‘I’m fine with being the cat lady if dating you is the alternative’

As we drive down windy streets lined with spacious, alluring houses, I ask him about his life. This will be the third date and I haven’t gotten to know him, yet. Not really. I mean, I know the basics – the job, where he grew up, how old he is… but other than that, nothing. He has mentioned somewhere that he likes me, but I don’t know how that could be. Really, he knows nothing other than my Instagram updates and Snapchat stories.

I didn’t even really want to go on this date, if I am being completely honest. My parents are going to Buffalo Wild Wings and that just seems more appealing. I was starting to wonder why a night out with my parents was more enticing than dating. I guess this is what happens when you are completely and utterly burned out when it comes to the opposite sex. I am.

My best friend and I have a hard time understanding why people jump into relationships. I used to be that person. I have had two serious boyfriends, both within a short time of each other. Now, I just can’t seem to care less. I am having too much fun going to bars and eating waffles in diners at 3 am. Plus, I’ve seen the ugly in relationships – is that something I really want again? I’m not sure.

However, I’m trying to be more open to it. I realize that if I don’t put myself out there I could, one day, be the cat lady. Except – I’m allergic to cats. It’s really pathetic when you can’t even be good at plan Z.

Christmas isn’t lonely for me now, but maybe one day it will. I also think there’s a fine line between not actively looking for a relationship and crossing out the idea completely. It’s healthy to want to have a serious relationship with other people. It’s healthy to want to get to know someone better.

So here I am, hair curled and red lipstick on, wondering why the guy sitting next to me is talking in riddles. I’ve been in his car for 20 minutes and I’m already frustrated. I’ve tried to get a better idea of his life, asking him the staple questions – how many siblings, his favorite color, if he snowboards. If you were to judge by only hearing his answers, you would think I was asking him for his father’s social security number.

“Why are you asking me so many questions?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “I’m just trying to get to know you better.”

“Oh,” he says, looking out the window.

I get some answers, but finally give up. It’s not worth the frustration. I also realize he has not asked me one question about my life. I don’t really care to share, anyway… I’m busy mentally kicking myself for not going for wings with my parents like I wanted to.

This is why I don’t date, I thought suddenly. Why would I?

In the past few months I’ve dated a few guys and it seems to me that most of them think they are interested in me, while none of them actually are. Usually they try to impress me by blasting music to cliché songs and belting it out, kind of like a scene in a movie. Every time this happens, I want to throw up. Don’t get me wrong, with the right person, blasting music and driving can be a deeply romantic thing; but with these careless guys, it just seems more like a gimmick, a way for them to show themselves off. I’m not interested.

I can count on one hand the number of times these guys have shown genuine interest in my life. Don’t worry, they are more than willing to over-share their ideas about money and careers and… blah. Sorry, I was only half paying attention.

It seems they are just as burnt out by females as I am by males. Otherwise, why would they think that I care about the amount of money they make? Why would they think it gives them an advantage to say, “Hey, I got this – trust me, Mon, I don’t have to worry about money.” (Yes, that happened.)

Insert big eye roll. Turns out these guys seem to think they are chivalrous without actually being chivalrous. Turns out I don’t care.

After giving up with the questions about his life, the conversation turned to sarcastic comments and teasing each other. I’m the queen of teasing. I think it’s one of the best things you can do in a relationship. However, if it’s your only means of communicating, things dry out so fast. Between the teasing, I learn that my date is openly racist, something I find not only sickening but completely astonishing for a 20-something in 2014. I find out that he cares more about money than basically anything else. I find out that he is more interested in himself than other human beings.

I come home and vent to friends, who tell me my favorite cliché: When you stop looking, love will find you. This proceeds to make me angrier. I’m not looking for love. I actually hate love. It’s caused quite too many problems in my life for me to actively seek it out. However, if I can’t fall back on the cat lady plan, I guess I should spend an afternoon on a ‘date’ instead of just hanging out with my parents as usual. There seems to be a conflict in clichés – half the people in my life tell me it’s time to ‘get back out there’ and half tell me to ‘stop looking.’

I’m somewhere in between. I guess that’s probably where I’ll stay until maybe one day I’ll find someone worth leaving the in between for. Until then, maybe I’ll just pull out my sketchbook and start drawing some cats. It’s kind of the same, right?

When Blue Dish Detergent Pisses You Off

I look down at the counter and see thick, bubbly blue soap everywhere. On the floor, dripping down the cabinets. What the hell. Then I see that I forgot to put the little white cap back on the sponge/soap dispenser I’m using to clean the dishes. I’ve been cleaning the dishes while blue Dawn dish-washing soap escaped all over.

