01 October 2009

Book Review: "Skinny Bitch"
by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin
(AKA Tweedle Dee and Tweedle DUMB).

So... has anyone actually really read Skinny Bitch? It's horrifying- the way they put their readers down is unparalleled and sums up just how disordered and distorted our society's body image is.

(Note: As Peach Friedman wrote in her memoir "Diary of an Exercise Addict," did you know that only an estimated 2% of women
worldwide find themselves beautiful? Two percent!)

If anything, the book is a semi-manual for how to pull the trigger on a full-blown eating disorder. I know this is not me just being sensitive (as I have been in and out of treatment for anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders for over a decade): there's a reason it only receives a meagre 3-star average rating (out of five stars) on Amazon, with 302 out of 1000 reader reviews being a telling one-star rating. Be sure to note, however: Most of the positive reviews just scream disordered thinking and behaviours...

Along those lines, do these self-proclaimed "writers" (an ex-model and former modeling agent, to boot!) really think being vegan is, like, a dieting thing? That's like the PETA billboard's claim that being vegetarian is a great way to lose weight! Uh, no, and if you are becoming vegetarian or vegan to lose weight, you're more than likely just using a euphemism for disordered eating.

And lastly, but certainly not least, the "misogynists" who wrote the book are nutritionists; that is, they are not dietitians. Nutritionists nearly always undergo far less education, experience, certification, internships, and training. How do I know this? My mother-in-law (scroll down to locate "Kathleen") is the chief clinical dietitian and assistant director of nutrition at the hospital here. Trust me, she will correct somebody if they say she's a nutritionist. "No, I went through far too many classes, internships, dietetic certifications, and so on, to be generally labeled as a 'nutritionist'," she often reminds people.

(Please also note this revealing statement: "In many countries only people who have specified educational credentials can call themselves 'dietitians' — the title is legally protected. The term 'nutritionist' is also widely used; however, the term nutritionist is not regulated as dietitian is. People may [as in, "might"- not in the permissive sense] call themselves nutritionists without the educational and professional requirements of registered dietitians.")


Just to drive the point home, I'll conclude by saying this: This book is insanely degrading. The "authors" are not professionals on the topic. They are crude, vulgar, and crass. This book does nothing for our 21st century society, except cause us to take 10 steps backwards, while we desperately need to be moving toward self-realisation and self-acceptance. I do not recommend this drivel to anyone who wants to live life to the fullest by learning intuitive eating, balanced physical activity, and in turn, gaining inner peace. Actually... scratch that. I don't recommend this crap to anyone, period.

(Just for the record: I literally ripped this book up to shreds while in treatment (2007-2008) for an eating disorder. Yes... yes, I did. Why? Because after the real dietitians showed me how to restore and maintain my weight in a healthy manner, based on their knowledge and extensive training, I realised Freedman and Barnouin have gone further than following their own "fad diet" and verbal abuse- they are dangerously promoting: exaggerations, self-deprecation, nutritionally unsound advice, and...let's be honest, themselves.)

28 September 2009

Book Review: "Diary of an Exercise Addict" by Peach Friedman.

"Diary of an Exercise Addict" is a truly amazing book; though the dust jacket may look deceivingly like the writing could be "triggering" for those with an eating disorder (ED), Peach Friedman does an excellent job at giving the "bigger picture" of just how much an ED and/or exercise addiction destroys and encompasses every aspect of an individual's entire life (not just physical health, but relationships, friendships, motivation, potential, etc). I genuinely recommend this book to anyone who might think that they have an unbalanced relationship with their body image, food, exercise; I also think this candidly written memoir is eye-opening to anyone with a fully-diagnosable eating disorder who wants a genuine picture of what "recovery" really looks like and entails. In the epilogue, Friedman speaks more in-depth about how an ED and exercise addiction are manifested in our culture (and gives more "research" and "clinical knowledge," rather than her side of the story or her memories), as well as the rarely-admitted, difficult (yet possible) journey into a strong recovery.

There are many quotable words-of-wisdom throughout her memoir and epilogue, but there are two sections that really stood out to me (both in the section of the epilogue about finding balance in a world that encourages "black or white" thinking). Also, just to preface the following: Peach Friedman is now in strong recovery as a personal trainer to women and men of all walks of life, including patients at the highly-regarded Summit Outreach ED Programme in Sacramento, CA.

The first is:
"It is estimated that only 2% of women worldwide (worldwide!) describe themselves as beautiful. I'm on a mission to move these numbers UP."
Wow, just... wow- how maddening is that ridiculously low percentage? Looks like we all need some self-care, self-satisfaction, and self-love, no? The second section is something that I thought really applied to many women of all ages in our western culture, who have not yet found that "healthy balance" between food/health/exercise/body satisfaction:
"As soon as we track ourselves to fight our bodies, to fight our natural size and shape, like I did, we embark on a battle destined for failure. It is impossible to win when we fight who we are. We only run further from happiness, from health, and from freedom... It's worth mentioning that an exercise addiction does not affect only those who are underweight and spending hours every day in the gym. A person can have an unhealthy, addictive obsession with exercise while still working out in moderate, recommended amounts. Some individuals may maintain a healthy body weight while exhibiting the psychological symptoms of an exercise compulsion, such as feeling the need to exercise on certain days at certain times in certain ways, or, if that routine is not possible, feeling extreme guilt as a result."
So... how many individuals do you know that sound like they might just be a little "disordered" in their thinking/fitness routines/eating habits, eh? It's something to contemplate, and Peach Friedman does an excellent job of bringing it to our attention, with her own truly relatable story and without a sense of "know-it-all personal trainer" condescension.

Peach also has a great website, located at: http://www.peachfriedman.com.

27 September 2009

Cornflake Girl. (A Critique of my Artwork by Caitlin St Angelo.)

So, I'm not really sure if most of you know, but I've been in love with creative expression since before I can remember, whether it be through writing, drawing, beading, cooking, baking, or collaging. A few months ago, my friend Caitlin St Angelo had been given an assignment for her course in artwork to critique a "showcased artist."

(PS: Yes, that photo is of me, during my very first semester in college, at age 18. I took a poorly-instructed art course at that community college, and it was the only "B" grade I've ever received while in college or university. Honestly, the teacher only gave "A"s to the students who were brown-nosers and suck-ups. And seriously, I have been known to be quite the "teacher's pet"...except in that class. Especially in that class. Because the art professor was probably in his late-80's and showed us his published work, which, honest-to-God, looked like a five-year-old had been let loose with a pencil in his hand after being allowed access to an open sugar bowl. It was that bad. And I have never taken an instructed art class since. Anyway...)

Now, I'm not really some grand artist, raking in the dough, or anything more than a semi-refined "casual doodler." But... I had just been asked by another friend if she could showcase three of my pieces at a New York university for NEDAwareness Week 2009, and shortly afterwards, I was asked to do a piece for an auction to help my friend Stacy Pershall meet the budget goal for the costs of her upcoming documentary. So yeah, I guess you could kinda call me an artist whose creations have been "displayed."

At any rate, she chose three drawings that I had intended as part of a "series," though sadly, I have never finished creating all of the imagined pieces I wanted to include. The following is her critique, written in early 2009.
---

"Lily M___'s drawing, as pictured on the previous page, reflects her 10 year drawing experience, as well as the triumphs and tribulations that fuel her work. Her initial drawings were anime imitations, which set the basis for her "cartooning", although she has considerable experience drawing realistically. Her focus slowly shifted through her early adolescence into using art as an outlet, channeling the themes of friendship, love, and the emotional runoff from her lifelong eating disorder.

