Wednesday, June 30, 2010

An Almost Birthday Wish

Friday is my 38th birthday. It is a bittersweet celebration.

On the one hand, this will be the first birthday in three years (the gods still willing) that I won’t be in the psych hospital, won’t be too medicated to take birthday calls, won’t have to watch Fourth of July fireworks from behind a reinforced Plexiglas window.

On the other hand, I’d always imagined that by this time, I’d have all my shit together. No more manic upswings, no more head-first dives down into the well. And sleep? Shouldn’t I know by now—infancy long gone--how to sleep through the night without all the god-awful middle-of-the-night wakings? And my arms, transected by all those scars. They haven’t faded AT ALL. I meet other moms—the moms who have their shit together—and I hide my arms at my sides or behind my back because I’m afraid they’ll think I’m crazy and won’t let their kids play with mine.

Certainly by 38, I’d be able to blow out the candles of a decadent chocolate birthday cake (double-layer, ganache frosting) and eat a slice without anxiety, without IT telling me I was too fat to eat even a bite. And I wouldn’t have spent hours scouring my closet for something to wear that wouldn’t make me feel fat, that wouldn’t feel too tight (aka touching my skin). At 38, I imagined I’d be able to say that I’d made peace with my body, did, in fact, enjoy being touched, even looked at by my wonderfully patient husband instead of reaching for the light switch (to turn it off) every time we make love, or squirming when his hands range across my thighs or belly (IT whispering: He can feel how fat and disgusting you are. Run away. Shut down. Feel nothing.).

At the very least, I hoped I’d feel confident that I was a stable Momma, that my kids wouldn’t have to live with my volatility, my shouting and quick flashes of anger—that I would be serene, have equanimity in all my dealings. And then there’s the sad passing of my dream—that by now, I’d have had baby number 3. These past few weeks since the garage sale and its unloading of all the baby gear, I’ve found myself, while driving around, scanning yards and porches for my lost stroller or swing. Mine, I still want to say, mine, mine, mine.

What is mine is this birthday and its demands that I lay claim to the past 38 years. This is my life—scarred, broken, but healing. I’ve survived suicide attempts, am surviving now day-by-day, accumulating time on this earth, time with my family. Time. The most necessary of birthday presents. And what I need to trust is that I will allow myself more time to free myself from IT.

I’m reminded of a photo of myself from my seventh birthday. Hours, still, until the party guests arrive. Behind me, a picnic table decorated in a pink tablecloth and balloons; streamers crisscross the air above me. And there I am, pig-tailed, standing in roller-skates in a rainbow bikini, arms thrown high into the air, hips thrust to one side. I AM IT, the photo says. I look at her, at me, and see a girl who is completely herself, full of herself, filled up by the wonder that is herself and I want her back.

I found a fragment of her today. It was beautiful, sunny if cool, so we decided to go on a walk out by the lake with the kids and a new colleague and her husband. Initially, I had the usual jitters I get whenever I’m around anyone new—I’m an idiot. I should keep my mouth shut. I have nothing worthwhile to say. But as I walked ahead of her, I listened to my daughter who was trotting beside her chatter away about our dogs, her lizards, the mealworms and crickets and beetles she feeds her lizards, and how she has to mash the mealworm’s head before she can feed it to her lizards otherwise there’s the possibility the mealworm might crawl out through the lizard’s stomach. Talk talk talk. My daughter didn’t care what she sounded like or if she was boring this strange woman because my daughter was fully convinced that she was someone worth listening to because she was both interesting and worth it.

So at the end of walk, the woman turned to me and said she’d seen my book up on campus and looked forward to reading it.

“What are you working on now?” she asked.

This is a question that typically provokes insane anxiety and feelings of inadequacy in me since for the past few years, I haven’t been working on anything. Unless you count trying to keep myself alive. But recently, I have started working on a new book, so I said, matter-of-factly, “Oh, a memoir.”

Her husband jumped in. “What’s it about? Your whole life? Or something specific?”

Deer in headlights. Panic. IT said: DO NOT SAY A WORD. LIE. YOU CAN’T SPEAK THE TRUTH.”

Bikini. Rollerskates. Birthday wish.

