today was difficult for me. first off, i woke up with a gnarly sore throat. the kind that makes you just not want to eat anything or swallow your own saliva. i had trouble getting out of bed because of the lethargy that hit me, probably partially due to whatever virus i caught and also because of my unemployed status. i've found that not having a job comes with a lot of temptation to just lie on the couch all day watching netflix. again, i'm not sure if the blinding headache i have is more a result of all the horror movies i zombied out in front of today, or if it's just because i'm sick. i oscillate between feeling uncomfortably warm and shivering, but i'm pretty sure i don't have a fever because that would be too convenient. i've found that much of the time the symptoms i feel are not matched by anything physically wrong with me. which brings me to the actual reason i'm checking in right now.
i have been preparing myself to see my psychiatrist for several weeks now. i see him regularly, usually scheduling an appointment every four to six weeks. i also attend weekly sessions with a therapist, an example of whose general amazing qualities is the fact that she has agreed to wave my copay so that, even though i definitely cannot afford it, i am still able to meet with her. it is easier to be open with my therapist. i see her every week for an hour, so it's pretty much a requirement that i'm open and honest, or else we'd just end up starting at each other for sixty torturous minutes. she has been pushing me to communicate more of my symptoms to my psychiatrist; they work in the same building, so there is a certain amount of talking that they do, but mostly i'm on my own as far as informing the pill doctor of how cuckoo i really am.
it is a struggle to talk to my psychiatrist. i do not know where to start. our meetings usually last only about fifteen minutes, and he's not there to hear about my recent stressors or what i'm trying to accomplish in my life. our sessions of necessity must be strictly business; do i think the antidepressants he has me on currently are working? have i experienced any drastic fluctuations in mood recently, or anything like that? i am sorely tempted always to assure him that i'm alright. whatever life throws at me, i can handle it. i feel down sometimes, but so does everyone and i'm able to recover from my spurts of depression fairly quickly. these are the sorts of things i've been saying to him, until today.
today, i really tried to be one hundred percent frank. he asked me how i was doing and i told him: "i don't know." i started describing the way i cannot concentrate in lecture classes, how i dissociate and go out of body and don't even know i'm in the room. "are you sure you're not just day dreaming?" i told him about the way my forehead gets hot, like all the blood in my body is rushing to the frontal region of my brain. how my shoulders tingle and sometimes twitch, how my thoughts slow and become confused. how i feel that i'm being jerked in and out of consciousness, like i'm a puppet on a string that's first being zoomed in one direction then without warning danced in the other. how, coming out of it, i'm groggy and jumbled and sometimes really tired and ashamed, how sometimes the whole memory of the episode blips out of existence, only reappearing back in my consciousness hours later. i told him how i tried grounding techniques, taking notes, sketching, making friendship bracelets from string. nothing seemed to make a significant difference; in fact, i'd developed the extremely unhealthy coping mechanism, which turned into a compulsion, of tearing out my own hair. and i don't just rip out hairs that are visible, but i use my fingernails or sharp objects to dig out the tiny, barely formed roots of hairs that haven't yet emerged from my skin, and this leaves my ankles and public area and the region beneath my eyebrows dotted by deep skin infections. my episodes don't just happen in school either. that's just an example, and i've had them at least since i was fourteen. i told him about undergoing a nine thousand dollar electrode test (i left out how humiliating it was, wearing gigantic space alien-esque headgear for a whole weekend on campus) at a well respected hospital, only to be told i was experiencing psychosomatic seizures, and there wasn't anything a neurologist could do to help me. i'd have rather been informed that i had a tumor in my brain that had to be cut out immediately, so at least my problems could have an undeniable physiological explanation that couldn't just be chocked up to i'm crazy. or, worse still, i'm faking it.
i don't know what i expected from him. my therapist did sort of making it seem as though he'd have some sort of wonder drug for me; he'd listen to my story and nod and interject that, yes, of course, he'd dealt with people exactly like me hundreds of times before. i certainly didn't expect for him to look at me like he'd never heard the words that were coming out of my mouth from anybody ever, or for him to tell me there isn't a lot he can do for me, that my problem sounds like something best handled by a neurologist. i came out of that session deeply ashamed, guilty, terrified that he might report me to the dmv as somebody psychologically unfit to drive and recommend that they revoke my license. if i can't drive, how will i live? i've already tried going the route of riding the bus everywhere. it just doesn't work. i cannot realistically hold down a job if i've got to work around a bus schedule, and there are so many places that their routes just do not get close enough to.
i think that the root of the overall unpleasantness i feel as a result of opening up to my psychiatrist, lies in those meetings with high school officials that i did not plan on attending but i somehow ended up sitting in again and again. "i'm telling you this for your own good. if you talk to other people, i can't protect you. you're tying my hands. these nurses and counselors, they don't have your good in mind. they're not going to go to any lengths to make sure you get to achieve your goals, like i am."
