Saturday, November 22, 2014
I recently read a blog post about PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and its effects on the author's weight, and it kind of took me back. Not in a fun, those-were-the-days sort of way, either: in a terrible, alarmed, self-loathing kind of way.
Some background: since hitting puberty, my weight has been a yo-yo. I blossomed, sure, but I also ballooned. I grew enormous breasts in a very short amount of time, and I went from being a skinny kid to an unskinny teenager. I had no idea why.
Like lots of kids, I turned to food for comfort. Cookies tasted good, but I was no dope: I've known how to read a calorie listing since I was in the sixth grade. I taught myself how to purge (although, credit where credit is due: Seventeen's concerned articles about the whole ana/mia thing were very helpful), and so even though I continued to eat my feelings, I did lose weight. It was clear from the guys in my high school that to be thin was to be a prize. I wanted to be a prize for someone.
This is old territory for me, and not something that I'm proud of. Although, if we're being honest, I'm not really ashamed of it any more, either. I look back at that girl who just hated herself because her stomach wasn't concave, and because her arms jiggled when she moved, and I feel so tender towards her. I was so mired in shit back then, and it took a huge amount of courage to pull myself out of it. It forced me to start being what Anne Lamott calls "militantly on my own side."
But, the process of pulling myself out of the La Brea tar pits of self-loathing meant that I had to re-learn how to eat like a normal person. I hadn't ever really done that as an adult, and, to my alarm, it meant that I started gaining weight at a rapid clip. Like, 45 pounds over a span of a year? Which meant that, at my heaviest, I tipped the scales at 159 pounds. That's a lot for a 5'1" person. My eyes, which have always been anime-big, started to look smaller because my face was so bloated. I was helpless against the scale, and without purging, I had no idea how to fix this creep.
Things came to a head on Father's Day 2012, when my mom took one look at me and said, "Oh, you're not doing well, are you?" She didn't mean, like, LOL fatty. She meant Oh, your skin is turning gray. Which it totally was. I couldn't stop gaining weight, I was constantly bloated, and I was in a hellish cycle of diarrhea and constipation. To top it off, I had recently been diagnosed with PCOS, since my history of cysts and total weight explosion was enough for the nurse to flag it, despite not having the related hormonal shifts, body hair, or missing periods. I was fat, potentially infertile, and terrifically gassy.
Apparently, "learning how to eat normally" hadn't quite hit the mark.
I've read that women who are gluten sensitive have a higher incidence of both depression and eating disorders. This might be because of a couple different things: it's easy for a preoccupation with avoiding certain types of food to bleed into avoiding most food; it's also possible that the bloating and digestive issues that comes with gluten sensitivities can trigger a win-at-all-costs approach to avoiding them.
After that Father's Day picnic, I was ready to try anything. I started on a paleo diet, which involved cutting out grains (rice, corn, and wheat especially) and legumes, and piling my plate high with protein and produce. I ate some dairy here and there, I cut down on sugar (although, if cavewomen had had chocolate, lord knows they would have eaten it), and I ditched beer completely.
People tend to dismiss the paleo diet as being extreme, but I did this because I was suffering under a modern mealplan. Cupcakes made me fart. Bagels triggered exhaustion. Once, I ate two slices of pizza at a work function and had to go lie down on the bathroom floor for twenty minutes. Nobody wants to live like that.
And dudes, paleo isn't easy. All fast food is basically grain-based: burgers, pizza, sandwiches, falafels, sushi, ramen. Steel yourself to get really excited about desserts like meringues, which is usually (and correctly) presented as the finishing touch on a lemon pie. Baking is a write-off, and anyone who tries to sell you on paleo baked goods is a huckster fraud, because that shit tastes like styrofoam peanuts.
