It wouldn’t be post-Christmas, pre-New Year’s if I didn’t sit down to reflect on the year coming to a close. And, boy, was 2013 a wild one. So many things happened. I’ve made some decisions I’m still working on implementing. Much work will come in 2014 to fulfil the promise of 2013. The intensity of the following post is why I don’t put out a Christmas letter.
The lasting legacy of such joy and importance this year was our wedding in June. I have no words to describe how happy I am being Chris’ wife. He’s wonderful and I am far better with him. I will always feel like the safety and freedom I gain from our relationship is the foundation for everything else I undertake to grow as an individual. Love isn’t a big enough sentiment. We simply belong together.
I am only half kidding when I say I took Adam Carolla’s 2013 New Year’s resolution for “everyone else to get their shit together” to heart. Maybe a quarter kidding. As a faithfully fan of Adam’s podcast, I know just how far he came to escape the trajectory of his childhood. It’s inspiring. See: Not Taco Bell Material. I really did look to Adam for a shove in the right direction as I made plans to improve myself to make my life what I want it to be.
I’m still excited about the changes I’ve made around healthy eating and exercise. I’d started with walking on my lunch break in February and we started juicing in April. I’ve struggled over the last few months, but at least in coming to believe in and experience an unrefined plant based diet and exercise, I know just how good I can feel. The last few months have been hard in other ways and I haven’t kept on my previous routines, but I still am doing better than I had prior to this year and I can’t imagine going all the way back to my unhealthy habits of old. For one thing, my sweet tooth is all but gone, so cookies for breakfast isn’t going to happen and soda doesn’t taste good to me anymore. I must credit my brother-in-law Eric for screening Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead while we visited. The movie turned us on to juicing and introduced us to Dr Joel Fuhrman who’s book Eat to Live first pissed me off then changed my mind about what constitutes healthy eating.
For the first time, I’m acknowledging I have a serious problem with food addiction and the only path to healthy living is for me to radically depart from the conventional American diet. That mindset – even when I don’t stick to my convictions – is freeing because I have a standard I know is healthy and doable for me. I do need to work on the emotional eating and using food as a coping mechanism, but at least I’m not blaming genetics or metabolism for my weight and health problems anymore. It’s unhealthy food, stupid, and way to much of it which simply makes my body crave more unhealthy food. When I eat veggies, fruits, beans, nuts and seeds, I’m not as hungry and I have so much more energy. As I type, I’m getting back on track with my eating because I feel like death warmed over today. I woke up with a migraine and if you’ve never had one I can tell you I wish it was just a headache. But this is what happens when I don’t take care of my body. I’m drinking lots of water and trying to learn the lessons feeling this way has to teach me.
One unexpected thing happened as a result of the positive changes I made to my body and health. Even with all the goodness and happiness in my life, I started to feel increasing amounts of anxiety. I’m not even sure exactly when it began, but perhaps as summer became fall or maybe after Chris changed jobs. He had been going in to his old job at 7 am and dropping me off at mine at 6:30 in the morning, a full 2.5 hours before my shift. I made the most of the time; breakfast and walking three miles was my routine for about six months. It wore me out because I’m an owl by nature and those early morning wake-up calls never feel natural. I was proud of myself for handling it as gracefully as I did, but I was thrilled when it ended. Chris now works overnight in routing 12 hour shifts, leaving me alone much more of them time while he sleeps in the daytime. My sleep schedule is much better than it was and I don’t mind solitude, so I expected to be noticeably happier and less stressed. After all, the other benefits of his new job were better pay and an insurance package worth paying into, along with a stable future with a growing company.
