abdominoplasty

There is a picture of me from when I was maybe eleven years old. I am wearing small red shorts and a very tight aqua polo shirt. It’s a picture of me from the side—I’m staring up and laughing at something my little brother is doing. My body is slouched in an S-shape, with my belly sticking out one way and my butt sticking out the other way and I am the very picture of the incredibly awkward, pudgy dorky kid.

I’m not fat yet—that happened around adolescence, when hormones kicked in and genetics woke up and remembered that I should have a weight problem because it runs in the family. But in the photo I’ve got some pre-adolescent awkward chub going on.

It’s a picture that makes me cringe. Not because I look so dorky and awkward—I mostly find that hilarious. I cringe because I remember my reaction the first time I saw it. I was a weird little eleven-year-old girl who genuinely had no idea what she looked like because she never thought about those things, not yet. But when that eleven year old girl looked at that photo, everything changed.

It struck me that I didn’t like how I looked. I didn’t look like any of the girls in my school. I had these drumstick thighs and a chubby face and that belly. No one had a belly like I did, round and soft and poking out like a mound of vanilla ice cream on a plate.

That’s the first time I remember ever thinking something bad about my body, my size, my shape. That’s the first time I remember realizing I didn’t look like other people. That was the first time I started to dislike—even hate—myself for not looking right. That was when I started to become self-conscious of my belly.

Adolescence struck, and so did the weight—I was a kid who ate a lot of junk food, and while my brother and father could get away with that without obvious physical consequences, the sugar and fat stuck to me in lumps. I got fat, and then fatter. And I knew I wasn’t supposed to look like that because no one else did, and because people told me it was gross, because that is their job.

But it was my belly I was most conscious of. The pooch that I couldn’t seem to hide. That looked horrible in my gym uniform. That made me hate getting undressed in the locker room. That made me hate going shopping for school clothes. “It looks good except for how it shows your gut,” my father said outside the girl’s dressing room at K-mart, and I started wearing only giant t-shirts instead.

I was ashamed of being fat, but I was most ashamed of my stomach—its size, its shape, how it made clothes fit me funny, how I hated wearing pants because you could see it. Through my teen years, all the way through my twenties, I obsessively searched out those giant t-shirts, tunic-length tops to pull down over my gut, to drag down over my butt, because I thought camouflage was my only, best option. I thought it was totally successful, too—no one would have ever guessed I had a fat stomach.

All those years I gained and lost, gained and lost. Sometimes, sometimes I was able to accept my body, to think I was reasonably attractive, to believe that I was worth love and attention. But I never stopped hating my stomach. For twenty years I hated my stomach—the way it mounded out, the way it hung down. Do you know I actually stood naked in front of mirrors and cried because I thought it was repulsive? That is drama. That is genuine loathing. I wouldn’t let any one see me naked and standing up. I wouldn’t let anyone touch me there, especially in bed.

I got weight loss surgery when I was thirty-three, and I lost a massive amount of weight. That was thrilling to me—the whole idea of being the size that the world is designed for. Of dumping this loathing and exhausting obsessiveness about my weight and my body and my size off my plate. Getting to walk away from all the angst and anxiety being fat caused me. I couldn’t wait to flee Torrid and Lane Bryant and failed diets and body shame.

My body looked normal, almost. Not perfect. I was never going to model bikinis. But I thought, hesitantly, that I looked pretty good. Except, of course, for my stomach. I knew losing all that weight wasn’t going to change my gut—if anything, it would be left behind like a deflated balloon. Even when I was skinny—too skinny—by anyone’s definition, I had this soft, loose curtain of skin spilling down, and to me it looked worse than ever.

I’ll tell you right now—control-top panty hose only get you so far. And only when it’s not a hundred degrees out.

Many weight loss surgery patients assume they’re going to have full-body plastic surgery reconstruction after they’ve lost all their weight. I read testimonial after testimonial about how the weight loss surgery was just the beginning—it was the plastic surgery that changed their lives. I couldn’t understand why anyone would volunteer for more surgery, would want to be a patchwork of scars, would think they could just cut out every part of their body that offended them.

