In Defense of the Indoor Kids, And Why We Should Change

I never was particularly outdoorsy. As a kid, I much preferred curling up on the couch with a book to the overly aggressive lifestyle of the child athlete. Certainly, I appreciated a game of H.O.R.S.E. as much as the next girl, and some of my fondest memories include several consecutive rounds of kick the can. In general, though, I was pretty content exercising my brain instead of my body. Years of basketball and soccer did nothing to cure my aversion to physical activity, and I quickly had to accept the fact that I was never going to wear a varsity jacket. Sports and I were simply not meant to be.

The lowest grade I’ve ever received on a report card was given to me in ninth grade P.E. And trust me, it wasn’t for lack of trying. I always wore appropriate gym attire and listened carefully to instructions, never complaining that it was too hot (which it often was) or that I was being mercilessly bullied (which I often was). I took my place on the team like a good little flunky, whether it was in the outfield or on defense or on the left side of the tennis court. I just, quite simply, sucked ass. At just about everything.

To be honest, it was hard for me to be so bad at sports. There weren’t a ton of things that were difficult for me, especially in school, and I wasn’t used to the uncertainty and self-doubt that went along with lack of natural ability. That’s just kind of the truth of the matter. I was uncoordinated, and too gangly, and awkward, and way too shy to actually get myself in the game. At some point my gym teacher suggested that I try individual sports, like swimming or cross-country, and it turned out I pretty much sucked at those too.

I joined theater, thanking God that I wouldn’t have to make a fool of myself on a sports team. Turns out even that requires some athletic ability. When I was in my second musical, I was disheartened to learn that my dancing skills were absolutely abysmal. I had a hard time telling my right from my left, and I was about as graceful as a tipsy elephant, and it was all the director could do not to burst out laughing at my sad attempts to travel across the stage. It was horribly embarrassing, and I would lock myself in my bedroom for hours practicing for the next time I had to subject myself to an audience.

It turned out movement was unescapable. Who knew? No matter what I decided to spend my time doing, I couldn’t avoid having to display at least a little bit of athletic ability. Even these days, when I spend 90% of my time sitting on the couch watching Netflix, I have to climb four sets of stairs to get to my math class. And it’s kind of embarrassing to walk into the room panting from exertion of walking up stairs, but when you’re me, there’s really no other option.

Sometimes people ask me what sports I played in high school, because that’s a normal question to ask, and I get scared that maybe they’re looking down on me when I tell them how miserably unathletic I am. I know that’s not where my talents lie, and that should be okay with me. It’s just…not. I wish I were one of those people who turned into an animal in the right uniform, the ones who go out and run a marathon and feel euphoric afterward. Instead, I’m petrified of the ball and I want to throw up after I run about a quarter of a mile. That’s who I am.

I like being outside. I like walking, and I like lying on the beach reading a good book, and I like the view from the top of a mountain. I was scared of the outdoors for a long time because it was the place where my inadequacies were realized, but that’s such a small part of what lies out there in the world. There are too many beautiful things there for me to spend my whole life afraid, or lonely, or stuck in a book. Even if I trip over my own feet, at least I’m living. That’s more than lots of people can say.


Where Do We Go From Here?

It’s kind of funny how hard it is to write when I’m not going through some kind of crisis. In some ways, I feel like happiness is boring; like now that I’ve grown closer to accepting the way things are, I’ve sacrificed some of the things that made me interesting. I worry that without the struggles that defined me when I started this blog, I have nothing worth saying.

I hope that’s not true. I don’t want it to be true. I think “interesting” is the greatest compliment I could ever get, and I couldn’t bear it if someone told me I was boring.

I’m worried that you guys, my readers, my crazy huge number of followers, are only here because of the hard stuff. Because there’s something about my journey through several levels of hell that struck you, or inspired you, or made you feel like you weren’t alone. Believe me, it has been unbelievable to be able to share my experiences with all of you. It has been a dream come true to be able to give some glimmer of hope to people who are struggling. This blog has been everything I ever could have hoped for and more.

The thing is, I’m doing well now. My life is pretty mundane. I’m a normal college student, taking a full courseload and working a part-time job. I spend my weekends marathoning TV shows and Netflix or spending time with my wonderful friends. I worry about normal college things, like graduating and getting good grades and finding a job. And being broke. And lamenting the fact that I’m still single. I’ve got a lot of worries, sure, but my health is no longer one of them.