I’m immediately angry. No, I mean, irrationally angry. I’m gripped with anger in a way that I feel I might hit something or go crazy or just start yelling at someone, anyone who gets in my way. In the past, I think I would have.

At first, I think I’m mad at my parents because I’m doing the dishes and somehow that’s their fault. As if doing the dishes is such a chore. As if washing a few dishes on a quiet Monday evening is something to be angry at.

So, I turn off the water and just stare out the window into the darkness and the snow. I’m angry because there’s no sun when I get out of work. I’m angry because my car is cold and old and never heats up. I’m angry because of some snarky side comment someone said to me over the weekend. I’m angry because I’m angry.

Between pointing my finger at this person or that situation, trying to pinpoint exactly what is making me so goddamned angry, I feel my eyes welling up with tears. My parents are still in the kitchen cleaning up, and I haven’t even gotten a grip on what the hell is happening yet, so I try to blink the tears away. They just keep falling.

This happened one other time recently. I went to get my grandfather and he wasn’t ready for me, even though we told him what time we’d be there. I was so angry, irrationally angry, first at him and then five times as much at myself. It’s not fair to be angry at someone simply because they are aging and don’t remember as well as they used to.

So, as he got ready, I went for a walk in the snow. I walked through my old neighborhood with red lipstick on and my navy blue, knee length winter jacket, knowing that the cars driving by had to be wondering where such a dressed up girl was walking to in the middle of winter. Why did she look so sad? I cried, stopped, cried. I found myself at the cemetery. It was the only place I could think to go.

Nobody likes death. Nobody likes to think about it, to confront it, to realize it’s a part of life we all need to accept. Death comes in two ways; shockingly fast or painfully slow. When it happens fast, it’s like a straight punch to your gut. When it happens slowly, it feels like someone is letting the air out of a balloon inside your stomach, and you can’t fill it back up no matter what.

Regardless of the way it presents itself, it demands attention. So, if you aren’t going to let the soppy tears fall into the soapy dishwater, than you can bet your ass you’re going to be punching something.

I realized that as shitty as this feels, I’d rather just cry. So when my parents finally asked me what was wrong, I just break down and tell them. No “I’m fine” or “nothing” — just the straight out truth. My grandfather is getting older and it hurts like fucking hell. He’s the head of the family, the strongest one there is, and it’s hard to grip the reality that he is human just like the rest of us. I don’t want him to be human. I want him to live forever.

I don’t call the shots, though. I don’t have that kind of power. So, I just send my prayers and hold on to the moments I have right now. When he makes me laugh, I laugh. When I want to cry, I cry. If nothing else, I think about the time I have here and the time he has here and how important it all is. Cliches aside, it all goes by too damn fast.

Split the Chicken Wings 60/40 & Have a Panic Attack

“Mon, we’re all getting breakfast sandwiches, you want one?”

“Okay…” I say, thoughtfully, thinking about what exactly a breakfast sandwich meant. It meant a lot of calories and fat as my first meal of the day. It meant blowing my calorie limit out the window. Basically, it meant starving.

“Well, what kind?” he asks.

“I don’t know. What are you getting?”

He kind of just looks at me with a face that says, “What does it matter?”

So, I just tell him sausage, egg, and cheese. Or maybe I said bacon. I don’t remember because the alarms in my head were going off. Just five minutes earlier I had hopped off the scale in his bathroom. It read 100 lbs – the lowest I had been since junior high.

I start to get dressed and tell him to go downstairs; I’ll meet him down there. Then the panic begins. I am starving. I went out last night and couldn’t find anything healthy enough for my standards on the menu. I wound up splurging by eating 6 chicken wings.

But I can’t eat that sandwich. I know I can’t. There will be a lot of cheese, a lot of grease, and a lot of carbs. I can’t do it. I don’t even want to know the calorie count.

I rush downstairs and throw six dollars in his direction and tell him I have to leave. He looks confused and kind of hurt, wondering what he did wrong. He didn’t do anything wrong. I just couldn’t eat it.

As I drive home I realize I am starving and have no food in my house. So I stop at Dunkin’ and get the low-cal breakfast sandwich – turkey sausage and egg whites. Then I drive to my apartment and set it on the counter where it sits for five hours, untouched, until I finally throw it away. By the time I eat at 3pm I am shaky and dizzy.