But the results can't be argued with, at least in my case. I started to sleep better. My stomach de-bloatified. My skin cleared up, for god's sake. And, to top it off, I dropped 35 pounds. The nurse who had originally diagnosed me with PCOS redid the tests a year later and proclaimed her original call to be in error. I no longer fit the symptom profile. A weight, no pun intended, had been lifted.
To some degree, I will always be a fat girl. Maybe not on the outside, where my weight-lifting and dance marathons have paid off, but on the inside, where the numbers on the scale get burned into my brain. I tend to overload the importance of weight in my self-worth calculations, and even though I've gone through hundreds of hours of therapy and have truly embraced kale, the math still gets skewed. M had done much heavy lifting on this topic, and while he met me at my lightest, he's loved me at my heaviest.
But the thing is, I needed to learn how to love myself at every weight. If the numbers on the scale start to tick up again, I like to think I have strategies in place to cope, and not just more vigorous dancing or less chocolate. Strategies like self-acceptance, a sense of humour, and the belief that my body is good enough no matter what it looks like. That's the heaviest—and the lightest—part.
Saturday, November 15, 2014
When I was eight or nine, I called the Kids Help Line because I was feeling scared and nervous all the time. I had two younger siblings who ate up most of my parent's time. I had few friends. I spent a lot of time alone. I was afraid of pretty much everything: certain commercials on TV, my parents dying, drugs (educating fifth-graders about heroin....why?), losing library books, getting yelled at. Everything an elementary schooler could plausibly fear, I feared it. The Kids Help Line ads were pretty much ubiquitous at the time, and their message was "If you need help, just call!"
So I called, and I spilled my guts to the nice lady on the other end of the phone. She listened to me talk to what felt like a long time, as I tried to figure out why I felt so bad all the time. Finally, after I had run out of steam, she said gently, "Sounds like you're pretty stressed out."
Sounds like you're pretty stressed out. It was a gift: a name for the feelings that swirled inside me. It was a real thing. I was not, as I feared, totally crazy.
I promptly burst into tears.
Many years later, I realized that the Kids Help Line was for kids in actual trouble—the ones getting touched by their stepfathers and the ones who had to sleep on the streets—and I was probably the cause of an unseen and amused smile on her end. I felt embarrassed, but then her words came back to me. Sounds like you're pretty stressed out. That was important to me then, and it's still important to me now.
I'm a person who takes on a lot. Nearly everything in my life signifies something bigger that itself: my job becomes who I am. Every fight with my partner signals the beginning of the end. Weird rashes are symptoms of horrible diseases. I still lose my effing library books, for god's sake. My baseline stress has always been high, and adding the regular business of life on top of that can make it intolerable. I'm a person who takes on a lot; consequently, I'm a person who melts down on the regular.
Over the years, this has manifested in different ways. Denial, food, drinking, smoking pot, making out with horribly chosen strangers, bulimia, rage tantrums, sleeping until 4 PM, skipping school. The list continues from there in the most predictable way possible. It will not shock you to hear that none of those strategies worked.
I read somewhere that the secret—the "secret," if you will—to dealing with stress and its various expressions is pretty simple: diet, exercise, talk therapy. If you're in the depths of a horrible chemical depression or an anxiety psychosis, there are obviously other things you need to add to that toolbox, but those're the basics. Eat well, move around, and talk it out.
And you know what? Since reading that, I've done my best to embody that. I eat fairly well (although I have a weakness for Chicago-mix popcorn and maple-bacon chips), I try to move as much as I can (given that I work in an office), and I talk it out (when I can afford it, and get the time off).
Hmm. Maybe I need to recalibrate a little. Maybe I need to remember that, if I have high baseline stress, then I need to have a big fat self-care routine, too.
When I was unemployed, I didn't have any money, but I did have free time. So I cooked, and I went to exercise classes, and I found a cheap therapist who could see me in the middle of the day. And you know what? I still felt stressed out! But I didn't feel like I was going crazy. I worried about money, my work identity, and the future of my relationship, but I didn't worry that I was a bad person or that my boss's words were going make me throw up.
