty fast but hit a plateau at that last ten pounds. My goal weight was 130 pounds which is on the skinny side for my 5 foot 8 inch frame but it wasn’t enough. I wanted to look like I looked when I was twenty-one and could flip coins off my abs. This required drastic action. I cut out carbs, sugar, most dairy and I worked out twice a day. I was driving everyone around me crazy just so I could look a certain way, a way I was convinced would lead to assured nirvana. I got close too. Then I fell down the effing stairs.
I won’t get into details about the spinal fracture or recovery, I’ve written about it here before. What I didn’t divulge was my renewed desire to prove to everyone that I was fine. Two weeks before getting out of my back brace I was cleared to go back to the gym where I speed walked on the treadmill like a maniac, trying to make up for lost time. Two weeks after getting out of the brace I was hoisting cases of beer on my shoulder at my BFF’s co-ed baby shower telling people, “don’t worry, I got this.” My gym routine consisted of hour and a half workouts six days a week. Was I in pain? Sweet chocolate Christ, yes! But my reasoning was that if I was going to be in pain whether I worked out or not, then I’d rather be in pain having pushed myself to my physical limits. You’re probably thinking I must be one of those people that is addicted to the gym and just loves that rush of endorphins after a brutal workout. I’m not. I hated it. I never enjoyed working out. I dreaded it. I never got a rush. Not once. After working out I was exhausted and broken. It felt like punishment. The only thing I enjoyed was the results, and even then I could only admire myself in the mirror long enough to pick out another flaw to add to the gym to-do list.
When we moved and I no longer had a gym across the street, I decided to take a break from working out and my body was thankful. I came to learn that I had done a lot of damage by trying to work out like I had prior to my accident. My vanity was killing me slowly and painfully. When I was 170 pounds I was happy. When I was 110 pounds I was miserable. For me, food is something I enjoy when I’m in a good place. When I’m unhappy I can’t taste anything, I have no hunger, no desire to feed myself anything but negativity and grape popsicles. When I think back about how hard I tried to lose weight I didn’t really need to lose, I remember being resentful, like I knew that I was playing into some patriarchal ideal of the ‘perfect woman’. The standards set by the fashion industry and the media were unrealistic for me but I went along with them regardless, when instead I should have been setting my own standards. As soon as I let go of trying to lose the last ten pounds it felt like I’d been released from a metaphorical radiator I’d chained myself to in the basement of my psyche. And man, it stank down there.
Now I eat healthfully, my exercise is a daily, zen-like two hour walk with my beautiful dog and I have started doing yoga again – yin with four arthritic senior ladies at the Plant – and I spend more time doing things I want to do. I do things that are good for my emotional well-being. By getting involved in V-Day I’ve learned so much about how far we still have to go as a society in our treatment of women. – and by turning my focus outward it’s given me an incredible boost. I haven’t bought a fashion magazine in over a year. I wear what I think looks good, not what someone I don’t know has decided is in style. I’m on the chubby side of 150 pounds and snack without guilt because damn, gluten-free waffles with raspberry jam are good! Sometimes I see a third chin or a muffin top in the mirror and I get a twinge of ‘ugh’ but I know the physical and emotional cost of trying to achieve an unrealistic result just isn’t healthy for me. Recently a study came out that said people who are a little plump live longer, most likely because they’re happier with themselves. I suppose I could die a little younger, not eat the cupcakes and be miserable but hot in a bikini, but I’d rather live a little longer and cheerfully in Spanx with one hand on my generous hip and the other in a bowl of Smartfood.
*Come see the Vagina Monologues at the Bronson Centre on March 8 & 9! Ticket info here: http://thevaginamonologuesottawa-es2002.eventbrite.ca/?rank=2#