I Am That Girl Now

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I think I'm putting this together.

As I sort of mentioned in my last post, we spent Thanksgiving in the company of small nieces and nephews, all under the age of eight, all very cute. I spent a lot of time with them, taught them to do a few craft-type things (which they reacted to as if I'd done magic: "You can make a SCARF out of THREAD?" "Well, yarn, but yes") and cobbled together a new mode of dealing with them, partly based on my knowledge of what they've been missing in life at the moment, partly based on my recent therapy, partly based on childhood memories.

In short: encouragement, praise, encouragement, explanation, encouragement, praise, comfort, encouragment, ad nauseum. Lots of repetition. Lots of praise for small things that they'd done well. Followed through on any promises I made, so that the actions always had expected results. Didn't yell; I did get quiet and calm and forceful at one point when one of the kids pitched a fit, and let her calm down on her own and then let her return to the playtime without any negative comment. Seemed to work.

[Now that I think of it, this is the first time that I've spent time with these kids without resorting to emulating one of my parents. Wow. This gives me a lot of hope for being able to break the cycle of frantic perfectionism and angry outbreaks that has plagued my family for at least three generations. I was a lot better at reading the kids this time, too, and a lot calmer, and it really made a difference. I may be meant for this parenting gig after all.]

The thing that surprised me the most was the thing that really shouldn't have: kids pick up things fast, repeat what they hear, incorporate it. Suck it right in. I'd encourage one of the girls with "you're so good at this," and moments later she'd proudly announce, "I'm so good at this." Totally call-and-response. I mean, I realize that everyone does this to some extent, but I've spent so little time around kids during my adult life that this just blew my mind.

I found myself adapting to this, changing my approach to give them as much of the good programming as possible. If they were going to be repeating something, I wanted it to be something that made them feel good and confident; I wanted them to enjoy trying new things, and to believe that mistakes mattered less than picking themselves up and trying again.

If you've caught the punchline already, good for you; it took me until this morning to realize that this was the same stuff I wanted for myself. When my therapist had been talking about having a kinder, more encouraging inner voice, this was the voice she meant-- the same voice I'd been using on the kids.

Now, step back to what I'd been talking about last time: trying to figure out motivation without fear or shame.

First, I concluded that when it comes to habitually doing things, the habits I keep are the ones that I enjoy in the short term. Not ones that have long-term effects that I like; not ones that have theoretical preventative effects against things I don't like. I do things that make me feel good, or that the reptile-brain part of my mind thinks will make me feel good, short-term. Immediate response. Immediate gratification.

That's the biggest problem, I think, when it comes to weight-loss-- even more so when it comes to weight maintenance. There are people out there who aren't naturally bone-skinny (the type who have to fight their metabolisms to keep anything on their bodies at all), but they maintain a normal weight effortlessly; I've come to the conclusion that the difference between those folks and, say, me, is that they have the blissful luck of enjoying the very things that keep them at a normal weight, whereas I have a long history of enjoying things that would keep me sedentary and overweight. It's not that they want it more, or are naturally better, or have stronger self-control or willpower or what have you. They enjoy things that keep them at a healthy weight.

On the one hand, this might sound like a reason for despair-- an indication that living healthy would mean a life of eternal drudgery. Which sounds exactly like the reason that healthy living gets shelved when I'm depressed, or when I need comfort, or when I'm celebrating-- all the times I want to, or need to, do things that I actually ENJOY.

On the other hand, it occurs to me that Mary Poppins was right: in every job that must be done, there is an element of fun... you find the fun, and SNAP! the job's a game! (Yes, I ended up watching that over Thanksgiving. I blame the kids.) There's an element of truth there. In everything I need to do, there's something about it that I enjoy. For everything I ought to eat, there's something that I enjoy about it, and a way to cook it that makes it comforting and tasty and desireable. If I want to enjoy doing things that make me or keep me healthy, I'll need to a) find the particular variants of the activity or food that I am most prone toward, and b) concentrate on, play up, and accentuate the features of that activity or food that I enjoy.

And, it has finally occurred to me (zoom, back to the original point!) that I am not so different from the kids. If I am encouraged and praised on something, it makes me want to try it again. If I enjoy something, it makes me want to try it again. What I need, in short, is to use the encouraging teacher/parent voice on myself. The voice that teases out the fun in things and makes drudgery into a game. The voice that encourages-- "Look how far you've come! Wow, you did that all by yourself! Good for you!"-- and praises-- "Wow, you're so good at this! You're really strong! You're really talented!" The voice that, when it turns out that I've made a mistake, praises me for catching the mistake and praises me for fixing it.

This isn't too far off from what I was trying to do in the first place, way back when I started this blog. The difference is that before, I was trying to impose it upon myself, and I wasn't using the encouraging inner voice, and I wasn't feeling my way or really counting baby steps as important. I don't think that the sort of fast change I was looking for before is actually possible. I think that I'm not much different from a child; I should use the techniques on myself that I would use to teach a child, and expect that learning will be slow.

Short answer: when you use the carrot to lure yourself for each task, it's slow improvement, but it lasts. When you use the stick to prod yourself forward, you go a lot faster, but it won't last. Gotta keep working on my new carrots.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

sick sick sick

It's not just Thanksgiving that's keeping me away. I'm siiiiick.

There really need to be some kind of vaccinations given before people head into large familial situations which include small mobile germ-vectors (a.k.a. nieces and nephews). I know it's not actually feasable, but for pete's sake, I had a small child with a runny nose on my lap on Thanksgiving and now I've been down for the count since Sunday morning with a horrible chest cold. There are forms of plague that don't move that fast. It's astonishing.

The cold is getting better, so instead of having so much stuff in my chest that it hurt to breathe or swallow (Sunday) or being unable to breathe deeply without launching into a fit of deep coughing that would knock me off my feet (Monday), I'm down to being stuffed up, occasionally coughing, and generally feeling like all my limbs are made of lead. An improvement, definitely, but I still don't care much for it.

Feeling fat. The question now is how I want to respond to it; on the one hand, I'm recognizing more and more that the only person whose opinion I really have to give a rat's ass about is my Hub, and he's convinced that I'm a hottie no matter what poundage I have. On the other hand, for the sake of my own health and the ability to fit into my pants I clearly need to get moving on this, rather than continuing to drift along in the same neither-here-nor-there state.

Really, the crux of the matter is what it is for so much of the rest of my life: I need to figure out how to motivate myself without using fear or shame or self-hate as a goad. I don't want to go back into wandering around without motivation, and yet that seems to be where I am right now.

I'm trying to figure this out. I think that possibly there's a learned avoidance factor here, that I'm avoiding it because the process of going into weight-loss mode is so tied to shame and self-loathing. I'm kind of hoping that if I take away the negative parts, and try to focus on the positive angles, that motivation will slowly grow. Positive motivation, not the bad kind.

Anyway, I'm kind of fried. Medicine-head. Gotta go.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Baby steps vs. the ultimate goal

I thought through some things yesterday and realized that I really need to work at encapsulating baby steps.

