Ella’s Fabulous Triumph

Today, I celebrate a great achievement. I went into the city to the art mueseum that had this summer’s most popular fashion exhibit and didn’t even feel the beginnings of a freak out.

We were jammed in the exhibit, shoulder to shoulder, and some morbidly obese man kept ramming his wheelchair into my legs in an attempt to push through the crowd, pushing me into whoever was next to me, and I didn’t even bat an eye. I just shifted my weight so that every time his foot rest hit my boot, I didn’t budge and politely told him that he was hurting me.

I ate an entire lunch without any prompting, and I rode in several glass elevators and walked down a bunch of escalators and stairs. I even didn’t feel a tinge of anxiety when a cab driver tried to pull away from the curb with my younger cousin halfway out of the car and me standing on the sidewalk.

And I also did this all on an hour and a half of sleep.

I’m a bit delirious right now, but I’m proud, really, really proud.

As It Turns Out, Eighteen Doesn’t Feel Any Different

Today has been one of those perfect beach days. I got up early and took a shower outdoors while the air was still clouded with fog. Stupidly, I left my towel in the back hall, and had to put my pajamas back on while I was still soaking wet. I marched my way back into the house, the grass sticking to my ankles and feet, feeling pretty defeated. Walking around in wet clothing with your hair deshelved is not a very elegant way of inaugerating being eighteen.

But things quickly got better. I dunked oat squares in lemon yogurt and drank a glass of orange juice, trying to see if I could keep the pulp out my mouth by making a sieve with my teeth. Then, I went out to the porch to talk to my grandmother and aunt and stare wistfully at my presents. I was really give maturity a run for its money.

We finally got around to present opening, and there were sun dresses from Free People, pretty cards, more clothes, a beautiful blue wooden box with a scarf inside, checks, books, and iTunes gift certificates. Tied for first place with the dresses was a poem by Mary Oliver that my aunt wrote out and backed on gorgeous blue paper.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

I’m going to have to reorganize my bulletin boards at home to fit this in. It’s lovely, and I plan on memorizing it. That way, I’ll have more happy and beautiful things to repeat to myself when I’m bored or sad.

The house still needs cleaning from having been closed up all winter, so all five of us attacked the living room. All the furniture was pulled out from the walls and every picture, bowl, shell, doohickey, etc was dusted by my aunt and me. Then, I rearranged the mantle so that everything was in height order. As much as this makes me feel happy and organized, it kind of looks wonky and needs fixing. Clearly, I do not have a future in candlestick and trinket arranging.

I ate a goat’s cheese and roast beef sandwich for lunch, which is not a combination I would recommend. However, it’s still above eating Provolone cheese (the spawn of the devil), my other option. I did homework, sent in my voter registration forms, and fooled around until dinner. We ate at my favorite restaurant in town, and I ordered poorly. Scallops in cream sauce with bacon over fettucini seemed like a really great idea until it was right before me and screaming, “I AM PROBABLY OVER A THOUSAND CALORIES!” in my face. I just ate my mango salad and dubiously poked at it for the next hour.

And in the way that poor meals typically go, I ended up feeling so depressed that we just went home after eating. I had been planning on having my all-time-favorite-best-ever Milky Way ice cream for dessert to celebrate but even getting up to walk to the car felt like a chore. We drove home and watched the Bruins beat Tampa and the Red Sox beat Detroit as my dad periodically yelled at good plays, and my grandmother laughed.

Later, I pretended to officiate a church service while wearing a UConn snuggie backwards, and my dad and I went for a walk through the fog. Drops of water dripped down from the condensation on the leaves as we meandered down the roads near the beach. Maybe one night it will be so clear we can see the Milky Way. But I like how it is now, the way I feel cosy and enclosed in the safety of the house. Nothing can hurt me here. Going to sleep should be easy.

Today more than ever I felt loved. People kept texting me, and relatives called to sing Happy Birthday. It is so easy to forget experiences like today when I’m overrun with emotions. I am blessed, and I have a good life. Pain is always fleeting.

So here’s to another year of my life. Let’s see how it goes.

