Remember yesterday when I posted all those flower photos? I took some other photos around the neighbourhood too. Uglier photos. Darker photos. Here are those photos.
A tree against the sky, heavily messed with in Photoshop.
Some leaves I arranged on the sidewalk.
A foamy puddle on the street.
Yellow leaves in the gutter.
A cool vintage bike.
A crack in the sidewalk.
Horse chestnuts! As you can see, I gathered many. Possible craft to come.
And finally, a hideous Halloween decoration honouring Frankenstein's monster.
Happy Fall, my friends.
I slept late today. I sleep late most every day lately. That's what these past few weeks have been about.
I'm not exhausted. I'm not even particularly tired. I wake naturally around 8 am every day and it's already completely light out and instead of thinking, "Hooray! I'm awake! It's time to meet the day!" I think "No. No no no no no no no no no no no" in the manner of that internet cat. Remember that cat?
I screw my eyes shut and press down into my pillows and I try to force myself to go back to sleep because sleep is such a nice place. I like it there. The days, by contrast, are daunting.
I don't want to call this depression because in the grand scheme of things, it's not that bad. I do get up eventually, and I go about my day and I try to get things done (never as many things as I hope to, but that's another story). Things are fine. I'm just a bit bummed. Worried, you might say.
I'm working on my shop as much as I can. You know my shop? Will & Bequeath, my little vintage retail business? Yeah, that. But I'm worried about it.
The things people tell you about starting your own business are true. It's a shit load of work. There's always more you could be doing, more you should be doing, and if, like me, you have no employees and have to do everything yourself, and if, like me, you tend to set overly-high standards, every day is like a mountain you keep failing to successfully climb.
Even though my shop is small, a huge amont goes in to the listing of each item for sale. For each individual item, I have to do the following:
6) Photo Edit
7) Describe in Charming Copy
8) List for Sale Online Using My SUPER Powered Web Design Skills (Not)
9) Promote on Social Media
and if the item sells...
Plus, you know, there's all the other crap that goes along with the day to day running of the business - maintaining the website, doing the accounting/paperwork, answering emails, trying to come up with and run promotions, being nice to all the people who have questions, regardless of if the questions are silly, etc. (etc. etc. etc.). Sometimes the load feels a bit ridiculous.
All that said, I love the shop. The shop makes me happy. It's still very small-time and I've made an effort not to invest too much money into it, because I want it to grow slowly and be sustainable and reasonable and considering all that, it's basically a success. It's making money. Just a little and I'm not paying myself for my time or anything, but I'm in the black.
That's right, kids, I basically have a successful venture on my hands! HOORAY, right!?
illustration by Kathryn Whyte
You'd think so. But in my family, there are no hoorays. Nathan is wonderfully supportive, of course. He helps me haul things home, he models menswear, he takes packages to the post office when I'm feeling grouchy or tired. And always, ALWAYS, he congratulates me when the shop does well. He's excited about every sale. Complimentary about every find. He always wants to celebrate. He's forever telling me how great I am. He's sweet that way. The sweetest, basically.
My biological family, on the other hand, specifically my parents, is essentially completely shitty to me, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In regards to the store, they've had exactly one thing to say: "It's not a real job. Why don't you get a real job?"
That's it. No kind words about how the photos look. No congratulations on unexpected sales. No kudos about anything whatsoever. Certainly none of the help or support a normal family might provide in a situation like this. Just criticism. Constant, insulting criticism.
But who cares if my parents are less than supportive right? Who cares what they think? I try not to, I promise. They've always been like this, they're never going to stop being like this. Abuse in the form of a lifetime of agressions and micro-aggressions is a fun family fact ranging back generations and I'm not stupid so I know this is the way it is, the way it was and the way it always will be. Yet, for some reason, some combination of socialization and biology, I do care. I can't seem to stop caring, try as I might. And as a result, every single time they needle me about how worthless or unsuccessful or lazy I am (or, historically, about my looks, natch), I feel like absolute shit.
When my company closed and I was laid off last year and my father declared "Good! Now maybe you'll get a real job" I felt like shit. When my mother calls to ask what I do all day (which she does, practically every week) I feel like shit. I don't want to feel like shit, I just can't seem to help it. It sucks. It's shitty.
And I worry about what this negativity has done and continues to do to me.
“Emotional abuse is like brainwashing. It systematically wears away at the victim’s self-confidence, sense of self-worth, trust in his or her perceptions, and self-concept. Whether it is by constant berating and belittling, by intimidation, or under guise of “guidance” or teaching, the results are similar. Eventually, the recipient loses all sense of self and all remnants of personal value. The primary effects of emotional abuse are depression, lack of motivation, confusion, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, low self-esteem, feelings of failure or worthlessness, feelings of hopelessness, self-blame, and self-destructiveness.” - Beverly Engle
That's bad, right? SERIOUSLY bad? And I can feel it happening. Or maybe it's already happened, I don't know. I don't think I've lost all sense of self or anything. Not yet. My self-esteem is definitely in the pooper, though. It's just that nobody's flushed yet. (That was, like, the best toilet reference I've ever written.)
On some occasions, I'm effectively able to shake all this crap off, but not always. Sometimes, the familial negativity seeps in. That's what happened most recently. That's why I've been spending the last few weeks sleeping and not updating the store in any meaningful way. My father repeated, several times over the course of an evening, that I didn't have a job. Nothing new there. Nothing I hadn't heard before. Yet it infected me. His mean little needling crawled inside and settled in and started whispering at me and ever since I've been thinking stuff like this:
Maybe I'm stupid to do this. The store will probably fail. I'm basically worthless, so everything I do is likely to be worthless too. I should probably get some sort of 'real' job. They're probably right about that. It would be safer. If I was smart and not so full of myself, that's what I would do. And if I hate the job, so what? Hating jobs is part of life. I should be grateful to have a job at all considering who I am. I'm completely full of garbage. I'm a garbage person.
I'm not exaggerating. This is exactly how I think when I've been effectively infected. I've been trying to turn it off. (Lots of sleep helps with that, actually.) And I think, I think, it might finally be fading and I might be able to get back to work. I've done a few blog posts and have managed to photograph a bunch of new stuff for the store which will be posted in the coming days. So that's good, right? I'm coming out of it. I wish it hadn't happened at all, but hey. Things happen.
Look - I even wrote about it! That's a healing thing, right? RIGHT. Riiiiiiight.
Anyway, that's what's going on in garbage town.
Love you guys. Sorry for overusing references to poop in this post. Crap and shit are just such descriptive words!
Well, here we are in February of 2013 and I have yet to write anything new for the year. Actually, that’s not really true. I’ve written lots of new things, just nothing for the blog. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, or haven’t been thinking about it. I have. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, but hesitating, for various reasons.
The thing is, this blog has evolved a lot. When I first started out blogging, in 2005, I was writing mostly about pithy work stuff. I was so self-conscious. Every post was a name-droppy mess. One week I wrote about interviewing Feist at the Vancouver Folk Festival. Another time, I talked about working a junket for the movie Crash and interviewing Paul Haggis (at the Four Seasons… I believe I made sure to include that oh-so-scintillating fact). This is embarrassing for a lot of reasons. First off, being a name-dropper is inherently gross. (If you’re someone who does it, stop immediately.) Besides that, it just seems … sad. I was sad.
