I miss my dad.

Last night I was able to spend some time with a friend of mine and his son. Watching them interact touched my heart. I watched my friend listen with rapt attention as his son was chatting away, talking about his ideas and thoughts and opinions. For his son, this attention validated what he had to say and gave him the strength to say it. He commanded that table of adults with ease and authority. It reminded me so much of my dad. It made me feel so important when my dad would focus on me, like I was the sun in his galaxy. I knew my friend was laying some very key groundwork in his child’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth, and all I could do was sit back and watch the interaction, thinking how lucky this kid is to have such a devoted dad.

It’s life-defining.

And I knew that because I once had that, a long, long time ago.

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When I was a kid, I had all the confidence in the world because of my dad. I feared nothing or no one. I could talk to adults just like I could talk to other kids. I wasn’t afraid of the spotlight and often sought it out. I was a goof, a showoff and a ham, who liked to strut my stuff and wow my audience.

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I was a leader among the children with whom I played because I was creative and funny and smart. I couldn’t play sports or do anything athletic worth a damn, but I could find inventive ways to entertain.

I wasn’t defined by any limitations back then. For one person, I was the sun, the moon and the stars. It made me feel invincible.

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Then, December of 1980 came along. I had just turned 11 a couple of weeks before. Little did I know I wouldn’t have much reason to celebrate in that coming holiday season.

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Around December 6, my dad, who was an elderly man, began acting confused. He had mistaken my bedroom for his and wasn’t comprehending what I was saying when I attempted to explain it to him.

I had been trained how to handle some of my dad’s list of health problems. I knew how to give him his nitro-glycerin pill, but I had no clue how to handle this new development. I waited up for my mom, who was working second shift at the Levi factory, to let her know what was going on.

The next day my dad was in the hospital, where he remained for the rest of his life.

My dad had had a stroke, which meant that he wasn’t quite the same dad I remembered when I went to the hospital to see him. It made me not want to go, which made me feel like a shit. When I saw him last, he couldn’t even form words. It was scary, but not half as scary as thinking this would be the way I would remember him.

On December 19, his birthday, I was at my house with my Aunt Gertrude, who was Dad’s sister. It was late when the call came, well after dark. I could tell by the tone of her voice it was bad. Like, really bad. She sent me to my bedroom to go to bed. When Mom came home from work, she had the task of letting me know that my beloved father was gone.

It was inconceivable. I couldn’t imagine a world without him in it. I realized in that moment I hadn’t been the sun at all… HE had. It completely flipped the script. My whole world went dark. And stayed that way.

It was like God had broken a promise to me. The future ahead of me now had a pretty big gaping hole of the one person who made me feel like I could do anything. Confidence gave way to insecurity. I went from thinking I could rule the world to wondering if I even had a place in it.

I felt adrift. Orphaned. Abandoned.

It’s been 39 years since I lost my dad and the day I still feel this great big gaping hole is on Father’s Day. It is bittersweet for me. I have had the good fortune of having kids of my own, who have had really amazing fathers, even Dan with all his imperfections. And I celebrate that, as well as all my other friends who are great dads.

But for me the day is a painful reminder of what was lost. Not just my dad, but who I was when he was with me.

Last night I watched my friend explain the concept of You Plus to his young child. His theory is that we’re all complete as we are, we simply add things and experiences to us, which help us grow and change. We simply see the world differently once we add these things to what we already are. It’s based off of the saying, “No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he is not the same man.”

Me + the experience of losing my dad has felt way more like a minus to me, from the very moment I lost him. I changed, but not for the better. All my confidence withered without my dad’s constant pruning. I feel a bit like the trampled flower in the opening scene of Joe vs. the Volcano, smooshed to death under the crushing weight of ordinary existence, waiting for compassionate eyes to see me and loving hands to spare me but knowing deep down they will never come.

Now, I’d rather sit back and observe than be in the spotlight. I live vicariously off of the happiness of others because I’m now fearful of being truly happy myself. That’s a rug that has been historically yanked out from under me.

All of this sounds more depressing than it feels. Most days I don’t give much thought about who I am Me – My Dad. It became my new normal a long, long time ago. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, just like I’ve been doing since December 19, 1980. But Depression and Anxiety use that big gaping hole as a revolving door whenever they get a wild hair to turn my world upside down.

I’ve tried to patch it all up, of course, adding many things to the equation… some healthy and some not so healthy. One could argue that most of my unhealthy behaviors began in earnest after that fateful night. But no matter how much joy these things have brought me, or how much pain, nothing has ever quite repaired this gaping hole because no one has ever loved me like my dad. After four decades, I’m not sure anyone ever could. Or should. For better OR worse, there’s no one like your dad, right?

All I know is that I miss my dad, some days more than others.

Today is one of those days.

And it’s okay to feel sad about it. It’s okay to talk about it and face some of the ugly, since all the of self-destructive things I’ve done in the past are no longer an option. I’m not the same girl I was back then, and this isn’t the same river. I’m me + surviving one of the greatest losses, and loves, of my life.

And I’ll be okay, because he had already given me the tools to be okay. He left them behind, I just have to muster the courage to look for them, dust them off and put them to use.

I’m not Me – anything. What my dad saw, and loved, way back then is still there. That confident girl is still there somewhere. Everything that has followed has added to her, not taken anything else away. With every trek across the river, I’ve grown stronger, and wiser, and smarter about how to navigate these tricky waters.

Thanks for laying the groundwork, Dad.

I’ve got it from here.

 

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Wearing out the groove. An update. A confession. And a lil bit of pain as I rip open another scar.

I’m a creature of habit. I’m not a big fan of change. In fact, it sparks a lot of anxiety for me. I like knowing what to expect and will stay in painful situations if it means I’m “safe” from something scary and new… like a whole new scenario with unknown variables.

That feels like such a shameful confession to make. I’m enlightened enough to know adaptability is the key to survival, and, when push comes to shove, I will ultimately brave these fears and make the necessary changes. And it’s almost always worth it.

I just don’t like it. It’s discomforting. But just like anything else that makes us grow, we have to work through that discomfort eventually.

Truth is, I’ve been lagging in my so-called comfort zone for a long, long time. My march to a better, healthier me has been more like a slow Sunday stroll, through…. oh, 300 or so Sundays. I’m not so much changing as I am maintaining, which – in and of itself – isn’t that much of a failure. I’m someone who has perfected backsliding ever since I was a Southern Baptist kid who felt like she needed to get saved every Sunday because I’ve never been one to abstain from temptation.

Me making lasting long-term changes that deny me what I want in the present is one for the win column.

And I make those decisions daily. When I take the stairs at work, or go for a walk, or say no to the sugar I want to indulge in five times a day (and only allow myself the one,) or eat salads instead of burgers, or start my day with a big glass of water instead of caffeine… all these decisions are battles I win regularly.

Of course, I lose regularly too. I still nurse a Diet Coke addiction, taking it down to once a day (and never buying 12-packs for the house, etc.) I still cave to the sweet tooth three to five days a week. We eat out much too often because I’ve been literally dragging myself to function after a crazy few months of REALLY vaulting myself out of my comfort zones.

It takes all my energy to invest in these other challenges. I fall into habit on everything else on the regular. Which is really easy to do. My unhealthy coping mechanisms have gotten me through a rather tumultuous life. They don’t help me win, but make the losses a little more bearable.

The real mental work comes from undoing all the damage I’ve been doing to myself all these years. (And continue to do.)

The truth is I still fight the binge eating. And I can’t even blame it on the bad stuff anymore. Sometimes, when something I really want is right there within my grasp, I will find myself binging because I’m scared AF of grabbing what I really want out of life. I’m afraid the universe will realize its error in sending me something so fantastic that it’ll get RIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPED away and I’ll be devastated yet again.

It seems to be the pattern in my life. I tend to get punished for getting what I want.

And I don’t mean to sound like a Pity Poor Me sad sack to say such a thing. When I truly feel this way I say nothing at all because I am ashamed of it. Not ashamed of the not getting, because there’s validation in the getting. I’m ashamed of the wanting, because it throws my worth into question.

“YOU want THAT?” ::insert robust mocking laughter here::

Most of this is because I don’t want small things. I have lofty goals. Always have. And because they’re so lofty, I’ve gotten the side-eye by folks who want to know exactly who do I think I am to even consider getting these crazy lofty things.

I’ve been ashamed of asking for what I want for a long, long time. Since childhood easily. I usually never ask for what I want until I have nothing to lose. And I’ve been thinking about that lately, in my stress of waiting for the results of my PET scan to get me yet another all-clear from cancer.

I’ve been thinking about the deathbed confessions I’d make and to whom, stating what I feel or desire when there’s no more time to actually get them. Which would make not getting them hurt a whole lot less.

(Or at least it wouldn’t hurt for very long.)

I write about yearning a lot because I’ve sort of gotten comfortable with the concept. I really wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I got everything I wanted, which could be why I self-sabotage myself at every opportunity.

If you don’t ask questions, you’re not hurt by the answers. It’s why I usually never went to the doctor. I was always scared stiff of someone finally showing me how little sand was left in the hourglass, guaranteeing none of my lofty aspirations will ever come true.

I can’t deal with the finality of that.

I like possibility. I like knowing that what I want CAN happen. When I get it, all I can think about it is how much I don’t want to lose it, which opens me up for fear and pain. When it’s still in the realm of possibility, it gives me all the promise of a HEA without all the gritty dark reality that comes with it.

This has been hardwired into my psyche since I was a kid. Getting what I want always meant being punished for wanting it in the first place.

It’s very hard not to take this personally, in the universal sense. Bad things happen = I’m a bad person. Happy things ending = I wasn’t meant to be happy.

This is the lie Depression and Anxiety tell those of us who are afflicted with them. Daily.

They don’t need a whole lot of evidence either. But in my case, they got plenty.

They know how to trigger my fear, which motivates me more for ill than for good. And it is because of fear that I’ve been unablewilling to get out of the 260s, even though my goal is to break 200 by November 21.

Just like a team on the field, I’m simply waiting out the clock until it’s no longer a possibility.

I knew the 260s would be tough for me. It involves a time in my life that I don’t talk about much, if at all. A time of darkness and shame and terror, one that still resides in me so deeply it can be triggered at any point and fuck up everything. Hence why it’s running the show now, particularly in terms of getting what I want.