Flashback a few years and I’m sitting in a restaurant. I want to order the chicken wing wrap but I already know the calorie count. It doesn’t matter anyway. He’ll probably mention it if I don’t first.

After a painful deliberation between a chicken wing wrap and a salad, in which we discuss calorie and fat content so I can make an informed decision, I choose the salad. Then when the waiter comes I quickly change to an order of wings and fries. I eat six chicken wings and leave four for lunch tomorrow.

At lunch the next day I eat all four of them, and then I cry. I’m ruining my body. I’m feeding it unhealthy food. I’m out of control. Little did I know that I was out of control, just in different ways.

It’s eight months ago and I am at a rest stop between Philadelphia and Scranton. I had no chance to eat, yet. My options are a burger from Roy Rogers, greasy pizza from a nameless place, or a pre-made grilled chicken sandwich that has more chemicals in it than I can handle. I spend a half hour at this rest stop, walking and walking, trying to find something that is not automatically ruled out by my strict diet.

I find a granola bar that is 110 calories and leave. My trip is set back a half hour and I’m still starving.

I can’t speak for everyone when I say that featuring FDA-mandated calorie counts on menus nationwide is more harmful than it is good, even though that’s exactly what I believe for myself. I will tell you that the panic is starting to set in. It’ll be a year before this goes into effect, so I have time. It’s just that, I spent the past 6 months teaching my brain not to care about calories, and this feels like a bit of a blow. I can’t lie and say I’m not a little scared.

I did some research to see the affects of calorie counting on eating disorders. It turns out Harvard University opted to remove the calorie counts from their dining halls in 2008 due to the impact it had on students with eating disorders. Other than that, I didn’t spend much time researching. Our disordered-eating-obsessed country has many more articles on how to lose weight in unhealthy ways than articles on eating disorders. It’s just the way it is.

When Football Fields and Candy Stores Pop Up in Your Living Room

She looks at me with big, blue eyes and tugs at my hand.

“Monica, come closer.”

Then she whispers in my ear the best secret she can come up with to get me to follow her into the next room.

“There’s candy in there.”

So I close my sociology book and take her tiny hand as she leads me into the make-believe candy store that popped up in the living room. She gives me a tour of the place which is comprised mostly of chocolate and banana flavored candy. She asks me if I want some. Of course I do; after all, pretend candy may not taste all that delicious but it doesn’t have any calories.

I sit down in the corner she points to. She tells me I should sit there if I ever want to get my candy. I look around the room and realize that I don’t know how long it has been since I sat on this floor, let alone in this corner. I note how the world looks different from down here.

She continues to run her candy store, telling me that she will also make me a “hamburg” but I’d have to forget about the cheese; she doesn’t have any. An imaginary person named Henry ate it all. She asks me if I would like mustard before she decides that she ran out of that as well.

The counter of her shop is set up right beneath the piano. She’s small enough to fit under there but tall enough now that she could bang her head if I don’t keep reminding her to be careful. She’s not worried about hitting her head; she’s just worried about making my food.

I watch her as she runs around, laughing and being silly. She stops to tell me secrets now and then about the football field that she decided is somewhere behind the couch. I try so hard to see it, but all I see is a green wall. She’s sure it’s there, though. “Monica, see the football field?”

So I try to see it. I play her game and think about how wonderful it is to build your own beautiful candy store right next to the football field on a rainy Sunday night when the rest of the world is dreading work the next day. I’m envious.

Her tiny blonde ponytail is bouncing up and down and she looks at me and giggles. While she starts making me an imaginary bucket of buttery popcorn, my heart aches a little. I want her to stay this way forever, as selfish as that may be.

I don’t want this perfect little girl to grow up and experience the bad – because right now her world is filled with candy and cake and happiness.

I never want her to look at a candy bar and wonder if it will go straight to her thighs. I don’t want her to feel like she needs to sleep with a guy to make herself feel worth it. Lord knows I never want her to experience drugs, or even alcohol, because right now, the world is good enough for her just the way it is.

I stop thinking so much about the real world for a minute and fall into her creative world filled with endless candy and “hamburgs” and football fields. We giggle and laugh and when she does lightly bump her head on the piano, she runs to me with a serious look on her face and I hug her and she smiles. I love this little girl, we all do. She pulls me out of the real world and into her exclusive, make-believe world. It’s all I need to keep my heart at least a little bit young.

The most overused yet ignored phrase: “Be Yourself”

I’ve been burdened for a long time by my need to have other people like me and approve of my choices. I would say out of all the things that contributed to my anxiety, depression, and eating problems, this is the number one reason to blame.