it really never did any good to talk to those administrators. i thought initially, or at least hoped, that they might actually be able to help me. after a while i learned how cathartic talking could be, and as guilty as i felt about it, i wanted to see at least the one particular counselor i felt i could confide in. one school priest explained to me that he'd sat down with a boy and his parents to talk about the kid's issues, and for a little while he'd really been afraid that the father was going to strike his son right there in front of him, but then it all worked out and everybody ended up hugging and embracing and it was a very healing experience. he really thought he could reproduce this scene between me and my mother. "i just got off the phone with her, and she wasn't angry at all. she's just really concerned for you. she doesn't know what to do to help you. you and your mom just need to talk it out." when they betrayed me, over and over again, i learned how adults always give each other the benefit of the doubt over a child's testimony, and how the legal system is set up to keep minors truly at the mercy of their guardians, and how people just cannot fathom the idea that any mother does not feel a strong bond for her offspring that makes her unconditionally loving. i learned that telling people the truth about me gave them power over me, and that most adults are ready and willing to make decisions about what is in a child's best interest without consulting him or her. i learned that, when i told, bad things happened to me. though, to be honest, most of the time this prophecy came true because my mom made sure that it did.
she was always polite and reasonable before outsiders, so that, conversing with my mother about me, they were surprised and confused to think i'd spoken with so much fear about it. sometimes they even told her this, that i'd lead them to expect a monster where she really was an angel. but as soon as we were alone she could make a one hundred and eighty degree turn in a split second. the words she screamed at me, while tears spilled from her eyes and snot bubbled at her nostrils and saliva flew in my face, tore down my self esteem and shattered any sense of identity i'd managed to construct since the last time such an occurrence took place. i huddled around myself, like a turtle retreating into its shell, leaning against the one solid support that assured me i hadn't finally lost my grip on reality. and eventually, once i sensed that i had permission to take off my sack cloth and ashes, i set about rebuilding what i used to call my life.
so now, just to give you a heads up, i'm going to use this interruption to segue into a note about this chapter's title. then, i'm going to pick some old scabs, just because they're within reach.
i named this chapter "cheese" not because in its photo i'm using a camera phone and a bathroom mirror to take a picture of myself, with my stomach so far sucked in that you could almost mistake the triangles of my ribcage peeking down from beneath my braw for the breasts i don't have. to me, cheese is the most disgusting substance known to mankind. i find its smell so repulsive that i cannot even begin to imagine actually allowing it to enter my mouth. in fact, my phobia of cheese goes so far that if i for some reason am obligated to touch its waxy surface, the skin of my fingers, hands, and even forearms crawls until i'm able to scrub myself thoroughly. i was only partially joking when i told my coworkers at the kennel several times that i'd much prefer somebody to throw dog shit at me than cheese. even contemplating the food as i type these words triggers an urge to wretch. i will admit, however, that i have made myself consume this hated substance several times in my memory. it's a lot like the day i cooked a chicken sausage from the fridge that looked a little iffy to me; i convinced myself that it would be fine and not to waste the money by throwing it away out of misguided caution. i took two bites before the putrid stench hit me, and i realized that the meat i held in my hands was liquifying and riddled with maggots. i have not eaten meat since that ill fated lunch, over a year ago. every time i can remember forcing cheese down my gullet, the extreme repugnance i suppressed in order to get each morsel past my tongue has broken free and left me nauseated to the point that never eating anything again sounds like a really good idea.
at least prior to my dieting's development into a chronic condition, i was probably the least picky eater of all my biological siblings. none of them would touch red meat or seafood, preferring to stick to white meat poultry, in imitation of my mom. i once made the mistake of suggesting to her that the reason none of my brothers or sisters would even try fish was that they'd grown up seeing her react to it as though it were repulsive, and like foals learn from older horses to avoid poisonous plants, they'd been conditioned to view seafood as something inedible. my mother's wrath that day was literally a full scale volcanic explosion, all over me. no, my siblings were perfectly in the right to tease me and refuse to respect my right to hate cheese while simultaneously turning up their noses to foods i enjoyed, because their tastes were valid and mine were skewed. around the time that i was twelve, my mom sent me to stay with my grandparents for a little while so that my grandma could teach me to be a lady, correcting my heinous posture which my mom fretted aloud would cause me to have a hunchback later in life, and helping me learn to make better food choices. as a part of this forced charm school, my grandpa insisted that i swallow a wedge of cheddar on a crisp boat of fresh celery, because hating cheese was just absurd and i needed to get over it. i'd come out of the closet with regards to my phobia years before, during a visit to my grandparents' house that involved my parents, siblings, my mom's brothers and sisters, and their children. the men grilled burgers in the backyard, and though i'd specifically requested one without cheese, when we all gathered for lunch i was served up a slab of meet with a thick, glossy white film melted all over it. i was terrified to speak up for myself, remembering how annoyed my dad had been when i refused to be polite and eat his mother's lasagna, but i just could not stomach a single bite.
so yeah, maybe the common theme between this tangent and the subsequent memories i will detail is that they all involve feeling different and out of place.