Anyway, after I left that line of work and went back to school to do my MA in Toronto, the blog started to evolve into something more confessional. And okay, that was fine. I like memoir and confessional writing. Always have, despite the fact that the writing scene (literary and less-so) turns a collective nose up at this sort of thing. But my posts were often vague. I can see, looking back, how my posts were a bit like long Facebook status updates where I shared enough to let people know something was going on, but not so much that they would actually know what that something was. I was (and often am) too self-conscious to tell the complete truth about anything. (Again, more on that later.) But on occasion I’d write a post that was truer than others and the response would mushroom. When I wrote that post about high school for example, about how I felt bullied by the girls in my social group … holy crap. People responded. A lot. In fact, though that post went up a full two years ago, I still get comments on it. (I recently had to close the comments section because I didn’t feel like moderating anymore.) In the same vein, I wrote a post about my grandmother’s death about a year ago that, as many regular readers know, caused quite a stir. I took that one down to appease family members who thought it was unfair (and evidently, that I was a horrible, disgusting person for writing it, if you’re to believe the bilious comments they left), but despite that, as with the high school piece, I still get positive feedback. People get in touch to say they loved the piece, and that they wish I’d left it up. Others write to tell me about their own complicated family relationships and the way the older people in their lives have inspired a mix of love and frustration.
(Sidenote: My own family doesn’t appear to have forgiven me, despite the fact that I took that post down. This has been hard to come to terms with. I try to comfort myself with the idea that I told the truth. My mother-in-law gave me a book for Christmas that addresses this very issue. In her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Jeanette Winterson writes "Unhappy families are conspiracies of silence. The one who breaks the silence is never forgiven. He or she has to learn to forgive him or herself." Maybe this is true. I know many members of my own family would interject here that they are happy thankyouverymuch and that I should just shut up or some such thing. So anyway. I guess I’ll shut up about that.)
Anyway, back to the mainline. Truth-telling, especially about difficult subjects, seems to be what people respond to, at least in my case. Never was this more apparent than in the response to the post I wrote near the end of 2010 called The weight. In that piece, I talked pretty frankly about my body obsession and weight cycling and again, people responded. HUGELY. The post was picked up by several other sites, including at least one from overseas written entirely in a Scandanavian language I don’t know. (So I have no idea what anybody said about it, but they sure seemed to say a lot.) In the States, the blog was found by an organization (HealthyPlace) that focuses on mental health issues and I was invited to speak on one of their podcasts about eating disorders. The comments flooded in, both on the post itself and privately, via email. People wrote to tell me about their own feelings on similar issues. Many people wrote to tell me about their eating disorders. Some just wrote to say hi and to say that the piece made them feel less isolated. (That was nice.)
And ultimately, thanks to the comments and the feedback, I came to see that The weight was probably the most important thing I’d ever written to date, not because of the feedback itself, but because the feedback gave me perspective. And here’s the big thing that came out of that: I finally faced the fact that I myself have an eating disorder.
Yep. I have an Eating Disorder (ED). And there’s more!
I’ve HAD this disorder for about 20 years. And I didn’t even know it.
Now, to be fair, I knew the way I ate and exercised was (sometimes) questionable, but at the same time, my “disordered behaviours” (this is the way we talk in recovery) all felt relatively normal. I was just dieting. I didn’t have Anorexia because hey, I ate (most of the time). And I didn’t have Bulimia because I didn’t really purge (most of the time). As for those periods of crazy exercise, well, that was just being healthy. No pain no gain, right? Sigh.
Basically, like a lot of people, I thought Anorexia and Bulimia were all there was. (I bet many of you think that right now, in fact. Nobody tells us about the dangers of sub-clinical disordered eating in general, not to mention Orthorexia, or Anorexia Athletica, or what I have: Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS). It’s a real thing – a clinically recognized eating disorder with defined diagnostic criteria. EDNOS is, I believe, the most commonly diagnosed ED out there. And before 2012, I’d never even heard of it. Just one more thing to write in the “society is totally fucked up” column.
Anyway. The good news is, I’m getting better. Without going into too much detail about that part of things, I can say that I’m officially “in recovery” and have been for a while. It’s going okay. But EDs, from what I’ve leaned, can be a lot like substance abuse issues in that relapse is always a possibility, and of course, I have shitty days where I hate myself and I am really REALLY tempted to do the things I used to do to “fix” my body, but for the most part, I resist. I’m trucking along. I’m lucky. I’m a “middle class” person who often passes as “white” living in a big city with a lot of resources designed for and made available specifically for people like me. A lot of people aren’t as lucky as I am. (People can and do die from EDs like mine. Or they lead really sad lives chained to their disorders forever.) I’m getting better.
I’m also fat. Have you noticed? People do. Just last week, I had the pleasure of a longish conversation with a stranger who wanted to know when I was “due.” (I said March, by the way, because it just felt so much easier that saying, “Actually, I’m just fat.” *) I get comments about my “still” pretty face. I am faced with friends who are obsessed with their own bodies who look at me and clearly think (sometimes even say) “What HAPPENED?” They’re obviously terrified that whatever it is might happen to them. Others are fond of chastising me for identifying my body as fat at all. “Oh, Jen, you’re not fat!” they exclaim, with so much speed it’s obvious that fat is the worst thing they think a person could be. (I do this too. I can't help it. We all do. We're all trying to be nice.) The thing is, I'm trying to get comfortable with the notion of fat as fine and to let go of the constantly repeated idea that fat = disgusting, lazy, greedy, ugly, etc. etc. etc. ** but people think that way, even though many don't realize it. It makes a lot of folks uncomfortable when you challenge that. It’s all pretty ridiculous. Fat really scares people. (And the truth is, while I’m fat, I’m not even especially fat. I can’t even imagine the absolute horror show of abuse and shame heaped on people who are fatter than I am. It’s truly terrifying and extremely unjust, but that’s another topic and this blog is already long enough as it is. ***) All I’m really trying to say is that since taking real steps to recover, all this body-talk has made social interactions hard. Or rather, harder than they used to be.
Supportive or not, fat-positive or not, kind or not, other people are “triggers” for me. (There’s that recovery language again.) And this might mean that in the last year, I’ve started seeing less of you. Or maybe I deleted you from Facebook or something. This brings us to the second big mental health revelation in this post:
In addition to my super fun ED, I also have pretty pronounced Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). Hooray!
As with my ED, I’ve had it for a long time, but my diagnosis is pretty recent. I spent most of my 20s fighting this because when combined with my naturally introverted nature I was seen as “anti-social” and “no fun.” I was embarrassed by my desire to be alone or to spend time with friends one-on-one instead of at parties, so I worked hard to hide that. (Note here that being introverted is not the same as being shy. And neither of those things is the same as Social Anxiety Disorder. There’s lots of literature if you want to read up to better understand the differences.) Anyway, like I said, I worked hard to hide both my natural introversion (which is really no big deal, not an illness or even a problem, and which I’ve learned to accept) and my anxiety (which IS a big deal and can be debilitating ) and I got really good at it. People comment all the time on how gregarious I seem, how good I am at talking to strangers, how confident I am (especially on 5+ drinks). What can I say? When I seem gregarious, I’m really wishing I was dead! Ha ha! Fooled you!
