Why Do I Talk About An Eating Disorder I Don’t Have Anymore?

Somewhere, tonight, someone is hurting. I know because I have been her.

I have been the girl who will not answer the telephone, who walks through rooms without speaking. I have met insomnia and the noises night can make. I understand going for late night drives and lights shining on grass, the crippling fear of social functions where food is served, the failure to know what is hunger because it all feels terrible all the time.

It’s embarrassing, terrifying, and sometimes a freaking fucking relief to sit on a hospital bed when you are about to die because of your own actions. This was all so many years ago.

I have recovered from an eating disorder. I am not going to stop talking about it.

My life is gleefully full with other things, yes. The depression that narrowed my world and told me I could never be small enough is a shriveled snake skin that has blown thousands of miles behind me. Instead, I shimmer. The grueling hard work of recovery let me live, and so I’m living life in neon lights.

Because I am blessed with a life that is full, I could easily make the choice to not talk about these things. But I share my story and my experiences because I have come to realize that when I do, people who are locked in hell as I once was feel hope or a little less scared to share what’s going on with someone else. It’s not just people with eating disorders, it’s people who struggle with other mental health issues, addictions, and things that are stigmatized and hard to talk about.

Me sharing my eating disorder story without shame or fear is one of the most political things I do — and I work in politics on life-or-death issues (DEFEND DACA!). It is an invitation to compassion and believing that more is possible, a rejection of shame and stigma about the shit real people go through every day, and a direct and personal expression of my belief that it’s revolutionary for women and all people to tell the truth about our lives.

I am not stuck in the past. I am sharing my past for the purpose of helping others become unstuck. Over the years, so many people have come to me with their stories. Our struggles and conditions are not the same but we are united in our defiance of demons and the stigma that gives them the upper hand they never deserved.

To those of you who are still fighting, keep pushing. It’s worth it. Love you!

 

 

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Eating Disorders And Unforeseen Consequences

I broke my shoulder when I was 28. The surgeon asked me where I had my skiing accident. When I explained that I slipped and fell Christmas shopping, he told me that my injuries were consistent with a woman in her eighties doing that.

So, let’s settle in for a conversation about eating disorders and how much they can fuck up your health in ways you never imagined.

Anorexia almost killed me in my late teens. The health problems that came with it were self-evident and scary by the time I got into treatment. Insomnia, blacking out, feeling insatiably cold. Easy bruising, blue nails, extra hair on my body. My pulse was 32 the first time I saw a doctor and it’s a miracle I’m not dead. But honestly the worst part of that life was that I was so sad, ashamed, and unable to break free from thoughts and obsessions that took up almost all of my brain.

Recovery from eating disorders is no walk in the park, but I’m glad I did it. I love my life. What I went through turned me into an unstoppable fighter for women.

I broke my shoulder several years deep into recovery. I had no idea all that previous dieting would turn my bones into twigs, to the point that slipping and falling on the sidewalk would turn into a visit to the official orthopedic surgeon for the Baltimore Orioles (a wee bit embarrassing, yes)? I’ve been dealing with chronic shoulder pain almost 10 years later because of a stupid fall that never should have broken a bone. Without my history of eating disorders I would have laughed, brushed off my pants, and stood up within 30 seconds.

Dieting sucks, my friends. Eating disorders suck. We all know about the link between eating disorders and the after-school special that, blissfully, my life no longer is. Many times eating disorders will tell you that you can outsmart slipping into the dance with death or that you’re not that far along (hint: I tried that and believed that, and you can’t and you’re probably wrong).

Fewer of us know how eating disorders can produce all kinds of unforeseen health consequences that can mess with your life on an ongoing basis. I’m waking up at night with pain in my shoulder because I wanted a perfect body twenty years ago.

If you’re doing weird things to yourself with food or have nasty feelings about your body, I urge you to reach out for professional support. Getting your life back is amazing. Also, you’re less likely to encounter health problems you’d never associate with looking at fashion magazines or social media posts that make you feel like shit about yourself.

PSA: I’m Not Pregnant — My Stomach Sticks Out

I’m not pregnant. My stomach sticks out. This is my body. I have survived anorexia and now, your question.

A few years ago I was asked if I was pregnant when I wasn’t, and I cried. I am open about my recovery from eating disorders, and while most of the time I can smile and tell anorexia and negative self-image to go shoe-shopping in hell, I think it’s important to acknowledge that recovery can come with bad days.