Up until the present, I've always thought of things in large chunks: for instance, everything that I do that might have something to do with my weight goes in one big pile, with the ultimate goal there being weight control-- but that means that the goal for each baby step is weight control. The goal for drinking enough water hasn't been "staying hydrated" but "WEIGHT CONTROL". The goal for doing exercise hasn't been to improve my running time by a few minutes or up the amount of weight I can lift or to get better at yoga-- I know I said it, I know I've said it a million times, but I swear, I haven't ever been able to make it work.

I feel like this is another place where I'm all clenched up, in this case bunching everything together. Is it part of my obsession with details, or is that obsession part of this?

The thing is, by using all these things as part of the weight loss/maintenance thing, I tied them all together in my head, and that leaves me very vulnerable to the domino effect-- screw up one thing, and everything else gets wiggy-- and also to the "I can't face starting over, there's just too much" feeling when I try to get back up out of a rut. They became a unit, parts of a whole, and if you put enough things together it will always look too heavy to lift.

These things are not dependent on each other, though, and I need to separate them. Encapsulate them. Make each one important for its own sake, important enough or fun enough that I'll want to continue it even if I take away the WEIGHT goal.

Water, granted, has manged to make itself important simply because it's winter, and if I don't get enough water in the winter I start to flake into pieces. Lips crack and peel, skin goes to hell, my legs get all itchy and the calluses on my feet start to crack and catch on my socks. And, of course, there's the fun of dry mouth and dehydration headaches. Water is sufficiently important to manage on its own just fine, as proven by the fact that without even thinking about it I've consumed enough water today to make me flee to the bathroom at top speed about once every hour and a half all damn day. (This is actually TOO much water, but... it's winter!)

If I take the plunge and only do fun exercise, I may be able to make exercise stand on its own. Hell, I might manage to reconfigure the way I relate to exercise, make it something I want to do and relax doing and crave doing, if I start with stuff I enjoy. Hrm. It's a thought.

Cooking healthy is important, on its own, because we do SO much better when we're eating well. I'm weak on this one, though; I really hope my Hub comes through here.

I need new comfort foods. (It turns out we're probably able to pattern those as we see fit. Might as well give it a shot.) No half-assing this, though; I need stuff that really, honestly, seriously makes me feel good and happy and comforted. Research, research, research.

And... oh, a million things. I need to think, and I need to figure out how to encapsulate. One bit at a time.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

happy happy happy

First off, I officially love our insurance company. I could be using this moment to be angry at them, and at my HR manager, and at my therapist, for none of them knowing and/or mentioning to me in the FIRST place that if I had a medical diagnosis for depression then my visits would be treated as a regular office visit, with a mere $15 co-pay per week. I could be angry, but I'm not, because if I'd called THEM in the first place rather than talking directly to my HR manager, and if I'd asked about what the insurance covered rather than asking them about how to send in receipts, then I would have known in the first place. And since I was depressed and pretty incapable of handling things at that point, I'm definitely not blaming myself. Which is a long, roundabout way of saying that I feeling like I just got a present and I am a happy girl.

I've been paying $100/week for therapy, and submitted a big ol' claim for six weeks' worth. Having not seen the money sent back my direction, I checked the website to see what was going on with my claim, and discovered that they'd sent the check to my therapist. Hrmph, I said, and called them to ask what the hell went wrong and what I was supposed to do now. After they got my information and I spent a long, grumpy time on hold, they popped back with the information that since I was medically diagnosed with depression, this counted as a medical office visit in terms of insurance. And that in the future, once they talk with my therapist and get the whole thing straightened out about how this will work on her end, I'll just have to pay the $15 co-pay every week.

I tell you, writing a check for $15 is much different than writing a check for $100. I am so relieved right now, it's like I'm floating. My mental health will not bankrupt us. We will be able to afford Christmas. I no longer have to feel like I must hurry up and get fixed as soon as is fucking possible, so that we wouldn't be dealing with that kind of expense. $60/month is doable. $200/month is not.Dude, $15/week is what we spend on BEER, man. This is much, much, much better.

In other news, the bonuses that we both got have killed off the credit card debt that we've been piling up-- most of it was still from the wedding and honeymoon, but still-- and we'll be able to clear the decks there and stop having to send piles of money to the stupid credit card companies every pay period. YAY. There was enough left over to buy my Hub a new Playstation game, which he loves very much, and have us a date tonight to go to the movies. Ahhhhhh.

Seriously, getting rid of the credit cards and shucking the mental health down to a manageable amount means that I'm going to be able to deal with the budget this weekend without holding my head in horror. Mental note: next year I am in no way going to put this shit off. I can excuse my actions this year because, well, I've been mentally unbalanced, but... gah.

My Hub has declared that he wants to lose a few pounds. Which is good, because my non-hardcore efforts to stabilize my weight (whilst stabilizing my braaaain) have meant that our food intake has been questionable for a few months now; I haven't been devoting my every breath to figuring out meals and recipes and to cooking. He's tired of it and wants healthy stuff again. He is apparently going to be stepping up and taking charge on the food front, and we are going to be eating healthy again. I am so grateful for this that I could just pop.

The way he phrased it cracked me up. (Which is noteworthy in and of itself, because my initial reaction before would have been to assume responsibility and blame myself.) He said, in a very woe-is-me Eeyore voice, "It was a lot easier for me to [maintain weight] when you were all mentally unstable about it. I just had to go along for the ride. Damn your newfound mental stability!" That's my boy. Serious kudos to him for recognizing what was going on and stepping up.

What's funny here is that he wouldn't have gotten used to healthy eating if I hadn't been crazy hardcore about it for the first year and a half or so. And if I hadn't had a bit of a collapse when I got depressed, he wouldn't have had these weeks of relative freedom. I think it's the contrast that's really driven him to this; he felt all bloaty last night after too much pizza. Poor boy.

My current plan goes something like this: my Hub will be in charge of meals, and I am going to release my brain from that. I am going to get a few different DVDs for wacky cardio entertainment, because I really need to shake things up and I am, I must admit, tired of what I'm currently doing. Just because my dad and my sister run for all of their cardio doesn't mean I have to. I'd like to dance. I've got two DVDs coming in from Amazon.com, but they won't ship for another few weeks. In the meantime, I'm going to pick up some other DVDs at the store down the street.

Some mornings I'll probably want to jog, still. Or maybe my Hub will end up using the treadmill. No worries, either way. I am not going to make this a source of stress.

More momentarily; a topic got away from me and requested a whole post of its own.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

There's a reason that therapists ask questions

I swear, it feels like I can't keep up; for every part of my therapy that I work to incorporate into my life, more things pop up every week. Gah. This will make sense momentarily, when I get to the point, but first there's going to be a little recap of the last weekend.