I’m not sure when it happened, but sometime between now and when I was a fourteen-year-old girl, I felt the only way for me to survive was to be who others wanted me to be. I mean, all the time.

So when I dated someone on the football team, I changed my style to fill that role. When I dated the health and exercise addict, I became obsessed with these things, too. When I had a crush on a guy who liked to party, I suddenly liked to party (too much), too.

The problem with this – aside from how obviously sick it really is – is that it created an anxiety within myself. I don’t like to exercise every day. I actually prefer to exercise a few times a week, otherwise I wind up getting burned out. I don’t actually like football that much, nor have I ever. I certainly like to go out and have fun, but quiet nights watching movies revive my soul and give me a chance to hang out with myself.

It needs to be said that I did not necessarily take on these roles because someone was forcing me to, but rather, I thought that was the best way to get others to like me. Because I didn’t necessarily love myself, it felt easier to blend in with others’ expectations to fill that hole.

This need to live up to other people’s expectations doesn’t just extend to the guys I’ve dated in my life – they also extend to my parents, my friends… everyone. Letting down my parents has been my biggest fear, so I’ve always tried to go above and beyond to do things their way. Or, at least, pretend to do things their way.

However, once you start to “grow up” (really, Monica is growing up and it’s terrifying) and become an adult, you realize that you have different views of the world than your parents may have. This is neither good nor bad; it’s just the way it is. But if you get caught up in living by the standards of others, you may find that you never will grow into the person you are meant to be.

As 2014 quickly passes us by, I realize that it’s been my hardest and best year yet. I’ve learned so much and gained so much insight this year. For the first time in so long I feel human and I feel okay. I feel like myself. I live life by my own standards.

One of the most important lessons I’ve come to learn this year would be that I’m not perfect nor will I ever be. It sounds so cliché, but it’s true. The thing is, for the longest time, I didn’t even know I was trying to be perfect. What’s even more peculiar is I was trying to be perfect for people who didn’t even expect me to be perfect.

When I fall short by my own standards, I’m so hard on myself it makes me sick. If I fall flat on my face in front of a guy I’m interested in, or if I say something I shouldn’t have, I beat myself up for so long. It’s exhausting.

There’s a freedom in realizing that you don’t have to be someone else’s idea of what you should be. “Be yourself” is perhaps the most overused yet ignored phrase in our language today. Everyone wants you to be yourself until you actually be yourself. Then you are weird.

I’m weird and I freaking love it. No, really, I’m not kidding. Not even a little bit. I write this blog because I own my brokenness and recognize that without it, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Without the mistakes in my past I wouldn’t have gotten to the wonderful, exciting, beautiful place I am at right now.

No, I’m not perfect. I make mistakes and then I make them again. Sometimes I hurt people without even knowing it. Sometimes I get angry with myself. Sometimes I think that I should be somewhere else than where I am.

But most of the time I realize I’m exactly where I need to be in life. I’m exactly who I need to be – a person with emotions and enthusiasm and a need to over-share. If I continued to live up to the expectations of other people, I would live my entire life in chains; it’s nice to finally feel free.

–M

War on Bullying isn’t working; where do we go from here?

As a nation, we are all pretty aware of the bullying issue. There are anti-bullying campaigns on social media, through commercials, and even movies about it. It’s real, too. The numbers are extremely sobering; suicide is the third highest cause of death for teens.

While we’re all aware of this issue, we seem to all disagree on how to solve the problem. Not only does it lead to suicides, but school shootings seem to be happening almost daily now. This book  explores the connection between bullying and school shootings.

From my own experiences with bullying (you can read my post from 2011 here), I’ve come to realize that no administrative help was going to fix the problem. Because administrators did try to help me, and when they intervened, it just made things worse. Their intentions were in the right place, but unfortunately it just led to more issues.

The thing is, bullying isn’t a new phenomenon. If you are like me and watch 24 hours of the Christmas Story during Christmas, you know poor Ralphie and his brother were bullied. No, I am not suggesting that we retaliate by punching the shit out of the person (although it did seem to work for him…). But I think the main difference between bullying then and bullying now is the internet. Kids don’t get away from it when they go home at night. Ralphie wasn’t sitting on his cellphone watching his bullies have a fun night out via social media. Man, he was busy thinking about his Christmas gift.

Almost 10 years after my own struggle with being bullied, I’ve come to the conclusion that we need to not go after the bullies necessarily, because in the end, it’s never going to stop. People will be assholes. Furthermore, I’d argue that the people who bully have their own issues they need to work out and that’s why they pry on the weaker. Hell, I’m almost 25 and I still know people who are bullies.

