I’ve been angry about “13 Reasons Why” since I started watching it four days ago. I watched the first three episodes with an eagerness to find out what happened next. However, I quickly realized this wasn’t a show for me. I felt compelled to finish as quickly as possible (I just wanted it to be over!); I never should have watched this show.
For me, it went from bad, to pretty tough, to unbearable in 13 LONG hours.
I did some reading after I finished the first season, and I learned that others shared my frustration, anger, and disappointment. Many (like me) found it triggering and inappropriate. Lots of people thought the show was glamorizing suicide. I felt like it was trivializing it! I didn’t appreciate the script’s several remarks about staging suicide as a way to “get rid of” challenging classmates or as the solution for other teens who were also struggling.
I also had some conversations with friends which helped direct my anger and hurt toward something more productive. Our subsequent conversations about suicide prevention, access to resources, and the types of conversations we want to have moving forward forced me to compile my racing thoughts in some (semi) coherent way. These conversations gave me space to share what was on my mind, to feel heard, and to listen. For that, I am thankful.
Still, though, I can’t stop thinking about “13 Reasons Why”, and it’s nothing good.
So, here are my 13 Thoughts on “13 Reasons Why”:
The series could have been promising as a film. However, dragging out the story of a teen’s suicide for 13 hours was really unnecessary.
The way the show depicted several of the themes (i.e., sexual assault, bullying, dating/romantic relationships, self-harm, depression, familial abuse, LGBTQIAA+/identity, and substance use/abuse) was way too much/too real for those of us who can relate closely to what the characters experienced. Where the hell were the trigger warnings?!?!
For folks who cannot relate personally to the themes in the show, it was an ineffective way to evoke empathy from the audience or to help them “understand”.
Top researchers on suicide prevention found that “risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death.” First, nobody needed to see that. Second, it was triggering. Third, what kind of ideas or rationalization did that scene spark for folks who were already considering suicide or self-harm, or weren’t but now saw it as a viable option? [p.s. there has been a spike in calls to mental health helplines since the show aired]
Why didn’t the show present any alternative to suicide or an example of successful help-seeking? Why didn’t they discuss what happens after someone attempts to end their life by suicide, but survives? How does someone move forward from that?
Why didn’t one person ask Hannah directly if she was considering suicide? Effective suicide prevention techniques such as QPR suggest that “asking the question” can be a critical step toward reducing suicidal behaviors and saving lives. QPR stands for Question, Persuade, and Refer — the 3 simple steps anyone can learn to help save a life from suicide. Trust me, hearing this question is crucial.
This show was really a missed opportunity to connect with young people who may relate to the characters, themes, or experiences.
Suicide is never about placing blame. Never. It’s also not selfish or the “easy way out”.
What kind of twisted world do we live in where an acceptable, palpable cliffhanger for a show about teen suicide is whether another character may also, potentially, die by suicide? That’s not enticing or captivating. That’s horrific.
Ultimately, my review is as follows: it was a big, offensive, triggering flop with some good music selections.
I am not recommending this show to any human.
Finally, if you need to talk, about anything, I absolutely welcome dialogue; I want to know what you’re experiencing. Comment below!
For the past four days I’ve felt practically excellent! I ran farther and faster than I’m used to, my pain is tolerable, I feel nourished and well rested, and my anxiety is relatively quiet!
Today, someone asked me how I was doing. I excitedly said, “I’m good!”
They looked shocked. My typical response is “Okay [sigh]” or “I’m good, but tired.” So, they asked me, “What’s going on?” I replied that I’m just good and followed with, “it must be a surge”.
A surge for me is when everything falls into place. I am catapulted up just a bit higher than usual. My disposition is literally sunny and optimistic. I basically feel unstoppable, and I do ALL the things. I’m super productive, high energy, attentive, and efficient. I’m like a bolt of electricity [yep – I went there!].
I don’t usually wonder why a surge happens, – it could be the weather, a good conversation, a restful night’s sleep – but especially after a few days I always worry about when it’s going to end, and how hard the crash will be.
You see, if I ride a surge for too long, there are consequences.
Usually these consequences are the result of me pushing my body too far. When things feel good, I feel like I could literally burst through a brick wall without even a scrape or a bruise. I almost always challenge myself too much on good days. I almost always forget to respect my body’s limitations and needs. It always feels good in the moment – I like to feel invincible.