But I ran into some before and after photos of an abdominoplasty—really remarkably similar to how I ran into before and after photos of weight loss surgery for the first time—and I was astonished. She didn’t look like the same person. She had had a belly that looked like mine—maybe worse than mine, more skin, more flesh, more rumpled and strange. And then she had—a flat belly. A charming belly button and a flat, muscled stomach and some faint lines circling her hips and I was struck by a longing, an overwhelming, desperate jealous longing. I could do that. I could. I could be fixed.

Again, shades of what made me rush headlong into weight-loss surgery.

I don’t regret getting wls, I don’t. I can’t. But I do wish I had been a stronger person. A braver person. Someone who could learn to love her body and say fuck the haters and work fiercely and tirelessly and bravely to change a hateful, prejudiced world and promote self-love and positive body image and health at every size. But I ducked out the back door instead. And I was afraid of doing that again. I was afraid of chickening out again. Couldn’t I just learn to be proud of my body?

I hated my stomach for six more years. I daydreamed for six years about a tummy tuck. I set money aside. I quietly saved—just in case I decided to do it. Just in case.

Two weeks ago I had a consultation and the doctor was elated to see me. “You’ll have amazing results!” he said, grabbing wads of skin and tugging them up and in. Vertigo, how much shame I was filled with. Panic. Nausea. “Look,” he said, and I looked in the mirror and I could see what he was talking about. “Look at what this will do.” I looked at what it would do, and I could see how it would change my whole body—but not really change it. Reveal it. Dig it out from under this stuff. Dig me out from under this embarrassment I could never entirely shake.

In the hospital’s parking lot I sat in the car and looked down at my stomach and wondered what it would be like to not feel like I had to hide my gut all the time. To not have this. I prodded at it. I picked up my cell phone and called the front desk and said, I want to schedule my surgery.

I paid a breathtaking amount of money. I signed an epic amount of paperwork. I’m scheduled for this Friday.

pocket full of candy


My mother, in her housecoat on a Sunday. She is trying to quit smoking. She tears open a package of plain M&Ms and pours them into her pocket, and it’s an ingenious idea. Candy on your person, for any kind of emergency that occurs—nicotine craving or chocolate urge, need for candy or desperate desire to replenish dangerously low sugar reserves.

My mother eventually quit smoking, and I am sure the M&Ms cured her. As far as I know, she never poured candy in her pockets again, but ever since then, I have thought about it. I have thought about just carrying M&Ms and Goobers and Raisinets with me wherever I go. I have considered lining the insides of all my coats with Hershey’s bars and pouring hot cocoa in my shoes and padding my bra with Almond Joys.

I get a little worried when I realize there’s no chocolate in the house. I get a little panicked when I think that I have no access to something sweet, and no way to fix that. I get emotionally fraught when there’s no candy at hand and no one wants to give any to me; when it is offered, I sweep up huge armfuls like there is a candy shortage and the person who gets the most stuffed inside their face wins.

As I understand it, this isn’t regular, ordinary everyday behavior. A large majority of people don’t have deep emotional attachments to sugar. No one understands candy the way I do. So probably you should all give it to me so that I can take care of it.

Or probably me and candy need to take a break. We need to step back and re-evaluate our relationship. Our terribly, terribly troubled relationship. Our desperate, desperately one-sided love affair that only leaves me feeling sick and greasy and bad. My rerouted digestive system, it doesn’t like candy. It reacts poorly. It rebels and the world is a worse place for it, particularly the world in a small radius directly around me and my sick stomach, and I still can’t stop. Part of the Wonder of Weight Loss Surgery is supposed to be the Pavlovian-style relearning that takes place—eating X makes me sick. I will no longer eat X!

I eat a lot of X. Am I stubborn, or stupid? Don’t answer that.