I took a deep breath. “It’s about being Bipolar. And a Mom.”

Christopher smiled at me. He knew how much it took for me to say that much, to reveal that much to strangers. “It’s really brave, what she’s doing,” he said to them. “She’s fierce.”

Brave. I like that. Fierce. Even better. Adjectives to live by this next year.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Gaining

Because I have dropped below my agreed upon compromise weight, I have been charged with the onerous and absolutely distasteful mission of having to once again gain weight. My nutritionist said, “It’s not permissible for you to remain at this weight.” Which rubbed IT in exactly the wrong way. Really. I don’t need anyone’s permission to be any weight. But of course, I have agreed to act in line with the consensus of my team and my team has royally decreed, “Weight must be gained.”

This goes against everything the Eating Disorder has me believe: that less is more; that my body is already corpulent, fleshy, too, too much; that emptiness and hollowness are the ideal states of being. I find myself longing for my lost anorexic body—the knobbed backbone, the visible ladder of ribs, the concavities of the breastbone, jutting hipbones, the indentations around muscles, the flattened breasts, the deep wells of the collarbone.

Never mind that that was twenty-five pounds less then where I stand now. Never mind that I was eating only a few bites a day and throwing up even that. Never mind that I was pretty much forbidden to do any sort of exercise. Never mind that I was weepy and irritable and forgetful and my moods shifted on the hour. Never mind. Never mind. I had achieved perfection—a body without needs or desires, a body that could slip through the cracks and disappear.

As I write this, I can hear how this might sound to anyone without an Eating Disorder: emaciated, sick, a body on the edge of starvation, an unattractive assemblage of bones. Wasn’t that my nickname long ago? Bones Neville! Bones Neville! Recently, I thumbed through my sixth-grade diary, a blue notebook covered in gloppy silver glitter hearts. Most of the pages were scrawled with I Love Tony! I Love Terry! I Love Tony Again! I love Rob Lowe! Kerry and Rob 4-Ever! But in the middle of this dreamy exuberance are more secretive revelations: I wish I had boobs. I hate my body. All I am is one giant pimple. I’m ugly. Nobody will ever love me because I’M SO FAT AND UGLY. Everyone hates me. I wish I could die.

Sad, isn’t it? That girls learn to pick at (and pick apart) their bodies when they’re so young? Yesterday, while my daughter was getting dressed for camp, she yelled, “I hate this shirt!” This shirt, yellow, tie-dyed, was given to her by the camp to wear on field trips. They were going strawberry picking that morning. “I hate this shirt,” she yelled again.

I stood in the doorway and watched her pull at the shirt. “Why do you hate it?” I asked.

“It’s ugly,” she said. “I look like a yellow blob.”

“You look like a sunburst,” I said. “How can that be ugly?”

She looked down, wringing the shirt in her hands. “It makes me look fat,” she said. “It makes me look wide and fat. That’s what everyone will say. Fat fat fat.”

“Sweetheart,” I said, “the shirt is just big. And you’re not in any way fat. You’re a skinny Minnie. No one would say that about you.”

“I’m taking it off the minute I get home,” she said. “That’s that.”

Had I said the right thing? Had I only heightened the distinction between fat and not fat by pointing out that she was not, in fact, fat? And since I didn’t have any integrity in this matter, how could I tell her anything? Hadn’t I just been going through my own closet in search of something that would make me look not-fat? Hadn’t I been secretly happy by the fact that I had lost enough weight to fall below the compromise? Doesn’t weight loss make me feel successful and in-control, and weight gain, even if needed, make me feel like a failure and out-of-control? But the end all be all cannot be a few pounds or clothing sizes in either direction. I don’t want to be a mom compromised by an Eating Disorder, a mom who can’t speak from the heart, in truth, and with integrity. So the challenge, over this next week, is not only gaining weight but gaining perspective.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Chit Chat for Real

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.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

When Is a Yard Sale a Funeral?

I spent the morning pricing a lot of crap that I’m going to try to sell this Saturday at our yard sale. Winter coats that are now enormous, dresses I’ve never worn because I grew too small, ugly ceramic lamps, a hideous green stool, an old (still) white couch, a coffee table left by friends long ago in storage (aka our attic). All of this I will easily and happily part with. Clutter lifted away and absorbed into someone else’s family.

