Control

I couldn’t fix what was swirling in my brain. I didn’t understand it and I couldn’t control it. However, I could try from another angle. In the beginning of my OCD turmoil, I visited the doctor. I clearly remember him saying that I could stand to lose a little weight. I will never forget that. His callous remark would spark years of me using my body as mechanism to try to keep control. Even if I couldn’t control the things in my head or the chaos around me, I could control what I ate. At that time, I don’t remember what I weighed, but I was certainly not overweight by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not sure what chart he was referring to or what mechanism he was using to measure this. I didn’t care. Those words spewed from his mouth and I would never be the same. I later learned my mother was furious at him. Didn’t he know I was an impressionable adolescent? Didn’t he know what a voice of authority could do to a young molding mind?

I clearly remember this was the beginning of my high stakes game. I would compete against myself and I would win. I refused to let the scale become three digits. I would not eat. I would burn calories. I would do whatever it took to maintain that control. The number one hundred on the scale was the enemy and counting caloric intake was my bible. It didn’t matter if it made sense, I was determined. Maybe my ultimate destination was to disappear. I don’t know, but it felt so good. I got such a high from consuming so little calories that I could barely function. I spent hours tabulating and calculating. I loved staying under 900 calories. A sandwich could easily be a five-course meal. If you take the whole thing apart, the bread is one course, the lunchmeat is next, followed by small bites of cheese and lettuce. The smorgasbord would end with the second slice of bread. There you have it, a full course meal. That was only if I allowed myself an entire sandwich. Usually, it was a bag of raisins, lunch meat, and carrots. I was winning.

My period stopped, and I looked so pale. I was always shivering. I loved that I shivered. It meant that I was lacking body fat. I was winning this contest! My body was starting to develop. The muscles in my legs were developing. I hated it. I liked how it was straight like a board from my hips to my knees. I didn’t want to have muscles. If I didn’t eat, maybe I could stop it.

I also developed these strange habits with food. If I poured cereal into a bowl, I had to put a spoonful back into the box. I could not, by any stretch of the imagination, lick a spoon. I would have to count those calories. I spent countless hours reading and dissecting fitness magazines. If my eye landed on someone who was overweight, I had to find someone on the page that was thin before I turned it. If I couldn’t find that than a lower case “L” would do. That’s a good thin letter. Ok, you can turn the page. Crap! Did you look at something else? Do it again. Ok, look at someone skinny. Now, turn the page. Did you do it right? No? Do it again, and again and again………………………If I saw an overweight person, I would get physically sick. I just couldn’t handle it. What if that happened to me? Apparently, I had convinced myself that looking at a heavy person or licking a spoon would cause instant weight gain.

After I got married, I was so worried that just getting married caused weight gain. You’ve read the stories about weight gain after marriage. I would constantly obsess about this with my Mom. I constantly bounced everything off her. I had easy access since I worked for her. It was enabling at its finest. I tried working for someone else before but was never able to emotionally handle it. Fast forward to my first “real” job 25 years later and my subsequent nervous breakdown. My poor husband. I seriously don’t know how he survived everything. It takes a lot of compassion, love and a large dash of selective hearing. My first pregnancy magnified these petrified worries of “improper” weight gain. I was fearful of gaining too much weight or not losing it afterwards. I was consumed by horrible obsessions and to combat them I exercised, a lot. At the time of my pregnancies I had moved on to over-exercise to combat the demons in my head.

I could write a book on how society affects young girls and their body image. It was hard enough with television and magazines. I can’t imagine growing up in the digital age. Since I have gotten older, I realized, I don’t want to spend my life waiting for the “when”. What I mean is this; I will be happy when I lose 10 pounds. I will be happy when my stomach is flat. I will be happy when I whatever. Guess what, I had all those things and more and you know what? I wasn’t happy. You have to live for now. Don’t spend another second listening to people you don’t care about say you are fat or not pretty enough or whatever. Now, I’m not saying eat crap all day and lay on the couch. What I am saying is LIVE YOUR LIFE. Live it by eating good stuff and sometimes eating bad stuff. Eat in the grey area. You know studies show overwhelmingly that people don’t die from eating crap and not exercising. They die from the constant anxiety of worrying about it. Spend your time counteracting stress by doing things you love. Listen to music, meditate, exercise, take a hike, watch your favorite show, travel, get out of debt and then shop (in that order-it’s way less stressful), do yoga. If you are tired, then sleep. If you are hungry then eat. Do whatever it is that brings you joy (legal joy-have I told you I am a rule follower?) and if that is not the life you are living, figure out how to work towards it. I am not doing what I love right now, but that’s ok. I’m working towards it. Guess what? HINT: I started blogging.

