moving on

10 Things I’ve Done Since I Graduated from College

I haven’t done a great job of writing for this blog lately. Maybe it’s because my new life is intimidating and time-consuming. Maybe it’s because the growing pains are lesser these days. This year, I’m going to try to write again. But in any case, in the meantime, here’s a non-comprehensive list of some of my latest and greatest accomplishments.

  1. Moved across the country. That’s right, I’m back on the east coast – in Boston, the land of my ancestors. Well, the immediate ones, anyway. As in, my parents.
  2. Threw up five times on the way up Mount Washington. Good news, everyone – I summited, and lived to tell the tale! It was a close call, though, especially at the very end when my hiking partner decided to RUN to the summit with our only water supply in his backpack.
  3. Got banned from a small town in New Hampshire. After an unfortunate night that involved a run-in between a couple of minors that I was responsible for and a local police department, I was informed that I was “no longer welcome” in that town. What a tragedy.
  4. Had mono. Which elicited a lot of responses like, “oh, wow! I had mono in high school LOL” or “who have you been making out with?!” even from the adults I work with. Because really, we’re all twelve years old.
  5. Decided to apply to MFA programs. Who knows if it’ll work out? I’ve heard back from two of the eight schools that I applied to, and it’s looking like a possibility. But if it doesn’t end up happening, that’s okay too. It’s been a fun ride.
  6. Finally bought a pencil skirt (and several other essentials of a business wardrobe). For better or for worse, I’ve gone (kind of) corporate.
  7. Tried sushi for the first time. And let me tell you, my life will NEVER be the same. I’m such a sushi convert, I’ve started ordering raw fish at restaurants. RAW FISH. If you told me six months ago I’d be eating raw salmon steaks, I would have gagged. And yet, here we are.
  8. Looked someone in the eyes and thought, “I could love you.” And then I did. In fact, I still do.
  9. Took my first trip to our nation’s capital. It’s a pretty cool place, I had a fantastic tour guide, and I got to see two of my very best college friends. The White House was kind of underwhelming, but what can you do? At the very least, I got to black out from drinking too much Buffalo Trace. The classiest of activities.
  10. Started to think of “adulthood” as the present. I think this is adulthood — a stunted version, perhaps, where the government subsidizes my food and I’m still on my parents’ health insurance — but on a daily basis, I’m self-sufficient. I’m not a student anymore. I’m a real, human, grown-up person, and it’s not so scary after all.

On Graduating College, Or Why Time Needs to Move Slower

Screenshot 2014-03-17 19.20.05

I set a countdown last night for the day I finish my last final. Now I have this blinking clock at the top of my computer screen that says pretty much the scariest sentence I’ve ever seen.

“2 months and 25 days until you’re done with college.”

Seriously? How did I get here? It feels like just yesterday I was receiving my first college acceptance letter – but no, that was 2009. It’s been more than four years since then. And it’s been a long four years. Definitely challenging. Invigorating. Heartbreaking. Eye-opening. And in a little under three months, it’ll all be over.

I don’t feel like an adult. I still feel like the same shy, terrified little freshman who cried her eyes out every night because she was so homesick. Hell, I have even less of an idea of what I want to do with my life today than I did in 2010. In what universe am I ready to graduate? I don’t know how to fold a fitted sheet or use the broiler on my oven. I forget to empty the trash can in my bedroom for months and sometimes even to lock the door when I leave the house. I’m a kid pretending to be a grown-up, and I’m not even doing a very good job of it.

There are moments, though. Moments when I think, “wait a minute. This is my life.” My apartment is a disaster area 85% of the time because we don’t do the dishes enough or put away our shoes, but you know what? I have an apartment, and I pay my bills, and I couldn’t have done that when I was eighteen. I talk to people when I go somewhere new; I network and make connections and four years ago that would have paralyzed me. Even though some of it feels the same, I’m not the person I was when I rolled my suitcase to Willard 228 for the first time.

I honor the girl I used to be, because she is the one that allowed me to become who I am. But I’m glad I’m not eighteen anymore. Everything was life or death back then – picking a major, joining a sorority, staying in touch with everyone from my graduating class – and it was exhausting. I lived in a constant state of pressure and fear. I didn’t know how to let all the petty stuff go.

I’m not an adult, I know. I’m still clueless and scared and unprepared. But I’m smart enough to figure it out. These past four years have been the hardest I’ve ever faced, and look at how I’ve conquered them! Despite the fear, the misgivings, the doubt, I’m ready for what happens next.

2 months and 25 days. Let’s do this.

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

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.

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.

Backward Motion

Ever since I was really little, I’ve loved sitting backward on trains. When my parents would take us to our grandparents’ place on the South Shore or to New York City on the commuter rail, I always chose a seat that faced the direction opposite the train’s motion. There was something exhilarating about not being able to see where I was going, like I could all of a sudden just end up in Wonderland without realizing it. Kids gotta get their kicks somewhere, I guess. I liked mystery and apprehension and being able to get off the train and marvel at the sights I never saw coming.

I’m actually writing this sitting backward on a train, something I’m fairly sure I haven’t done in at least ten or twelve years. Usually when I ride the MBTA or the el or the subway, I always make sure I sit facing forward. At this point it’s force of habit. I’m used to the feeling of moving forward – on planes, in cars, on my feet, in boats – it is rare that I am not facing what’s ahead and acutely aware of it. I watch the stops or the clouds or the signs fly past me and I feel the motion driving me into the future, releasing me from all that lies behind.

There is an unfamiliarity surrounding backward travel. Sensation is different when your internal organs are leading rather than following the rest of your body. And while you have a perfect 180-degree view of where you’ve just been, you’re totally blind to where you’re going. It takes trust to ride this way. It takes faith. It takes processing all the places you’ve seen and believing that based on those experiences, you have become something more than you were. Those are the moments when you’re sure the place you’re going is where you’re supposed to be.

Why I “Sold Out”

As some of you may have noticed, I have “sold out” this blog. That’s right, it is now inarguably associated with me, very publicly, via every social network I’m a part of.

Pretty scary, huh?

I mean, it was definitely a tough decision to put myself in the spotlight. It’s been nine months since I was diagnosed with anorexia and started this blog, and still there are huge numbers of people I’m fairly close to who don’t know. It seems counterintuitive, then, for me to share my stories so openly. I mean, I’m sharing a very personal struggle in a very public way. It’s a risk, one that I’m not entirely sure I’m really ready to take.

But what I’ve realized from keeping up this project for nine months is that it’s stopped being totally about me.

Through this process, through my recovery and my limited sharing of information, I have met so many amazing people who are struggling with very similar things. I have received messages from people I know and people I don’t know, via Facebook and email and the comments section, telling me that the stories I have to tell are inspiring and powerful. I’ve had people confess to me their own struggles with eating disorders and self-harm, people who I might never have expected to hear from.

It’s not about me anymore. It’s about all the people who think they’re alone and anonymous and hopeless, all the people who haven’t given themselves a voice. I’m using my voice to speak not only for me, but for everyone who has ever felt inadequate. I was given the gift of words, and I’m choosing to use that gift for something bigger than just my own passion and pleasure.

Chances are, someone else out there is dealing with the same things I am. And there’s nothing better when you’re going through a hard time than knowing someone else is right there with you.

So yes, I sold out. I went public, and now everybody on the internet knows a lot of really personal details about my life. My roommate told me if anything happens to her because of this blog, she’ll haunt me forever, so I guess I have to be careful. But any backlash I end up with is worth it if I can inspire even one person to keep fighting. So here I am. Wide open for all of you.

Thank you to everyone who’s been a part of this project so far. I am forever grateful to have such beautiful and inspiring people in my own life. I hope one day I can return the favor.

What Remains

As much as I consider myself a creature of habit, I feel myself inevitably drawn to change. Restless, even. Unwilling to stay in one place for too long. Physically, mentally, what have you. Things cannot remain as they are.

“Let’s go get our daiths pierced. Can you help me rearrange my room? I want another tattoo. What do you think I would look like as a blonde?”

I keep hoping that someday I’ll be happy with the result. That I’ll figure out the key to solving all my problems is getting my belly button pierced, being the best friend of some specific person, and wearing size 2 jeans.

I don’t think it’s that easy.

I want an answer. Can there be an answer? Is it like algebra, where some combination of x, y, and z will all of a sudden add up to what constitutes as happiness or perfection? Or am I destined for failure if I try to reduce it to something as simple as a mathematical equation?

I don’t know.

Sometimes I convince myself that I can be happier if I can just be different. Smile more. Be more outgoing, get skinnier. Talk to strangers. Wear crop tops. The problem is, it doesn’t work.

I’m drawn to change because I’m itching to get out of my own skin. To be somebody new every day. To reinvent myself every time something happens that doesn’t fit into my plan. I shed pounds like they are the sole embodiment of everything I don’t like about the person I’ve grown to be. The less there is of me, the easier it is to switch personas. The less there is of me, the less there is to hate.

I know the answer isn’t as accessible as I want it to be. I know I’m not getting anything out of running away from the things that make me uncomfortable. I’m not going to learn to love my body by manipulating it into some warped size. I’m not going to form strong relationships with people by deciding that none of them are worth holding onto.

The more things seem to change, the more they stay the same.

Change is a Beginning

“All endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.”
Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven

When it comes to change, I am an incurable pessimist.

At the age of seven or eight, my parents told me that I had the chance to redo my bedroom. I was going to have the opportunity to choose what color I wanted my walls to be, to pick out my own border, and to sleep in a double bed. My brother, as it turned out, had outgrown his crib and was poised to take over the daybed I’d been sleeping in since I was a toddler.