As silly as it is, I wonder why any of you would care anymore. I’m nothing but average now, with nothing remarkable to show for my daily activities. It’s a blessing to be normal, to feel like I belong in the college culture, but as a blogger? Who wants to read about the life of a college math major? Besides the challenges I’ve worked to overcome, what makes me a worthwhile contributor to the WordPress world?

I am terrified that somehow, because I’m “normal,” my life has lost its meaning. That the things I’ve shared are the only things I’ll ever share. That I’ve reached my peak and nothing I do from this point on matters. All I’ll be is that blogger that used to be really insightful but now only talks about her job and her nights out on the town, losing followers left and right because she’s nothing special anymore. (Not that followers define me, but you know what I mean.)

I guess all I can say is that I’m still here. I’m still alive, which is something I never take for granted. I’m living outside of my URL, spending every day pushing toward the next phase of my life, hoping that something I do will matter someday. I still write 1000 words in my journal every day. I still think and wonder and love and cry and everything else humans do. I just don’t know how to say those things to all of you without losing my air of wisdom and courage. Without losing you.

Que sera, sera. What will be, will be. The only thing I can do is live the best way I know how, and I hope that I can take some of you with me along the way. Because God only knows what I’d do without you.

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.


The Old Year, The New Year, and a 30-Second Dance Party

my 2012 resolutions

my 2012 resolutions

There are less than eight hours left in 2013.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the past few days (and weeks, and months) worrying about what I’m going to do in the future. How I will continue to move toward a healthy lifestyle and a full recovery. How I will repair the damage I’ve done to my relationships. How I will push myself to conquer that which I simultaneously crave and fear. How I will manage to complete my college degree in a way that is meaningful to me. Constantly running forward, trying desperately to keep up with all the things I feel like I should be handling. 2013 has been, in short, a year of constant motion – working toward recovery, getting reinstated in school, entering and exiting a brief but significant relationship, earning (and being proud of) my first college B – without a lot of stagnancy.

I was talking to a friend about this yesterday at an old favorite coffee shop, while my unintentional tears dripped slowly into my too-hot mug of tea. She smiled at me. “Gwen, you need to give yourself a break. Stop for a minute, look around at all the things you’ve accomplished. Be proud of yourself. Have a 30-second dance party.”

I, of course, had no idea that she was referencing a Grey’s Anatomy clip, which you can watch here if you’re curious. Basically, a surgeon manages to do a difficult repair, and before she takes the final steps toward finishing the surgery, she makes her dumbstruck interns join her in a “30-second dance party.” I think I would be kind of mad if a surgeon were to do that while I was lying wide open on an operating table, but that’s not the point.

Like most people, I don’t take a lot of time to celebrate the small victories I accomplish on the way to my larger ones. There’s always something else I feel like I could be improving; a new task to work on. I stitched the heart, now time to close the chest and move on to the next surgery. No time to waste being proud of myself when I was just doing my job, right? I ate dinner today, big deal, everyone eats dinner. Why should I be proud of that?

I always enter the new year with a list of resolutions I want to tackle, and the list is always too long. More often than not, it gets me into trouble. I get discouraged when I’m unsuccessful, or I get so focused on one goal that I forget about all the other important things in my life. Balance is hard for me, and it’s hard to achieve balance when you’re never satisfied with the way things are.

So this year I have just one resolution, and it is this: have more 30-second dance parties. I want to celebrate when I do something I’m proud of, even if it’s for a short amount of time. I want to say, “You know what? It was really hard to let myself enjoy that piece of pumpkin pie, but I did, so I’m awesome.” I want to stop sometimes and look around at my apartment and be proud that a person who wasn’t allowed to flush her own toilet in October of 2012 cooks and cleans for herself in October of 2013. For 30 seconds, I don’t want to be thinking about all the ways I could still be a better person. For 30 seconds, I just want to see that I already am one.

Bring it on, 2014. My dance moves are ready.

My Reverse Disappearing Act

I remember running my fingers over the bones in my ribcage. Trying to hold on to the feeling of emptiness, of open space, of nothing. Stroking the hardened curve of my hip as it guided my hand down into the valley of my stomach.

I never thought of myself as a junkie, but I was. I was addicted to nothingness. My energy was drawn from hunger pangs; my self-worth unmistakably correlated to how little space I could occupy. My meals got smaller, my clothes got smaller, my world got smaller. And then one day all that remained were bones and hollowed eyes and a deep disappointment that I hadn’t disappeared altogether.

Addictions don’t just go away. They take an unbelievable amount of effort to overcome. Alcoholics pledge sobriety; gamblers avoid casinos. But what do you do if you’re addicted to being empty?