I don’t think I looked pregnant two years ago. This time, it is more likely I do. In recent weeks I’ve been asked several times if I’m pregnant by a variety of people who mean well (all of whom apologized profusely).

The reality is that my stomach protrudes. Compared to some pregnant people, I probably do look pregnant.

It’s not practical to walk around sucking in all the time. I’m not particularly interested in giving up my cute, form-fitting clothes. Most important, I don’t want to go on a diet. I know that, for me, the words diet and death are too close for comfort. And so, I’ve had to learn how to deal with people thinking I’m pregnant without turning knives into myself.

I’m not pregnant. My stomach sticks out. This is my body. It takes up space. My body takes up space in ways that some people do not readily understand.

Loving yourself is a radical act. You can hate oppressive systems and the self-doubt and presumed right to question that comes with them. You can forgive the people who push the buttons that are supposed to hurt you (though refusing to forgive can be righteous, too). You can find transcendence. I am choosing to forgive others and myself, while working to change the culture. I am finding transcendence.

The best gift I can give to myself, my activism, and the people who love me is to move on. The radical gift I have for all of us is to share this information without shame.

To My Lovely Young Feminists, Don’t Apologize For Being Young

To my lovely young feminists, don’t apologize for being young. You are not “just” an intern or however many years old. You are a person. You deserve to take up space.

In many spaces, declaring yourself a feminist can be hard. Working for change is even harder. Overcoming internalized sexism and other forms of oppression is a bitch. For this, you are strong. Remember that strength and take up the space you deserve.

As women, we are taught to doubt ourselves and our worthiness to be at the table. I have seen this play out especially with young feminists — an identity I held for so long, it turned me old.

This is not to say that older people don’t have something valuable to share. For that matter, a younger person could be more seasoned than an older person within feminism specifically, and this isn’t to say that more experienced people — regardless of age — don’t have something valuable to share. Humility toward the experience of others is an asset. Having the wisdom to listen to others rather than shutting your ears before they open their mouths is a form of maturity that will carry you everywhere.

But as that goes, being young is also a lived experience. Yes, older people were young once, but they are not living the life you lead in this current moment. So it’s important for you to speak up and take up space. In fact, it’s critically important for you to take up space at a time when women of reproductive age are treated with such disdain under the law (and, unfortunately, even by some lawmakers who claim to be on our side but are willing to compromise on our bodies and our humanity in order to win elections or achieve other policy goals).

Don’t apologize for sitting at the table, minimize your opinion, or disclaimer your thoughts with your lack of experience. Clear your throat and say your piece. If you are afraid to do it, hate on the gendered nature of imposter syndrome — and then speak up.

 

Brussels sprouts

Learning To Cook

Putting a pastry in the toaster used to be my definition of cooking. When I was active in the National Organization for Women, for a time the juiciest gossip making its way back to me was: She doesn’t know how to cut a tomato. I remember the older feminists I revered watching me clueless in the kitchen — and I was 31. What hath feminism wrought? was all over their faces.

I did not grow up in a family of cooks. Dad and I went to Burger King every Thursday on the way home from my cello lessons, and by my ’20s I would come home on Friday nights for ‘girls night’ with Mom — frozen pizza, Franzia, the best conversation, and me doing free laundry before heading out on the town.

My cooking ignorance could be thrown into a larger life theme of not appreciating food. I sure as hell didn’t. I nearly killed myself with anorexia a few times. Body image is something I continue to navigate, even if many days I don’t think about it.

As an eating disorder survivor with all the attendant dieting and more extreme behaviors going with that, significant portions of my life have gone by with food as an object of disdain, lust, or both. I feared food because I feared my body, and I feared my body because I feared myself.

But y’all, I’m in total ‘fuck it’ mode now. I love to eat and also, I love to cook, including from recipes with ingredients I need to Google image search before heading to the grocery store. In the last few days I have prepared several things for family and friends from recipes — goat cheese toasts with pistachio and mint, pumpkin bread with olive oil, and green lentils with spinach and chipotle. Off-recipe and just having fun, I have made roasted brussels sprouts with a hint of olive oil, pumpkin, almond milk, anise, and cardamom seeds, and a salad with baby beets and homemade oil and vinegar dressing.

Cooking is an art. It is creative. It is relaxing. It is becoming as much fun for me as writing poetry, fiction, and essays. As I have taken to following recipes, I have learned how to improvise on my own. We do not need to choose one approach or the other; we can keep trying, scrubbing our pans, and starting over each and every meal.

