Why I’m Not Ready for Kids

Putting together Juno's play pen felt a lot like preparing a nursery.

Putting together Juno’s play pen felt a lot like preparing a nursery.

Some of our friends wondered aloud if we were having a shotgun wedding. I laughed and told them no, absolutely not. I was not at all offended, because if I were them, I’d probably wonder the same thing. After all, getting married at that time was super out of character for me. As some of you might know, commitment has been a longstanding obstacle in my life. Looking back, I’m still a little mystified as to why I chose to do it. But I am very, very certain that pregnancy — past, present, or future — had nothing to do with it! Before we got married, though, we did start to discuss when we’d like to have kids. On days when life was overwhelming, we’d discuss whether we wanted to have kids. I think we’re at the place now where we’re fairly confident we will want kids in 3-5 years, but we’re open to life taking us down another road as well. I certainly don’t think we would be devastated if we never had biological kids. We joke about continuing our trend of adopting 14-year-olds. You know how some people love the newborn stage and others love the little kid stage? We are teenager people. There’s something so amazing about your baby sister or your kid becoming your very best friend.

Before Juno joined our family, we were leaning towards having kids in three years. After we brought him home, we’ve been thinking more like five…or ten…or never. He has taught us so much about the sheer weight of having another living being depend on you. How paranoid you become of losing them, how you fear that death is around every corner, how you can’t sleep without re-calculating the nutritional values of his meals. He also made us face the fact that I have a sleeping disease. It’s not a real thing, but that’s what we call it. I absolutely need 9-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night, or else I get really sick. I was on night duty for one night and I died the next day, passing out for 16 hours and developing bronchitis that lasted two weeks. After witnessing that, Dan never asked me to stay up again. Thankfully, Juno started sleeping through the night after a week. I’ve heard that babies don’t do that. There is absolutely no way we can have kids unless we can afford a nighttime nanny or Dan takes several months off from work. That might be financially feasible in a couple of years, but even then, I’m not sure I could handle it emotionally.

Taking care of Juno has been the most difficult task of my entire life. Most days, I don’t get a single break. I don’t have time to shower, eat, or talk to other humans. Every second that I’m home, I’m either potty-training, crate-training, walking Juno, cleaning, or reading everything I can about huskies, training, and raw feeding. Yesterday, I spent a few hours on Craigslist’s Farm & Garden looking at ads for Boer goats, black Angus cows, and roosters to take to slaughter. Ideally, we’d keep one mama goat for raw milk (goat’s milk is the closest thing to dog’s milk and helps put on weight), raise one buckling for meat, raise one doeling to replace mama and to breed, buy a bigger freezer, get a quarter of a cow, maintain a chicken coop for eggs and meat, and be set for the next year! The only problem is that we don’t have acres of land. Bummer. Anyway, that’s just one example of how crazy I get when I’m determined on finding the best things for Juno. I’ve never been so exhausted in my life, but thankfully every day it gets a little easier. I can’t wait for him to grow up so that I can sit back and relax, knowing that I’ve done my job. That takes anywhere from 1-3 years, I’ve been told. Kids (not the goat kind), on the other hand, take 18 or more. Jesus.

How adorable is our kid? First day as a volunteer.

How adorable is our kid? First day as a volunteer.

Even if I could handle having kids financially and emotionally, I don’t think I’m mature enough yet. I’m not strong enough or good enough or selfless enough. Since I was a kid, I had a vision of how I wanted to be as a parent. I wanted to volunteer at least monthly at the Red Cross or a home for the elderly or Habitat for Humanity. I wanted to donate 10% of my income to charity. I wanted to cook dinner most nights and pack yummy lunches with smiley faces and cute notes. I wanted to host exchange students from all over the world. I wanted to bake all sorts of goodies. Needless to say, none of that is happening right now. The idea of cooking for another potentially picky mouth is about as appealing as a root canal.

The best I can do now for Billy Bob is go with her to volunteer orientation at a nursing home, chat with her golf coach once in a while, and make sure we spend quality time watching Bachelorette reruns at night. Though I know she is happy, I want to be able to do more for my kids. Certainly, they will need more from me while they are young. What? You can’t just tell 5-year-olds to Uber home? 

I don’t want to have kids until I’m ready to be the best parent that I can be. I don’t know when that will be, but not anytime soon. To all of you twenty-somethings out there, I highly suggest puppies to train you for parenthood. They also serve a secondary function as birth control.

Teenagers

The stop sign says, "Stop telling me what to do."

Look carefully at the stop sign…that’s her slogan!