Stress will do that to a person.
And stress also comes from pretending that things are fine, that boundaries aren't being crossed, that I'm holding up the bargain I made with myself to eat, move, and talk on a regular basis. When I'm not taking care of myself properly—when I haven't given myself permission to say, "Nope, that doesn't work for me," either to myself or the people around me, then I'm only adding to the baseline. Stress is also shame-creating: I feel bad for feeling so bad. Everyone else seems to managing their stress-loads pretty well, so what the hell is wrong with me?
I enough to go into self-care mode. I pour out a soothing tea, I hop into a hot bath, I take a walk with my husband, and things feel okay for a while. But over the last few months, I can feel my stress levels rising. It's slippery under my feet, and I know I'm headed for a fall. Those little moments aren't mitigating the bigger problems. I know I need to make a change, and you know what? I'm scared.
I sometimes wonder how many kids like me called that nice lady up and spilled their guts. I wonder how many times she said to them, "Sounds like you're pretty stressed out," and how many times she heard that silence on the other end of the phone. The silence that says, yeah, I am pretty stressed out. Thank you for seeing that. Thank you for helping.
Thursday, November 6, 2014
At the risk of sounding trite: New York City, am I right?
Some context: last weekend, we loaded ourselves into a Megabus (slogan: "Your ass will never be the same") and took a twelve-hour journey to the City That Never Sleeps But Will Sometimes Concede To A Nap. The whole thing was a brain-mash of one-second memories and vague impressions: the guy at Hallowmas who tried to hit on me and reestablish his stick-on moustache at the same time; the smoked-cashew salsa at the upscale taqueria; being utterly ignored by the shopgirls at Helmut Lang (granted, we had just gotten off the bus and I was still wearing sweatpants, so I can't really blame 'em); M staring wistfully over the edge of the High Line as Graham turned to me and said, "This totally looks like the cover a book called Contemplating Joey Ramone"; seeing hot-pink leather aprons for sale in Greenwich Village; buying sky-scraping vintage heels; the complimentary hotel wine as it was handed over by the front desk clerk, whose eyebrows were unabashedly just drawn right on and also slightly uneven; etc, etc.
Also, we saw Lili Taylor and Nick Flynn on a tour of the Tenement Museum, and seriously, if that place wasn't a national treasure before, it damn well sure is now.
I think that, like most people, I have a tendency to compare whatever big city I'm currently in to my hometown of Toronto. It's inevitable, right? They have graffiti everywhere, while ours is concentrated in certain hipster nabes. The High Line (not to mention Central Park) is a magnificent expression of public planning and integrated public works management, while Toronto has Trinity Bellwoods and, like, the West Toronto Rail Path? There's just so much more stuff there, so much more complexity. I saw a restaurant dedicated entirely to oatmeal and despaired that Toronto would ever be able to match that. Imagine how many people need to love—like, really love—oatmeal for that to work. Does Toronto even have that many people?
It's cliched to feel that despair, of course. Comparing Toronto and New York is a fool's errand, and it will make us feel bad. New York is older by about 150 years, and there are more people living there by a factor of four. Toronto has a reputation for being staid, even in our own country—if you want to party, go to Montreal; if you want to make money, go to Calgary—and our municipal government has been mired in scandal and pointless in-fighting for the last half-decade. So, you know: not the same.
But being in New York is to breathe in the air of potential. Take, for example, the High Line park. The former rail-shipping corridor, abandoned as the trucking sector took over, was denounced as an eyesore and some residents lobbied to tear it down. Others, figuring it might make a cool park, banded together and become the Friends of the High Line, a group that eventually convinced the corridor's owners to donate it to the city, and that got architects and engineers on board to design the new park way. Now, the High Line is walked by over five million people every year. It's a marvel of weathered wood and native plants, of scenic overlooks and gently burbling fountains. The condos that overlook the park sell for about two million each, and I'm sure those original disgruntled residents have come around.
