The Last of the Single-Digits

As Lily enters her last year of being of a single-digit age, I can’t help but think this is an enormous turning-point for her. Her physical development is starting to catch up with her precocious nature. And it’s readily apparent to anyone who sees her that this little girl is becoming a young woman. Already. How is that even possible?

I’ll admit, my memories of being a child are a bit fuzzy. I have general time frames at which certain things happened, and have some recollections of things I did and people I did them with. So I may be looking at Lily’s development through a very skewed perception when I wonder how in the hell a 9-year-old can already be becoming a woman. To me, she’s still a baby. I mean, 9, in the grand scheme of things, is really quite new to the world. But then I look at this long-legged beauty, and listen to the clever, witty things that comes out of her mouth, and get slapped with realty. A baby she most certainly is not anymore.

Then again, I don’t want to encourage her to grow up too fast. Meaningful, careful change takes time. I want her to have all the time she needs.

This first occurred to me when, one day this spring, she had her two good girlfriends over to play—both of whom are one year older than she is. The three girls were all outside taking advantage of the mild spring weather. I just sat and watched them. They were all wearing training bras, all in different stages of needing them. They were all wearing some sort of accessory or had nails painted. They all had cute, sassy little outfits on. They all looked very much like they were becoming little ladies. And one might assume by just looking at them without hearing their conversations that they might be gossiping about boys or talking about situations with other friends at school. But they weren’t. They were playing house. Well, a strange combination of house and Minecraft, but house nonetheless. Like with baby dolls and each girl playing a different role: mom, dad, little sister. They were making pretend food from garden materials, and playing with Lily’s tea set and toy dishes that she got when she was 2. And it was so sweet.

It was at this moment that I really came to understand the term “tween” (even though I still think it sounds ridiculous). Here was my girl in a training bra, with hoop earrings in her ears, and temporary metallic tattoos on her arms, playing house and tea party. Not quite ready to move on, and not quite ready to let everything go. A little bit like a child, and a little bit like a teen, and nothing all the way. She’s kind of stuck in this middle-ground trying to slowly traverse her way from one stage to the next. And though I’m a little bit sad at how quickly childhood goes by, it’s sort of endearing as well. I do have many memories of that time in my life, with my girlfriends, and it was some of the best times of my childhood. I’m really glad she’s able to experience it as well.

In continuing with Lily’s transition from girlhood to womanhood, I also noticed that she’s become much more aware of how other females act, dress, and present themselves. I see her looking at older girls, studying them. What are they wearing? How are they talking? Who are they with? It’s almost as if she’s trying to figure out how she fits into the womanhood equation. And when she comments about seeing other girls maybe acting in a way she doesn’t agree with, I can see that she’s sizing up their choices in relation to what I’ve given her as a perspective on what it means to be a woman. Of course I’m going to always be, perhaps, a most influential example. But I do try to explain that there really is no one definition of what it means to be a woman, and I think she’s really trying to piece out all the choices available to her.

It’s a puzzling time, I think, making this transition. She needs to figure out what her values are, and how they compare to what we’ve tried to instill in her, and what might be uniquely her own. She needs to figure out what she likes about herself and others. She needs to figure out what her strengths and weaknesses are. All awhile taking into account what she feels others see in her. And I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to be there to play a more active role in her life this past year. Not having to dedicate so much of my time and energy to my job and someone else’s children, but rather my own, has been a true blessing. Especially given Lily’s nature.

One of my favorite stories to tell about Lily, and one I think I’ve already included in a birthday reflection, is from when she was about 10 months old. She had a very favorite book that we read approximately 1 million times a day. And one day, she picked it up and held it out to me. I asked her if she wanted me to read it, and she grunted and clapped her hands. And when I jokingly said, “But what if I don’t want to?”, she stiffened her arms out to her sides, balled up her fists, and yelled. I still think that memory is both hilarious and telling of her. Lily wants what she wants. And God help you all If you make her angry.