Being a parent is like having the hardest job in the world, with the most observant, demanding, and judgmental boss — your kid. Well, I should clarify…being the parent of a teenager. Sometimes, I feel like an actor on a stage and my every action, reaction, expression carries it with the implicit message: this is how you do things. The scariest part to me is not that your teenager might disagree with you, but that they might subconsciously internalize your message and carry it with them for a lifetime, withstanding even the most expensive therapy. Now that is frightening. Though less daunting, it’s not a walk in the park when they disagree with you, either. Every time Billy Bob says something, I’m always wondering what judgment underlies her comment. A few days ago, she mentioned that we eat out most nights. Immediately, I was like, “What? I cook three to four times a week. You’re delusional, child.” And then, as my mind raced, I thought, “Well, shit, maybe that’s not a lot. Is that not enough? Am I feeding her garbage?”

Teenagers resemble narcissists in a variety of ways, I’ve found. The obvious one is that they think the world revolves around them. The less obvious is that they are extremely good at drawing out your guilt. Their questions are the worst. Yesterday, after hauling my ass to and back from New Haven, cooking a four-course dinner, and clearing the table, I was on my way upstairs when Billy Bob stopped me. “Are you going to build the sofa table and bookshelf and set up the projector?” she asked. And, even though all I wanted was to retire to the study and play video games, I grabbed a hammer and headed for the basement. Yes, I felt guilty, but I didn’t do it just because I felt guilty about putting it off. I also did it because everything I do is an example to her. I did it because I have to teach her how to get things done around the house, even while working or studying full-time. I did it because setting up furniture while Billy Bob does her homework on our new couch is better family time than sitting in front of a computer screen.

The early stages of our basement project. It looks even better now!

The early stages of our basement project. It looks even better now!

Raising teenagers is a truly altruistic task. Everything you do for them is for their future benefit and for the benefit of those around them. I think it’s hilarious how teenagers think you give them chores or ask them to clean their rooms solely to antagonize them. Ha ha. It is way easier and less work for me to just clean Billy Bob’s room myself than to constantly nag her. But what happens when you clean up after your kid for 18 years? They turn into a lazy slob whose spouse divorces them for leaving dishes in the sink. What I worry about the most is making sure that Billy Bob grows up to be able to have intimate, healthy relationships with others. So many grown-ups, me included, struggle with that. And those problems stem from your relationship with your parents and their relationship with each other. Since Billy Bob joined us, I’ve felt the scrutiny on my relationship with Dan. From the simplest things like her asking why Dan drives most of the time (answer: I don’t like highways and the law school commute is enough driving for me) to more difficult things like figuring out what is the optimal amount of PDA, I’m always acutely aware that we are teaching her about romantic relationships with every interaction we have.

Recently, we’ve been watching Mad Men as a family. It’s not necessarily age-appropriate for a 14-year-old, but given that Billy Bob has already watched the whole thing and says it’s her favorite show, we wanted to take the opportunity to gauge what she thinks about the characters. She often asks me who my favorite characters are (so far: that kick-ass gay guy cut Peggy’s hair and Joan) Once, she asked if all men were bored of their wives. I chuckled at that one — I didn’t really think she believed that. We discuss themes like sex, marriage, family, and sexism, but only when it comes up naturally. Sometimes, I tell anecdotal stories from my past. I commented that Jane bothered me because she reminded me of my immature, pretentious 20-year-old self. Billy Bob asked if I slept with married men, and I laughed and said no. Thank God I never made that mistake, or else I’d have to lie to her now!

You might ask yourself why I signed up for this job, since I wasn’t the one who brought Billy Bob into this world. That’s an easy answer — parenting is hard, but it is honestly such a privilege. You get to shape and mold someone to be a happier, better person. You can make or break their future marriage. You can save or cost them years in therapy. Every time I look at the court order that grants me legal and physical custody of Billy Bob, I am struck with a sense of gravity. This is one of the most important things I will ever do. Plus, there’s the added perk of learning how to co-parent with Dan many years before we take on the ultimate taskmaster, the screaming newborn. How do I get out of that job?

That Halfway Point

Long Winding RoadJust like that, we’re halfway through November and, by extension, NaNoWriMo. With 66,395 words overall and 26,395 of those written in November, I’m just a hair behind the 1667 words-per-day pace, but I’m not too concerned. I’ll probably catch up this week and I don’t necessarily plan to finish NaNo this year. Unlike my NaNo project last year, which ended up around 120k, I don’t expect this novel to reach 90k like I’d originally planned. This one will be closer to the 80k of my second novel — short and sweet. I can see the finish line now, and that’s always an exciting phase of writing.

