Why We Must Struggle
If we have not struggled
as hard as we can
at our strongest
how will we sense
the shape of our losses
or know what sustains
us longest or name
what change costs us,
saying how strange
it is that one sector
of the self can step in
for another in trouble,
how loss activates
a latent double, how
we can feed
as upon nectar
A confession: I read this poem while waiting, endlessly once again, for my psychiatrist to show up. I was feeling cranky: the previous appointment she cancelled on me at the absolute very last minute; this appointment she had called, at the next-to-very-last-minute, to see if she could reschedule. I was doubly-piqued and said, “No, thank you very much. I can’t reschedule.”
I had already been sitting in the blue and pink waiting room for an half hour, irritated by the faux nostalgic sailing décor on the walls and end tables: faux drift wood sailboat, nautical candle arrangement, wallpaper border of cresting waves. Didn’t the office interior designer understand that a waiting room full of depressed patients might find nothing at all comforting in images of heaving waves and boats potentially lost at sea? That all that water painted along the walls might only encourage desperate acts of drowning? That all that water and sailorish clichés might, in fact, lead one to believe she is underwater?
But really, the decorating issues had little to do with the real instigators of my foul mood. An hour earlier, Dr. B. had just informed me that my weight had dropped below my maintenance weight so I was no longer allowed to go running.
My reaction? Impulsive and adolescent. “Fine,” I said, “then I just won’t eat.” As if I could accomplish that anyway with my contingent of family and friends who would not let me eat alone. A false threat borne of desperation.
But Dr. B. was nonplussed and said, “Then I’ll hospitalize you.”
Which means: forced feeding (Kerry a la Foie Gras?), guzzling Ensure after Ensure (and by extension, gaining the rotund Ensure belly), the absence of privacy (shaving in nursing company, shitting in Health Tech watchfulness), of a private life (I am I) which is of tantamount importance to me—especially since the Eating Disorder makes me feel like I’m some sort of body on the table readied for public vivisection. Here’s what galls me: everyone seems to know everything about what my body is doing these days. Family and friends follow me to the bathroom, want to know my daily calorie counts, my daily exercise summaries, want to know how I was feeling yesterday, today, last hour, this hour, my predictions for tomorrow’s mood. But again, I was just really pissed off at myself, for dropping below my maintenance weight and losing (albeit temporarily) running.
Back to the scene. Bad news. Bad phone call. I’m leafing through an entirely superfluous magazine, and then somewhere in the ad section, here is this excerpt from a poem, by a poet who now escapes me. And it is a poem that astonishingly speaks directly to me, its tenderhooks in my back and heart. The poem begs a series of questions, real ones that must matter to this woman in need of reasons to fight and reasons to live because all too often these days, this woman is bone tired and can only summon up reasons to give up to IT and die.
So the poem’s questions?
Q. Have I struggled as hard as I can at my strongest?
A. Everyone keeps saying I can kick IT’s butt. The secret, interior me believes, at heart, I will fail. That typing this right now, I am overcome by tears—not for the waste that IT has wrought, but over the unspeakable urge to cut my arms. It is real and visceral and the sick part of me regrets that I ever said I would hold myself to the promise not to cut. I know the consequences: I cut, I go to the hospital.
Shit. Shit. Shit. This is why I am usually at my weakest in encounters with IT. IT is seductive, generous, full of promises: You deserve the pain; you’ll be happier when you’re thinner; you must be perfect and conceal all flaws. I don’t know what my strongest looks like. Then again, my friend Barbara tells me that I have “huge cajones,” that I am fighting the real fight—am not in the hospital for the first summer in three years, that I am writing, that I am home with my kiddos.
Q. What is the shape of my losses?
A. My losses bear the shape of my body. My forearms are scored in scars, thick and thin, all deliberate, all for pain and punishment. My body has been a series of bone and plane and hollows and hard angles, and is trying to return to that topography again. My brain has tested a variety of drugs: Zoloft, Prozac, Wellbutrin, Lexapro, Cymbalta, Buspar, Klonipin, Lithium, Depakote, Neurontin, Lamictal, Topomax, Zyprexa, Seroquel, Abilify, and Trazadone (though this list may not be exhaustive). My brain does not feel stable or steady or reliable or ready.
Q. What sustains me?
A. Easy. My husband and kids. They are the only reasons I haven’t cut in 8 months; the only reasons I haven’t aimed my car at a tree or swallowed a fistful of Lithium; the only reasons I do this—write, tell the truth, speak up.
Q. What will change, real change, cost me?
A. A radically different reappraisal of myself. How will I define myself as someone who can no longer possess the self-nuclear option? I will have to see my scars on my arms as war wounds, testaments to my survival. It will require me to understand that my body is part of me, part of how I move through this world, and that I must love all of it—limbs, tummy, heart, and soul.
Q. What part of me will step in for my salvation?
A. The part of me that chooses to live, chooses to kiss my children each day, chooses to build sand castles and dig up pill bugs. The part of me that know I am here for a reason and that reason has not yet been revealed.
Q. What nectar do I need to survive?
A. My family. Dr. B. My friends. My writing. Sunshine. Rain storms. My dogs.
Funny. My first response, or even second or third, was NOT Running. Which means there is more to me than Eating Disorder Automaton. And which also means there is more to me than the scarred arms. And more to me than the off-kilter brain. And more to me than I know. And this is why I must struggle.