We went down to spend the weekend with my parents, and it was really, really good. Every time we see them, it's like my Hub clicks into place in the family in a new way, and it was more dramatic this time than most because my folks seem to have worked past the "we must be polite and act like sane people around the new person in the family" thing and entered into the "what the hell, you're family, you know we're nuts so we'll just act like we normally do" thing. We had my parents squabbling over the radio, my mother being obsessive over how to package leftovers, my dad shooting steam out of his ears when asked about the Kansas Board of Education (seriously, not everyone in Kansas is a fundie lunatic, and my parents are both teachers, both religious, and both pissed as hell over the whole thing nonetheless), a game of cards between me, my mother and my Hub that devolved into cackling laughter and cheating and accusing and having a whale of a good time. My Hub is a part of the family. It happened, it really happened, and I'm sort of stunned.

On the other hand, my father lost a good friend this weekend-- practically his foster-mother-- and was shaken by that. And when we got back home, we found out that one of our favorite wrestlers, a 38-year-old man with a wife and three kids who was loved fiercely by everyone around him (and, distantly, by those of us who only knew him through television), had died suddenly and without warning. He'd had problems with drugs and alcohol, but dried out and found Jesus and got his whole act together and thrived. It wouldn't have been a surprise to hear about him dying five years ago; now, though, it was out of nowhere. The two deaths of people I'd only known distantly combined to give me a sharp slap upside the head, and it took until this morning to really realize it.

I was talking with my therapist yesterday about my mother, and how helpless she gets when my father isn't around to help her out and she's operating outside her sphere of comfort. That sort of thing frustrates me and scares me at the same time. There's this nagging thought at the back of my mind: see, if you let go and become dependent on having a husband, you'll turn out like that. It's the same sort of thought that I have when I encounter mothers whose children have gone off to college and who are completely at loose ends, no idea what to do with themselves that doesn't focus on their kids. It's like they just abandoned themselves years back and now have no idea what to do with themselves. I gotta say, that's part of the reason that kids scare me: I don't want to lose myself. I'm scared that I'll become someone else, that everything that I fought so hard to get will be thrown in the trash.

There's a similar thing with my Hub. I open my own doors and open them for him on occasion, too; I haul bags and lift heavy objects and climb up on chairs to change light bulbs. It's like I have this need to prove to myself that I can operate on my own, thank you very much, I am not my mother, I do not need a man to walk me to the bus. I get very pointed about it. Occasionally my Hub requests that I let him help; occasionally I let him help without him asking. Sometimes, though, I get very prickly and determined to be a big girl and do it all myself.

I know I'm not my mother. I didn't go straight from parents to college dorm to married life; I had years on my own, paying rent, balancing my checkbook, moving my own furniture, hauling my own groceries, traveling solo. I know that. And yet, there's this need to prove it. I told my therapist yesterday that it was because I didn't want to ever be in the situation where I ended up alone and helpless. People die, people leave, life changes; I want to be ready. I want to be prepared.

My therapist asked some very pointed questions and I realized that I hadn't thought this all out very well. She pointed out that I seemed to have two unrelated things tangled together: the fear of losing people, and the fear of losing myself.

Well, yeah. When I was younger, I thought for sure that my parents would get divorced at some point. (That they didn't do so remains a stunning miracle in my eyes.) Hell, I thought that my mother should have left my father, and that the only thing holding her back was her fear of being on her own, her inability to cope with the outside world by herself. She was trapped. I was determined never to be like that, never be that vulnerable.

Which goes back to the deaths this weekend, and how it rattled me. I am vulnerable now; in my determination to make sure I wasn't vulnerable in physical abilities and knowledge, I seem to have forgotten that the main vulnerability in marriage is emotional. I'm dependent on my Hub as a constant presence in my life; I've adjusted my life over the past few years and we've re-woven the way we deal with life and become a team, not just two individuals. We don't even really have to think about it now; it's just how we do things. He's part of me, part of my family, part of my life, and I can't undo that and don't want to ever have to. I'm easing into finally trusting him not to leave, not to turn on me, but now that I've let go of that fear and opened that particular door, the reminder comes that it's not always a choice-- sometimes people die.

I dreamed last night that my Hub was diagnosed with a heart condition that gave him a week to live, and it scared me so much that when I woke up out of it all I could do was roll over and hug him like crazy. I don't want to lose him, not ever. I hate being vulnerable like this, but I don't have a choice in the matter: really, it's far too late now. He's my everything.

If I lost him, I could still lift heavy bags and change tires and make my own travel plans and pay rent and balance the checkbook and deal with insurance and medical stuff and do all those living-in-the-world things. So in that, I'm still a step ahead; thing is, it's a hollow victory because it's really not the point. I do all that stuff now, and it doesn't protect me from losing him. Nothing can. I just have to live with it.

The part that I can do something about is the unrelated fear of losing myself. I'm not my mother. I'm me. I have successfully worked out a relationship with my Hub-- a strong partnership where we can both be grown-ups or giddy goofy playmates or take turns comforting each other-- and I'm still my own person. I was not taken over. I was not broken into pieces. I'm still me. I'm slowly re-negotiating my relationship with my parents, turning it piece by piece into more of a relationship between equals-- and I'm still me. I'm going to have to come to grips with the idea that I'm capable of this sort of thing, that I have the brains and the tools and the instincts to make good decisions in new situations, and that when we have kids I will be able to work out how that new piece of my life and that new relationship balances with staying my own person and being able to operate as such when needed.

In completely other news, our finances are in uproar. I have to sit down this weekend and hash out what the fuck is going on and how things are going to work from now on, and I have to incorporate the therapy bills and all into it. I am really, really not looking forward to this. Grrr.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

I have just come to some conclusions.

1) I think my digestion runs about a day behind my Hub's, because he was having dire issues with the pumpkin seeds on Wednesday, and I got them today, almost exactly has he had described (in graphic detail, as he is wont to do; why why WHY are males so fascinated with their own bodily functions?). Greeeeat.

2) When I was listing a bunch of active things that I'd used to love doing when I was a kid, never once did running come up. It's something I enjoy a bit now (and I'm getting new running shoes from my parents for my birthday-- got the check, just need to buy them!), but compared to dancing? Hell, no. Fuck it, I'm going to use a birthday gift certificate to get two cardio dance DVDs from Amazon.com.

3) For more than a year, I've had difficulty answering the question of what my hobbies are, and what I like, if I didn't refer to food. Kinda obsessed, eh? I'm happy to report that I can think of a BUNCH of things now. Dancing, video games, live wrestling events (not THAT kind, I mean the ones with the professional wrestlers who actually wrestle), water (oh God I'm thirsty all the time), goofing around with my Hub, playing with our cats, doing puzzles, reading books. And, of course, Veronica Mars, because it is a very damn good show. Hee.

4) I have now officially ordered the dance DVDs. I wish they were here NOW.

5) I am now drinking almost as much water by actual necessity/choice as I used to when I was keeping track of my water ounces on WeightWatchers. I'M THIRSTY, DAMMIT! Not to mention having to pee all the time. Ah, the joys of health.

I feel normal. Unbelievable. NORMAL.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Oh, the things I do

I love pumpkin seeds. Love them DEARLY. Halloween is important to me for one reason: pumpkins = roasted, salty pumpkin seeds. Yum.

I discovered that they had them at Trader Joe's and, in my joy, bought two big bags. Between me and my Hub, one of these bags has been nearly demolished since Tuesday. To add to the fun, I also got us cinnamony dried-apple rings, most of which are also gone. Hell, that was dinner one night.

