Characters, relapse, and subway mascara.

Everyone goes through his or her day putting on some sort of character, usually more than one depending on the circumstances. My day job at a nonprofit includes manning the front desk, so when that phone chimes (or pierces my fragile ears with its blare—however you want to think of it), I muster up a smile and transform into “friendly, well-balanced receptionist.” I have to do it, because no one wants to donate money to a foundation represented by “sleep-deprived receptionist who wants to scream because she didn’t have time to stop and get coffee this morning.” I try to play this character even on the worst days: days when I haven’t had time to properly brush my hair and I have applied what I call “subway mascara." You know, it’s when you have to apply your mascara while balancing on the crowded [insert mode of public transportation here] with your phone camera pointed on selfie mode, so there’s tiny flecks of black makeup remnants under your eyes all day due to lack of a proper mirror and general stability. That’s not just me, right ladies?

Of course, there’s the “I’m too busy for this shit” New Yorker character that I play when I’d prefer not to acknowledge the people passing out makeup samples on Lexington Avenue at 9:00 in the morning. As long as the volume is high enough on my music, I can usually maintain this attitude for ten blocks or so until I trip over an uneven curb, or someone who is genuinely an “I’m too busy for this shit” New Yorker pushes me into an intersection because I don’t notice the illumination of the walk signal.

So, Im not necessarily being disingenuous when I play these characters. In fact, I maintain my constant awkwardness and general state of disarray, but I simply shift my attitude and demeanor to fit the circumstances. These instances dont concern me. What do trouble me deeply are the moments when I feel like a different person, committing actions and feeling emotions that are foreign. These moments occur in times of relapse or intense struggle.

It goes like this. Today, I feel like me. I ride out my emotions, try to be pretty friendly to the people around me, and work as hard as I can. Most days I feel like me. But in a way, thats what makes the days that I dont that much scarier. A few years ago, every day was pretty miserable. A misstep in behavior or a feeling of extreme sadness didnt creep up on me because these things were constant. Relapse wasnt in the picture, because recovery was completely unattainable. Part of me would have chosen death over recovery.

Now, I can go days, weeks, and sometimes months feeling happier and more confident that Ive felt in a while. Im no Leslie Knope circa seasons one and two (Ill never stop referencing Parks and Rec, guys), but Im hanging in there and I like my life. But there are times when Ill suddenly be struck in the middle of a random night with a heavy bout of somethingloneliness, fear, or something else thats completely indescribable. All of a sudden, I feel like a different woman, a woman who will go to any lengths to distract herself from feeling whatever is in her head.

This need for distraction has come in different forms throughout the past few years. It has been distraction through starvation, through quite literally running until my body couldnt process emotions anymore, through taking the opposite route and stuffing myself to the point of a coma, and through drinking to the point of fake happiness. Instead of being the friendly sister, friend, and daughter most people know, Ive been the girl whos too busy at the gym to call you back. Ive been the girl whos holed up in her room, surrounded by empty wrappers. Ive been the girl who has to be taken home and barely knows who she should thank the next day. That isnt me. That person cant be me, right?

But, in reality, that person is me. Ive come to accept that I dont actually turn into someone else when these things happen. I do feel like a beast. Im so embarrassed of these behaviors that I engage in, and I wish I could blame them on someone else. Some of them are no longer part of my life, and some remain, on very bad days. But they remain for a reason. The reason is that I am in recovery. I am not recovered. And if I tell myself that I am a different person when I use these behaviors, I will never get better. I will allow myself to shift blame and responsibility, falling victim to a force that I cannot control.

Its always been me. It was me that starved myself every single day, and, more importantly, it was me that stopped doing that. I was sick, definitely sick, but I was still me. Its confusing, but if I dont look at it that way then I dont know how to be both gentle with myself AND take responsibility for my own recovery. Its important to be gentle with myself because my depression and my negative behaviors are often stemmed from self-criticism. However, its me that picks up the pieces of whatever mess my life has become.

Its so frustrating sometimes (no, all the time) that everything isnt better, because its been a while. But I also know that Im very lucky. Through hard work and so much help from people who do indeed give a shit, Ive crossed some sort of unquantifiable line in recovery. And I really dont want to go back. Ive worked too hard to succumb to some imaginary beastly character that Ive created in my head.

