Posterboard versus hand signals

I just got Jenny Lawson’s new book in the mail A DAY EARLY – the postal service must really know what they’re doing when the tracking number tells me my beloved package will be here on Saturday, and since I am a creature whose mental health depends on expectations being met or exceeded, they, well, exceeded them because today is indeed Friday (at the time this was written), a survey of my peers confirmed – and I’ve already dived into it, even though I have a library book that’s due soon and it can’t be renewed and I don’t like to read two books at one time so now I’ve gone and fucked everything up but who cares because nothing matters anymore.

Her book inspires me to write in gauche run-on sentences that include lots of italics and all caps because her writing just speaks to me. She also inspires me to write about my own struggles with mental illness, among other things.

I hesitate to write about depression versus anxiety for a number of reasons. First is that anxiety is my main course and I usually only order a side of depression, and not all that often. Also, depression just seems scarier. More dangerous. When I write about it, I always feel the need to add that I’m not suicidal (because I’m not). Depression is so much more than that, anyway. And it’s different for everyone.

Lately, I’ve been struggling to decide to go to social events because things I try to say come out wrong because my depression manifests as extreme irritability. While I want human connection and know that it will be good for me, my worry is that my depression will say something horribly rude and piss off my friends and I’d like to keep my friends. But, if I stay away from my friends for their sake and express myself only with one liners and emojis via text, I fear they’ll think I’m trying to ghost them and I swear I’m not.

My depression also manifests as a profound lack of energy. If you’re seeing me outside my house wearing pants lately, be sure I’ve used up my energy just getting to that state. Another reason I worry about group events is that I’d rather not burst into tears if someone asks me how I’m doing. See, I’m a horrible liar and I don’t want to lie but I don’t necessarily want to discuss every last detail about how I’m feeling with a group of people – partially because I don’t always know what or why I’m feeling. BUT- I do appreciate people asking. I do. Even if I suck at answering. And if I did burst into tears, it wouldn’t be the worst thing. I also don’t want people to be afraid to ask – again, because I suck at answering – mainly because I don’t want my depression to become this huge, ugly elephant in the room (but not indoors in any room, because covid. the proverbial room). Lastly, I’m extremely cognizant of the fact that I don’t want the topic of my mental health to hijack the festivities. I don’t want to be that sick person who sucks all the fun out of the [metaphorical non-covid-filled] room, but I don’t want to ignore the obvious, either. I’d love to strike a balance between totally ignoring the huge elephant I’m riding in on versus bursting into tears and becoming the focus of an impromptu group therapy session.

Nobody, firstly me, wants to have to tiptoe around the issue of how I might be feeling on any given day. I’ve often thought about how I might cut straight to the chase. I’ll arrive at the please-wear-pants garden party and loudly shout I’M AT A 4 TODAY. I MIGHT CRY. I’M GLAD I’M HERE BUT I ALSO MIGHT LEAVE EARLY. GOOD AFTERNOON TO YOU ALL. But, to be realistic I should probably put all that on huge white posterboard and go through them one by one like the Walking Dead guy does in Love Actually when he’s totally trying to steal his best friend’s wife. (Who does that?!) Cuz if I’m actually at a 4 (out of 10), then there’s likely no way I’d be able to say all that without crying. Either posterboard or hand signals. Hand signals would be more environmentally friendly.

Hand signals it is.

Goldilocks and the Illusive Pair of Pants

As I sat there in a department store dressing room, quietly rocking and talking to myself, I realized just how small I was inside this monstrosity people call The Mall.

What floor am I on?  Wait…I don’t even remember which store I’m in.  How do I get out?!  Where did I park the car?  What if I just stayed in here, read my book?  Would anybody find me?  Might I get locked inside and spend a horror-filled night terrorized by racks of radioactive disgruntled pants?

I decided I had better put my own pants back on and start the task of finding an exit- any exit- so I could make it home before nightfall.