I can’t speak to anyone else’s experience (because everyone’s mental health issues are different, even when they’re ostensibly the same), but in my case, my ED and my SAD are related, and from what I hear, this is often the case. In recovery support groups we talk a lot about how, for some people, the ED is a reaction to stress – a sort of maladaptive coping mechanism that, at least at one time, helped to relive anxiety and dial down the autonomic nervous system response. (Science talk! Woot woot!) This is probably why you’ll hear people who know nothing about Anorexia, for example, talk about how “it’s a control thing.” I assume they heard something along those lines from a high school gym teacher or a teen magazine. It’s not really that simple, but I digress. Certainly, in my case, my ED appears to be a symptom of my anxiety and I’m working on both things concurrently. And I tell you this to explain my rather strong feelings about what is and isn’t okay for me in social situations anymore, which is, I suppose the driving force behind this entire post.
I'm just out. I am out of patience for most of what constitutes “normal” conversation, particularly between women, but really just in general. Your “juice fast,” your New Year’s resolution to “get in shape,” your “jiggle wiggle,” your “cleanse,” your “awesome workouts,” your “Paleo-Atkins-MediFast-WeightWatchers-BiggestLoser-Homeopathic-GlutenFree-Whateverthefuck” – I can’t talk to you about any of that anymore. I can’t hear about it. I can’t take you moralizing about how “bad” you’re being for having that brownie, or how “good” you are for eating that salad. Personally, I can’t because I’m sick and I’m trying to get better and those kinds of conversations contribute to making me worse. Politically, I can’t because I’m just over it. I’m over women being expected to conversationally bond over shared self-hatred. I’m over hearing people congratulate each other for weight loss, even when the weight loss is a result of an illness, like a severe flu, Cancer or an ED. (When I was at my sickest and most engaged with my ED, people were ALWAYS congratulating me, telling me how good I looked, etc. “Good for you,” they’d say. Sometimes, I’d even tell people about my “diets” – I’d confess about how few calories I ate, or how I used to squirt dish soap on food I didn’t want to be tempted to eat (a little trick I learned from a weight-loss guide I ordered from the back of Seventeen magazine when I was 14. I remember the same trick shown on Sex and the City, by the way). People would just keep congratulating. The sentiment was this: Hmm… 500 calories a day? That sounds weird, but stick with it! It’s working! You may be killing yourself, but you look “good” and that’s all that matters!)
So I’m over it. I’m over the whole insane, sexist, scientifically unsound dialogue about health, weight and appearance.
Almost everything you believe about health and weight is probably wrong. Sorry. I know it might annoy you to hear that, but it’s true. It’s a hard fact for people to swallow in general, because most of us have been hearing lies about body appearance our whole lives and we’ve internalized those lies as “common sense.” (For example, “everyone knows” it’s healthier to be thin. Except it’s not. Scientifically speaking. But try to tell people this and then raise your shield because half the people listening are going to want to kill you. We’ve also been told the lie that being “healthy” is somehow the gold standard for personhood. Except, think about that. Do you really believe that someone is a better person who deserves better treatment because he or she is “healthy?” Isn’t that just a bit ableist? Does it really make a lot of sense?) It’s messed up, folks. That’s all there is to it. I’m not going to go into all the evidence and reasoning and science because there’s already a solid community of activists out there doing that and I’d just be paraphrasing them anyway (see footnotes for more on that), but I do want to point out how messed up it is, and how hurtful. And just FYI, hurtful things are stressful things. (And stress really IS unhealthy, physiologically and psychologically. I’m a perfect example of that whole problem at work.)
There are so many ways in which we all (or okay, maybe not all, but many of us) contribute to a completely fucked up culture of disordered eating and distorted body image and we’ve gotta quit it. Even things that seem on the surface to be “normal” and “nice” are really damaging. Even all that “Ooh, you look so great, I hate you” cutesy nonsense is a problem. All that talk talk talk about your gym schedule, etc. is a problem. **** And it’s a problem I’ve been part of. So don’t get me wrong – I’m not accusing you of anything terrible. I’m guilty too. But as I get better I understand more clearly than ever before that this whole conversation – the one that is about the way people look instead of about anything meaningful or important – needs to end. Period. We’re all trained to be judgmental about our bodies and the bodies of other people. I’m not saying that’s going to magically cease if we stop talking about it, but not talking about it is a nice first step. Keep that shit in your head and talk about anything else. There are so many other things that are more worthwhile.
It isn’t always easy, of course, to hold to all these new ideals as I start to get better and try to stay that way. And I make it harder for myself. Just recently, I appeared on a new show on MTV (hey, remember when I used to be on TV all the time?). Someone I used to know from my days on The After Show invited me to be on this new series called Losing It. It’s simple, really. You sit on a stool and tell the story of how you lost your virginity. Now why, WHY would a person like me agree to do this? Hello, I have an ANXIETY disorder. I am introverted. Doing a show that would be super exposing, both physically (me as a close-up talking head and torso) and emotionally (sex stories are pretty loaded for most people)? It sounded like a TERRIBLE idea. And still, I agreed. I agreed because on some level, I believe that my anxiety disorder and my body image issues, etc., all of those things pale in comparison to the importance of telling the truth about things. I knew I would feel self-conscious and embarrassed and awkward telling my story and I knew waiting for it to air would generate a lot of unnecessary anxiety, but on a more rational level, I also know that I don’t really have anything to be embarrassed about. Not about my story, not about the way I look, not about how smart or articulate I am. There’s NOTHING wrong me with. So I did the show. And then I waited for it to air. Sweating.
And then it did air and it was fine. I was fine. I came across as sort of funny, and charming enough. There’s nothing wrong with what I said or how I said it. And while my memory of what I was talking about is pretty dim, I still think I fairly represented the spirit of how I felt as a 17 year old, which was, I suppose the point. It was fine. Except… I looked so fat. Hideously fat, I thought, especially compared to the photo they showed of me at 17. And despite all my lofty goals and my political feelings about fat being fine, I freaked out a little. It didn’t help that I followed the online feedback about the show via Twitter. Most of it was complimentary. People love Losing It. The MTV audience (teens, mostly, I’m guessing) think it’s hilarious and that’s great. Almost ALL the comments online are positive. But I saw one (JUST ONE) comment about how some of the storytellers (like me) had obviously let themselves go. Look how unhealthy [read: fat] you’ve let yourselves get since high school, said some little Twitter twit. And because I’m crazy, that’s the comment that stuck. I felt ashamed and like I wanted to argue, “Um, actually, I’m fat because I’m overcoming an eating disorder, so SUCK ON THAT, you heartless bitch!” Seriously. This is the impulse I had to stifle, because really, whatever my issues, I don’t want to be overly-defensive. I don’t want to be that guy. That guy is a fun-sponge. *****
My point is that it’s hard. It’s hard to maintain my recovery in the world, the world being what it is. It’s hard enough for me to attend social events because of my anxiety to begin with, but pile on the fact that 99% of events include some form of weight, appearance, faux-health, diet and/or exercising conversation and it’s even harder. It makes me want to stay home 24/7. And stop reading books, watching TV and looking out the window too, because this body-lunacy, it’s everywhere. But of course, total isolation probably isn’t a good solution. Truth might be. Or it might help a bit, which is, I guess, why I’m writing this.