At certain turning point, usually at the climax and right before I start my descent toward an inevitable crash, the idea of how badly my actions are going to hurt comes into my cognitive awareness. A mental space once occupied by the joy of feeling light and energized turns to a cyclical sludge-like head fog. My anticipation of the “crash” [which sounds something like, “It’s going to be so bad I’m going to have to call out of work. Ugh. Whatever. It’s not going to be that bad; I’ll just power through and be “fine”. I’m always fine.” on a loop] is almost always an accurate prediction of how badly I’m actually going to feel. It usually feels like a Mac truck ran over me – twice. That’s how I often describe how much it hurts when I finally find the ground again.
After a while, my mind starts to play its own twisted version of self-sabotage. It plays a game of second guessing and trying to precisely identify when the tides will change and the calm will become the storm. During these moments, I think things like, “do I feel as good as I think I feel?”, “This is the peak; it’s all downhill from here.”, or even “I don’t deserve to feel this good.”
When you’re a spoonie, you have to simultaneously think, “how can something that feels so thrilling also be foreshadowing something so bad?”, “I can’t fully enjoy this because I’ll pay for it later”, and, “I can’t just sit around impatiently waiting for the pain to come back. I need to capitalize on this opportunity and do all the things because I feel so good!” Sometimes on a good day I don’t even remember those seemingly interminable stretches of pain – the ones I thought would never end. Other times, I’m sure the good day won’t last, but also I definitely don’t want to be miserable.
I’m not asking for my pain to come back! I’m just sure that it will.
How do I reconcile the ping-pong-like thoughts in my mind? It is literally mind boggling.
If left unaddressed, these thoughts can spark some anxiety. Anxiety sparks a need for control. A need for control sparks compulsions. Compulsions, right now, look like increased exercise and attention to food. Increased exercise and attention to food result in exhaustion and pain. Exhaustion and pain cause a need for more sleep. Sleeping while anxious and in pain is an incredible challenge. Which, ultimately means that I’ll be perpetually anxious and exhausted, and possibly risk a flare up until the next time I catch a surge. Which could be weeks or months, and that ambiguity, that yearning, causes me more anxiety.
But, in the meantime, I’m going to soar for as long as I can! Today I feel good! We’ll see what tomorrow brings!
At their core, people want to belong and feel purposeful. We crave connections with each other — to something larger than ourselves.
In the age of social media, Twitter and blogging often welcome that type of intimacy. I frequently find that my online friends “get it”. I don’t have to explain myself when I tweet about chronic pain or feeling like a Mac Truck ran over me. I don’t have to justify my spinning thoughts even though I feel crazed and like it’s not normal. Often, I recognize my values and my identities reflected in the topics other people are writing about or the pithy remarks they’re Tweeting. These connections exemplify for me how to elevate and insert my voice into important conversations. It makes me feel less alone and gives me some justification for how necessary my (and others’) writing is!
For the sake of connection, finding #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike was so important to me. I follow the creator, Sarah Fader, on Twitter, and for the better part of a year our lived experiences of chronic pain and anxiety have converged via the Twitter sphere. For me, reading these Tweets all weekend was incredibly empowering and also very overwhelming.
For the most part, talking about anxiety, real anxiety, is taboo. I often talk about my worries, and what causes me stress, but the real crippling everyday feelings that occupy my life and mind, such as the heavy feeling of ambiguity, the frenetic feeling associated with not having a plan, or my obsession with time that makes me fear being late, are almost always off limits. By not talking about these anxieties and my feelings, and consequently devoting painstaking effort to appear put together, I’m bolstering the facade and mindset that minimizes and stigmatizes mental illness. If we all devote more energy to talking about anxiety, we can find solace in the well-deserved feeling of relief we experience when we learn that we’re not alone in life’s expeditions.
The hashtag #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelslike took my Twitter by storm this weekend. It was second only, possibly, to the Grammys! While at first, the possibility of contributing to this hashtag felt crusting to me, after a while I found that even just reading the Tweets was really reassuring! I could relate to folks’ feelings of inferiority in relationships and accomplishments, the overwhelming uncertainty and dread about sending text messages and emails, the fear that I’m overreacting or imagining how bad something really is, and the constant sensation that my mind is playing tricks on me.
I didn’t tweet anything using the hashtag #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike for several days. I wasn’t sure how to put my thoughts into 133 characters or less. Actually, the task itself gave me anxiety! At times, reading the posts made me feel like I couldn’t breathe. Except I also felt moments of relief and sincere connection. The subsequent intimacy and connection to others that I gained by reading people’s responses and realizing that I’m not alone is no more dangerous than avoiding my feelings and experiencing my story in isolation.