Small Victories

Whenever I feel like my challenges are innumerable and have no will left in me to fight, I need to remember that this too will pass. Today was pretty rough, but I didn’t have a panic attack on the bathroom floor like I did every night in February, and I didn’t spend all week in bed à la December and January.

On Boating, Mirrors, and Victory

Today was another day of feeling dizzy and off. The odd sensations of floating/boating haven’t ceased. I felt like I was paddling a canoe through first period. Second period, I floated around in an inner tube. Third, I spent in a row boat. By forth, I left for a very long sail for Nantucket with lots of breaks for dead man floats. I haven’t yet returned, and as of right now, it doesn’t appear that a return ticket was booked.

So by the time I got home, I was done. Really, really, really, really done. But rather than letting myself slid over into freak out mode, I decided to get creative. Whenever I get freaked out by side effects, I have a panic attack, and that panic attack is almost always the result of disassociation. To fix that I parked myself in front of the huge mirror on the wall at the foot of the stairs. I could sit on the stairs and see my whole body and behind me. That way I would know that it was me. I grabbed some yellow rice and chicken from the fridge, made popcorn, and poured myself some juice into this awesome cup that I made when I was five.

 

I have two observations about this mug. One: I clearly have excellent potential to become an artist and Two: I have never been good at accurately depicting my body.

Then, I turned on my iPod and just sat there and watched myself eat. I still felt like was the model of buoyancy and that I was gaining pounds by the mouthful, but I wasn’t panicking. I was just sitting there, eating food and waiting it all out. It’s the first time a long time that coping skills have been an hundred percent effective in the face of side effects. Maybe it was my Rainy Tuesday playlist or yellow rice that did it, but I’d like to think that it was me, that I did something entirely right for once, and that I can overcome my challenges all by myself.

Victories like that one twenty minutes ago are never as loud as my failures (Crying in English, crying at lunch, crying in French, etc.). Mostly, they go unrecognized. I write them off as flukes and tell no one or the people around me don’t notice. But I am going to tell you, whoever is reading this blog, about this one. I’m going to make sure that you know about it. And in doing that, I am going to make sure that I am not going to let it slip by the wayside either. I’ll build on what just happened today. I’ll force it to become a pattern. I’ll make it so that I never panic about side effects again. I will. Just watch me.

On a completely unrelated note, I have suddenly been forced into the position of hand-washing police in my house because people around here apparently haven’t passed pre-school health.

When Nutella French Toast Goes on a Soviet Trip Into Space

Today, I went out to brunch with my family. We piled in the car and drove to the restaurant. After discovering that we had to wait for thirty minutes, wandering into an Italian deli, and explaining to my mother how earthquake magnitudes are measured, we were seated. I love the smell of pancakes and bacon and all of the happy morning chatter. I had an apple soda in a mason jar, which reminded me of being ten and having picnics in my neighbor’s tree house. If there were pieces of turkey a in cigar box, brought into the tree house by way of a pulley, the memory would be complete.

I sat in the booth, one arm hugging myself and my other hand tracing the groves of the jar like it was Braille, and tried to decide on something. It’s okay. You can eat anything. It’ll all be fine, I kept repeating to myself. A private little mantra. Just do what you practice in therapy, and it’ll all be okay. After trying to estimate the number of calories in several things, shivering at the idea of eggs (I haven’t had an omelet since I was eight, and I certainly don’t plan on starting now.), and contemplating putting my head down on the table and refusing to speak to anyone until I calmed down, I chose something. Nutella stuffed French toast with strawberries. It was something that I knew I would enjoy even though I can rattle off the nutrition facts off the top of my head. (200 calories for two tablespoons of Nutella, and half of it is from fat.)

Then, it came. And when it was right in front of me, looking me in the eye, I thought, Man, this looks really, really good, and not, How many calories does challah have? Because if there are at least three tablespoons of Nutella, and the chalah is about 200 a slice, then… I picked up my fork and knife and dug in. Actually dug in. Like I’m going to eat all of this and complain if someone takes it away from me before I’m done, digging in.

And it was great. The Nutella reminded me of France and how I once ate a heaping spoonful of it while reading all of Life of Pi in one afternoon. The stawberries reminded me of summer and the time I ate an entire carton all by myself underneath the deck when I was nine. (Pippa, if you’re reading this, sorry for blaming you when Mom asked where they all went.) And the challah reminded me of the bakery we used to go to when I was little and lived in Washington.

