When I first started having episodes again — confirming that me and my doctor’s original hope that a period of being medicated would break the cycle happening with my immune system was not going to work — it was devastating. I felt betrayed by my body and I wanted to punish it.
This is not a new phenomenon for me. Between the ages of 13 and 26, I committed various self-harming acts against myself. Cutting, burning, binge drinking, not eating, purging, unprotected sex with strangers, and so on. It’s not that I felt sorry for myself so much as I was trying to find a way to exist. It’s difficult to explain that sometimes you might cut yourself in small, controlled ways just to prevent yourself from slashing your wrists.
I have never been ashamed of my scars because I know that, for better or worse, it was how I survived.
People learn new ways to survive all the time.
Almost immediately following the realization that I was going to keep having the episodes, I found that I didn’t want to eat. Smug satisfaction filled me when I portioned out very limited and specific amounts of food that I would eat in a given day, mostly to prevent me from being sick or drawing attention to myself. If my stomach revolted, I inwardly scowled. You don’t deserve to eat! A cold rage burned in my bones. I didn’t care about losing weight or anything like that. I just wanted to punish my body.
I wanted the hunger to remind me to fight.
Then that determination shifted from day to day. Sometimes riding my bike outweighed heavily restricted eating, or if my husband guiltily suggested that we splurge on a “fancy” coffee. It became difficult to predict how I would feel from moment to moment, so I followed that current and observed myself with bemused detachment. Part of me hoped it would escalate. That I could stop pretending to “handle it well”.
One day after a lunch date with friends — coconut veg soup, water — it occurred to me that I was engaging in thoughts and behaviors that mimicked previous eras of believing myself to be completely out of control, crazy*, and damaged despite the fact that those things are not true about me.
I feel intensely. Some moments are suffocating, they’re too heavy. Something small has to come forward to clear the air.
A bike ride
a long walk
a perfectly brewed cup of Earl Grey
the way heavy whipping cream billows seductively when poured into black coffee
a middle of the day text from R asking how my day’s been so far
going to an art exhibition downtown
a surprise gift from a dear friend
stitching while enjoying an audiobook from the library
writing for small jobs and writing for myself
weather warm enough to enjoy an evening walk and an ice cream
crossing a line through completed chores on my list
a satisfying meal.
Moment to moment still feels uncertain, despite the fact that I eat pretty consistently now. I wrote most of this a week ago, but I feel reluctant to share it. What if I’m not done yet? What if I want to skip meals? What if I need to lie about eating and a loved one is suspicious? Most of the time, though, I realize that the small things are collectively helping me view myself differently.
Maybe I don’t need this secret. Maybe I don’t need a back up plan.
Yesterday my husband and I went for a bike ride, 10.2 miles to and from a local trail. I wanted to keep going, but we both had things to do that required us to go back home. It’s not just the cycling that makes me want to keep going, it’s the trees and the air and the wild flowers. It’s the fact that every time I feel surprised to be here.
I still want to fight. I just want the fight to go down differently. I want to triumph, not just survive.
* The “crazy” I refer to here is the popular expression of female insanity. The madwoman in the attic. Gaslighting. Etc. In general, the traits I listed are meant to be regarded hyperbolically and in no way as a fair description of people struggling with self-harming behaviors.
I’m not sure how one gauges the success of a reception. Is it how many people show up? How many people compliment you? How much art is purchased? How many people suggest another exhibition or commission that probably won’t come to fruition? I don’t know.
A lot of people showed up, a lot of people responded positively to the work, a lot of people loved the food, and one person bought a print. Good, I think. I worked a bit harder to promote the show and to allow other people to promote it for me. A couple people mentioned reading about it in the paper to Robert.
Thanks to my grandparents, mom, mother-in-law, and some friends the food for the reception was everything I hoped it would be — good, seasonal, and substantial vegan food for people who aren’t used to eating vegan food. I’m glad I decided to shoot for having too much food because people ate pretty much all of it. There was very little left for us to take home by the end of the night. We had:
Southern Event Regulation sweet tea
Art Show Regulation boxed wine (probably not vegan)
Husband Regulation Yuengling lager beer
Fruit jam, olive & dill, garlic, and spicy nut spreads
Chipotle, black bean, and garlic hummus
Crackers and fresh bread
BBQ pomegranate tempeh
Citrus glazed beets & sweet potato
Asparagus & heirloom tomato garlic salad
Cranberry, apple & squash quinoa
Hot black-eyed peas & kale
Sesame chard salad
Spiced pumpkin cupcakes
Maple cookies (Earth Fare)
No-bake chocolate cookies
Peanut butter rice krispy treats
It was all delicious. And I might have forgotten something or things. We managed to find some compostable plates and silverware, plus recyclable plastic cups so there ended up being one trash bag, one recycling bag, and two compost bags. I’m pretty pleased with hosting an event that was at least semi-responsible.
Instead of a guestbook, I decided to paint a rectangle on the wall and let people fill it with their comments. More like an open forum or a discussion board than a guestbook. People were a bit shy about it, but with some encouragement by the end of the night there were several comments, some of which were especially thought-provoking or validating. (And who doesn’t love feeling validated?) It seems like most people came to me directly to tell me what they think.
We ended up staying in the gallery until 11:30 because people kept coming in, and I was as proud of myself for talking to so many strangers as I was for putting together the whole damn show. Especially on three hours of sleep. More images from the reception are available at my Flickr account. I’ll take some good photos of the work itself soon. Until then, here are a few more images from the reception: