Home is Where The Redirect Link Leads

Hello, wonderful commenters, readers, and other-people-peering-at-this.

I’m writing with bittersweet news: G&H is moving, this time to a standalone location. I have adored being here. I have gotten to write next to some of my favorite people in the world, and it has been and important and warm and loving community. There aren’t grand reasons I’m moving–it’s just that as time has passed, I’ve been writing to an increasingly different audience, and having my own space seems an inevitable, but sad part of that.

So. With that, I’ll see you over here.

Annotated Psych Links

…exactly what it sounds like.

Every once in a while I start to think we’re getting somewhere concrete on this whole braining thing, and then I’m reminded that our method looks a lot like “poke it with a stick and see what happens.” Or, you know, “poke it with a deep brain stimulator and see if we accidentally change your music preferences.”

Meta-analyses, psychology, and Doing It Right

My colleagues and I have successfully pushed for formalizing what was previously informal and inconsistent: in conducting a meta-analysis, source of funding for an RCT should routinely be noted in the evaluation using the Cochrane Collaboration  risk of bias criteria. Unless this risk of bias is flagged, authors of meta-analyses are themselves at risk for unknowingly laundering studies tainted by conflict of interest and coming up with seemingly squeaky clean effect sizes for the products of industry.

Of course, those effect sizes will be smaller if industry funded trials are excluded. And maybe the meta analysis would have come to a verdict of “insufficient evidence” if they are excluded.

My  colleagues and I then took aim at the Cochrane Collaboration itself. We pointed out that this had been only inconsistently done in past Cochrane reviews. Shame on them.

They were impressed and set about fixing things and then gave us the Bill Silverman Award. Apparently the Cochrane Collaboration is exceptionally big on someone pointing out when they are wrong and so they reserve a special award for who does it best in any given year.

I was recently shown Data Colada, the blog of Leif NelsonJoe Simmons, and Uri Simonsohn. There are thoughtful and easy-to-read pieces on the interaction of variables, effect size measurement in the lab, and….researching people who take baths in hotel rooms.

128 Days

Sometimes I remember that I counted down 128 days until I moved to Chicago.

That day 96 was so bad I remember thinking

96, 96, 96.

95 and a half.

That I showed up with almost no social skills, no idea how to hold a conversation, no idea how to make friends, and I learned it all.

I taught myself how to make pop culture references, to pass for Had Normal Childhood and Definitely Not Crazy

That I had a single-minded idea of what I wanted to study

That I doubled my courseload so I could learn Arabic.

That in four years, I became Kate, and then Kate Donovan

That I wrestled myself out of
anorexia
bulimia
panic attacks in bathrooms
an obsessive breakdown—thirty days I barely remember—an entire month of May gone.

by force of will, and quitting the thing I loved doing most.

I have whole notebooks of crazytalk and talking-myself-out-of-it

And friendships so long I can count them in years.

That’s what’s on my diploma.

Falling In Love With People

[One of my most popular posts from early in the creation of this blog.]

I think one of my favorite things about people is how they light up when you find exactly the right thing that they love to talk about.

Sometimes it’s people–the friends who accomplished something, the family that’s visiting in a few weeks. The new baby and the recently graduated cousin. Or the people who create–the car half-finished in the garage, the quilt that just needs a few more stitches. The garden that’s just coming up in the spring–if only those damn squirrels would leave it be.

There’s the people with topics, who leap in to tell you about the Perseid shower coming up when you mention how pretty the sky is, the ones who hear you ponder a question and offer book recommendations in response. Oh, and the people with ideas! The questions, the new rabbit holes of unconsidered variables, the research you haven’t heard of.

And people are these collections of things that have captured their passion. Astronomy and hypnosis and philosophy and smithing and treehouse architecture and all just waiting for you to ask the right questions. Their eyes will get a little bit wider, their gestures, more energetic. They give you their real smiles–the ones that aren’t just for agreeing and nodding along and making small talk.

And then some of you out there make fun of them for lighting up at the mention of dollhouses or sports or fashion or that one television show. And they back off. They curl their toes in their shoes and change the subject. And maybe the next time, they won’t say “yes! I love talking about the finer points of fencing!”

And you, out there, sneering at their love for beekeeping or birdwatching?

You are ruining it for the rest of us. 

The Cockroach of Motivation

[Draft-clearing again. Quite old, somewhat updated for clarity.]