But it’s not all crap. In fact, most of what will fill my front lawn is of the baby and toddler ilk: high chair, swing, bouncy seat, port-a-crib, changing table, baby carriers, a highly technical stroller that collapses with the push of a button, jogging stroller, a crib set in Cape Cod pattern, onesies, teeny tiny huaraches, soft receiving blankets and towels and sheets, adorable Baby Gap clothes (gifts—the blue and white striped hooded sweater!), Diaper Genie, crib toys, all the Fisher Price play sets—house and farm and train and zoo, the purple eyelet snowsuit, the bumblebee rain boots, soft books and board books. All of the necessary items that speak Baby In The House.

Only there is no baby in my house. And there won’t be another one again.

I always imagined having three children—a triumvirate, a trilogy, a trifecta. I happen to believe my husband and I make pretty amazing children, and after my son was born, even though I nosedived into postpartum mania, I couldn’t believe that I was done with the hoping and the dreaming and the poignant and frequent sex and the growing belly and the tiny kicks in the ribs and the pushing and birthing and falling in love with a baby made perfect by love.

So I stored all the baby gear in the attic for the next time. My heart like a fist around all those newborn clothes. I would occasionally pull out the storage bins and run my hands across the miniature sweaters or bury my nose in the receiving blankets still steeped in that milky newborn smell. I’d even hitch the Boppy pillow around my waist and imagine myself gazing down at Baby #3, whose small hand gripped my finger—no possibility of letting go. Oh, I love you, I love you, I’d sing. And I already did love the baby that was simply waiting to be created by the coming together of Christopher and me.

So what does it mean for me to be selling it all off?

It means the dream is not merely deferred (as in: when you’re well, recovered, then we can try for #3); it means the dream is over (as in: give up the baby; shutter that part of myself that is filled with longing for another; hoping, now pointless, will never bear fruit. We’ve decided that a pregnancy and its accompanying mood instability, as well as the real world stress of an additional child, would be too destabilizing. Even though my longing is deep and wide, I know the risk would be too great. I am mired in the Eating Disorder, the Bipolar Disorder still has me by the neck, and daily, I am plagued with urges to cut my arms. Just this week I had a dream in which I had just cut my arms, a neat ladder of cuts. But I was disappointed because I hadn’t cut deep enough. So I know that I am in no position, have no right, really, to even imagine having another child. Knowing, of course, does not mean I am not infinitely sad over this loss. I cried this afternoon while I sat on my front porch, a porch filled with the big baby items. The silent, still swing, the clean, white highchair tray, the empty port-a-crib.

Dr. B. pushed me today. First he had me eat a piece of pizza with him. Horrible and hard, but holy, too. A kind of communion. And then I told him about my morning.

"Why don’t you get mad at IT?" he said. "IT has murdered your dreams. Say, ‘Fuck You, IT.’”

“Fuck You, IT,” I attempted, weakly.

He laughed. “Not nearly mad enough. Try again.”

“Fuck You, IT,” I said, trying to muster up anger. But I wasn’t angry today, just tired and sad.

This purge of all the baby stuff is necessary, but my heart is breaking.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

An Evening Addendum

Forgiven and Loved. Words I carried with me tonight to my friends’ house for a kid-filled dinner party. The day had been dreary—hot, sticky, and grey. At our hour of departure, the sun broke through as if to say, “Come as you are into the light.” So I put aside my food anxieties. When we arrived at their house, my son and daughter bounded out of the car and headed off into the green dream of their enormous backyard in search of their sons. The adults sat in a circle around blue tortilla chips and homemade guacamole. I looked at everyone and thought, “You are blessed to have such good, real friends as these. Friends who care about you. Friends who have stayed by your side throughout all the shit. Friends with whom you can be honest about the slips and slides. Friends who celebrate your recovery, too.”

Mexican potluck dinner: salad, burritos, Spanish rice, poblanos stuffed with melted Manchego cheese, fruit, and ice cream topped with a honey/graham cracker/Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal mixture. All decadent and good. And I was able to eat a little of everything.