And even though she has definitely come to realize she can’t have everything she wants, she’s still just as fiery and quick to anger. But now she will pout, stomp upstairs to her room, and shut out the world. I understand that sometimes she just needs some time alone. But luckily I also have the time, energy, and patience to be there for her. Because every time (I’m not exaggerating), every time she gets into one of these moods, if I come to her room to see if she wants to talk after she’s had time to calm down, she always does. She wants me to hold her hand or snuggle her, and just listen to her. She wants to cry and yell, and be heard. And I’m forever grateful that she lets me do that. That I can be present for her. Because I know so many children who never had that, and how it made them grow distant, angry, self-critical, and even harmful to themselves and others. And I’m grateful that Lily loves and trusts me enough to know that no matter if she’s angry with me or someone/something else, or if she knows I’m angry with her, I’m still going to come into her room, sit on her bed, and ask her if she wants to talk about it. And I hope this will help her through whatever challenges this next year will bring.

And I expect there to be many challenges ahead of us. With homeschooling on the horizon, it could be a recipe for trouble even though it will also most probably bring us closer. What I hope is that Lily will continue to see how much I believe in her, and transfer those beliefs to herself. I hope she will go back to loving school, as much as she loves learning (which are, of course, not one in the same). I hope she continues to grow as an artist now that she will have ample time on a daily basis to experiment with new ideas, mediums, and techniques. I just hope that every hurdle we come upon, we will jump over together. Whether she is giving me a boost or the other way around.

Because as I love my children equally but different, I love my firstborn in a way a parent has to love the person who brought them the greatest gift of parenthood. I see so much in her, and I would do anything for her. She was my first sidekick, my first baby, my only girl, and hopefully my future best friend.

And so, Miss Lily-Girl, I wish you more happiness than you can ever know. I love everything about you, even the things you yourself don’t seem to appreciate. Because you know what, Pookie, everything inside of you makes a whole you. And without them, you wouldn’t be the girl I know so well. Embrace all your quirks, interests, shortcomings, fears, hopes, and dreams because every bit of those things make you the funniest, cleverest, pun and joke-making, intelligent, talented, beautiful little sassy-pants that you are.

I saw a story online that told of a mother who always told her daughter, “I wish you enough.” And it resonated with me. Yes, I wish you the world, but only so far as the world brings you that which fulfills you. I wish you enough from life to make you happy. Because no matter how much you have of toys, clothes, books, travels, whatever, as long as it makes you truly happy in your soul, it will be enough to sustain you. And that is what I wish for you, my dear girl. I wish you enough.

I love you, Pookie. I hope you have a most marvelous last single-digit birthday. Thank you for being my baby.

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

Last June—right around this time, actually—Ollie got a mosquito bite on his eyelid that made his whole eye socket swell up so much that he couldn’t open his eye. It was frightening and stressful because I had no preparation for that. I had no idea how to handle it, what to do, other than to call the doctor. And luckily for us, it turned out just fine in the end.

But while his eye was healing—it took about a week—we obviously had to go on with our lives as normal. One of the things we look forward to at the beginning of the summer is the food truck rodeo at the Historical Museum. We weren’t going to let a little eye swelling get in our way of a nice evening. So we went as usual, and got our food, and went to sit in our usual place. And it was during this very brief walk, that ultimately felt very long, that I began to notice the stares. Other people were openly staring at Ollie’s face, and some were even whispering amongst themselves while staring at him. Yes, he looked different, but he was still the same Ollie. I truly hadn’t realized how brazen people can be in the presence of someone else. Like who the hell were they to judge my child, a little boy? And I thought to myself at that moment, “I imagine this must be a little of what it’s like to have a child with special needs.” Now please excuse me if this thought was inappropriate for the situation, but at the time, it really felt like so many people were looking at us differently, waiting and watching to see what Ollie would do. And it broke my heart. And this was only one day that I experienced this! I thanked whatever powers that be or forces of nature at that moment that we ended up with two healthy, well-adjusted children without any significant health, developmental, and/or learning concerns. I couldn’t imagine the strength needed to have a child who was anything but typical—I hate to use the word normal.