Cooking is also love. It is how I spice things up for my husband on a Friday night and give him ‘date night at home’ now that we stay home with a little one. It is seeing my daughter’s joy in having leftovers earmarked for her the next day. It means everything that we remember her.

The other day, I was startled with an additional realization brought to me by the joy of preparing food. Food is no longer my enemy. It is not just taste and adventure. It is literally life. When I cook, I am giving joy and life to others and myself. The act of eating a hard-cooked meal is an act of consuming and becoming one with love, creativity, and unexpected beauty in the form of presentation on a plate.

Also, by the way, feminists can cook.

Brussels sprouts

 

Gratitude For People With Depression Who Choose To Keep Going

I am grateful for everyone who struggles with depression and related conditions, and chooses to keep going.

It’s not easy. You rock.

The radical act of self-affirmation — even when we feel like crap — is the root of all power, personal and collective. Our ability to make change rests upon our ability to believe in ourselves.

Believing in ourselves has never been more important. Our nation is on the verge of leadership by those who rule by force, lying, and manipulation. The attempts to tear people down will be many.

When we are hurting we are easier to hurt. We must resist attacks on our bodies, minds, and lives.

It should be noted that external realities are not the reason why you should love yourself.

Every day is the right day to stop taking shit from a brain that is working against you, to stop taking shit from other people, and to accept your body’s right to take up space just as it is.

There is nothing strategic about allowing anyone — including yourself — to treat you as lesser than.

Affirm your right to take up space. Embrace your right to pleasure and freedom from violence, including psychological violence.

If you can’t love yourself yet, just choose to keep going. Another day may allow you to get there. Truly this is the most radical thing you can do.

P.S. As I always say to someone I care about, “Keep pushing. It’s worth it.”

When Your Brain Tells You Dumb Things

For a week, I’ve been convinced my scale is broken. I think I weigh five to 10 pounds more than I do. I’ve weighed myself first thing in the morning maybe three times. Each time, I think the scale has stopped working. I have not lost weight; I’ve been consistent around my current weight, shape, and size for the past few years.

My brain has started telling me I’m 10 pounds heavier.

I’m wearing the newest undies I have. They are hot pink and and adorable, and yet they are too big. I bought the size I believed I was. When I put them on, I told myself they needed to shrink. The next time I wore them, I decided the manufacturer must be marketed to older people and practice vanity size inflation.

It turns out I am smaller than I earnestly believe I am.

This isn’t new. It just that I’ve learned to recognize it, interrogate it, and work around it. I remember the first time I was hospitalized for anorexia, literally half my life ago, and a nurse had me put a string in a circle on my hospital bed to represent how big I thought my waist was. She then used another string to measure my waist, cutting it, and placing it inside my circle, which was probably four times as big.

I have learned to identify and not align my behavior to my conquered loser of an eating disorder. It doesn’t mean the thoughts have gone away. Often, they are gone (and thank goodness, because the rest of the world is vastly more interesting than dieting). But even in the strangest of times, they get the best of me — like my latest reaction that the scale is broken, and these undies that are hot and a little bit floppy.

There appears to be a misconception, and in some cases a tremendous pressure on eating disorder survivors to foster the misconception, that folks who have recovered from anorexia, bulimia, and more simply love ourselves all the time and it’s fucking fabulous with a unicorn giving us a hug on our non-obsessive, all-foods-can-fit way to the cupcake boutique. I think it’s important to break through that misconception.

My brain is a weird place. Recovering from this eating disorder has made me one of the toughest people I know. And yet it — real recovery — also means acknowledging the shitty parts of yourself that exist to defeat you. My self-conception of my shape and size is unreliable. I know that.

I don’t think this means I am not fully past my eating disorder. I do believe I am. I am a survivor. Yet, I negotiate this thing sometimes. I’m doing it with this size nonsense right now, and I’m grateful for it. It’s making me think about other areas in my life where I am afraid I am taking up too much space. That fear is probably unreliable, too.

Body Hatred, Raising A Daughter, And Real Recovery From An Eating Disorder

Each Wednesday, my daughter and I put on our swimsuits and walk into the community pool until the water gets so deep I bend down and carry her. It is a long ramp into the deep end. Packed benches and risers span the perimeter and they are crowded with parents and siblings. It is quite a catwalk for those initiated into the lethal art of body comparison and body hatred.

My history with an eating disorder is one of the coolest and shittiest things about me. Cool because you recover from anorexia like I did, and no one can fuck with you. Overcoming my demons has given me a fearlessness and strength that stuns even me. Shitty because there is no intrinsic value in a bullying voice that tells you to stop eating and lose all the weight.