I’m also approaching the halfway point on a different goal. About six months ago, I committed myself to singlehood for a year. It was an arbitrary number. What I really wanted was to be single “for a while”, and a year seemed like a good long while. The first month of these past six felt like a year, but the rest has shot by in the blink of an eye. Now, as I stand on the foothill that is the halfway benchmark, I wonder to myself: am I happier? Healthier? Stronger? When I look back, I tend to see my struggles: flying to New York to mourn a relationship that had died a winter ago, hooking up with another ex, rekindling and unfriending my friend-with-benefits, falling for inappropriate guy #1, falling for inappropriate guy #2, finally breaking things off with ex-from-last-winter, sleeping with my best friend. When I look back, I see myself cycling through the same patterns of highs and lows. When I look back, I am blind to my progress.

But the reality is that I have made a lot of progress. Just like my current novel, which has been neglected at times due to work and friends, my journey of self-improvement and healing hasn’t always been steady. At times, my judgment has lapsed. At times, I’ve taken the detour because it was more enticing and I had to take the long route back to the main road. At times, I’ve felt like nothing has changed at all. The same way 1k became 2k and 2k became 20k, though, my mental state has strengthened. Most importantly, I have been true to myself and what I really want. I have lived, certainly, and I have taken plenty of risk, but I have done so within the range of my own boundaries. At the same time, I’ve pushed my boundaries in healthy ways. I joined a Meetup group that I thought would be full of old folks and ended up making the best friends I’ve had in a long time. Last week, we went running in freezing temperatures and I made it all the way around Gallop Park. As I hate running, that was quite a feat. Today, we went climbing at Planet Rock and, despite my self-doubts, I reached the top. Afterwards, we were sure to eat back all the calories we burned in tamales, tortas, and tacos. I’m still full.

Like NaNo, the finish line for my yearlong singlehood is flexible. I won’t hold myself to it, because it’s no longer necessary. Being single now is not a punishment, nor is it unbearable. Now, I have too much to lose, I am too content, and I know too much about pain to give this up for just anyone. The next relationship that I get into will have to knock my socks off, because I’m pretty damn good at knocking my own socks off.

Keep Calm You're Halfway Through

Keep calm, my fellow NaNo writers. You’re halfway through. As for everyone else, I don’t know what personal goals you’re working towards, but I wish you luck in getting there. This too shall pass.

À plus tard,

R

CW: Extroversion, BPD, and My Therapist

Coping With...

This post is part of the Coping with… series, in which I will share my experiences with Borderline Personality Disorder. Whether you also have BPD or you struggle with depression, anxiety, and stress, I hope this series will be helpful to you.

I’ve come a long way since my last post in this series. A lot of things have changed since then; I have changed. Yet a lot remains the same — I am still coping with the single life. Every day is a struggle, every day is a toss-up. I never know when I’ll wake up and there will be shackles around my ankles, making each small task harder by tenfold. When I am alone, I rarely taste happiness. There are moments of satisfaction, pride, joy, but they are fleeting. I monitor myself like a terminal patient hooked up to a dozen machines. When my mood dips, I force myself to take a step back from the Internet or cook a nice meal or curl up in bed. I’m good at taking care of myself these days. Unfortunately, I feel like all those little comforts — the bag of Lindt truffles, the bundle of organic cotton yarn, the freshly done laundry — only keep my nose above water. The rest of me is always flailing, always fighting not to drown.

My problem is not that I can’t be single; my problem is that I can’t be alone. Part of that is because I am an extreme extrovert. I feel better around people, I draw energy from others, and simply knowing that I will see another human being in an hour can get me through the next 59 minutes. The other part of that is BPD. I recently told my therapist that, when I’m alone, I feel invisible. When in my own presence, I am an amorphous blob of cells and needs. A blob that has a lot of needs, in fact. And my job is to take care of those needs, constantly, repeatedly, indefinitely. It’s exhausting sometimes. I am so disconnected from that blob that I don’t have sympathy for it; sometimes, I pity it for its endless and futile need to be alive.

When I’m with other people, I feel great. Well, at least with the right kind of people. The kind of people who reflect back to me who I am, and suddenly it’s like the blob becomes a fully formed human being. A human who is fun, smart, attractive. In those moments, I see myself clearly and I like what I see. Yesterday, I had one of the best days I’ve had in a long time. I woke up late, hit the gym (hey, I managed to go solo!), had a nice brunch at Northside with good friends I hadn’t seen in a while, and then drove out to Pinckney with other awesome friends to desecrate the Potawatomi Trail with our typical jokes of the bathroom variety. The trails were framed by trees in full fall glory and the air was perfectly crisp. After hiking, we drove out to Hell, Michigan for the obligatory tourist selfie. Then, we returned to Ann Arbor and shared an authentic Chinese meal family-style. Honestly, that was the closest thing I’ve had to a family meal in a very long time. Finally, we capped off the night at a local bar. This time, I did not end up lying in the middle of the street. Baby steps, right?