It's so frustrating to live in a place where municipal creativity is squelched. Look at the food truck fiasco, which bans trucks from operating within 50 meters of a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Instead of creating a little artisan food hub, the city has effectively told vendors that they're only welcome in wastelands. (Compare this to upscale LA neighbour Abbot Kinney, which invites the trucks in as part of its monthly First Friday street festival, during which the surrounding restaurants also report an uptick in business. It's almost like the two things might be related.) Part of the Gardiner Expressway are literally falling on people as they drive it—why not create a High Line analogue for our very own? I love the museums and the weirdo art venues and the pop-up galleries, but we lack this vision for ourselves as a city that can Get Shit Done.
Part of this is that we're spread out, and the growth downtown (where I live) has been mostly private. The city's skyline hasn't been transformed by cool new parks or even interesting office buildings. It's been mostly same-old condos, each one pretty much like its neighbour. The promised Section 37 developments have been milquetoast, and the city itself has been so swept up in the transit folder that little else has been discussed. Our brand remains one of soulless glass towers and a few precious, and mostly upscale, arts scenes. We're so fractured: a city of BIAs and east-vs-west mentalities, of our downtown getting down on the suburbs for election results, and the suburbs throwing shade at the core for stalling on subways. We're messy, and not in a fun, energetic, city-that-never-sleeps way. We're not the party girl; we're the friend who fell asleep in the cab on the way home.
Walking through New York last weekend, the critical mass of the city wasn't overwhelming. It felt natural and right. I felt springy and at home. And coming back to Toronto, seeing this city—our city—shining in the distance, I know that we can do better. We can wake up, shake ourselves off, and start walking.
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Everyone is talking about Jian Ghomeshi, the disgraced and affronted former host of the CBC's Q and alleged sexual misconductee—you know the guy, the one who was all, "my BDSM practices are my own business!" in the face of four different women coming forward (anonymously, natch) and accusing him of unwanted sexual violence.
He's retained Navigator, the crisis communications firm previously employed by Michael "I definitely killed that cyclist" Bryant, to help him craft his statements. The result is a canny mix of petulance and defiance, the promises that the ex has regretted her statements and the CBC is firing him despite the fact that everyone involved assures everyone else that everything, ever, was consensual. Ghomeshi has framed the alleged assaults as being in the context of a consensual BDSM relationship: that is, the punching and choking weren't a problem until after he split with his partner, whom he is depicting as a vengeful sprite out to ruin his reputation.
There's been a lot of backlash: against Ghomeshi, against the CBC, against his so-far unnamed accusers. So let's get a few things straight:
1. Assault and abuse can still happen inside BDSM relationships. Indeed, Ghomeshi joked about his own sex life being like Fifty Shades of Grey, the publication of which has prompted an unfortunate tendency to popularly present "kink" as "owning another person and using them however you want." Kink and BDSM is always negotiated, boundaries are both known and respected, and informed consent is at the forefront. The accusations against Ghomeshi is that he's someone who blithely says, "I like it rough" without bothering to spell out that "rough" means "I like to hit/choke/deprive women of oxygen." This is not kink. This is unsafe: physically, emotionally, sexually.
Now, I know that there are kinky people who like being punched and choked and deprived of oxygen. (I follow enough of them on Twitter.) But "being kinky" isn't carte blanche for all non-vanilla sexual behaviours. We all have the lines we don't want to cross: someone who enjoys getting hit might draw the line at getting peed on, for instance; other people might like both. I'm not denying that it's a choice, and a valid one. I'm just pointing out that if someone feels like you've assaulted them after punching them in the face during what's supposed to be consensual sex, you're doing it wrong.