When I was eighteen-ish, my best friend read my Tarot cards. I’m not necessarily superstitious per se. I mean I flirt with things like astrology and numerology and the like, but it’s more for entertainment than for knowledge. I wouldn’t stake my life on any of it being true, but it’s fun to explore. Still, when Jeff read my cards, I was scared of getting bad news. I wanted those cards to tell me it was okay to believe the good was possible, not confirm the bad was inevitable.

The message of the cards was as simple as it was vague: Be careful what you wish for.

At the time, I only had one wish. I was crazy in love with the man who would become my first husband, Dan. Way back then, he Friend-Zoned me HARD with one sentence: “You’re like my sister. I don’t even think about sex when we’re together.”

I would need both feet and a couple of extra hands to count how many men have met my interest with such a proclamation. But back then I had nothing to lose so I laid all my cards out on the table. I was head over heels in love with Dan and would have crossed the world to be with him.

By 1989 I did just that. I quit my job and took the last couple of hundred dollars in my pocket to move to California to be with him. Needless to say, it wasn’t the best laid plan. I thought we could hang out with my sister until we got on our feet, but she quickly dashed that plan. Within no time we were homeless and pretty much penniless.

As a result, my weight started to go down. Not only did we not have money for food, but we passed our time doing stuff, like hiking in Griffith Park or roaming the beach. I got under 200 for the first (and last) time in my adulthood. This played into my plan of winning Dan’s heart because I knew the last thing he wanted was a big woman.

I found this out as we were waiting in line for Neil Diamond tickets, a “day job” that was offered a handful of the homeless people at the day shelter where we could shower and watch TV. We were waiting in line to get our two tickets when Dan saw an obese woman whose stomach overhang. Dan was disgusted by it and made it a point I knew how disgusted he was by it.

He had been attracted to bigger women in the past, but he always specified it was the kind of woman who still cared about her body. For women like the poor lady who crossed our path that day, his contempt was clear.

I was nineteen back then, and starting to lose my tummy thanks to our circumstances. I swore that I would never allow myself to get that heavy if it meant losing Dan.

As shitty as his contempt was for that lady, Dan was not a shitty man. He was kind to people, even when we had nothing. There were days we’d pull up the floor mats on our car just to gather enough change for some 33-cent tacos, but if anyone asked us for spare change as we left the restaurant, our tummies barely filled, he’d give it, no questions asked.

But Dan had problems. In 1989, I really didn’t understand the scope of those problems. I knew he had come from an abusive, impoverished background. He’d been in and out of foster homes as an adolescent, and then in and out of jail as an adult. I thought it was because he was angry and traumatized and hurt, which I knew a little bit about. I had no idea he was sick. And I still believed I could love him enough to fix it all.

Like I said. Lofty, lofty goals.

Our relationship changed in L.A. We went from friends to more. I guess you could say I wore him down. But that opened up a whole other can of worms. Because he couldn’t take care of me or provide for me, he began to get angrier. When I found out I was pregnant with my son, Tim, the true punishment for winning Dan’s heart began.

The abuse started way before we left Texas, but I had dismissed it as a situation that had gotten out of hand. A one-off that would never happen again. (But it was a pretty big one-off.) We had been roughhousing around with my teen cousins at the time, and it had gone too far. I ended up nose to nose with Dan, finger in his chest, ready to throw it down. He pushed me back onto the sofa behind me, and of course I got even more pissed and hopped back up in his face. He pushed me down again and again I shot up, even angrier than before. When he pushed me down the third time, I grabbed hold of his arm and brought him down with me. He lost his footing and ended up going right out of the window behind me.

Later, he would get a kick out of telling our kids I threw him out of a window, but the story was a lot darker than that. The minute that window broke, he had me in a choke hold, threatening to kill me.

For tense minutes, everyone in the house tried to talk him down. Whether they managed to do that or he just came to his senses, he finally released me and stalked outside.

The longer I sat there, recovering from the first real brush with death I had in my life till then, I went from terrified to enraged. Like, ready to pull down the sun and scorch the earth PISSED. I stalked to the kitchen, grabbed a knife and headed outside to find him. He sat on the stoop with his friends, trying to calm down, but calming down was no longer in the cards. I threw that knife at his feet, something I could do with some mastery because he himself had taught me how to throw knives, and told him if he was going to kill me to go ahead and fucking do it.

After what happened when I was four, I had learned to turn fear into anger just to protect myself. And I was ready to go for broke, even if that meant I was the thing that broke. Nothing was worth than feeling vulnerable to anyone else. My wrath was legendary by the time this incident occurred.

Fortunately, by this time, he had calmed down. He was contrite and embarrassed. The incident ended there. I left that night never knowing I’d go back. But of course I did because I wanted Dan. At the first hint he wanted me, I was back in the game. I convinced myself that it would never happen again.

This was the man who would walk my mother to her car when it snowed, just so she wouldn’t fall. He took care of strays. He would run up to my mother’s store if a car backfired just to see if she was okay.

Surely he wasn’t THAT guy. I couldn’t love that guy.

Then… I got pregnant with Tim. We were homeless, we had nothing, and he couldn’t fix it. My mother ended up moving to California, and she saved our bacon, which only made matters worse. The closer we got to having a child, the more stressed he got. He tried to go to a trade school so he could move into a trucking career, but he was too emotionally unstable to make it work. In one of our bad fights during this time, he pushed me onto the sofa and nearly bashed my skull with the little trucking trophy he had earned from the program. That was Incident #2.

The physical stuff was always minimal and spread far apart, which made it easier to forgive. Or, at least overlook.

But subconsciously I had already begun protecting myself from a future with him. By the time Tim was born, I had gained sixty pounds.

Naturally, my weight became a sticking point in our relationship, and he really wasn’t shy about hiding it. In fact, the job he finally did end up getting by the time Tim was born was at a convenience store with my mom. That’s where he met a beautiful thin customer that he sparked a relationship with. She worked with leather and made him personalized leather gifts, and soon she was calling him on the phone.

Who was I to say anything about it? There was no ring on my finger, and likely would never be because of the weight I carried.

But of course, I wasn’t about to let it go without a fight. I made him miserable enough that we ultimately moved back to Texas, where the abusive instances began to increase. The friends we stayed with noticed. My bosses when I found a job noticed. Dan felt more and more like a worthless pariah. It exploded to a head in another story I’m unwilling to share just now, just for brevity’s sake. It’s long and complicated but it involved jail.

It was something I thought would change everything for the better, because how could it have gotten worse? By then he needed me and he was okay to admit it. I thought this was a giant step in the right direction. And besides, we had a son together.

I still wanted the HEA I had built up in my mind. And I still thought it was possible.

By the time he got out of jail, we married, and I worried that my weight (which hadn’t changed) would be a huge issue to overcome. I wasn’t wrong. Though we were married, we were barely intimate. I had never lost the baby weight, so I was still around 250. To be honest, the reason Jeremiah exists is because it was New Year’s Eve 1992 and we got stone cold drunk to celebrate.

But as a whole, we barely touched.

Subconsciously, I think I was okay with this, because I didn’t do much of anything to lose the weight like I had when I was much younger. Because of this, I think he was unhappy with me and it only stoked the underlying mental issues. He was stuck with me AND had two kids by then.

During one of those arguments, he actually broke one of the bones in my hand, which as Incident #3. I remember going to the ER and lying about how I got my injury… and knowing damn well they knew I was lying.

I was ashamed. And scared. But a part of me believed it was exactly what I deserved. Who was I to want anything better? (See above.)

Dan was sick and untreated. I was sick and untreated. We both continued to react to our circumstances in all the unhealthy ways we had become accustomed. It was just a bad, bad time. Some of the darkest in my life. He didn’t get treated until 1994, and by then I had gained up to 290lbs.

It was the loss of our third son, Brandon, that changed everything. But the scars were deep, not just for us but for our kids. By the time CPS intervened in 1998, we’d both been ravaged by the trauma, and by then, Dan had been changed forever by the anti-psychotic drugs he took.

And he took those drugs because he no longer wanted to be that guy he was during those dark days between 1989-1994. He wanted to be a good father for his kids and a good husband for me, but he didn’t know how to do either. Eventually, we had to go our separate ways just for ALL of us to be better.

And we were. Dan died a hero to his kids because of the changes he had made, and gave up his very life to do it because he was THAT guy. And I never, ever wanted to tarnish his memory with all the shit that was dead and buried.

Except now, here I am again, fluctuating between 258-262 for the past year, stuck so solidly in this groove of this ring in my emotional tree I can’t seem to break free. Just like in the early 90s, fear of my mortality makes me subconsciously hang onto this weight as some sort of demented security blanket. Except it’s not a domestic partner who threatens me now… it’s cancer.

As odd as it sounds, seeing my weight on the scale has been a weird comfort to me. I may be obese, but I’m not dying of cancer, and that’s what drastic weight loss would trigger. I remember right after my diagnosis, when my nurse told me to cut carbs and sugar (and I did,) and I lost a whole lot of weight at once. It scared the shit out of me. I equated weight loss with the disease winning. And I have NEVER lost that kind of weight since.

This is no accident.

This is why I say that simply maintaining the weight loss and the healthy behavior has been a triumph for me. I didn’t backslide, like I’ve done in the past. But I’m not really moving forward either.

To change this, I’ve decided to employ the methods of accountability that have worked in the past. I’m going to be honest. It’s the only fucking way to get the hell out of this groove and move forward.

I still want to bust 200 by my 50th birthday. I want to go into my 50s healthier than I’ve ever been.

I’m on my way. Again. I now just have to get out of my way.

Again.

Stay tuned….

Weigh-in: 261
Measurements: 46-43-52

 

 

Otherism, my new book club and new appearances announced. I’m back, baby.

I was a voracious reader when I was growing up. I always loved books and stories, and it was something my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Borger, nourished with relish. She was the one who turned me onto both Beverly Cleary and Wilson Rawls, which first made me a fan of writers in general. They weren’t just books anymore, they were love letters from beloved pen pals. Stephen King would later seal the deal with this idea entirely, by addressing Dear Reader in his work – as well as referencing his other books with special Easter Eggs that only his true fans would recognize.