Fall Hiking Trail

But days like that inevitably end. I can’t always be with my friends; I shouldn’t always be with them. I am well aware of the fact that I should be able to see myself without having to look through the filter of someone else’s eyes. I wish I could feel like the person I know objectively I am. I wish I could believe that I am intelligent, strong, kind without the voice in my head telling me I am fake, weak, selfish. I wish I could congratulate myself for working hard without the accompanying echo: not hard enough. I wish my pride for own my achievements would linger, instead of evaporate instantly, leaving behind a trail of smoke spelling: “what is the point?” I wish I could see myself the way other people see me without needing them to remind me.

What I know is this: my wishes will come true. Not today, not tomorrow, and not in the near future perhaps, but someday they will be my reality. I also know that — with each excruciating minute I spend with this blob of mine instead of chasing ephemeral highs, making people I don’t love fall in love with me, sealing my heart against every emotion of 22 years past — I am one step closer to that reality. For my journey, the old adage rings true: no pain, no gain.

Before I turn around and continue on my way, I’d like to take a moment to thank all the people in my life who keep me sane. To the Alaskan, thank you for calling me every week and sharing your life with me, despite our three-hour time difference and the fact we’ve never met. To my high school buddy, thank you for messaging me and confessing that you also have BPD, even though the last time I saw you we were trying to destroy ourselves together. To my best friend, thank you for sticking with me — that is all. To my “oldest” friend, thank you for joining my one-person knitting club and throwing an insult my way when I need it the most. To my mom, thank you for always trying to be the best parent you can be. To all of you, thank you for being the rest stops when there is an infinite stretch of highway in front of me. Thank you for reading.

Mille mercis,

R

10 Things I Learned in My First Week of Work

Fruit Basket

Chocolate-covered strawberries = another reason why I have the best job.

When I first decided to take a gap year, I thought I knew exactly what I would be doing. Either a Fulbright or Princeton in Asia scholarship, one that would take me overseas and thousands of miles away from Ann Arbor. I didn’t allow myself to consider the possibility that both would reject me. Okay, well maybe my parents forced me to consider it briefly. Even then, however, I was confident that I would find a nice-paying yearlong position in NYC or DC or even Paris. When my plans started unraveling one by one, my trepidation grew. What if I couldn’t find anything to do for an entire year? The workaholic in me blanched. What if, because I didn’t have the prestige of Fulbright or PiA attached to my name, my law school application failed? The overachiever in me stewed. What if, because I made a mistake in my applications, it prevented me from having a once-in-a-lifetime experience? The idealist in me mulled.

My decision to stay in Ann Arbor was less a decision than a consequence. After applying to positions all over the globe, most in the nonprofit legal field, I realized that these jobs were 1) far and few between and 2) highly competitive. Less than a week after I emailed MIRC about internship opportunities, however, my now supervisor responded. He said that they were always looking for interns, and that I should come in for an interview. At first, I was skeptical. This was just too good to be true — their website stated that they only looked for law students for interns. During the interview, he asked me more questions about my schedule than my experience. I’m pretty sure he barely glanced at my resume. Just like that, I was hired.

Then, I proceeded to spend a month visiting various friends and family around the world. I had no idea what awaited me upon my return. On Tuesday, July 8th, I got up after a less-than-ideal night of sleep, gave myself a pep talk, and walked over to Huron Street. This past week, I had my first full week of work. It was more challenging, rewarding, inspiring, fulfilling, and interesting than I could ever have predicted. Though I still have a lot to learn, I’m starting to realize why taking a gap year is so important. And I wanted to share all the things I’m learning with you.