As it pertains to parenting a girl, it’s terrifying to know personally the reality of eating disorder culture taken to its logical extent — the acts of fainting, obsessing, and starving turning into a body that elicits jealousy, praise, and near-death experiences that blur into a loop of hospitals, treatment, and crying your damn eyes out because it hurts so much. It starts with pink onesies that ask if this diaper makes you look fat, and turns into magazine covers asking for twenty fucking years if Jennifer Aniston is pregnant because she is a woman and has a stomach. It is friends and family saying they are good or bad depending on what they ate or how they exercised. Eating disorder culture is everywhere, and it is unavoidable.

So as this swim class taught my daughter to swim, it taught me to wear a swimsuit in public without holding in my gut. It taught me to throw my towel over my shoulders instead of wrapping it cautiously around my waist or under my arms. It taught me to sit on the floor because the benches are too packed and let the rolls bunch over my bikini bottom. I want her to breathe, and walk, and sit like this. Being her role model helps keep me clean. The best way to teach her to love herself is to show her that I love her, and myself.

I consider myself fully recovered from my eating disorder. But the reality is, my actions don’t always match my thoughts. I eat regular meals, don’t restrict my food, and exercise only when I have time, which for someone who fits my work/life profile means not so much. I have a gut, two thighs, and a body that reflects this. My actions are good. My thoughts can be brutal.

Recently I have had a series of conversations with someone who is struggling with an eating disorder. She will often ask me how I moved past nasty eating disorder thoughts. This would be a different answer for anyone, since everyone’s thoughts and motivations are different, but I do think the one commonality is that we all need professional treatment to break free (this is my regularly scheduled reminder that I do not believe it’s possible to self-help your way out of an eating disorder, and if you are struggling I urge you to seek professional treatment).

But more important, it has helped me to realize that these thoughts may diminish in frequency and severity, but they actually do not go away. I’m not going to tell you what I think because I am not here to provide instructions for how to be an anorexic (you should live because it’s cool!), but let me tell you that I’ve been recovered like solid for close to 15 years and still have ridiculous thoughts every day about a new diet plan I should follow. What has changed is that they float in and out in seconds. I don’t listen to them. I don’t follow their instructions. Most of the time, I don’t even register what’s happening.

Until I did a few weeks ago. There I was in Pilates class, being physically strong when I started beating up on myself for the bulge above my elastic waist. It was in this moment of strength and sweat when it all registered. “Oh my gosh,” I thought in a high, indignant voice rising to my own defense. “That’s so meanWhy would you say that to yourself?” I did this the way a friend would chase away the worst bully. The release nearly made me cry, realizing that I had been holding this self-hatred in my muscles and I could be a good steward to myself and sweep the toxicity out with a non-self-blaming admonishment and a huge exhale.

Having been to hell and back, I can verify the basic building blocks of self-hatred have never gone away. The best I can do is acknowledge them, ignore them, and rise above them. It feels good when I demonstrate loving my body for my daughter, and it feels good when I insist upon it for myself. I’ll see you at the pool and I’ll be walking in real slow.

Goodbye, Yoga: On Parenting And Perpetual Loss

My daughter’s yoga studio is closing, and I am sad. Before I became a mother I would have sneered at that — it is particularly easy to sneer at women doing trivial things (basically just about anything) and having feelings about them.

But as I’ve written about here, starting baby yoga classes when she was 10 months old was a self-esteem boost I desperately needed at a time when I was working half-time, and feeling a diminished sense of accomplishment. I needed to get out of the house. I needed to have something on my calendar, somewhere to be. I needed to say I did something. Yoga gave me that.

But it also taught me how to play with my kid. I was not entirely comfortable singing goofy to her in front of other people before this class. We would do imaginative things alone together, but I still felt like I needed to be “cool” in front of adults. It was these classes that started opening my eyes to the joy of giving no fucks about looking mature while parenting.

I watched my daughter shift from being the youngest, most afraid, infant in the class to the girl who ran over to pull the parachute out before it was time. She sings and dances her yoga songs around the house. She does a terrific down dog for a kid who is two years old. Watching her learn — and to wait her turn to walk on the train and get a stamp, or have her name sung and chanted, or ring the chime and pass it to another child — filled my heart with pride. These were things I couldn’t have taught her at home.