Fast forward a year to now, and I’m singing a different tune. We are now amidst figuring out how to live with Ollie’s newly diagnosed anxiety disorder. It feels like our world was turned upside down practically overnight, even though, in retrospect, this was a long time coming. It had been right in front of us for so long, but we had no clue.

And though I don’t want to place blame on anyone or anything, certainly because in placing blame, I would also be claiming that what Ollie has to deal with is something regrettable, which it is not. But I suppose I want to point out that what appeared to be just personality characteristics, because of society’s continual (though slowly changing) ignorance of what mental illness looks like, were really early signs of his issue. What I thought was just excessive empathy and sensitivity was his mind overthinking sad or scary scenarios. What I thought was age-appropriate uncertainty at being new to school was really obvious separation anxiety. What I thought might have been normal indigestion or the need to poop was really physical symptoms of stress after his anxiety was left uncontrolled for so long. I really had no idea. But I should have.

Even as someone who suffers from anxiety and depression herself—and as I now can realize after being educated about this topic, did as a child as well—I didn’t have the needed knowledge or tools to look at my son’s behaviors and spot something wrong. And again, I don’t want to place blame on anyone specific, but to blame society as a whole for constantly overlooking mental health issues and for this deficit of what should be common knowledge.

You see, we all know about children with ADHD or signs of Autism, or what a speech delay looks like. Any good pediatrician these days will ask the parents at every routine checkup for signs of these things. But never did I ever get asked any questions like, “Does your child have a difficult time leaving you?” “Does your child ever complain of being lonely and/or scared?” “Does your child seem to worry a lot or engage in repetitive behaviors when upset?” Never. Not once. And maybe if I had, I would have picked up that these behaviors were not, in fact, normal for someone of his age. Instead of thinking that perhaps he was just a little immature or stubborn or too sensitive, I would have caught the warnings before they got out of hand like they are now.

Maybe. Maybe not, of course. But the fact that these issues were never even brought up upsets me. Because to me, and loads of other people speaking out lately, it seems that not only is mental illness very much misunderstood, it’s also misrepresented as something of less importance than other conditions. And I can back this up.

Here are the statistics for numbers of people/children diagnosed with the following conditions:

Autism—approximately 1% of the population

Sensory Processing disorder—approximately 5% of the population

ADHD—approximately 11% of the population (But I must add that there are numerous studies pointing to misdiagnosis of anxiety disorders and/or depression as ADHD in children as symptoms of these disorders are far different in children than in adults.)

Speech/Language Disorders—approximately 7-8% of the population

Mental Illness (Broad category)—approximately 20% of the population

Anxiety Disorder (more specifically)—approximately 8% of the population

Now I realize these are not the only conditions parents find themselves facing when raising children. These are just some of the more easily recognized and understood conditions. And I’m also not implying that any of these conditions is any easier or more difficult to live with. I just want, again, to point out that even though mental illness (in general) ranks the highest for diagnoses in children (and adults, I might add), it’s often the least understood, accepted, or treated.

Unlike so many other conditions, mental illness symptoms often get either misunderstood as other things or pushed aside as something the person should be able to control. Would a parent whose child doesn’t make eye contact or fusses excessively when touched push that away as nothing? Would a parent whose child hasn’t spoken a word by age 2 push that aside as being a “late bloomer”? I hope the answers to my previous two questions would be a resounding no. And yet, when a kid is so distracted by whatever is in his/her mind that they can’t focus on anything else, we tell them they need to “pull it together or else”. Or, when a child is clinging to his/her parent, refusing to let go, figure they’re just a little immature. And when we do these things, whether intentionally or not, we set the child up for an increase in the condition.