2. In the aftermath of #GamerGate, and Steubenville, we know—we know—that being a woman who speaks out against men in power is a dangerous game indeed. The women who have accused Ghomeshi aren't hiding their identities because they're being sneaky or trying to put anything past people. They're likely doing it because these days, coming forward about sexual assault, especially against a well-liked media figure, is an open invitation for detractors to find them, smear them, demand proof, examine their histories, and tell them that they deserved whatever they got. Their anonymity shouldn't temper people's ability to believe in the accusations.
3. Some people seem to think that the CBC is under the obligation to keep Ghomeshi on its roster until the day he's jailed for sexual misconduct. This is weird, and not true. The CBC is a media entity, and Ghomeshi is part of their brand. The conversation we're now having about him is decidedly off-brand, which is bad for the CBC. They've made a business decision, the same way TLC made a business decision about pedophile-datin' Mama June and The Food Network fired racist Paula Deen. It's the same reason that companies recall faulty child seats and take back spoiled meat. Their product has suddenly gone off. In Ghomeshi's case, his product is his own self: it has been spoiled in the eyes of many listeners. Remember, also, that the CBC didn't publicize the BDSM angle; Ghomeshi did that himself.
4. Finally, we need to get over the prurient wishy-washiness that seems to infect these stories when they come to light. When a man punches a woman outside of a Denny's at three o'clock in the afternoon, we can all agree that he's a problem; when he does it in the bedroom, all of the sudden we're like, "Well, maybe we don't know all the details. Maybe she provoked him. Maybe she wanted it." This is such soggy bullshit. There aren't always two sides to every story (see also: change, climate). Sometimes, presenting things as a 50/50 narrative split gives powerful people even more power.
It's unlikely that Ghomeshi will be arrested for any crime. Indeed, he's already launched a suit against the CBC for $50 million dollars for wrongful dismissal. He's well-liked in Canada, and his public persona up until now has been as a relatively harmless moppet. He is, as his defenders say, innocent until proven guilty.
But just remember: it's not like, in this day and age, coming forward about sexual violence wins people any favours. And this is about more than rough sex and bad brands. This is about who's narratives we choose to follow. I, for one, will be choosing to believe the women who have nothing to gain by coming forward over the man who has so very much to lose.
Image via Project Unbreakable via Buzzfeed
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
I've been in jobs where I realized I was bribing myself with coffees I couldn't afford just to go into work with something warm and comforting...
--H, describing when it's time to move on
More often than not these days, the highlight of my workday is going to Fortino's, the grocery store in the unpleasant Lawrence Square Mall, and buying myself two sugar-free chocolates from their bulk foods section. Sometimes I get two mint-flavoured treats, and sometimes I mix it up: a peanut butter and a mint? Oh, Kaitlyn, you decadent scamp. I take the escalator upstairs, where I spend a minute in front of the cigar/magazine/pop stand's cooler—and I in a Fresca mood today, or do I want my old standby, Coke Zero? And what is "a Fresca mood," anyway?—before paying one dollar to the man behind the counter. Then, without any other reason to be in the unpleasant Lawrence Square Mall, I head back to work. The whole thing take about fifteen minutes, including crossing Lawrence Avenue's multiple lanes of irate/incompetent drivers. On my way there, I pass the unpleasant Lawrence Square Mall's lone bit of beauty: the front garden's luscious croton plants. On my way back, I look south, towards where I live.
I have no fairy godmother who has magically imbued me with the direction and drive to figure out where, and as what, I should be working. I have a real mother, who's convinced that I'm going to be a writer someday—as in someone who can pay the bills with words! The stuff of legend, I tell you. She sends me job postings to positions for which I am wildly unqualified, like the VP of communications, or a web writer/designer with an inside-out knowledge of Photoshop. Part of me loves it, though, because her faith in me is unflappable. When I tell her that I'm not even going to be considered for those roles, she shrugs. "You never know until you apply."
