Hello, Internet! Haven’t posted in a cool 365 days, but I have a big one for you now! It’s about personal progress, the resistance, and if joy is worth hanging onto.
(TL;DR – it is.)
Hot take: 2017 was a doozy.
Exploration, self-preservation, and joy seem to be the first things to go when facing a pile of bills, a hectic work week, freezing temps, and the constant degradation of our democracy. Joy is what especially seems foolish – some “find your bliss,” elitist nonsense that I generally do not have time for. Who has time for joy when there’s an ever-updating New York Times alert about the next heinous tweet or new report on the doom of climate change? It seems wrong to celebrate anything when so many are hurting and there is so much to be done.
My therapist says it’s easy to turn dysfunction in the world inward, questioning your relationships or career instead of accepting the problem at hand: that the world is messy and the future continues to be uncertain. This manifests for me in many ways. My negative self-talk often focuses on my body and whether or not I like it.
A few months ago, I went to a wedding with some friends from college. They all looked the same as – or even better than – they had in school. This thought rarely crossed my mind in the moment (because weddings are FUN) but later, as the likes came rolling in on a group photo on Facebook, I started seeing myself through everyone else’s eyes – and in my head, they were not very nice. I could almost hear them, my old classmates, people from high school, the generic critical voice of the internet, all saying the same thing: “Wow, she’s gotten fat.”
My issues with weight began a few years ago, during a particularly low moment in my mental health. I was extremely depressed, and I had no desire to eat. In fact, almost all food made me sick, and I went from my healthy 135 pounds on my 5′ 7″ frame, to almost 120 pounds in less than 3 months.
As I started to recover and come out of the worst of my depression, I changed my behavior (and my birth control, #hormones) and started regaining an appetite. A year later, I had gained the weight back and then some, coming in around 160 pounds. I didn’t love how tight my jeans were feeling, but I figured I’d get back to my regular size and self in no time. As time progressed and as I continued to avoid therapy and other treatment for my anxiety and depression, I continued to gain weight, this time finding comfort and solace in big, heavy meals. “Why couldn’t I have my old depression back so I could be skinny?” I would joke. Hilarious, I know.
I quickly found myself the heaviest I’d ever been and also at the end of a three-year relationship. (I didn’t realize at the time, but these two occurrences were connected.) In my relationship, things had started off well, and it meant a lot to me that my then boyfriend stood by me through the lowest part of my depression. But by three years in, we had grown apart. We had taken advantage of each other, creating bad habits and patterns that we just couldn’t break. I’m sure my mental illness played a significant part in that, and at the end of the day, it just wasn’t meant to be.
By the end, my self-esteem was almost completely gone, and that had a lot to do with my physical appearance. I relied on my ex for everything, and I’d often use him to validate me and my choices. This felt desperately needed at the time, but looking back, I can see it was obviously a form of manipulation.
In the last year of our relationship, our sex life had slowed down significantly. One night, I tried to make a move and promptly felt rejected. I wasn’t desperate for sexual fulfillment, but I was desperate for attention, for intimacy, for a sign that things weren’t as bad as I knew in my heart they were. As usual, this was neither attractive nor effective, and sadly, also as usual, I began to cry.
I asked him, through tears, “Why won’t you have sex with me anymore?” He didn’t really know how to answer, giving a “it’s not you, it’s me” sort of response. I didn’t accept it.
“I know that’s not why,” I sobbed. “It’s because I’m fat now, right?” (In my depressive and anxious state, I am an expert at quite literally begging the question.)
After intense prodding, he finally said what I had been dreading –
“Well, yeah… that’s…a part of it…”
I don’t remember exactly what was said after that. There was a lot we both missed or never said at all, and I had spent many nights waiting for what I always knew was coming and answers I didn’t want to hear.
I ran out of the room, too embarrassed to continue sitting in our bed. He followed me to the kitchen, where I was trying to sob as quietly as possible to avoid having our roommates hear us fighting… again.
He apologized, maybe knowing he broke the cardinal rule of sitcoms and 90s era standups: don’t ever tell a woman she looks fat.