Here are some more facts for you:

Approximately 60 percent of adults, and almost one-half of youth ages 8 to 15 with a mental illness received no mental health services in the previous year.

One-half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14; three-quarters by age 24. Despite effective treatment, there are long delays−sometimes decades−between the first appearance of symptoms and when people get help.

Approximately 26 percent of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and an estimated 46 percent live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders.

Approximately 20 percent of state prisoners and 21 percent of local jail prisoners have “a recent history” of a mental health condition.

Seventy percent of youth in juvenile justice systems have at least one mental health condition and at least 20 percent live with a severe mental illness.

Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.

Over 50 percent of students with a mental health condition age 14 and older who are served by special education drop out−the highest dropout rate of any disability group.

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. (more common than homicide) and the third leading cause of death for ages 15 to 24 years. More than 90 percent of those who die by suicide had one or more mental disorders.

 Think about this: Heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women. It is the cause of death for 20% of men and women each year. So, someone with heart disease is 20% more likely to die from cardiac arrest than people without heart disease. That’s pretty awful and scary. BUT, people with mental illness are 90% more likely to die from suicide than people without mental illness. And this is considering that people with mental illness also account for 20% of the population. That’s terrifying for someone either suffering from mental illness or a loved one of someone who is. But where are the ad campaigns highlighting how we can reverse these statistics? Where are the constant reminders at doctor’s appointments to take better care of your mental health? Why do we act as though mental illness is a brand new condition that we’re still trying to get a grasp on?

Because despite all these things we know about mental illness, it is still one of the most highly undiagnosed and untreated conditions people suffer from.

But how can anyone outside of the medical profession see these symptoms for what they really are when the information is just not out there? Worrying, stressing, being afraid of something, feeling lonely or lost: these are all very common feelings that everyone at some point experiences. But what makes the difference is when these feelings are negatively impacting the quality of life of the sufferer. Then it becomes a disorder. But perhaps because so many people have experienced these things and have gotten through it, they seem to think that anyone can and should also. But like I said to my husband, “Not to be an asshole, but if you don’t suffer from mental illness, you can’t possibly understand.” You can’t understand the feelings of futility. You can’t understand why someone would not want to feel a certain way, but be powerless to do anything about it. You can’t understand how hearing someone tell you to “just get over it” makes it worse. You just can’t understand.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t help. It doesn’t mean you can’t spread awareness. It doesn’t mean you can’t support someone who does know. It doesn’t mean people who have mental illness have to suffer in silence or ignorance.

Because mental illness does have a genetic component to it, it is very likely you know or will know someone suffering from mental illness. No matter how good their life may seem, brain chemistry imbalances trump all else. Remember, you’d never tell a diabetic to just stop not processing insulin correctly. So you can’t possibly expect a person with mental illness to just stop feeling anxious or scared or depressed.  (Please also remember depression is not the same thing as sadness, so please don’t use these words synonymously.)

So what does that mean for our family? Well, it means that we will have to work as a group to overcome some obstacles together. We’ll need to see a psychologist, both individually, and as a family. We’ll need to be more patient. We’ll need to be mindful of using effective coping strategies and not letting our tempers rule our behaviors. And we’ll have to remind ourselves daily that we are living with loved ones who have special needs. Perhaps our needs are not something that’s seen as easily as Ollie’s bug-bitten swollen eye. We look just like everyone else. But we have special needs nonetheless.

I’m hoping that homeschooling with help ease a bit of Ollie’s anxiety in being left with others. And I’m hoping our time together will not reinforce that I’m the only safe person, but that he can use what we learn together—in his time and comfortable pace– to make himself feel good enough to function well. And I’m also hoping that him knowing he’s not alone in this will help him to feel less worried that others are judging him.

But this is not something that my family can do alone. We can’t normalize mental illness for everyone. People will continue to stare when he has a meltdown for what appears to be no reason. He will still feel fear and uncertainty. I will still feel guilt.