10 Things I Learned in my First Week

  1. How to operate a phone. All you older people can laugh at me now. It’s been a while since I used a phone with an actual cord and receiver. Apart from technical issues, I’ve always dreaded talking to people over the phone. I stutter, I’m awkward, and I forget what I wanted to talk about. After answering the phone dozens of times a day and speaking to people in formal Spanish and French, however, I’m just relieved when I can begin with a simple, “Hi, Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.”
  2. How to operate a copy/fax machine. Similar to the dilemma above, I’ve always had an irrational fear of copy/fax machines. Seriously, I think they will eat me or give me cancer, something like that. Unfortunately for me, I’ve had to get over this phobia pronto, as everything we mail in our office must be copied and stored in the client’s file.
  3. Every question on the N-400 in English, Spanish, and French. This is the naturalization form and it’s 21 pages long. My favorite question is 13A, especially the WTF faces it always gets from the client: “Between March 23, 1933 and May 8, 1945, did you work for or associate with in any way with the Nazi government of Germany?”
  4. That I’m okay with Spanish and French. I was terrified that my language skills wouldn’t hold up in daily conversation or on-the-spot interpretation, but I’ve fared better than I thought. I still have a long way to go, but I feel proud to be able to translate entire legal documents on the fly.
  5. That abuse doesn’t discriminate. Many of our clients seek our guidance because they are trapped in domestic violence situations. Sometimes, they are women. Sometimes, they are men. Sometimes, they are old. Sometimes, they are young, younger than me.
  6. That citizenship is a huge privilege. Many of us born in the United States take our American citizenship for granted, but it is such a privilege that we didn’t earn. So many people around the world would give anything for that status. Lack of citizenship makes it impossible for people to work, to see their families, to escape totalitarian regimes.
  7. That marriage is a big deal. Legally, I mean. Just looking through divorce and child custody agreements makes me think twice about getting married. No matter what you do from the moment you are married, like file for a tax return or apply for naturalization, you are bonded to your spouse. There’s even a question on the N-400 that deals with your spouse’s prior spouses. You have to know their date of births, immigration status, date of marriage. It’s absolutely insane, especially for a client who isn’t in contact with her spouse because he was abusive to her.
  8. What I want in a job. I know now, more than ever, what I’m looking for in a future career/job. I always knew that academia wasn’t for me; it’s too abstract and not sufficiently hands-on. I like to see immediate results and work directly with the people I’m helping. Moreover, I want to look around at my colleagues and realize that everyone is working for the right reasons — not for money or prestige, but for passion and the desire to change the world.
  9. That I’m definitely going to law school. You might wonder why I’d even doubt this, as I’ve already taken the LSAT and started my applications. But I’ve always been a fickle person, and I left room for myself to change my mind. Now, I’m more sure than ever than a legal education is necessary for me to make the kind of impact I want to in society. After talking to several people in law school, I’m hopeful that I’ll enjoy the process as well as the result.
  10. That my life is damned good. I’m not trying to brag or anything. Happiness is relative, after all. But working with under-privileged people every day makes me feel so, so lucky for the life that I have. They remind me of what really matters in life — being safe and being with the people you love.

In short, I couldn’t be happier with my job. I’m excited to get to the office every day and I couldn’t think of a better place to spend my gap year. Things really do work out for the best.

Did you take a gap year? How did starting you first job change your perspective?

Ciao,

R

Life Is Good

I’ve always been bad at recognizing when my life is good. Alternatively, I’ve been just as bad at recognizing when my life is bad. Like many who have suffered, the one thing I constantly sought was familiarity. In my mind, familiarity was good. It didn’t matter if I was trying replicate abusive relationships. Or if I was chasing after people I knew would abandon me. Or if I was deeply unhappy. What mattered was that it was familiar. For a long time, familiarity was all I had and I learned to take comfort in it. A few nights ago, I was telling my friend about how the happiest times of my life were during college. He looked at me and shook his head. “No, Rebecca, all I remember from that time is you telling me how unhappy you were.”

I don’t know which one of us is right — Rebecca circa 2011 or present Rebecca. It could have been that I was happy then and I didn’t know it. More likely, I really wasn’t happy then, but it was familiar and, with all the change in my life recently, I long for familiarity.

These past few months, though, I’ve been fighting hard for what I actually want and deserve. I’ve been fighting to let go of familiarity. It’s a tough fight. This morning, I walked to the CCRB from my apartment in Kerrytown. As I passed East Ann, the street behind my old church, I let out a cautious breath. I was nervous to run into one of them, the churchgoers. Under their judgmental eyes, I always feel defensive, like I have to prove to them that I’m better off now then I ever was with them. But I knew that it was pointless, that they would believe whatever they believed, and I could do nothing to change that. With a shrug of apathy and acceptance, I was on my way. While I was on the treadmill, I smiled to myself and thought, “Every Sunday morning that I’m in the gym instead of church, that is a good thing.”

There are many other good things in my life right now. Last week, I started my yearlong internship at MIRC, and I couldn’t be happier. The people I work with are amazing, from my heart-of-gold boss to my fellow intern to the clients who need so much help. As an extrovert, I love getting to interact with people every day, 9 to 5. Although I used to feel overwhelmed and trapped by routine, I’m appreciating it more and more these days. I guess I’m getting old. Last night, the house party next door was blasting horribly obnoxious techno music. Instead of feeling left out of the fun, I growled, “Ugh, kids these days” and went to sleep on my spare bed to get away from the noise. Jesus, I’m ancient.