What I got was panic attacks and crying jags. I was so overwhelmed, often at work, and as I began to examine what it was clear what is at the heart of the problem. No matter how many external improvements and changes I’ve made, I still suffer the issues resulting from the internal landscape I’ve had as long as I can remember. I am still the same in the inside as I was as a little girl. I felt loneliness as early as kindergarten. I felt distinctly weird, different and separate from the rest of the world. I still feel like I’m not good enough and that if people like me it’s because I’ve hidden all the things they won’t like once they know me better. Now that I don’t have a crisis to distract me, I can see why I suffer from crippling self-doubt, fear and feelings of inadequacy. What I no longer suffer is depression. I haven’t since my hospitalization in 2010. While it’s a new lease on life to actually feel my feelings, sometimes they overwhelm me without the wet blanket of depression to snuff them out. I wouldn’t trade the happiness and connectedness I feel now for anything in the world, but in truth, it was easier to live in in the cocoon of depression all bundled up with hopelessness. Back then, I didn’t feel I had any power over anything, so I simply let life happen and soothed myself however I could with food or mindless TV watching. Now, I’m empowered with responsibility and an almost four year track record of making conscious changes. Scares the crap out of me and contributes to anxiety that can last for hours and days. At some point, I started talking to both Chris and my best friend Kate about how I was feeling, saying basically, “I’m okay but I’m going to have to seek treatment for this anxiety stuff eventually.”
“Eventually” came in no small part thanks to a podcast I’ve listened to for years now called The Mental Illness Happy Hour. The host is comedian Paul Gilmartin – best known for hosting Dinner and a Movie on TBS back when people watched movies on basic cable – and he has all kinds of people on to talk about their “issues” with humor and compassion. The serendipity of a few episodes around the time I was struggling with the idea of seeking therapy (again) speaking straight to my soul doesn’t feel coincidental. The story I can share here is one Paul tells about his own realization there was something deeply flawed in how he looked at himself. I’d heard him tell the story before but it was only recently I admitted to myself how deeply I relate. Paul tells the story of how as an entertainer he always told himself he would feel successful once his face was on a billboard on the Sunset Strip. When it happened – a billboard for Dinner and a Movie with his face larger than life on the world famous Sunset Strip – he went down to see for himself. Looking up at that symbol of show-biz success, all he could think was “Boy, the Strip has really gone downhill.” Once he’d achieved something, the achievement was instantly worthless in his own mind. Self-deprecation is not a useful trait when taken to the extreme and perfectionism is a debilitating cycle to get caught up in, but there I was and no amount of intellectualizing could fix the problem.
I’d rather be able to say I used to feel that way myself but I worked hard to overcome it than have a story like Paul’s sting with recognition. I still put limits on seeking help. I had to find someone close enough to home that I could walk back and forth to appointments if necessary and I had to make sure insurance would cover the treatment. I put those limits on myself and was prepared to wait if I didn’t get the right answers. I consider myself blessed to have found Chris’ insurance plan is great and I made an appointment around a half mile from our apartment. Yesterday was my third meeting with my counselor of what may prove to be a long process. I’ve put mental and emotional band-aides on with a couple other mental health professionals in the past. Now, I don’t really need a band-aide. I need to process emotions I’ve been stuffing down into a deep pit within my psyche for the last three decades. I don’t want to in the worst way. It feels like a waste of valuable time, energy and resources (even with insurance, it’s not free, plus I take time off work to attend appointments) when I have so many better things to spend myself on. But I have seen the results of ignoring my issues. I won’t risk the life I’m working so hard to build just because it’s easier to leave these ugly things festering. It’s a slow and draining process but I’m getting better with each cathartic event.
Lots of other great things happened in 2013. Even with the struggles, I had a lot of fun, read good books, went to three wonderful conventions. I revamped my wardrobe and am extremely happy to embrace my love of fashion and my personal style. I didn’t sew and craft as much as I’d like to have, but I still made a few cool things and I’ve got plans for more enough to last a lifetime. I’m working on organizing and “home making” type stuff with an eye towards adding hooks, shelves and baskets in just the right places around the apartment. We had a wonderful visit with Kate and Sabrina over the summer and I look forward to many more to come. I made new friends and strengthened bonds with some loved ones who’ve been around a long time.
Life in 2013 was pretty fuckin’ good, if I do say so myself. I’ve no doubt 2014 will be even better because I’m going to make it so.