I think we need to teach kids better coping skills to deal with it when they do get bullied.

Really, although my experience was traumatic, it turns out that a lot of the emotional pain I felt was because I already had low self-esteem. So, basically, in my head, I sucked. Therefore, when I had 12 of my classmates telling me that I sucked, a red light started flashing in my brain that said, “They figured it out! They know you suck! Everything you’ve been thinking about yourself is real!”

In all reality, those kids knew nothing about me and didn’t need to affect me the way that they did. The problem, after all, was that I felt shitty about myself and gave in to the lies they were spitting at me.

Our generation has a problem sitting with feelings. We don’t like to feel things, mainly because we don’t have to. When we feel out of place, we go on our phones and check Facebook. When we are angry, we tweet about it. When we are sad, we watch a movie. We never learned how to sit with our feelings without taking action. Our society is so fast-paced that we have a reaction trigger. Something happens and we act quickly.

If you read my blog entry about my own experience, you’ll see that there were points that I wanted to die. I did not want to live. Now, almost 10 years later, I realize all the things I would have missed out on: two of my sisters’ weddings, the birth of three amazing cousins, college graduation, relationships, great times with great friends, a million laughs and smiles… I could go on forever.

We need to teach kids how to cope. How to stand up not only to their bullies, but to the personal voice inside their heads that are telling them they suck. It’s the only way we are going to save people from themselves.

Cold Pastoral and Love on a Cold, Rainy Day

“I thought about the things he’d said about her in his journal. The morning after they first kissed, when he’d spent forty minutes writing her a three-line email. The game of bowling where they got high in the bathroom, the way he’d described her collarbone and her smile and the first time he saw her band play in the basement during the storm. The first time they had sex and didn’t use a condom and the first time he came home with her for Thanksgiving and met her alcoholic mother and the discussion they’d had about it afterward. How he’d said he held her and told her it’d be O.K. and that he’d always be there. The bad poem he wrote for her and the good song she’d written for him. The time they thought she was pregnant and the time his grandfather died. How they’d said how much they loved each other and how they always would. How he worried he loved her more than she loved him and that she had a crush on a boy named Emmanuel. And I thought then of how he’d described things growing old. Growing similar, habitual. How he’d begun to wake up in the morning without rolling over to kiss her. How he’d started to resent the time away from his friends, her nagging habits. How he’d begun to look at other girls and compare her to the hypothetical. How’d she’d begun to ignore him, too, and how they’d gone along anyway for another six months, another year. How it’d ended and how he’d felt free and young and energized. But then how he’d begun to miss her. And doubt himself. And worry that they’d screwed things up forever. How he’d loved her, still, whether or not he understood it, and how, when it came down to it, I could never really compare.”

The above excerpt comes from a fiction piece written by Marina Keegan that was published in The New Yorker. Many said Keegan would be the voice of our generation if she hadn’t died in a car accident first. After reading this, I believe them.

These words spoke to me on a rainy, cold day in October when I felt like the world was folding in front of me. Having just come home from work, I slipped under my covers, where I cried and cried. It was the kind of cry that just takes you over, the kind that doesn’t ask first, but instead comes accompanied with deep, gasping sobs that make you feel like you’ll never stop.

Alas, I did stop, I had to. I couldn’t spend the afternoon desperately crying in my bed, so I picked myself back up using all the strength I had, opened up my laptop, and happened across this excerpt.

Marina Keegan did in 311 words what I wish I could do for my entire life. She summed up the good, glorious, soul-calming beginning of any good relationship and explained the soul-wrenching, slow fall of it into a dust of heartbreak.

I just got it, because I had been there. I’d been that girl that experienced those things. I’ve been with the guy who did those things for me. And before it started it’s slow decent into a world full of nagging, jealousy, and ugliness, it was good. So good that once it ended – perhaps six months or a year later than it should have – there was nothing worth looking back on but the good times.

It made me wonder why relationships are so universal to so many people but so personal at the very same time. She crafted the template of so many relationships that came before her and would come after. The magic of it, the dullness of it, the heartbreak of it. There’s a hope that arose within me, because the beginning is so good; the exaggerated lengths we all go through to say the entirely right thing, the soul sharing way you open up to a person and feel so confident and safe about it. But then there was the sadness; the end of the excitement, of the newness and the creation of strain and boredom that wears the relationship down.