I’m learning to live for myself. I cooked one of my signature dishes yesterday, teriyaki chicken with peppers. It was the first time I’d made it for just myself, and it tasted just as sumptuous as ever. I’m still enjoying my apartment — while it has a few shortcomings, it’s by far my favorite place I’ve ever called home. I’m realizing that there are many people who loved me and do love me, from my family to my friends to my former lovers. They have given me so much and taught me so much; I feel incredibly grateful for the way they have loved me. Though I’m no longer speaking with all of them, their words of encouragement, support, and criticism still echo in my head.

The best part of my life right now? This face:

Green-eyed Blueberry

Blueberry Likes Windows

Blueberry Naps

Seriously, look at that face! How can life not be good when you wake up to and come home to this pretty girl?

Are you content with your life? What does it take to make you happy?

À la prochaine,

R

When Being Alone Is Lovely

I love this candid because it shows how content this madame is, alone on the metro.

Recently, someone asked me what tips I would recommend for a newly diagnosed BPD sufferer. After adding the disclaimer that nobody is ever “cured” of BPD, I responded that starting my blog nearly three years ago was one of the best ideas I ever had. I wrote that many of the stones that paved my way to “recovery” were the posts, the comments, and the community of readers who gave me their tacit support. One of the most difficult aspects of BPD is the lack of a clear sense of self — we often drift through life, changing so quickly from one interaction to the next that we have no idea who we truly are. It’s difficult enough to figure out our immediate wants and needs. If you ask us to determine our personality traits or character, we will stare at you blankly. But…that depends on the number of hours I slept last night and whether or not my boyfriend texted back. 

The dominant feeling of BPD is emptiness.

Not empty the way you feel when you’re hungry or you’re unfulfilled or you’re desperate for a warm hug. But empty like a vacuum, like you simply do not exist. After all, when you have no idea who you are, you are no more than a shell. You are no more than a reflective surface that shines when the sun’s out, but disappears when the darkness comes.

Needless to say, BPDers hate being alone. We hate it not because it makes us feel lonely; we hate it because it makes us feel like we’re no longer part of this world. And that is a scary feeling. I still find it incredibly difficult to stay home for an entire day. Even if I only leave to go to the barn or study in a coffee shop, I need the sounds of human activity around me to pull me back into the universe, similarly to the way cutters drag blades along their wrists to be reminded that they are alive. I find it hard to get out of bed in the morning when I don’t have an immediate place to be. Why would I want to wake up and spend time with myself? What purpose is there to life? I feel guilty for having these thoughts when I know that there is so much to live for, that I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

Ironically, I’ve always loved traveling alone. I enjoyed all the minutiae involved — printing off my boarding pass, tossing my boots on the conveyer belt, pinpointing the exact moment the wheels left the asphalt. When I’ve traveled with friends or family members, I found that they intruded on my experience and I almost resented them for it. Perhaps I enjoy flying alone because I’m always surrounded by people. Perhaps I’m okay with it because there’s a built-in safety net: people who love me waiting on the other side. Perhaps I love it because it forces me to be the kind of person I’ve always wanted to be — independent, empowered, confident.

This past weekend, though, I was met with the biggest challenge since I flew alone to Paris as a naïve, terrified 20-year-old. I had been selected for an interview with Princeton in Asia, which I’ve mentioned here a few times, and is pretty much my dream program. The interview was Saturday morning in Chicago, and all the plans were in place. I repeated to myself in the form of a mantra: Friday evening flight, Enterprise rental car, Best Western single, continental breakfast, interview, return rental, Saturday evening flight. It sounded relatively simple and I was determined to bulldoze my way through all of it before my crippling fear could catch up with me. The familiar fear of being alone.

When I finally made it to the hotel, after taking the wrong highway, waiting 15 goddamned minutes for drive-through McDonald’s, and parking in the wrong lot, I was so exhausted I couldn’t have told you what city I was in (Evanston). Once, in the middle of the night, I got up to use the restroom and was so disoriented I walked into the closet. There it was, the moment I’d been waiting for. I was utterly alone in a strange place, I was completely sleep deprived, and my boyfriend was at the Neko Case concert I’d waited months to attend. This was it — I was supposed to wallow in self-pity, cry pools of tears, walk aimlessly through the halls looking for company.

But I didn’t. Why? Because I was okay. I was more than okay; I was happy. The truth was that I enjoyed every bite of that Quarter Pounder, I shamelessly watched an episode of Girls, and I ate mango-yogurt flavored gummies until I felt sick. Even when I spent the night struggling with the air conditioner (too hot, too cold, not enough oxygen) and only slept a few hours, I took myself to continental breakfast with a smile on my face. Eating alone had never felt so comfortable and, well, preferable. I watched the powdery snow fall outside the window and smiled some more. On the way back to my room, as the elevator climbed to the eighth floor, that was the only time my demons paid me a visit. For a brief moment, I dissociated from my body, losing touch with reality. There was the familiar panic — shit, I’ve been alone too long. Then, I packed up my belongings, left my room key on the table, and drove to Northwestern’s career center.

