Month: January 2014

Objects In Mirror Are More Beautiful Than They Appear

I have a hate-hate relationship with mirrors.

First of all, I can never be sure that I can trust a mirror. After all, the world is full of unreliable ones, mirrors that make you look shorter or thinner or tanner than you actually are. Sometimes I think I look good in a mirror, but then someone else’s face comes into view and I see that their nose looks ridiculously crooked, and I think, great, that must be how crooked my nose looks in real life. But of course, I can never really know, so I’m left uncertain of the tier of unattractiveness I’m currently occupying.

Second of all, mirrors seem to do a really great job of overemphasizing the most unsatisfactory aspects of my appearance. If I have even the slightest zit on my face, all of a sudden I look like I’ve come down with a ghastly bout of hives. If I’m having a weird hair day, I immediately look like I’ve just been electrocuted. Anything and everything I could possibly be self-conscious about is exaggerated tenfold when I look into a mirror.

The only mirror in my apartment, besides the one in my roommate’s bedroom, is in the bathroom, and let me tell you, the lighting in there is seriously terrible. With the overhead light on, it’s still too dark to be able to really see yourself correctly. But if you turn the mirror light on, every flaw you’ve ever tried to hide is exposed in a harsh, unforgiving solar burst. Bags under your eyes. That weirdly shaped mole on the side of your face. The upper lip hair you apparently failed to bleach away. Oh, yeah. That’s the kind of thing that really makes you feel like you’re ready to conquer the day.

Honestly, sometimes I’d just rather not look. There are mornings when I get up, run a comb through my hair, put on an outfit I’m pretty sure matches, and walk out the door without so much as a glance in the mirror. I know I’m going to find something unacceptable about my appearance, but I don’t have the energy to fix it, so why bother?

Today was one of those mornings. I used the mirror for about 3.5 seconds while I put my contacts in, but other than that, I just wasn’t interested in knowing how I looked. I did everything else I had to do – went to class, turned in my quiz, ate my lunch, went to work – but I had no concept of what I looked like while doing it. I could have had a cowlick or a giant forehead pimple, for all I knew. And with my luck, I probably did.

The thing is, what I see in the mirror doesn’t actually have anything to do with the success of my day. Today, when I could very well have been walking around with some unbearably tragic blemish, I still had a super helpful math class and managed to write a post for the first time in two weeks. And even more importantly, knowing I had a gargantuan zit on my chin wouldn’t have made it go away. I am what I am, and apart from basic hygiene (with which I would argue I am quite skilled), there’s nothing I can do to change that. Especially not while antagonizing myself in front of a mirror.

Anaïs Nin once said, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” And maybe that’s true. It’s impossible to see myself the way I’m perceived by professors in class or neighbors on the street. Mirrors are reflections; we see ourselves in them through our own eyes. I don’t get the opportunity to see me, only to see the way light bounces my image off of a thin sheet of glass. We do not have the pleasure of observing our true selves.

We must have faith that there is beauty, even when we cannot see it.

So Thanks For Making Me A Fighter

I’m doing well.

I visited my therapist for the first time since winter break. “You seem to be in a really good place,” she said.

“You sound happy,” a friend told me on the phone. “I love hearing you sound happy.” I love hearing me sound happy too.

I was chatting with my academic advisor in her office, and she told me I had a really great attitude. I don’t think I’ve ever been told that before. I usually have a remarkably disturbing and pessimistic attitude, one that tends to make medical professionals uncomfortable. Twice my therapist has kept me ten minutes after my appointment was supposed to be over because she was worried about something I’d said. Yeah, having a good attitude is new to me.

“Want some chocolate?” one of my fellow interns asked me at work today. She slid the two-pound bag of caramels toward me. “Sure,” I replied. I ate a few. I still ate my entire lunch half an hour later.

I’m happy. Not creepy happy; things aren’t perfect all the time. But relatively speaking, I like my life. I like the people I surround myself with, I like the work I do, I like the hobbies that occupy my free time. I like me.

I think for a long time I was working toward the wrong goal. I spent so much time fighting the eating disorder that I forgot what’s important. I’m important. It’s not about making the ED weaker, it’s about making me stronger.

Eating disorders don’t disappear. The thoughts that drove me to self-decimation still occur just as frequently as ever. I sometimes spend hours agonizing over my reflection in the mirror even when I have better things to do. I still order fish instead of steak at restaurants because I know it has fewer calories. I still get nervous when things don’t happen right on schedule, the way I like them. The eating disorder is strong, and it will probably always be strong. The difference now is that I am stronger.

I write and I know that my writing matters. I study and I know that it does not define me. I sing and it touches people. I goof off and they laugh. Sometimes, just sometimes, I walk past a mirror and I see someone who’s a little bit beautiful. I know that I have the potential to do great things, regardless of whether I meet someone’s subjective definition of “perfect.” Even if it is my own.

Recovery is a lot of really hard work. It’s long days and uncomfortable situations. It’s emotions you don’t want to feel. It’s a battle against something you so strongly perceive as part of yourself that sometimes fighting seems fruitless. It’s not. Because the eating disorder isn’t you, or me. Finding yourself, growing yourself, and loving yourself – that’s the only way to beat it. I had to stand up tall, stare it in the face, and say, “I am stronger than you are.” I had to trust that I was smarter, more important, more worthy.