Even as I’m writing this now, I feel shame creeping up the back of my neck. Did he really mean that? Would he have said that if I hadn’t prodded him? How could someone I loved say that to me? I don’t know. We all make mistakes in young relationships (either we ourselves are young or the relationship is, or both), and I know I made many. But there are certain things that seem to stick in your head when they’re said by people you love.
Time passed, but my self-hatred only grew. I felt ashamed to get dressed around him. I felt silly when I tried to do my hair or makeup, thinking it was embarrassing to try to put lipstick on a pig. I refused to buy new clothes, swearing I would fit into my old ones soon, so I always felt uncomfortable and ugly.
Throughout all of these little microaggressions, the macro went unacknowledged. I began to only associate my worthiness with his approval, choosing to see all of my problems through the lens of my relationship. He continued to shut me out, and I continued to plead with him to let me in. I lost the ability to stand up for myself. For every little step forward I took in therapy, a few minutes at home took me two giant steps back.
I not only felt like shit, but I felt like I deserved to feel like shit and I would never stop feeling like shit – all because of how this one person treated me. I did not care how I treated me. In fact, I didn’t like me. I didn’t like me at all.
I often think about how difficult life would be now if I hadn’t gotten the help I needed when I was in the depths of my depression. Daily life, basic things like eating and going to work, were impossible then, let alone being in a relationship or tackling an administration hell bent on destroying the country. That kind of depression, the one that put the lights out behind my eyes, lasted about five months total. But the part that lingered on, the part that hit my soul the hardest – the months of denying requests to hang out, of unintentionally manipulating friends and loved ones, of clinging to the trauma I knew instead of the future I didn’t—lasted much longer. I truly didn’t feel like I had recovered till about December 2016, which means the full depressive episode lasted almost three years.
There are still days when listening to the truth of our collective situation is too much, when the shame from the past overwhelms me and the extreme unknown ahead leaves me feeling empty. But I now have to the tools to activate my hopelessness. I have a community of support, resources and coping skills, and I have an outstanding therapist. After years of work, I have the ability to realize when I am too obsessed with the micro (the post-breakup moments of constantly refreshing my ex’s Instagram) and when I am too overwhelmed with the macro (bedridden due to fears of North Korea). I can choose my involvement, choose my moments of engagement, in part because of my study in therapy (and my privilege). There is finally space in my life for a real relationship, for true career goals, for the best of friends, for joy. If I was still deep within my darkness, I don’t know how I could handle it.
My negative self talk came to a head right as the #MeToo movement was ramping up in Hollywood and industries across the country. We are constantly bombarded by stupid shit men say, not to mention the horrifying shit they can physically do. Hurtful shit, scary shit, insensitive, ill-timed shit. Shit about our bodies – what we can do with them, what they can to do them, what they love or hate about them. Men say shit about our bodies being too old or so close to being old enough. They talk about assaulting them, selling them, legislating them. They say this shit when we are 10 years old and they will continue to say it when we are 70. They say things we can’t seem to forget, no matter how hard we try, and whether they really mean it or not. Whether it’s online, on an Access Hollywood bus, or in our own beds, they keep saying shit.
We don’t have to accept this kind of behavior.
And we definitely don’t have to listen to their shit.
So as I sat down to write my resolutions for 2018, I chose a few mantras to motivate me throughout the year, one being “the personal is political”. I believe an act of personal joy or courage – leaving a bad relationship, accepting your body, asking for a raise, facing your past mistakes and making progress on your emotional self – is directly in step with the national conversation on resistance and doing your part. What I accept from a boss, a partner, or a friend is what I will accept from my institutions. And it’s what I will accept from myself.
Resisting cynicism is a political act. Resisting fear and despair is a political act. And in a country where your basic human rights are threatened every day, being proud of who you are and where you’re at right now is a political act.
This year, I plan to learn from the past. I’m going to find inspiration in those who came before me and keep fighting for those who come after. I will live my life proudly and without hesitation. I will find the joy, and I won’t let go.
“Joy is an act of resistance.” – Toi Derricotte