This was one of the best weekends of my life, and I have no idea why. If you wanted my advice, I would have nothing to give you. I have no idea how I went from the girl who wrote this a mere four months ago to me now. Again, I am astonished by how quickly I’ve changed. My instinctive reaction is to be ashamed. Wow, I used to be like that? I proceed to judge myself and this process makes me feel like an entirely different person. But you know what? Maybe I should be okay with that. We all wake up different each and every day, and that doesn’t have to mean we’re completely disconnected from the people we used to be. Though we may even dislike the people we once were, that doesn’t mean we have to cut them out of our history. Let’s have a little sympathy for our past selves, shall we? To Rebecca, who was terrified to be alone, I say this: you’re good company, and someday you’ll see it.

Are you afraid to be alone?

Au revoir,

R

Food and Body Image

Me and my beautiful friends, one of which is Jane.

Last night, I told Hans about my childhood best friend whose friendship I lost due to her eating disorder. It was the first time I’d spoken about her that way in a long time. Time had dulled the feelings of frustration, betrayal, and loss. The memories had faded — whether or not it was a subconscious decision to protect my prepubescent mind, I’m not sure. Though it was difficult to walk down that particular memory lane, I remembered things that were so deep in the cabinets of my mind, they might have been lost forever. I was thinking of one particular summer. It had to have been either early June or late August, because we were in school then. Logan Elementary had sent us to Camp Storer, a strange YMCA production that was equal parts religious cult and Civil Rights Movement reenactment theater troupe. One afternoon, Jane and I were assigned to separate activities, her to fishing and me to candle-making. As the sun was beginning to set, we left our respective groups and ran to meet each other at the top of the hill, as excited to share our forbidden moment with each other as any pair of star-crossed lovers.

She was and will always be my first love.

This morning, I saw this article by the talented writer (and fellow Wolverine!) Emily Pittinos. Though she spoke of her relationship with her body beautifully and poetically, I felt like something was missing. I wished that, instead of apologizing to her body for abusing it and neglecting it in ways to conform to societal standards, she would have explored those very standards and the motivations behind her actions. I wished that she would have explained how her relationship to her body had changed over time, how she had arrived at this celebratory moment in which she is thankful for all that she is. I wished that she had said more, because poor body image/eating disorders are not just a symptom of adolescent angst and such issues plague women of all ages and shapes.

Jane and Emily both got me thinking about my own history with food and body image. I can confidently say that I’ve never had an eating disorder and I’ve probably spent less time hating my body than the average girl. But I’ve definitely taken part in disordered eating and there are periods of my life marked by how shitty I felt about my body. Right now, I am thankful to be in a place where I do not think twice about anything that I eat and I only eat what makes me feel good. I have no idea how much I weigh, and I don’t give a fuck. For the most part, this has been my college experience, whether due to my metabolism hitting its sweet spot or the several miles of trekking around campus, I don’t know.

But it hasn’t been smooth sailing since I graduated high school — as recently as last summer, I went through a “fat phase”. I’d put on five to ten pounds, possibly a side effect of hormonal birth control. My clothes were all fitting a tad too tight and it infuriated me every time I sat down and the waistline dug into my stomach. When I visited my family in Florida, I looked at my dad and siblings and their stick-thin limbs, and I felt like my ass cheeks were orbiting moons. My 11-year-old sister, whose legs are half the size of mine, commented matter-of-factly that my thighs were fat. I don’t remember what I said back to her. I wanted to defend myself, to be a good role model to her, to prove to her that I was not overweight, but her words hurt me. The feeling that I was fat consumed me, followed me everywhere like a sticky tar that clung to my skin.

Proof that five pounds is arbitrary. Can you tell which is the “fat” one?

And then, suddenly, I wasn’t “fat” anymore. I’d started horseback riding regularly, running when I was really desperate, and working out. While the exercise was helping, what actually made me skinny was a combination of 1) going off birth control 2) breaking up with my ex and 3) being stressed as hell. For the first time in my life, I lost my appetite completely. I rummaged through my fridge, searching for food that didn’t repulse me so that I could put calories into my system. But the starvation made me nauseous, and so the cycle fed into itself. When I finally finished an entire sandwich, I was incredibly relieved. The process of regaining my appetite was not fast and easy. In the end, I learned an important lesson: to value my appetite, to be grateful every time I craved dessert, to be proud when I’d eaten until I was full. Though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy with the weight loss, I was so much more miserable during those “thin” months than the previous “fat” ones.

