mental health

Dancing with Relapse – New Publication!

No-ScaleWhile anorexia was familiar, intoxicating, even empowering, it was also a terrifying hell I thought I’d escaped from.”

After spending a decade in therapy working to finally put my eating disorder behind me, why have I spent the past five years writing a novel about a teenage artist who develops anorexia?

My latest essay, “Dancing with Relapse,” published today on Women Who Get Shit Done, reflects on recovery, relapse, and the risks and rewards of fictionalizing my past demons in YA novel Bone Girl. Check it out!

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Ella, The Man and The Dog

An original short story by Becky Fine-Firesheets

Motherhood filled Ella’s days with meaning yet also made them meaningless. Made the whole world meaningless. How much this little creature needed her, how every task served a clear purpose of keeping him alive, but how unimportant this actually was, how it absolutely didn’t matter to the greater planet or its billions of inhabitants if her baby lived or died.

Late at night when she lied awake despite the fact her baby and boyfriend were sleeping, this awareness of her own smallness and futility terrified her. But most of the time, it was relieving. Freeing, even.

snowmountain

— ◊ —

The sharp yip of the neighbor’s dog. Ella came to and immediately scanned the room for Dylan, found him on the floor nearby with his manic grin, his fat hand clutching a Lego.

“Oh my God, oh my God, honey.” She stood up – a rush of vertigo. Fighting through the dizziness, the fog, the fear, she stumbled to her baby and collapsed around him. He screamed and kicked; she’d interrupted his game. She released her grip and rolled onto her back, heart pounding so hard she could feel it banging against the hardwood floor beneath her.

It had been over a decade since she’d lost time like this, and then only once and only because of The Man.

— ◊ —

After it had happened, after The Man had leaned in for a goodnight kiss but instead forced himself into her apartment and then into her body, she dreamed of poisoning him. It would have been so easy. Just a quick dash of almond syrup in his morning latte would have been enough to trigger his allergy. The key would be to fix her lips into the same tight food service grin she faked every day, to control her shaking hand as she offered him the drink, to turn to the next customer like nothing was out of the ordinary. But she felt sure she could pull it off – her anger gave her confidence – and she even came close enough once that she’d unscrewed the cap and gripped the bottleneck in her fist.

He was asking for it, she would say afterward, just like she’d overheard him say about her. But doubt rushed through her, and then she lost time and her job and never saw him again.

futile

 — ◊ —

The relentless barking. Her head pounded with it. The dog had been barking all day long before the baby, but Ella was working a 9-5 office job then and hadn’t noticed. Now that she was a stay-at-home mom, her life split into blocks of play, eat, sleep, repeat, the barking was ruining her life.

My God, she thought, how much did I lose? Misty, her old therapist, had sworn this wouldn’t happen again. But here she was, after all these years. And alone with the baby no less. If only the dog would shut up so she could think! Ella pulled back the curtain of her kitchen window and scanned the neighbor’s yard – watching the poodle shake in desperation, completely immersed in his own anxious hell, gave her some satisfaction (at least he, too, was miserable) – but she didn’t see him anywhere. So why the hell could she still hear him so clearly?

— ◊ —

Of course the original time loss had coincided with a double shift at the cafe. And of course she got fired for running off and never explaining herself. But she was okay with that; brewing the ground espresso, steaming the milk, pouring it out into the shape of a flower then handing it over to The Man with his reeking cologne and thick fingers was killing her day by day, and she knew that despite the holes in her plan (what if he spat it out? what if he had an Epipen?), she was going to do it one day. And then what? Losing the job was for the better.

Still, it took three months to mention the time loss to anyone. It wasn’t meant to be a confession, just a distant, asking-for-a-friend kind of thing during her annual gyno exam, but the doctor’s probing fingers, the questions about her sex life, the sticks and brushes twisting inside of her, unleashed a flood of anxiety and suddenly she was rambling like a child about the missing hours. The doctor suggested she find a therapist but that otherwise, she was well and healthy. Ella was shocked. She was sure the markers of her pain were glaring from every pore, much less the inside of her vagina.

Another month passed before she mustered the courage to go to Misty. Their first appointment was strained, but Misty was naturally kind, and her cardigans and baggy pants, hoarse yet soothing voice, her wrinkled hands and eyes, made Ella feel safe enough to let it all out by visit number two. She hadn’t spoken about The Man to anyone, hadn’t even allowed herself to think of it as rape, and the realization that this had actually happened to her was nauseating and exhausting. By the time she got around to the missing hours, she’d gone numb.

“This kind of thing is scary, yes, but also within the range of normal. Many people disassociate when they’ve experienced a trauma like yours. Together, we can work through it,” Misty said with so much certainty Ella almost believed it.