But if everyone who reads this can do one thing toward normalizing mental illness, it can become just another condition. If you see something on the internet, share it. If you hear a comment you know is incorrect, correct it. If you see someone out in public who is having a hard time, smile at them warmly or offer a hand. If you know someone who has a mental illness, remind them you are there. There is certainly power in numbers and the ability for something to go viral. And if we all work toward bringing greater awareness and understanding to these issues, we will all benefit.

 

Souces:

http://www2.nami.org/factsheets/mentalillness_factsheet.pdf

http://www.autism-society.org/what-is/facts-and-statistics/

http://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/facts-statistics-infographic#3

https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/quick-statistics-voice-speech-language

https://www.nami.org/getattachment/Learn-More/Mental-Health-by-the-Numbers/childrenmhfacts.pdf

http://www.spdfoundation.net/research/newresearch/

http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm

https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/common-genetic-factors-found-5-mental-disorders

The end of NaNoWriMo

Today is the last day of NaNoWrimo, the day by which all participants should have reached 50k words and verified it, thus “winning” the challenge. Today I am at 42k words, haven’t written in 3 days, and have no plans to do so today. And I’ll tell you why. I’ll tell you what I learned by doing NaNoWriMo.

I signed up for this challenge with some optimistic naivete. Having never written more than a short story, but wanting to write a novel for as long as I can remember, I thought this would be it. I’d heard of NY Times best sellers that were NaNo books, and I figured anything was possible. Sure 50k words is a lot, and it demanded commitment, but I had the time and the drive. I could do it.

And sure, I did do it. I got to 42k words, which is in itself pretty impressive. And if I wanted to, I would have reached the 50k mark. And after having 7k be my highest word count, I feel super proud of myself. You see, because even though I didn’t “win,” I still feel like a winner. NaNoWriMo was the kick in the ass I needed. I needed to go from talking about writing, and wishing I was writing, to actually writing. And I did.

This challenge made me go from thinking I’d never be good enough and that my writing is unremarkable, to thinking that it might be unremarkable now, but that I have the potential to make it better. That a blank paper will never be more than that, but a paper with lots of red cross-outs can be better. And my 42k words will get better. On my time, at my pace, by my rules. I appreciate NaNo for getting my engine started, but I know now that time constraints and word count goals make for more quantity of writing than quality of writing. And to be fair, no one claims to have a polished novel at the end of the month. But I felt I was putting too much pressure on myself, and that was not good for creativity.

Now, I know that all writers work under some sort of deadline. When you are working with an editor and publisher, you need to have your work completed by a certain time. I get that. I also understand that every good writer writes every day. Every. Day. But that’s just not ideal for my life right now. I could write something every day. And maybe that’s really the point. Just to get something down. But I could not commit to 2k words each day. Some days the words flowed very easily, and I reached over 2k words, and other days not so much. And it was on these “not so much” days that I felt enormous pressure. If I didn’t hit 2k, I would be behind, and if I was behind, I would have to race to catch up, and if I didn’t catch up, then I failed. That was no good for getting the creative juices flowing again.

And while I realize 2k words isn’t that much to ask of someone, it just wasn’t always feasible for me. When I left my job as a teacher and decided that I was never going back to the profession, I did so for many reasons. But one of the main reasons was that I had put my job ahead of so much else for so long. I sacrificed personal time, my health, and pushed my family to the side for ultimately nothing that gave me long-term pleasure or benefits. And when I decided teaching was no longer the best fit for me, I swore to always put my family first, no matter what else I was doing. And there were several times during NaNo that I should have been with my kids, because they were sick or wanted attention or just because otherwise I was holed up in my office and not really present; and, I didn’t honor my commitment to them. And I always felt a pang of guilt then. But in my head I defended my actions as it’s only for a month, it wouldn’t be forever. And I got through much of the month this way. But what would I say if I continued past the November 30th mark (as my 42k words is roughly only half the book)? Would I continue to justify my reasons for eschewing my promise to myself and my family? I wasn’t willing to do that.