ever since i was very young and became aware that my belly was round and stuck out, i can remember the golden child teasing me about it. when i was still small enough for my dad to pick me up at church without embarrassment on my part, i asked him why my tummy wasn't flat like my mom's and my older sisters', and he told me i just needed to wait until i was older and i'd look like them. so i waited, and i waited, and i waited. and eventually i reached a point at which i decided being little was no longer sufficient excuse; i was fat, plain and simple. the golden child coined the term "fugly," defined as looking like me. this was a favorite jibe of hers and my biological brother's until the piano teacher we all shared, who of course like everyone else who entered our home became a loyal supporter of my mom, pointed out the adjective's similarities to certain "bad words." after that, insults went back to the basics, and i was a plain old fatty again.
my rockbottom, the incident that triggered my willingness to throw myself into whatever crazy fad diet my mother and sisters were following at a particular moment, was the day my mom and sisters and i all measured our waists. i must have been approximately twelve. the exact numbers are still engraved into my mind because of the magnitude of their impact. my mom's tight belly was twenty five inches in circumference; mine, bulging over my hips, measured twenty seven.
those numbers were confirmation of everything the golden child had ever said about me. to add insult to injury, i weighed approximately one hundred and thirty pounds, which was over the absolute maximum of one hundred and twenty five pounds that my mom had established as the most any women should ever weigh. i could no longer protest anymore that i didn't belong at a fat farm or didn't need to go on "the biggest loser."
i was not the only one who had it bad. my oldest sister was also relentlessly teased about her body. even the golden child, though nobody would ever dare breath a word about it, fought a continuous battle against her thighs. since her legs were exceptionally short, they were very prone to becoming thick whenever she was in a binge cycle, which usually happened around holidays, when she was on vacation from university, or during our family stays at the hotel on the beach. these trips, in my view, were the stuff of horror movies. my dad had to work, so he never accompanied us, and my oldest sister opted out for reasons i still don't really understand. it wasn't hard to deduce that a large part of the attraction of our family vacation for my mother was that it provided her with a break from my dad. the idea was that dad, being a member of the male species, had very finite patience so he spoiled the fun of places such as amusement parks that involved waiting in lines. also, he tended to curtail impulse buying, so it was always preferable to shop when he was away for business. since he frequently left the country, opportunities were hardly scarce.
our family vacations usually lasted about ten days. since our party was so big, we would split into two groups; for the first five days, group "a" would live in a pair of hotel rooms presided by my mom and the golden child, while group "b" waited impatiently at home. after the five days had passed, the two groups would switch roles. activities during the vacation consisted mainly of sitting on the beach and of eating at restaurants. i would estimate that each one of us consumed at least five thousand calories per day at the hotel, while burning extremely negligible amounts. unsurprisingly, we all gained noticeable weight by the time we arrived home, to immediately begin some insane new starvation diet.
i gradually stopped being able to enjoy these trips at all. as pleasurable as eating in a totally unrestrained manner was, even five days was too much. i was constantly nauseous and bloated, but because i shared a bathroom with at least three of my siblings at all times, i could not purge. oh, i probably could have managed to puke away endless courses of rich entrees, deserts, and snacks quietly enough to go unnoticed, but bulimics are not known for cleaning up after themselves well, and the acrid stench of vomit is very difficult to conceal. my mom would have caught me. in fact, every time i went to the bathroom it was as though i could feel her listening through the wood of the door for the slightest indication that i was disobeying her mandate.
so how did i cope with this frustration of my compulsive behaviors? i soothed myself by shoveling still more food down my throat. but no amount of ice cream or chocolate or chips or cookies could make up for the agony i went through every afternoon, as my family sprawled out on our folding beach chairs in our bikinis, a harem of elephant seals sunning themselves outside the water, with no one else wrinkled and blubbery enough to rival me.
so why do i bring all this up, now, when i've come so far in covering my childhood up to that fateful year when i turned eighteen?
my obsession with my body was not all of me, at eighteen years old, but it played a significant part in formulating my identity. i did not have success in my eating disorder during my eighteenth year until i went away to the university that i attended for one semester. there, i put myself on a sort of atkins parody, on which i initially ate only meat and vegetables, eventually shaving this down to a single spicy tuna roll per day. that's what the picture is above; what i wanted to be at eighteen, but wasn't.
my greatest consolation my senior year of high school, considering that i was overweight and unhappy, stuck at home and unsure if i even got to dream of college next fall, and that jimmy had graduated and gone off to new york city already but still did not speak to me until around midterms, was that the golden child no longer lived at our house full time. i'd seen her off to her dorm, met her roommates who i suspect never penetrated any further through her icy defenses or got to know her on anything deeper than the superficial level i did.
she used to call my mom and, though i can't really know anything of what was went down in those conversations, my mother kept all of her other children updated on how sick and miserable and thin our favored sister was, how hard she was working. we were supposed to envy her, and at least i did. the golden child left on our doormat enormous shoes that i couldn't even begin to fill, despite the fact that my feet had outgrown hers around the same time i became taller than my second older sister.