Sadly, telling the truth about any sort of mental health issue means living with stigma, which is definitely difficult. That’s the idea I struggled with when deciding whether or not to post this epic truth-spew. Sharing any of this opens the door to a huge amount of judgment and advice from the often-well-meaning, but totally-ignorant public. (And as a result, comments will probably be on moderation, FYI.) And I’m sure some of my more pleasant acquaintances are rubbing their hands with glee at my revelations. (Nice folks, those.) But still, I did it. I’m anxious, but I’m trying not to be ashamed.
Shame is the worst, guys. It’s awful and toxic and it contributed to me being sick for a really long time. I was ashamed of so much about myself, especially my repeated “failure” to “fix” my body. (A lot of people think body “fixing” is possible, by the way. It’s just diet and exercise, they shout. Calories in, calories out. ****** Bleh. It's not. Not for everyone. Not all of the time. And besides that, please please please BE QUIET and MIND YOUR BEESWAX.)
Shame made me a liar, too. ******* Before I was married, I lived with a past boyfriend for years and he had no idea that I was sick at all, let alone how sick I was. (To be fair, we had issues. I probably could have died in that apartment and it would have taken days for him to find me. We weren’t exactly caring toward one another.) But also, he didn’t know because I didn’t tell him. I was ashamed, so I lied. I even managed to lie to myself. That’s the power of shame for you.
I’m told, however, that truthfulness detoxifies shame in real, tangible ways. That’s something I’ve heard in recovery. Telling the truth is one of the things that works when you’re trying to get better. I guess that’s one of the reasons support groups are popular. Telling the truth reduces shame.
So here we are. ********
This week (February 3rd to 9th) is Eating Disorder Awareness Week here in Canada, by the way. So this is all pretty timely, wouldn’t you say? (I’m patting myself on the back right now, in fact.)
Hey, remember all those asterisks? Brace yourself. Here come the footnotes.
* There’s a whole movement to reclaim the word “fat” going on, though you might not have heard about it. So before you start up with the “oh, you’re not fat” comments, that I’m sure you mean to be kind, consider this sort of thing. I’m okay with the way I look. Or at least, I’m trying to be. Saying, “Oh, you’re not fat! Don’t be hard on yourself!” isn’t as helpful as you think it is. It would be more helpful to get your head around the idea that there’s nothing wrong with being fat in the first place. Don’t be afraid of fat OR of the word fat, if you can possibly help it. I know it's hard. It's hard for me too. We're trying to undo a lifetime worth of teaching here, people.
** You might think you aren't participating in this idea that fat people are gross, stupid, lazy, smelly, greedy, etc., but the next time you see a fat character on television or in the movies, pay attention. Is that character smart? Kind? Friendly? Or is that character drawn as evil, dumb, mean, etc.? This kind of repeated stereotyping is rarely challenged, but it's bigoted, plain and simple.
*** Want to learn about fat-activism, size-acceptance, fighting bigotry and/or HAES (Health at Every Size)? I suggest blogs/websites like The Fat Nutritionist and Dances With Fat. Or just get Googling. You have internet access, I know you do.
**** It’s totally cool if you love the gym. More power to you, gym-rat! Love boot-camp? That’s cool too. Talking about these interests and pleasures to like minded individuals who’ve agreed to participate in such conversations is fine. Constantly sharing (and thereby upsetting and even inadvertently shaming) other people for living differently, in real life, on social media, etc. is way. less. fine. Your experience is yours. Hooray! Applying your experience to anyone else, foisting it on anyone else? It's not nice. (I know you didn't mean to hurt anyone, but hey, now you know.)
***** A fun-sponge is someone who sucks all the fun out of social interactions. Do you have a fun-sponge in your social circle? Most of us do.
****** Hey, that rhymed!
******* Eating Disorders are incredibly easy to hide. Lots of mental health issues are. I can promise you, most of the time you CANNOT tell who is sick based on the way they look. Now that I'm in recovery, I know people with eating disorders who run the gamut: women, men, transgendered people, fat people, thin people, racially diverse people, sexually diverse people, socioeconomically diverse people, etc. You have no idea. It surprised me a lot when I started treatment, but it’s a fact. You can't tell. Don't want to hurt people by accident? Don't talk about bodies. Easy peasy!
******** FYI, I’m probably not going to be blogging about this sort of thing often. I don’t think this is going to become some sort of mental health/eating disorder blog. It’s probably just going to keep being what is was: rambling, sporadic and emo. And occasionally, true. Or as true as I can make it on any given day. Make of that whatever you will.
P.S. WEE UPDATE 05/02/2013: HealthyPlace, the org that had me speak on its podcast/radio show after I wrote my initial weight post invited me to participate in its Stand Up for Mental Health campaign. So, sure! Here are the buttons:
Hey guys. I know I've been craptastic about blogging lately. That's always the way, isn't it? Long breaks then apologies. Clearly, I've set too heavy a schedule for myself. I can't keep up.
I have ideas, usually late at night, and I have the best intentions about them, but if I don't write them down immediately, the moment I think of them, somehow, the urge tends to fade. That's what happened last weekend.
With Halloween just days away, I thought I would maybe write something about fear. When I was a little girl, I was so sensitive to "scary" stuff and horror films in particular, reading the backs of the VHS boxes in the video store left me practically shaking. A few minutes of actually watching one might give me nightmares for years.
(In fact, after seeing Nightmare on Elm Street when I was about 7 -- in a situation engineered by parents who clearly should have won some sort of WORST IDEA EVER award -- I did have nightmares for years. They didn't stop until I was in high school. Bleh. I feel like I've blogged about this before. Have I? Anyway.)
Even in my late 20s, I was highly sensitive to anything spooky. I mean, look at this blog post from 2007. I was awake in the middle of the night even then, kept up by nightmares brought on by the likes of TV shows like Medium and Ghost Whisperer. Ridiculous, I know. But that's how it was. (Ghost Whisperer was a TERRIBLE show, by the way. I'm kind of ashamed to have watched it at all. Medium wasn't bad.)
But something's shifted. Not only have I stopped avoiding scary stuff, I seem to seek it out. I'm literally OBSESSED with the TV show The Walking Dead (which is, I know, not that scary for real horror fans, but I find it riveting). And one show isn't enough. Late at night, I find myself channel surfing, looking for anything to do with murders. I have watched every procedural drama out there, in the hopes of finding a storyline that is scary enough. (Mostly, they're not.) I have this strange urge to see murders before bed. Isn't that weird?
I even order scary movies On Demand when I'm home alone. (Nothing really gory, however. Nothing like Saw or anything. I don't find that kind of thing good or bad, but I just don't care so much about it.) I'm hunting for serial killer stuff. Rapes and murders. Anything with ghosts or a frightening chase.