I am here to inform everyone that THIS IS NOT A GOOD IDEA. Do not try this at home. There is only so much fiber that the human body can take. Ladies and gentlemen, I do this stuff so you don't have to, so take it from me: too many pumpkin seeds are not a good idea.

I had dreams all night of total weirdness, which I'll get to in a moment, but the general theme was OW!, and when I woke up I discovered that my intestines were all tied in knots and full of painful gas and other nasty things. OW OW OW. No yoga for me this morning; I was walking around hunched over like my great-grandma used to. Things seem to have settled down, but I keep hitting the bathroom occasionally and ah, the belching continues, too. Oh, what a ladylike lady am I.

Dreams last night: Fascinating stuff. In one, I looked down at my legs and discovered to my horror that they were covered in GIANT bruises. I informed my Hub about this (in my dream) and he told me to go take some damn ibuprofin. At which point I rolled out of bed and started staggering toward the bathroom to take some pills, as ordered, only to realize once I had the bedroom door open that a) it was three in the damn morning and b) my legs didn't actually hurt. Also c) that it had just been a dream and I seriously needed to get back to sleep.

I ended up back in dreamland, shifting from a part where I was examining a tree that was falling apart inside to a CostCo-type warehouse store, where a girl who I didn't know (but who was presumably a friend of our dream-selves) was enraptured because she could get a box of Pop-Tarts that was the approximate size and shape of a door, and then there was this thing where I picked up a bag of mini Snickers bars and went to the bathroom, opened it and ate two of them, then realized that I couldn't very well buy this candy with my friends around, particularly with it being open, but I had to pay for it because that is what you DO, otherwise it's shoplifting, and I panicked because clearly the store cameras must have seen me taking the bag into the bathroom, and I would so be totally busted for shoplifting if I just left it here and it was all open, ARGH. I developed a cunning plan in which I would go out to meet my friends and then circle back to pick up "just one more thing" and meet them in the parking lot with my shopping bags. Only to find that one of my friends was right outside the bathroom, hopping up and down in the gottagogottago dance, and she barged right in as I opened the door and was presumably face to face with my open bag of candy, at which point I developed the new cunning plan which was to deny all knowledge of this, and just get the hell out of there.

Strange, because I haven't eaten candy all week. I'd still been snagging a few pieces from communal "I have so much Halloween candy left at my house I can't keep it there please take it" bowls last week, and then it just sort of petered out and... nothing. My Hub, bless his darling heart, got it into his head to bake me a birthday cake, but panicked because he had never done a cake before and didn't want to flub a first attempt for a BIRTHDAY cake, so he made these chocolate truffle brownies that are the richest things ever invented. Know what? They're still there. I've eaten maybe one thumb-sized piece every day.

We have potato crisps (made with some kind of magical Japanese process, claims Trader Joe's, so they're less fat-tacular), low-fat TJ's cheetos, and a bag of pita chips. They've been on top of the fridge since Tuesday. I haven't touched them. And I could, really; I've given myself full permission to eat whatever I really want. Now, though, I just can't be arsed. It's like the blodge of oatmeal left in my bowl yesterday. I used to DREAM of forgetting to finish a bowl of food, of not feeling compelled to scrape the bowl (hell, I used to LICK the bowl occasionally), of not desperately wanting to finish the whole bag of chips or the pint of ice cream.

I can't even begin to describe what a huge relief this is. It's like... food is dropping down the priority list. My doctor, when I sobbed all over her back in September and came away with a Zoloft prescription and a therapist referral, had asked me about how my eating had been, and I confessed to a history of binge eating. She said something along the lines of, "Well, there's another reason for the medication; Zoloft is good about treating obsessive-compulsion things like that." Before, I was kind of going huh? about that comment, but it's finally making sense.

Here's what I've cobbled together as my personal theory (your milage may vary) from my personal experience and what I got from the studies on that NOVA program and on research about emotionally abused children:

According to my mother, I've always been pretty much all-or-nothing, a bit on the anxious side, a voracious eater-- since birth, pretty much. I think I may have always had a bit of a seratonin imbalance. Add in an anxious, perfectionistic father (this is so very genetic) and I ended up insecure and feeling powerless. To regain a feeling of control, tiny!me started lying and procrastinating and hiding things. Dad got very pissed about all these things-- the Original Sins in his book are lying and laziness-- and so I came under attack more. Part of what I focused on for comfort is food: candy, really, since at that age going down the block to buy candy with my own money was just becoming an option. That was pretty much the only store within a mile, and so my one form of personal freedom and power was to walk down to the store and buy my own candy and eat it on my own terms, because it was mine (and because my dad didn't know about it). Halloween candy, too-- it started with my giddiness over eating as much of it as fast as I wanted because it was MINE, and started branching out to sneaking the leftover candy that my parents had been passing out. Dad found wrappers in my room and totally blew his cool-- at the time, it was a combination of the NO EATING IN YOUR ROOM rule and his frustration with my mother-- and so I had it confirmed that this was something to hide-- and, more, in a way I wasn't conscious of at the time, that if I hid it well enough, it was something I could do that would really get him, really piss him off, only he wouldn't know, so it was my own evil little secret. Har har har.

Enter my teens, and the beginning of the official dieting battle between me and my dad. Dad was of the opinion that I was pudgy and an embarrasment and needed to lose weight, pronto. (For the record? No. Perfectly within legal limits.) He ranted and raved and began scrutinizing my food intake-- and really, Dad has screwy notions of what a diet is to begin with, he's all perfectionistic and so he really takes it into monastic territory. Whenever I was being punished for something, I had to exercise in order to get any other privledges. The thing with my mom sobbing on the scale with Dad yelling at her occurred. Really, if you were looking for a way to set up a pre-teen girl for an eating disorder, this would be picture-perfect.

In retrospect, he could have gone a completely different way. I was interested in all sorts of physical things at the time. I loved swimming, but once Dad started harping about how I looked in a swimsuit that became a bit problematic. I loved riding my bike. I wanted to learn how to dance and do gymnastics and, unfortunately, when I took classes nobody helped me out with the fact that I had zero flexibility and I got all depressed about being a failure in those classes and quit. I loved baton twirling and dancing around the living room and bouncing on trampolines. He could have encouraged me to do any of these other things, got me involved in something I already loved to do, and leave the fucking weight thing out of it. What did he choose for me to do for exercise? Jogging. Jesus Christ, what was WRONG with the man?

He could have found out how to make tasty low-fat meals, but instead I started associating Mom's diet food with horrible-tasting bland crap and the fatty foods and junk food with tasty goodness. And of course, he's the one who drowned popcorn with melted butter, and loves junk food himself. He was the one who was giving the example of eating just one thing until it was finished, and that was dinner. He totally blew his chance to do these things and instead put the blame squarely on me and my mom: lazy, no willpower, doing it all WRONG, not trustworthy, horrible people. Seriously, what the fuck? I look at it now and just want to go back in time and shake him until his teeth rattle.