Today, as I have several times this year, I told someone that I had gone on a date with that I would prefer not to see them again. Then I gave a presentation I thought could have gone better and proceeded to be horribly unproductive all day.

The first two are things that give me shivery-panic, and that I have to deliberately talk myself into doing, the third will can leave me feeling hopelessly behind (I was) and awful for days. But I mostly muddle along with Pollyanna cheer and Doing The Thing(s). And I do it with cockroaches.

Explanation via Pervocracy:

The Worst Thing In The World is a yawning chasm of failure, constantly open beneath you, and there is no describing the horror at the bottom.  You just go around with the knowledge that if you make a mistake big enough, you can fall in.  If a relationship fails, if you get fired, if you get rejected… you’ll fall into TWTITW, so you put everything you’ve goddamn got into that relationship.  You’ll try anything to keep the relationship. Because it’s literally unthinkable what will happen if it ends.

That unthinkability is how it traps you.  Because it’s like Stephen King says in Danse Macabre–knowing that there’s something horrible behind a door is terrifying.  Once you open the door, it’s ruined.  Even if it’s a really terrible thing behind that door, even if it’s a six-foot cockroach, any horror you feel is going to be mixed with relief.  “Oh, thank God, it’s just a six-foot cockroach. It could’ve been a sixty-foot cockroach.”

It resonated with me, I think because I have spent most of my adult and teenage life knowing like what many of the logical close-to-ends of my fears were, and quietly calming myself with them. Scared of doing that interview? Nah, remember that time you gave your first speech and a whole class and teacher laughed at you to your face? You survived that. Nervous about turning that guy down? Remember the one who followed you around the cafe, calling you ‘bitch’ and ‘cunt’ because you said you couldn’t talk now, you had homework? You were shaky but you walked all the way home and made lunch.

And I think this is perhaps not the story I want. I want to have been strong, to have set boundaries, to have faced down the mundane scary things like bad performance reviews and the-one-who-never-called not because I was certain that worse things have happened to me, but because they were important to do. I am wary of a framing that is only about Things Could Be Worse. I want to delight in things because of how they are–not because they are better than the sixty-foot cockroach.

I am concerned that I might be training myself to spend too much time looking for the worst possible option. Is this it? What would be even worse than this? Is there a six-hundred foot cockroach I’ve forgotten about? How much of my time am I spending looking for awful eventualities?

Not only that, but I want to give myself permission to mope. I am an extraordinarily happy person by nature, but my habit of not reflecting on when things were sad or bad or disappointing means that it can take a series of badbrains days before I realize “OH, there have been a lot of horrible and distressing things in my life, perhaps I should consider those caused this.” Framing everything as “not the worst possible option!” means I don’t leave myself for space for sitting with exactly how bad the option I got was.

Counterintuitive Underreactions and Overreactions

I love Pride and Prejudice but this is the image in my head for Bad At Serious Conversations.

The quality of not reacting in an upset way to new information has been on my mind recently. People seem to tell me things regularly—a driving force, if not the initial impetus behind my career choice–and something I’ve noticed as a skill is knowing when to react strongly to emotionally-loaded information…and when to treat an offhand remark like a plea for help.

That is, how do you decide when the reaction to–

“Yeah, sorry I’m late on this piece of the project–I had some friend trouble last week–but what if we scheduled a meeting on Tuesday and went over this section right now?”

–should sound like:

“Oh, that sounds [expression of sympathy], I’m so [sad/apologetic]! [Tell me more/how have you been handling it]?”

And when the appropriate response to–

“Yeah, I’ve had some struggles with depression and repeated hospitalizations meant I had to take an extra year of college.”

–is best phrased as:

“Oh, okay, [brief smile] [topic change, offer of ice cream, return to task at hand]“

My initial impulse was to say that a good heuristic is “the weirder/more emotional the information, the more noncommittal the response” But this breaks down very quickly. For one, I hang out in a social group that is almost definitely breaking my Weird and Emotional Information Disclosure alarms. Casual references to hallucinations and depressive episodes are par for the course, and dissecting how one feels about a surprise phone call is the norm.

Each time I try to break down exactly how I decide which of these to do in what situation–because sometimes ‘I had some friend trouble’ is an offhand aside, and ‘struggles with depression and repeated hospitalization’ does call for processing and discussion of current feelings–my brain comes back with ‘well, it was obvious in the situation!’ Thank you, brain, for that helpful contribution.

And then there’s another complication: what if in attending to this; in trying to figure out when to be noncommittal about Serious Things and take parenthetical remarks as openings for Deep Conversations, you do more harm? If you maintain even mediocre relationships, it seems high-risk to play around with how you respond to disclosures. If the learning curve means messing up a few times in large ways, you might be better served by not accidentally tanking your friendships.

And these interactions can and do make or break relationships and friendships. I can hear it now (in part, because I have heard it before):

“I confessed my deepest secret to her, and she just asked if I still wanted to go bowling!”

or, from my own life:

“Every time (this is only slightly hyperbolic) I offhandedly mention that my parents recently divorced, everyone thinks it’s The Worst Thing In The World, and I have to convince them I think it was a good idea. And then when I say I’m glad, everyone assumes I had a horrible home life. Now I just never mention it.”

At the same time, filing this as a skill that some people have and some people don’t, and one for which there is no ability to intentionally jump from one camp to the other just grates on me. Most of my social skills are learned, and I pick up new ones best from explicit instructions and scripts that I, over time and testing, adapt. They’re social skills, after all, not social I can just miraculously do it and you can’t so pbthhh.

So….how? Accept that straining some friendships is the price for being a slightly better friend overall? Try some other heuristic for how to react? What do you do?

Eating Disorders: The Stories We Tell

[This is a repost of a piece I wrote a year ago on Teen Skepchick. I've started therapy specifically focusing on disordered eating, with a goal of leaving college in a Mostly Functional state, and was reflecting on past experiences. I still live by the ballet studio, and I've stopped in once, to pick up a schedule. I've never gone back.]

When I committed to writing in the Teen Skepchick Eating Disorders series, I said I’d write about personal experiences. After all, I do already. It wasn’t going to be too hard to do it again, right?

But that’s not true, and it never works like that. I told this story yesterday. Unexpectedly. I’ve never told it in its entirety before. It is, ultimately, why I quit dancing.

[I'm going to put a big neon TRIGGER WARNING on this right now. I'm about to be pretty blunt about anorexia nervosa and anorexia athletica tendencies. I'm going to tell a story about things I've done, and if that's going to make you feel bad, then please stop reading. Take care of yourself.]

I was a dancer, you see. Not a hobby dancer, not something I squashed into the occasional afternoon. By the time I graduated high school, I was spending around twenty hours a week at the studio. My feet changed shape. I damaged my knee. I wore leotards daily, compared the merits of my preferred pointe shoe (Grishko 2007, medium shank, 5X wide, size 6.5), and for a while, I wanted to be a professional dancer.

There’s a number of reasons I couldn’t do that, and I made the decision to pursue psychology at school with no regrets. I never thought I’d stop dancing. It would always be something I loved, one of my favorite things about coming home.  Over my first Christmas home, and my spring break, I threw myself back into the schedule. I’d take a full set of classes, waking up miserably sore for the first few days, until my muscles settled back into their place.

The inevitable happened–my ballet friends improved and were more powerful and flexible and talented each time I returned. We no longer spent most of our free time together, and they had grown closer as I’d been gone. We talked about summer, when I would be home for months, able to train properly again–to feel like I was part of the company. I was excited.

I came home mid-June, to find a small part waiting for me in a show. I was overjoyed. I wasn’t the too-old returning student; I was back in my old place. The show was fancy: excerpts from Swan Lake and Don Quixote and Carmen the troupe would perform at a country club. Several dancers had been commissioned for the show–hired on contracts to train and perform just for the occasion.

They spoke Spanish, their first language, together, and knew each other from past shows at other studios.

I speak Spanish. Actually, that’s not quite true–I speak it quite poorly. Years of high school reading drills and an immersion class in my junior year have assured that I understand it quite well, and I used to read entire books in the language.

So, it was a few days of adjusting to the Cuban accent and speed of speech before I started picking up on bits of what the guest performers were saying. It was a few days later when I heard “lift your fat ass”. A few weeks until I heard them complaining about how I never managed to get better. How sad it was to watch me. And then my brain adjusted and I could hear it nearly every day we rehearsed. I got better at hearing the jabs, and I started hating myself more. In the single studio, every time I stepped onto the floor to rehearse, everyone could see me. It was constant oversight. I couldn’t focus on my dancing. I was perpetually listening and trying to translate and trying to pretend it didn’t bother me.

