Tag Archives: living

Carry That Weight

It isn’t often that I watch a tv show that actually truly affects me, much less one that does so in a positive manner. Game of Thrones got me all fired up when they once again used the rape of a female character to unnecessarily advance the arc of a male, a plot device created by the show that wasn’t in the books — and don’t bash me friends, but I won’t watch it anymore, and that’s my choice. Mike and Molly spurred on a conversation with my grandmother (it was her favorite show) about how the jokes they made at the expense of LGBT persons were not acceptable. Two Broke Girls? Well, that show is all over the place as a mockery of feminism, even though you think it would be the opposite. 
This summer though, I found a different sort of show called The Bold Type. The Bold Type is Freeform’s latest entry into the adult market. I encouraged my friends to watch it, and I coined it as a fun example of how woman can balance work and sex and just generally being female while being amazing, a great example of how sexy can also fall under feminist, and vice versa. Yes, it’s a younger show. Yes, it can be a bit fluffy. But damn can it hit on the issues. My favorite arc of the season, and I’m not even sure favorite is the right word here, was the immigration storyline involving a lesbian woman facing deportation who was not allowed to be a lesbian in her home country. It was hard hitting, honest, and true–things I look for in a show that tend to make shows without fall flat on their faces. Favorite until last night anyway. 
Last night’s episode was based on the personal art/performance piece, Carry That Weight. If you read my blog, I’m sure you’ve heard of it–I have a pretty specific audience. A college student named Emma Sulkoicz carried her 50 pound mattress around the Columbia campus every day, pledging to do so until the man who raped her either faced justice, was expelled, or left campus by some other means. Her attacker faced no charges, and Emma carried that mattress until she graduated. Along the way, others would help her carry the weight so that she wasn’t alone. I wanted to write my critical thesis about Emma, as we were in school in the same city at the same time with a similar pain, but I didn’t–which seems silly now. 
My roommate and I were sitting on my bed last night watching the season (series? I hope not!) finale of The Bold Type, and I knew right away what the girl in the park with the scales of justice represented. The main character, Jane, pitched an article idea where she would interview this girl for the magazine (the show is based off of the woman who work at Cosmo), but her editor, Jacqueline, was resistant. “You have to do it right. It’s a sensitive story. I don’t know if you’ve grown enough to do it right.” In an effort to get attention back on Mia, the survivor, Jane installs a webcam in the park. Jacqueline was taken aback: “But how does that help? Who is standing with her?? Who is supporting her??” The comments of online viewers to Mia’s pain just weren’t enough. At the climatic moment of the episode, Jane and her two best friends go to Mia and stand with her. In this version of the project, the girls could not take the weight for Mia because they were not survivors. Jacqueline, however, could, (a fact I predicted much earlier in the episode) and did, with silence and grace (while I hugged the stuffed pony that lives in my headboard). At the end of the episode, Jacqueline allowed herself to be interviewed for Jane’s story. Jane asked her how it felt to discuss something she had never discussed before, never reported, and if she had ever gotten back to normal after the rape. Jacqueline replied: “You find a new normal, and it works so well that sometimes you don’t even know that it’s not. And I don’t think I realized how much of the weight I was still carrying.”
This episode is important to me for so many reasons. First and foremost, there is zero time devoted to the violence–it’s all devoted to the living. To the after. To what it’s like to be a rape survivor in a world that continues to move on like nothing happened; to survive when time has stopped for you but goes on for everyone else. It’s important because we, the survivors, are out there. We are riding the train. We are walking your dogs. We are serving your coffee. We are writing in blogs. We are normal, but we are not “your” normal, because that normal is gone for us, and we live in the world that someone else made for us. So we go on, like Jacqueline, and we shape that world to be the best we can, to be our new normal, to hopefully be even better than what came before. 
I like to think I’ve done that. But what came to me last night was the reminder that I am clearly passionate about this subject and do not do enough to serve that passion. I ran from my book because it scared me. I ran from writing because I don’t want to write about anything else, not in the same way I write about this. 
I am a survivor who carries my own weight. And I’m happy in my life. I love my job, I love my dogs. I love writing, even though I’m not doing it so it SEEMS like I don’t. But I want to do more. I want to use my new normal to help others make their own new normal; I want to be that person, even though it’s a completely unrealistic idea, who makes sure that no one else carries their weight alone. I can work with dogs and understand their pain, sure, but I cannot let that be enough for me when there is so much more to be done. 
I don’t know other survivors, not in person, but I’d like to find them. I’d like to share the weight, theirs and mine. I’d like to finish, really finish, my book, to show the weightless that we are out here and we are okay. To help them understand that they too can help us carry the weight. 
We, the survivors, are out here. We are out in the world, and we are normal but also not normal, because we are our own normals. So why are we not these new normals together?
PS, Y’all should watch this show. 