I don’t pretend that I’m an expert, because I’m not. I’m just happy. And that’s something I never thought I could be. Imperfect, but still happy. I am not a supermodel or a movie star. I am not a genius or a comedian or Beyonce. I’m just me. That’s all I ever have to be. And that’s okay. I can live with that. I can be proud of that every single day, because it’s more of an accomplishment than anyone will ever understand.

Ed

Crippled at Camp: A Love(?) Story

The first time I was wounded at summer camp, I was eleven years old. It was my fault, of course. I was on a sailboat with a couple of other kids, being as obnoxious as you might expect a kid on a sailboat to be, when the swinging boom whacked me full-force on the side of the head.

I don’t remember this event very well, probably as a result of minor head trauma and major embarrassment. I do recall a very panicked teenager who scooped me up in her arms and sprinted to the infirmary. And that the nurse gave me three blue freeze pops while I waited to see if I was going to die.

The summer I was fourteen, I came down with a disgusting stomach flu the night before we were going on an awesome overnight trip. I spent two days in the infirmary that time, watching really terrible movies on a very small TV instead of making s’mores in the woods with my friends. I secretly hoped someone else would get the flu so I would at least have some company. It didn’t work out.

My luck only worsened once I started working there. When I was sixteen and training to be a counselor, I wound up with head lice and a staph infection that had pretty much eroded my flesh from the knees down. When I was seventeen, I got stung by an entire hive of bees. And at nineteen I spent too long standing on the hot sand during lifeguard training and suffered from massive, horrible second-degree burns on the bottoms of my feet. Alright, that one wasn’t all bad; it did necessitate my supervisor literally carrying me wherever I needed to go, which amused the campers a great deal and made me feel like a princess.

In 2012, when I was finally on the leadership staff, I shared this story with my coworkers. We were gathered inside one of the boys senior end tents late at night, watching the candlelight dance on the canvas flaps and talking about what camp meant to us. Our stories were supposed to be meaningful. Mine was about getting maimed.

But they understood what I meant. My story was about strange and improbable injuries, sure, but it was also about deciding that getting hurt wasn’t enough to keep me from going back to camp summer after summer. It was about the knowledge that no matter how tough it got, no matter how many legitimate reasons I had to run away, it was always worth it to stay.

That summer, 2012, had its own share of misfortunes. During the three months I was there, I was caught in a violent downward spiral of anorexia that wreaked havoc on my physical and mental health. And it took me so long to recover from that nosedive that I couldn’t even consider the possibility of going back in 2013.

Three weeks ago, I submitted an application. Today, I called the camp office for an interview. Even after the personal hell I experienced a year and a half ago, I’m going back.

My parents are baffled. And worried. A lot of people are worried. You know what? I’m worried, too. But every year that I’ve been knocked down, I’ve come back stronger. I’m a champion for a cause I love more than anything. Something about it will always be tough, and I might not always come out on top. But as we who have worked there know, it is always, always worth it to stay.

The Empty Journal

2014-01-04 20.26.06

A year ago, I bought this journal at a craft store. I laughed out loud when I saw it, because it was just so incredibly perfect. “The creeping sense of impending disaster and the all-encompassing fears both specified and vague that colonize my mind, body, and soul” – that’s pretty much my everyday life, right? (And in case you can’t read the fine print at the bottom, it says “even though optimism may be unself-aware and ill-placed, I know I’ll be happier as a blind fool than as a clairvoyant apocalyptic.”)

Now if there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I have an uncanny ability to fill a journal. I’m constantly buying new ones because I can never quite keep up with the pace of my own writing. So it is seriously weird that I’ve had this awesome journal for a whole year and only filled five pages.

Here’s my problem…it’s prompted.

The beginning of every page begins with “What I’m hanging hope on today:” and that seems unfair. Because hope is a nice idea and all, but when a page starts off with a heading like that, all of a sudden I feel guilty writing down anything negative. Because how can I finish that sentence? “What I’m hanging hope on today: my body image really sucks”? Or “What I’m hanging hope on today: my roommates and I just had explosive diarrhea simultaneously and we only have one bathroom”? And I can’t just ignore the prompt, because it’s sitting right there staring at me and making me feel worse about feeling bad.

Every time I write in that journal, I say I’m going to do it more often. That I’m going to suck it up and write what I want, prompt be damned. But I never do. Although I am a person who generally craves order and organization, when it comes to writing, I think the best thing I can have in front of me at any given moment is a blank page. No prompts. That way I can write in poetry or metaphor or prose or even draw, and there’s nobody looking down their nose and telling me I can’t. So many times I want to write about things other than hope. I want to write about fear and loneliness and vulnerability and how it feels to fall in love with someone from thousands of miles away. I want to write about my family and how beautiful they are and how much they truly love each other. I want to write about the way I feel when I have too much to drink and the emotions spill out of me like running water and I’m left face-to-face with something ugly and scary. It doesn’t give me hope. It gives me life. It means I’m living. And living is oh so very painful. To quote William Goldman, anyone who says differently is selling something.

I’ve moved on to other journals since I started this one. In fact, I’ve completely finished at least two since the last time I wrote in it. Still, I keep it. The cover makes me laugh, and the sometimes funny/sometimes inspirational quotes inside are fun to look at.

Perhaps my inner optimist is disappointed in me. I doubt it. I usually find some way to see the bright side of a situation, even when nobody asks me to. And maybe I’ll find use for such a book someday, when my thoughts bleed out loud rather than on paper. Until then, well, whatever happens, it’s gonna be okay.