Afterward, the kind of evening that makes you remember summer. Kids shrieking and fighting and reconciling. Swings reaching the sky. Beach ball soccer. Badminton. My daughter giggled so hard she peed her pants, according to her count, five times! My son’s face was sticky with ice cream. I know this because he kept sneaking over and giving me sly little kisses.

At home, my daughter hugged me and turned my arm over, reading the word. “Loved,” she said, matter-of-factly. “Momma, you already are loved.” And in the abundance of love I felt this evening, forgiven, too.

Those Good Words

From Galway Kinnell’s poem, “Wait”

Wait, for now.
Distrust everything, if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven’t they
Carried you everywhere, up to now?....

Wait.
Don’t go too early.
Your tired. But everyone’s tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a little while and listen.

A friend of mine sent me this poem the other day and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m in a rush, these days, to get to the end of IT, to hurry up and finally see where IT wants me to go.

Of course, I know the exact coordinates of my destination—at the crossroads of negative integers. Death. There’s the fast moving sort. Hideous images keep plaguing me every time I get into the car. My car, once again, in a telephone pole only this time I don’t walk away, ever. Or the bottle of Lithium emptied into me. Or my wrists opened up for good. But there’s also the slow moving sort. The Eating Disorder which encourages slow starvation, the body finally too tired to carry on.

And then there’s the real fatigue of being Bipolar. For several days now I’ve been waking early, the ugly kind of four a.m. early where my body knows it needs more sleep but my mind won’t shut up. IT’s chatter, babble, and prattle scratch at my insides until finally I get my ass out of bed and do something, anything, some sort of counter-insurgent move. Like doing sit-ups at five. Or walking both dogs for several miles at six. Or painting my foyer at seven. I feel like my daughter acts when she’s had even the smallest sip of soda—wound up, uncontainable, out of my mind. And then I start thinking crazy thoughts, the black, bleak despairing kind.

What I am trying to understand inside this latest (i.e., months long) escalation is what Dr. B. is holding out for me to believe—that even inside this most desperate, most self-negating of times, I can forgive each and every act of self-abuse. There is no limit to grace and forgiveness (though I want to say there must be, there must be for such a shitty, godawful person like me). That I live inside the grace of forgiveness—this then helps me understand that one day I may not have to live under IT’s hand that continues to inflict pain and suffering.

This coming back into myself—because that is what it is, even if, at the present time it feels like an emptying out—is extraordinary. Everything in me says, “You can survive this; you can weather this if only you keep doing what you are doing. All you have to do is keep standing. All you have to do, as the poem says, is Wait.” But then the insurgency says, “What you have to do is convince everyone that you can do this. All you have to do is keep reassuring them that you are somehow better. A sleight-of-hand trick. Make them see what they want to see. No cuts on the forearms? Then she must not be hurting herself. Ssshh. Don’t let on about the purging. That you can hide. Let them marvel at your energy, your persistence, your good humor about it all. Let them think IT has loosened IT’s hold.”

Even though I may be in the fight of my life, in the mucho grande downslide, I can take a step back from it and see all of IT’s abuse—slashing my arms, pounding my head on tile floors and doors, and I may as well be punching myself in the gut for what it feels like throwing up, and oh yeah, add deliberate starvation. Write it all down, see it in the plain text of Times New Roman font. It reads like torture. And I do this to myself. In full view of myself. And I refuse to intervene on my behalf.

But there are the small interventions that are beginning to matter, beginning to retake some of my territory, my body, back from IT. On one arm, Forgiven. On the other, Loved. Words that Dr. B. said I needed to wear. So I wore those words in public the past few days, no caring about the sideways glances I got, not caring if the words drew attention to the scars. I was getting a manicure today, and the nail technician turned my arms over and read the words aloud. It could have been embarrassing. There he was, saying them again and again in his broken English in front of a room full of other women. But then he smiled, picked up the nail file, and said, “Those good words.”

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Safe In Myself

The other day I was talking with Dr. B. about the double-life I seem to be leading these days—the zippy life above the surface, and the sink/sank/sunk life below the surface. It’s like I’m in a boat, speeding across the top of the waves, full throttle. I look fine, if a bit windblown and queasy. Inside that boat?

