And Then, Square One

Kendell Geers, Master Mistress of My Passion VII, 2010, Jesomite and glass, Courtesy Gallery Rodolphe Janssen, Bruxelles.

Kendell Geers, Master Mistress of My Passion VII, 2010, Jesomite and glass, Courtesy Gallery Rodolphe Janssen, Bruxelles.

This…is part weird announcement, part rant. 

I wrote this piece a few months ago, the week I terminated therapy. I didn’t really expect to keep writing full posts about the experience of mental illness. And it’s true. I’ve been managing my eating well. I haven’t been panicky at the prospect of getting dressed in the morning. Grocery aisles aren’t overwhelming. It’s summer, and I’ve worn shorts.

And then there was the other shoe.

The other shoe dropped a few weeks ago…in which I developed an entirely new set of symptoms and related behaviors, which very nearly prevented me from doing important things like working and getting out of bed. I briefly reconnected with my old therapist to attempt to get a handle, or at least someone to tell me I wasn’t as crazy as my brain said. She’s recommended I see a specialist over the next school year, a decision I’ll be following. The university, quite luckily, happens to have several. I’ve no doubt I’ll be comparing the relative coziness of their couches.

It’s entirely possible that the whole of May was an isolated occurrence. I’d like it to be.

It also might be that what happened was indicative of a larger problem underlying the patterns of eating disordered behavior I’ve had. Or those two might coexist in the three pounds of brain matter I run around with. Mostly, I can find out more by waiting to see what happens next. Which means I don’t have answers. You may have noticed that I like having answers about mental illness.

You’ll noticed too that I haven’t explained what my brain is doing… And I don’t know that I will be any time soon.

And this, right here, is the rant, and the part that’s far more important.

I wrote about anorexia under my online identity quite easily. It isn’t my real name, sure, but it’s the name you’ll find on my Twitter, my Facebook, a name my employer could probably turn up with little digging. And I don’t mind that, because talking about an eating disorder isn’t all that risky, as a college-aged woman wanting to go into social work. We’ve got, in our society, this list of mental illnesses that are considered more acceptable. Safer.

And I used to fall neatly into one of those safer disorders.

But tell somebody you have schizophrenia, a personality disorder, substance abuse issues….and suddenly people respond differently. There’s this setting apart you can almost see, like people who occasionally handle weird brain shit cannot also enjoy things like pizza and small talk.

This is not how it works, y'all

This is not how it works, y’all

 

 

And that makes me angry.

It’s not okay that some disorders sounds like an answer and some sound like a life sentence. That parents avoid seeking assessment for their children because they worry the damage a label could do–that an accurate, descriptive word could be more dangerous than targeted help for the future of their child. It makes me angry that the decision comes down to whether my resume could outweigh the results of a quick google. And it infuriates me that this is a question that people face over and over and over again.

So let’s fix that, shall we?

Edit: Ashley rightly pointed out that risk is verrrry relative. It’s fine and good for me to think that I take little to no career risk when contemplating social work as someone with an ED. Were I contemplating politics, the stakes would be different. The first iteration of this post was unnecessarily missing nuance. 

Your ED Friend: Six Years Later

[Obvious TW is really glaringly obvious.]

“I had an eating disorder.”

“I guessed.”

We were juniors, boyfriend and girlfriend, officially. Up late and texting, doing that flirting thing where you demand each others deepest secrets and pretend you’re giving yours away.

Except I did give mine away.

“I had an eating disorder.”

I was lying, of course. It wasn’t the past tense–it was the second year of an eating disorder, one that would get worse, more disorganized, and wreak much more havoc on my sanity in the coming four years.

But it was the first step.

And he had guessed–known, really, for months. He’s my best friend now, far and away in Texas. In this month, marking six years since I developed what would reach clinical-level anorexia, I asked him about it.  He doesn’t remember when he figured it out, really. It was, according to him, always part of how he knew me.

And I don’t think he’s wrong. It’s been six years ago, as of this month, since the behavioral side of anorexia started. Every time I’ve looked back and tried to think “back when I was stable/normal/didn’t have an eating disorder”…I realize I’m looking back at times when I was actually worse, when I wasn’t eating, when I couldn’t go ten minutes without invasive, obsessive thoughts about food.

Six years. More than a quarter of my life.