I don’t want to do it any more. I don’t want to eat candy. I mean, I want to eat candy. I want to eat all the candy. I want to swim through a sea of Hershey’s Kisses and shower in a waterfall of Reeses Peanut Butter Cups. I want my pockets to always be overflowing with Kit Kats and Nestle’s Crunches. I want the glorious bounty of bad chocolate to always be inside me.

But I also need to stop. Just—stop. I am tired of being a mess. No—let’s be excitingly positive about this. I am eager to be well. I am excited to be healthy. I am super-glad to have my (relative) youth and general well-being ready to spend it on being happy and feeling good about things. All the things. All the things inside my head and all the things in the world, all the things that are good. Feeling guilty and gross and sick is surprisingly not good. Will I be able to function? Will I even feel like myself? What will I fill my pockets with, if not candy? I am thinking ponies.

my fitness routine

Every day I look at the class schedule at my gym—my gym, I say, as if I have some kind of claim on it, having been there so often and really marking it with my sweat glands—and I fantasize about what it would be like to go to a class. A class! Me in comfortable clothes, my sneakers unearthed from the back of my closet, filled with endorphins and joy and joyful endorphins and FITNESS.

Tomorrow, I say. Tomorrow I’ll just—I’ll go to a class! It will be so good for me! It will be good for me emotionally, and spiritually, and for my heart and for all my powerful muscles and all my strong bones. I’ll go to one of those lifting classes, where you lift things up and then you put them back down, all in unison with the rest of the class, who are lifting things up and also putting them back down, and no one will notice what amount of weight you are lifting and putting down! Because we’re all in it together, you, and me, and our classmates and our teacher and the techno music that thumps as loud as our hearts in our chests!

Or I could go to yoga, where the Official Gold’s Gym Yogi can fix all my back problems and my front problems and my middle problems and also put me in a soothing state of being soothed, where my body is relaxed and wrung out and my soul is so at peace you’d think someone had injected me right in the earhole with a turkey baster full of liquid morphine.

Or forget the class, because someone’s always looking at your butt in class. I will load up my phone with many delightful audiobooks and I will while away an hour on the treadmill, lost in a story, my mind exercised at the same my butt is.

But if I’m going to walk/jog/run/lurch/limp/stagger, speaking of butts, I should just take the dog, and we should walk briskly through the crisp mountain air, strengthening our bond and our love for each other even as we strengthen our cardiovascular systems and our senses of self-worth!

Except it’s cold out. So I’ll just go to the 4:30 Body Pump thingum. Or is there a yoga class? I could get on the treadmill any time I want. But I should just take Crommy out—it would be rude and selfish to not take Crommy, to kill two birds with one stone! But it’s so cold, and it’s icy too. The gym makes the most sense. But I hate what time the class. When’s yoga again?

And thus, my fitness routine. Mix it up however you like! But please remember to make sure you consult with your doctor before attempting any physical activity.

excuses

We talk a lot about how much we hate our stove. “I hate this stove,” I say. “This stove is awful,” E says. This stove is a relic, this stove is a piece of crap, this stove is one thousand years old and why, god, why have you cursed us with a stove that makes us drop to our knees, every single day, and weep olive oil tears while we beat at our chicken breasts and wail at the uncaring heavens?

It came with the house, I feel like I should tell you. And the first time I saw it, I thought it was adorable, I should confess. It is so old timey! Look at the adorable uh, knobs! And things! Isn’t it cute the way it uses electricity? Maybe it made me feel like I was back in my childhood, where every single thing in the house was electric, including our baseboard heaters and our boogie woogie woogie.

It may be a beautiful old piece of history (ha ha ha ha ha!) but it is also the worst kitchen stove in the world. Ever. In the history of the stoves and kitchens. The burners are all crooked and heat unevenly, and the oven hasn’t decided yet what temperature 350 degrees is, and it’s small and stupid and we hates it, we do.

We have a home warranty, and we managed to successfully obtain a new dishwasher to replace our antique dishwasher inside of which was an actual, ineffective little dinosaur with a little scrub brush. We thought, let’s get a new stove! A man who was one thousand and four years old came out and looked at it while I hovered over him, desperately trying to convince him that it was broken forever and ever. “It doesn’t heat up! It heats up too much! Sometimes, um, it catches on fire! But sometimes it won’t even start! WE HEARD VOICES COME FROM DEEP WITHIN AND THEN IT FOUNTAINED BLOOD!”