Pippa talked about how she was going to dye her hair and accidentally said, “Hair is just dead brain cells.” Then, she smacked me when I laughed. I deserved it, but it did hurt. Halfway through the meal, my  dad made everyone tell a joke. When Pippa said, “knock, knock,” I responded, “come in!” After that, I told the joke that had been making my dad laugh all week,”What’s the difference between beer nuts and deer nuts? Beer nuts are about a dollar fifty and deer nuts are under a buck.” Sadly, until a few days ago I thought that the joke was about how deer droppings looked like nuts.

For some reason, after telling a lame joke off a Dixie cup from her childhood, my mom decided to talk about Vladimir Komarov, the first Soviet to travel into space more than once and the first human to die during a space mission (when the Soyuz module crashed after re-entry on April 24 1967). Obviously, this freaked the beegeebus out of me. I do not like heights, and I do not like airplanes. The last time I flew in an airplane I had to be heavily medicated, and I still panicked and ended up accidentally slapping my father. Thus, I do not like thinking too much about space travel. So for the next hour and a half, my food triumph was ignored, and all I could think about was dying in airplane crash. Thanks, Mom.

Happily, I’ve mostly gotten that whole incident out of my head and am now celebrating my food triumph. Because that’s the right thing to do. I’m not planning on becoming an astronaut, so I don’t have to worry about that, right? Yeah, Nutella stuffed French toast with strawberries is so much more important.

They Counted Our Spoons and Cups

Exactly a year ago, I was in the hospital, in the adolescent psych ward, weighing less than 100 pounds, and feeling miserable. I’ve been thinking about my time there a lot lately. It’s sort of like the way that you press a bruise: You know it will hurt if you push it, but you do it anyways, preferably repeatedly.

The whole experience was horrible. They counted our spoons and cups at mealtimes, the doors locked with both keys and magnets, and there were no windows. Once, desperate to see the snow, I climbed onto my bed and pushed back the curtain to a tiny window that faced the airshaft. Across the shaft, a woman with tangled white hair looked back at me manically with her faced pressed to the window. I held her gaze for a terrified moment, petrified that I was looking at a reflection of myself forty years from now. Then, a nurse knocked on my door, and I slipped down onto the bed.

The floors were painted cement or cold linoleum, and the walls were a horrid sea green. On one wall of my room there was a poorly spray painted Taj Mahal. I would stare at it for hours while lying in bed. I fell asleep after the evening nurses switched shifts with the night nurses, and woke when the night nurses switched shifts with the morning ones. As you lay in bed, you could watch the hallway through the small window in your door. Every fifteen minutes–I was told–a nurse walked by to write on your chart, and I would try to count the hours. There were three hours between bedtime and the switching of shifts and three hours from the next switching of shifts to being released. Time didn’t exist there; there were no clocks; there were no watches. All we had were the nurses walking past the doors.

The meals came in white boxes. I would sit facing the wall, ignoring the screams of the other children, and sip water slowly. They would keep me in the dining room until I had eaten half of my box. So I would sit and move like a snail while a young nurse watched me. My protracted meal let me avoid the dreaded “Therapy Workbook Hour,” which involved filling out endless how-I-feel charts. They kept me from the bathroom for two hours after my meal. They took my box, my cup, my utensils as if they were valuable reference books in the library. You could borrow them momentarily, but they were always snatched back.

When you cried, a nurse took you down a winding hallway, where you could hear children screaming and sobbing, to a tiny room. The room, a closet really, had no heating, no chair, no window, and was covered in laminate wood paneling from the floor to the ceiling. I would lie in there for long stretches of time until a nurse would come to fetch me. If you cried when you saw the psychiatrist–an awful Indian woman with no sense of empathy–you were banished; if you cried in the large room, you were banished; if you asked the wrong question at the wrong time to the wrong nurse, you were banished.

I spent seven days there. I never felt so impossibly different and strange in my life. Looking back on those memories, I feel the way I felt after nearly downing an entire bottle of Lexapro and Tylenol; fearful and full of a sick satisfaction. It was that week that convinced me of my oddness. I worry now that all others see are these peculiarities in me, or they don’t care to even recognize them at all. My identity, once built upon scholastic achievement, has shattered.