It’s so easy to just say “today I hate myself, and maybe
if I just don’t eat dinner tonight, then
I won’t take up so much space.
And then everything will
be okay. Just this
one time.”

But then when there’s nothing left, when you’ve shrunk into a half-person, when your highest high crashes into your lowest low – then you can’t string two words together or walk up a flight of stairs. You waste away and you disappear. Isn’t that what you wanted? To feel nothing? To want nothing? To be nothing?

I’ll never be empty enough to satisfy my craving. Human beings are made to feel and love and be; it is our blessing and our curse. There’s no good way to disappear, no matter how many bones you count or sizes you drop. There is too much of me, of everything that I am, to be confined to such a tiny corner of the universe.

It’s not about taking up less space. It’s about giving meaning to the space you already take up.

It’s about
slowly branching out
and sharing your space with
the rest of the world, letting yourself
expand into a deluge of everything you have to offer.

You can’t quit emptiness the way you can quit smoking or drinking. There’s nothing to stay away from. But you can choose to fill your life to the brim, with people and places and things that you love, until being hollow is no longer an option. You can choose to let all the crazy facets of your humanity matter.

I want to have a bigger brain and a bigger heart. I want to do bigger things and make a bigger impact on the world. I can’t be small. It’s time to grow.

Fear, I Vanquish Thee

If I could vanquish one emotion from my life, I would immediately choose fear. It’s good, I guess, to be afraid of things that can hurt you, and without nerves things wouldn’t be as exciting. But fear is crippling; it causes blinding insecurities. It hinders your potential and ties you down.

I’m afraid of a lot of things. And I’m afraid there are things I’ll never be able to do because I’m afraid of so much. Right now it just seems easier to sit in my comfort zone, sheltered from the unknown. But who’s to say someday I won’t look back on these years with regret?

I fear fear itself, and its overwhelming power over me. There’s only one thing that keeps me going: the promise I made to myself, the promise that one day, I will teach myself to be fearless.

Opening Night

Black Tie Guide

Tonight is opening night.

Not for me. For my little brother, who is running the lighting board at Penn State’s production of Guys and Dolls. And for my beautiful friend Rachel, who is starring as Miss Adelaide.

I miss opening night. The butterflies that used to flit around my stomach in a frenzy all day long. The chaotic two hours before the house opened, when the crew was desperately trying to finish painting the scenery and the cast members were trying (usually in vain) not to get pizza sauce on their costumes. There was a kind of energy backstage that I never saw or felt anywhere else, an energy that manifested itself in the excited chatter of the chorus members and the frantic yelling of the stage manager. We were all experiencing the same deliriously happy anxiety that meant the curtain was about to open on a brand new show.

In high school, I went through sixteen amazing opening nights. I was lucky enough to perform alongside extremely talented, hardworking actors and take direction from creative professionals I consider myself fortunate to have known. Every performance of every show is different, but there’s something about opening night that’s different-er than the rest. It’s pure, unadulterated magic.

As someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder, I don’t often think of anxiety as a positive emotion. And yet I miss that particular anxiety more than I can say. Even writing about it, I’m feeling its shadows, and yearning to be engulfed by it again. The quickening heart, the twisting stomach, the bursts of energy that make my blood feel warm and my ears buzz…it’s a high unlike any other.

It makes me smile to think about Rachel tonight, backstage with her close friends, ready for my brother to shine light on her as she belts her songs and dances her heart out. Two people I love, and they have chosen that life. The life of a thousand opening nights. They will get to feel the deliciousness of those nights for as long as they live.

I don’t regret leaving the theater behind. I learned early in my career as a performer that I wasn’t meant to travel that road forever; for me it was merely a leg of the journey. Others stay. I move on.

Tonight is opening night. So for tonight, I remember what I once loved. Tomorrow I let it go.

Recovery Self-Check: Writing Edition

Today I’m going to share my favorite writing prompt from treatment. It’s supposed to be a way of affirming your recovery process by honoring small victories; marking even the smallest changes as signs that you’re moving forward. I think I did this about once a month while I was there and it changed DRASTICALLY every time. I’m doing this for me, but who knows? Maybe it will inspire someone else, too.

