Saturday, December 22, 2012

16GB with the Happiness Display

As I walked around the store checking out the new Kindles and Nooks, comparing features and screens along with pricing, I felt my heart rate starting to increase. I was dazzled and confused. As I walked briskly between the two large displays, I caught a glimpse at a third display holding yet another Kindle. It was shining under a spot light and boasting a most impressive price tag, surely it must have been the holy grail of e-readers.  I ogled it, flipped through the ‘pages’ and pictured just how much better my life would be if I owned it. I would be happier, certainly.
I have a laptop (two actually but let’s just say one is my husband’s), a basic Kindle and a smart phone. My husband has an iPhone and iPad. We are always within reach of one or all of these things. My laptop has a permanent place on our dinette. Yet I found myself being pulled by the belief that having more or newer would equal better and happier.
via Pinterest
I sometimes get suckered into it all…the glossy ads and ‘best of’ suggestions sent to my inbox urging me to try the latest and greatest e-reader, vodka, cell phone, coffee, jeans, shampoo, mascara…ads designed to convince me that I am unhappy with what I already have but I just don’t know it yet. How could I be so delusional thinking my old mascara is good enough?
But then, I head to the store to buy my little package of happiness only to be confronted by 27 different mascaras. Do I want fuller lashes or longer lashes? Brown, brown-black, black, blackest-black…I’m overwhelmed and I no longer know what I want or even what I like…it’s paralyzing. I finally fold,  grab my precious, life fulfilling wand of magic, pay and as I head home the doubt creeps in…I probably should have gotten the waterproof one. I can’t be happy now.
Often, having too many choices leaves us wondering what we might be missing having not chosen the other. We can’t stay present long enough to enjoy what we have because we are wondering if the sandwich at that other restaurant would have tasted better than the one we got. We forget to be happy with what we have and that what we have is wonderful (be it our sandwich or spouse).

We end up cluttering our lives and minds leaving not a lot of room for contentment for that which we already possess (or even the freedom we have by not possessing so many things). It’s a difficult cycle to slow down, let alone stop. Seeking happiness isn’t the problem, thinking we can buy it or upgrade to it is. In case you're wondering, I didn't buy the Kindle and I'm pretty dang happy about that.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

What Doesn't {but almost} Kill Us...

My last blog post I wrote about my own experience with anorexia. I’ve often referred to this time as surreal, like a story I read or a movie I watched…completely detached, as if I was not the protagonist. I guess it’s sort of a defense mechanism on two fronts. One being the embarrassment of having allowed myself to almost die right in front of my parent’s eyes, with no ‘good reason’…a typical white girl from a typical middle-class family, starving herself to death for what?? Even I didn’t know.
My first full day in Charter North Inpatient Hospital (1987).
The second being my embarrassment over the fact that if you met me you would see there is no physical evidence of this illness. To hear me tell this story in the body I have now doesn’t compute…at least not in my head. It’s easy to disassociate myself because the dots just don’t connect. How could someone who ‘dieted’ from 125 pounds to less than 80 pounds in a matter of a few months now struggle to lose (and keep off) even 5 pounds?

What I have managed to hoard away are snippets of distorted eating and thinking…sneaking food, guarding my plate, trying to stretch calories, abhorring any discussion of my food while I’m eating, and a tendency to eat in a structured way (vegetarian, vegan, raw). Intellectually, I know that I still obsess about food, exercise and my weight. I often wonder if fluctuating between the extremes is really all that much better-as if eating half a bag of Doritos is really a healthy way of thumbing my nose at anorexia or dieting in general (only to later “pay for it” by a day of green smoothies, shakes or all veggies and no carbs).
For years now I’ve claimed to be completely recovered from anorexia, and looking at the scale that would be more than true. But, since part of this disorder is about everything except the weight I can see that I am not truly recovered…not completely.

Like a lot of people I know who battle with eating disorders ranging from bulimia to binge eating, healing the exterior doesn’t always mean the inside is fixed as well. In turning to my yoga mat and meditation I find the bandage being ripped off {again} and the pain being exposed. It hurts, it’s raw…and yes, it might seem easier on the surface to let it hide in the dark corners of mind. But I’m ready to heal…face the intermittent sadness and self-doubt (or hate or loathing) that is truly at the root of all of this.

I’m ready to own the illness that that almost killed me rather than pretend it happened to someone else. Twenty-five years of battling my mind and body is long enough.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My Anorexia Had Nothing to do with Photoshop