Oh, and then I was in high school and started getting crushes on boys and was convinced that I was horrible because nobody wanted me. So if I wanted a boy, I clearly needed to fix myself first, because hey, It's All My Fault. I would diet and exercise like mad, then completely fall down after a week or two, then start up again a month later, the next time I'd been crushed by rejection and wanted to fix it so that I would be worthy of attention.

Here's where the probably-misunderstood science comes in: seritonin imbalances are made worse by cutting calories down too much. Every time I went with the yo-yo dieting-- and throughout my teens, I did it about four times a year-- I was probably screwing myself up worse. Setting myself up for... ta-da! College!

I could eat ANYTHING I WANTED in college. There was a little convenience store right across from my dorm, with chips! And-- a revelation to me-- premium ice cream in little pint containers! And movies! Shy little me took every time that my roommate wasn't home and had a little pity-party with chips and ice cream and movies, and this numbed all the insecurity and fear and guilt and shame and homesickness. Comfort, my ass, I wanted those feelings GONE and a binge would do it.

At the same time, I was still pretty active. I had no car, so I walked all the way across town to get to the public library, and walked all the way back. (Books: a shy girl's blessed refuge.) I tried out for musicals, and got into the chorus, and spent a lot of time practicing dances at rehearsals. The problem with that, though, was that then I was with all these very talented people-- the cream of the crop from all these other schools-- and since I'd been a big fish in a tiny pond back home, I became seriously insecure about all that.

Oh, and I got measured for costumes. Oh, the horror. I'd never had full-body measurements done for me because I'd never had a costume made for me before; it'd always been stuff out of the back of the costume shop that I'd try on to see if it'd fit me. Never had all those measurements announced OUT LOUD and WRITTEN DOWN. Oy. Trauma.

I was still perfectly okay, body-wise. A little on the chubby side, but nothing serious. And I still kept yo-yoing, only now on the non-diet portion of the program I had access to a hell of a lot of food that I would go through in bigger quantities per sitting, and the non-dieting portions lasted longer and longer.

And then I got depressed. Mammothly, suicidally depressed, for something like the last two years of college. The pressure to measure up, achieve, invent my future life... I really wasn't built to take it. I had a high grade-point average and I was getting good parts in shows and solos in choir and I got tagged to sing with the whole orchestra... but oh, my God, the pressure, the fear of failure, the panic and the way I'd convinced myself that nobody could ever love me and that my friends were only putting up with me because I was entertaining.

Lotta food. A bag of Doritos in one sitting was definitely not abnormal. I just wanted it all to go away; I wrote stories about people who committed suicide, I considered it, and honestly the only thing that (ironically) kept me from doing it was that I knew it was seriously wrong... and also that I was scared of knives, and things around my neck, and driving too fast, and pretty much everything that might possibly injure me. Oh, I was a mess. The summer after I graduated I would rent two or three movies a night, with booze (oh, had I ever discovered alcohol; again, I'm really lucky I didn't end up an alcoholic but apparently I lack that gene) and pizza (hooray, delivery!) and chips and soda and ice cream. I was alone constantly that summer. It was shit.

I moved home for a year after that, and with no job at first (and only a part-time job after that) I went on the wagon. Calorie-counting, fat-gram-counting, and exercising like a crazy woman. In three months I lost twenty pounds and looked pretty good. My dad approved of this like mad, never mind that I was being very obsessive about it and not getting enough food and overexerting myself. I was getting skinny, and so he approved! Voila, it was magic! Huzzah!

And then... as I planned to move to Chicago, I got more and more nervous and things started going nuts. Booze and chips and movies up in my room, holed up by myself, sneaking it all up there, sneaking the evidence into the trash later. And then I'd cry and freak out and wonder why the hell I'd done it, and swear to myself I wouldn't do it again, and up my workouts to make up for it... and then do it again a few days later. Started planning for those nights. Living for them. Eating all sorts of shit when my parents were out of the house.

Moved to Chicago, no longer had access to a treadmill and it was too scary to jog outside (ah, my old shit neighborhood), but since I barely had money to buy food, it all worked out to keep me level for a while... until I got a real job. Joined a gym for the first time, and discovered that a) I had to change in front of EVERYONE, b) I had no idea what I was doing half the time, and c) it gets real dark up here, real fast, in the winter, and honestly I just wanted to go home after work. After a few months of wobbly attendance, I stopped going to the gym at all. And, since I could afford it, I bought food. Then I bought food I couldn't afford, just slapping it on the credit card. I discovered that Chicago is full of really fabulous different kinds of food that I'd never encountered before... and oy, so much choice = more stuff to pig out on. I ended up back on movies, Doritos, soda, and ice cream, though. Old habits = comfort.

Which brings me to the point where I met my boy, and moved in with him, and got even fatter because he could cook, and then got skinny, and you guys know the rest.

The point being, I got to the point this last year or so where I would eat anything on a binge. Didn't matter what it was as long as it was available. I would get panicky and get this freaky feeling in my chest, and I just wanted it to go away, I just wanted it to stop, and the food soothed that feeling. Other times, it was just this thought of going out and buying a whole bag of chips or a whole bag of mini candy bars, and the thought kept happening and kept happening and kept happening until I gave in and went to buy the fucking food because I just wanted relief from that thought.

In retrospect: That is so very much obsessive-compulsive behavior. I never thought of it that way, although I did feel powerless and depressed over the fact that I couldn't stop it, but... damn, it really was OC. And it's stopped. I'm really moving back to a normal place in my head where food is concerned. I didn't think that was possible. I could just cry. This is awesome. I haven't felt this way in years. I was spending so much energy and concentration fighting myself, and to not have to do that all day is... fuck, it's amazing. Unprecidented. Astonishing.

I guess most of it is that I'd just accepted that this was a part of me, and taken it, in a way, as proof that I was bad and couldn't be trusted, not even by myself. I was horrified by the things I was doing behind my Hub's back, but couldn't stop. Seriously, I can't even begin to say what a huge relief it is to realize that this thing I've been fighting so long and so hard might just be a fucking chemical imbalance, that Zoloft seems to have taken care of it (oh please, oh please, oh please don't let it stop working), and it wasn't me. IT WASN'T ME. Oh, my God, it's not my fault, I'm not bad, I'm not horrible, this can actually be fixed, I might actually get back to normal, I can actually use some of this mental energy on SOMETHING ELSE besides thinking constantly about food and either how to control it or how to get it. It wasn't me.

I'm seriously going to have to tell my therapist and my doctor about this, because now I'm terrified of ever going off Zoloft and having this start up again. Honestly, I'm having no bad side effects-- the Zoloft site says side effects may include dry mouth, insomnia, sexual side effects, diarrhea, nausea and sleepiness, and the only one I have is the dry mouth. I sleep fine (weirdly vivid dreams, but that's about it), I had nausea on a regular basis for the first few weeks but it's stopped now, no weight gain (not on their site, but I'd heard rumors)-- hell, since the eating normalized, the weight has started drifting back down to normal (sloooooowly, but I have no complaints; I'd be willing to stay where I am forever if that meant I wouldn't have this O/C THING in my head). And, as my favorite anti-side effect, I've been significantly more into sex than I have in quite some time, because I'm not stressing over it or depressed. Oh, it's lovely.