I’m ready to write now; the words are spilling out of me!
This Is What My Anxiety Feels Like
It feels like the sense of invincibility that comes from attempting to do it all and simultaneously avoid whatever is actually pending and important. It feels like unstoppable energy, and confidence that accrues from the electric feeling in my fingers and toes when I’m fueled solely by caffeine and adrenaline — it’s like possibility and efficiency are bubbling out of me! It feels like yearning for the sense of pride that is practically palpable from beating the odds, or defying the expectations. It feels like feeling normal is temporary and maintaining that buzz requires believing I’m in control when I’m absolutely out of control. It feels like every time things feel actually fine, that feeling quickly diminishes and is replaced by intense, immobilizing sadness and isolation. It’s like in moments where I feel like I’ve “found me” I too quickly remind myself that this won’t last long. Usually this feeling lasts just about as long as it takes to take a deep, satisfying breath and recognize that for a moment I can breathe again. That realization makes even a glimpse seem like I’m watching someone else’s life from the sidelines. Anxiety makes me feel like an observer in my own life.
At its core, my anxiety is all about control. Perhaps it’s because I can recall so many times when I didn’t get to be in control of my life [read: abuse & chronic pain – although I can’t get into that right now]. I always fight my environment and circumstances to feel in control; it’s comforting, reliable, and trustworthy – except not really. It’s actually so deceptive. It’s a made up, abstract concept. Control reveals it’s malicious self when I’m not looking. When I feel like everything is finally manageable, the perception of control laughs in my face, and shows me how wrong I actually am [read: every excuse I ever had about compulsive exercise and not being hungry – more on that soon]. Control is a falsity. It’s a mirage. And, since I’m compulsive I literally get trapped in a vicious cycle of catching and chasing control. Since as early as I can recall needing control, I can identify how almost all of my attempts to ascertain control were various forms of self-harm. Most recently, it looks like excessive exercise and compensatory, disordered eating behaviors. Craving control isn’t glamorous, and any threat to that poses a likelihood for a compulsion to kick in – a false sense of manufactured control.
My axiety makes me feel like I can’t stop. I keep myself busy to avoid attending to the spinning thoughts in my head. I’m always thinking so quickly, so often, so intensely. It’s hectic, more appropriately chaotic, It’s also exhausting. Mostly though, it’s really really really overwhelming.
Sometimes it feels like I’m in a room and the walls are all my thoughts. If I could find some way out, a way to break down the walls, a way to push past the barriers that are my thoughts, I’d escape into fresh, crisp air. I’d be able to breathe again.
I’m just thinking too much about everything! I spend too much time reconsidering a conversation with a friend, trying to decide when to send a text so it won’t interrupt people, rereading sent emails for typos and potential misinterpretations that cannot be rectified anyway, worrying that what I submit is barley good enough (that I can only fool people for so long – so therefore rereading and questioning myself until I make myself literally sick), observing and responding to my perceptions of social dynamics, I could go on and on (clearly)!
I want to slow down. I want to pull up on the breaks and tell my head “STOP”. I grapple constantly with this paradox, when I’m not working (and I’m doing something for me) my mind is spinning thinking about all the things I need to be doing. And then I start thinking faster, allocating every minute and attempting to convince myself it will be okay. It feels like a frenzy, like if I don’t harness my thoughts I won’t be able to turn off the anxiety. Conversely, when I start working I can’t even focus on what I’m working on because I’m thinking about a million, minimally important, other things.
I Need Air
My anxiety is like when you’re swimming. It’s like that precise moment right before you come up for air. The anticipation of a deep breath is quickly quenched by a satisfying inhale. However, if this action is repeated, for example if I were to quickly dart back under the water, then the repetition of anticipation and ascertainment may be associated with a feeling of never getting enough of what you need or incessant wanting. So, the gasp of air may be nearly enough to sustain your stroke and stamina but not to fully satisfy your desire.
My anxiety is fueled by an insatiable want for full, deep, satisfying breath of air! And, as I relentlessly seek out this feeling of serenity I’m coming up against tall, sturdy walls of abruptness and urgency instead
Life is full of messy, uncomfortable, painful moments. And most of the time, we’re totally unprepared for how “real” life is about to get. It sneaks up on us, and then avoidance becomes our best alibi. Most of us are more comfortable staying a safe distance away from ourselves and our feelings – it’s easier than doing the work of reuniting our actions, intentions, and feelings. However, in those difficult moments we must practice balancing the opposing feelings of being fully present and running away. That’s scary! Yet, those are the moments in which we grow. We grow when we lean in to moments of discomfort and vulnerability. The anticipation is bound to be terrifying and reason enough to avoid disclosure at all costs, but in the end it may be relieving.