So what happened? Why did I go from scaredy cat to oddly desensitized murder-consumer? It's like the brain I have now is completely different from the brain I was born with. I don't know if this is a good or bad thing. Most "scary" stuff in popular culture isn't very good, so I end up watching a lot of crap. That's a downside, I guess. But no more nightmares ... that's definitely a plus. It's just odd that a person's tastes can change so completely, isn't it? And for no apparent reason...
Anyway. In other vaguely-fear-related news, last week was Halloween. We had a party on the Saturday before. Nate was Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter and I was a failed mime. Here, look:
It was a fun party, I think. I dunno. I've lost my ability to judge how good a party is. That's something else that's changed. People danced a bit. That's good, right?
Waldo and Wenda, workin' it.
French Kiss. Get it?
(Blurry images are fun. I don't care what anyone says.)
Again, I say to you: ANYWAY.
On Halloween night, the rain kept most of the kids away and we just had a handful of trick-or-treaters make it to the door. Nathan carved the pumpkin. It looked like this:
No, really. That's how it looked. It took him AN HOUR to do this. No kidding.
I had hoped to spend the evening walking around the neighbourhood, looking at the decorated houses and checking out the kids, but the rain kept me at home. Instead, I spent the night hunting for scary stuff on television, as per usual. (I settled on American Horror Story, which I no longer think is horrible and actually sort of like, but which mostly leaves me feeling uncomfortable and annoyingly confused, rather than scared. Then I rented that John Cusack movie The Raven, where he plays Edgar Allen Poe. It was so awful/stupid/boring, I had to turn it off before the 30 minute mark. Oh well.)
Anyway anyway anyway. I don't know why I'm hunting for fear since I don't remember enjoying it all that much when it was giving me nightmares and keeping me awake all night. Maybe I miss it because the things that keep me awake now are so much scarier... not to mention real.
I miss the feeling of manufactured fear. It's so much better than the real thing.
Oddly, this is a post about the whole fear thing, but it's nothing like the one I planned to write when I initially thought of it. Weird, eh?
Howdy doodie tutti fruitti!
I am back from the least relaxing two week holiday of my life. Or, perhaps the second-to-least relaxing. (Back in 2000, I went on a HORRID family vacation to Key West. We DROVE all the way down there, and it rained, like, every day. Key West, if you don't know what to expect, is hideous at the best of times, but when you're 20 and on a forced holiday with your parents and your sister, rain is extra annoying. EVERYTHING is extra annoying.)
Sigh. It's a bummer. The weather was good over the last couple of weeks. The locations were beachy and pleasing. Alas, there's just been a lot of stuff happening. (Life stuff, family stuff, illness stuff - my Grandfather is ailing, big time. I'd say more about that but you know how it is. If I do, the family members who secretly read the blog, waiting for me to slip up might stab my eyes out, so I better not.) Anyway, all that STUFF just put a big fat taint on the holiday. Too much on my mind.
Plus I'm feeling stressed and scared about my job ending and what not. There are a million things I want to try implementing over at Will & Bequeath, and while that's fun, it's also stressful (because what if I SUCK and trying to make a go of the store is a big mistake!? Urg.) So big fat swooping splashes of adrenaline keep flooding my belly during what might otherwise be relaxing moments. Yuckerooney.
Nothing to be done. I'm back and there's work to do and I must think about that and stop thinking about other things.
I feel like I've spent a lot of my life being a pushover. Someone asks me for something and no matter how I feel about it, I generally say yes because saying yes is easier than saying no.
Don't get me wrong -- this "don't say no" mentality has not resulted in me actually DOING an endless number of things I don't want to do. Rather, it's resulted in me being annoyed a lot of the time (and in some cases, in people becoming annoyed with me).
Let me explain.
First off, I have been known to say "maybe" to things when I really want to say no, which is something people catch on to after awhile. I also rely heavily on "excuses." My excuses are rarely untrue, but they are excuses nonetheless, and include the following:
I can't because ... I have a headache.
I can't because ... I am already committed to something else.
I can't because ... I will be out of town.
Excuses are wonderful things. They have often allowed me to say no without feeling like I was saying no. Saying "I can't" is so much better than saying "I won't" -- no guilt! When one of these excuses is given, the impression I hope to give is that I WOULD do the thing I'm being asked to do, that I WANT to do it, but that, through no fault of my own, I CAN'T. (So sorry!) For a crazy-face like me, who is ridiculous about saying no, this is wonderfully relaxing. Excuses mean I don't have to say no. Being unavailable is not my fault! No one can blame me, or be angry, or push back against my desires, because my answer is not about desires! Hurray! It's out of my hands!
I mean, I hate the fact that I suffer from a lot of serious headaches, but at least they get me out of things, right?
This behaviour is, to put it mildly, fucked up.
In my own defense, I will say that my experiences with saying no haven't been all that positive, and this hasn't helped matters. I mean, you've read the blog, you know my family is seriously cray cray, so saying no to relatives (or, you know, having feelings of any kind) has never been easy. But even with friends, even with acquaintances, it's been difficult. I don't like conflict. Or arguing. Yet, I feel dragged into conflict-based interactions whenever I try to assert myself. This is why I find it so much easier to default to a position of "yes" or even better, "I wish I could, but ..."
Don't believe me? Take, for example, a version of this exchange, which is exaggerated, but which I promise you, takes place regularly in my life:
Pushy Pusherman: Hey Jen! Can you help me with this thing? It's a great idea, right?"
Jen: Um, no. I can't. Sorry.
PP: "Don't worry, it'll be easy."
Jen: "Yeah... but still, no."
PP: "But it's a great idea! What are your reservations? WHY won't you do what I want?"
Jen: "Oh, lots of reasons... [insert at least one or two gentle ones, but never the most important reason which is I DON'T WANT TO.]"
PP: Those aren't good reasons! It's a great idea! I want you to do it because ... [insert reasons that are primarily selfish and do not take into account the fact that I ALREADY SAID NO.]
PP: So, you'll do it right?
PP: I think you should Come on, do it.
PP: Keep an open mind. Let's brainstorm a way to make this work.
Jen: Sorry, but it just doesn't work for me, under any circumstances.
PP: I'm sure we can work this out. [Read: So I can get what I want. My feelings are more important than yours!]
Jen: Okay ... maybe. We'll see. [Or worse-still - "yes."]
Inevitably, I end up doing things I don't want to do because of conversations that are just like this one -- conversations in which my initial "no" is flat-out ignored.
I don't know how to deal with these sorts of interactions. They leave me feeling resentful and frustrated. WHY should I have to explain myself, I wonder? Why don't people listen to me? What is unclear about the word no? Why are my feelings not taken into account? Why is the onus on me to give a REASON for refusing to do someone a favour? Why is a simple no so rarely enough?
These questions keep me awake at night, and again -- that's fucked up. Because you KNOW Pushy Pusherman isn't lying awake at night. Pushy Pusherman is sleeping like a baby because Pushy Pusherman is an egomaniac who almost always gets what she/he wants.
