Once again, I am flying solo for a few days with kids, dogs, lizards, cat, and surely a mouse and spider or two by my side. The weather in Western Pennsylvania, is cold and wet, more like November than May which isn’t doing wonders for mood stability. My brain expects shorts and sunglasses and sun block; meanwhile, we’re in winter coats with runny noses, huddled (we were, last night!) before the fireplace. Fireplace, not outdoor wood burning pizza oven where we were last week when it was an unpredictable 70 degrees.
But I’m not complaining because of where I am not.
I am not in the State Hospital.
I am not naked in the shower, trying to shave my legs while a grim, grizzled nurse supervises me.
I am not greasy and dirty because I wasn’t allowed to take a shower because I didn’t make the .3 ounce weight gain.
I am not being forced to drink 4 Ensures a day on top of eating 3 meals and 2 snacks a day.
I am not coloring baby animal pictures during a lame attempt at Art Therapy.
I am not under suicide watch with a camera pointed at me 24 hours a day.
I am not separated from my husband and kids by locked doors.
I am not banging my head against the wall until orderlies come running and restrain me.
I am not cutting up my arms with razors.
I am not dangerously underweight.
I am not overdosing on Lithium and I am most certainly not in the ICU.
You see, today I finished up my grading for the semester, which means I actually made it through/withstood/survived/succeeded in finishing out the semester. In January and again in April, there was serious talk of the hospital again. “Again” means six months in the State Hospital where they keep you from hurting yourself (in all the variety of ways I manage to hurt myself) through drugs, restraints, and something called a buckle shirt. Not to be mistaken for a hair shirt (which, to my self-injurious mind, the mind that bends towards punishing asceticism, sounds just fine).
So today is important for two reasons:
1. I fulfilled my teaching responsibilities. I even received a lovely note from one of my students: “Thank you. You have given me and the class so much. I feel as though the Muse has come back to me.” This after a semester of intense anxiety, of feeling like some idiotic talking head, of worrying that I was in the middle of teaching meltdown. I was paralyzed before every class, my body shaking, sweat pooling at my lower back. But now this note from the student reminding me that I could inspire the Muse to return to him. Maybe I can summon her back down to me. Because of this, I’m that much closer to regaining my integrity.
2. I’m home and on my own which means several things. I have to take responsibility for the meal plan: To Eat, or Not to Eat. That isn’t the question. To Eat is the only possible answer. I need to stay safe, no overmedicating, no sharps, no IT vs. Me knockdown, drag out fights, no self-punishment. I must strive to be a balanced Momma with the kiddos—restraint, patience, forgiveness. And in some small way, Christopher trusts me, alone and alone with the kids, and by extension, I need to trust myself. Certainly, this can be one giant leap (freely forward) into regaining my integrity.
I am not without some guidance. Dr. B. offered the following operator’s manual for counteroffensive maneuvers against IT:
1. I can’t be thin and sane. (My weight drops too low, the meds don’t work; the meds don’t work I become a raving madwoman. Thin also requires a devotion to the idolatrous IT. To be sane, means to recognize the spirit of lovingkindness.)
2. I can’t be sane and in control. (The more I clamp down on myself, the more rules of order IT imposes, the more I believe in IT’s power versus my powerlessness, the crazier I become.)
3. When IT says not to eat, eat more. (This morning, at breakfast, I was ready to dump my yogurt down the drain but stopped. Who was I kidding? Who was I hurting? Each bite, hard won, is a finger in the face of IT).
4. When IT tells me to go small, I need to sprawl. (Preferred body position? Arms crossed, legs crossed, bent over like someone with osteoporosis. It’s not about modesty, but about not wanting to take up space, not wanting to be seen.)
5. When IT tells me to shut the fuck up and keep it all to myself, I need to speak up loud and clear to someone on my team. (Today, for instance, long conversations about IT and the Eating Disorder with Jen and Laura, conversations I would have rather ducked, but I tried to speak (freely forward).
I spoke up to my friend Jen this morning, thus beginning the day in integrity, and talked about how difficult it was to be exposed and vulnerable, how my chest corkscrewed with anxiety, how my legs were ready to bolt (not unlike Chandi yesterday), how my fingers wanted to drum on the couch, how they wanted to scratch (until bleeding) my legs and arms. All of this as a result of a simple meditation we practiced together. IT’s revenge against my attempt to quiet the mind, at slowing down the racing thoughts.
But seeing myself sitting there, eyes closed, hands folded in my lap in what should be a position of repose? Ugh. No way to simply Let Go and be. No way would IT allow me to be present. Instead, IT just made me feel hyper self-conscious. Like when I used to go to yoga class and we ended with corpse pose—lying on the floor, telling myself to relax, relax, relax but feeling myself tighten up, hands clenching and unclenching, counting up and down the seconds until it was over.
BE STILL, my heart says. Please, be still.
The only way to find that stillness from thought was to go for a run. But instead of my usual ticking off of the miles and rigidity in terms of when I had to ramp up the speed on the treadmill, I covered the computer with my towel and ran, just ran for the pure pleasure of it. When I felt like going faster, I did, and I also allowed myself to go slower, to back off on the intensity. A definite No No for IT. And when I finally decided to finish? I felt like laughing, like running from the gym to my car in joy. It’s silly, but at one point when I was running I imagined myself as a horse galloping exuberantly around a field, legs working in perfect tandem. A body in good working order, fueled by breakfast, free from injury, ready to fly.