  1. Lately, I’ve been more willing to…
  2. Something I see differently now is…
  3. …had a powerful effect on me.
  4. One of the ways I’m changing is…
  5. It is getting easier for me…
  6. I realize I can choose…
  7. A year from now I…
  8. I am grateful for…

Lately, I’ve been more willing to question my own beliefs. It’s atrociously difficult and feels awful 99% of the time, but the only way I’m ever going to change the way I think is by admitting that maybe some of the core beliefs I hold most dear, well, might be wrong. That’s a really hard thing to accept. But at least I’m letting myself listen to some of the arguments on the other side. Baby steps.

Something I see differently now is my perfectionism. I used to think that was what made me special – that I was always supposed to be great at everything I did. But I’m really starting to see all the ways it robbed me of my time, my happiness, and my health. I cannot and will not sacrifice anything else for the sake of some lofty, unattainable goal.

My family had, has, and will continue to have a powerful effect on me. I am a seriously lucky girl. I mean, I’m not exactly the world’s easiest child, but my parents have been nothing but loving, generous, and supportive. Plus I won the little brother lottery. I’m pretty sure family can’t get any better than mine.

One of the ways I’m changing is in regard to my relationship with money. I’ve always been a very frugal person, and spending, no matter what for, has always given me huge amounts of anxiety. Slowly, I’m teaching myself that there are things worth investing in; worth spending money on. Like my health and happiness. And I deserve to have those things, even if it means my account balance is a little bit lower.

It is getting easier for me to admit when I can’t do something on my own. Knowing that I need help may not be quite as effective as actually asking for it, but I will never be able to ask if I can’t recognize the times when I need it most. Again, baby steps.

I realize I can choose what matters to me. I’ve spent so much of my life basing my self-worth on other people’s standards, and that’s not fair to me. While there is no way of escaping the flood of expectations placed on me by the media or my professors or anyone else, there is a way to stop myself from drowning in it: by deciding what is really important, and ignoring the rest as best I can. How? Eh…I’ll get back to you on that one.

A year from now I will be strong. There’s no way to know where I’ll be next November – still in school, back at home, somewhere exotic, who knows? – but I am positive that wherever I am, I’ll be hauling ass and taking names. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself in the past year, it’s that I am a fighter. And nothing can keep me down long enough to break me. HA!

I am grateful for my life. I am grateful that no matter how many horrible things I’ve done to my body, my heart still beats and my legs still walk and my brain still dreams. Every day is a gift, and I’m grateful for all of them.

Confessions of a Chronic Third Wheel

Today I was riding my bike home from class, as usual, when I was suddenly struck by a disturbing revelation.

I have gotten WAY too good at third-wheeling.


Me, every day

It wasn’t always this way…I don’t think. I think I used to have single friends, or at least I sometimes hung out with one person instead of two. And on the rare occasions that I did find myself alone with a couple of lovebirds, I remember feeling awkward. That’s a normal reaction, right? It’s supposed to be awkward?

I mean, I guess I technically spent the first two years of my life third-wheeling my parents, so that could be what set me up for a lifetime of sitting alone on one side of the dinner table. Maybe it’s hereditary. When my mom was in high school, her best friend dated her older brother, so she probably spent her fair share of nights buying her own drinks at bars. Or maybe it developed out of my timid nature and sarcastic self-loathing. People in relationships probably like having me around because I make them glad they’re no longer single and depressing. Something like that.

I was doing homework at one of my good friend’s houses this afternoon, and her boyfriend came by (like he always does, they’re adorable, yada yada yada), and they invited me to join them at the Art Institute on Thursday. At first I was a little taken aback, you know, because I didn’t want to crash their date, so I politely declined. Turns out I can’t go anyway because I have class, but even before I realized that, I had this moment of clarity where I thought, wow, this is actually my life. I live in half of a two-bedroom apartment, the remainder of which is occupied by two people who have been in a relationship for a solid four years. I am actually a voluntary, residential, rent-paying third wheel.

I don’t get it. Am I so desensitized to human affection that it doesn’t even faze me anymore? Am I masochistic? Do I get sick pleasure out of constantly being reminded that I am destined to die alone? WHY did the universe curse me with such a high tolerance for people who like to just couple off like Kit-Kat bars?!

I tell myself that eventually it will be my turn. Someday, I will get to nurture a third wheel of my very own, to tell him or her to enjoy it while it lasts, because before you know it there are sappy pet names and stressful birthdays and (ugh) accountability. It’s not so bad for a while. You get to watch relationships ebb and flow, and you learn valuable lessons without having to get hurt. You just never get to feel the giddy melty butterflies either. But it’s okay, because someday you will.

And in the meantime, couple friends, there will always be someone around to take your picture when you look too cute to resist. Just be warned that this single girl is the queen of photobombing.