Feeling so deeply, being present in a place of hurt or pain, and embracing your own truth can leave you breathless. It’s brave. You may even find solace in sharing your story and discovering the power of knowing you’re not alone!
Want to participate? Tweet using the hashtag #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike or follow Sarah Fader on Twitter to see what others are saying!
If you think thin privilege doesn’t exist read this and this. If you think thin privilege doesn’t exist try losing 50 pounds, putting on a tight skirt, and becoming an automatic magnet for guys in the club to grind up on you – unless there are skinnier girls around you. If you think thin privilege doesn’t exist, look around. Also, the bar tender called me tiny. That NEVER happened before.
2. How did we get in without paying a cover?
The trick is to stand in the doorway and be incredibly indecisive until the bouncer loses their patience and lets you in for free. Also, A) Thin privilege B) We’re girls – my feminism is cringing at this right now.
3. If you go out and you didn’t get someone to buy you a shot, you didn’t try hard enough
Again, my feminism is cringing, but also such #LifeGoals. Also, why did we drink Fireball?!?!
Next up: how to tell if a guy is worth it by the type of drink he buys you.
4. Domino’s Pizza at 2 AM is the only proven way to avoid a hangover
10/10 would do it again. But actually the results of my personal, non-biased, scientific study suggest that Domino’s Pizza at 2 AM after a night of drinking significantly reduces the risk and severity of a hangover by at least 95%.
5. Does dancing burn calories?
Everything hurts. Literally everything. The tips of my toes hurt! I feel like I worked out for HOURS! Everything hurt while I was dancing – until I was drunk. When I was drunk, it didn’t hurt anymore. And so, I danced more. Now, everything hurts. Was it worth it? Probably.
6. I need to go to more queer bars
Getting drunk, dancing, and making out with guys is basically the standard fare for a night out at a straight club. Which is a totally fun set of activities, but also it gets old fast. Queer clubbing is WAY more fun – there’s so much more to anticipate! There’s more diversity. There are less guys just trying to get a quick hookup. There’s more color! Also, the music is better.
Also, I learned a lesson last night: The key to life is patience. Don’t guzzle, just sip.
And, here’s one more thought: Is it “girls night” or “girls’ night”? – It’s girls because we were a group of girls going out; we (the girls) don’t own the night. Except we did, and we always do. The verdict is undecided.
Once a week, I have the privilege of being completely present. Once a week, I’m exactly where I need to be. Once a week I allow myself to notice my body, my breath, and my voice. Once a week I listen, and actually hear.
It’s Shabbat again. Thank G-d!
A week ago, it was January 20, 2017. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. I didn’t want to think about the inauguration. I wanted to deny its reality like I had been since November 9, 2016. I couldn’t hide from it even if I tried. I felt like someone was sitting on my chest. It was all I could think of and the exact, only thing I didn’t want to be thinking about. The terror was boiling up inside of me, and I wanted to cry. The mood was somber and quiet all around me, but I wanted to scream! I wanted to shout until everyone, until anyone, heard me say, “I feel scared. I feel alone.”
And then, the sun set and the horrible day faded into a somber, ominous night. It still felt quiet, except now, it was Shabbat. Regardless of the chaos or impending legislation, all around the world, Jewish people stopped their daily routines and gathered to sing psalms of joy and praise – to mark the ritual and literal separation from the work of our daily lives and the commandment of rest. It never ceases to amaze me how Shabbat connects us all! No matter where you are in the world or what tune you’re singing, when you’re celebrating Shabbat you’re home.
When I entered the sanctuary, the energy was hovering timidly above us instead of within us, but soon and easily we all fell gracefully into the familiar melody of Kabbalat Shabbat – the service that welcomes the Sabbath. It was the first experience that day that felt natural. The familiarity was like warmth from the sun shining on my face – something I didn’t know I was missing or needed until I felt it. During one prayer, the Shema, I realized that for the first time all day I could actually hear. I could hear the beauty of our voices rising together proclaiming G-d’s oneness. I could hear the dynamic clashes and cascades of our prayers. I realized that I was exhausted because I’d spent the entire day attempting to not hear, or, better yet, to hear only what I wanted to hear. The act of being fully present, and the ability to acknowledge what that type of inner peace felt like was a blessing in and of itself. I smiled inwardly and committed to hold in my mind that it is necessary to hear – to really hear. The Kabbalat Shabbat service was restorative; it had to be because I knew this was only the beginning!