This particular piece is one in a three-part series, pictures of which are shown below. Lily's Japanese-inspired figures have morphed over time in to a very specific stylized form, which still shows a basic understanding for the curves of anatomy. Her consistent use of the same style throughout her drawings implies that Lily has found her unique artistic voice, and developed a particular look that defines her work. This piece specifically also showcases a narrative, which is further developed in the series, and is very typical in all of her artwork. Lily also fond of adding a written sentence to her pieces, acting as a sort of statement of intent. Here, "I never was a cornflake girl" is stated, placed neatly beside the female form, both of which comprise a very simple and clean-cut composition, highlighted with the use of a general left side light source. There are multiple focal points, keeping the viewers eye moving - first to the "X", then between the falling cereal bowl and the written phrase next to the girl. Her artistic visions are usually complimented with very soft feminine figures like this one, frequently having some sort of erethral quality to them, and being very delicately proportioned. Rarely do her figures include full detailed anatomy, they are usually simplified down to very minimal lines, focusing on the subject matter directly and not embellishing on anything extraneous to that theme.

Although there is much to be said about the caliber of her work, there is a substantial amount that may not be considered up to par. Her figures, for example, are disproportionate; the hands and feet on all of her forms are over-sized, their bodies elongated and lanky. Rarely do her people have accurate facial features; this figure lacks eyes, a nose, and has only an "X" in place of he mouth. The range of lights and darks (all done with a #2 pencil) are very limited, representing only three or four shades. There is a complete lack of background, without even a horizon line to set the perspective. The inner contours, on the shirt for example, are very understated; only the outer contours are drawn in, the interiors left to be imagined. This piece lacks much of the "wow" factor in realism. In comparison to a detailed drawing, finished edge-to-edge realistically, Lily's piece might look much less skilled.

The flaw with the negative critique is that a drawing as such cannot necessarily be treated as a "traditional" piece. One could argue that Lily has little artistic talent, and is very limited in her capabilities. Her artwork doesn't show an efficient mastery of value scale, and is very simplistic overall. So much more could have been accomplished here, as there is much negative space to be filled. One could also argue that the simplistic forms and composition compliment the purpose of the piece, while the unrealistically drawn figure--consider its proportions, and the "X" across her mouth--in addition to the message beside her, are choice for conveying the message behind this drawing. The narrative here tells a very compelling story, especially in the context of the series. The minimalist approach, paired with the overall style, is completely warranted in this situation, and goes to show that Lily is a very talented artist, as well as an effective storyteller through the use of her art."
---

So... What are your thoughts on my artwork?

Psalm 102. ("Prayer of The Afflicted.")

In April of this year, I was reading through Psalms in my brand-new Bible (given to me by my mother-in-law as a baptism gift). Many of these psalms made me think deeply about just how much each and every one of us struggle, in one way or another. Our sermon that morning had been on "self-control" (as well as faithfulness and gentleness), and as Bobby spoke, I remember feeling my eyes well up with all-too-familiar, knowing tears.

It's important to remember, as we learned, that we do not have to be controlled by the "works of the flesh" (whether that be addictive substances, overpriced gourmet delicacies, the latest "
à la mode" purchase, and so on); rather, we can make decisions ultimately controlled by the Spirit (Romans 8:5-11). There is only one faith, and that is the faith we have in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 4:5, Galatians 3:26), not a man-made faith. No material goods (ironic term, no?) --food, drugs, alcohol, lavish clothing, latest-and-greatest tech toys-- come close to His indescribable love. But how do we put all that aside? It's not easy, and certainly not without challenge. All we can do is read and personally interpret His Word, using it as a "blueprint," so to speak (Galatians 5:6).

Now, okay, this sounds a bit laughable, but I have likened God's word to a Garmin GPS (Proverbs 8:27, KJ21). Whether we have completely detoured from the "right" path or perhaps just need a little reassurance, it's up to
us to choose to set aside our "mortal" fears, concerns, ego, and/or pride.
In the meantime, He waits and watches, hoping you'll catch the "oddly coincidental signs" of His love. (There are other parallels I've drawn between God's Word and a GPS navigation system- but, uh, I'll save my humour for another time. Heehee.)

Our identity is in Christ Alone (Galatians 3:26-29), and from Psalm 102, we see that He can and will heal the wounded, the sick, the hurt... all through His unconditional love and our nonstop (albeit, imperfect!) attempts to stay faithful in Him.

So! I'm truly interested in knowing:
What are
your thoughts (on this post, on Psalm 102, on faith, etc)?
---

Psalm 102*
("Prayer of the afflicted while faint, pour[ing their] lament before the LORD.")

1-2God, listen! Listen to my prayer,
listen to the pain in my cries.
Don't turn your back on me
just when I need you so desperately.
Pay attention! This is a cry for help!
And hurry—this can't wait!

3-11I'm wasting away to nothing,
I'm burning up with fever.
I'm a ghost of my former self,
half-consumed already by terminal illness.
My jaws ache from gritting my teeth;
I'm nothing but skin and bones.
I'm like a buzzard in the desert,
a crow perched on the rubble.
Insomniac, I twitter away,
mournful as a sparrow in the gutter.
All day long my enemies taunt me,
while others just curse.
They bring in meals—casseroles of ashes!
I draw drink from a barrel of my tears.
And all because of your furious anger;
you swept me up and threw me out.
There's nothing left of me—
a withered weed, swept clean from the path.

12-17Yet you,
God, are sovereign still,
always and ever sovereign.

You'll get up from your throne and help Zion—
it's time for compassionate help.

Oh, how your servants love this city's rubble
and weep with compassion over its dust!
The godless nations will sit up and take notice
—see your glory, worship your name—
When
God rebuilds Zion,
when he shows up in all his glory,
When he attends to the prayer of the wretched.
He won't dismiss their prayer.

18-22Write this down for the next generation
so people not yet born will praise
God:
"
God looked out from his high holy place;
from heaven he surveyed the earth.
He listened to the groans of the doomed,
he opened the doors of their death cells."
Write it so the story can be told in Zion,
so
God's praise will be sung in Jerusalem's streets
And wherever people gather together
along with their rulers to worship him.

23-28
God sovereignly brought me to my knees,
he cut me down in my prime.
"Oh, don't," I prayed, "please don't let me die.
You have more years than you know what to do with!
You laid earth's foundations a long time ago,
and handcrafted the very heavens;
You'll still be around when they're long gone,
threadbare and discarded like an old suit of clothes.
You'll throw them away like a worn-out coat,
but year after year you're as good as new.
Your servants' children will have a good place to live
and their children will be at home with you.


*I have used bold text to denote verses that particularly spoke to me.
(Translation taken from "The Message")

25 September 2009

"The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood. (Book Review.)

All during American history, women (among many others) have made an effort to receive rights equal to a man’s. The book "The Handmaid’s Tale" by Margaret Atwood presents a horrifying scenario: women have become the property of men, and the men, the property of a damaged government in the Republic of Gilead.

The book begins describing how the main character, a Handmaid named Offred (read: Of Fred), lives with the Commander and his wife and must perform menial tasks such as going to the market (where the signs are not words but pictures, because women are not allowed to read). Her biggest assignment once a month is to lie with the Commander and hope that she can get pregnant, because if she can not, she will be sent to the Colonies, where women and other outcasts work with meagre portions of food and dangerous surroundings. Also in this society, doctors who perform or used to perform abortions are hunted down and murdered, as well as previous religious leaders and promiscuous homosexuals. Anyone that goes against the grain in this new society is punished. Throughout the book Offred reminisces about the years—when she would play with her daughter, go places with her husband Luke, and could work to earn money—before she became a Handmaid in this deranged society.