On the Freezing Cold, Godmothers, Sun Dresses, and Chocolate Frappes

Today, I headed into the City with my mother to meet up with my godmother and her daughter, Isla, to spend the morning shopping, before having lunch at a restaurant specializing in chocolate.

It snowed last night, so when we got up this morning, we had to shovel out, before driving to the only train station in town that’s open on holidays and weekends. We got there, and we were standing on the platform, staring at the train waiting on the other tracks until someone told us that the trains were running on the opposite sides of the tracks today. Then, we had to run lickity-split up three flights of stairs through the glass overpass and back down the other set of stairs. Normally, I would have required five minutes to inch my way up and down the stairs and God knows how long across the overpass, but I was moving too quickly to even think about the height. Skidding our way onto the train, we collapsed into our seats, and endured a train ride riddled with delays and passenger confusion at every stop.

We hopped on the subway and headed downtown to spend some shopping before meeting up with my godmother. I insisted upon dragging my mother into my second-favorite independent book store (after Politics and Prose, of course). She kept insisting that she had never been there before, until we walked in. Living with my dad means that you will spend lots of time in bookstores, pouring over history books and getting antsy after it’s been an hour and a half, and he’s showing no sign of leaving. We bought Pippa some gifts for a care package and a cookbook, because cookbooks and do-hickeys are the sorts of things you buy when you go book shopping with my mother. I got happily lost in the new books and memoirs sections because that’s what you buy when you go book shopping with me.

We braved the terrible cold and mighty wind to walk over to agnès b where I fell in love with a million blazers that I most certainly did not need, but most certainly wanted. After meeting up with my godmother and Isla, we went to Free People, which is a store quite firmly on my list of places-where-I-walk-in-and-want-everything-in-sight. I milled around and wondering, for the millionth time, how do people come up with so many amazing designs? (I’m always wondering when and what will happen when all the creative ideas in the world will run out, when every idea will all be used up and already done, and they’ll be nothing else to find. I don’t expect that it will ever happen, but it’s a thought that keeps me going when I can’t sleep, and I’ve exhausted nearly every self-conversation topic in the book.)

My mother ended up getting me a bunch of things for my birthday. . .which is in late May. Though to be fair, a majority of the clothes were summer and spring oriented. I’m a very, very happy camper. My favorite piece that my mother bought me was this dress:

I can't wait to walk around barefoot at my beach house in this dress with my straw hat on my head.

I love dresses with low backs like this.

Then, my godmother surprised me by buying me the other dress that I really wanted. I still can’t believe my windfall. It’s just lovely. Lovely, lovely, lovely. Sun dresses are such the best, and I love them so so so much. Like big smiles and laugher much. This is what that dress looks like:

My love of eyelet knows no bounds.

I love the corset detail on the back.

Today was one of those days where shopping makes me feel beautiful and charming and attractive. Everything I put on fit, and I liked nearly everything that I brought into the dressing room. My godmother found the best pair of cargo pants (and I am not normally a fan of cargo pants) that fit me really well. Among other things, I now have another long-sleeved purple shirt. God, I love purple. The saleslady wrapped it all up and put it in the neatest bag. I swear, all of my favorite clothing stores have developed bags that I want to reuse again and again and again. I mean, look at it:

It just begs to carry home groceries and the like.

Lunch was amazing. The restaurant we went to is, essentially, a shrine to chocolate. There are pipes on the ceiling that are actually pumping chocolate, and right when you walk in, you see these giant vats, stirring gallons and gallons of chocolate. And the smell just hits you like…uh…a bulldozer carrying all things good and wonderful. The food is wonderful, the waffle fries are dusted with cocoa (and other spices), and every time I read the dessert menu my brain melts a little, and I feel tempted to order anything and everything on it. (Of course, the little voice of anorexia kicks in pretty quickly, and I start estimating the number of calories in whatever I’ve picked out and the number of calories I’ve burned by walking around.)