Around this time in the Jewish year, I find myself reflecting on and finding guidance in Parsha Bo. This section of the Torah narrates the story of the Exodus – when the Jews were freed from Egypt and received G-d’s commandment from Moses to “remember, this day you were freed from Egypt by G-d to go to the land of milk and honey. Remember, this day, for all generations and honor Me…”
In my remarks at my Bat-Mitzvah, over 10 years ago, I examined this portion of Torah. I talked about how the Israelites followed Moses from Egypt to the wilderness without necessarily knowing their fate. They followed with a sense urgency, trust, and purpose – they marched toward liberation. I commented that their march from Egypt was the first of many historical marches to leave a lasting impression. Then, considering that my Bat-Mitzvah was on MLK Jr. Day weekend, I recollected the inspiration I personally derived from two tremendously courageous leaders from the Civil Rights Movement: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. These visionaries marched together in Selma in 1965. They reminded everyone that justice is at the center of G-d’s plans for the world. I explained that when reflecting on the experience in Selma, Rabbi Heschel proclaimed his, now iconic, statement, “I prayed with my feet.” He demonstrated that marching – protesting – is one of the greatest prayers of all. Rabbi Heschel’s sentiment about mobilizing and impacting change through prayer and action resonates with me deeply.
It’s important that I’m writing this nearly two weeks after MLK Jr. Day, and a week after the largest one-day protest in U.S. history – the Women’s Marches. It’s also International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the Jewish people’s liberation at Auschwitz, and the day the U.S. President (#NotMyPresident) signed an executive order that indefinitely suspends admissions for Syrian refugees and limits the flow of other refugees into the United States by instituting what the President has called “extreme vetting” of immigrants. Our history is filled with these stories of discrimination and vile hatred. These events remind us both of our past and our very near, unclear future. Consequently, our Jewish tradition tells us that we are obliged to recall each year these stories of our past, and retell these narratives from generation to generation (L’dor Vador) so we do not forget. This responsibility is as important now as it ever was! We cannot forget the massive blemishes of our past. We must use these lessons and our retellings to cultivate strength and energy so we can promote justice and fight to live in a world where “Never Again” truly means “Never Again” – for all people no matter what.
The fight for equity and justice will be absolutely exhausting. And, while our goals are clear, our journey is certainly unpredictable. Regardless, the necessity to show up however and as best you can is beyond evident!
I felt this recently during the Boston Women’s March. However just like Shabbat and amidst the exhaustion and various actions, I was overcome by an awesome feeling. I realized that in that moment, across the world, we were all marching together. I was surrounded by people! The forward momentum in my feet was propelled by the desire to advocate for equal rights, and the strength and support of those behind me and beside me corralling me forward. Our marching was fueled by energy and love. I could feel the urgency in my body, in my spirit, and in my soul. I marched, and sang, chanted, and stayed quiet because I believe that now and forever equality is worth it!
The Torah commands us “You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18)” because in Judaism, we believe that all people are created in the image of G-d. One of the most important ways we show respect for G-d is by respecting ourselves. Conversely, when we disrespect each other, we’re showing disrespect for G-d. I know what it feels like to feel threatened. I know what it feels like to feel safe. Embodying v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha (loving your neighbor as yourself) requires the adoption of the mentality that we are ALL worth it. We, the Jews, were worth it when others came to our side and marched with us toward freedom. Now we must reciprocate that generosity. Across our various lived experiences and diverse identities, values, and choices, we must remember that it’s our obligation to walk beside folks who are different from us. As a queer, Jewish, woman I have to believe that our uniqueness, beauty, and strength makes each and every one of us worth fighting for. We must continue to fortify and rebuild our world with love for one another. I believe it’s the only material that’s strong enough to nourish and sustain our uncertain, fractured world.
It’s Shabbat again. Thank G-d!
And, just like last week, the blessings of Shabbat delivered me an absolutely necessary quiet and feeling of peace. Shabbat reminds me that “tonight we pause to catch our breath” and allows me to bask in this truth: “how wise is our tradition to command us to seek rest on Shabbat, and what joy it is for our souls to be refreshed.”