Sometimes, I wish I could go back and tell my 13-year-old self to eat a burger for lunch, instead of the cup of soup. I wish I could tell her that she didn’t have to fit into the size 2 jeans, that the 4s were just as good. I wish I could tell her that she was beautiful just the way she was, that everybody saw what she didn’t. But I know that it wouldn’t have made a difference, because being “thin” for her was a state of mind, not a physical trait. So instead, I pity her and empathize with her. Instead, I vow to work on my own body image. To never comment on or judge another woman’s body. To show my sister that “fat” is not the worst insult in the English vocabulary. If I have daughters, to ban the words “diet” and “calories” from the household.

What is your relationship with food and your body? How has media/societal ideals affected your view of yourself?

Ciao,

R

Everything That’s Right with (My) World

My scalp is happy.

At first, this post was going to be titled “Everything That’s Wrong with the World”, a response to my political psychology professor’s lecture last Wednesday. In short, he talked about how globalization has had devastating psychological impacts on people, leading to feelings of alienation and violence. I found myself nodding along to every word he said and left the class angry at our “post-modern”, consumerist world. While my friends cheered on Amazon for the drone system they’re implementing, I decried it. Seriously, how is this a good idea when everyone is terrified of terrorism and Americans shoot other Americans for simply knocking on their door? Yeah, so that was going to be one depressing post…

Today, though, I simply can’t talk about everything that’s wrong. Because you know what? There is still so much that is right. Nelson Mandela may have passed, but damn the guy lived to be 95 freaking years old! So instead of spreading negativity, I decided to reflect on my life and the things I’m thankful for. I know that Thanksgiving was last month and I’m late to the party, but hey, this was on purpose — I just gotta be a rebel.

Everything That’s Right

  1. I finished my novel. If you’re my friend on Facebook, you probably already know, but I finished my third novel yesterday after about 40 straight days of pumping out 2000+ words per day. Now its fate lies in the hands of my agent. If this one doesn’t get published (again), I’m getting drunk and taking a long sabbatical.
  2. We got our 1000th follower. Yay! You guys have no idea how much your support means to me. I really hope I can get a real, live book into your hands sometime next year.
  3. It’s finals week. Everyone else in college probably just made plans to murder me from saying something so atrocious. Sorry…but I enjoy studying for exams…okay, I’ll shut up now.
  4. I’m not 16 anymore. After going on a handful of dates since my breakup, I pondered how terribly I would have handled the same situations five years ago. Thank god for (relative) maturity.
  5. My horse and I are making progress. At some point, I was going to quit, but now my thighs are in the best shape of their lives and so is my mare.
  6. I can play Beethoven. Somehow, my piano skills have not deteriorated after not having practiced for, like, a year. In fact, they might have gotten better? WTF someone explain this phenomenon to me.
  7. I have an appetite again. For a while, food in general disgusted me and I had to find random things to eat just to fill my stomach and it was terrible. Now, I’ll never complain about those extra five pounds again — being able to enjoy food is a privilege.
  8. Girls. Don’t judge unless you’ve seen it yourself. I know it’s the show to hate, but I respect what Lena Dunham is doing and it makes me feel better about me life. See: below.
  9. My dad doesn’t leave me stranded at a grocery store. This is in reference to one of the Girls episodes in which Jessa’s father basically dumps her on the side of a street. My dad may have been absent, but he was not that absent.
  10. I don’t have student debt. I don’t know if it’s PC to say that, but I will anyway. I’ve had several friends talk about the limitations caused by their debt. This recent study shows just how much student debt affects Americans. I don’t know how I can help those burdened with debt…maybe I will marry someone with debt and pay off half of it? Mom, calm down about prenups, I’m joking.
  11. I hear back from Fulbright and Princeton in Asia soon. Well, at least about the first cut. If I make the first cut for Princeton, I’ll be flying out to New Jersey for interviews! That’s super exciting for a languages major like me, who has never flown anywhere for an interview.
  12. I’m starting my final semester of college. Even better, I’m done with all my major requirements, so I’m taking whatever classes that interested me, like creative writing and painting. This will be my first writing class at Michigan, can you believe it? I’m also really tempted to take Arabic pass/fail.
  13. My scalp feels great. That’s a really weird thing to write, but it is such a good feeling. Everyone should try this.
  14. It’s winter. I don’t know why I love this season. Just this morning, I got frostbite on my thighs after riding in an arena without heat. My body is absolutely useless at keeping warm and yet winter makes me happy like nothing else.

What are some happy/exciting things going on in your lives? Let’s hear them in time for this cheery holiday season.

Ciao,

R