I think once everything is said and done, if the relationship was real and raw and intimate, we all look back and wonder what it was we ruined and if it was all worth it. Friends will tell us that we are better off, we weren’t that happy, it wasn’t as good as we thought. We know better, though, because for a few moments of our lives, it mattered.

For a few moments, we were able to go home to our beds and fall asleep knowing we had something to look forward to the next day, something to distract ourselves from the dullness of our own lives. We had a person to share things with, to laugh with, and to conquer the world with.

When we inevitably get comfortable and begin to stop conquering and instead start bickering, we take things for granted. We start to look to other places and we move on.

Why do we do this?

I’ve been telling myself lately that I don’t believe in love. I’m not sure if I don’t or I’m too scared to. I look at the couples around me and I see the dullness, the nagging, and I think to myself that these things are just not worth it. The thing is, I don’t get to see the moments of clarity, the closeness they feel when they open themselves up to the other person and are accepted for being exactly who they are—good and bad.

Until I read this, I forgot about those magical moments I’ve had in my life – and there’s only been a few. I’d rather not remember them, because then I start to miss the people with whom I’ve shared them, and that’s just too painful and scary.

However, I think there’s something to be said about finding another person to open up to and I think it’s this: It’s worth it. It means something. Regardless of how it may end, it’s what keeps us going, keeps us alive and saves us from the ugliness in life. So while you have it, cherish it.

–M

Even on Your Shittiest Days, You Don’t Need the Training Wheels

I’ll let you in on a little secret- the past few days I’ve just been… well, miserable. It’s just been one of those weeks where everything seems a little off. I’ve been so busy I feel like I haven’t had a moment to stop or breathe or organize.

It seems I haven’t organized at all because I’ve overbooked myself two weekends in a row, leading me to let down people I made plans with. Saturday I overcompensated for my stress by drinking a little bit too much, which lead me to start Sunday with the shittiest of hangovers. Sunday night I realized I definitely understudied for my upcoming A&P exam and panicked. Yesterday, I got a speeding ticket, developed a cold, took the test that was harder than I could have imagined. By the time I got home I just wanted to head to my bedroom and lock the world out.

Do you have days like this? Days when you just feel shitty and everything seems to go wrong?

I know this is all very whiny, but I’m getting somewhere with this.

When I have these off days, I get really scared. No, I’m not scared about how I will afford my speeding ticket or if I will pass my test… I’m scared of the darkness creeping back in.

The thing about recovering from depression or an ED is that you know you can go back and not even realize it’s happening. In the past, I’ve just woken up one day and realized I was in the thickest, darkest place I’ve ever been in and had no idea how I got there.

Now that I’m in a better place, I’m hypersensitive to my surroundings. I look for every possible trigger and try to avoid it. However, sometimes life happens and you just can’t avoid it. Sometimes you get sick and you can’t bring yourself to run three miles. Sometimes you go too fast and get pulled over.

I wish I could put into words the anxiety I feel because I know that I need to rest because I have a cold, but my irrational thoughts are telling me if I don’t go for a run I’ll gain all this weight. It would be great if I could accurately describe how it feels to get a speeding ticket, cry about it, and then wonder if your crying is an indication of your depression.

When it comes down to it, I guess normal doesn’t feel so normal to me. It feels scary. Almost like the first time you ride your bike with the training wheels off and you don’t fall – you see your dad getting smaller and smaller in the distance and you get a little scared. Although you can do it on your own now and make it, it would still be nice to have that security net just in case.

I’ve been working really hard on staying out of relationships, simply because I need to learn to do this thing on my own. I hate it. It’s scary. When I have a rough week, trust me when I say that I wish there was someone I could call up to say, “Hey, this fucking sucks, come cuddle with me.”

Then I realize that this is the exact reason I can’t be in a relationship – the relationship would be my training wheels. Of course it’s nice to have a shoulder to cry on when the world gets overwhelming, but I think there’s something to be said about the people who figure it out on their own.

No, I couldn’t go home and cuddle with anyone, but I did go home to my parents. I wanted nothing to do with them because although I could whine to them about my bad day, I kept telling myself it’s not the same.

A weird thing happened, though: my dad made me laugh. I was aggravated because I wanted to throw myself the “I’m single and my life sucks” pity party and here he was making me laugh. Instead, I went in my room, lay down in my bed, and thought about how great my life really was regardless of the past few shitty days. I went out to the living room, gave my dad a hug, went back to bed and thanked God for the crappy few days I just had. Because crappy days are better than depressed days and figuring it out on my own is better than having a guy figure it out for me. I think that’s a good enough reason to feel blessed.