Thank you, Stephen, for that inspiration.

After my dad died a few years later, I had a LOT of room to fill some long, lonely hours. My Aunt Gertrude, who was tasked in those early days of caring for me while my mom worked, had stacks and stacks of romance novels just gathering dust in her house. When I discovered this treasure trove, she told me I could read what I wanted to of them.

I, of course, wanted to read them all.

I read my first romance when I was eleven years old. It was a Harlequin, though I don’t remember the author or the name of the book. I do remember the plot, though. A young woman moved in with a young widower as a governess to his young child, and over that time they fell in love. (I not so subtly paid homage to this in Enticed many, MANY years later.)

I remember that the book took place in England, which I found fascinating. As an eleven-year-old that hadn’t been outside of Texas, it was an introduction to a whole new part of the world. I don’t remember details about him or her or even the kid, but I remembered the location, mostly because it was different. I love different. Different sticks out. Even 38 years later, I remember different. Clearly.

From the beginning, I’ve loved reading books and stories that transported me from my experiences. I believe that’s what they call “escapism.” When I discovered Janet Daily, she took me all over the map with her Americana series. Even though I wasn’t able to feed my endless wanderlust to travel wherever the wind might take me, I could simply open the pages of a book and teleport to anywhere. I could become anyone.

When I discovered Danielle Steel in the mid-80s, my world exploded wide open. Not only could I go from New York to San Francisco, two cities that captured my heart from first reading, but I could go back in time to historic events. My favorite of these was Full Circle, where I got to live the life of Tana Roberts, someone who had survived something very similar to me, who walked the same path I once wanted to walk (becoming a lawyer, to fight the good fight of justice,) but all in the turbulent 1960s during the Civil Rights movement.

V.C. Andrews* transported me from the hills of West Virginia to marshes of Louisiana and even up to New England. John Jakes took me to the Civil War. Jean M. Auel took me back to the dawn of humanity entirely. I waited to exhale with Terry McMillan. I became a part of a mob family with Mario Puzo. I became a missionary thanks to Barbara Kingsolver. I learned magic thanks to J.K. Rowling, a warrior thanks to Suzanne Collins and even embraced a teen love with a vampire thanks to Stephanie Meyer.

I read books of all genres, by all kinds of authors, and lived hundreds of lives through their words. It is the greatest gift of being a reader.

It’s the greatest responsibility of being a writer.

Still, despite the variety of stories told, subtly a standard was established in certain genres. If I wanted to “escape” into a romance, I was told, subtly, through context, that the Fantasy – which could include anything from vampires to princes – usually only starred thin, white, heterosexual young women. She could do any number of things, but always through this very narrow perspective.

By the time I was in my thirties, I was kinda over it. I had given up Danielle Steel years before, bored with the rich, thin, beautiful protagonists that would get it all and then lose it all, only to get it all back again. (Yawn.)

Actually, that’s not true. Danielle kinda ticked me off in one of her books when her own bias against big women showed in the narrative, when her (beautiful, successful, thin) domestic abuse victim displayed a shocking lack of empathy for another victim of domestic abuse, just because of her size.

As a big woman who had endured domestic abuse, it was a slap in the face. This was long before Big Girl, where I had to officially cut ties with Danielle Steel entirely.

Instead I decided to read Good in Bed by Jennifer Warner because it actually STARRED a big girl and discovered HEY… a heroine really COULD look like ME.

What a revelation. In all the books I had read and all the virtual lives I had lived, surprisingly that had never happened. If I saw someone like me in a starring role, she usually had to “change” to earn her Happily Ever After.

I had no one to guide my path that and say that even as an overweight girl, I could fall in love, have great sex, be accepted and even worshiped, without conforming a very rigid norm with *literally* no wiggle room. Not so coincidentally, this is the very same kind of girl The Great Dissatisfaction Industrial Complex tries to sell with every fucking magazine/beauty product that comes down the pike.

I was white and straight, sure… but I was an Other. And it ever so subtly wired my brain to think that there was something wrong with me if I couldn’t check all these limited boxes off as a result.

That’s the responsibility fantasy carries. If your fantasy requires you to be someone ELSE, it undermines your self-esteem and it shapes the way you look at the world around you. If something ELSE is the standard, then that suggests you fall short of it. It also reinforces this bullshit idea you have to suppress the beautiful, transformative power of your uniqueness, silencing you till you fall into line behind all the other drones, like that is your job or purpose.

(It ain’t.)

When you’re fat, that means you need to change what’s Other about you before you even get a chance to speak. Because you have that power, they say, to conform to The Standard, it’s somehow your responsibility to do that. If you can fit in, you should. And shut up till you do.

But what if you can’t easily change what’s so different about you? What if you are another race, another gender, another sexual orientation? What if you’re differently abled? What if you, through no fault of your own, don’t look like the millions of books Big Publishing has decided to sell as The Standard, because that’s what we’ve all just learned to subtly accept?

To me that just reeks of limitation, and I don’t like limitation. I’ve traveled the world and through time and space, FFS. I’ve gone anywhere, been anyone, absolutely no limitations, and now you want to tell me there are too few seats at your teeny, tiny table for the Others?

I call bullshit. I also don’t want to sit at your table, because it sounds boring AF.

This week the Romance Writers of America announced their finalists for the RITA award, which is the highest honor in the genre. For the first time ever, I entered the competition. As such, I was tasked to judge the preliminary round. I received six books to read, which is why I’ve been MIA for a bit. The books I read were not in the same category I entered, instead I was assigned romance/suspense (which I usually never read) and even had a religious/spiritual romance to muscle through.

I say muscle through because religious/spiritual TOTALLY isn’t my genre and I wasn’t looking forward to reading a book that I never would have selected to read for pleasure. I ended up saving that one for last, because I really had to make peace with my bias before I judged it.

I knew going into it that my own perception might trip me up. I also knew going into it that it wasn’t fair to the author, who had entered her work to be judged as impartially as I had. She deserved better.

So, I worked myself up to it and, much to my surprise, found that I enjoyed it best of the six. It was a historical novel, which helped, because I could put all the religious stuff in context. But it was also written well. The pacing was great, which couldn’t be said of some of the other books I read, which tried to hurry through all the beats to get their couple together with little dramatic conflict. This book took its time and, as the self-proclaimed Queen of Angst, I liked that. A lot.

It was also the only book of the bunch that had a character that wasn’t white.

Well, wasn’t *totally* white. (He was biracial.)

Of the six, I rated it the highest, despite my initial misgivings.

It’s what I love best about being a reader. I was able to learn something and grow past my own limited boxes.

Fast forward to this past Thursday, when the finalists were announced. Despite my confidence in my work, knowing I had entered a really good book that could final along with the best of them, my dreams were dashed and I was crushed under the weight of my disappointment. My initial reaction was that old imposter syndrome rearing its ugly head. “You’re good but you’ll never be good ENOUGH.”

My chatterbox had a field day with that one.

But as I was watching everything unfold, I realized that it was a point of privilege to feel that way. As a straight, white author who writes romances around (mostly) straight, white people, I was looking to join a table full of folks just like me.

As each author took her coveted spot at that table, it became crystal clear that there wasn’t room for The Others at this particular table.

Authors of color wore their cynicism openly. Even those with books that hit big couldn’t final. It was a shock to anyone who had read the books, but not necessarily a shock to the authors themselves. The RITAs have notoriously been awarded to white authors for books about white characters – The Standard, if you will. They entered knowing that their chance to final was a long shot because they learned a long time ago that people who read with bias don’t necessarily self-correct like I had.

My book, about an Other (an older big woman,) with a canvas of diverse characters supporting the story, not placing suddenly made a lot more sense, but just as suddenly it didn’t matter anymore. At least I had a SHOT at the table, all I had to do was conform to the Standard.

This is a place of privilege. And I am acutely aware of it.

I’m also not going to conform to it, because I couldn’t give one rat’s ass about The Standard. My conforming to that Standard is what establishes it, underscores it and validates it. This is why we have a vast readership who can’t be bothered to read about Others because they feel they have nothing in common with us, as if they couldn’t read a book about someone completely different from themselves and love a story anyway. “I don’t want to read about fat people having sex. Ew.” “I don’t want to read books by authors of color because I don’t like thug books.”

As shockingly bigoted as these sentences are, they are *verbatim* things I’ve heard said about books by Others. (And shame on you. Really.)

Interestingly, they expect us Others to read books about people that aren’t us all the time. Because that’s the Standard, what we should all aspire to.

Fuck. That.

I started my writing career in earnest to provide an alternative to the standard. I wanted to write books that made The Fantasy accessible to folks who normally weren’t allowed access. Over thirty books later, I’ve done exactly that. I’ve created a career out of thin air because I was given a platform – not by Big Publishing, who still asserts itself as the gatekeeper of The Standard – but by the readers themselves, who are hungry, nay starving, for books that represent their experiences.

Whenever a female director produces a big hit, or movies about Others release to massive success, everyone acts like it’s some anomaly. But with the success of movies like Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel (which is awesome, you guys, saw it last night and loved it,) it’s clear that there are MILLIONS of Others out there ready to consume stories written BY them FOR them.

There’s more of us than there are of them. And I’m quite over being told that we’re not important enough to be heard because we’re not some fictional Gold Standard.

And we’re not alone, either. There are PLENTY of readers/viewers who can’t WAIT to live out that Fantasy in skin other than their own, because they’re wise enough to know that is how we as evolved species can grow and connect to a much larger human family. That’s the entire purpose of art, to widen and change our perspective.

Those of us who are near the table, or even have a seat there, need to move over and make room for these different voices.

So, that’s what I’m going to do.

For the rest of this year, I want to feature books written by those authors who buck The Standard. This will include authors of color and LGBT authors, starting with someone who shared my pain of not advancing to the RITA finals, despite how well her work was received. I’m honestly more shocked SHE didn’t make it than I am that I didn’t.

For my March Book Club Selection, I have chosen TIKKA CHANCE ON ME, by Suleikha Snyder. I know there are only seven days left in March, but it’s a novella so, we’ll have plenty of time to read it. At some point in April, likely after my two book signings are over, I’ll figure out a way for us to come together and chat about it.