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On Being More

Sometimes my life doesn’t seem real. It happens at random moments, different times. I’ll be walking my favorite dog client, Tubs, around Tompkins Square Park. We’ll stop at the dog park outskirts for a little redirective rehabilitation. It is bright and sunny and 72 degrees on this hazy blue day, and it occurs to me that there is a very large possibility that I’m not really here. That the last time was really the last time, that I am lying in a hospital bed somewhere in my hometown in a white washed hospital room in a coma from which I will never wake up. It is easier sometimes to think that than to think that this life I have now, writer, dog walker, extraordinaire, in New York City is really mine.

I blink, and I am brought back to where Tubs sits on the edge of the enclosure that is full of her greatest fear—other dogs—her tail wagging as she waits for her chicken jerky treats. Tubs does not speak dog. I think that’s why we get along so well; she doesn’t understand her species, and I don’t feel like I understand mine. As we’ve gone through months of working together, Tubs is learning to confront her demons by associating them with good things rather than bad. As we’ve gone through months of working together, I am also learning to confront mine. I am more than rape; I am more than abuse; I am more than any bad word ever applied to me, because I am my own construction. I am my own person.

Tubs is not afraid because I am not afraid.

I am not afraid.

I give Tubs her treat and release her from the sit, and we walk all around the perimeter of the dog park, a feat we could not have accomplished without issue six months ago. I know that it is possible to learn to be okay because I see Tubs being okay, and I believe that Tubs is okay because she sees me being okay. Our relationship goes two ways, and even though she is just a dog, I am certain that she understands this.

When I take Tubs back to her house, she doesn’t want me to leave and flops in front of the door to try and stop me. I give her a scratch behind the ears and promise her I will see her the next day, and the next, and the next. I am a natural at dog training because I let myself understand her feelings, and I know that Tubs loves me. By reciprocating that love, I have gained Tubs’ trust—it’s just like relationships with people work.

I picture that other woman as I walk to the bus stop, the one I thought I might be, lying somewhere in a quiet room, alone, and I vow to say goodbye to her because when I let myself get stuck there, it holds me back. I am not sleeping; I am wide awake; I am in this life and not the other, I think, for the very first time.

To be a survivor, to be more than what happened to me in the past, means being awake.

Tubs is awake.

I am too.

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The Painting

“That is the funny thing about paint.  At the first cold splash of reality it washes away.  And the surface you are trying cover is as ugly as ever.”  —Jodi Picoult

 

In layman’s terms, a cognitive distortion is an extremely exaggerated or irrational thought pattern that perpetuates several different psychological disorders.  It is commonly assumed that these distortions are at the heart of eating disorders.  Personally, I disagree.  Having an eating disorder, to me, is like painting over a picture that has already been created.  The picture on the underside, the thing that is in the past, is ugly, but it’s covered up the incessant need to be “beautiful.”  “Good enough.”  “Thin.”  Take away the paint, and that thing is still there.  It hasn’t been dealt with; it hasn’t been destroyed.  It still hurts.  Festers.

It is always there when you look in the mirror.  

A large portion of people who experience some type of eating disorder are perfectionists.  Perfectionism is shown to be a fairly significant risk factor for the development of an eating disorder, and the levels of perfectionism tend to improve slightly when the person is in “recovery.”  An article I read recently by Anna Bardone-Cone, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, stated that a fully recovered group of people largely resembled a non eating-disordered control group in terms of their perfectionism, while the partially recovered group more resembled those still in the full throes of their disorder. 

This perfectionism can manifest itself in a myriad of ways, from always having to do things right the first time to needing to earn straight A’s, to having to order your clothes a certain way.  But the disorder isn’t about being perfect. It’s not about being thin. It’s about knowing that there is one thing left in your life that still belongs to you, one thing that you can still control. It’s about having the power to slowly disappear.  

That is the only power you still wield. 

*

Last semester, I took an amazing class in writing creative nonfiction.  One of the last in class journals that we did was about body mapping.  I was not thrilled with the assignment or the world itself that day, so I drew my “body” in the somewhat shape of a gingerbread character.  Lumpy.  Out of proportion.  I’m fairly certain that the first thing people notice about me is how fat I am, I wrote.  It’s certainly the first thing I notice about me—every day.  I had a baby, but didn’t get to bring him home.  I only brought home the fat.  