When I reached Shabbat, I felt calm. I was excited to join the crowd of new and old friends and to pray with all my energy for the hope of a better world. I prayed for healing and strength. I appreciated my community nearby and all over the world. I allowed myself do the work of my heart rather than attending to the fretting in my mind. With my whole body, I thrust myself into the service of Kabbalat Shabbat, and, for just a moment, I sensed what peace feels like.
P.s. I’ve been finding incredible peace and warmth trough music and community these past few days. Here are some of the tunes that have carried me through the last week:
Oh wow! The words are flying out from under my fingers faster than I can process them. Which, is kinda like how fast my brain was whirring during my spin class tonight. Honestly endorphins and anxiety can do some kickin’ things in my head!
So, here are 45 thoughts I had in a 45 minute spin class.
Okay play it cool. Just walk in and pick a bike – I got this.
How the heck does this thing work? [tugging, pulling, and pushing buttons and knobs to adjust the bike settings] Everyone is probably looking at me.
Instructor: “Is anyone new?”[timid hand raise] Me: Keep playing it cool. Just nod and say things like awesome and cool.
Instructor: “Be kind to yourself tonight” Me: Right on. Okay. This could be okay. I can handle a bit of self-care.
I love this music. Maybe I’ll add it to my running playlist.
This is gonna be such great cross training!
I definitely don’t belong here. What was I thinking?! I’m a huge impostor.
Am I even doing this right?
I look like a fool.
Why is this bike moving so fast? My legs feel out of control. Oh, my legs feel like Jello. I’m definitely doing this wrong.
[Looks around the room] WOAH all these girls are so skinny.
[Looks in the mirror] I’m probably the fattest girl in this class.
They probably all think I’m too fat to be here.
Everyone in Boston is so FIT. What’s with all these fit people? It must be a city thing.
Hey wait. I run half marathons. I can handle a 45 minute spin class.
This shirt is too big. It puffs in all the wrong places. It makes me look bigger than really I am.
Okay just don’t look in the mirror.
Wow why am I so conceded that I can’t stop looking at myself in the mirror?
Why aren’t other people sweating?
[Looks around the room – again] Oh there are people who are struggling WAY more than me.
I got this.
Just keep breathing.
This music is great. Okay, just focus on the music.
Is it weird that I’m singing along to Katy Perry Eye of the Tiger?
Why isn’t there a clock in this room? Where is the clock?!?! How many minutes has it been?
What the heck is a moderate hill anyway? My thighs hurt more or less – that’s my measure of resistance.
I cant believe all these people are so skinny.
I wonder if they think I shouldn’t be here.
I bet you they aren’t thinking about me at all.
Okay just count the beats. Be present.
How many calories am I burning?
Oh, these bikes don’t have any tracking devices! How many miles did I go? How am I supposed to track this in my app later?
Why are my thighs so huge?
I said, I wouldn’t look in the mirror!
Wow only three more songs left. That wasn’t so bad!
I totally got this.
Make this count. I’m skipping my run for this.
How is this song not over yet?
I wonder if Grey’s Anatomy is going to be good.
How did I not realize that whenever I lean forward the instructor can see down my entire shirt?!
At least I’m wearing a matching sports bra.
If I have a snack when I get home will I ruin my workout?
Almost there. Don’t give up. Power through.
Made it. Phew! That wasn’t so bad. I’d do that again!
Content Warning: disordered eating, excessive exercise, and self-harm
I’ve been working on this post since December 30, 2016. It’s time to share this aspect of my story even if it’s making me shake as I write. There will be more time to unpack and reorganize my thoughts later. The beauty is in the imperfections. The beauty is in naming my lived experience even if I’m scared. Thank you for reading.
2016 was a remarkable year – literally.
As I was reflecting, I realized that for someone who isn’t very good at math, I did a whole lot of mental gymnastics and complex calculations in 2016. I measured nearly everything – even when I didn’t realize I was doing it.
So, in that spirit, to reflect on 2016, I’m asking, “how do you measure a year?”
Really though, what’s going to make a difference when you look back? What matters for days, weeks, months later? What’s memorable enough? What’s quantifiable? What’s not quantifiable that’s still important?