I suppose it's partially my fault. I give in. But I wonder, is there something about me that bullies can sense, just by looking? Do they know that if they push, push again, and then push some more, I will cave? How do they know? There seems to be something magical and intangible about me that screams, "Don't respect my boundaries, just push! I will give in eventually because I hate arguments and I'm always willing to put my own wants and needs behind the wants and needs of someone who's willing to fight me."
It must be at least partially my fault. I've set a precedent. And I've done it consciously, because sometimes, I find myself reasoning, "Well, this person is willing to be incredibly pushy, so it must really matter to him/her. I'm NOT willing to be incredibly pushy, so it obviously doesn't matter that much to me. I should give in. I mean, if I am to believe this Pushy Pusherman attitude, this person cares A LOT. My attitude says that this request is not all that important to me. Ergo, what I want must objectively be less important than what they want. I should give in." And give in, I do.
And then the endless lending of stuff, doing of favours, attending of events and maintaining of relationships that I don't give a shit about exhausts me and I end up feeling resentful and grumpy and put upon. I start getting more stress headaches, which (at least) gets me out of things for awhile and allows me to have a break.
This is a bad cycle, stemming, I suppose, from a variety of bad attitudes. And I've heard all the criticisms and little nuggets of wisdom before, so don't bother telling me I have to "put myself first" or "fight for what I want" or "be tough." Thanks, but that sort of advice is unhelpful and misses the point. I don't want to FIGHT for what I want. I don't want to fight at all. I want people to respect that what I want is valuable, that when I say no, I have my reasons, and that my feelings are important. Why should I have to FIGHT for that? WHY???
And don't tell me that this is just how the world works, because it's not. I respect other people's desires. When someone says no to me, I say okay. Unless something seems really objectively important above and beyond their feelings, or unless I feel the person saying no doesn't have all the necessary information, as far as I'm concerned, no means no. You don't have to tell me twice. This is not hard. All it takes is simple common sense to determine when something is important enough to push for and when pushing would simply be selfishness and a complete unconsciousness of anyone else's feelings on my part. I do it all the time, but many (many) more people out there seem to think their every little desire is ALWAYS of paramount importance. And unless you regularly sledge-hammer-forward the idea that other people, you know, exist, their attitude is always "me me me." Where do these people come from? Who raises children to think of themselves as little centres of the universe? A lot of people, it would seem, because Pushy Pushermans abound.
But okay, I get it. I can't change other people, I can only change myself. So to begin with, what I'm wondering is this: How can I change that weird thing about me that seems to invite people to push into a thing that makes them instinctively understand that no means no. HOW?
Some progress has been made. A few years ago, when explaining to my friend Steve that I felt I couldn't stop hanging out with certain people (let's call them "friends") without offering a good explanation, he helped me understand that an explanation wasn't owed. "If you don't want to be friends with someone, don't be friends with them," he said. "If you don't want to argue about it, don't argue. The relationship isn't working for you, you've given [name redacted] notice that you wanted things to change, they've ignored you. What else can you do? Maybe they won't like it, but that's not your problem."
Finally, finally - something resonated. If I say no, and someone gets upset, that's not my problem. It's not even my fault! How they feel isn't more important than how I feel. And if I let the situation continue, I'm enabling them. I'm letting them continue to behave in the ways they have always behaved. I'm saying okay to a situation that works for them, but that does not work for me. I may choose to do that, and if so, fine, but it hardly makes sense to complain about it if I do, right? RIGHT.
This revelation came, as I said, a few years ago. And at the time I thought, "I'm finally growing up!" Alas, while I got up the nerve to "unfriend" people and change some relationships as a result, overall, I'm still a pushover. And worse, I still feel guilty and upset about how people have responded to me putting myself first. When they've been angry, I've felt terrible. When they've argued, I've been contrite. In other words, I thought I'd experienced a revelation, and I thought significant progress would result, but all I'd really taken was a baby step.
Luckily, baby steps continue, and get steadier in time. In the last while, I've been a little better about asserting myself. I've been better about setting boundaries. At work, I've actually said the words, "I think that's above my pay grade." BAM! It felt great!
And WAY WAY more importantly, this happened: To a person who regularly says hurtful things to me, over the phone I said, "You know what? These things are hurtful. If you continue to say these things, and refuse to apologize, I'm not going to spend time with you anymore. Simple." Shockingly (although, why should I be shocked?) this has not gone over all that well. Hurty Hurtfulson told me to "let it go" and to "just stop being angry" etc., but wonderfully, happily, I didn't let her make me angry and I didn't give in! I calmly (okay, relatively calmly - my voice was shaking a bit) restated my position, which was this: "I'm not angry. I'm hurt. You are saying hurtful things. Stop or the consequence will be no contact with me." When she tried to argue again, cut her off, saying "Sorry, but this is the way it is. Deal with it." And then I hung up. And it felt GREAT. Great great great!!! It felt great to name my terms and be calm about enforcing them. Why didn't I do this sooner? Why wasn't I able to?
The experience was so positive, I've managed to keep the ball rolling. To those who regularly borrow things from me, I've started setting conditions -- simple, basic conditions, but never-before-verbalized. For example: "If you borrow something, I want it returned in the same condition it was in when you took it." In other words, if something was clean when borrowed, I want it clean when it's returned. (Simple request, right? But soooo hard for me to make. And you would not believe how often I get stuff back that is dirty.) As with Hurty Hurfulson, The Borrowers are pushing back. It's a new day and I suppose they're just not used to me setting terms, but instead of giving in when said Borrowers have presented reasons why they might not be able to meet my terms, I've been able to say "Sorry, but these are the conditions. You can borrow it, but I want it back the way I want it back. If you can't handle that, you can't borrow it. Simple." And I haven't felt panicked, which has been my default sensation in situations like this for years. If The Borrowers don't comply, and I have to say no in future as a result, that's cool. I think I feel okay with that.
So does this mean I'm finally growing up? Have I FINALLY fundamentally begun to understand what I can control and what I can't? Are my emotions finally catching up with my rational brain?
Want to ask for something or do something? That's up to you. If I feel like saying no or not putting up with it for any reason, that's up to me. You feel angry about that? Again, that's up to you. Letting your anger change my behaviour? That's up to me. It's. So. Simple.
I don't want to let the ball stop rolling on my new-found confidence in these matters, so any advice would be helpful. How do I keep saying no and keep feeling cool when people push back? Don't let me drop the ball on this one, blog-friends. This is a major step in my mental/emotional development.
I'm over 30 and still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up.
This is a problem.
Some days, I feel great about my prospects. Light and lucky and like anything is possible. On others, not so much.
I am sure it will all work out, but as was said on the recent Mad Men season finale:
Not every little girl gets to do what she wants. The world cannot support that many ballerinas.
And in my case, it should also be considered that my ballet looks like this:
I've been grumpy lately. Too grumpy to blog, really. Or rather, too smart to blog when grumpy, which would probably result in posts that were little more than vaguely-cloaked diatribes against the (very few) jerks I find myself fuming about as I lie awake at night.
Lately, when I think about blogging, all I can think about is what I'd LIKE to say to these people, but mustn't. I wish I was more like Don "I don't think about you at all" Draper. But I'm not. (I think about you jerks ALL THE TIME, okay? I can't help it. Congratulations. Hurray for you. I wish you'd fuck off and die. Ya. I said it.)