—–

not mine...this is my stunt double

Since I had the day off work today, I decided to make a trek out to the local Mall to maybe, hopefully, find some pants that didn’t creep up my butt or slice my tummy in half if I were to sit down for too long.  Now, I am not a Mall person.  The only thing I really like about them is people-watching, and maybe people-watching while stuffing my face with a hot, gooey cinnabon…mmm…cinnabon. When I go shopping alone I also end up talking out loud to myself like a crazy person and I get lost easily which makes me mad because that’s just what those evil Mall designers want to happen!

I particularly hate shopping for pants because it basically makes me feel like shit until I find some that actually fit and look cute on me.  Trust me, it ain’t my butt that’s the problem, cuz my butt is awesome.  It’s that people CAN’T. MAKE. PANTS. for butts like mine + the way I like to wear my pants. (read: I am not a hoochie, whale-tail baring teenager anymore, nor am I a pants-up-past-my-belly-button mom jeans wearing mom)  I want something right in the middle.

This brings me to my next dilemma: I am caught between two worlds in department stores.  Today I found myself slowly, idly wandering the women’s floor not liking the mom jeans that are baggy and ride up to my armpits and the huge, shapeless sweaters.  So then I tried the juniors departments, with the loud, pumping house music where the pants start at size <000 and are supposed to be skin-tight and are so low-cut that they’ll show half my ass crack if I even think about bending over. (Sorry that I just made you picture my ass crack.  Oops, did it again.  Moving on.)  In short, going to the Mall creates this mini existential crisis for me.  Who am I?  Who do I want to be?  Where do I fit in?  Why is this music so loud?!

If I had to choose one, I still do feel more at home in the juniors departments, but it’s just super hard to find pants for me that will fit comfortably over my ladyparts and be midrise -not too low and not too high- that juuuust right feeling.  I propose creating a new department that will be for hip, professional, non-parent 20- and 30-somethings that will be something in between hoochie child and soccer mom.  Maybe something ‘tasteful with a pinch of slut.’  I’ll be accepting ideas from the public on this one.

So, after all this wandering, searching, crazy mumbling, tugging and pulling on pants, getting lost…I found myself hiding in the dressing room, wallowing in defeat.  The one flash of hope was when a tall, handsome, Aryan stranger (salesperson) at one of those kiosks in the middle of the Mall walkways tried to give me a sample of something.  “No, thanks!” I said, and kept on walking.

“Wait, Miss?” he called out.  I hesitated and turned.  In his sexy non-American accent he said: “Let me show you something amazing.”

You have magic-fitting pants in that kiosk?!  was my first thought.  But, alas, it wasn’t to be.  I turned and ran away before he could lure me with body lotion or a bag of Cheetos.

Needless to say, I come home pantsless today (well, at least I came home wearing the pants I had on when I left for the Mall).   I’ll be back another day, Mall.  Just you wait.  Juuuust…you….wait.

Contributing to the Revolution

I took a class on counseling women at Boston College, and during one class session, the professor jokingly and rhetorically asked if any of us (as I recall, this particular class didn’t have any menfolk in it) hadn’t ever been on a diet.  Even though the professor kept talking at that point and didn’t wait for any answers, I quietly raised my hand.  A very short conversation followed, and the vibe that I gathered was that no one believed me, including the professor.

That brings me to the following question: what is a diet?

di·et
1.  food and drink considered in terms of its qualities, composition, and its effects on health: Milk is a wholesome article of diet.
2.  a particular selection of food, especially as designed or prescribed to improve a person’s physical condition or to prevent or treat a disease: a diet low in sugar.
3.  such a selection or a limitation on the amount a person eats for reducing weight: No pie for me, I’m on a diet.
4.  the foods eaten, as by a particular person or group: The native diet consists of fish and fruit.
5.  food or feed habitually eaten or provided: The rabbits were fed a diet of carrots and lettuce.
(taken from dictionary.com)

So, in some senses of the word, diet is simply what we eat or don’t eat. In that sense, everyone is on a diet because everyone must eat something in order to live.  Of course, my professor was not using the word in this sense, nor do most people use the word in that sense.  The word has come to signify more about what isn’t being eaten rather than what is.