I was really going to do a post on baby steps and comfort and work out my thoughts there, but it turned into something else very quickly. Hell with it: I like it. There you go, this is my post for the day. Voila!

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Fun times, eh?

Hugs to all you guys. You rule.

First, a piece of good news that indicates that I may be getting less obsessive-compulsive where food is concerned: I ate oatmeal at my desk this morning, and got started on reading e-mail and other things. About five minutes ago I got up to go get some water, and glanced at my oatmeal bowl; son of a bitch, there's a big chunk of oatmeal still in there. I have absolutely no memory of the point at which I stopped eating; I just did it and didn't think about it. Huh. Hell of a thing.

And now, for the inevitable therapy fun... I talked to my therapist about the power/control discovery yesterday, and she thinks it's an important step. It leads to more questions, though, and more homework.

I'm trying to figure out a way to articulate the things that came up, because they all do tie together but I'm not quite clear on exactly how. I know they're related, though.

There's this thing about baby steps. I have, in the past, made mouth noises about the importance of baby steps, and to a certain extent I even believed it. The thing is, though, that I only believed in the worth of baby steps in as much as they were a means to an end, not important in and of themselves. They were important because they led to the next step; if I got stuck on a baby step, though, or found my limit there, I translated that as TERRIBLE HORRIBLE FAILURE THE WHOLE THING IS FALLING DOWN AAAAAAAHHHH.

My therapist described baby steps as more of a testing process, trying a small step and seeing how it feels-- whereas I had been seeing baby steps as a conquering process, where I conquered one step in order to move on to the next. The difference there is threefold: the goal-setting, where a baby step is a goal in and of itself versus my concept of a goal being something out there and a baby step as insignificant except regarding how far it moves me toward that goal; listening to my body and emotions, which is currently a damn near foreign concept to me; and in time, where I would push the baby step as fast as I could instead of letting it settle in and evolve naturally.

I keep looking for a new structure. My therapist caught me at it, noticed that I kept asking "What do I do now?" and trying to get her to tell me how to do things. I seem to require a structure created by other people to give me a sense of up and down, right and wrong, good and bad. Kinda flailing at the moment. I'm guessing that this is my therapist's way of gently forcing me to feel my way and re-learn how to handle life in smaller increments, figure out what my priorities actually are, instead of what I feel they ought to be, and figure out how I feel about things.

Seriously, the strongest emotions I've had for a long time are fear and shame; everything else has been sort of dull. I honestly don't know where my priorities are because I can't tell based on positive emotions about them. I'm feeling pretty vulnerable now, and panicky, because now there's no telling where the hell I'm going to end up. Like I'm drifting, like there's a hole in my life. I can see where people look for a quick fix from this, because I'm used to having a distinct purpose in life and just living is very odd. I sat on the train this morning thinking that perhaps having a baby would help, at which point it occurred to me that a) that would be a very sucky reason to bring new life into the world, b) we're still just not ready for it, and c) my history of avoiding my problems by embracing new roles as What I Am Going To Do With My Life indicates that I'd turn into SuperMom and fall right back into my desperate search for perfection, only in this case harming a kid while doing it instead of just myself. Oy. What a supremely bad idea.

I have a friend who does this, by the way, which is why I recognized the pattern. She responded to a divorce and going onto Prozac by throwing herself head-on into another marriage, this time with a child that came along with the husband, and by adopting a myriad of pets. She always thinks she needs another pet, and keeps talking about having another baby, when it's clear that the pressures of the life she already has are just crushing her.

I'm just putting this all together. I guess in a way it's like escaping an abusive relationship (with myself! ha!) or a lousy work situation or a strict religion; it's a relief, don't get me wrong, but the lack of clear-cut direction is very disconcerting. Trust myself? When I was told for years that I had the wrong priorities, when I sometimes really want Doritos, when I've spent so long fighting myself that I don't even know what I really want?

Gah. So weird.

The up side is that I think it might be possible to get through this and come out as a functioning, relaxed version of myself. Gotta tell ya, that will be odd. Possibly as odd as looking in the mirror and not recognizing myself by the end of my months of weight loss. I mean, I don't remember a time when I wasn't stressed out and when disapproval didn't crush me like a bug. I don't remember trusting myself or being confident without having a corresponding achievement so that I could feel "permission" to be confident and to like myself.

There's this guy, though, who came out the other side of anorexia, who told his story on the PBS site, and who describes so much of what I've been like, and gives me hope for relaxing my head:

"One of the most significant insights I've gained in my recovery has been that I have spent my whole life trying to be somebody I'm not. Just like so many of my patients, I had the feeling that I was never good enough. In my own estimation, I was a failure. Any compliments or recognition of achievement did not fit. On the contrary, I always expected to be "found out" -- that others would discover that I was stupid, and it would be all over. Always starting with the premise that who I am is not good enough, I have gone to such extremes to improve what I assumed needed improvement. My eating disorder was one of those extremes. It blunted my anxieties and gave me a false sense of security through the control over food, body shape, and weight. My recovery has allowed me to experience these same anxieties and insecurities without the necessity of escape through control over food.

"Now these old fears are only some of the emotions that I have, and they have a different meaning attached to them. The feelings of inadequacy and the fear of failure are still there, but I understand that they are old and more reflective of environmental influences as I was growing up than an accurate measure of my abilities. This understanding has lifted an enormous pressure off of me. I no longer have to change who I am. In the past it would not have been acceptable to be content with who I am; only the best would be good enough. Now, there is room for error. Nothing needs to be perfect. I have a feeling of ease with people, and that is new to me. I am more confident that I can truly help people professionally. There is a comfort socially, and an experience of friendships that was not possible when I thought that others could only see the "bad" in me.

"I have not had to change in the ways that I initially feared. I have let myself respect the interests and feelings that I have always had. I can experience my fears without needing to escape."


I have started yelling at my past-- well, not out loud, but in my head. "Dad, that time when I was eleven or twelve and your cousins from another state stopped on their vacation to have dinner with us, and referred to me as "the chunky one"? If you remember, I didn't know anything about it until you told me, in a voice dripping with anger and shame. That was wrong. What the hell possessed you to do that? Why didn't you turn it back on them instead of turning it on me? All I learned from that was that I embarrassed you and that when people said mean things about me, you wouldn't protect me. VERY WRONG."

And: "Dad, remember the time that you wanted Mom to lose weight and you forced her to get on the scale when she didn't want to? I walked in and she was crying and you were angry. Again, a lovely memory to scar a pre-teen girl. The way you treated Mom was wrong. The way you took it out on me was wrong. The times you told me, "You don't want to turn out like your mother, do you? You're already heavier than she was at your age"-- that was seriously wrong, both cutting me down and my own mother at the same time. What in the world could have possibly made you think that this was a good thing to do?"