What can I say? I'm not a great person. I strive to be better, but even in my 30s, I find I'm still mucking around in the emotional mud with the rest of the petty narcissists. One day, I'll grow out of this. I hope.
I often wonder: Why does anyone settle (occasionally) into a dark place? There's no trigger, really. The weather's been lovely, so I know it's not that. There's no reason for it. No event to look back on and say -- "There! That's the thing that made me grumpy." Sometimes, I just find myself here. Brooding. Brooding about things that happened ages ago, in most cases. Hating everything. Wanting to shut the blinds and stay inside and turn on the television and take out the vodka. And then, just as suddenly, I'll sail out of the dark place and find myself feeling better, with no provocation.
Is it chemical, do you think?
I heard a piece of disturbing gossip this week, and I've got to say, it upset me.
What happened? Someone mentioned that people were chattering about my piece on being Heathered.
They didn't like it (apparently). It wasn't "fair."
The words "slander" "moral" and "bitter" were thrown around rather liberally (or so I heard).
The issue is that I used full names. I used the first and last names of select individuals to describe exactly what happened to me.
I'd like to share just a few of the comments made by those who were brave enough to share their opinions in a public forum. I won't share their names, however. In this case, I don't see the point. (That's the key, kiddies. The point.)
Opinions regarding first and last names in "Heathered: a high school horror story."
I just went back and read this posting after missing it the first time around. I honestly have chills as it took me back to Grade 11 and the "heathering" in my life that year. I think it is fair to post names in the story. I also hope that these now women have drastically changed for the better but a big part of me has my doubts. I will now pass you the "talking stone" Jen, just try not to trip. :) - JL
Name them all! -CH
I would expect that you're right in speculating that they are worried about facing their own high school stuff. And I think that that is exactly why you were right in using their actual names - the only way to stop the hate is to take the difficult step of facing the ways in which we all have been less than kind. The power in a piece like that is recognizing times in our own lives when we have been on either side. -JR
They hardly sound like the type of people who spent a lot of time on their emotional growth. Truth hurts. I say if you do it then own it. I know a few people in high-school I wronged. If I read a post they wrote on it that named me I'd come right out and apologize. If I felt they weren't representing my truth I'd comment directly. If they don't have the guts to do either then they should just shut their mouths which is ultimately their downfall in the first place. It seems that they haven't changed and therefore you're well rid. Passing the talking stone back to you Jen! Oh maybe they figure they can't talk because they're not holding the stone! - HC
Don't let it get you down. that they're angry shows they see nothing wrong with what happened in the past. Which is more disturbing. - KV
It's fair game. What you have proved is that some people never really grow up or have the maturity to accept that they may have wronged someone. Instead of gossiping, the mature (or brave) thing to do would be to apologize for making you feel the way you did... - RM
Someone needs to be at least a little bit contrary, I think: even as a person who was generally on the receiving end of nightmarish behavior in high school, I should say that I was uncomfortable with the whole full name thing. (If the last ...names were absent, I would be totally comfortable with it.) It was more than a decade ago, too, which is plenty of time for people to change, and is a long enough time that it probably isn't fair to write something that might come up as a Google result *now*. (And so can be read by their employer, significant other, family... kids?) The internet has a way of collapsing the distance of time in a way that makes every story sound and feel immediate, too, and so even explaining that this story is from the previous century can't quite bridge that affective element to it. Anyway, I can see why they might not be happy about it - and why their anger over being outed for something they did as teenagers might outweigh their feelings of stupidity or guilt. - NS
It's worthwhile to note that these gossipers were all people I knew in high school. Not one of them was mentioned in the piece. And not one of them has bothered to comment on it to me directly, here on the blog, on Facebook, via Twitter or even by private email. I suspect they were each feeling guilty about their own complicity in the situation. After all, they were the people laughing in the hallways and doing nothing to help.
Sigh. Even so, because I'm sensitive, their secondhand criticism DID hurt my feelings. I wish I could say it didn't. I'd like to be the sort of person who doesn't care.
But I do. I DO care. I think this kind of thing matters.
That's why I wrote about it in the first place.
I'm not worried about slander/libel or anything like that. (And for the record, those words have specific legal meanings which the gossipers obviously don't understand.)
Confessional writing isn't about bitterness, or being angry, or getting even. It's about insight and growth. And if the piece concerned you, simply because it was honest and because it included names, that's probably because you missed the point.
And you're not alone. So rest easy. I'm not alone either.
Last night, I had a dream about high school. No big deal. Who doesn't dream about school from time to time? It's pretty common.
Sometimes, in my dreams, I've forgotten to graduate and have to go back. Occasionally, I have to sit an exam for a class I never attended. Once in awhile I'm in a school play, and can't remember my lines.
Pretty basic stuff, really.
School dreams are usually about stress. They suck, but I expect you're used to them.
The dream I had last night was not a school dream in the traditional sense. It was a dream about something that actually happened, something I hadn't thought about in years. A nightmare, really.
It was a dream about being Heathered.
That's how I like to describe what happened to me during my last year of high school. "I was Heathered," I say, laughing. I've never found a better way to explain the systematic destruction of my reputation and social life engineered by a small pack of girls who, once upon a time, I considered my closest friends.
We were an unusual group, I suppose. Smart, certainly. Or devoted to seeming so. We were girls who did our homework. Or rather, they were girls who did their homework. I never did my homework. If an assignment wasn't going to be graded, I just didn't see the point. My clique was full of brown-nosers, so I think this reflected badly on me right from the start, though we all got good grades.
In retrospect, I see how important our image was. We were so modern. So multicultural! So perfectly 1990s. Charoula was the prettiest (and the whitest -- not a coincidence, in my opinion). Sonia was the sweetest. Devyani was the richest (with mixed-race parents, like mine, but hers were famous and had much more panache). Lucy was the artsy-est. (I heard she ultimately became some sort of art therapist. When you get to the end of the story, I invite you judge whether or not this is ironic.)
I don't know what I was. Mixed race, I suppose, which was important in Canada at that particular moment. My mother is South Asian, hailing from Goa, India. My father is white. I filled a niche. The first time Lucy visited my home she commented, with some disappointment, on how "normal and Canadian" it was. She expected more "Indian stuff." I felt, at that moment, a slight shame. Though the decor certainly wasn't up to me, I had the sense that I was failing somehow. Failing to be "ethnic enough" and to fill the role they'd picked me for.
None of that matters, really. What matters is that I made two fundamental mistakes between 1996 and 1997. I got myself a boyfriend and, like an idiot, I fell in love.
Matt was older, already in university. And though he was friends with my friends, and for a time, we all hung out as a group, he wasn't around in the day to day. And slowly but surely, the day to day changed.
L to R: Matt, me, Sonia, Lucy, Charoula, Devyani and a perfectly nice person named Kenny
I don't know who said what. I don't know who started what rumour or how they spread. On the surface, at least, nothing was especially wrong. My friends were still my friends, though they stopped calling me, and I found myself left out of plans and conversations more often than not. When I mentioned it (which I did, being unaware of subtlety and unable to read between the lines) the girls said straight out, that they felt we were "drifting apart." That I "didn't understand" them anymore. That we had "different values."