There’s this thing they talk about in therapy some times: grieving for the normal self. Because even were your disorder to remit entirely…you wouldn’t go back to being Old You. Your brain learns things. You grow and bend and shape yourself around coping mechanisms and triggers and ways of responding to the world. Old You is just gone. And Old You was a whole person, with plans and potential and places to go and things to do and ways of looking at the world. Maybe a little more optimistic, a little shinier and fresh-faced. You get to have all those things again, those plans and that potential, it’s true. But sometimes they’re a little dusty, a chipped, in pieces.

And I really liked Old Kate.

Therapy was a eulogy, stories of when I could look in mirrors, and dancing and days when I could just throw on clothes in the morning.

And now, finally, I think I’ve laid that Kate to rest.

A photographer friend took this for me--a lasting reminder that I can be happy in this body.

A photographer friend took this for me–a lasting reminder that I can be happy in this body.

I’m…this Kate.

I have this weird alternate life where I write things on the internet and people read them. On weekends I go to conferences and go by a different name, and on Monday the coach turns into the best pumpkin ever and I work at Fabulous Unspecified Internship.

I’ve gone skinny-dipping. I’ve gone skinny-dipping in Lake Michigan in the middle of winter. (Note: REALLY cold.)

I am emotionally able to care for another animal and I know this because I’m doing it right now.

I live in a city that I love. I’m in love.

I don’t dance anymore, and it hurts. But sometimes I actually see New Kate in the mirror, and that makes me think that someday I’ll go back into a studio.

I’ve learned some of two different languages, and I get to take classes about bioethics and astronomy and artificial intelligence and and and…and each day ends with just wanting more more more. More books, more research, more people who want to know anything about everything and everything about anything.

There’s something they don’t tell you about eating disorders. About how much you want more than anything to wake up and be in a different skin, how much you don’t want to feel your own body, to notice what space you take up.

But New Kate is still here, taking up space.

I’d like to keep doing that.

Housekeeping

Hi! I’ve been gone for spring break, but am (obviously) back now! And wielding these:

Femin-Its. Because my partner is the best.

Femin-Its. Because my partner is the best.

I’m also taking this quarter off to work at an undisclosed location that involves babies(!), data analysis, (meh) and psychopathology(!!). While the schedule seems to work very well with blogging, I’m still settling in, and it’ll be a few days until I’m completely back.

Until then, what’re your thoughts on this?
Or these three responses?

Also, halp, I can’t decide which bowtie to get! (No, really. I can’t decide.)

Kate’s Travels and Other People’s Writing

I’m traveling a great deal in the coming months. With respect to conferences, this is where I’ll be. Please comment if we’ll overlap!

Skepticamp Chicago - Website

Where: Fifth Province Pub at the Irish American Heritage Center
Address: 4626 North Knox Avenue, Chicago, IL

When: March 2nd, 11am-6pm

I’ll be talking about Myths & Misinformation in Mental Illness at 4pm. I’ve got my talk outlined, but if you have any myths you want to make sure I haven’t forgotten, comment below!

SkepTech - Website

Where: University of Minnesota

When: April 5-7

I’m really excited for this one. It’s organized by many of my friends, and the lineup is wonderful. Especially exciting to me? Stephanie Zvan is talking about psychometrics–the ways we use statistics and measures in psychology. Going to be there? Comment! And come say hi :)

Women in SecularismWebsite

Along with Miri at Brute Reason and several other FtB frequenters, I’m the recipient of a grant from Marcus Ranum to go to Women in Secularism this May. I’m over the moon. I really don’t have words to explain how amazing this is. So, if you’re going…I can’t wait to see you there.

Now, links!

Digital Cuttlefish hates the brain (but not really, go read it):

The brain does not see patterns. The brain is a major part of how we see patterns. The brain does not do so without the eyes, and it does not do so without two very important sets of environmental histories–the individual’s interaction with the environment (literally beginning with the environment in the womb, in development), and the interaction with the environment over millennia that is reflected in the genes. The brain is not magic (which Descartes’s concept of “mind” was, technically); it is part of how we gather information from the environment and act upon that environment. Other parts include our eyes & ears, our bones and muscles, our teachers and histories, our communities and our cultures.

Stunning sun photography.

I got to see Cliff Pervocracy at UChicago’s Sex Week! This is the talk she gave.  It’s knee-slappingly funny. Like, really. Knees were slapped.