–M

Can we curb obesity without promoting restrictive diets?

I came across an article from TIME.com today which speaks about a new method that is “proven to stop teens from drinking soda.” The article and research argues that if teens knew how much they’d have to walk in order to burn off the caloric content of a soda, they are more likely to pass up on soda or drink less.

Coming from a person who has had problems with restrictive eating in the past, this was a red flag for me. I understand just as much as anyone that we need to work on the sky-rocketing obesity rate in the United States, as obesity had once (and still kind of is) my biggest fear. However, I think this tactic is extremely dangerous and can lead teens down a path that would point directly towards eating restrictions and eventually eating disorders. I mean, really, that’s a huge problem already.

See, part of my unhealthy thinking about food was that I felt like the least amount of calories I got in a day, the better. Makes sense, right? Aren’t calories these big, scary numbers? Can’t we just avoid them all together – or at least, restrict them?

The answer is simply no. We need calories to survive, to think, for energy, etc.

While I do not think that we should all just say, “Let’s consume as many calories as possible!” I do not think comparing your caloric intake to the energy you would need to exert to get rid of calories is dangerous. Here’s why.

When I was going through the scariest part of my eating disorder (ED), I believed that the amount of energy I needed to exert had to be more or at least equal to the amount of calories I consumed in a day.

To reinforce this way of thinking, I was surrounded by people that would constantly remind me how many calories were in certain types of food and I was well aware of how many calories I would burn working out.

Because I could not burn that many calories working out, I decreased my caloric intake drastically. I felt it was the only way to maintain a healthy weight.

For  example, I knew that croutons had about 25 calories in them so I never ate them because I knew the work it would take to make up for it, even though I liked them. (Seriously… a fucking crouton gave me anxiety.) That is just one simple example. My rules included cutting out anything food that would bring me any amount of joy from taste.

The problem is, this spins out of control very easily. Eventually, I basically felt uncomfortable eating anything that was not a vegetable.

Everything has calories (okay, most things). At the end of the day, it’s just energy. Everyone’s body is different – which means that calories are a very vague indication of the weight you will gain by consuming them. Because roughly 3,500 calories equals about one pound of body weight, I think we need to stop with all this calorie stuff. It’s just creating a crazy anxiety and promoting unhealthiness.

Why don’t we just teach teens how to take care of their bodies without giving them strict rules for their diets?

It turns out that once my body bounced back to it’s normal weight, it has stayed there. See, when I started eating normally again, I cut all my rules. Advised by nutritionist, I started “intuitive eating” which is a method that promotes listening to your body (I know, sounds so philosophical and “out there”). She promised me that if I used this method, I would not keep putting on weight. I was so skeptical at first because I’ve been taught all these crazy restrictive rules, and it’s still a struggle to trust this, but I’ve found that so far, she’s right.

This is my own opinion, but I found it’s true: Do you know how the minute parents tell teens not to do something, it suddenly sets off an alarm in their head that makes them want to do it even more? I’ve found that when I set rules for myself, the rebel in me wants to break them. That’s perhaps why I have been into guys that are so unhealthy for me and why I kept going back to the guy my family disliked so much. Well, I think this behavior applies to food, too. The more you tell yourself you can’t have something, the more you will want it. When you finally give into the craving, you’ll know you are breaking a rule. What happens when we break rules? We go all out. We eat 2 pieces of cake instead of one because we know that we can’t always break the rules, so while we’re breaking them we mind as well make it worth it, right?

I exercise but I don’t pay attention to calories. I eat but I don’t pay attention to calories. Basically, I eat when I am hungry and I stop when I am satisfied. I do not overeat. If I want to drink a goddamned soda I will, as should teens. Perhaps if we teach teens to recognize how drinking too much soda will affect the way their bodies feel, they’d be able to know when enough is enough.

From my experience, I’ve found that over-eating is perhaps the biggest problem and the reason most people gain weight.

I use a hunger scale from 1 to 10. When my hunger drops to a 3, I eat until it is between an 8 and a 10. If I am just eating a snack to hold me over, I eat until I’m around a 6 or a 7. Sometimes, if I’m really enjoying my food I’ll eat past a 10 because that’s what people do. It’s not every meal, though. I’ve found that I feel shitty when I eat more than I need to eat, so I really don’t do it often.

Anyway, my “method” won’t work for everyone and I understand that. I’m in no way a nutritionist, but from my past experiences, restrictive diets seems to either lead to an ED or lead to people just throwing in the bag and going on a binge where they eat whatever the hell they want.