And even if I’m the only one reading at first, that’s OK too. As an Other, I’m used to hosting parties where only a few people come. But… eventually people do come, and they’re the best people who would be open to it, so I love them best anyhow.

They’re the courageous, world-changing badasses I admire the most. I share my platform proudly with you.

Let’s lead the way. Let’s open up a spot at the table. There’s room for everyone, I promise. In 2019, it’s time we learned to celebrate our diversity, not hide it away or act as though it’s some random anomaly. This isn’t about “not seeing color”. What a fucking boring world THAT would be. We should see and marvel at each rich hue of the rainbow. You can and should read stories about people and experiences that challenge your perspective and teach you what it’s like to live in the shoes of someone else.

Standarism is for boring folks with no vision, who prefer to color by number and consume stories with bland commonality they can’t pick out of a lineup years later.

Let’s show them we’re not that.

We’re the Others. The beautiful, strange, exotic, exciting, paradigm-shifting Others.

If you won’t surrender a spot, we’ll create one. And we’ll change the world.

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NEW APPEARANCES: MARCH 30 at 2019 NNAE Cleveland or APRIL 13 at TALKBOOKS AUTHOR EVENT in Boston. I hope to see you there!

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Living with a liar.

I know all of us have, at one point or another, lived with someone who lied to us about something. Whether a parent, a friend or intimate partner, at one point our realities were riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiippped out from under us when we realized that the person we loved and trusted to take the best care of us lied to our freaking faces and tore everything we thought we knew asunder.

I live with that kind of liar, an abusive lout who gaslights me about everything I think I know about myself and my reality. Just when I think I’ve got a firm grip on things, that liar will sabotage me, tempting me with past behaviors that point me in only one direction (down,) and gleefully laugh as I faceplant. When I struggle to get up, that liar is right there beside me, telling me I can’t really change. Why should I expect any kind of amazing reality when I’m a big, fat, failure?

If anyone caught any hint of this abusive relationship, they’d tell me I should dump the liar and leave this horrible, co-dependent relationship ASAP.

Problem is, I can’t.

When you struggle with depression and anxiety, that liar lives square in your own brain. And there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, you can do to shut them up permanently. They always hover in the shadows, waiting until you feel somewhat “OK” and normal. That’s when they spring into action.

Like most liars, they start out friendly enough.

“Hey, ol chum! I haven’t seen you in a while. Let’s go for a bite to eat and catch up!”

They hide this in the voices of friends and family so you can’t recognize their evil little voices, so, since you’re feeling pretty bulletproof, you shrug and follow along. You may not even hear how deeply their voices are masked in the suggestions to, I dunno, eat the food you know will not help you to eat it, but it sounds so good and after all.. you’re bulletproof, right?

So, you take that first bite of that decadent dessert you’ve denied yourself, because you know sugar is just as big a fucking liar.

Then, you get that chemical payoff in your brain, the one that triggers the reward center just like a slot machine that just hit the jackpot, and suddenly that liar is in the fucking driver’s seat. Your self-control slips, another wonderful byproduct of sugar, because you just have to hit that high ONE. MORE. TIME.

It feels so good, and hey – another bite won’t KILL you.

Then, something will happen to knock you even more off of your normal footing. Maybe you get sick, since you aren’t guarding your health as meticulously anymore. Then, because you’re not feeling good, you reach for the quickest remedy to restore SOME comfort.

Before you know it, you find yourself in a freefall where you’re reacting to life again, instead of making the tough choices.

Pretty soon two weeks have passed and you’re dragging ass to get through even the most mundane of tasks. Suddenly there’s no more energy to do the stuff you were effortlessly nailing two weeks ago. Instead, the liar at the wheel drove the whole car right off the ditch into depression – AGAIN – and it’s going to summon every bit of courage you no longer fell you possess to claw your way back out again.

And the liar is right there in your face, mocking you. “You really thought you could act like you’re everyone else? You idiot.”

Suddenly, all the world grays around you. All the sounds mute. And it’s just you and this liar, locked in some Peter Griffin/Chicken fight that – miraculously – nobody else around you seems to notice.

They wonder why you’re suddenly so quiet, or you don’t want to do anything. “She’s just in a mood again,” they say. They distance themselves, because why should they risk losing THEIR footing?

Meanwhile you’re clinging to the side of the wall till your fingernails chip, praying that this episode won’t last very long. You know what you need to do to pull yourself out of the pit but everything seems like a herculean effort, even getting out of bed when that alarm rings.

Imagine your soul getting a charlie horse and you have no choice but to flex through the pain, lest you suffer longer. But, every flex takes enormous courage because you know exactly how much it’s going to hurt to do the simplest tasks.

That’s me, right now.

The last few months have been chaotic for me. I had some major wins that I thought meant I turned the corner, but it only took a few days in Texas to realize I’m a whisper away from going back to the Old Me and all the pain and hardship that involved.

That, perhaps, was the biggest lie of all. That there is some end zone to this hellish game where I’ll finally spike the ball and be “cured.”

That I’ll ever be “normal,” like everyone else. That I’ll ever be able to keep up with those who can indulge for a weekend and then go back to “real life” without missing a beat.

That ain’t me. Clearly. I’m trying my hardest not to be resentful of that, and the best way to do that is to silence the liar within who uses this against me.

There is no leaving the liar. There is learning to manage my life with him/her/it/them so that a simple trip out of town won’t derail me for two freaking weeks.

I’m climbing out of the pit, but it’s requiring 110% of my energy and focus, shifting away from the blame game and self-hatred to gratitude: I’m grateful that this slip finally taught me to be forward thinking about things, rather than reactive.

Indulging comes with a price, and I have to decide BEFORE I do it if what follows is worth it.

I suppose every addict must come to this conclusion eventually. Sugar, you taste like heaven but you are not my friend. You are the Liar’s friend. You are the Liar’s accomplice.

And it’s time you both take a long fucking break.

Again.

I’m done hating my body. #kthxbai

Even if it makes others uncomfortable, I will love who I am. – Janelle Monae “Q.U.E.E.N.”

The week I released my book Glitter on the Web in 2016, Romancelandia was turned on its head when a male model who did cover work for our industry went on a fat-shaming rampage against both readers and writers of romance. Something broke in his brain and he decided to unleash a hateful tirade against fat women, particularly authors for some weird, career-killing reason, telling us that we only write romance because we can’t get any dick and we should just go kill ourselves.

thanks-but-no-thanks

The irony of his tirade around the time I published (another) book centered around a fat woman being treated, I dunno, like a person or something, was not lost on me. Fat-shaming isn’t necessarily a foreign concept for someone who has been fat, say, her ENTIRE FUCKING LIFE. I’m used to the hate, but I have long taken issue with the shame that comes from that hatred.

I did a whole blog about it, because here’s the thing… I’m not ashamed.

Yeah, I’m not ashamed of my weight. People, mostly thin people, see the weight as the source of my problems. I know it’s merely a symptom of everything else, and anyone who DOESN’T know that is either A.) too small-minded and limited to help me or B.) just kidding… it was A.

To catch anyone up who is new here, I developed an eating disorder after I was raped at age four. This kicked into overdrive when I turned eleven and my dad died. I had my first major depressive episode and absolutely no adults around me who had any idea how to treat or even recognize what it was.

I was a CHILD literally on my own dealing with emotional baggage that adults can’t even manage.

Yet oddly, everything, everything, thereafter became a test of my character if I didn’t miraculously get it right. When I couldn’t run a mile straight the first day of sophomore (and mixed gender) P.E. class, the coach not only shamed me for not wanting to work HARDER to lose this horrible, awful weight, he then punished EVERYONE ELSE with extra laps.

Picture me squeezed into shorts that weren’t made for my 210-lb body, around teenagers (boys AND girls) who didn’t really NEED another reason to hate me, and suddenly I’m THAT girl. It traumatized me so much I skipped most of my tenth grade year till I got to November. That’s when I turned 16, and I could leave high school in the rear view mirror even though I was a good student who generally did well with the work.

When I went for my G.E.D. at eighteen, I scored higher than most high school graduates.

But I was done, D-O-N-E, with being publicly shamed by people who couldn’t find my value because they weren’t willing to look past the weight. No one was willing to work with me to help me solve ANY problem, they just wanted me to toe the line and stuff myself into their boxes, another worker bee just like everyone else, filing along like my life looked like anybody else’s.

Everything else was too much work and they couldn’t be bothered.

(And yet they call ME lazy. Ironic.)

I was still a kid making my choices, dealing with my trauma, and making mistake after mistake with nobody there to toss me a rope, even though my life was full of adults who could have seen a girl in trouble and intervened.

Instead, it was MY fault for being fat, and it was up to me to fix it before I was allowed to exist peacefully in polite society.

What, really, was I going to get out of the high school experience except more pain? One thing you should know about people like Coach Maloney – there’s nothing they like better than an audience cheering them on as they shit all over another human being.

Yes, I’m shaming HIM now, although I assumed at first writing he’s probably long gone. He seemed old AF back in the day. Out of peevish curiosity I looked him up and lo and behold there’s a news story where Rick Maloney, history/PE teacher, was shot in the face by a student in 1988 (the year I should have graduated.) The only thing that surprises me about this news story is that Coach Maloney was 35 at the time of the shooting, which means he was 33 when I encountered him. In my memories, he seemed way older than that, so I literally hunted through 1980s yearbooks online to verify he was, in fact, the same guy. Toxic masculinity ages one, apparently. And presumably results in one getting shot in the face. “No motive” my ass.

That’s not to condone any violence, of course. I don’t believe in violence to solve a problem.

I do think it’s important to note that, in response to his abusive behavior, my reaction was likewise destructive, I simply turned the violence inward, which resulted in a weight gain. He wanted me to hate my body and I did, much to my detriment. That’s what happens when you treat people like pieces of shit. Many times they begin to believe it.

So, his “tough love” really wasn’t helpful at all, was it?

I’m sure when that initial “fitness” model sat down to write his angry tirade, he thought he would be in good company. In his mind, fat is bad. The world around him is constructed to agree. Look at any comment ANYWHERE and you’ll see what I mean.