But toward the end of the month, with Thanksgiving upon us, my kids being home for 4 days, not to mention some bouts of pink-eye, upper respiratory viruses, and then strep throat, I couldn’t see myself focusing on my writing above everything else. As the days went by, and my word count stayed stagnant, I started to realize that making it to 50k wasn’t really winning me anything but a return to the life I’d previously lived and loathed. And it was then that I made a conscious decision to not finish. My story would still be there waiting for me when I was ready to pick it up again. But these moments when my family needed me were too crucial to miss.

I know I might seem hopelessly idealistic in saying I don’t want to live a life that feels like a burden. Yes, I know sometimes aspects of our lives are difficult. But after having lived for so long with everything being difficult, I know the danger in complicity. I know how making concessions can be a very slippery slope toward feeling futile and worthless. I never will allow myself to live like that again. And when it comes to writing, I never want it to feel like a chore. Challenging, frustrating, perhaps? Sure. But never like something I have to do instead of something I want to do. I want to want to write even when I can’t, when I have something else I need to be doing. I don’t want to feel like I have nothing I want to say when I have all the time in the world. And that’s exactly why I walked away so close to the finish line, and why I don’t regret it or feel like a loser at all.

I congratulate all of the participants who will, by day’s end, have met the goal of 50k. And I also applaud all those who tried and didn’t get there, willingly or otherwise.

Hopefully we all have so much more to live. And while I know today could be our last and perhaps then I should write like I don’t have forever to finish, I choose to simply live life enjoying what I can from each day. And if writing is a part of that day, great. If helping a sick child blow their nose or catching their vomit in my bare hands so it doesn’t hit the carpet is part of that day, that’s great too. I will live my life by my rules only now, and my rule states that I always do what feels right. And today what feels right is saying farewell to NaNoWriMo. Regardless of my word count, I now consider myself a writer.

My New Normal

It’s been awhile since I’ve last written anything. Sometimes I find the words to match my thoughts just mischievously elude me.

Anyhow, this is what I decided was good today. I am NOT a poet by any means, but today this just felt right in this format.

I naively thought the little pill was magic,

that I would pop it into my mouth each night,

and by some miraculous conjoining of my bile

and the Sertraline

it would make me better.

I thought that this little pill

the color of lima beans and

smaller than my baby niece’s little fingernails

would conquer my fears

and anxieties

and bring me back from underwater where

no matter what

I would breathe again with ease, and

like a superhero, keep me safe from

the monsters in my head and their claws pulling

at my brain and my heart.

I guess I should have figured that nothing

is as good as it seems; or,

that nothing worth having comes this easily.

I guess I should have realized these cliches

were true when it comes to mental illness.

Yes, mental illness.

Not crankiness

or a bad day

or over exaggerating

or being too sensitive

or making things up.

And just like any illness,

this too doesn’t go away by command.

I can ask and plead and even

cajole or bargain with myself

to stop all of this; but,

like no one can stop cancer from spreading

or epilepsy from seizing

or diabetes from metabolizing incorrectly,

I can’t stop myself from

worrying if I’m good enough

or wondering if I’ll ever measure up.

I can’t convince myself to leave the house

some days

or see friends

or go for a run

or do yoga

or anything that would help me feel

more alive.

Because I’m afraid.

This fear is real to me.

It squats upon my shoulder

nagging at me

taunting me

trying its best to

reduce me to invisibility.

It feasts upon me.

It nibbles little holes

into my willpower.

It breaks me down into

digestible pieces that are

easier to take without notice

over time and with little struggle

until suddenly

there isn’t much left.

And it’s then that it’s up to me

to save myself.

This little pill can be the buoy that

keeps me from being swept to sea,

but it can never be my personal island.

I can either flounder and drift amidst the

menace of the swells;

or, I can find some inner strength and

pull my dead weight to shore every time.