As time went on, our life circumstances changed. My daughter enrolled in school (day care) full-time, and I went on to start a new organization. When you love what you do, it’s easy to work all the time, as I do and basically always have save my one brief stint as a half-time, stay-at-home mom. Suddenly our late Wednesday afternoons took on a new import. Whereas we had first started because I needed something to do, now I was continuing because I needed to carve out 45 minutes every week (or even third week) to not do, to invest in moving and being silly with my daughter.

More time passed and the late Wednesday family class was cancelled; not enough interest. It was replaced with an adult playtime yoga class, with kids encouraged to play with toys during the session. I was skeptical. How could I justify leaving work early not to enrich her, but me? This, too, was a learning experience. I told myself to be open — I had a few paid up classes, after all. Perhaps there was something of value in the new regime.

I considered the discomfort I felt in investing in myself versus doing something explicitly for my daughter. I still consider it, and find myself learning every time.

But also I challenged myself to take to heart what I’ve been saying for years: That sometimes we need to let one thing end in order to create space for something new and wonderful to enter our lives. Actively creating space has worked well for me in the past. The glamorous notion of leaping from one fully formed thing to another can often mean that the next thing is not nearly as interesting as giving yourself the mental space to dream up a new paradigm, then create it. This is why I have left multiple jobs without the next one lined up. Applying this to my personal life and my parenting life was challenging.

But it bore fruit. The new class was also quite nice. We had just hit a stride. I was getting that great yoga high and she was loving the chance to play with new toys in the studio. She would bring me plastic fruits as I breathed and did warrior poses. Sometimes she would ask to sit on my knee during a pose. Other times she’d be off in the playroom chatting with the other kids while I did a headstand, my shirt over my ribs and my round belly flopping exposed in the air — and me feeling a mega-triumph over the eating disorder that no longer controls my life.

When I learned the studio was closing, I wanted to cry. We went to our last class Saturday, and this time my daughter was the biggest kid there. The teacher announced it was the last class she was teaching there, and she might have to cry.

One of the most difficult parts of parenting is realizing that just when you think you’ve got it figured out, just when you’ve found your sense of anchor and permanence in a challenge that doesn’t play by rules written anywhere, it’s all gone. Your kid has grown out of the stage and the world no longer offers the same antidotes for younger kids now living that stage. Brand new becomes memory with alarming speed. Not just the pride and the giggles, but also the fear and the difficulty.

I am telling myself to enjoy the space that is being created by the end of something I love. I am digging deeper and telling myself it’s okay to grieve and create space at the same time. We can hold many things.

Loving My First Gray Hair Is Political

Yesterday I got my first gray hair. It’s beautiful and light, hugging the soft space to the side of my forehead. I love it.

I have been waiting for this day. I am 35. Gray hair was going to happen. Years ago I made a conscious decision to continue loving myself as I grow older. This is an act of self-preservation, and defiance.

This is about my feminism — hatred of women is intimately tied in with dangerous, racist, and unrealistic expectations of beauty that we are expected to internalize. We must reject that as much as we can (real talk: this can be a day-by-day thing, and feeling like crap about your looks doesn’t mean you don’t get to be a feminist).

This is personal — I almost died of anorexia. Gray hair is a victory! I am fortunate I made it to my 18th, 19th, and 20th birthdays. I am both grateful and proud I did, because damn that was a lot of work. My personal interest extends beyond having overcome nearly lethal negative self-talk related to my appearance; I’ve reached an age where too many peers have died for no good reason. I’m lucky to get old.

This is about parenting, too — my daughter deserves the example of a woman who dares to look like herself and love herself.

As a social justice activist and organizer, I struggle with the decision to write posts like this sometimes. Today yet another video has surfaced of a Black person losing their life to police violence; his name was Sam DuBose. Racism is one of the most pressing issues of our time.

And so, I ask myself:

Is it indulgent to be introspective about the first freaking gray hair on my head at a time when people are dying, when politicians fail to acknowledge that Black lives matter, when terrorists are targeting abortion providers because they dare to help women?

I struggle with this question, and yet this post speaks for itself: Here I am, writing. My firm belief is that self-love is radical. You cannot fight effectively for equality, dignity, or justice when you are unable to treat yourself with respect. You cannot find the courage to accept difference in others if you’re unwilling to accommodate difference for yourself. Loving yourself is not ego or dominance (those are rooted in insecurity, after all); loving yourself is about compassion. Best part? Inner compassion is compassion, and both are contagious.

So, when I embrace my gray hair, what I am also saying is that we should embrace ourselves and one another as we are. We must treat our fragile lives with respect and love, and break every convention necessary.

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