And: "You made exercise seem like punishment. It was something I had to do in order to make you happy. I used to jog around the park, except that the only part of it that was actually "jogging" was the part where someone watching from our house could see me; the rest of the time I'd just walk. You clamped down on television except for the time spent on the treadmill. It's like you were designing a program to make me hate being active just as you were making me feel that I needed to be active in order to get your approval. Thanks a fucking lot."

I had the sudden, stark memory today of the time when my sister came home to visit after I'd lost a lot of weight after college, and I actually said, "If I'd known before that all I had to do to make Dad approve of me was to get skinny, I would've done this a long time ago." That was when I was eating less than a thousand calories a day and exercising more and more. I consider myself lucky, after reading all the stories online and seeing that Nova program, that I didn't walk away from that with anorexia. I came really close. Binge eating disorder is bad enough, but at least it didn't kill me. Jesus, I was a textbook case: approval only coming when I got skinny, associating that with instant approval from my otherwise disapproving father (the holy grail of familial response). I'm really damn lucky I didn't get anorexia.

It's not "daddy issues", my therapist says, so much as "self issues"; I need to own them and let go of the blame part because I'm a grown-up now and responsible for my own future. I'm just so angry at him; for what he did in the past, for being so oblivious to what he did, for approving loudly of my current weight and eating habits and exercise, for continuing to grumble about my mother's weight to me and ask what he can do to change her. I know he has self-esteem issues of his own, and that he turned out the way he did because of the pressures of being the only "good" kid in the family, and I know he loves me, but I still have my doubts about whether or not he'll ever approve of me unconditionally. My therapist says that in order to preserve my sanity I'll just have to let go of that, accept that he'll never change, accept that I won't get what I want from him, mourn it, and then face the "now what?" Yeah, I know. I'm not sure whether it's harder now, when he's in approval mode, or whether it would be harder to let go if I was still heavy.

I just want this to be over. I'm so tired of being obsessive about food and exercise; hell, I've been tired of it for more than a year now and had to keep finding new reasons to work at it. I want to spend the day not thinking so hard about this. I want food to be something casual to me, not obsessed over or feared or clamored for. I just want to RELAX.

Some more bits of stuff from here and there that I felt clobbered by-- mostly for my own reference, sorry for the clutter.

From a description of Karen Carpenter: "She had the common signs of anorexia. She was sweet, but kept her emotions inside. She was the kind of person who would take care of other people, but not herself."

On anorexia: "Scientists are saying that anorexia can develop when parents set excessively high standards of achievement or exert too much control over their children. Children of authoritative parents don't rebel. Instead, they find areas in their lives where they do have control. One of them being their eating habits.

"Eventually, girls begin to develop a distorted view of themselves. Psychological disturbances cause them to stop seeing themselves realistically, which in turn causes them to have a low self-image. Often, other peoples' references to chubbiness, pudginess, or baby fat sends the signal that weight must be lost. Bright and successful people see themselves as disgustingly fat. They feel that they have to measure up, but that they can't unless they change their body weight. Anorexia is about control. For some, dealing with pressure means taking control of food."

From a website on counceling issues regarding EDs: "The typical image of the eating disordered is the "model child" or "perfect little Princess"; behind this image lies a poor sense of self, intense need for approval; and compulsive high-achievement. Because flaws are seen as failures which can invite rejection, a pervasive anxiety dominates their lives. To cope socially, bulimics tend to be gregarious impression-managers, while anorexics may simply withdraw."

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Holy crap, you guys, you have to see this

PBS Nova program: "Dying to be Thin".

I've been going through Nova programs that are available online (they are truly awesome) and this was on the bottom of the page. I avoided it, then finally today I was out of other things to watch while doing boring tasks at work, and went ahead and started it.

Oh my God.

Okay, so I'd heard before that eating disorders are tied to a need for control. And I knew I had an eating disorder, and I also knew that I had control issues, but I swear to God that I didn't put it all together before with exactly what I was trying to control until a) the control thing came up in therapy, and b) I watched this program.

My head just exploded.

There's the control thing, there's the seratonin study (you seriously have to see that) and the fact that many, many people with eating disorders have high anxiety, are "parent-pleasers", sweet girls, wanting to do things the "right" way, obsessive, anxious, "harm-avoidant"... oh, man, the whole thing. It all clicked together in my head.

I just had a flash of insight: I gave myself an eating disorder because I wanted control. I overate and ate whatever I wanted because I wanted control. I started dieting and exercising because I wanted control. I started BFL because I wanted control. I have done so much in the past few years trying to make this all happen, make it okay, control everything about my schedule and my body and my personality and everything, and all the time it hasn't been about losing weight. I gained weight and lost weight for the same goddamn reason.


And you know, it's all in trying to control how other people react to me. I get such good feedback and I feel good about myself for that, I feel like I got it right, I feel approved of and loved and so everything is okay... until I inevitably fall off my tough program and it's devistating: I lose the approval, lose my confidence, lose my sense of self...

It's not just weight. It's everything. Particularly about what I get done... there's this rock-bottom certainty that I discovered that if I'm not accomplishing something, constantly, that I'm worthless. It finally occurred to me that this means that I'm valuing myself, my self, less than my accomplishments-- hell, less than my to-do list.

They said in that program that the difference between most people who encounter personal upheavals and are fine, and the people who encounter personalities

I'm definitely going to have to talk to my therapist about this stuff. The main question, though, is what the hell do I do now? Is just relaxing enough? Am I going to be okay?

Argh. So complicated.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Using this as a sort of a thinky place...

Just re-discovered another one of my buttons: that I translate loud and/or harsh disagreement as personal disapproval. More, that it makes me angry; it makes me feel like I have been misunderstood and misrepresented, particularly when I try to explain and it just doesn't take.

Blood pressure up; heart rate faster; sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Total fight-or-flight response.

I'm pretty sure that my therapist, at this point, would ask me and what happens if that person misunderstands you?, so I'm asking myself.

If I am misunderstood and misrepresented, I am not in control of how people look at me and think about me, and at risk of having them not like me or approve of me. If people don't like me or approve of me, then...

Honestly, I'm drawing a blank. There's just this panicky, frustrated space in my head surrounding the idea of not being able to penetrate anger and disapproval and dislike. Beyond that, there's a big question mark; I don't know what happens. Honestly, in the real world in which I am operating as a nearly-30-year-old woman (as of Monday, ack!), this shouldn't be the end point of that mental equation.

I can only assume that this still ties back to the powerlessness of being a small child with a randomly angry father who scared the bejeezus out of me. Powerless feeling in the face of anger meant searching for a way to control it and turn it away; when I was little I'd automatically run around hiding everything that might set my father off, cleaning my room (which in a five-minute span usually meant stuffing everything in sight into my closet), sitting down to do my homework. If Dad was really in a mood to be angry at something, though, he'd open my closet and find the enormous pile of things anyway, and boom, I'd be the focus for his rage.

It all comes down to control, I guess. I have these rituals I do to try and control the opinions of others, and when I lose control, when I can't change their minds or talk them down or explain myself in a way that they find satisfactory or any of that, then I get scared, frustrated, and angry. (Anger, of course, being the direct descendent of fear.)