I could measure 2016 by the number of Tweets I posted, the number of good things that happened, the number of bad things that happened, the number of times I didn’t feel guilty about the food I was eating, the number of amazing conversations I had, the number of trips to the ER, the number of friends I lost, the number of friends I gained, the number of pounds I lost, the number of miles I ran, the number of times I dropped everything because someone needed me, the number of dollars I spent on therapy, the number of hours I spent in therapy, the number of articles I wrote, the number of “accomplishments” I earned, the number of days I over-scheduled to occupy my mind for every single waking minute, the number of fights I had, the number of moments I actually felt present, the list could go on, and on, and on, and on.
The truth is, it’s a miracle I made it through this year, and I’m not sure how I did it. I was crazed and compulsive, and my brain NEVER shut off! I mean it. I woke up exhausted from how many ideas and conversations my brain entertained while I was “sleeping”.
In 2016 I was out of control; even though the one thing I felt like I could count on was control.
Control for me is the ultimate goal. Perhaps it’s because I can recall so many times when I didn’t get to be in control of my life [read: abuse & chronic pain – although I can’t get into that right now]. I always fight my environment and circumstances to feel in control; it’s comforting, reliable, and trustworthy – except not really. It’s actually so deceptive. It’s a made up, abstract concept. Control reveals it’s malicious self when I’m not looking. When I feel like everything is finally manageable, the perception of control laughs in my face, and shows me how wrong I actually am [read: every excuse I ever had about compulsive exercise and not being hungry – more on that soon]. Control is a falsity. It’s a mirage. And, since I’m compulsive I literally get trapped in a vicious cycle of catching and chasing control. Striving for control manifested in a lot of ways for me in 2016. Since as early as I can recall needing control, I can identify how almost all of my attempts to ascertain control were various forms of self-harm. Most recently, it looks like excessive exercise and compensatory, disordered eating behaviors. Craving control isn’t glamorous, and any threat to that poses a likelihood for a compulsion to kick in – a false sense of manufactured control.
I started measuring 2016 by counting calories and miles – obsessively [Thank you Under Armour You Vs Year Challenge] . I ended the year the same way. I ended 2016 weighing myself twice a day, working out 6 days a week, eating one full meal a day, and purging when I felt too full or overwhelmed. I spent 2016 calculating how many miles I’d need to track to erase every indulgence, and every slip of self-control. I ended 2016 feeling “okay” if I ate the same thing every day, and being both proud and fearful every time I lost more weight. It was never about weight, size, or body image; it was always about control. I ended 2016 convinced that these behaviors were typical and not disordered.
In 2016 my identity was contingent on my accomplishments; my identity was consumed by how far I could push myself [read: attempting to run a half marathon while being malnourished and completing an intensive one year Master’s degree while working four jobs]. I tracked my the miles I ran (see below), and if you ask me I can tell you how my mileage totals correlates directly with the chaos in my life. When I felt most out of control, I ran more. It was so simple.
Side note: Melissa A. Fabello suggest it’s bests to “Never, Ever Use Numbers” when talking about fitness on social media. While I tend to agree and realize it can be triggering, I’m using numbers right now. I’m using numbers to illustrate and own my experience. I’m using numbers as literal data to tell my story.
I once described my feelings about running like this,
“pounding the pavement, counting each step, each throbbing step. Endure, push through, don’t stop. Determination. Thud, pound, pound, breath, keep going, don’t stop, sigh, sigh…”
I’ve also described running like this,
“I started running because it was the most brutal, ruthless, clearest way, aside from being a competitive gymnast, I could think of to tell my chronic pain that it isn’t in charge. Running is how I’m reclaiming my body. When I’m running I’m in charge. I’m strong, powerful, and triumphant.“
I channeled my mileage into training for two half marathons. The first race, I ended up in the hospital. I said I didn’t care, but I cared a lot! I was convinced I could push through anything but, my body had a different reality. If I was healthier, stronger, and had better intentions, I would have finished.There was a disconnect between my mind and my body. [Side note: There still is.]
So, the second time I trained for a half marathon, I trained smarter. I decided to think about food as fuel. The second time, I did finish! That was an accomplishment in 2016! In 2016 I ran more than 1000K! I ran nearly the distance of 24 marathons, and with each crazed, obsessive step I gained clarity, pain, agony, energy, and strength – depending on the day.
I ended 2016 both in denial and with a plan to tackle these perfectionist driven behaviors, and dangerous habits. I ended 2016 with a plan to be stronger – both physically and mentally.
I should mention here that living with OCD and overcoming compulsions or obsessions is not a linear process. I’ve had several bouts of compulsions in my life, and even if I’ve resolved one, it’s likely another will reveal itself or I’ll relapse – this is super context dependent (I learned this in 2016). Acknowledging this is a really important step.