He said, “mm hmm,” and charged us thirty dollars and went away, and we still have the same stove that we have always had, which we are pretty convinced is going to be buried with us and probably also get the best epitaph, too.

This is sad because we want to cook. We want to cook every! We want to cook all. Because—well, have you ever met someone who has eaten fast food for every single meal for weeks on end? Yes, that’s us. Yes, we’ve seen Super-Size Me. Yes, we’re ashamed and our hearts are as fatty and enlarged as our butts.

But the thing is that we cook for a week and then we can’t stand the crooked burners and the weird uneven heat and the teeny little stove and the dark little kitchen and suddenly we’re on the road again, arguing over whether it has been long enough since we’ve eaten Taco Bell that our intestinal microbes have forgiven and forgotten.

We need a stove. I used to think that if I got a windfall of money first I’d pay to have my name lasered into the moon, and then I’d pay off my credit card debt and student loan, and then I’d get a full-body tuck, where all the parts of me that stick out are tucked in. But now I’m thinking a windfall of money is first, going straight up my nose and secondly, going right into a fancy nuclear-powered stove and thirdly, I am getting my name laser-carved into the moon.

the whole weight loss surgery–type journey

It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten weight loss surgery—five years, I want to say. Maybe six? Maybe less than that. Maybe somewhere in between that. I could get up and find the stack of paper I have, a whole folder’s worth,about as thick as ream of printer paper, of documentation and medical records and instructions and manuals and permission slips and checklists and diagrams and insurance bills and medical bills and leaflets and pamphlets. Weight loss surgery involves a lot of paperwork, and I’ve saved all of it like I’m afraid there’s going to be an open-book test and I’m going to really regret spending an hour shredding everything.

If there were any kind of test about weight loss surgery, though, I’d fail it. I could never really, and I still can’t, describe exactly what they were going to do up inside me, what with the intestines and the re-routing and the cutting out. I know you’re supposed to eat primarily protein, but I don’t remember amounts and grams, and the final word on fat, I don’t think I ever really waited around to hear it. I also still have no idea how to pronounce duodenal. Doo-odd-en-all? Duo-dennal? Something like that. I had it switched. Whatever the fuck that means.

What it boils down to: an uncertain number of years ago an unclear procedure was performed on unconfirmed areas of my digestive system, and subsequently, though I was unsure about and unprepared for what I was supposed to eat and when and where and how and to what extent, I lost a lot of weight. I lost all of the weight. I lost so much weight that people were starting to say Jen, where did your weight go? Do you need us to help you find it? Here is a sandwich. He is very helpful at looking.

Weight loss surgery was a fucking miracle. I lost a lot of weight, no matter what I did. I was free! I was clear! The world was a beautiful place because I was cured! I had no tits, but I was cured!

I wasn’t cured. That’s the secret surprise ending. I still have this candy issue. And I don’t like to exercise. And I’ve gained weight back. Not to the point where I’m fat-by-society’s-bullshit-standards, I think—but the bullshit part is that I feel fat. I am the size I dreamed about being my entire life—this is one hundred percent a true fact. I used to daydream about being a size 12. I thought 12 was such a good number. I have my boobs back; my butt’s always been there. I have curves, I can shop off the rack in most straight-size stores and can still go thrift store shopping and you can’t see my ribs and that’s a good thing.

And holy crap, I hate it. Holy crap, what is wrong with me? I have no idea! I still have no idea how this whole weight loss surgery thing works! I want to go back to the part where I was just happy to have lost all the weight and didn’t have to think about food or dieting or exercise ever again. I want to be peacefully stupid. I want to be happily ignorant. I want to be a size six again, and I want to punch myself in the face for saying that, and then keep punching myself in the face.