This story puts a new spin on everyday life. It makes the reader wary of the future, as "The Handmaid’s Tale" can almost seem like something that has already happened before or foreshadowing for a lifestyle that is imminent. The detail in this book is incredible as well. It can make any reader appreciative for all the small things they have—like the freedom of sexuality, the freedom to protest, and the freedom to gain knowledge.

In addition, a topic frequently brought up in this fictional yet realistic account is sexual relations. Though it may be a squeamish topic for the rather conservative audience, sex is presented as something almost sacred. However, at the same time, sex is no longer something that is allowed for pleasure; instead it is only an instinctive act of reproduction. For this reason (and also for a few curse words and other mature topics like death), I would say this book is not for your little brother or sister in elementary and junior high school.

After finishing this book, I felt satisfied, as though I had just lived another’s life through the account of someone in the past, or someone that sent their horrifying tale back in time. The ending is incredible, as it is presented in the future as historical notes by fictional professors and fans of this tale of a Handmaid in a maniacal republic.

“While the initial idea for 'The Handmaid’s Tale' came to me in 1981, I avoided writing it for several years because I was apprehensive about the results—whether I would be able to carry it off as a literary form,” Atwood noted, in ‘A Note to the Reader’. Perhaps it is fortunate she did end up publishing this avant-garde novel until years later. That being said, "The Handmaid’s Tale" is not a dust-collecting addition to the top tier of one’s bookshelf, but rather, something to keep on a nightstand to contemplate over and over again.

24 September 2009

Documentation.

I've always documented my body- it's ups, it's downs, it's clay-like morphing before the mirror. Every time I gain, lose, maintain, the way the fat and muscle lay is different.

I don't take photos anymore, and I haven't for over a year. But today I felt compelled to, just so I have a reference. Will I come back, and look at those photos like an outsider (as I always do when it comes to living as me)? Or will I just go back to the being the sculptor, my skeletal remains as the clay?

I want to be able to be in my body, not a skeptical and disgusted purveyor of rotten goods. And if I were honest, I want to be able to vanish from sight, disappear from view, eradicate myself from the planet... like a white-board marker scribble being erased with one fell wipe.

18 September 2009

La Vida Dulce. (A Lovely Ditty Written by a Friend.)

I'm a wife, mom and blogger,
Coffee drinker, baker, and jogger.
I don't swim in the sea
Or make potpourri.
I like pizza with a good lager.

(Not really, but it was the only word
that rhymed. Anyway...)

I'm a C-section survivor.
The mother, the gard'ner, the driver,
A maid, and a groomer.
(Have I said coffee consumer?)
I'm not the best, but I try-ver.

I'm the home-school professor,
And my desk is a mess-er.
A guitar player who cooks,
A reader of books;
I'm early to rise, I confess-er.

From laundry [I constantly] flee;
My van is chock full of debris.
I mow the lawn,
Walk our dogs in the dawn-
Only after two cups of coffee.

Like you, I do many things.
But its Christ who gives me the wings
To press on when life's hard,
Knowing He will stand guard.
His love is what makes my heart sing.

Among titles, no more am I "slave":
For Christ overcame that dark grave;
In Him I am free
To be who He's called me to be.
And that's the short story of me.

-La Vida Coffee Gal
(Galatians 5:1)

16 September 2009

I'm GOING. (Send lots of letters and <3!)

Where am I going, you ask?

Well, I have been trying to get into Mercy Ministries since October of 2008. I all but gave up after doctors and one previous residential treatment centre made it nearly impossible to get past records and medical health summaries.

It took me until 8 June to finally get onto the waitlist, at which time I did 9 half-page/full-page assignments based on books they sent me every 2 weeks. I also had check-in phone calls from their intake department every two weeks.

On Thursday (two weeks ago), I got a call from the director of the brand-spankin' new California home. I was really sick at the time, so I waited until this last Monday (7 September) to call back, at which time she just asked some questions and asked how I was feeling about coming to Mercy- "Do you still feel like you would be able to challenge yourself while here, and are you feeling ready and open to coming?" I had a feeling that she was hinting that I would be given an admit date soon.



And I was right: one of the ladies called me this Monday, left a voicemail (I screen my phone calls if I don't recognise the number), and I called back Tuesday afternoon. Finally, they dropped the bomb:

I will be going to Mercy Ministries in Lincoln, CA for an indefinite period of time (6+ months) on 7 October, and my intake time is at 1.30 PM.

What does that mean? It means I will be very homesick, and definitely longing for outside familiarity. Basically, I'm implying that I would LOVE e-mail or a comment in this blog entry, asking for my snail mail address and phone number for while I am there at MM.

(I will edit this post when I find out the hours for visiting and accepting phone calls. Also, if you're visiting, I just wanted you to note that the address I provide, unless otherwise stated, is only a mailing address... not the actual home's location.)

Also...
I'm really scared, terrified, anxious, angry, fearful, selfish, guilty, ashamed, and all of the above, so I apologise in advance if I seem distant in the next few weeks while I prepare myself.
---

EDIT:

Some of you have asked about visiting, which is just so super awesome radical fantastic coolio! (Haha.) At any rate, according to the paperwork I just received yesterday after via e-mail:

"[Visits] are typically done outside the home (in the city where the home is located) and reserved for weekend passes for the most part. Your parents/family may call the Program Director to schedule these after you have been in the home for thirty days."

That means, in essence, that after 30 days, you should be able to call me, and we'll talk about your visit, and if we agree about it (read: if I can handle a visit!), then I guess you're supposed to call the same phone number listed above, and ask about visiting/speaking with the Program Director. However, I'm not really sure, since they said "parents/family," if friends can come visit, after all. I sure hope so! But anyway, I cannot put the address of the home here in this note, but when you call to speak with the Program Director about visitation, you'll be able to get it then! :)

And, I just received this in an e-mail about phone calls and vistations:

"Lincoln residents can receive calls on Saturdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. You’ll be eligible for a weekend pass after the first 30 days. You may want to contact the Lincoln home to verify times you can call out on Sundays. They’ll be happy to assist."

In response to Jessi B's question: Sadly, I am only able to bring five Christian books (though I'm sure more can be sent in, ya think?), but I'm curious- what book is it? And no, I truly doubt that they would throw away your letter if you curse since I have a right to receiving my own private mail, unless there's some sort of threat (which...I doubt you're gonna threaten me, are you?). But in all truth and honesty, we might as well not curse, cos I find no real purpose to it. ;) Thanks for asking those questions, and let me know about the book's title!

In response to Lizz's question: I will update this later when I get an e-mail back, but I'm pretty sure I could accept care packages. I just sent a message asking what is considered contraband when people send mail, but I'm pretty sure you know a lot of it already. Thanks, Lizz- that's so thoughtful! I will seriously be so happy to receive mail from anyone, even if it's just a "hey" and your name.

And, I just received this in an e-mail:

"Regarding care packages, tell friends that they cannot send music CDs or books that are not Christian in nature. No clothing with inappropriate logos, symbols, writing. Once you get to the home, you can speak with your counselor about appropriate care packages."

In response to Donna's and Alli's question: No, there are no internet or cell phones at Mercy. Just gotta do it the old-fashioned way (which I like better, anyway)! So...uhm, send phone cards? :D

I will continue to edit this note when I get more definite information, and as the intake date draws nearer! <3

Thanks for understanding, guys, and for all of your continued support and care.