My godmother and I both had fish tacos, and Isla and my mom both had a B.L.A.T. (a B.L.T. with avocado). I really, really wanted to order for one of them and say, ” I’ll have the splat, I mean blat, please!” but I didn’t, because I’m seventeen now and mature (about three-quarters of the time). And the food was really, really good. There was mango in my taco, and for some inexplicable, yet awesome, reason, my mom gave me all of her waffle fries. I ate one and the rest are hanging out in the fridge in a doggy bag for when I feel less like a tub of jelly.

But while the food-food portion of the meal was excellent, the dessert portion was miles and miles better. I had a combo that came on the cutest tiny cake stand dusted with powdered sugar that had a little chocolate cake with a red raspberry heart, a shot glass with a chocolate frappe and loads of whipped cream, and a tiny saucer with vanilla bourbon ice cream with crêpe flakes. And I did a pretty good job of eating half of it and enjoying it, too.

While I really had to fight against the anxiety over all the calories that I was consuming and the worry that no one would like the restaurant that I picked, I managed to make it through the meal unscathed. I took lots of deep breaths, counted by threes to ninety-nine and negative ninety-nine, and did various mudras under the table. It was hard work not to talk about the nutritional value of the food, if I looked too fat, or if everyone was having a good time every five seconds, but I saved all of those concerns for therapy this afternoon. I consider that a job quite well done.

In other news, I have been asked to give the Senior Sermon at my Episcopal Church. I’m very, very excited and nervous, but mostly excited.

On Poison Apples, Steak Tumors, and Other Food Related Phobias

In the past two hours I have been poisoned three times. To be perfectly clear, poisoning in my book means being in close contact with food I deem inedible. The first time was when I was making myself hot chocolate using a new mix, and it didn’t smell right. I leaned over it when it was still steaming to get a nice whiff of warm chocolate and I was met with something that smelt like little bits burned chocolate on burned plastic. So my mom said that she would drink it.

Then, I went to eat an apple. I got out the vegetable peeler, because I can’t eat things with peels on them or without cutting them to make sure that they don’t have any bad spots, and started peeling. You know how there are bruises on apples that look really grainy, are pale brown, and are supremely yucky? Well, this one was covered with them. Like any logical person, I screamed, dropped the apple and peeler, ran across the kitchen, and hid from it behind the refrigerator door. (Yes, I am 17.) My mom and dad ate the apple with dinner.

The last time was when we were all sitting at the table, eating these nice sausages from the Swiss German butcher. I had to work really hard to even convince myself that it was okay to eat the sausages and that they weren’t filled with icky stuff that I could see and didn’t know about. In a bite, about a third of the way into the sausage, I discovered something hard. Naturally, I immediately started gagging and spit everything in my throat and mouth out onto the plate. (I’m a champion gagger-on-food-and-spitter-outer-of-said-food.) My parents were oh-so-happy about that. The cats were even happier.

I wish that I could say that I hope that things could go back to the way that they were when I was x-years-old. Unfortunately, I can’t recall a time when I was a “good eater.” I made Pippa drink my milk for years, and I have never been able to eat meat without dissecting the entire piece with my knife and fork. I cut out the little bits of fat like they’re cancerous tumors.

I honestly could become a surgeon with my steak knife dexterity. Anybody got something they would like cut out of them? I’d give you enough of my Xanax so you’d feel really dopey. I wouldn’t cost as much as a regular doctor, and I’d clean everything with rubbing alchohol and boil it twice. Maybe throw a little bleach in there, too. It’d be great. Let’s do it! Just kidding. Not really. I totally would do it. Just kidding. I’m lying. Just kidding. Just kidding.

Weight Unhappiness

I’ve been having such problems with body image lately. This happens every time I start get to a stable weight or see a picture of me wearing a bathing suit. Now, I know that I am somewhere between 110 and 115–right were I need to be at five foot four–and on the lower end of that range, but those numbers still freak me out. Last year, at this time, I was down to 100 or maybe even less. And I also know that being at this weight is healthy and is supposed to make my medication work better. Supposedly, I’ll have fewer mood swings, I’ll be less obsessive, compulsive, anxious, and depressed. But while my head feels loads clearer, and I have been able to get a lot more homework done, I do not feel much happier. Not at all.