I remember the first time I realized I was fat.  I was eight and I was in the school lunchroom.  I had a pink Barbie lunch-bag, and the Barbie had that skinny body and perfect yellow blonde hair that can only exist in Barbie-land.  I had a sandwich and a banana.  And maybe some sort of dessert.  I don’t remember.  But there was another girl at the lunch table who looked in my bag and said “You’re going to eat all that?”  Rather than defy her, I walked to the trash bin and threw my entire lunch away.  

Looking back now, I can see that the little girl in the lunchroom that day was jealous of my lunch box.  That’s why she said the things she said.  But it wasn’t so easy to see then.  I lost myself in the mirror, in the desire to fade away.  I remember a quote from the movie “Girl, Interrupted” based on the memoir by Susanna Kaysem, said by a girl with an eating disorder during expressive group therapy:  “I don’t want to be a fucking tree.  I want to be a bush!”  I get her.  All she wanted was to fade away, to disappear.  Into the mirror.

*

I own a small panda bento box.  I went on this weird tangent last year where I was coming up with weird stuff to put in it.  For instance, one time I made spicy peanut noodles.  Another time, I made japanese rice balls.  It was a fun thing I did to keep myself entertained on really long days.  

This semester, I haven’t brought it to school.  I claim to be busy, that I have a meal plan, that I’m this, that I’m that.  I wonder if I’m making excuses.  If I’m slipping.  I wonder.  Do I have to wonder?  Am I forgetting because I’m busy?  Or am I forgetting because it’s the one thing I can remember to do?  What does it mean?  I notice I’ve been getting a large amount of food from my friends, and I wonder what they see.  Do they see me?  Or do they see the me in the mirror?  Is it okay that I sometimes eat and sometimes don’t?  This question seems important right now, and I’m not sure why.  I feel like I’m forgetting.  I worry that I’m lost.

*

I was a bit of a bitch in the throes of the disorder.  I remember one particular conversation with my therapist in high school where she asked me to describe what an apple would taste like.  I refused.  “I don’t eat apples,” I informed her.  “I don’t like the way they get stuck in my teeth.”

“Correction—you don’t eat anything.”  

She offered me a choice then.  Sour cream and onion chips, an apple, and a container of strawberry Yoplait yogurt.  “Pick one,” she commanded.  “You can’t until you do.”

“No.”  I folded my arms stubbornly across my chest and met her gaze dead on.

She folded her own arms and leaned back in a replication of my position.  “That’s fine.  I can wait.”

That was a lie.  She had other appointments; I was not her only patient.  I got up off the couch I was settled on and snatched up the apple.  “How do you know I won’t throw it out the first chance I get?”  I was trying to be as big of a smart-ass as possible.  Trying to save myself.  Trying to hide how sorry I was that I let her down.  I was certain I could live off of caffeine and potato chips alone.  

*

I ask myself often whether I want victory, or I want escape.  And are the two interchangeable?  If my victory is graduating, then that is also when I will escape.  But if my victory is simply surviving…my escape could come whenever.  Does losing everything that I am mean giving up dreams too, as a side effect?  I’m still here.  Does that mean anything at all?

I am reinventing.

I spend my days pondering grad school, wondering if I’m good enough.  Wondering if I will get in.  Wondering if I can get them to like me.  Wondering if I make myself the right fit.  I sit in N’s office and eat candied orange peels and worry that I’m messing up my life.  My GPA.  These things I’ve graded that we’re working on.  I’m terrified that I am wrong, always.  That I will fail.  That I am not the right fit for anything. Someone very wise told me that there is no right fit; I could be horrible and they won’t take me, but I could also be awesome and they still won’t take me.  There’s no perfect formula for this, no solution.  No easy way.  I am juggling too many things, and it feels crushing sometimes.  It’s devastating that I can’t be perfect all the time.

I am always apologizing. 

I live off caffeine.

I run from the past things that I don’t think I can deal with.

I dream of that moment of victory, of escape.  

I am always doing these things, everything I can possibly do, but I worry that they aren’t enough.  I worry that I’m lost.  I worry that I am trying to paint over the picture that is me; that I’m trying to cover up.  Hide.  

Is it okay to dream if you can never reach the dream?  If the dream is way above you?  Do we morph or evolve to fit our dreams?  Or does life just happen; does it just destroy us?  I believe that we make choices, when we are scared.  And these choices are not always the right ones.  Marya Hornbacher writes, “Never, never underestimate the power of desire.  If you want to live badly enough, you can live.  The great question, at least for me, was:  How do I decide I want to live?”

How?  That really is the ultimate question.

Disappearing into the mirror means a long road back and a painting I can’t afford to pay for.

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