08 September 2009

You Can Be Loved. (From My Personal E-Mail Inbox.)

It must have been "a God thing" when I received this in my e-mail inbox this evening. I've been having one of those weeks, where nothing I do can ever seem to measure up and meet my own rather irrational expectations. When I dig deeper inside, I see that, inside the void in the pit of my stomach, is actually a little girl who desperately needs and wants to be loved unconditionally- no strings attached, no hidden motives or agendas.

Typically, I must admit, I will see the "FW:" (forward) in an e-mail subject line... and immediately delete it, without even clicking to find out what the message says. I just get too much "spam mail" these days- as do most of us, I'm assuming, right? But this one happened to call me to open it, and I'm actually glad I did.

So... with no further ado:
Here is said e-mail (originally written by Jen Lemen), with much love and thanks to my friend Ali.


You can be loved...
  • even if you are not perfect
  • even if you don’t know the answer
  • even if you are horribly confused
  • even if you can’t make anyone feel better
  • even if you don’t know how to make yourself well
  • even if you made a mistake
  • even if you don’t know how to be
  • even if you are ashamed
  • even if you are hopeless
  • even if you don’t quite fit in
  • even if you are scared
  • even if you are lonely
  • even if you shouldn’t be having such a hard time right now
  • even if you don’t think so
  • even if you haven’t found your place yet
  • even if you aren’t proud of yourself
  • even if no one has really seen you before
  • even if you don’t know what to do
  • even if you try too hard
  • even if you’re disappointed
  • even if you don’t really like yourself right now
  • even if you are beyond good advice
  • even if you don’t know how to cry
  • even if you think this must be meant for someone other than you

07 September 2009

What Were Those Side Effects Again? (Discussion about ADHD Medication.)

To clarify a bit about why I wrote this and decided to post it here: I wrote this on a "medications' review board" for Adderall on the side effects, and whether it actually helps even out the symptoms of ADHD or not- in my experience. I decided to post it here, because I have a close friend who, I just found out a few days ago, has taken Adderall habitually "just for the energy to do okay in school... and to lose weight." I was shocked, and honestly, pretty angry! Taking this medication "willy-nilly" can easily become an addiction and can be very dangerous- just like any illegal street drug, if you are not taking a medically prescribed amount for diagnosed ADHD! Adderall, Ritalin, Strattera, etc are not for weight loss or other recreational uses. Hopefully, if you've been thinking of somehow illegally obtaining it, you'll think again...
---

Typical side effects:
  • nausea
  • panic and/or anxiety
  • energetic, sometimes to the point of mania
  • sleeplessness, "drained," or physical exhaustion
  • extremely painful, involuntary jaw-clenching
  • long-lasting, acute tension headaches
  • lower back aching
  • dry lips and mouth, which leads to chewing on lips compulsively
  • weight loss (resulting from other side effects, such as lack of appetite, maniacal physical activity, and dry mouth)
  • feeling strong compulsions to do repetitive or "perfecting" tasks (eg, wasting ten full minutes lining up a pen and pencil so they are "perfectly" parallel)
  • worsening of obsessional thoughts (I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder before taking Adderall)
  • fluctuation between excessively dry or oily skin
  • mild mood swings while taking it (I have been diagnosed with multiple co-morbid mental illnesses), but...
  • severe depression, suicidal ideation, mania, and/or rage, if I miss a full day's (or two) of the medication
  • overwhelming urge to smoke much more than I typically do
  • chronic constipation, until the moment I eat something, which causes...
  • severe and urgent diarrhea (hey, don't get all "ewww!" on me- these are the cold, hard facts!)
I take 10mg of Adderall 3x/day for ADHD, after being diagnosed in February 2008; however, my mother is absolutely sure I have had it for years (since I was a very young child). I'm not sure, but I believe that all of these typical side effects happen when I have:
  • Unintentionally mixed the medication with too much caffeine- that is, several cups of black tea or a few large cups of coffee.
  • Stupidly forgotten to take my medication for a day, and then resume taking the medication the next day.
  • Been getting over a very bad flu, or have otherwise suppressed immune system.
Only within this last week or so, when I've been in the utter pits of despair due to being sick with the flu, have I ever noticed the sheer amount of cigarettes that I've been puffing through, or the painful extent of how hard and often I was clenching my jaw. I now feel as though my cheeks are puffed with acorns, and I can't completely close my mouth due to a "phantom" or "perceived" dislocated jaw. The same goes for pretty much all the other side effects listed above.



On a positive note:

It took me so long, with my mother actually agreeing to come and talk to the psychiatrist about my childhood, to convince my doctor to prescribe me some form of medication for ADHD. Sadly, after years of hardcore therapy, I've come to realise that an illness I suffer from (anorexia nervosa) stems from the need to calm myself down, and thus cutting out foods (that is, energy) to do so. Fifteen or more years and multiple hospitalisations and treatment centres later, I was relieved to find someone that would finally, though hesitantly, prescribe me a small dose of Adderall, just to see if it would help. And it most definitely did. Yes, there are times when I am still blurry and hazy when it comes to getting things done or wander while trying to get a point across, but Adderall (due to proper dosing and medical supervision) has helped me a lot.



And now, the final topic I'd like to address:

For those of who who've decided to buy these drugs off your friends to help you "study for a test," or (God forbid) to "lose a little weight" (No, it's not permanent!), you are making it all the more difficult for the patients who truly need Adderall in order to get through the day. I have found it nearly impossible to find a doctor or psychiatrist who will prescribe it here in my hometown, and their explanation is always the same- "We don't prescribe medications like Adderall for ADHD because someone else may get a hold of it and sell it to people wanting to get a kick."



So! For those of you who pop pills to stay up all night and cram, in order to do well on that test:
  • Stop procrastinating- do the homework and studying throughout the course like you're supposed to
  • Finish your homework ahead of schedule, instead of losing sleep, popping Adderall, and getting it done 1 hour before it's due- you're only fooling yourself if you think you'll ever be able to pass the mid-terms or final later on
  • Remember that you will most likely not remember much of what you've studied, and in fact, may even do worse on the impending test, because the brain actually needs "rapid-eye movement" (REM) sleep in order to consolidate memories- that means that, even though you've stayed awake all night cramming, you're probably only going to really remember the last few pages, exercises, etc of what you studied the night before


For those of you who "just wanna/need to lose weight" by taking Adderall, I challenge you to:
  • Learn how to eat appropriately and exercise adequately, by seeing a dietitian if possible
  • Start advocating for positive and healthy body image by ditching the gossip magasines and sticking to non-aesthetics based television channels or websites- for example, if you have cable, block E!, VH1, MTv, Style Network, etc- while even perhaps seeing a therapist to work out the deeper issues with self-esteem
  • Remember that Adderall is highly-addictive medication- if used by individuals without ADHD, it can cause the same amount of devastating damage of a street drug like cocaine or speed; do you really want to jeopardise your long-term physical and mental health in order to temporarily lose a few pounds? If you "just don't care"- definitely get your bum into a therapist's office now! I don't want to make any assumptions about your mental health, but you've obviously got some deeper issues you need to work on, in order to live a full and happy life!


Anyway, sorry for the novel. Just some "food for thought."

05 September 2009

"Inside Out: Portrait of an ED" by Nadia Shivack. (A Book Review.)