During the anorexia phase and for many, many years after, I only knew of black and white. I was taught that at an early age, and it is a hard one to overcome. You are either good or bad, fat or skinny, naughty or nice. There was no grey area. Personally, one of my favorite colors is greige and now I try to live that every day. Greige in my decor and greige in my life and diet. But I digress. Again, I need to stress the miracle of medication and therapy. However, it is not a magic pill. Another mention is that it is a constant work in progress. It is so easy to fall back into these irrational thoughts. It is so easy to fall into black and white thinking. It takes continued hard work. However, instead of falling down the rabbit hole and beating myself up for hours, days, weeks and months, I can pull myself out of it and snap myself into reality. Do not let the recurring story you heard in your childhood ruminate until you are sick. Just because you heard it over and over, doesn’t make it true. Read every book you can get your hands on that portrays life in its full abundance. Listen to podcasts that talk about positiveness. Surround yourself with people who are positive. Know that God loves you exactly how you are. Life is living in greige. It’s a beautiful color!

Samantha

Society tames the wolf into a dog.
And man is the most domesticated
animal of all.
~Nietzsche

You Make Plans and God laughs

To the outside world my dad was on fleek :). See I’m still hip with the youngins. It made me proud that his persona was a cool cat. Ok, I’ll admit, I’m not hip. My parents were young and cool. My Dad had long hair and beard. I don’t recall what he looks like without it. He wore a feather earring for God’s sake. He rode a Harley and had cool cars. Growing up, my friends would come over and he had an ease and friendliness with everyone. I’d have boyfriends come by that I’m sure were slightly terrified (refer back to beard and Harley) but they would become instant friends. They would talk about how they will come by and shoot the shit again. I’d have to pull them away and remind them they were her for me. Hellooo?? Remember, I am the awesome one here, not my Dad?

On the flip side, I spent so many years furious at my Dad. I now know so many reasons why he reacted the way he did. He was a product of his broken parents. He was a product of Vietnam and later we learned his subsequent exposure to Agent Orange. I spent a lot of time angry that my mom, my sister and I were the recipient of his frequent outbursts. Throughout childhood, many days we walked on eggshells, never quite sure which movement would cause an angry explosion. This is all I will state on this topic today, because all the anger, all the wasted time, all the bullshit. It doesn’t matter. Right now, it doesn’t matter.

This past Sunday morning was a day like any other. It’s wintertime, it’s Chicago, it’s cold. I’m in a great mood, my birthday is in a couple days. I like birthdays. I woke up and ran to church, arriving fashionably late. There are just sooo many songs. Uggh, I just can’t do so many songs. I try to get there on time. I really do try, but I just don’t succeed. I try to give myself grace, but at the same time I think I’m such an asshole for arriving at church late. Sorry God, thou shall not swear. I used to pride myself arriving on time everywhere “bk” (before kids). I was looking forward to my neighbor’s get-together later that day to watch the Packers play the 49ers. I don’t really watch. I chat and drink wine. My sister texted me about 11:00 am asking if I had heard from Dad. No, why? She said she texted him and called him last night and then again, this morning. Hmm, I thought. That’s kind of strange. I wasn’t too worried, but at the same time, the worst scenario flashes in your head. Last time this happened he was out with his friends. I laughed that time realizing I didn’t have to worry so much. He has a social life and he is doing pretty well since our Mom passed two and half years ago, to the date. It also just happened to be 11 years ago, on this date, she was diagnosed with cancer. I told my sister I would run over there and check on him. My 16-year-old son came along to help shovel if we needed to. He’s a great kid. His Mom is also awesome. (Hint: My apologies ahead of time, I use humor to cope, better than crack I guess)

We pulled into the driveway immediately noticing that for the first time in 45 years of winters, not only had we had convinced my Dad that he should not snow blow or if he did, do a little at a time, but he had actually listened. He suffered from really bad acid reflux and the cold exacerbated it. You don’t understand, the fact that he had only snow-blowed from the garage out to the street on one side of the circle drive was mind blowing and I knew then, something is wrong. We rang the doorbell and no answer. Panic sets in and then a flash; Oh, I thought, we can check the garage and I bet his truck isn’t there and he is just out somewhere. His truck was there. Oh my God. We went around the back and I looked in the kitchen window. Fox news was on in the kitchen, ha I thought, that’s a good sign. Then I looked down to the floor and could see my Dad’s legs. I screamed to Brendan to call 911. I didn’t have a key anymore, I have never had to go to the house and open it, my Dad was ALWAYS there. I knew there was a hidden key, but my mind couldn’t grasp where it was. We called my sister and she reminded me the hiding place. All the time I was panicking that I have to get in there immediately because I can do CPR. If I waste time looking for the key this is all my fault. I was the one who didn’t save him. If I get in there immediately, I can try to save him. I tried the back door; the screen was locked. I ran to the front and unlocked the door. I flew into the kitchen and immediately new it didn’t matter if I had a key or if I was a minute faster. My Dad had been gone for a while. My son is seeing this. I can’t comprehend what is happening right now. My husband is on his way. My sister and husband are on their way. The paramedics are on their way. I run out to the driveway and calmly tell them. It’s too late. It’s just too late. He’s gone. It’s too late. My mind was reeling, I couldn’t focus. This….. is….. not…… happening.