I stopped eating, again. After more than two years of maintaining an average intake of >1,000 calories per day, I wasn’t doing it anymore…and I was slipping into anorexia athletica. I had a gym membership, and suddenly I was spending two hours lifting and pressing and running, a few more hours in the ballet studio, and spending the rest of the day in work or an internship.

On good days, I’d eat a sandwich and drink a few cups of coffee. On bad days it was half a sandwich.

I became a good deal skinnier, though never to the rock-bottom I hit in high school–when I actually qualified for the very narrow dictionary-and-DSM-definition of anorexia nervosa at 75% of my recommended body weight. Just like in high school, people told me how pretty I was looking.

Two months of sweaty gyms and barres and mirrors later, the costumes for our show arrived. There had been an order mixup. The only costume available to me was an extra small. We tried them on over our ballet clothes, all in the middle of the studio. Mine didn’t even fit over my hips.

The show was that weekend, and I dropped out gracefully, citing a work schedule conflict that really, would just make iteasier if I didn’t dance after all. It was no trouble at all.

I haven’t danced since that summer. Not once. I’ve put on the clothes, the shoes, found an empty room and played the music for plies….and I just couldn’t.

I don’t call myself a dancer anymore. I talk about how I used to dance. I cut my hair short–I no longer needed it long enough to put up for a performance. Sometimes it overwhelms me. I can’t hear music without seeing choreography, and that’s been true for as long as I remember. But I no longer see myself performing the pieces. I’m too heavy to be lifted by a partner, you see. No one’s going to want to lift my fat ass.

I went home last summer and I worked at the same places. I went to the studio twice. I said hi, I hugged everyone. We socialized a bit, and I plead errands. I drove to the closest Starbucks and cried.

This year, I live by a ballet studio. I walk by it each day–it’s impossible to avoid on my way to school. The girls slip in, black leotards and elbows and knees and bobby pins. When I come home from my night classes, I can hear the music bouncing off the mirrors and wood floors.

I grieve.


For anyone concerned: I’m in treatment and therapy. Every Thursday, I get to talk and feel a little bit better. 
This also isn’t a story about what causes eating disorders. I had one before this story takes place. Ballet didn’t cause it. Comments about my body didn’t cause it. What they did do is make it so much harder to accept that it was okay to gain back the weight I had lost.

A Week

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 10.52.33 PM

There aren’t really any pre-eating disorder Kate photos in my possession–very few exist–but this isn’t long after it started.

[The eating disorder content note on this post is so loud it tapdances in sequined tights. Skip the latter half if that seems bad for you.]

It’s a Friday. 12:42 in the morning. And I’ve done something for the first time in seven years. I have fed myself properly for a week.

Twenty-one meals in a row.

I have eaten seven breakfasts and seven lunches and seven dinners, one each day, and the last time I can point to and say, “that happened” was when I was fourteen.

It has always made me feel like a child, in the helpless, immature, possibly-unfair-to-children way. Accomplish all manner of things, come of age, go to college, hold a job, spend years working on recovering, and you still can’t feed yourself for a week, can you?

I am twenty one years old, and I have spent one third my life depriving and counting and adding and crying over calorie totals. I have binged and exercised obsessively and hallucinated and measured and feared
and
and

And I did it.

I haven’t beaten the parts of my brain that want this to be a loss–who think failure is eating when you are hungry. But they’re a little quieter, a little cowed. And that’s enough.

Seven years ago, I wore braces. I hadn’t been kissed, and Kate Donovan certainly didn’t exist. I wanted to be a ballet dancer. Was one, actually. And nearly the happiest I could be was starving.

There was this sharp piece in the New Yorker two months ago. We write about anorexia too positively, the author claimed. And she wasn’t wrong. It’s hard to capture what it takes to override something like wanting to survive. So you dig deep when you write, and try to find it–what could possibly be worth all of that?

There was something, though. That intersection of feeling competent and sparkling and happy. God, the happiness. Hard and diamond-bright and just so easy to get. You can’t get away from hunger easily, and the two melded a bit. Feel clenching hunger? A rush of joy. Over and over and over. And the choice? Happiness or food and feeling slightly duller and slower and sadder? Why, you’d have to be crazy to pick eating.