Because it’s become clear to me that

this isn’t going away.

It isn’t a small hiccup that will slowly

taper off until stopping without notice.

This is my new normal.

And so I open my arms wide,

put on a pot of tea,

put some cookies on a tray,

and welcome Depression into my home

like an old friend who will be staying on

for an indeterminate length of stay.

We sit together in my room, in

the sunshine pouring into the windows.

We sit and listen and watch and wait.

We enjoy the company of solitude and

the freedom of endless time.

We don’t worry about dressing up for each other

because we have no need for impressing.

But we also hold no pretenses.

We don’t embrace each other because that

would feel too risky.

But we also don’t ignore one another because

that would feel like a charade.

We watch each other in our periphery

waiting to see what each other’s next move

will be in this game of chess we play.

It may be the longest, most impossible

game of chess that has been played;

but as long as I have my arsenal,

my little green pill,

and my writing,

and my room with the sunshine,

I can make it.

There’s no magic here.

There’s no cure-all.

There’s only me.

In my new normal.

Whatever that means.

Fat-Shaming Me

Some people are easygoing, agreeable, able to bend without breaking. For as long as I’ve been self-aware, that person has not been me. I have always wanted to be in control, hating be told what to do or, more accurately, what not to do. I’ve always thought I’m right in any situation far more than I’m not. I’ve been this assertive, sometimes bossy, independent, “dare-you-to-defy-me” type. In all aspects of my life except with my innermost desires and fears. In those cases, I’m a coward.

I hate people treating others wrongly. Nothing boils my blood in the same way as someone who knows they have power over another and using that power to disrespect and take advantage of them. I really believe in mutual respect in all situations, even if the relationship in question is the case of an employer and employee, where one is, by definition, in a lower position. I have a very difficult time keeping my mouth shut when I see someone wielding their title just to fulfill their agenda, particularly so when that agenda is foolish, harmful, or going against common sense or decency.

And God help anyone who tries to tell me I’m wrong or deny me the ability to do something when I clearly (and they too, let’s not kid) know I’m in the right. I will not ever allow anyone to tell me I can’t do something for some arbitrary or discriminatory reason. Fuck them. And fuck that.

I’m an unforgiving soul and a keeper of grudges in these types of situations. I do not forget easily. And though I will pretend all is well again, if I am wronged, that’s it–you’re cut off. I haven’t the time, energy, or emotional availability to keep myself open to those who attempt to put me down.

Unless that person is me. This is where the complication comes in. I tell myself that I can’t do something all the time. And instead of metaphorically standing up to myself, I give in. Usually right away. Because it’s easier. Because I’m weak. Because I think my thoughts must be gospel. Talk about an unreliable narrator. I’m narrating my life, and even I can’t be trusted to do it right.

If I’m to be honest, I’ve had self-esteem issues all my life, which is maybe why I’ve hid behind this strong-willed, take-no-prisoners exterior. Inside I’m terrified I’m never good enough. Not smart enough. Not strong enough. Not talented enough. Not kind enough. Not the best mom. Certainly not the best wife. Not the best educator. The list goes on.

Topping said list, though, are the “big two” as I like to think of them: my weight and body image; and, my dream of really writing. These issues take up so much space inside my mind. They nag at me every day. They never let me forget they’re in there begging for attention, for action. And most of the time I’m pretty good at shutting them up. But more and more I find myself powerless against their relentless pursuit. And I haven’t any clue what to do about it.

I’ve not always been a chubby girl. When I was very young, I was reasonably thin. Average, at least. But as I got older, I got bigger. And by the time I hit puberty, I had become much thicker and curvier than most girls my age. I looked around the classroom at school and found myself amongst size zeros and twos when I was easily a 6. My butt poked out. My belly had rounded out. My chest was on a endless outward trajectory. I could only suck in, cover up, and push down so much. And I hated it all. How could I love my body, this body that was so different than those my peers had, than those I saw on television, in magazines? I felt betrayed. My body was working against me. And I couldn’t stop it.