In class, I found that I began to defend myself and the claim I had just made.  I asked my classmates what they considered a diet (in the restrictive sense) was and got no answer.  I said that I make choices everyday about what I will eat and thus what I won’t, just the same as everyone else.
Does that mean I am on a diet?

Sometimes I eat lots of dessert several days in a row and then I choose to not have dessert for a day because of what I ate the previous days.
Is that a diet?

After my grandma died of colon cancer, my mom made a rule that we couldn’t have cereal with less than 1 gram of fiber per serving.
Is that a diet?

I govern my eating habits by guidelines that my parents instilled in me and ones I have adopted on my own.  Examples are having three meals a day, not snacking too close to a mealtime, having a glass of milk with dinner, I could go on.

I often turn down foods that sound good or I choose not to eat something that I might have a craving for, the intention having to do with weight and the way I look.
Does any of this mean that I have been “on a diet?”

Maybe it’s just the way I think about all of this, or the way I don’t think about it.  Not once while growing up did I ever hear about my mom being on a diet, and there was never talk of me being on one.  I don’t have any memories of hearing either of my parents speak derogatorily about their bodies and body images.  And that’s what this post is really about, I suppose.  Body image.  That is what diet: definition 3 is all about anyway.

The goal of a definition 3 diet is about an end result: weight, how you look, but most importantly, how you feel about how you look.  I mean, how you will look and feel (or hope to look and feel) by the time the diet is over.  Everyone’s heard and knows on some level that these kinds of diets don’t work.  And even if they do “work” in terms of weight and how you look, that’s still not a guarantee that you’ll end up feeling the way you want to feel! So why do people keep going on them?  And why did no one in my class believe I had never been on one?  I think the answer is the same for both questions: everyone, especially women, have been taught how to hate our bodies so profoundly that we keep searching, working, covering up, restricting in order to reach an unreachable-by-definition ideal end goal.

One of my clinical supervisors says that the majority of unhappiness comes from people wishing that they were different from what they are, here and now.  I try very hard to remind myself this as often as I can, and I use this concept frequently with my clients.  It is so simple that it sounds ridiculous.  What if you were enough just the way you are?  What if you could feel happy without going on a diet?……without doing ANYTHING except changing the way you think about yourself?

“What I see is that even the most Botoxed, lipo’d, lifted woman cannot conceal herself. If you hate yourself, it shows through every cream and cure there is. Until we stop trying to exorcise our own imperfect selves, driving out normal physical traits as if they were signs of pathology, there will always be some misery in the eyes that nothing can hide.”

In the past few years, my collection of pants and shorts have been growing tight on me, or rather, my body has been growing outward and my pants have stubbornly stayed the same.  I feel horrible every single time I put on those pants.  This past summer, I finally bought a pair of bigger shorts that actually fit me for the me I happened to be at that time.  And you know what?  I felt GREAT!  I felt sexy and cute and GOOD about myself. And nothing had changed about my body. That was the key to this particular issue with myself.  I realized that I was somehow honestly expecting my body to stay the same shape and size it was around…2003.  One day, I just realized how ridiculous this (therapy jargon alert!) distorted belief was.  Of course my body is going to change as I age.  I get to solve the problem by- wait for it- buying clothes that fit instead of trying to get my body back to when I was 20, which will never happen.  And I am actually cool with that.  Does anyone really, truly want to look 20 years old their whole life?  I sure as hell don’t. When I grow up, I wanna be an old woman.

I still have to remind myself about this revelation of mine on a regular basis.  And I still have to buy more pants.  I hope we all get to a place where we’ll actually believe someone when she raises her hand and says she’s never been on a diet (the definition 3 kind).

I’ll end this rather meandering post with one of my favorite body positive quotes:

“My body is fucking beautiful, and every time I look in the mirror and acknowledge that, I am contributing to the revolution.” –nomi lamm