Though, more than likely, I would not purchase this book (I borrowed it from the library), it was an interesting look at how therapeutic the arts can be for those struggling with eating disorders. In my own experience, drawing and collaging have been amazing venues for my own powerful and destructive thoughts; however, as Nadia Shivack shows, art therapy alone does not make the "voices" disappear, nor will it "cure" you when you struggle with a severe and chronic ED.

For those who do not struggle with an ED, reading the typical, non-fiction "informative manual" may be educative, but it doesn't illustrate the unsaid, secretive, and painful world of the sufferer. Shivack's revealing artwork, though it may seem child-like, gives an eye-opening look at the back-and-forth, "good vs evil" beliefs inside the eating disordered mind. She does this without any false claims at being "cured" or completely "recovered." Even in closing, she finishes her book by explaining that she has had many hospitalisations since its conception- but she reassures the reader by saying that she has continued to strive toward recovery, using her creativity to aid her in that goal.

"Inside Out: Portrait of an Eating Disorder" by Nadia Shivack is a good book for many different readers: alternative therapists, those looking for introductive knowledge about EDs (whether suffering from an ED or not), and those struggling with the idea that there is hope for recovery.

04 September 2009

Terrified. (Personal Musings.)

Guys, I'm scared. So why am I scared? I'm terrified that, after 3 months on the waitlist, I may be "going to Mercy Ministries."

I received a phone call from a director of the California home, that is supposedly opening its doors on 1 October, on Wednesday (2 September). She said, in the voicemail, that she wanted to "chat for a minute"- and what is my brain doing? It's "catastrophising": "What if she tells me I'm going to the CA home? I wanted to go to TN!" or "What the heck am I getting myself into?"

Hey, who knows? Maybe she was just calling because I had emailed awhile back about helping out when it comes to donations, but never followed-up. How typical of me.

But after reading the initial email from 8 June, when I was placed on the waitlist, it said that a director of the home I'd be placed in (either LA, TN, or CA) would call two weeks or so before I was supposed to be admitted. So maybe she was calling about an admit date...?

All I can think is this: I don't want to go! I'm too afraid to leave my husband (they only accept married women in "isolated cases"), and make these HUGE life changes that I keep hearing about from testimonies. I can't eat the food they want me to, nor can I deal with living with 39 other girls (some of them way younger than me). I don't want to come home after six or more months away, and be a person that my husband refuses to love (he's a hardcore atheist). And no, I absolutely do not need or want to gain any weight, but I know it'll be required. I just wished I could have been on the waitlist a little longer, to lose a little more of this weight off my legs and stomach and bum...

But I have to go. It is my only option, and after losing multiple friends who "don't think [I'm] trying hard enough to get help," it's the only thing I can do to somehow "win them back." Who knows? Maybe I'll learn something, too. I just don't know. There are too many "what ifs."

HELP.

03 September 2009

Wicked, Tricksy, False. (Film Interpretations.)

So, I wrote this awhile back- about 7 months ago, to be exact. I thought it would be interesting to share, and glean some of your thoughts on this...
---

Kevin and I were watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy tonight, yesterday, and the night before that, and there is part in which Smeagol is battling his inner demon Gollum in a mini-monologue. (Or would that be dialogue? Haha!) To me, it was like observing the my own thought processes (as well as anyone with an eating disorder) when it comes to recovery and the treatment team who wants to help.

For me, I see "it"/"the precious" as anorexia nervosa, the hobbits/Master as the treatment team, Gollum as the innermost thoughts while battling an ED, and Smeagol as our true and logical selves. What do you think?

Watch for yourself, and give me your opinion, if you will:



Hmmm...
(For those of you with an eating disorder, or who have struggled with an eating disorder in the past: Doesn't this eerily remind you of your own internal fight?)

You know, and the more I think about it, like some of you have mentioned, the whole story line of the trilogy (especially when it comes to Smeagol/Gollum and the ring) reminds me very much of the struggles we all endure and the way an eating disorder can become like a "new identity."

Examples:
  • In the beginning, becoming obsessed with the ring, and his physical/mental state slowly deteriorating (the eating disorder destroying our life).
  • Gollum always fighting to obtain the ring despite Smeagol logically knowing what it has done (often, we try to obtain an unattainable goal by using the eating disorder, instead of a positive coping mechanism).
  • The way Smeagol once again becomes engulfed with the thoughts of the ring in the end (what can happen if we ALLOW ourselves to be consumed by the ED- no pun intended).
  • The other characters that are involved in Smeagol/Gollum's life, like Samwise and Frodo mainly (Sam- the friends/loved ones that we must "prove" our recovery to constantly, Frodo- someone who empathises and trusts, or someone near to you that may be a "trigger" despite trying to help, etc).
  • In the end, because Smeagol doesn't fight the power of the ring/Gollum, he falls into Mordor (what can and WILL occur eventually if we do not constantly battle the ED, which SHOULD NOT and DOES NOT have control over our lives).
  • (I found this even MORE oddly coincidental, but...) The way the ring becomes such a force over its "protector" that they lose all appetite, become exhausted, and cannot sleep (all side effects of malnutrition/ED thoughts).
  • In the end, Frodo, despite battling the very ones he loves and respects, ends up throwing the ring into the fires of Mordor with the help of the other characters- even though he DOES lose a finger and ensures a lot of pain/difficulty! (This gives me hope, honestly, even though I know it's not really a film about eating disorders, and JRR Tolkien did note that book is not an allegory for anything. As he stated in the second edition of the novel, "It is neither allegorical nor topical....I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence." That being said, though, I can still see so many similarities. Despite the fact that recovery is typically a trying journey with many fights with loved ones/friends, and despite having to "lose" a lot in order to give up the identity of the ED, we CAN overcome this with our own sheer POWER and STRENGTH + the support of friends, family, and a treatment team.)

Can anyone find any more similarities in the films?

So... What Exactly IS "Recovery"?

I've been left in a heaving ball of internal guilt and emotional pain. Why? Because last Thursday, I had three friends (all at once) tell me that they would not talk to me until I "got real help." Also, in the last month or two, I've had three other individuals refuse to speak with me, or make devastating claims about my mental state, feelings, nutrition intake, intentions, daily activities, etc (without seeing me, face to face). And today, I spoke with two people who 1) asked if I was "in recovery" and 2) hoped I would "seek recovery."

I'm not so much holding anything against any of these friends and acquaintances, as I realise they are only concerned and/or protecting themselves. What I am more interested in is how they define recovery. I decided to look it up- "What is recovery?" After typing it into Google search, this is what I found:
I believe these all to be valid points, a good include-all explanation of what recovery entails. I definitely agree with and am pleased to see "hope" as the first listed in this list.

However, I definitely believe "empowerment" and "self-help" are intimately tied to "hope" (and as such, should be listed immediately after "hope"). Without promoting your own well-being, mental health, and sanity, there is no hope of receiving and applying tools you are given in treatment ("Treatment"), sticking to a medication regime ("Medication"), using the education and knowledge you have to positively cope ("Education/Knowledge"), taking spiritual guidance to heart ("Spirituality"), gaining friendships or exploring other relationships ("Support"), and certainly not using your God-given talents to do something you have passion for ("Employment/Meaningful Activity").