Take today, for instance: manically stripping a foyer-full of dark, paisley wallpaper, painting the walls a bright terra cotta, wrangling the kids, logging my miles, lifting weights, crunching sit-ups, working on my book, having lunch with a friend, showering, blow-drying, and make-uping, walking the dogs, dinner out with the kids and my mother-in-law, doing, doing, doing, accomplishing, accomplishing, accomplishing.

Below the surface? My fishing line drags a behemoth catfish, an ugly bottom feeder, which is trying to pull me back down with it. That fish is no Rainbow! Rainbow! Rainbow! fish of the Elizabeth Bishop ilk. It’s more like one of those horrible, sharp-fanged creatures trying to swallow me whole from a Hieronymous Bosch painting. Aren’t the sinners in those paintings often shown vomiting some maggoty effluence? Doesn’t that get pretty close to my own below-the-surface self-portrait these days?

“When are you going to cut the line and let the catfish go?” Dr. B. asked.

These days the only way that seems possible is lobotomy, psychosurgery, brain transplant. It feels like I am IT, though I know this isn’t true, can’t possibly be true because there is also that third life that waits for me on shore—that is the life of love and light with my family.

Today was my daughter’s last day of second grade and she was all wiggly ecstasy on the way home from school.

“Can you believe you’re driving around a third grader?” she asked, astonishing herself.

My answer was, “Oh gosh, whatever happened to my tiny, cute baby who I carried around in my arms?”

“I’m still tiny and cute,” she admonished.

But my other answer, the answer that I couldn’t say, is, “I can’t believe I’m alive to see the day you graduated from second grade.” IT has been after me with such vicious intensity these past few years that I’ve been woefully without sustaining hope. The below-the-surface me still believes IT will kill me. But the me that is shore bound knows that I must live, despite IT, because my premature, IT directed death would devastate all those that I love.

So I hold onto the moments when I am on the beach striding towards that lighthouse in search of peace and safety and love. Like last night. Both kids started out in their grandma’s bed. She’s visiting so becomes, of course and absolutely, their magnetized end. And yet, I woke up this morning to my son in a deep, contented sleep beside me. His body tucked up against mine. His beautiful head damp with the sweat of two bodies so close together. Delicious.

And I need to stay on shore for those wise riding lessons. The other day, Lee put me on Chiquita, a strong, cob pony with a penchant for getting ahead of herself. It was a brilliant day so we went for a trail ride; I was in front, Lee behind, so she could observe Chiquita and me at work. It was a frustrating exercise in my failure to effectively restrain her. She kept speeding up, wanting to break into a trot.

Lee stopped us. “From the waist down you look good. But from the waist up, you’re too rigid, too bunched up. You need to relax,” she said.

I took a deep breath, shrugged my shoulders.

“Good instinct,” she said, “but it didn’t really change anything. Chiquita keeps rushing because she can sense your tension. Most riding teachers would say to keep a straight back, keep your elbows at your sides. But that’s not working here. Sometimes you have to forget the rules that you know and try something radically different, something that runs counter to those rules. So instead of sitting up straight, try slumping. Become mush.”

Easier said than done, but Lee put me through a series of exercises to encourage mushiness. And as usual, Lee was right. Chiquita became less tense, less rushed. All the rules I brought with me regarding the “proper” way to ride went out the window. This also seems to be a lesson to bring to my struggle with IT. Break IT’s rules. When IT demands rigid adherence, let myself slump, get a little messy.
Which brings me to a conversation I had with my friend Jen. She asked, “What do you need? What do you already know that you need?”

“I need to be safe from myself,” I said. “I’m so tired of living with constant self-destructive and suicidal impulses. All day long it’s a struggle to keep my head above surface. All day long images of my end at my own hands hound me. I don’t know what it feels like to be free of IT and the belief that I must hurt myself. So yes, I need to be safe from myself.”

She watched me and then reached for my hand. “How about we change one word? You need to be safe IN yourself.”

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Why I Must Struggle

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
upon need?

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.