They were 17 and 18 and had, as people say, never been kissed. The dearth of romance in their lives was a regular topic of conversation. By contrast, I was 16 and in love with someone I thought I might actually marry. Ultimately, I think that's what this was about. "We just don't have much in common anymore," said Sonia, during one memorable lunch hour. It stung at the time, but I suppose she was right.
And then it got worse.
I became a "slut." There were whispers. A fringe-friend in a different grade said she'd heard something about me "hopping from guy to guy." It made no sense. I was in love! I was more than a year into my monogamous relationship! I've considered it, and I still don't really understand what happened, or why. I only know that it did.
I was a slut. I was branded.
Once, walking down the crowded hallway, someone actually coughed the word at me.
And there was a burst of laughter.
Other things happened as well. The girls -- my friends -- gathered to telephone my boyfriend. (The Internet had yet to boom.) They each took a turn on the line. Why were they calling? They just wanted to warn him, they said, about me. Hadn't he heard what I was up to? Hadn't he heard who I REALLY was? They didn't want to cause any trouble, of course. But they cared about him, they said. They were calling for his own good.
I was sitting next to him on the sofa when this happened. He covered the mouth piece.
"It's your friends," he said. "You better pick up the extension."
I did. And we spent the next 15 minutes listening to my friends trash talk me.
When the call ended, we hung up and stared at each other.
"What the fuck was that?" he said. I didn't know what to say. I cried, I think. In confusion.
As the year went by and things got worse, I lived increasingly in a state of social fear, sweating constantly and making multiple trips to a little-used washroom in the school basement, where I stuffed paper towels under my arms in an attempt to keep the stains from showing. (I'm sweating right now, actually. I'm sweating just thinking about it.)
We graduated. The girls and I made a show of going to the prom as a group. Matt drove. We were one happy clique.
Summer arrived. I made plans to go to university out of town. I was desperate, for more than one reason, to get away.
Posing, as teenage girls tend to do. L to R: me, Sonia, Charioula, Lucy, Devyani
The whole thing came to a head in the late summer of 1998. The girls invited me to a "group meeting." They called my boyfriend first. Again. Before calling me. They called to ask him to convince me to attend. The whole thing was planned our and staged like an intervention. Something about a united front.
He refused, of course. And called me immediately. He was loyal, which might have been why I was so very taken with him. He urged me not to go, and in retrospect, I can't imagine why I didn't listen. I was angry at that point, I suppose. I didn't want them to think I was afraid. I didn't want to seem weak.
So I went. Matt came with me. We ended up at a city park. The girls requested that we sit on the grass in a circle and Lucy produced a "talking stone." ("Please don't speak," said Lucy, in a syrupy-sweet 'I'm so mature' sort of voice, "unless you are holding the stone.") And then they passed the stone around the circle and proceeded to tell me that they were kicking me out of the group, and why I was no longer welcome.
To be fair, not all my "friends" were in attendance. Devyani was out of town and missed the whole thing. Sonia, I believe, refused to attend, for which, I suppose, she deserves some credit. I noted at the time, and still remember however, that the telephone call to "warn" Matt about me had originated at her house, so clearly, she knew what was happening.
Lucy was there, of course (she being the meanest of the group and the one who seemed to hate me the most). I must have done something to deserve it, but I never knew what. Charoula was there as well, along with one other person they'd roped in for support. Charoula, to her credit, seemed embarrassed by the whole thing and didn't say much other than that she didn't really have a problem with me and didn't know why she was there. (She acted as though she'd just stumbled upon the meeting or been roped in against her will, despite having directly participated in planning the event. I guess her resolve failed her once we were face to face.) It was Lucy who did most of the talking. But as a group, nonetheless, they were quite the jury. Like something out of a movie, which is why I thought of Heathers.
In the end, I had my say. They finished their spiel, the "talking stone" passed to me (how utterly ridiculous) and I spent a good ten minutes spewing as much venom at them as I could manage on short notice. I didn't let any of them speak again. And at around 11 p.m., I stood up and walked away. And that was it.
I went off to University a week later. I made new friends. I never saw Lucy, Charoula or Sonia again.
Despite all that, believe it or not, I tacked a picture of those girls up on my dorm room wall not two weeks later. A picture of us all together. Smiling. I guess I didn't want to seem like I had no friends back home. Or perhaps I didn't really understand that it was over. I let those girls stare down at me for more than six months before I had the sense to take them down. Pathetic, really.
But none of that equals the most important part of the story. Here is the most important part of the story, the thing that matters most after all this time:
That night in the park, as I walked away, riding high on the fact that I'd had the last word, I tripped.
I was wearing a pair of high-heeled suede boots (with cut-off jean shorts, thankyouverymuch -- stylish!). And I had been sitting cross-legged in a park for over an hour. One of my legs was asleep. And so, when I stood to walk away, I stumbled, my sleeping leg twisting under me and making a sickening pop. I turned my ankle badly. It hurt like bloody hell.
I didn't look back, but I knew as I limped away that my exit had been ruined slightly. Matt and I spent the rest of the evening soaking my swollen and blackening foot in ice water. It was really glamorous.
Why is the fact that I tripped the most important part of the story? Because years later, I ran into Devyani (the one who'd been out of town for my formal execution) and we rekindled a relationship for a brief time. And, somehow, the Heathering came up. She hadn't been there, but she'd been told about it. And what she said about it amazed me.
"I heard you fell down," she said, with a small giggle.
I heard you fell down.
That's the part of the story she heard. That's the part they remembered! That's the only part, I imagine, they found worth repeating.
Hearing it blew my mind.
I was in a play once. I didn't forget my lines.
I rarely think about high school, if I can help it. It was a long time ago. Onward and upward, right? What does it matter?
I don't think my "friends" were bad people. I think they were teenagers. I think they were prone to pack mentality, and without empathy. Maybe all children are like that. Maybe it's how they survive. (At least one of the girls was over 18, but it's obvious we weren't truly mature.) I'm sure (I hope) those girls grew up to be perfectly lovely women. Things change. I know I wouldn't like anyone to judge who I am now based on who I was in high school. Nonetheless, I find myself feeling less than perfectly forgiving about the whole thing. Some betrayals stay with you for a long time. They colour your life. This was certainly the case for me. I'm still hesitant and guarded in my friendships with women to some extent, and all this happend thirteen years ago.
When I woke from my fevered dream of being Heathered, I was sweating. Can you believe that? My nightshirt was soaked around the collar. In my dreams, I've been in car accidents, I've drowned, I've even been shot in the head, but I've never been happier to wake than I was this morning. I feel bouts of childhood nostalgia just like the next person, but today, I felt none of that.
I've never been happier to be in bed beside my partner, with endless work days on the horizon, bills to pay, dishes to wash, laundry to do, and an appointment with my mechanic in the afternoon. I've never been happier to be grown up.
High school is, more often than not, just something we have to make it through.
I made it. And I'm grateful.
UPATE: Alright princes and princesses. I deleted the last names and blurred the photos. Keep your pants on.