Ill fill my life with characters more pleasing to me, thank you very much. And if youll excuse me, I have some flecks of subway mascara to wipe off of my face now.

Peace and love,


A Emotional Journey Through My Twitter Feed

Throughout the course of this past week, each time I went to open up a newsfeed, I didn’t know if I was going to see something heartbreaking, wonderful, or troubling. What I did know was that something would appear that would inevitably stir up some intense emotional reaction. This doesn’t always happen to me. Usually I browse social media platforms so robotically that I can’t even remember what I looked at seconds later. But this week, I saw tweets about the tragic loss of one of my favorite comedians to addiction scattered amongst clips from the finale of the amazing television show that he wrote for (Farewell, Pawnee). The juxtaposition between sadness and happiness and between loss and celebration was almost too much for me, a mere fan, to take in in such spurts.

Also filling up my newsfeeds were posts about National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which has been going on since Sunday. Articles and facts have been published. Inspirational quotes and blog entries have been written, everything with the intention of raising awareness and understanding. Part of me really wanted to participate, but another, more skeptical and hesitant part, has been doing nothing but staring at a blank computer screen. This is because the emotional reactions that have been triggered by this campaign have not all been positive for me. That has stopped me from writing all week, but tonight I’m realizing that I can write exactly what I feel. Really, I’m taking a note from that favorite comedian of mine, whose genuineness and sincerity in speaking about his own life meant a lot to me, a mere fan.

I agree with everyone that has been tweeting and writing about #NEDAwareness. Eating disorders, like all mental illness, are misunderstood and terrifying. The more that we can make them digestible (no pun intended?) to someone with or without experience, the better. If I had never had one myself, I would probably be fascinated by the new information and appreciative that it was being provided to me. But I can’t help but bring my own personal memories into the picture.

Every year on campus, my college would have a week dedicated to “Body Image Awareness.” The focus would always be embracing and loving your body. I remember these little red pins that student representatives would pass out that stated simply, “I love my body,” as if it’s that easy. I think there would be some panel discussions and screenings of films, maybe an article or two in the school paper. I’m honestly not sure, because in the height of my eating disorder, when I was so hopeless and needed so much help, I wouldn’t have been caught dead at any of those events. Instead of feeling embraced and accepted during this week of activities, I felt isolated and frankly, somewhat ashamed. In my mind, I didn’t deserve to participate and I didn’t belong, because I didn’t know the first thing about loving my body.

So, I sat alone in my room. I cried. I counted calories. I googled, “do I have an eating disorder?” as if that were even a question anymore. I was exhausted with myself. I pretended like my problems weren’t there and I didn’t reach out for help. I left school, a place I used to love, because I felt so lost there.

So I guess now, as I see those quotes and articles flood my computer screen, I think about the women and men that cannot even connect with that information, the people that are convinced that they are in so deep that there’s no way out. That’s how I felt. That information wasn’t for me. It was for people who had a chance. It was for people who were willing to take those first steps, people who actually felt that they deserved it.

So, where does that leave us?  The answer is different every time, but for me, it always has something to do with connection. When I started treatment for my eating disorder and met people dealing with their own mental health issues and working towards real recovery, something slowly shifted for me (and I mean really slowly). These people made me feel like it was okay to be struggling. Around them, I had nothing to be ashamed of. I could talk about the real stuff, something I hadn’t allowed myself to do for years. And this inspired me to open up to my family, my friends from home, and even some friends from school. I was able to connect with them, and through that connection they could support me in a real way. They understood, even if it was just in their own small manner.

Articles and facts are great. They can teach us new information and demystify so many confusing concepts. That’s why awareness weeks around mental illness are wonderful. They provide a comprehensive starting point to those that are in the dark.  But the people who need our help aren’t always reading those articles. So we should read and learn, but then we should connect with those who are struggling. We should reach out and let them know they deserve to be heard, let them know that we understand.

And no one has to have an eating disorder or have even experienced mental illness to connect to someone dealing with those things, because everyone goes through heartbreak, loneliness, sadness, and fear, and that’s the real stuff. Everyone goes through shit, and everyone has ways of dealing with it.  And in my mind that’s what one needs to establish those connections.

Peace and Love,