The unstoppable force of puberty in conjunction with my sweet spot for sweets pushed me down a bramble-filled path of trouble. Growing up in a big family often meant that sweets were treats and rewards. Monetary rewards or gifts for special occasions weren’t as easy to come by as were homemade cookies, cakes, brownies, etc. And damn is my mom a great baker. Her baked goods were like Lay’s potato chips. And who am I to defy that motto? So I became mentally accustomed to rewarding myself with sweets of any kind. I’ve never been much for other junk foods–pop, chips, or the like–but I can’t turn down a cupcake. And so, as I grew older, that became my go-to, my safe haven. Bad day at school? Little Debbie to the rescue! Nervous about a job interview? Starve before, binge after, let the endorphins run free! Stressful day at work? Skip the booze, hand me a fucking brownie, stat! Not the healthiest coping strategy, I admit; but, a seriously difficult thing to override after so many years of conditioning.

And so I find myself at age 32 being at least 30 pounds overweight, which on my 5’2″ frame is too much, even with my broader shoulders and hips trying to camouflage it. I’m winded after climbing the two flights from my classroom to the cafeteria to pick up my students. I’m wary of leaving lights on when I’m naked because I don’t want my husband to see my body the way I see it. My family medical history has a longer list of potential conditions than a line of hipsters waiting outside an Apple store for the new iphone. And yet I do nothing about it. To be honest, I have a motherfucking cupcake sitting next to me as I type this. Why? Because cupcakes make me (temporarily) happy, and I’m on break from my soul-crushing job, and I deserve to be happy, right? Ugh.

As I’m sure you can guess, I feel fucking great when I’m shoving that sweet sweet frosted dream into my mouth, only to feel ashamed and disgusted after it’s all over. So why don’t I say no? Why don’t I change? Why don’t I tell myself I can’t do this anymore? I don’t know. Honestly. I want to, really I do. But I feel like I can’t. I’ve made myself so many promises and pacts, only to break them over the slightest provocation or seeming failure. What’s the sense anymore? Ugh again.

The thing is that I look at thin women and wish I was thin, even though I don’t entirely know why. Are they inherently better than me? Happier than me? I don’t know. But I also just want to love and accept myself for who I am. Maybe I will never be 125 lbs. again. Maybe I will always have a layer over my bones that some do not. I shouldn’t make myself feel like shit for it. I fat shame myself. Which I hate because it’s another example of someone with a seemingly more advantageous position making another feel inferior. But what do you do when that person is you? Do I make myself thin so I can be thin and perhaps happier? Or do I stay as I am because then I’m accepting of myself and embracing the fact that woman of larger sizes are also beautiful and desirable? And then what of my health? Ay, there is the rub.

I want to say that I will rededicate myself to pursuing a healthier lifestyle, that I can stop my sweet addiction any time I want. But I know I won’t. And it’s not because I lack the drive or incentive to do so. It’s just that I’m afraid of one potential outcome: success. No, I swear I’m not insane. Yes, I’m afraid of succeeding. I’m afraid of losing a noticeable amount of weight. And do you want to know why? Because I’m afraid it will never be enough. I will always look into the mirror and see the fat girl looking back at me. I’m afraid that no matter how small I might be able to make myself, it will never fix my mind. That it will forever stay tainted. It will always deceive me.

And what if my premonitions become true: I lose weight, I’m thin and toned, and still feel like shit on the inside? How can I possibly be a healthy role model for my daughter? How can I teach her that she is the most beautiful being inside and out by showing her that I treat myself quite oppositely? Why in the hell would she believe me?

So I continue to let my inner scardey-cat tell me I can’t, I won’t. It makes me feel weak and out of control. And when I feel out of control, I feel as if nothing else makes sense. It makes me feel inferior, scared, and hopeless. This goes against my very nature. And that pisses me off so much.