I did learn one thing, during this whole weight loss surgery-type journey I’ve been on: if you are not happy with your body and in your skin, it doesn’t matter what size you are and what other people think you look like. There is no objectivity when it comes to being comfortable with your body. There is only you and all your subjectivity and it doesn’t matter if someone tells you that you’re crazy and gorgeous—if you are unhappy with your weight or your size or your muscle tone, you need to do something about it. Diet, exercise, self-actualization and peaceful letting go—whatever works. It’s all good, if it’s healthy.

And yet I still want to punch myself in the face for being unhappy and ungrateful with the body I’ve got. I feel like I’ve been rescued from being 300 pounds—and I’m being churlish and ungracious about it.

I’ll do something about it. I’ll probably start walking the dogs, instead of just standing there and chucking the ball for them. I’ll probably try to eat just a little less of the candy that makes me sick (candy makes me sick? I say wonderingly, every single time I’m sick after eating candy). I’ll probably try to self-actualize. I’ll find a smarter way to spend the next five to six years. Maybe figure out how to pronounce duodenal.

revolutions

Every once in awhile I develop this overwhelming desire to become a better person—someone who smells better, looks better, acts better, is better. I think this is a unique phenomenon that should probably be studied by scientists as something brand-new and unusual that no one on earth has ever experienced ever in the history of time, or when the new year rolls around and the calendar looks all shiny and new and blank and filled with possibilities. For instance: the possibility that this year, you won’t suck.

This year, I’m not going to suck. There, I said it. This year it is very likely that I will suck. Four days into the new year, this shiny fancy 2012 we’ve been given, it’s pretty likely I have already sucked any number of times. That I have messed up in countless tiny ways, leaving nothing but pain and disappointment in my wake. But I have decided not to think about that, because that way lies madness.

The opposite way lies new year’s resolutions, which is a bunch of pledges you make solemnly to yourself and the people around you, whether they realize it or not, that you will do your best to quit being a bad person and instead become a better person with whom no fault can be found, and also to develop (or invent) new excellent qualities to be admired by all.

I spent a week thinking about the person I wanted to be in 2012, the accumulation of which would make me the person I end up being on January 31st of this year. I hope that I’m going to pat myself on the pack gently, admiringly, and say good job, Jen. You tried really hard, and look how well you’ve done.

The other reason I want to make resolutions and write them down and be all conscious and alert is because I have no idea if I made resolutions last year, if I wrote them down anywhere if I did, and whether I kept any of them, even accidentally. It is highly unlikely. This vague sense of unease I have about 2011, most of which I do not remember, probably springs from that fact.

But this year will be better! This year I will cherish the people I love, related and un-related by blood. This year I’ll stay in touch with them. This year I will only make promises I keep. This year I’ll pay off my credit cards and finish the majority of the unfinished projects that languish on every floor of the house.

This year I’ll be creative—super, extra, crazy-fancy ultra creative. I’m going to learn to use my camera, and I’m going to finish this book I’m writing and start a new one and revise an old-old one, and work on sewing projects. I’m going to write flash fictions. If you were to take me at my word, you’d believe I’m going to be writing flash fictions every day and posting them on a secret website somewhere on the internet every day, even when they’re truly terrible. I have this feeling that there’s going to be a lot of truly terrible flash fiction written this year.

This year I’m going to be bright and shiny! This year I will go to the gym! This year I will breathe in, and then I’m going to breathe back out again! This year I will keep at least one of my resolutions—this I swear! You heard it here first.

just as fast as you can

A few weeks ago, as I do, I started running again. The Couch to 5K, that old reliable standby which removes your buttocks from the couch and sets you bouncing and cursing down the road towards ultimate health and total fitness, or at least the ability to run for 3 miles without passing out and then dying in a ditch and then being eaten by wild moose who have trampled down off the mountains when they heard that there was a buffet.

Jennette was my inspiration—she announced, I am going train for the 5K! Oh boy, that was totally easy! she said. And I thought, holy crap, it’s totally easy! I can do it too! And then I might have totally blamed her for leading me astray when, after rising bright and early for a vigorous dawn run, I staggered home and crawled into bed, safely out of range of mooses, and pretty much slept like the biggest Wuss in Wusstown, population me,  for the rest of the day.