I don’t know what happened to this particular douche canoe, honestly. I didn’t care enough to learn his name and I usually don’t put models on my books anyway. There are a lot of reasons for this; the first and foremost is that I don’t care for models on the books I read. I find it intrusive on my experience. When I sit down to read a book, it’s a very intimate experience. It is for anybody, really. Nobody reads the same book. They read the words on the page in front of them, but their minds take on visuals unique to them.

It’s kinda beautiful, really. I tell my story in my voice, you hear it in yours. Every experience is unique and valid and inherently emotional because you get to color in the picture I’ve provided. Hal Sparks says this is the most intimate experience an artist can have with his or her audience.

I dig that so much, why on EARTH would I want to trespass on that sacred ground?

Reason two: the guys I find hot, you might not. Typically those heavily muscled men gracing the cover of most romance books leave me cold. I’m not a fan of that look because it comes off as overly aggressive, and, as woman traumatized by aggressive men in my past, it’s a turn-off, quite frankly. A red flag. Nay, a trigger.

One of the ways I knew my life was about to really suck with my first husband was whenever he’d throw himself into a new exercise routine. We always had weights and equipment around, because he really enjoyed that kind of thing. But there was something that happened, maybe a spike in his testosterone – I dunno, that triggered his anger and abuse almost always followed.

The stronger he was, the harder it was for me to fight.

His working out meant I needed to prepare myself for that fight anyway.

So, you’ll never see me putting a heavily muscled dude on the cover of my books. I write really toned and fit guys because that’s the kind of hero my audiences want to see, but as for me, I’m more a sucker for the things that fall in and out of fashion with folks (like long hair, etc.) (And bigger dudes are coming, so be prepared for that.)

I also have an aversion to beards too, probably for the same reason (overly aggressive men, dating back to my original assault,) so if I see a beardy, roided out dude on the cover of a book I’m LESS inclined to read it. These are not the men who attract me.

Reason three: I simply prefer more artistic designs for my covers. I’ll put people on it, but you can tell by some of my covers that I’ve done so VERY reluctantly. There have only been a few faces I thought captured the characters in my books. Everything else, creativity forced by frustration.

The fact of the matter is I can’t find ANYONE in stock photography who looks like the characters I have in my mind. This is particularly true for my heroines, who are mostly curvy. Finding stock photos of “plus-size” models in romantic photo shoots has been a challenge since I started designing covers for my books, and finding beautiful models to fit my range of “plus” sizes was damn near impossible. My agent tossed back a few, citing they weren’t attractive enough.

And attractive people sell books, donchaknow.

What happens when you live in a culture where the women you choose to write about are considered unattractive by default?

Welp, you get a lot of photos of fat models that traditionally center around food/body image, and that doesn’t necessarily sell romance novels.

What can I say? Fat-shaming has an audience and it’s still in high demand.

This brings us to yesterday.

Yet another “fitness” model went on yet another ill-conceived Facebook rant about fat people, complete with vomiting emojis for effect.

This is how you know these fuckers don’t give one shit about your health. They find you disgusting and want to spend precious minutes out of their limited lifespans punching you back down in the sand where you belong… under their feet and out of sight… because they’re too lazy to find out your story. If you were a real person, they’d have to own that they themselves entertain lazy biases.

And the only lazy folk around here are the fatties, amirite??

Let’s unpack the steaming heap of bullshit, shall we?

“So tired of seeing posts or write-ups about how “big is beautiful”, telling other obese/severely overweight people that they should just love themselves as they are… NO THEY SHOULDN’T! Stop encouraging them to be lazy, and unhealthy!

Unmotivated people need HARD CORE, IN YOUR FACE reminders like this post of how unhealthy they are at their size, and NOT “so called” friends not saying a word to them about it, afraid they will hurt their feelings!… F THAT!… So this is merely one of those wake-up calls.

So save your hate comments for when you are talking to yourself about your own obesity!”

– Fuckface McShamerFace, who USED to be a model for romance novels.

I’m feeling the love, yo. And SO motivated. Totes. ::insert gagging emoji here::

Shamers get such a hard-on when they do this kind of thing, framing it around “helping” us because in their teeny tiny minds, NOBODY in our lives to this point has EVER, EVER, said one goddamned thing about our weight. Not our parents, our friends, our doctors, our bosses, people on the street. EVERYONE around me just absolutely LOVES my big fat body and will dance nicely around the COLD HARD TRUTH that I’m a big fat failure who is going to have a big fat heart attack and die.

And if anyone HAS tried to talk to me, doctors, family, friends, lovers, etc, then I haven’t listened. It’s going to take this ONE mean post from an Internet stranger to do the trick and save my life.

The self-aggrandizing arrogance of this mentality is astonishing. It’s not surprising it comes mostly from dudes, either. Forget being mansplained, try being fatsplained, usually by someone who generally has had NO experience being fat. But he’s a dude and I’m a chick so he has to ride in on his white horse to save the day. Do they masturbate when they are done writing this kind of thing? And do they wear a cape? Because that’s some Superhero Level Caring right there, amirite? Talk about your knight in white armor.

nodawg

So… here’s the thing…

I can’t hate my body.

In fact, I’m actually kind of falling in love with it. More by the day, really.

That’s what you do with a hero that saves your life, right? And my body just did that. Like, in the most epic way possible. It literally expelled cancer, forcing that tumor out of my body before I even knew I had it. The sarcoma was found on the part of the fibroid that had prolapsed through my cervix, which was removed in that initial biopsy. The results of the surgery next day, removing most of the other fibroids, were clear. I had a complete hysterectomy a month later, and that, too, came up clear. Scans, tests, SURGERY – everything was cancer free. My doctors were so puzzled by my original diagnosis, they actually had to physically analyze that original biopsy again JUST to confirm that I had it at all.

That means by the time I heard the word “cancer,” it was already gone.

THANKS TO MY BIG FAT BEAUTIFUL BODY KICKING IT TO THE CURB.

I feel weird even saying that out loud. As a woman, I’m conditioned to embrace and accept that I’m imperfect. That’s a message told to me from every headline of every magazine. I’m a work-in-progress who needs continual improvement to justify my existence.

I have a hard time forming thoughts around the good stuff, the stuff I get when I certainly don’t deserve it. Chalk that up to religious training. I was brought up to believe I was a dirty dog sinner who wouldn’t be worth a damn without God – even though God supposedly made me in His image.

Ah, the contradictions.

I was taught never to brag about good fortune, because the loving God who sent it to me might get cranky and smite me.

And it feels extra wrong knowing that so many good, wonderful people have really been ’round the bend with cancer, going through so much more horror than I ever did. I often hesitate to count myself in their numbers, even though my life was turned upside down and everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – changed  just the same, even though my phenomenal body just went, “Nope. We’re not going to do that today.”

I tell Steven all the time it feels like… too good to be true. How did this happen to me of all people? After all the shit I’ve been through… how could I get that lucky? I won the most lottery-est of lotteries.

My big fat body did that.

Every time the thought even enters my brain, I worry God really is going to smite me dead in an instant for bragging, but honestly… THAT is the story. Talk about something completely unexpected; me, someone so derided for being so unhealthy simply because of my size… and yet, my body went over and above to protect me, to ensure our survival.

It’s a hero’s journey complete with a twist. Someone phone M. Night Shyamalan.

Instead of hiding in the shadows, hoping God doesn’t notice this rare good fortune that came my way lest he riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiip it away again, I SHOULD be telling anyone who can listen.

It’s that fucking amazing.

Jackoffs like this want me to hate my body… but I honestly can’t do anything but love it. It’s literally my hero. That, and Dr. St. John who performed the first biopsy. Together they took on a VERY scary foe. And WON.

I’ve been given the biggest gift of a lifetime. It’s up to me how to move forward beyond that.

Part of that, yes, includes losing excess weight. I made that decision for mobility’s sake and though my progress is super slow, I am more determined than ever to make certain changes. But it’s not because I hate my body. Frankly it has more to do with stark terror.

I never want to go through this again. EVER.

So, I’ve been on a journey to get more fit, it’s true.

And that started before the cancer diagnosis, that is also true. The drive for self-improvement has actually been a lifelong mission for me, as it is for most people. As we grow, we make different choices catered to fit our life at the time.

When I decided to fight cancer through diet, it helped changed the way I look at food entirely. Now I WANT to eat the foods that best benefit me. I no longer hate food or feel guilty about it – I treat it like a medicine, and I feel better for having done so.

There has been weight loss as a result, but it’s been so slow it feels like I’m not moving the scale at all. This is frustrating to me not because I hate the extra weight, but I’m super ambitious an want to smash expectations.

According to Fuckface, I haven’t done enough. I’m unmotivated.

Lazy.

In my life I’ve successfully lost hundreds of pounds, but because I never crossed “the finish line” to that “After” photo, my results weren’t adequate enough for the peanut gallery, because ALL they see is the weight I carry now. That’s all they care about, that’s all that matters to them.

I ask again… who’s the lazy one?

When I wrote to my Superior coaches Hal Sparks and Frank Prather for help, I admitted all my worst “failures” losing weight, because let’s face it. I’m still fat. And they’re super fit. I figure they’d look at me the way everyone else did.

Miracle of miracles, they didn’t see those as failures. They were so positive and encouraging, even though they are super testosteroney fitness-oriented dudes.

Unlike Fuckface, they didn’t feel any desire to ram their fists down my throat in some aggressive beat-down to “motivate” me, mostly because they’re not abusive assholes.

They encouraged me. They supported me. They were both strong enough to LIFT ME UP, by legitimately investing in me and my journey. They gave help after I asked for it and NOT before, because by my asking for it they knew I was open and receptive to hear their suggestions.

If you wanna help someone, ANYONE, with ANYTHING, that’s generally the best route to go.

But, with fat folk, so many people only see this…

societyseesfatshallowhal

The hatred is real, y’all. I wish I knew where it came from. Where did this bigotry against being bigger happen, exactly? In nature, creatures are known to make themselves bigger as a self-defense mechanism. If someone carries 100 pounds they don’t have to, charging  up a hill and back, they’re congratulated for the effort. We admire that feat of strength. Most people WANT a lot of a good thing, particularly Americans. From their fat bank accounts to their “super-sized” meals and venti coffees, the general sentiment is “Go big or go home.” YOLO, right?