But later that night, as she rolled the word ‘disassociate’ around her tongue, examining its different parts and what they meant for her, Ella did not believe. She tried out the idea that her brain had become disjoined, dispartnered itself from itself, and now it was her job to bring it back together. But how? She stared at the two shitty choices splayed out in front of her – to overcome it or to get lost in it – and the fear of succumbing to the latter while attempting the former left her paralyzed.

severedheadsintoaster

— ◊ —

A knock on the door. Aggressive, urgent. Ella opened it to find the poodle’s owner, a well-intentioned but neurotic old woman, frantically turning a wrinkled napkin over and over in her fingers. “I can’t find Moxi she’s been missing for hours have you seen her?” she asked in one rapid question.

Ella felt high, fuzzy; only bits and pieces of the words reached her brain. She focused in on the patch of blue nail polish remaining on her thumb and tried to slow down her heart beat.

“Did you hear me? Moxi is missing!”

“That’s awful,” Ella replied, voice steady despite the knot gripping her throat.

“She’s never run off before, never. And the craziest thing is that I haven’t even heard a peep from her. For hours now! I just don’t know what I’d do without my dog.”

Ella opened then closed her mouth. The dog was still barking, she could hear him barking. What the hell was going on?

“Dog!” Dylan shouted from the floor, a word he’d never said before. “Dog dog!”

“I’m so sorry. I’ll keep my eyes open,” Ella managed to say.

“Please do, I’m just desperate. You have my number, right?”

Ella nodded and shut the door, leaned her back against it, slid down to the grainy welcome mat covered in ink from the pen Dylan recently broke.

“Dog dog dog,” he repeated. Then, “Mama. Mama dog, mama dog.”

— ◊ —

Eventually, Ella believed. She talked and sobbed and shouted her way through it, and even though the missing hours never came back to her, she emerged with The Man safely in her past and the shocking ability to fall in love with another man when she wasn’t even looking for it. Motherhood was similarly unplanned, but she was tough, a survivor, and her boyfriend was the good kind who massaged her feet and brought home flowers and cooked lasagna, her favorite, at least once a week, so Ella allowed herself to relax and balloon up with hope.

When Dylan first heaved out from between her legs, slimy and pruney and shrieking, Ella felt the strange twist of unconditional love deep inside her gut. Becoming a giver of this kind of love transformed her so intensely that she was positive everyone she came in contact with would also be transformed in its presence. But no one, not even her boyfriend, reacted to it, and the long stretches of motherhood with so much downtime yet no real break sent her mind on a freefall – until one day not so long ago, she found herself in a ball on the kitchen floor, absolutely repulsed by the fact that she’d still love Dylan even if he raped someone.

— ◊ —

Ella scooped up her baby and slid him into his high chair. She had no answers to any of her questions (how long was she gone? why had she gone? where the hell was that damned dog, and why could she still hear him barking?). The anxiety was getting harder and harder to breathe away. She turned to the island in the middle of the kitchen, grabbed an apple from the silver fruit bowl and instinctively reached for her favorite knife in the block, but its slot was empty. She looked in the sink, the dishwasher, on all the counter tops. Where the hell could it be?

Yip yip yip, throbbed in her ears.

“Just shut the fuck up!” she shouted, then, turning to Dylan, “I’m sorry baby, I’m fine, we’re fine. I’m sorry.”

He looked up at her with an unfazed smile and said, “Mama dog, Mama dog, Mama dog.”

— ◊ —

Photo credits:

  1. 39: Høgevarde by Norefjell / Creative Commons”
  2. Futile by ~Morgin~ / Creative Commons”
  3. “Toaster Oven” by Me 🙂

Bamboozled

Did you know that toothbrushes are immortal? Unlike human beings, plastic toothbrushes keep on living even underneath tons of pounds of garbage. They keep on living even inside the bellies of dead dolphins. They keep on living even as they float all the way across the ocean until they wash up on Taiwanese beaches. Then, they keep on living even after they’ve become sculptures in the sand.

toothbrushesonbeach.jpg
— ◊ —

The past six months have tried to end me. The life I once lived in which I wrote, mothered, taught, sang, performed, took politic action, and somehow also relaxed, has been shattered. Instead of making art, going out, or sleeping, I’ve learned firsthand about anencephaly, the gray area of sexual harassment, and municipal regulations on basement apartments. I’ve dealt with wild hormonal swings. I’ve worked my ass off for a job I was promised that ultimately didn’t exist, then found myself in an uncomfortable situation when I said no more. I’ve packed, moved, unpacked, re-packed, re-moved, and re-unpacked – all with a cat, two dogs, and a busy-bee toddler who recently dropped nap.

I’ve never felt this much rage before, and while it has cracked me open in important ways, it has also shaken me to my core. My mind has raced in circles. My muscles have morphed into a single knot of tension. And my anxiety, after eighteen years of treatment, has found a new way to express itself: my throat is clenched tight, leaving my voice strained and hoarse, my neck and teeth throbbing with each heartbeat.

— ◊ —

Did you know that bamboo is the fastest-growing plant in the word? It is also one of the sneakiest. Its roots can run underground for over twenty feet before popping up again as a new shoot, called a culm. These culms then grow up to three feet a day for the next 120 years, sending their own runners out to sprout up in surprising, faraway places.