In 2016 I graduated with my Master’s degree. Now I have two degrees – count that! I am among the nearly 9-12% (depending on the source) of people in the U.S. who hold an advanced degree. That’s pretty cool.
I also got a job! I love my job, and I love getting to say that I’m a researcher! My team is an amazing group of nerdy, collaborative, intelligent people. Each day my strengths are recognized. I’m trusted and respected. Our work is important. I feel productive and valuable. I feel empowered and supported. I’m appropriately challenged, and I’m always learning new skills. I feel happy at my job every day (even when it’s stressful)- that’s a relief. I am so lucky!
Many people have asked me if I think that graduate school was worth it especially because I love my job and learned so much, and most often my response is overpowered by my own ambivalence. Usually I don’t even want to be entertaining such a question. However, if I’m being honest, I hated graduate school. I have been working through a lot of issues such as complex trauma, impostor syndrome, and anxiety because of it. I do not think that it was worth it. Merely surviving should never be the objective.Although, it’s always an accomplishment. As much as I try to convince myself it wasn’t “that bad” the more I listen to my friends and recall several of the worst nights of my life it’s tough to deny how severe it was. I wouldn’t say that struggling for a year, being suicidal at times, and acquiring an eating disorder as a result of my unrelenting OCD was worth it no matter how amazing my job is now. In 2016, I learned how academia doesn’t take mental health and self-care seriously, and that it’s too easy to pretend you’re “fine” even when you’re struggling immensely.
In 2016, I also found and joined feminist writing spaces. In first publication on Ravishly.com I came out as asexual. I recognized my values and my identities were reflected in the topics other people were writing about. These writers and activists exemplified for me how to elevate and insert my voice into important conversations. My queerness is not the most prominent aspect of my identity, but being queer and owning it afforded me both a sense of connection and exclusion. The connectedness was electrifying. The exclusion made me feel enraged and small. And so, I wrote!
I was enamored with the connection and the energy! I became addicted to saying things, and having them matter to someone. I wanted to be seen, and to belong. I wanted people to recognize my identities, relate to me, and engage with me! My feminism burst out of me once I gained knowledge and started writing, and allowed myself the privilege of being recognized for and confident about who I am, and how my life works. In 2016, I became a writer, and found my voice – which I still think is really cool!
Awareness, Acceptance, and Action – Next Steps
I measured 2016 in events, logistics, and numbers. I allowed my emotions to be in charge when they made sense and they were manageable. Otherwise I silenced them. I convinced myself most feelings were too big, and too intrusive. I learned to retreat instead of express myself. In 2016 I mostly felt complacent – which felt good. Conversely, I often felt out-of-control happy, out-of-control sad, out-of-control angry… and those feelings didn’t feel good. I learned that numbness can be an everyday, acceptable feeling, and that being numb can carry you for a really long time.
I’m still doing the work to recognize, respond to, and feel – literally – what emotions feel like. Sometimes that means getting on a soap box ranting about how frustrated I feel when women at my office complain about the actual, never-ending supply of candy, and the perpetual body shaming and food shaming. Sometimes that means saying when someone hurts me, and calling them out even if it’s uncomfortable. And sometimes that means, recognizing when I’m happy, and sharing that joy with others!
The point is, once I started allowing myself to feel, I allowed my opinions to be valid, and spent time cultivating self-awareness – including learning about myself and my opinions about feminism. I realized there were so many injustices that made me absolutely livid inside, and I charged toward advocating for justice and equity. I also gained some personal insight into what emotions mean for me – which is definitely a work in progress.
I rounded out 2016 by signing a lease for an apartment in Cambridge, MA. I found a wonderful, accepting community of social justice minded, Jewish, young professionals to share Shabbat with. I am in love with the intellectual capital and the culture of Cambridge. I’ve enjoyed sharing the camaraderie of running in this compact city! When I’m feeling really good, I’ll even admit there are a lot of incredible restaurants to try too! I’m excited for the opportunity to thrive in a new, invigorating space.
I could measure 2016 SO many ways. I did measure 2016 SO many ways. Now, in hindsight, I’m finding it most helpful and fulfilling to measure 2016 by recognizing all the opportunities for growth and all the potential for the coming years. I’m happy. Really. I’ve got a good thing going for me right now, and I have an incredible amount of hard, hard work ahead of me.
2017 will be about embracing being simultaneously a masterpiece and a work in progress! I’m ready!