“Fat” is only a sin when it comes to humans, a sin so great it gives others the license to abuse you at will “for your own good.” And it flares up at a moment’s notice. I was just minding my business yesterday when all this nonsense came floating across my timeline. A random drive-by shaming.

They happen sometimes, particularly if you’re in the public eye.

I had something to say about Kevin Hart recently and one of his fans shot back calling me fat. That was it. That was the entire comeback.

In his mind, that was enough.

I commit high treason against society wearing my extra weight, no matter how or why. Despite what Shamers have you believe, I’m never allowed to forget this. Even if I watch This is Us or Dumplin’ or read any number of books starring fat heroines, I’m still sharing the planet with three times as many shamers who will either overtly or passive-aggressively make their disgust known.

In their minds, I deserve that.

How on EARTH would I know I was fat otherwise?

Forty-nine years on this planet and jumpin’ Jehoshaphat – I just never would have been any the wiser had some mean rando not come along to tell me “the truth.” THAT, you guys, is the HARD CORE MOTIVATION I need to get my “unmotivated” ass into gear.

“Unmotivated” is not a word anyone who knows me personally would ever use to describe me. I’ve written 36 novels and 10 screenplays, MOST of those in the last eight years. Grass doesn’t grow under these size-10 feet.

I’ve been the Git-er-Done Girl at any job I’ve ever had. If you want something done right, efficiently and fast, give it to me. I’m the one who goes above and beyond, who does more than what is asked, who can get shit done without someone standing over my shoulder.

In fact, it’s best that you just stand back and watch me work my magic. When people don’t expect anything from you, they’re TOTES easy to impress, especially when you’re already exceptional.

Calling myself exceptional is not a brag, btw. There’s an old saying that women have to work twice as hard as a man to be considered half as good. When you’re a fat woman, or a woman of color, or LGBT, or differently-abled or ::insert minority status here:: you need to double/triple/quadruple that amount of awesome you fit into any task, and you’re still going to run up on those who think the only thing you’re capable of is polishing off a carton of ice cream.

In order to play the game of life, people who are marginalized simply have to work harder to be given any credit, if at all.

There is no level playing field. The starting line and the finish line depends on the hand you have been dealt as a human, which many times has nothing to do with you.

That exercise was meant to display white privilege, but think about ALL the privilege it implies.

If you’ve had any success at all as someone behind any kind of eight-ball, you’re exceptional. You have no choice to be anything else. You had to work harder and fight harder every single day of your life.

I kick ass on the regular, but I usually do it quietly because I was raised that I’m not supposed to brag about that. It’s not ladylike.

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If you want to talk motivation, I made NUMEROUS dreams of mine come true. I wanted to move to L.A. from the time I was eight years old, watching Three’s Company every week. I was in L.A. by the time I was 19.

BOTH my husbands were affirmed bachelors before I came along, NEITHER of them were interested in marriage or kids. I was married to #1 for 10 years and have been with #2 for almost 20.

Never say never to me. I take that shit as a challenge.

If I want something done, I make it happen. And EVERYTHING I’ve done I’ve done with 100 extra pounds on my back, fighting uphill against the sludge of fat bias from folks who WOULD prefer I lock myself in a closet, eat ice cream and kill myself because I’m “unmotivated” and “lazy.”

This is the reason those “can’t live life until you get thin” stories are so popular, folks. They LITERALLY think we do NOTHING but sit around and eat all day.

Nah. I did it IN SPITE of all that, which SHOULD make me even MORE of badass. How much would YOU get done if you had 100 extra pounds to carry each day? And yet, I’ve created a career, had and raised children into adults, started up more than one company.

I’ve lived a pretty accomplished life so far, and I’m just getting started.

The trick is… you have to look past my weight to recognize it.

When the publishing industry wouldn’t let me in, I kicked down the fucking door. I’ve made six figures writing about all us fat folk being loved for exactly who we are. All these years later, we’re seeing those movies make it to the screen. That voice is now being heard.

I was a pioneer… and my body, my beautiful, strong, wonderful body, has kept me going the entire time. When a true foe came along, it kicked its ASS but good.

And this guy, someone I’ve never met, someone who can’t be bothered to know me or my story wants me to hate it because EW ICKY FAT?

Nah, my dude. Ima love my body. I spent the first few decades of my life hating it, and it never helped. Not once. Hating my body meant I was cruel to it. I punished it. I didn’t care whether it lived or died, much less thrived. I’ve viewed myself through your skewed prism and it only made the problem worse, which only made the symptom worse. I gained more than 100 more pounds courtesy of “tough love,” mostly because slow suicide was better than trying to live in your world.

Now, I’m getting in fighting shape. Wanna know why? Cuz I realized it’s my world, too. And life is MUCH too precious to live my life in your boxes simply because it makes life easier for you.

When I say cancer changed everything, I am not kidding. It gave me an appreciation for life like you wouldn’t believe. I take nothing for granted now. Everything is a blessing. And everything has a purpose.

It’s like I now know that there’s a hitman out there somewhere aiming for me, and I somehow learned his name. So, now I prepare myself in case I ever meet up with him. I have developed an arsenal of weapons to defeat him again, mostly starting with diet and fitness.

I didn’t do that so some rando dude won’t bitch at me, or so that guys will magically want to fuck me because I’ve somehow “earned” their favor. I didn’t care about any of you fuckers before, I CERTAINLY don’t give a shit about you now.

When they say life is too short for that, they’re not kidding. When you start living life like you KNOW it has an expiration date, you couldn’t give two shits what random strangers think about the road you’re on.

I’m prioritizing my choices so my body can be stronger and more effective if something that really WILL cause me harm crosses my path again. And whatever I can control of that process, I certainly fucking will.

But hate myself or this body I’ve lived in for the last 50 years? This beautiful, wonderful body that has survived rape, homelessness, domestic abuse, depression, anxiety… and now cancer? Not to mention a HEAP of hatred and abuse from far too many small-minded assholes just cuz they didn’t like the way I looked?

Nah. We’re done with that. I’m not going to let you abuse this badass body any more than I’m going to allow MYSELF to abuse it, like say… hating it for not being good enough.

Even if it makes others uncomfortable… I will love who I am.

Nobody else has to like it. In fact, I’m pretty sure my defiance is going to make some of you even angrier.

But I ain’t livin’ for you, boo.

As such, you may keep your advice to yourself. I don’t need it or want it. I’ve got a LEGION of support behind me, full of people who genuinely give a shit about me. When it came to building a support system, I found people on the top rung so I can have somewhere to climb, physically, emotionally and professionally.

And my motivated ass will make that climb again and again, till I get where I want to go, on every level *I* find important. I may not do it the way you want or in your time, but I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again in mine. Trust.

But don’t you worry. If you really need the attention, I’ll bookmark your page way down there on the ladder beneath me.

If I ever develop a brain cloud and require the advice of an idiot, I know where to stoop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ten Reasons why “Dumplin” is the most perfect movie about imperfection.

2018 has been a banner year for Fat Stories. It started out with AMC’s Dietland, which was a feminist revenge dark drama starring a fat actress named Joy Nash. NBC’s This is Us continues to tell the tale of Kate Pearson, played by fat actress Chrissy Metz, and actually allowed her to *gasp* fall in love, get married and get pregnant, ALL without having to lose the extra weight.

Then there was Netflix’s Insatiable, played by… well, no fat people at all. We all know how THAT turned out.

Suffice it to say when I heard about Dumplin‘, also from Netflix, I was a little gun shy. Fool me once and all that. Sure, it had Jennifer Aniston and featured Dolly Parton’s music, but I had already been burned thanks to Alyssa Milano.

What, oh what, to expect?

I knew within five minutes that I loved it. I knew within about a half-hour it was going on the list of my favorite movies ever. By the time it ended, I knew with all certainty this is the movie I had been waiting my whole life to see, and I’m not the only one. It was brilliant, and I kick myself that I didn’t know about the book ahead of time. Every fat girl should see it with every single person who loves her. It’s that important.

Why?

Let me count the ways.

1.) It is a fat story told from the fat perspective.

As we talked about in several blogs before, a fat story without the fat perspective is simply someone ELSE’S view of what our life is like, and most of the time it’s all negative. It’s viewed through the prism of a cautionary tale, where they think our misery of being different drives our narrative. They miss out on all the details that are so important to the story. They miss out on the people we have championing us, who build us up on the regular. They also miss out on the micro-aggressions of those who can smile to our face, but we know that they don’t really mean it, which we encounter OH SO MUCH MORE than teen boys calling us fat.

The author of the book, Julie Murphy, actually IS a fat woman. (She’s also featured in a cameo at the end, which is AWESOME.) She knows our lives are so much better and so much fuller than the “woe is me I’m totally fat” garbage we normally get shoved down our throats. That authenticity is the firm foundation on which the rest of the story is built, demonstrating yet again that if we really want to see diverse characters on the screen, we need diverse writers behind the scenes.

I am totally available. Just sayin’.

2.) Representation matters.

Not only is the story written by a fat person and starring a fat person, the fat character isn’t a token one, some lone fat person in a sea of the impossibly thin. Instead, Will belongs to a diverse cast with OTHER fat people.

Shocker, right?

Given that two in three people are considered overweight and one in three people are considered obese, it is far more realistic to have a cast of characters at many stages of fat than it is to have everyone be pencil thin. In Dumplin‘, there are four notable fat characters, two girls and two adults who are the influencers of those girls. And each one has their own level of confidence and self-esteem because of their weight. It tells a much fuller tale than we’re normally given, and in doing so it allows the audience to see themselves in those characters no matter where they happen to fall themselves.

3.) The correct emphasis on change.

I read a review of Dumplin‘ that was written by someone so enthralled by the idea that the fat characters didn’t have to lose weight in order to tell the story, which seemed like such a revelation. It made me smile – considering I’ve been writing those types of stories since 2007. I’ve even published, oh, 21 of them, and I’m in the company of other authors who have done the same. They’re there if you look, but you have to refer back to #1 – you need to find the fat authors who are telling them.

As someone who has been overweight my entire life, I realized that life doesn’t wait around for me to change to start. It starts and I change. That’s how it works for ALL of us, even those of us are already mostly “perfect,” which are the stories we normally see. Fat or thin, NONE of us wait to be perfect to start, or else we wouldn’t have done one damned thing.