I just think there’s a better way that people can maintain healthy weight and enjoy the foods they love. I wish we could promote that way instead.

Nursing and the Art of Finding Comfort in the Uncomfortable

A few years ago, someone close to me became very sick. I won’t go into the details of it, but I will say that it made a huge impact on my life. Those few weeks were terrifying and filled with breakdowns in the hallway of cold hospitals and the feeling of utter disbelief that someone’s body could attack itself the way it did.

I bring this up is because it affected me; it mattered. While I stood in the hospital and saw the people around me in so much pain, I also noticed the kindness and hard work of the nurses. The family came to get to know them pretty well. During their long hours they kept smiling and they were there at the blink of an eye if they were needed.

I was amazed not only by the nurses, but by the doctors in the ICU. I was amazed by the technology, the quick decisions that needed to be made immediately to save this person’s life, and when her life was saved, I was amazed by that as well. In short, this tragic incident opened my eyes to something I never experienced before.

So, now, two years later and countless hours of consideration later, I find myself taking the steps necessary to get into a nursing program.

This decision has been huge for me for so many reasons—I think the biggest reason is because for so long I have had zero confidence in my ability to do anything worthwhile.

I’ve always known that writing was a skill of mine, but with that, my ability to excel in math and science has been doubted time and time again. I made fun of myself for doing poorly and ‘hating’ these subjects. Eventually the jokes became reality — this behavior led to me selling myself short.

When I finished my dual-undergraduate degrees in Psychology and Public Relations, I was happy, but in the back of my mind I felt like I wasted time. I watched as my friends worked towards their graduate degrees and found myself becoming increasingly jealous. Why were they able to land jobs and finish degrees that hold so much importance in the world while my job consisted of posting to social media?

While this may be an enjoyable job for some people—and, admittedly, it can be a fun, stress-free, and social job at points—I just continued to get this sinking feeling that I had more potential. Because I was both incredibly happy for my friends while being jealous, I finally tuned into the feelings I had about my friends’ careers and realized the reason behind them; I did not feel good about my career choice. I was not proud of it and I did not feel fulfilled. I felt like I could have done better.

When this first became a goal of mine, I would toy with it and bring it up occasionally to others. No one took me seriously which angered me and in turn lead me to not take myself seriously. Actually, I don’t know if it was that no one took me seriously or I just perceived it that way due to my own insecurities.  I spent so much time building this image of myself as a writer and an artist – how could I trade that part of me in? Did I really want to abandon the arts for the sciences? Isn’t this an age-old dilemma?

Yes, yes, and yes. Well, I should say, kind of. It took me a while to realize that I was not trading in any particular part of me, I was simply just growing as a person and learning a new skill. The decision to go into nursing had no bearing on the spiritual side of me other than expanding it.

My main goal this year has been becoming more in tune with my own thoughts and perceptions of the world, rather than everyone else’s. It’s been difficult. However, I finally tuned in enough to realize that I’ve been thinking about this path for myself for two years now. If I did not take the plunge now, when would I? Would it be worth it to continue down a career path that I did not love and did not fulfill me just so I could feel comfortable in my own skin?

I decided it isn’t worth it. Comfort is our biggest enemy in life. The best advice I have ever received is to learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s hard. I am so uncomfortable right now and I am so scared. There is this chance I could fail and not get into nursing. I could get in and have a hard time with it. I could change my mind. All these things are possible, and yet, if I don’t give it a shot I have nothing. Fear of failure has kept me from so many things in life and I realize now that it’s time to put an end to that.

Science might take me a little longer to understand than I would like and my anxiety may work against me during my time in school – but I understand now that I’m not the only one with these fears and misconceptions. I think the difference between my behaviors and others are they keep going regardless of the fear, while I have let it paralyze me. In short, no one has a clue what they are doing; some just hide it better.

I realize now that I’ve been given the opportunity to do this thing again. I’m fortunate in this aspect. It’s nice to look around and realize that there is not one thing another person has that I don’t. My brain and my work ethic are just as capable as anyone else’s, but others have committed to a set path while I have had trouble with that. For so long I felt directionless, not knowing what I really wanted to do with my life. This made me angry – what was wrong with me? I’ve come to find that since I’ve worked on my self-esteem and own self-image, it’s been falling into place. I couldn’t make a choice before now because I wasn’t emotionally able to. I didn’t believe in myself enough.

But here I am — wish me luck!