So, what do I have or do with of this list? It's interesting, because I certainly am empowered to live my day-to-day life, pushing through any sort of depression or internal pain to continue upkeep of my home, etc. I take my medication appropriately everyday, with only the occasional forgetfulness that most people have. And treatment? Well, I've tried. People don't seem to really get it when I say that therapists here are seriously undereducated when it comes to eating disorders, nor do they believe me when I say any therapists I have found that have experience with EDs don't accept "out-of-pocket" (AKA cash-pay) clients. But at any rate, I am on the waitlist (have been since 8 June) for Mercy Ministries, which is my only option at this point. No, I don't enjoy the stress of needing to do the "helpful" MM assignments every two weeks, and the check-in calls seem hurried, rushed, false. In honesty, I am more interested in just getting a part-time job, or going back to school for a few classes (meaningful activity and employment), but I'm on this neverending wishlist, and the day they call to give me an admit date is always up in the air. (Their "estimate" of how long I could be waiting ranged from six weeks to six months!) Anyway, I'm certainly well-educated and knowledgeable about this illness, and all the deep complexities of it, and I continue to explore and use spirituality to help me see more clearly (though admittedly, I wish I were more active within the church family, and definitely want to apply the Word to my life much more). I truly have little "support" if you were to refer to community resources, friends, and/or family, so I turn to what I can, which is generally online friends who are in recovery themselves (despite potentially never meeting them face-to-face). This can definitely be a double-edged sword: It can be very nice to have someone who understands the ups-and-downs of this term called "recovery." Then again, it can truly drag you down when these friends are struggling, making assumptions about your state of mind and intentions, or even making negative remarks about your physical appearance (while ignoring your own perceived progress). It truly is just a vicious human circle- support is necessary, but it's so incredibly difficult to make sure there's a balance or give-and-take connexion- not just emotional dependency (the Strong friend vs the Weak friend, both who are "needy" for the other).

That leaves us, in the end, with "hope" and "self-help." So, do I have hope? Not exactly, I've realised. My hope is rather short-lived. I hope that I'll wake up tomorrow. Or hope that I won't get too tired this morning, so that I'm able to get some chores done. Occasionally, yes, I do have hope that this grand, macroview of my future will be exciting or something that is fulfilling. But in honesty, I've felt that this life will be short for me (well, almost hoped it would be), so some fabulous and rewarding future seems like static on a television or as though I'm trying to see through a pea-soup thick fog. And I guess I question things much too often, since I often internally ask: "Okay, so what's really the point of being here on Earth? Why continue to run the rat race?" And self-help... what does that mean? Does it mean helping myself survive? Because, if so, that is certainly what I am doing. I constantly must weigh and balance (no pun intended!) the anxiety of living a "behaviour-free" life (which could lead to severe panic, pain, fear, and debilitating depression) versus staying "comfortably numb" within the confines of anorexia nervosa. Ah, the self-doubt is tangible!

Where does this leave me? Asking more questions than I have answers.
---
Sources:
+Harvesting Our Personal Efforts. "What is Recovery?" Accessed 3 September 2009.
+National Eating Disorders Association. "Get Help Today." Accessed 4 September 2009.
---"
Resources and Links." Accessed 4 September 2009.
+My Inspiration Lounge. "Home/About." Accessed 4 September 2009.
+WeRFreedomFighters. "Welcome."
Accessed 4 September 2009.
+Something-Fishy. "Remember It Hurts Community." Accessed 4 September 2009.
+FINDINGbalance. "Treatment and Recovery." Accessed 4 September 2009.
---"Spiritual Aspects." Accessed 4 September 2009.
+Simply|Hired. "Home/Search." Accessed 4 September 2009.
+VolunteerMatch. "Home/Search." Accessed 4 September 2009.

02 September 2009

Little Bird. (My Mad Ramblings.)

After reading my own prose and writings and scribblings, my thoughts released on lined paper inside tiny journals... I find them full of question marks, cages, dust, and birds longing to fly free. I express undying curiosity to understand "their" concern, questions, ambitions for me. And I use bitter expressions to shelter, protect my own true deeper understanding. So, you see why this entire song speaks to my innermost being, that gnawing hole in the darkest part of my core.

And now, I'm refusing to clip my wings. This little bird is flying her coop...

---

Little Bird
by Imogen Heap:


(Scroll down to pause my blog music playlist, to the right of the screen.)

Little bird, little bird, little bird
What do you hear?
The clink of morning cheers
Orange juice concentrate
Crossword puzzles start to grate
One across
Four letter word, it's just not sitting

Little bird, little bird, little bird
What do you see?
A picture-perfect scene
Two-toned lawns are manicured
The garden's wearing haute couture

It's hiding something
It's trying too hard
Hiding something
It's trying too hard

Little bird, little bird, little bird
Where are they now?
Daytime TV lounge
A carriage clock, a mantle piece
A family wiped up, J-Cloth cleaned
Unsaid, festers in the throws of the sofa

Little bird, little bird, little bird
How are you feeling?
Like helping quarantine:
Pearly whites, touch down smile,
Haps and creases round the eyes

Telltale, heart sail
We smell rats in the kitchen
Telltale, heart sail
We smell rats in the kitchen

Little bird, little bird, little bird
What can we do?
A think-tank, think "rescue"
Simon Says, Etch-a-Sketch
Send a golden message only he would get
Quickly now
'Cause this is not how it ends

Little bird, little bird, little bird
(Little bird, little bird, little bird)
Well I've got one more question
(Little bird, little bird, little bird)
And I swear I'll let it rest
(Little bird, little bird, little bird)
Well I've just one more question
(Little bird, little bird, little bird)
And I swear I'll let it rest

One more question
I'll let it rest
I swear I'll let it rest
Got one more question
(And I swear I'll let it rest)
I've got one more question

Little bird, little bird, little bird
Where have you gone?
---

"Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark." -R. Tagore

31 August 2009

Ellipse. (A Brilliant New Album by Imogen Heap.)

Our darling and ethereal Imogen Heap has gone and done it again with her newest album entitled Ellipse.

Her poignant and deeply-dug lyrics are spell-binding, threatening to take hold of my consciousness and lull me into a dreamlike state. And yet, between every lullaby, Heap neatly tucks in a quirky and upbeat melody. Don't be fooled, though: these cutesy-ish songs have bite, with their satirical, double-meaning lyrics...

So, dear readers, I shall share one of my favourite songs + lyrics (and a "music video"- to listen, scroll down and pause my blog playlist on the right of your screen), that comes straight from Imogen Heap's brilliant mind. This song has resonated with me, in a playful sense, as I relate to my interpretation of her message:

Bad Body Double



She pops into the bathroom
Just after a shower and
She plays with my makeup and creams
Keeps trying to look like me

And goes through the motions
Posing this way and that,
Holding it in,
If it makes you feel better, then knock yourself out

Say hi there to my bad body double
This is my bad body double trouble
Oh no, my bad body double, mmmhm
I've got bad body double trouble, oh.

She's trouble
She's trouble
She's trouble, alright.

Yeah, yeah

Sometimes I manage to lose her
Shake her at a bar, in the gym for five minutes
It feels so good to be back to my own self again-
Can get quite confusing.

We look very similar except she's got some grays and
A little extra weight on the sides
And dimply thighs,
I hear that stuff's a bitch to get rid of
(No, no, no, no)

We're having quite an intimate, personal moment (not now)
Could you maybe come at a slightly less awful time? (not now)
She can see I've got someone quite nice here with me
Can't we just be left alone...
I guess that's a no then
Seeing as you're still here
Seeing as you're still here
Here

It's not me, no
It's my bad body double
I got bad body double trouble
Oh no, my bad body double, mmmhm
I've got bad body double trouble, agh.
Bad body double, mmhm.
I've got bad body double trouble
Oh dear, my bad body double.
I got bad body double trouble.