If you view it through that prism, it’s not surprising that not a one of our fat characters in Dumplin’ ever even tried to lose weight, even a little bit, even when signed up for a bathing-suit baring beauty pageant. It was a six-week time period, you guys. Nobody Will’s size or Millie’s size would have managed the kind of perfection you all expect from fat folks in that time. It would have been a fool’s errand and has dick to do with the story being told.

The topic of weight loss and food was barely broached at all. None were interested in it. They were too busy living their lives to worry about shedding their “fat suits” in order to start. Will, Millie, Lucy and Candee Disch (yes, she’s a Drag Queen and YASSSS, she’s fabulous,) ALL decided to take a chance on life without cowing to some antiquated notion that they needed to change first in order to do it.

Well, that’s not true. Change was needed, but it wasn’t on the scale. It that internal change that makes every OTHER change possible. Like, performing on a stage or kissing the boy you like or even, yes, losing weight if that’s the goal you want to undertake.

In fact, the emphasis on that internal change, one driven by Dolly herself, was so important that it was put in front of the train where it belonged. Will didn’t need hunky Bo to love her in order for her to love herself. There’s a BRILLIANT scene where he does tell her how beautiful he thinks she is, but realizes HIMSELF that it doesn’t matter what he says. It only matters how she sees herself. She had to work all that shit through in order to be ready for him.

THAT is romance, my people.

4.) Millie Michalchuk

The movie is named Dumplin’, about Dumplin’, but I think Millie done stole the show, y’all. Played by the incomparable Maddie Baillio, Millie Michalchuk is a fat character unlike any you’ve ever seen. She’s nobody’s sad sack. She’s lit up from the inside out, this force of happiness and positivity that is FEARLESS when it comes to shining that special light. She had wanted to participate in the beauty local beauty pageant since she was a child, but her mother denied her permission allowing her to do it, perhaps thinking she was setting her daughter up for humiliation and failure, pitted side by side with all the other girls who better fit the “beauty pageant” mold. As far as Millie’s concerned, there is no mold. She delivers a line so fucking important and powerful I want it TATTOOED on my eyelids.

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Millie is MY GIRL, y’all. Seriously. I want to be her when I grow up.

You want a representation of body positivity on screen, look no farther. The mic has officially been dropped.

(And you’ll note she’s the one who has MORE than one guy chatting her up at the pool. Just sayin’. You teach others how to treat you, and if you think that you’re acceptable as is, you might be surprise who agrees.)

5.) Willowdean Dixon

As played by Danielle Macdonald, Willowdean Dixon (AKA Dumplin’) shatters the one-dimensional molds of most fat characters. There’s a reason why the limits are so narrow around what we’ve been shown, and it all boils down to what the audience expects. You’re either brimming with confidence or you’re a hopeless, insecure sad sack. There are usually no in-betweens.

I’ve run up against this a time or two with some of my own readers, who don’t understand how one can be insecure enough to accept abusive treatment from those closest to her, but strong enough to pursue her own vision of happiness at the same time. I’ll tell you how: it’s called being human.

For the first time in a long time, a fat character is allowed to be just that.

We treat fat like it cancels out all the rest of who we are, which is a dizzying array of complexities and mistakes, triumphs and failures. Nobody gets it completely right all the time, any more than they’re completely wrong all the time. Life isn’t some tightrope where we only get a few approved moves. I’m reminded of that game on Whose Line is it Anyway, where the comedians are given two phrases that they can say, however they want to say them, but always in response to whatever is being said to them. Some folks seem to think that’s how we operate as humans. We like to keep things neat, I guess, where if we keep people in these limited roles, we always know what to expect.

Surprise people at your own peril. They’ll let you know it just doesn’t fit into their idea of you.

But that’s exactly what it is, their idea of you. I recently read that the opinions others hold of us is formed rather quickly. They pretty much figure out who they think we are in the space of a few minutes. After that, they process every new piece of information to validate that original opinion, even if it’s wrong.

Willowdean embodies this. She’s known by several names, which is the first way the storytellers dismantle this troubling phenomenon. Is she Dumplin’? Is she Willowdean? Is she Will? It kind of depends on the situation and her company, doesn’t it? But isn’t that true of everybody? And how much more would we know about someone if we stopped deciding who they were FOR them?

6.) Jennifer Aniston

It’s no secret that I am totally #TeamJennifer. I have been since the 90s. I was #TeamRachel on Friends, FFS. I would have been bummed as shit if she had Alyssa Milano’d me by playing a role in a troublesome show with an even more troublesome fat narrative.

But it’s Jennifer. She’s got our backs. This is especially important because she’s not just acting in this movie, she produced it.

Seriously, you guys… there’s so much awesome feminine power going on with this whole movie I can barely stand it. Everywhere you look, #girlpower.

In addition to producing it, Jen is literally the star of the show, but you wouldn’t know it to watch. She plays Rosie Dixon, Will’s beauty queen Mama, the tough-as-nails director who protects her award-winning pageant however she can. Everything has to be *perfect.* It regularly drives Will bananas, who proves the perfect spoil to Mama Perfect’s plans.

In another actress’s hands, Rosie Dixon might have been a two-dimensional character. But Jen is a master at work. She plays the part with such nuance it makes her limited time on screen even more impactful. She’s more than the unwitting antagonist. She herself is on her own heroine’s journey, because here’s the rub: she loves her imperfect daughter. Despite Will’s insistence that Rosie is ashamed of her, Jen plays the part as a true mom. When she introduces her daughter, there’s pride there. She doesn’t see a fat person… instead she sees her fears, which are honestly addressed in a painful scene between Will and Rosie.

It is through Rosie that the audience of our allies and those who love us get to see themselves and grow with us (if they weren’t already there with us before.) In that way, Rosie’s character, and Jen’s consummate portrayal of it, are paradigm-shifting.

7.) Aunt Lucy

Aunt Lucy was a character that we barely got to see, because she dies six months before any of the events in the movie take place. But her presence is felt everywhere.

Aunt Lucy was The Voice of Identity for Will in the same way my dad was The Voice of Identity for me. These are the people who, when we were kids, allowed us, encouraged us and supported us to be the unique individuals we are. There’s no shaming, just an unconditional love that sees past all our “flaws” and allows us to soar as high as we dare.

It is truly her voice from beyond that drives the narrative of the story. And the person we have to thank for that?

8.) Anne Fletcher

If you don’t know this name, you might want to jot it down and keep track of it. In an industry where female directors are often in short supply, Anne has six feature film credits under her belt since 2006, including 27 Dresses and The Proposal (my favorite aside from Dumplin‘.) In her very capable hands, Dumplin‘ is more than just another “chick flick.” It’s a rich tapestry of girlfriends, mothers and daughters and self-discovery as a girl in our superficially driven culture. She took a movie about fictional characters and made it feel like a love letter to me personally, because so many of Will’s challenges were my own. I had an Aunt Lucy whose voice was silenced right when I needed him the most. I ended up floundering a bit, but a best friend and the LGBT community would save me and reinforce me. In the end I found my voice and my own happy ending, even love more than once. To see that on the screen was… well, I still tear up when I think about it. I’ve never felt so seen.

This is why I say this is the movie I’ve waited my whole life to see. I wanted to be the one who wrote it, but you know what? I can’t even hate. (But I do reserve the right to envy. Hard.)

It is her sensitivity to and understanding of the source material that makes Anne a fierce ally. I literally tracked her down to thank her personally for this. The love she has for the material is sewn throughout the entire movie. You feel it, like a great big hug. I don’t think you can fake that kind of respect, which is necessary when you tell a tale that pulls no punches.

Technically speaking I loved several of the things she used to tell the tale, and I’ll be unpacking this movie for a long time to learn about filmmaking as a result. Suffice it to say that if when I DO get to tell my fat story, I know now who I want at the helm.

9.) Harold Perrineau

My bestie and I watch movies together every single week. It’s kind of our thing. We do it even though we live over a thousand miles apart, thanks to modern technology, but the truth is we used to do it when we were teenagers, too. We started mere blocks apart, watching movies at the same time while we were on the phone. Then, when I had to move away, we’d steal time with expensive long-distance phone calls.

We always want to share these things, and we find a way.

Needless to say that after we saw the trailer for Dumplin‘, it SHOT to the top of our weekend viewing plans.

It was the bestie who noticed Harold Perrineau before I did.

“Hey, that’s the guy from Lost,” he said.

It’s been more than a minute since I’ve seen Lost, so I didn’t immediately recognize the guy under the drag queen getup for the character of Lee. I HAD, however, recently seen The Best Man Holiday, where Harold plays Merch. Still, I didn’t recognize him until much later, when he was in full male wardrobe and zero makeup.

I find this astonishing, because normally my eagle eye for faces (which served me well working as a celebrity photographer’s assistant,) is marveled by all who witness it in action. How had I missed this??

I lost it all thanks to Harold’s pitch-perfect portrayal of Lee, the Drag Queen who ultimately becomes Lucy’s (and Dolly’s) voice in the movie.

Lee’s love for Will is instant. She takes her under her wing to teach her a few things about finding herself in the middle of all the noise that comes from living. Again, it reached right into my own past with all the beautiful LGBT folks who have done likewise for me. I have always felt at home going to gay bars, the reason for this is NOBODY understands what it’s like to be unabashedly proud of who you are like someone who doesn’t fit into the narrow cisgender/hetero norms that dominate and drive our culture like they do. They could probably pass for “normal” if they wanted to, but they know more than anyone who uncomfortable it is to fit yourself into the narrow little boxes imposed upon you by others. Conformity is a lie we live for the comfort of others, never ourselves.

Who better to teach us how to be ourselves without fear or excuse or compromise?

I can only think of one other….

10.) Dolly Parton

Another character who was there but wasn’t was Dolly Parton herself. That increases the awesomeness of this movie about, oh, 150%. I love Dolly. I grew up on Dolly. And I’m happy to say that this love endures with every awesome thing I found out about her. She is worth every ounce of idol worship thrown at her from the characters in this movie. And her wisdom guides them (and us) towards that spotlight where we finally get to shine. Anne’s use of the music was GENIUS, including how she ends the movie with one of my favorite DP songs of all time: Two Doors Down. This song was released in 1977, and I remember falling in love with it that first year I explored music on my own. The reason being? It’s a great story song.

The song basically tells of someone who can hear a party going on down the hall. Everyone’s having a good time and the listener feels alone and miserable because nobody seems to notice she’s there. The listener then decides to dry her tears of self-pity and go to the party uninvited, where she’s welcomed into the happy scene. She meets someone and they mosey on back to her place. “We’re having our own party just two doors down.”

This song is literally the message of the movie. Don’t wait for an invitation to belong. Just show up and see what happens.

I’m literally crying right now at how freaking perfect it all is.

IT’S JUST PERFECT, Y’ALL.

If you haven’t seen Dumplin’, I really cannot recommend it highly enough. This is the movie I’ve been waiting for, and I know I’m not alone.

It’s time to dry those useless tears and get ourselves together and join the party.

Our tribe is waiting. Our time is now.

Thank you, Julie, Jen, Anne, Dolly and EVERYONE involved with Dumplin‘. You’ve made this fat girl feel valued, validated and totally seen. Thanks for welcoming me to the party.

 

 

Mind Colds and Soul Flu

My earliest recollection of dealing with depression was when I was eleven years old. It was after my dad passed away and life became too much for 1981 Ginger to handle.

I used to feel guilty about that. I’m a lot gentler with myself now. I treat her with the same kind of care I would treat an actual eleven-year-old. What kind of heartless bitch would I be if I expected from a child what I’ve always expected of myself? 1981 Ginger had just lost the person she loved most in the world, the one who loved her back with equal zeal. It ripped a hole in her very soul. Worse, there was no one around willing or able to patch it. Suddenly, she was emotionally and physically on her own. That wasn’t her fault. That was just how it was. The hand had been dealt.

I was a latchkey kid almost immediately, simply because my mom didn’t have the resources to pay for a babysitter. So, at eleven, I learned how to take care of my basic needs. I learned how to get myself to and from school, dressing and grooming, preparing my own meals both before and after school. It was up to me to police my own homework and manage my own free time. I was my own boss at eleven.

Add that to soul-crushing grief and that’s a lot for a little kid to handle, even a child known for being exceptional and mature.

Plus, it was 1981. There were no grief sessions with the school counselor, even after I ended up missing two straight weeks of school. I wasn’t punished (by the school) that I remember, but there was a VERY humiliating moment where the (male) coach (why is it always male coaches?) singled me out during class on my first day back to drill into me the shame that comes with my shameful behavior.

I skipped school. How dare I?

The thing is I wasn’t trying to be bad. I just didn’t have it in me to be good. That’s the insidious nature of depression. It steals not just your happiness, but your very strength. Suddenly normal life, which we all navigate day after day, seemed too big and daunting to tackle with what little energy I had left.

Given I was carrying a lot of buried trauma and a horrible secret about my own sexual assault, it was more than 1981 Ginger could handle. And I knew that, I just didn’t know how to communicate that to anyone else. Instead, I managed their expectations of me instead.

Everyone I knew expected me to roll with it. Everyone else I knew had their own secrets, their own trauma and their own pain. There was nothing special about me, except for the way I wanted to handle it – which in no way included “rolling” with it.

Everyone who has ever been ill understands what it feels like right before you come down with a serious illness, say, a cold or flu. You might start sneezing. Your throat might get scratchy. You may be zapped of all strength and ache all over. The last thing you want to think about is powering through a normal day. All you want to do is stay under the covers and sleep it off so you can feel better again as soon as you can.

Depression works like this because it IS an ailment. It’s not a moral failure, no matter how much my fifth grade coach wanted to categorize it as such. You’re legitimately sick. And just like nobody is going to get pissed at you for calling out if you’ve got fever and aches, no one should get mad at you for taking a “personal” day to regroup. (It’s a sick day, btw. Not a personal day. You’re not playing hooky from life. You’re legit running on an empty tank of gas and powering through sometimes makes it hurt worse.)

I felt sick, so I called out sick.

BUT, just like you don’t get better without medicine or antibiotics, depression doesn’t go away just because you gave yourself a break. Sometimes, and very quickly, it can sink you into a bigger pit of despair. If there’s no one there to help you out, it can cause way more damage than good.

Such was the case in 1981. I stayed home day after day because the problem loomed larger with each passing day. I had stepped out of line to catch my breath, but didn’t know how to get back in the swing of things. This amped up my anxiety, which had already reared its ugly head a time or two by then.

It was a witches brew. (No disrespect intended for any witches.) The problem got worse instead of better.

But it was 1981. Even though I was a traumatized, devastated child, I was expected by all the adults in my life to keep trudging along. Suck it up. Keep moving. Life goes on. There was no gentle guidance, just the same tired expectation of everyone else in my family. My mother was suddenly a single parent, with all the bills landing in her lap – including my dad’s 13-day hospital stay following his stroke, leading to the heart attack that would take his life on his birthday. My sister was likewise in an unhappy marriage with four small kids. Everyone was broke, broke, broke, and dealing with their own personal demons I didn’t even know about. I didn’t know about any of this back then because my family didn’t talk about stuff. They yelled. A lot. But never said a damned thing of any real substance.

We didn’t have a church family at that point, just a church. We had just moved and everything was new. No connections were made. And to be quite frank, churches have never brought me solace or comfort. It was just one more group of strangers, and we all know how I feel about strangers.

Worse, because we had just moved to the area, we didn’t have any friends, just family that was either old or broke or both.

My saving grace at this point in my life was my bestie. I met him in September of 1980. My dad died in December. After he watched that coach humiliate me in the middle of class, this new human, with more compassion in his little finger than most adults had in their whole bodies, decided to step up to the plate, ensuring that I never had to feel alone if I didn’t want to.

I can’t even IMAGINE what my life would have been like without him. Honestly, I don’t even think I’d still be here. He was and is my saving grace.

We would talk on the phone from almost the time we got home from school to the time we went to bed. Well, he went to bed. I’ve always been a night owl. Maybe I was just keeping watch, to make sure that the rug wasn’t going to be pulled out from under me AGAIN. Either way, I managed most everything on my own.

It’s remained that way in these 38 years since. I stumble. A LOT. But I keep moving.

When I tell my story to folks, they’re quick to tell me how strong I am to have endured the things I’ve had to endure in my life. The older I get, the more that staggering list towers. People often wonder how I possibly got (get) through it all.

Well, one foot after the other, usually. It started way back in 1974, when I had to tuck my trauma under the rug and pretend everything was normal. That I was normal. When my dad died, when other family members died, when I was homeless, when Dan went mental, when my son died, just on and on and over and over. I’d take the punch. It might bring me to my knees, but somehow I’d figure out a way to stand up again… even if it took a minute for me to pull myself together to regroup.

They call this strength. I don’t know about all that. I mean, what are my choices, really? Just like in 1981, I had to figure out a way to make it through and just keep moving. Time doesn’t wait for me, as Boston once sang. So, I keep going.

Sometimes I use anger like rocket fuel. I have to. Sadness is just a cousin to hopelessness, and there’s no calling out sick for two weeks while I wait for someone to come along and save me.

It’s always been on me to save myself, no matter how limited my resources might be.

I’m like my car. I have more than 100K miles on the odometer. My paint is fucked thanks to scrapes with the wall. My starter doesn’t work so I have to hot wire it in order to get it to start. My front bumper is always falling off, tied together with zip ties that can snap if I dare park too close to a cement parking divider.

Oh, and it’ll never be paid off. Ever.

It barely runs but I keep running it. It doesn’t get sick days. Neither do I. We’ll both keep on running on a wing and a prayer, hoping that some miracle will eventually come through.

Maybe then I can breathe again. One day the terror of merely existing will have to abate, won’t it? I’ll get to the place where I won’t feel like the walls are always closing in, right?

So, there’s no calling off life. I’m like my mom now. I have to make it all work, even when I’m sick, whether physically or mentally. Even when depression tries to come down on me like a thundercloud, giving me no warning whatsoever.

That was the day I had yesterday. My PTSD has been running RAMPANT for two weeks now and I couldn’t hold up under the strain anymore. Thanks to the lack of estrogen, and all the crazy menopausal mood swings, it hit HARD. I was just taking a shower like normal and suddenly the world was too much to handle. Snap your fingers. That’s how quick it happened. All those flight or fight feelings just overwhelmed me. In a moment I went completely dark, with feelings of devastation and hopelessness that nearly strangled me where stood.

It was right out of the PTSD textbook.

Negative changes in thinking and mood

Symptoms of negative changes in thinking and mood may include:

  • Negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships
  • Feeling detached from family and friends
  • Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Difficulty experiencing positive emotions
  • Feeling emotionally numb

It wasn’t okay. I wasn’t okay. I remained emotionally fragile for hours afterwards. I burst into tears at the slightest provocation. I raged at Steven who offered me food, when I was trying my hardest to dissect my feelings enough to figure out if I was really hungry or just trying to “feed the monster.”

Lately, since I’ve been trying to cope without reverting to binge-eating, it’s a crucial step I canNOT skip. I both succeeded and failed in many ways.

The victory here is that I was aware. Painfully, excruciatingly aware.

I didn’t self-destruct. That’s the win.

I wasn’t perfect. That’s the reality.

When people ask me how I get through the things I’ve gone through, this is it. It’s equal parts pushing through, like I was always taught to do, and being aware enough to know I can’t do EVERYTHING I need to do to get healthy. Therapy isn’t an option until we get back on medical benefits. I have to wait, doing it on my own, until I can scrape together the means to put my health first over my mere survival.

That means I’m also waiting an extra two months for my cancer screening. I’m having a harder time managing the anxiety over that delay than anything.

So, here I am. Waiting for my miracle. Driving my body and my life around with my figurative bumper falling off and jump-starting the car because I can’t get it to start the normal way.

I’ve never been able to get started the normal way, not since 1981.

But… I’m not giving up. I didn’t come this far to get this close, only to succumb to the darkness. It’s a struggle. Some days more than other days, like yesterday.

The good news is I’m no longer that traumatized, powerless eleven-year-old girl. I know there’s relief on the other side of this. I just have to get through it.

And now… I’m the adult that’s going to heal her. One fucking way or the other.

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