It could have also been the fact that I did not eat before I went out, and I forgot to bring my water bottle, and my iPod conked out so I tried to time my intervals in my head but kept losing count and erring on the side of “I will jog for an extra twenty, thirty hours just to be safe.” But it is easier to blame Jennette, really, because then I get to demand recompense. I prefer it in the form of cookies.

The next time I went, I did not make those mistakes. I made lots of different, interesting ones, but not those ones, and when I finished up my run with my shoelaces untied and my iPod cord tangled around my head and my sweat jacket trailing along the path behind me and the sun burning my eyes and a long trail of spilled water all the way down my front and somewhat unsure where my keys were, I felt absolutely fucking fantastic. I felt like a goddess. A damp, sweaty, squinty, total mess of a goddess who had just jogged, very slowly and with poor form, probably an entire total of 100 feet, and was absolutely and entirely, absurdly proud of herself.

I jogged! Outside! I was wearing spandex and a sports bra, in public, under the great big blue sky where anyone and god could see me, and I ran and ran and ran until it was time to stop and I wanted to do it again and again and again.

I managed to do it three times more before a trip out of town got in the way. I packed my running clothes and my shoes and I had very determined plans and yet somehow, ended up at a breakfast buffet, face down in a pile of waffles and fresh cream and ripe strawberries instead of on a treadmill in the bowels of a hotel in Vegas. Weird. But I missed it! I’d start again on Monday! Except I was sick on Monday, and tired on Wednesday, and on Friday I had missed both Monday and Wednesday so what was the point?

The point is that I miss it. I have never run outside, not on a treadmill before, and it was spectacularly awesome. It was fresh air and changing scenery, trees and grass and dogs passing by (I am a fan of all these things) and running through the shade and out into the sun and alongside the river all the way up to the dinosaur park  and back and it was just about one of the best things ever, and I am saying that about exercise, I want you to understand, and I miss it.

image by Today is a good day

storybook

I like happy endings. It’s why I read romance novels for so long—I want the romantic kiss and the sunset and the ever-after where the music surges joyfully and has got harmonicas in it and everything is swell and nothing will ever be sad, not ever again.

The problem with happy endings, though, is figuring out where the ending is. Sometimes, it is very very easy. The hero and the heroine kiss, that’s one. The family torn apart is reunited, there’s another. The small, wiry kid wins the national boating championship despite all odds and is hoisted up on his teammates’ shoulders and there is cheering.

Weight loss stories are supposed to have very definitive endings—you reach your goal! You have triumphed! There go the harmonicas, and here comes the hero of our story, wearing a slinky dress in size whatever, newly proud of herself and her accomplishments and her rockin’ bod, and there she goes off over the horizon and into the setting sun that is as hot as she suddenly believes she is and then the credits roll and you are dabbing away a little tear and pressing your fist to your heart because it is throbbing with the beauty of it all, so hard it might just thump right out of your chest.

I keep waiting for the credits to roll, I think, and that is my problem. After the credits roll, I can stop thinking about my body, and what I eat and what I drink and if my intestines are going to be difficult that day. I can stop worrying about how I look in jeans and that my belly is still sort of poochy and I can stop hating my boobs and I can just go on and live my life the way life is supposed to be lived, after a happy ending—completely off-screen, without a director’s commentary, without wondering what’s next.

As I understand it, that happens pretty often when you reach a goal. You plant your flag, you look around, and you go “huh. Well. That’s done.” And you realize that there’s nowhere to go but right back down. Here’s where the mountain stops, and it looked pretty high when you were down at the bottom, but now that you’re up there, it looks pretty boring.

I’ve lost all the weight, I’ve gotten the high fives, I’ve gone woo! And now I am waiting for the flourish of trumpets to let me know that I can stop waiting–well, for the flourish of trumpets. Now I am just kind of torn between relaxing into just giving up and forgetting all about it (this is who I am, now, and this is how it’s going to be and things are easy-peasy, from here on out) and fading undramatically into black, and being very disappointed that there’s not more to it, getting mad that there’s nothing left.