To be honest, I was never the type of girl to read Cosmo or worry about fashion. I was too busy reading every thing ever written by J.D. Salinger and Stephen King, riding horses and dreaming of competing at the Olympics. Most of my adolescences was spent as a working student at riding stables. My attire consisted of barn clothes for the most part. I cut my hair short since it spent countless hours under a riding helmet and it seemed rather pointless to fight a losing battle against hat-head. I was half tom-boy and half nerd, which was pretty suitable for an introvert like myself.
My horse, Elwood, and me in Redlands, CA. We won High Point that day in Dressage. This was a few months before I had to sell him and move to Alaska when I was 16 years old.
My older sister and I weren't particularly close at the time so I didn't really have anyone to show me the ropes regarding make up and hair or putting together cute outfits. I didn't have a boyfriend in school and therefore didn't attend any dances or social gatherings (did I mention I was a nerd...and an introvert). I also didn't have any weight issues, ate what I felt like eating and didn't do any extra exercises outside of the mandatory P.E. classes and working at the barn.
Me at 17 getting ready for Prom. This was taken after being treated for anorexia. I obviously had reverted to my old non-eating habits.
My experience with anorexia falls outside of what most of society thinks triggers such behavior and outside of what the anti-media community believes contributes to this illness (even though I watched plenty of T.V., looked through my mom's women's magazines and watched movies).  For me, anorexia was about control and later turned to self-punishment and then habit. I didn't want to be a model, I didn't feel the pressure to look a different way, and I honestly did not start off with a distorted body image...I was cognizant that I was "normal", maybe even fit. If anything anorexia was a way for me to rebel and be a non-conformist due to some major changes in my life (we moved from California to Alaska the summer before my senior year of high school). I think it's a dangerous assumption, especially for those directly affected by eating disorders, to view this as strictly a weight issue.Trying to convince the individual (or the world) that photoshopped pictures and under weight models are the root of this disease may totally miss the mark in an attempt to place the blame on 'some one else'.**
Tell me I should eat and I'll tell you I'm full. Tell me I'm too thin and I'll drop a few more pounds, not because I feel fat...but because I can, regardless of what you think. That was my mentality. When I was finally hospitalized (I was 16 years old, 5'4" and 84 pounds) and forced to take in calories, I found something else to water intake. Water has no calories and obviously would have no impact on my weight but I refused to drink it anyway...and often dumped it into the pillow I sat on to protect my bony body from bruising.
Admittedly, after several months of starving myself, I was terrified of gaining the weight back...terrified that I wouldn't be able to stop the weight gain. I clung to my old habits convinced it would provide a cushion for the inevitable weight gain that comes with age. But this was not the root cause of my illness. So, when it came to trying to win this battle and save my life, I was lost and confused. Most of the doctors I spoke with had little to no experience with anorexia and dealt more with drug abuse, teen alcoholism and the occasional schizophrenic. Assuming that I was only concerned with being thinner was the wrong approach. And while I did get a rush from watching the numbers on scale drop it was only because it meant I was the winner, the one in control.
What caused me to get help? I caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror...naked...from behind. It was the first time I just saw only an image and not me. What I saw reminded me of the pictures of concentration camp victims...hollowed out buttocks and a spine that was so bony it appeared to be outside of my skin. I was exhausted, scared and although I had often desired to just fall asleep and never wake up, I knew I didn't want to die after all. I asked to go into inpatient care some 350 miles away from my parents and school.

It was not an easy task to recover and it was necessary for me to relearn how to eat. I gained a lot of weight, not just because of my metabolism, but because I forgot how to eat and now knew what it was to 'diet'. Strangely enough, having never had a weight issue before, I soon succumbed to the classic yo-yo dieting, the latest and greatest dieting trends and a 20 year battle of dieting because I had starved myself and forgotten how to eat.
By taking control I really lost control. My body recovered but my mind still hasn't (at least not fully). I find I am more affected by the media now then I ever was when I became anorexic. Affected by the 'new science' behind weight-loss, green smoothies, paleo, the raw food movement, skinny rules, the thousands of diet books, inspirational Facebook posts and Pinterest images depicting the "perfect" body.
I became consumed by food rather than consuming food. It became so much more than fuel for my's the enemy and the comforter, the problem and the solution, the life giver and the life taker and (for many of us) it becomes our all-consuming identity. But in all's just food...calories that keep the living alive and healthy. Food is not meant to be a punishment or reward. It's not something we 'deserve' because we worked out hard or missed a meal the day before. It's sustenance...just like breathing in oxygen (ya know, we don't say we deserve a big ol' healthy inhalation because we've been 'good'). It's a function of nature.
I have an idea that a lot of us are more alike then maybe we imagined...the chronic dieters, the anorexic and the weight-loss maintainer. Our next meal (or lack there of) is always on our mind, calorie content flashes through our mind when we look at the bakery display and in the back of our minds (maybe just for a fleeting moment) we realize that food is dictating our lives instead of fueling our next adventure.
We eat or don't eat for control, we eat or don't eat to hide our emotions and eventually we eat or don't eat because we have forgotten how to feed ourselves. Yet we often prefer to remain in our own little group, unaware of how similar we are...that the overweight person who we view has no self-control is the farthest thing from us, the restrictors...the ones who can turn away even a leaf of lettuce for fear of weight gain. Conversely, the binger or maintainer can hardly fathom that someone who once weighed 84 pounds as an adult can contribute anything to a conversation regarding dieting or the hardships one encounters in maintaining a healthy weight. I think we could learn a lot from each other.
The body is miraculous. If left to it's own devises it figures out how to survive and maintain balance. But we interfere and throw a wrench in the gears. We break this symbiosis and then sometimes spend a lifetime trying to figure out how to fix it again. Just like a drug addict or tweaker...we take it apart, try to put it back together and, when that doesn't work, we go look for the next fix. Maybe one day I will actually learn to get out of my own way rather than buying yet another diet book.

**This is my own opinion based solely on my personal experience with anorexia 20 years ago. There is plenty of research out there to support or deny specific root causes to this illness. What I believe is that the mental illness comes before the pounds come off. Otherwise, everyone who reads Cosmo or looks through a Victoria's Secret catalogue or watches the 100's of movies or TV shows with thin actors and actresses would be anorexic too.
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