We knew this would happen one day. According to our plans it would be in about 10 years or so. My mind recalls the saying “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” I had no idea it was a quote by Woody Allen. My dad hated him. Not sure why. His Dad, my grandpa, lived into his 80’s, so that is what we had in our silly misguided plans. The next 10 years would give us time to comprehend the inevitable. We had 9 years to say goodbye to our Mom who valiantly fought stage 4 Ovarian Cancer. At the time of her death, her suffering had been so long, it just couldn’t last another second. It wasn’t easier per say, but it was gradual. We had so much time to come to terms with what was inevitably going to happen. We grappled with the fact that we would have to help our Dad. We couldn’t believe that she went first. We prepared ourselves for the agony of not having our Mom on earth. She was the rock of the family. She was the glue. Selfishly we thought, there would be no buffer between us and our Dad. Little did we know in her always unselfish ways and concern for her two baby girls, she probably planned all of this. She planned to go first so that we would be forced to mend our relationship with our Dad.

Mending is exactly what we unconsciously did. My sister and I spent the last two and a half years helping my Dad figure out the ins and outs of how to live on your own. We taught him computer lessons. On Wednesday I helped him place an order on Amazon with a gift card we gave him for Christmas. Monday, I found a copy of a practice withdrawal slip he saved in a folder. We met him for dinner. We listened to his problems. We listened to him talk about how much he missed our Mom. We listened to his dreams and hopes for the future. We listened to his endless Trump talk and complaints about “liberal snowflakes”. He missed Mom so much, but I don’t know that he was ready to go. We listened to his worries. He just visited the VA and they asked him to schedule tests to look at his heart and esophagus. He talked through how he would just do better. He would just eat better and then he wouldn’t have to do anything. He reluctantly agreed to do the recommended stress test. He conceded to an EKG. He adamantly told me there was no way in hell he would do an endoscopy. That’s too invasive he would say. 30 years ago, he had a heart attack. Well, the doctors told him he did, and he said they were incorrect. He refused to let them do anything. To his absolutely aggravating stubbornness credit, he immediately changed his life. His focus and work ethic were beyond anything I have ever seen. He quit smoking. He changed his diet. He began working out. We had him another 30 years. That is pretty incredible. Did I tell you was stubborn?

He didn’t trust doctors. He didn’t trust the government (meaning democrats) CNN and the liberal media. I think in part he had a great life. He had a great wife and kids (if I don’t say so myself :). I worked at my Moms company and brought the kids with me every day. He loved being a grandpa. He was the best grandpa. My middle daughter found the pacifier he made of an eye bolt and a washer for her doll because we lost the one that came with it. We now find that hilarious. He built them horses and bought them real saddles. They played “The Saddle Club” and pretended to run a company in the basement. For the life of me he probably did the same for my sister and I when were kids, but I tend to remember the crappy stuff. Ugg, my damn brain. He and his Dad built a playhouse for us in the basement in the 70’s. It gave our family millions of memories. To this day, my childhood friends will talk about it. He continuously and meticulously refurbished our childhood home. He had so much pride in that house. He made many pieces of Early American furniture. He cherished antiques. He built the entire kitchen by himself. He built my bedroom in the basement. He worked with my Moms business and did anything she asked. He did anything she needed and was forever loyal. He had a garage so clean you could eat off the floor. He also struggled. He had a lifetime of struggle with anxiety. (refer to garage floor) My unschooled, but knowledgeable self, had diagnosed him over the years. You’re bound to learn some things after 25 years of therapy. He joked with me on Wednesday. You know I think I have OCD about this whole heart and Acid Reflux thing. Really dad? THAT’S BECAUSE YOU HAVE OCD. THAT IS WHY YOU ARE OBSESSING OVER THIS! THAT IS WHY YOU SUFFER ALL THE TIME!!! He suffered in silence. He suffered out of denial and out of pride. He suffered because he should be able to handle it himself. He wasn’t weak. He suffered because his entire generation didn’t believe in mental health. You just suck it up. You move forward and you suck it up. He suffered because he thought psychologists were idiots. He thought the whole medical field was a bunch of clowns. He successfully took Prozac a couple of times but would talk about feeling so much better and the fact that meant he didn’t need it anymore. Remember that devil called OCD that lies to you and says you are fine. It lies and says you don’t need medicine anymore. You can do this yourself. I would try to convince him that he feels better because he is on Prozac. He would chuckle and then not take it. Right before I went to my Dad’s on Sunday I started crying to my husband. As he hugged me and talked me through it, I was telling him this blog is so hard. It’s so hard to spill my guts. It’s so hard to make it all more real, to drudge up a painful past and air my dirty laundry. This next sentence breaks my heart. As I sit here typing with tears dripping down my face, I said to him, well, at least I don’t have to talk about everything. I can gloss over some parts for now. You know I can’t talk about everything until my Dad is no longer here on this earth.

Samantha