Things were so exciting when I was losing the weight. Things were dynamic, ever-changing, and it was a Thrilling Adventure, Full of Spills, Chills, and extra, additional Thrills.  And now things are not exciting. Things require work. Pushups and running and vitamins and being healthy without the immediate reward of five pounds down and a compliment every time I see someone I haven’t seen in ten to fifteen minutes.

A few weeks ago I visited San Francisco—my incredibly talented friend Josh Mohr was having his book release party for his (awesomely best-selling, completely amazing) novel Some Things That Meant the World to Me. He was in my grad program; people and instructors from the grad program showed up, and over and over they gasped, and hardly-recognized-me, and told me I looked wonderful and asked how I was and it was startling, to be in that place again, where it was all new and fresh and completely astonishing, how much weight I had lost and how different I look and how awesome everything in the world was and how totally I rule.

I missed that, I realized. I’ve been just ordinary for a long time, and sort of coasting along, waiting for someone to tell me that things were over and done with, and I missed the rush of it. The validation. The high fives and the wows and the holy, holy that comes when you do something dramatic and people recognize how very dramatic it is. I had forgotten, a little bit, where I used to be and what I used to look like, and how I had passed through the gates of paradise and had been issued my passel of virgins and my portion of olive oil and grapes and been warned that this was the way it was going to be, from now on. It crept up so slowly, the complacency and the odd, ungrateful boredom.

There’s plenty I can do—I can declare that my next goal is Ultimate Fitness. My next goal can be a marathon. My next goal can be a six pack. My next goal can be buttocks which can crack a walnut. My next goal can be a triathlon. My next goal can be curing cancer and finding missing children and rehabilitating abused hamsters and looking for the face of god and brokering peace in places that are broken. My next goal ought to be accepting that I had a happy ending, even if I can’t reach out and place my finger directly on the moment where that happened—maybe as far back as when I saw the scale drop below 200 pounds, or the first time I walked up a flight of stairs without dying, or the time I realized that I was worth something, that I had been worth something all along, that I would always be worth something, and I took the batteries out of the scale and gave it away, cue the triumphant kazoo.

I’m done losing weight, and I have been for so long, and probably it is long, so long past time to stop being vaguely dissatisfied, maybe, and figure out what’s next.  Cue the extra-triumphant entire band of kazoos.

image by LunaDiRimmel

spring comes soon

It happened with a quickness that is still a little puzzling to me, and makes me think that it was some extended practical joke that was broadcast live somewhere in a European country where smoking is still considered sexy. Things were rough, for a bit—a crazy man and threats of having my dog put down, and money woes, always the money woes, and endless, neverending, eternal fucking winter—but there was Mexico! Sunshine! Sunshine in Mexico! I will be cured! And for a week I was the happiest thing in the land.

And then I came back to a happy cat and my clean apartment and was glad to be home, except that things started to feel inexplicably bad, and badder, and the worst, until a week or so later I was up out of my bed and googling “painless suicide” in my underwear.

Googling “painless suicide” will make you feel a little bit like a dipshit; it will also, probably usefully but not in the way that you hope at three in the morning in your underwear, not provide you with the answers you’re looking for. Which will also make you feel Even More Alone and really totally unclear about what to do next.

I’ve been depressed before, terribly so, can’t-get-out-of-bed depressed, wishing-it-would-all-go-away depressed, endless-fits-of-utterly-prone-and-snotty-weeping depressed, but I have never hit that sweet spot before, where you’re depressed to the very specific degree that you want to die, and can also still function adequately enough to make that magic happen.

Usually I am far too weighted down with woe to do anything about it. This active, go-getter kind of despair was a new one on me, and having the possibility, the option of a way out, was, luckily, flummoxing enough that I wasn’t entirely clear what to do with it. You mean I really could just, you know—stop? Quit? Flip over the board and storm off? Take my ball and go home?