I need a new reaction, and I think it's related to working through the question of what happens if I can't explain myself or change their minds. Hrm. Mental note: must ask therapist about this.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Two posts in the same week, whoa.

It's about six weeks since I started taking Zoloft and going to therapy, and I'm here to say that this is an excellent idea. I feel like I've turned a corner. I'm feeling much, much, much better.

I had a major idea strike my brain last night-- an idea that's a giant "duh" moment by anyone's standards, but completely gobsmacked me nonetheless-- that I'm not actually a Type A personality. I'm the child of a Type A personality, and was raised according to those standards, but I'm actually a creative type. I've been judging myself a failure because I've been trying to fit a round peg into a square hole; I can make it work, but not for long, and it exhausts me and makes me unhappy and I have to stop before I self-destruct.

Discovery: other people are not my father, and they do just fine-- they get stuff done, have lives, raise children, do their jobs, are successful and enjoy their lives. I can be one of those other people. I can do this differently. I can relax and go at my own pace and "goof off" by doing things that are less practical than enjoyable. Operate as a creative type, accept that there are some parts of my personality that don't work the same way as my dad's Type A style, and that this is okay. He just didn't know how a creative type works, so he was trying to make me work well, and the only way he knew how to work was the way he works, so he taught me that; it just doesn't happen to be applicable for me.

Over the past two years I practically stopped writing and singing, my two main creative venues. Canary in the mine, there: if there was a sign that I was headed down the wrong road, that should have been it. If I'm not creating-- worse, if I don't feel like it or don't feel like I can-- then that's a sign that I'm under a great strain. Can't have that.

I think the main thing, besides that, is that I need to change my filtration process in terms of how I deal with other people. My therapist pointed out that I tend to want to be able to only get positive responses from people, but it's not possible, so when my situation changes in such a way that sharing a certain subject would elicit a negative response, I lie, or avoid the subject entirely, or turn it into a joke to try to keep the other person in a good mood. That's my current filtration process; that's my form of control. The problem becomes that then a) I don't trust the positive response, and I figure that the person likes me but they're wrong because they don't know me for real, so that takes away a lot of the affirmation of positive responses, and b) I become deeply paranoid that they'll find out the bad stuff, which means that I overreact like mad to negative responses. Worst of all, this doesn't really control anything, because I honestly have no real control over other people's feelings toward me. I'm trying to control something I can't control. Madness.

My therapist suggested a different filter: choose the subjects. If I think of each subject as a door, I've been trying to keep all those doors going only one way-- positive response. A more useful way of controlling things would be to choose which subjects I was comfortable with having open between me and the other person-- subjects that I could deal with having go both ways, positive and negative.

I added another layer on that, which after some discussion she agreed was a good thought: to practice, as I had that control, being more honest about the chosen subjects, so that I can lessen the paranoia of "oh, they don't know what a big fuck-up I am about this, if they find out I'll be in big trouble."

Also, regarding negative responses-- I'm re-working my response to those, based on her question, "What happens if someone is angry with you? What do you think, how do you feel?" My old response was that I thought they didn't like me, that I'd fucked up, that I was bad, that I had to fix it; I was scared. I'm trying to re-do that now, and think of annoyance and anger more as part of a natural relationship (family, marriage, friendship, even business relationships)-- the sort of thing that crops up every once in a while because of the closeness. That it's not a sign that a positive relationship doesn't exist; it's actually a kind of sign that a positive relationship does exist. That the bad stuff is transitory, and not a catastrophe.

By accident, the other night, we had a minor breakthrough. My Hub was in a mood; he got quiet and subdued and didn't really feel like talking. I left him alone-- and, more, I just figured that he was grumpy and that he'd get over it if left to himself. Son of a bitch, it worked. He got over his funk naturally, and in a lot shorter time than he would have if I'd been pressuring him by trying to fix his bad mood, and then he explained why he'd got that way and voila, we were fine. All better.

Partly, I think I managed that so well and felt so good about it (and not anxious at all! rock on!) because a few weeks back my therapist told me about a study someone had done about successful couples, where the guy had concluded that as long as both couples take the same communication mode when they have a conflict-- fighting it out, discussing it, or avoidance-- as long as they're both speaking the same emotional language, and not using corrosive behavior or language or completely walling each other off, then the relationship is operational and good. My Hub and I both avoid conflict, so by nature we'll both avoid the subject while we're angry and then work it out later, when we're not angry. I had this very quiet idea in my head that I hadn't ever articulated, not even to myself, that because we weren't dealing with conflict by discussion or actual fights, that unless we learned to deal with conflict one of those ways then the marriage was DOOOOOOMED. When my therapist told me that no, we were actually using one of the working techniques and would probably be fine, I was so relieved that I burst into tears. (And I hadn't even known that was bothering me!)

So I'm relaxing. Bit by bit. I'm starting to trust myself and not treat my personality and my body as though the only thing keeping me from going on some kind of horrible rampage was my pure strength of will. The more I relax, the more I realize that my life will not come apart if I unclench. I'm relaxed about exercise, but I'm still doing it. I goof around in the morning and drink coffee and snuggle my Hub and then, sure enough, I wander off to jog or do yoga... no pressure. I stopped pressuring myself to drink water and yet I find myself going through several 20-oz bottles every day just so I can keep hydrated. I've given myself permission to eat what I want-- I'm not tracking it-- but I find myself uninterested in fatty foods, only mildly interested in desserts, and mostly choosing tasty good-for-me stuff. Granted, at first that was really not what I was doing; I had a few Dorito attacks and entirely too much Halloween candy, I had a number of days where I skipped exercise or really low-balled it, and I practically stopped drinking water for a few weeks (only to eventually realize that my sinuses and skin get all screwy when I do that). But over the past week or so, that sort of behavior and those foods have just seemed kind of pointless. I think I may actually be entering into a zone where I can actually eat the way I see "normal girls" eat-- where a little ice cream once a week is enough, a candy bar once in a while, chips at a party, but mostly solid, healthy foods. Drink water because it makes me feel better. Exercise because it's what I do in a morning to start my day. No pressure, just kind of what I do. It's like I worked very hard at learning all this stuff, and I'm just now realizing that I have it imprinted on myself enough that I can finally relax into it and truly make it part of my life instead of making it always feel like it's something forced on me.

I feel like the grown-up version of myself is going to be different than I thought it would be, more relaxed and go-with-the-flow in terms of time and organization, less rigid limits and more natural wave patterns. And it's okay. It's not what I grew up with, and that doesn't make it bad, it just makes it me. I can look back on my whole life and see all the times when I made decisions to do things that felt right to me, that my family wouldn't necessarily have done, and these things all fit the "creative type" pattern and aren't a sign that I'm a screw-up. I'm doing okay. I'm fine. I just need to find my natural pattern and work with that, and trust my own worth-- both to myself and to other people-- and I will be fine.

I need to lose a little weight, but at this point it's more about fitting back into clothes than being a big self-esteem issue. I'm hoping that my new relaxed way of going about things will get me back to the point where I'm eating what I need and exercising enough and the flab gradually melts off. Knock on wood. I'd like it if what I do naturally would be good for me.

Cut for length-- click to read more.