About three to five years after its initial sprouting, a culm can then be harvested and transformed into basically anything: food, medicine, toys, rugs, clothes, bikes, houses, roads, bridges. In fact, bamboo can withstand twice as much force as concrete and can hold up to 16 tons of weight. It can also cure cancer.

bamboo

— ◊ —

Becoming a mom has turned my home into a plastic palace. I look around the living room of my new new apartment, a place I hope will last much longer than the three months we spent in our illegal new apartment, and identify eleven items that will never die.

The bathroom isn’t any better. Three toothbrushes stick out from inside a plastic cup. A plastic bin filled with plastic toys is propped precariously on the lip of the tub. I move it to the floor, out of sight, then run hot water for a bath, but as I soak my stress-induced hemorrhoids and eat the M&Ms intended to aid in my toddler’s potty regression, I can’t relax; plastic is still very much on my mind. Also on my mind: pregnant women who’ve been denied access to proper health care, immigrants who’ve been detained for going to work, animals whose homes have been destroyed by loggers. I lament my now inactive Quick Action email list, my abandoned blog, the phone calls to senators I never placed. The enormous task of surviving my day-to-day has been all consuming, and while the depths of my strength have truly amazed and buoyed me up, I also feel like a failure of an activist.

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— ◊ —

Did you know that toothbrush bristles were once made from boar hair? Of course they contained loads of unhealthy bacteria, not to mention the moral issue of how these pigs were treated before they became tooth-brushing tools, yet, because animal hair is biodegradable and nylon is not, this is the only completely decomposable option presented thus far.

There are scientists who have dedicated their entire careers toward dissecting the greater impact of a single bristle. I think of these people out there in the world and feel the knot inside of me loosen a little.

— ◊ —

I’ve always approached my activism from the angle of who needs it the most, but for the first time, I’m now approaching it from the angle of what I can most reasonably do. I am not ready to jump back into the strict schedule that once worked for me, and perhaps I never will be, perhaps that life wasn’t sustainable with or without my recent crises, but either way, here I am, dealing with effects of events that, though they’ve calmed, are still very much present: an unfulfilled due date, a static career and lingering sense of violation, an unresolved case with the Department of Buildings.

I will never solve all of the world’s problems. I will never even solve all of my own problems. But as I hold my recently purchased bamboo toothbrush and move its brand new form of bristles around my teeth, I realize, I don’t need to.

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— ◊ —

You can buy your own set of bamboo toothbrushes by clicking here. And if you need some more motivation to start the long process of giving up plastic, check out Margaret Atwood’s compelling piece in the Guardian.

Sources:
Encyclopedia Britannica: Bamboo
Bamboo Facts
Bamboo Herb
Brush with Bamboo
The Bamboo Solution
15 Creative Uses of Bamboo

Photo Credits:
1. Flotsam and Jetsam by F Delventhal
2. Bamboo by Serlunar

The Best, the Worst, Here.

Do You Ever Think.jpg

I’ve always held myself to impossibly high standards, standards that I don’t expect from other people. In fact, if someone else makes a mistake, I’m often the first to empathize and offer my support. But when it comes to me, well, I’m supposed to be perfect. Don’t my family, my friends, my students, the world, deserve the best from me?

In the first few months after my mom left her body, when I was so consumed by grief that everything else ceased to matter, I had a major revelation that “the best” doesn’t exist, that it’s just a construct we’ve created that keeps us disconnected from our present reality. During this period of intense grief, I would sometimes think the best choice was to go out with my friends, but then the moment I arrived at the bar, it felt all wrong. Other times it seemed best to stay at home and read, but then I’d cry and feel lonely and wish I’d gone out. Then there were times when whatever I’d chosen, whether it had felt right or wrong in the moment of choosing it, was exactly what I’d needed.

Because “the best” had become so nebulous and easily changeable in my mind, it started to seem not only unreal but also silly. Besides, the grief I was constantly grappling with overpowered everything else and made the process of analyzing if I should have gone out or stayed home feel unimportant, a waste of time.

Humans, or Americans at least, seem to despise discomfort. Even a little bit of it. We’re constantly complaining about how cold or hot the air is, how hungry or full our bellies are. We can’t seem to find that perfect situation. But instead of seeing that it doesn’t exist, we get lost in searching for it and then feel angry or sad that we continually can’t find it.

Now, four and a half years after my mother’s passing, I feel stronger, tougher, and wiser, but I’ve also fallen back into old habits of expecting “the best” then feeling guilty when I don’t achieve it. In a weird way, I miss those few months right after she died. I don’t miss the pain, but I miss the clarity it gave me, how it temporarily freed me from these constructs that I – we – have created.

But I don’t need all-encompassing grief in order to free myself again from these thought patterns. All I have to do is breathe.

 

Amazing comic by Gemma Correll.