(No one would miss me, and no one would care, and people would probably even be better off and why shouldn’t I? What’s stopping me? I was talking myself into it, even if it would hurt. It would hurt for just a second, right? Unless I fucked that up, too. Oh, look, a rabbit hole, back around the way we came, and two, and three, and four.)

The idea was appealing, and the appealingness of the idea was terrifying, and I spent a lot of time terrified of myself and what I could end up doing, if that makes any sense. I’ve done stupid shit before, in fits of impulsiveness. I could do the ultimate stupid thing from which there is no handy Ctrl-Z.

Luckily I am no good under pressure, froze up, and waited it out quietly. A flurry of wretchedness, of isolation, of something that felt like perfect clarity but was as muddled as simple arithmetic after a jug of vodka. Keeping a secret, keeping it all secret because I felt like a ridiculous teenager.

Eventually confessing to E. I am alone, and lonely, and isolated, and scared of what I could do. And the look on his face was like a punch in the gut. Sometimes you need the punch in the gut.

Clawing my way back, every step careful, conscious, calculated. Add in: vitamins. A walk. More water. A protein shake. Start answering the email that’s piled up. Send out a short story. Finish my book proposal, send it out; start writing again, even just the tiniest bit. And think oh, hey. That’s what hope feels like. Interesting.

Enough measured, deliberate mimicry of human behaviors, and eventually you become a human being again. Eventually you feel human enough to count, to take up space in the world and not feel like you’re wasting it. Eventually you’re the person you think of as you, again, and not the heaped-up pile of mistakes and errors and trash you started to feel like, instead. I can hang on for a little while longer. Especially if spring comes soon.

photo by Kruggg6.

depression’s got a hold of me

Since around 2001, I’ve had a online journal, which means that since 2001, I’ve chronicled the majority of my depressive cycles, sometimes in breathtaking detail, and sometimes just with one meaningful post heavy on the choking/drowning/black hole/night sky metaphors that really, you know, capture the feeling of a severe bout of depression and or despair.

Sometimes the post was to explain away an absence of posts for days or weeks or months and sometimes it was to round-about apologize to the friends in the audience who may or may not have been reading who may or may not have even been my friends any more, to say—I’m sorry I’ve been flaking. But it is hard to put on pants when you are choking in a black hole under a night sky that is drowning in sorrow, am I right? Except without the danger of possible embarrassment and potential ridicule and or doubt and or skepticism that might arise if I actually was brave enough to resurface and apologize in person.

Sometimes the post was to purge, and to say, hey, things are hard and I am sad and I just wanted to say that. My biology is messed up, my headology is a wreck and I never learned any useful coping mechanisms and here we go again. I’ve been aware of the endless cyclical cycling and I have always had the feeling if I were to look at a wide-angle shot of all the things I’ve ever written over the course of my online life, a very clear pattern would emerge and then I’d have to go cry into some pudding.

I’m pretty tired of documenting my bouts of depression. I’m tired of them occurring, and I’m tired of them hanging around, eating all my cold cuts and drinking all my beer and leaving crumbs on my couch and thumbprints on my mirrors. I’m tired of giving in to depressions and accepting the idea that occurs to me, that I cannot function and always I will be sad. I’m tired of saying that I’m tired of it.

I’ve been doing this a long time, and trying to cope with it for about as long. There’s not a lot left for me to do, besides  electroshock therapy. Medicines, doctors. Going for a brisk walk! Buying myself flowers. Making lists that include the items “get out of bed” and “take shower.” Aerobics. Sunlamps and heat lamps and changes of scenery. Just giving into the lying in bed and crying until I am all cried out. They help; they don’t cure. What I want is a cure. What I want is to never again have to write a post full of metaphors about being smothered under wet blankets/frozen in an icy sea/beaten with flannel-wrapped hammers, accompanied by an acknowledgement that I have a great life and am very lucky and I don’t mean to be ungrateful and I’m really sorry, I am, I am.

photo by loop_oh