I felt a little bit of it today–late to dinner with an errand that ate into my time. My stomach growled and it flared.

Be happier…go to the gym instead.

It’s a hell of a drug, this madness.

But I’m winning. I will sleep and tomorrow, I will eat breakfast before class. I will come home for lunch, and commiserate with housemates about approaching midterms over dinner. In the coming days and weeks, I’ll slip up at some point. Rome and days of building, you know. It’ll be harder to come back if I make this an all-or-nothing game. So I’ll expect that sometimes, the feelings will win.

But for now? For now, I’ll be really goddamn proud. Proud of eating, imagine that. I’m not sure fourteen-year-old-Kate could have. I’m going to have a hell of a Friday for her.

Two Shoes

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[Adapted from a really old piece from my formerly-pseudonymous blog]

This is half of the last pair shoes I danced in, and half of the shoes I stopped thinking of myself as a dancer in. On the left, Grishko 2007′s in a medium shank, size 6, 5X wide. On the right, Sansha Recitals, size 10, medium width. It’s a point of pride to me that I can still name them–years of walking up the counter and the smell of rosin.

Grishko, please.
Size 6.
Medium shank, but I’ll take soft if you have it.
And, ah, 5X?

The broken in shoe smells a little musty. It’s fully ‘dead’, all squishy in the toe and right above the nail in the arch. I wore it in a flapper dress, with a huge feather. I wore it in a full length silk skirt, dancing to music from the African Symphony Orchestra, flirting with the audience to Santana, and in my last performance, when I cried because the audience applauded, and I was shaking tired and my feet were bloody, and I just wanted to keep making them clap.

The new shoe still isn’t sewn all the way. The come without ribbons, in pink boxes. You pull them out and spend an hour jabbing away at layers of canvas and silk to put all the ties on. I never finished adding the elastics. The shoe isn’t broken in. I’ve stood up on my toes in them, but I haven’t rubbed them with water and rubbing alcohol, or banged them against the floor and heated and bent them in my hands. They aren’t molded to my feet, musty, or dull. New shoes hurt. And because I figured out that summer that too many mirrors meant eating too little food, they’ll never get that treatment. No matter how well I made myself behave, and eat, and like my curves, being in that room tore it to shreds.

So I stopped being a dancer. I was one, for 15 years. I’ll always walk like one, love moving and dipping and turning.

Each time I move, I’ll unpack a box of leotards, holding each one up. Year after year, red and black and navy, halters and ladder-backed and with little edges of print fabric. Leg warmers, custom made, one set. Another, with a hole in the heel. Soft and warm with memories of early Saturdays in the studio.

I should throw them out, I tell my roommate. She’s the third roommate to hear it. And then I’ll fold them all back up. Roll the legwarmers, wrap the ribbons around the shoes. Two boxes, stacked in the corner of our closet.

Storytime

This is the story of a girl who doubted herself.

Who didn’t trust him at age six. Who compared him to a rattlesnake once.

Who can still pull up the memory of that shocked face–the way she turned around in the car, while driving no less, and the look of horror when that eight year old voiced the comparison…one she’d mulled over saying for weeks.

Who had panic attacks on planes, because something had to be broken to feel that distant about a family that never did anything well, bad.

Who is an adult now.

Who feels too adult.

But adults get praised for having boundaries. For being so perceptive, for handling it so well. Even as they think, what’s changed? 

And it’s that adult woman with boundaries and understanding and maturity, who sometimes hates that word, because she was used to be mature enough to use big words, but not mature enough to talk about who belonged in the circle of people who knew about her life.  It’s that woman who wants to find the six year old, the eight year old, the ten year old girl who thought she was wrong, who doubted her feelings. Who thought something was wrong in her. And she wants to just hold her.

To say that yes, you’re doing the right thing. That you can create an entire persona, that you can protect yourself and feel numb and cold and someday it’ll be as if the happiness dial suddenly turned all the way up.

That it won’t feel like having a home, but it will feel like freedom. And that in a decade, in three thousand, six hundred and fifty two days, there will be friends who become family, who ask how therapy went, who wrap blankets around you when you’re anxious and wrap you in hugs because they know you. Who ask if you want company when they see the caller ID, who will let you show up on the doorstep.

And that when things start to be okay, when it starts being brave and not mean to say ‘He didn’t care. He doesn’t want to know me.’ the adult woman will be angry on behalf of the eight year old who knew.