She's trouble
She's trouble
She's trouble, alright.
Yeah, yeah, yeah
She's trouble
She's trouble
She's trouble, alright.
Yeah, yeah, right there.

Can't shake her, Can't shake her, Can't shake her, Can't shake her
Everywhere I go, Everywhere I go, goooo
Can't shake her, Can't shake her, Can't shake her, Can't shake her
Everywhere I go, Everywhere I go, goooo

Say hi there,
To my bad body double
My bad, bad, bad body double.
She's trouble
I can't shake her
And I hate her, I hate her, I hate her, I hate her, I hate her.
She's everywhere I go,

I'm going to get rid
Of you once and for all...

---

So clickety-click away on the album title (located at the top of this post), and a new window will open for you to purchase the special edition MP3s on Amazon. Trust me, I know you'll be swept off your feet. (I mean, honestly, even NPR got in on the Imogen-y goodness!)

As for me, I'm on the waitlist for the Foundation for Imogen Heap Addicts rehabilitation facility. Tee hee...

30 August 2009

Hope- It Never Asked a Crumb of Me.

Hope, by Emily Dickinson:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all.

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

---
This poem has brought tears to my eyes multiple times, as it is truly meaningful in regards to my own life. Emily Dickinson has been one of my favourite poets (poetess?) for an extraordinarily long time now, and I've even written multiple research papers on her, her life, and her work. I think I may be just a tad... obsessed with her, because anytime I find a fictional or non-fictional book related to Dickinson, I have to have it. For anyone who is interested, my favourite fictional novel about her (and her sister Lavinia) is "The Sister: A Novel of Emily Dickinson" by the late Paola Kaufmann. Check it out.

(Oh, and keep the votes coming on my poll- what do you want me to write about?)

20 August 2009

Up to That Point (An Abridged Autobiography).

Another hilarious tidbit from my "past life"- here is something I wrote about my first 17 years, as a senior in high school (2004). I don't remember the reason for writing it, but it's odd to see just how much my life has changed since I wrote this six years ago.

(PS: Check out the awesome jam-packed shelf behind me in the above photo. Like my mother's empowering collection? Oh, and gotta love the kid pictures of my sister, mom, and me! Ahaha!)

The (Abridged) Story of my Life

I've been raised by 'smart' parents. By 'smart', I mean that book-smart, lacking-of-emotional-sensitivity class of people. My mother likes examining and collecting rocks, lecturing others on the value of excessive coupon-using and reading books at a voracious pace. My father enjoys using lengthy words to condescend others, working and talking about cars and cooking dinner for others. I took after this frame of mind, receiving praise from teachers for my high grade point average and motivation to learn. My younger sister, who was born in 1988, used to be a hard-worker in school, trying as hard as she could to get excellent grades. However, she soon became another rebellious teen, failing numerous classes, becoming passionate about friends, fashion, and music, while flipping my entire world upside-down. We share a room and when she decided to be the 'unique' one in the family, she became cluttered and unorganized, her social life preventing her from cleaning up after herself. My parents have given up on encouraging her to improve her lifestyle and don't understand her career choice as a fashion designer.

However, that's my family--mostly misunderstanding anything dealing with passion. There's one thing they do comprehend though, and that's the importance of learning as much as you can. During the summer between seventh and eighth grade, they were able to send me to Russia and Belarus as a foreign exchange student for three weeks. It was my first traveling experience and after a week there, I learned what poverty was (and what being drunk was like). After going to the only McDonald's in Minsk, Belarus and having to pay for a packet of ketchup, I realized just how lucky I am to live in America, where food is relatively cheap and readily available. By staying with a family in Minsk, I made an international friend that I still stay in contact with to this day.

Three years later, after scraping together enough money, my parents sent me to stay with my friend in France for three months. Now, that wouldn't have been a life-changing experience to most, but it taught me a lot about myself and others around me. Before my trip to France, I suffered heavily from anorexia and bulimia. It affected my self-esteem, my health, and the way I treated others. I needed help desperately, but it seemed my family wasn't going to give me the aid I needed. The family I stayed with, however, helped to boost my confidence and learn many valuable lessons. I learned how to interact with a different culture. I learned to perceive beauty in amazing attractions that you see in tourism brochures, like the Eiffel Tower at night and the Sacre Coeur. I learned how to get around an airport without getting too lost. In addition, I learned the language of love to near fluency--something I had always wanted to do.

Both traveling experiences changed my view on the world and after those events, I'm sure I'll be an international traveler when I'm a bit older. Also, learning the French language has made me consider becoming an English teacher in France. In this way, I would consider traveling to France be a major life-changing event.

Although traveling helped me realize what I perhaps want to do in the future, so has my current relationship. As of August 15th of 2004, I will have been dating my boyfriend Kevin Mershon for 15 months. After four months of dating last year, Kevin began his fall semester classes at San Jose State University, while I was still stuck in high school in Bakersfield. Together, we have gotten through many trials, such as the distance between us, which we are still dealing with today. Moreover, his parents do not accept us as a sexually active couple, making it difficult to share any intimacy. We plan for our future together, despite the three and a half hour drive and parental disapproval that separates us.

All the people and events in my life have attributed to my personality traits. Generally, I am a hard-worker, trying to attain good grades and please my parents. However, I am also moody, as I suffer from on-and-off depression and extreme anxiety. I've been prone to extreme obsession, which presented itself when I became anorexic, bulimic, a compulsive eater. Despite my past problems, I make friends pretty easily, since I look beyond their bad qualities and find only the good.

12 August 2009

Emily Dickinson: Victorian Poetess, Agoraphobe, Fanatic, Social Commentator, and/or Lesbian?

I came across a high school term paper I wrote during the second semester of my junior year in high school (the beginning of 2003). Even then, I was fascinated by the "mystery" surrounding the illusory character that is Emily Dickinson; since writing this paper, I've read multiple biographies and "based on a true story" fictional accounts about her fantastical life. So, allow me to share...

Most every poet, young or old, has probably come across the name of the celebrated Emily Dickinson. The question is: Who is Emily Dickinson and why did she become famous? Miss Dickinson was most likely one of the most enigmatic female poets that has ever lived. From her poems it is simple for one to tell when something in her life directly affected her writing. However, another question a reader must ask is: Did the problems and tragedies in society during her time affect her hidden mysterious lifestyle? By closely analysing her work, it may be possible to determine if she were influenced by the problems of an outside world such as the Civil War, politics, and racial conflicts.

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born to Puritan parents on December 10, 1830 in the small town of Amherst, Massachusetts, where she remained for nearly all her life. Her younger sister Lavinia, older brother Austin, and she were forced to comply with the strict Christian beliefs of their tyrannical father. Thus, Emily’s writing often contains religious symbolism and refers to her undying faith. After attending Mount Holyoke Female Seminary for one year, Miss Dickinson returned home out of homesickness. There, she kept herself busy tending her garden, baking up new and delightful recipes, and commencing in writing the first of her poetry.