I really, really recommend every couple or group figure out a working definition of “cheating.” For my partner and me, that’s having sex without telling each other. He lets me know what he’s planning, he can have sex with the starting lineup of the Green Bay Packers, and I might have opinions about that (those opinions might be “fistbump,”) but that fundamental feeling of broken trust that comes with cheating won’t be there. Then again, for you, that might be a hard limit. You might be a Bears fan. Or you might feel like your partner kissing another person is too much and gives you that sad feeling in your stomach. Either way, if you both know where the line is—and you have enough fundamental trust that nobody’s going to rules-lawyer it with “we said hugging was okay, so I hugged his penis!” – it’s a lot easier to avoid accidentally hurting each other and a lot more clear what happened if someone does break that trust.

Alain de Botton is getting things dangerously wrong.

What could have decreased the pertussis epidemic.

As per usual, do add your own links and conferences you’re attending below!

Your Domain Has Expired

I got an email today from WordPress.

The domain upgrade at [blog name] has expired.

I’ve been blogging for exactly one year as of today–the blog that has expired (though it’s been set to private for months) was my first, begun January 7th of last year. In exactly one year I’ve written there at Teen Skepchick, Friendly Atheist, Heresy Club, and In Our Words. I’ve guest posted at Brute Reason and Martin Pribble’s Blog, and…as you may have noticed…moved to Freethought Blogs.

Writing, which began with book reviews and a news-y and optimistic atheist blog has evolved into a mental health focus. I’ve figured out that I love interviewing, can’t string more than 700 words together for a post, and that godless heathens give the best hugs. I’ve started therapy, figured out how Twitter works, and moved out of my teenage years.

I’ve also met all my closest friends and my lovely partner. I’ve met you commenters, people who say really smart and wonderful things while having fun names. I’ve been linked to on Psychology Today and American Conservative (guess which one of those I was happy about), and accidentally introduced myself as Kate Donovan a few too many times.

Here’s to year number two of yelling at people on the internet.

You guys are great. Keep being that way.

 

Thanks Giving

The history of Thanksgiving is not exactly a cheerful story of sharing and bounty. However, I am full of thanks, and I do appreciate the importance of sharing the things we cherish.

I am grateful for my friends, the ones who will poke and prod a Tofurkey into our dinner tonight, who won’t mind if the recipe for sweet potato casserole I’m cobbling together turns into burnt-yams-with-vegan-marshmellow-topping.

I’m grateful to Mitch, the ex-boyfriend-turned-best-friend who asks hard questions and has an easy smile. And Mitch? I’ve cried on your shoulder so many times it defies reason. Thanks for that. I owe you a tree’s worth of tissues.

I value my “anarchofems”–the group of secular leaders who became family to me. Who would have thought that a harebrained scheme to roadtrip to and from Texas for me would have evolved into the safest space I’ve ever been in, the people I trust most, the first ones I find when it’s all going wrong? I love you more than I can say–the English language is so limited when it come to telling you how it feels to know that you will always make the hurt better. You save me every single day.

I am thankful to everyone who has decided through history that the mentally ill were worth caring for. I’m thankful to the ones who made wrong hypotheses (I’m looking at you, phrenologists) in the quest to improve knowledge. I have gratitude for those who shook their heads at the bad theories researched and experimented and improved our understanding.

I’m grateful to every therapist who decides to treat their clients as more than The Other, who listens and smiles and has tissues on the table and takes careful notes. Additionally and importantly, thank you to every single therapist and psychologist and classmate who has ever come out about their own illness and made it just one iota easier for me to think I could do this. Here’s to you, Marsha Linehan.

I’m happy, lucky, and thankful for my partner, who makes me mix-tapes, who makes me feel overwhelmingly short and infinitely happy, and who, most importantly, makes a difference.

I’m thankful I know Miriam, for a relationship built on making sandwiches, and a friendship that grew out of that one time I asked her out for coffee and she brought homework. (And Miriam, when you read this? I concede. I probably brought up boys first.)

I’m thankful for the strongest woman I know, who inspires me and writes things that make me cry. Go read it all.
I love you, Cassy Byrne.

I’m grateful to everyone who’s given me a chance this year. To Mindy, the first one to take me on as a blog contributor, to S.B. Morgaine, my first interview, to Hemant, to the lovely Ashley Miller who gave me this chance, to everyone who shares and reads and comments and critiques.

I’m grateful to Lyz Liddell, who somehow has the capacity  to care about every single secular student and I’m thankful for all of the students at the Academies I work with for explaining military bureaucracy slowly and repeatedly.

Most of all, I am thankful to be here, to be happy, to be healthy and loved and understood. That condition isn’t permanent or guaranteed for anyone in this life. Thank you all for being your lovely selves and for intersecting with my life in ways that make it richer.