The prospect of such a redecoration was exciting to me, but at the same time made me oddly uncomfortable. I liked looking through the books of borders, and I made good choices regarding the decor (I still approve of the way it looks even at the age of 21). But the day my new ceiling fan was installed, I started to cry. I remember climbing down the stairs that night and rummaging through the garage to find the light that no longer hung above me while I slept, and feeling suspiciously like I’d just murdered my best friend.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my ceiling fan. In the summer, when it’s unbearably hot, I turn it on high and lay sprawled on my back until my evaporating sweat gives me delicious shivers. I just didn’t love it right away, because I felt too loyal to the light I saw when I woke up every morning for years. The day it was replaced, my world was robbed of consistency, and I was afraid.

Maybe it’s stupid. You know what, I admit it’s pretty stupid. After all, it was just a ceiling fan. Besides the room I slept in, my life remained exactly the same as it always had been. But that was the first moment I felt my sense of self being disrupted by a transition outside of my control.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that leaving that light behind enabled me to move forward and appreciate the benefits of having a ceiling fan. Sure, I missed the way things were. But now, more than fifteen years later, I don’t miss it at all. It seems silly that I was so upset over such a minor change, and I can’t imagine my life any other way anymore.

Life is full of changes. Some are small, like replacing the lighting in your bedroom, and others seem insurmountable, like moving halfway across the country for college. Personally, I don’t discriminate – I hate all change equally. But that doesn’t stop it from happening. It merely turns the situation into a fight against fate, a battle that I will always inevitably lose.

The thing is, I’m missing out on a lot by choosing to look at every change as an ending rather than a beginning. It ensures that I remain constantly in the past, nostalgic for things that may or may not be as wonderful as I remember them. It ensures that I never allow myself to give 100% to the present and the future. And most of all, it ensures that I will never really be happy.

I’m coming up on a pretty big change. Moving into my own apartment in a town a thousand miles away from home is a scary prospect, and I can’t help thinking that I will soon become an exact replica of my mother. Sure, it’s kind of the end of my “childhood” in that I will be responsible for all of my own cooking and cleaning for the first time ever, but it also allows me an enormous amount of freedom to grow into the person I truly want to be, separate from the pressures of my family and friends. It is the end of the girl who needs to be taken care of and the beginning of the strong independent woman that can take care of herself (but who also knows when to ask for help). Change is scary. But it has the potential to be something wonderful.

I refuse to remain a pessimist. I can no longer stand to live in my guilt-ridden past, and I shouldn’t have to. Some things are about to end. Some things have already ended. But with every ending comes a chance to start over again, to let myself seize the moment and adapt to a situation that may very well be better than any of the ones I’ve experienced before.

Skinny

Let me preface this by saying that I know what I’m about to write is extremely unfair. I am well aware that there is almost no one in my life who is intentionally trying to be cruel, everyone just wants to help. And I appreciate that, I really and truly do. This is just something I have to get off my chest.

Please, for the love of God, don’t tell me I’m skinny.

It’s not that I don’t believe you – well, I mean, I probably don’t, but that’s not the point.

To be honest, there is a huge part of me that loves hearing that kind of thing. This is not unique to me; considering the societal pressure we are constantly under to be thin, I’m sure that would be taken positively by just about anyone. It’s a compliment to be called skinny. And that’s all well and good, except that what if you’re not?

Since treatment, I’ve gone from a size 0 to a size 4. “But don’t worry,” I’m told constantly. “You’re still skinny.”

So apparently a size 4 is still okay.

But what if I get to a 6? Or a 10? At what point am I no longer thin? At what point will the comments just cease altogether, out of politeness? At what size will I know, miserably, beyond all doubt, that I no longer fit into the category I’ve mangled and manipulated my body to reach?

When I was at my lowest weight, I was dying. Yeah, actually dying. You want to know why? My body wasn’t meant to be that small. I can cry and whine about it all I want, but the good Lord did not make me to fit into size 0 jeans. And there is 100% absolutely positively nothing I can do about that.

In order to live a healthy life, I have to accept that I’m never going to be as skinny as I feel like I should be. And that’s really, really hard. But I will never be able to let go of my fixation on the size of my body if I’m constantly worried about…well, the size of my body. The inner dialogue of “I’m okay right here but I can’t gain any more weight” is only a very small step away from “I have to lose weight,” but that step is very dangerous. And frankly, I’m not interested in taking it.

So don’t tell me I’m skinny. It may be true, it may not be true, but I’m not interested. Tell me I’m funny. Tell me you like my outfit. Tell me I’m smart or strong or friendly. Hell, tell me you think I’m annoying. Just make sure it’s something that I can control. Tell me something that matters.