The other day I took my kids to the community pool—it was hot and sunny and they’d been begging me for days to go swimming. I was hesitant at first since I was flying solo—my husband was away which meant one less pair of eyes on the kids. But my daughter was now an expert swimmer so she could paddle around on her own, even out of my sight; my son, on the other hand, needed my constant vigilance, even with the lifeguards, even in the in-between pool with its water sprayers and waterfalls and giant pelican that dumped water on his ever waiting head.
Flying solo also meant I would have to be on my own in a busy, public place and in a swimsuit no less. So my self-consciousness meter was running pretty high. If I could have worn a muu muu in the pool, I would have. But then, that would have drawn more attention, so I stuck with the green swimsuit which meant sticking with all the negative self-talk that went along with it. IT said: You’re too fat to be walking around like this. See that giant whale in the kiddie pool? Why don’t you go and stand in its place. Suck in your stomach, fatty. I suppose I misspoke: I wouldn’t have to be on my own; I had IT right by my side malevolently chatting away.
After an hour of bobbing around in the pool, my son suddenly declared he was FREEZING and STARVING so I mummified him in a towel and we strolled over to the concession stand where I bought him a corn dog. As we waited, I heard, “Kerry!” I turned and saw Deb, the mom of one of my daughter’s classmates and a recent Facebook friend. Usually we chatted about running and the kids and their teachers, usually I had the buffer of clothes and pinched time—“Sorry,” I’d say, “I have to make a doctor’s appointment/go grocery shopping/pick up my son.” But today I was an anxiety-filled captive audience. Obviously I was here for the afternoon and couldn’t nervously run off anywhere.
"You look fantastic," she said. She covered her waist. "I'm working on it but man is it hard."
So we wandered back my lounge chair and chatted about the pool and pointed out our older kids in the big pool. Deb kept smiling at me and looked so expectant and I felt guilty: she’d been trying to become my friend these past few months and wasn’t I also trying to test this new, forthcoming, braver, more honest self on the world?
So I said, “I noticed that you have a Bipolar Awareness link on your Facebook page.”
Deb nodded and lowered her voice. “My husband is Bipolar. It’s why he’s on leave from work right now.”
I nodded back and took a deep breath. “I’m Bipolar, too.”
“Wow! You? Really? You seem, I don’t know. You seem to have it all together.”
“Shit,” I said. “I have nothing together. It’s why I’m on part-time status right now.”
Deb said, “Good for you. You need to do what you need to do to take care of yourself. I’ve struggled with depression and OCD stuff. It’s been really difficult. What meds do you take?”
“Oh, Lithium and Abilify and Prozac and Trazadone.”
Her eyes widened a bit. “Do they also help with the Eating Disorder?”
My stomach took a swan dive. How could she know? I’d never said anything about it. But of course, there were all those months when I couldn’t pick up my daughter from school with all the other moms, months when I wasn’t waiting by the classroom door making chit chat with other moms, with Deb, months when I was in and out of all those hospitals. And then there was the hard evidence—I was so underweight, then, that it must have been obvious to anyone looking at me that I was anorexic.
“Sometimes they help. But the Eating Disorder can be pretty impervious to medication. It’s like an addiction.”
“Sure,” she said. “It’s like when I used to do cocaine. But you can get through it. You just need to watch out for substitutions. I can get pretty obsessive about running.”
I laughed, a real laugh. “Don’t I know that.”
I scanned the pool for the kids. My son was crawling around in the in-between pool, life vest securely attached; my daughter had found a school friend and they were shrieking and splashing in the big pool. They were happy and content and having one of those perfect summer afternoons. And in my own way, so was I. As I talked with Deb, IT went quiet. Words of integrity from a person (me) with integrity in the most incongruous of places. And yet, there we were, two women, moms, in bathing suits, not muu muus, revealing more than we might have thought possible.