After some time, Dickinson fell deeply in love for the well-respected and unfortunately married Reverend Charles Wadsworth. When he left for San Francisco in the early 1860’s, Miss Dickinson was compelled to let out her emotions with a stream of disheartening poetry. In the following years, she became increasingly more of a hermit, hardly seeing anyone except her closest family members. Soon she earned the nickname “eclectic recluse,” as she sent sweets and pastries down to children from her bedroom window on the second floor without showing her face. She also refused to meet old friends; instead, she wrote them letters, epigrams, and poetry acknowledging her presence. In 1862, Emily suffered a nervous breakdown, ending the most creatively productive time of her life. Finally at the age of 55, Bright’s disease took her life in 1886 in Amherst (The Academy of American Poets). After discovering 1700+ poems in a desk drawer, Miss Dickinson’s sister published her poetry posthumously. Her fame was spread nation-wide, and now she is considered to be one of the America’s best poets. Emily Dickinson’s lifestyle was definitely an explanation for what inspired her to write poetry, though there are many other reasons. The acme of her life took place during what was deemed to be this nation’s bloodiest war. Through analysing, one can discover how Dickinson dealt with the country’s calamity with words, phrases, and images.

The Civil War took place from 1861-1865 and although it was proclaimed to be “a gentleman’s war” in the beginning, it actually became one of America’s goriest and most horrifying wars. The Civil War itself is linked closely with wounding, connected on various, tangible and intangible, levels. Often the country, the families, the mind, the body, and the spirit were subject to violent ravaging. Any connection from Miss Dickinson to the Civil War is perhaps a bit more difficult to establish; indeed, several scholars have insisted that viewing Dickinson's poetry within the context of the Civil War is nonsense. These analysts prefer to see Emily’s poems as fundamentally isolated successive stanzas. However, in looking at her poetry, it becomes apparent that the work cannot be seen and understood detached from the time in which it was written or the occurring events that mark the period. When Miss Dickinson first viewed Matthew Brady’s photographs of a Civil War battlefield, her reaction was to write poetry. Also, Emily illustrated her deep mourning for soldiers through elegies, defined as “a poem or song composed especially as a lament for a deceased person.” An ode to deceased soldiers such as "It feels a shame to be alive," written the spring of 1863 shows Dickinson’s great concern for the society outside her own prison-like home during the terrible time or war (Susan Belasco).

However, being cooped up in solitude resulted in more than just elegies. Indeed, Emily Dickinson wrote over one thousand poetic masterpieces. Her poems express life, death, hopelessness, and nature, touching the reader with reflections in all aspects of existence.

For example, since most of her poetry was written when she was alone at home in Amherst, her poem about being named ‘Nobody’ was perhaps showing the fact that she was content being by herself and writing in privacy. She was satisfied that she was not a swaggering “frog” that bellowed out accomplishments to deaf or uncaring ears.

“I’m nobody! Who are you?/Are you nobody, too?/ Then there’s a pad of us—don’t tell!/They’d banish us, you know./ How dreary to be somebody!/How public, like a frog/To tell your name the livelong day/To an admiring bog!”


If you look at the poem that begins with "a surgeon must be very careful…," it shows that the worst things can happen from love; however, one must not forget that a surgeon can also perform surgeries to save a person. So in that way, Emily Dickinson could be supporting relationships.

“Surgeons must be very careful/When they take the knife!/Underneath their fine incisions/Stirs the culprit, --Life!”


On the other hand, her poem about having lunch was the opposite. Her words showed that she didn’t have what it took to actually love because she felt “ill and odd.” So instead, she watched others and drew from that.

“I had been hungry all the years;/My noon had come to dine;/I, trembling, drew the table near,/And touched the curious wine./ Twas this on tables I had seen,/When turning, hungry, lone,/I looked in windows, for the wealth/I could not hope to own./ I did not know the ample bread,/’Twas so unlike the crumb/The birds and I had often shared/In Nature’s dining-room./ The plenty hurt me, ‘twas so new,--/Myself felt ill and odd,/As berry of a mountain bush/Transplanted to the road./ Nor was I hungry; so I found/That hunger was a way/Of persons outside windows/The entering takes away.”


Then, in the poem about the angels taking up her tattered heart, she discusses love like it could be something she already rightly experienced and failed in. It also shows her profound love and honour for God, who she deems a person that could save her from misery. That poem easily shows her puritan roots and strict upbringing to believe in God.

“A poor torn heart, a tattered heart,/That sat it down to rest,/Nor noticed that the ebbing day/Flowed silver to the west,/Nor noticed night did soft descend/Nor constellation burn/Intent upon the vision/of latitudes unknown./ The angels, happening that way,/This dusty heart espied;/Tenderly took it up from toil/And carried it to God./There,--sandals for the barefoot;/There,--gathered from the gales,/Do the blue havens by the hand/Lead the wandering sails.”


Also, it seems that Emily Dickinson must have had several opportunities to love, but failed to accept them. This is shown in her poem about the slamming door. It represents how she is too shy to accept an offer to the warmth and comfort of being in love with someone.

“A door just opened on a street—/I, lost, was passing by—/An instant’s width of warmth disclosed, /And wealth, and company./ The door as sudden shut, and I,/ I, lost, was passing by,—/ Lost doubly, but by contrast most,/Enlightening misery.”


Emily Dickinson’s poetry was heavily influenced by the way she lived her life. Even if she lived in seclusion for a good portion of her life, her acquaintances made in her younger years deeply changed her techniques of writing. One of her correspondents, and a close friend/role model in 1862, was the Unitarian clergyman Thomas Wentworth Higginson. After adding a message of advice and support to the young writers of America to the Atlantic Monthly, he received a letter from Miss Dickinson asking to “say if my verse is alive.” It was then that their friendship grew and became to be what is known as the “most provocative correspondence of American literature” (Robert N. Linscott, 3-27).

In her withdrawal from any association with friends or family, it seemed the society only had a minimal effect on Dickinson. Her elegies to honour dead soldiers were the only way she ‘contributed’ to the Civil War effort during the years of 1861-1865.

During her lifetime, Emily was often deemed to be an “eccentric poetess and was given the nickname of the 'Nun of Amherst' upon locking herself away after her father’s death in 1874” (Robert N. Linsworth, 3). Even posthumously she is thought to have been a bizarre and “reckless genius;” her thought process being so entirely different that it is nearly impossible for some to decipher her later work. (Galway Kinnell)

Other critical analysis of Emily Dickinson reveals that her sexual preference could have been for the female sex; consequently, she shut herself away from strangers and only allowed her closest family members to visit her occasionally. For several years, Miss Dickinson and her sister-in-law, Sue Gilbert, ardently wrote letters back and forth. Some historians insist that these letters were merely examples of writing during the Victorian Era. Nevertheless, others like Emily’s biographer Rebecca Patterson, maintained her belief that Emily Dickinson was homosexual. In a work published by Martha Dickinson Bianchi including letters from the correspondence between her aunt and mother, most of the personal conversations between the two were edited. One included this demand made by Emily: “Susie, will you indeed come home next Saturday, and be my own again, and kiss me as you used to?” This statement was edited by Bianchi to simply say: “Susie, will you indeed come home next Saturday?” (Tom and T.J.). As Dickinson lived alone, her intimate life will stay a riddle forever.

Recognized women poets of Emily Dickinson’s time are rare, thus making her one of the most celebrated poets of her gender and era. Her ability to reach the reader with sometimes overly exaggerated messages on life, nature, love, and death is indeed one of the most amazing traits about Miss Dickinson. Her outstanding, though at times quite disturbing, poetry and letters will live on in a daze of baffling reminders of Emily Dickinson’s secluded life.


+Academy of American Poets, The, website accessed 15 March, 2003.
+Belasco, Susan, website accessed 15 March, 2003.
+Linscott, Robert N. Selected Poems and Letters of Emily Dickinson, pages 3-27.
+Kinnell, Galway, website accessed 15 March 2003.
+Tom and T.J., website accessed 15 March, 2003.

Note: Some of these links do not work anymore- it has been more than six years since I accessed these websites.