I'm smart. I'm capable. I'm organized like a motherfucker. I communicated well. I can see patterns. I can see long-term goals. And yet, I get stuck in these dead-eyed jobs in beige shoeboxes, watching the clock so I can go to Fortino's for my daily candy bribe. I feel like a polar bear in a zoo: there's so much potential to be truly awesome, but it's just not my natural habitat. Sometimes I lash out and try to eat a penguin/get drunk on a Tuesday night so at least my no-fun Wednesday workday has a reason; mostly, though, I'm just tracing one big furry paw through the pond water and dreaming about the Arctic.
When it comes to work, I'm passive by nature. I'm ferocious in other aspects of my life, but somehow, that doesn't show up in my nine-to-fives. Maybe this is because my first big-girl job experience was so terrible (abusive bosses, exploitative schedules, much personal anxiety), or maybe it's because I have two modes when it comes to authority: frozen and furious. I've only recently started standing up for myself at work—pointing out exactly where I'm going above and beyond in the office, and suggesting that that deserves a raise still feels dangerous and scary—but I still get bad gut-feels when there's any sort of work conflict. And I know that, and I feel helpless to change it.
One of the biggest lessons this job is teaching me is that I do not thrive under these circumstances, which are exactly the right intersection of pressure, tedium, and frustration to make me feel like that polar bear. Moreover, by staying here, I am choosing to not thrive. Why would I look that in the eye and then decide to stay? At what point does that make sense? (One: financial. But even then, knowing that I make roughly $10,000 less than my similarly skilled compatriots in the for-profit sector tempers that argument a little.) My life outside of work is rich and rewarding—I love to dance, I see my friends, I lift weights, I cook good meals, I write, I knit, I craft, I'm close with my family, I love my husband—but I don't spend eight hours a day feeling like my life is rich.
I spend it counting the minutes before I can leave, even for a minute, to get something sweeter.
Image via Indulgy
Saturday, October 18, 2014
Saturday, October 11, 2014
In the past year, I've gone from being a silly girl in my twenties to being what feels very much like A Woman: married, working at a non-profit, traveling with my husband, planning for the future. It's startling how fast that all happened. And, in the midst of that, I wonder if my wardrobe has had time to catch up.
Trust me, I know how superficial that sounds. After all, there's nothing inherently different about me now that I'm in a fresh new decade, or have a snazzy new gold band as an accessory, or working in someone else's office instead of at home. None of those things should matter vis-a-vis my wardrobe, but, somehow, they do. Something that felt right even a couple years ago now leaves me feeling like I'm playing dress-up: cyberpunk dresses, which I love, suddenly don't fit me like a second skin. I find myself yearning for a pair of skinny black velvet trousers and asymmetrical tanks in natural fibres, and I know it's time to play Name That Style.
For years—years!—my guiding style principle was "post-apocalyptic farm girl." I wanted something that could conceivably take me from a warehouse rave to a turnip patch. Oddly, this isn't a look that most places carry off the rack, so it means assembling a closet from thrift-store gems, hand-me-downs, weirdly styled wardrobe staples, and the very occasional bought-new splurge. And this worked, mostly, with a few missteps (once, while getting ready for a night out, I wore high-waisted leather-look leggings and a black, collared wrap tank top; my hair was big and blonde and blown out to the heavens. M took one look at me and said, "You look like Sandy at the end of Grease," which meant it was time for big LOLs and also back to the sartorial drawing board).
Now, while I still want that general flavour, the farmgirl look is losing steam. I keep thinking about modern-art gallery owners at openings, or goth Japanese hobby-farmers, and 1970s camp counsellors in poorly made horror movies. My closet now is just bonkers: a Garfield sweater nestles in beside a drapey Helmut Lang tank top. My drawer overfloweth with black tank tops, and yet I've also kept a pink sweater I've owned for a half-decade and worn maybe three times. I have miniskirts from that slutty store at the mall, I have booty shorts to be worn only in the winter (and only with tights), I have pants that fit horribly that I can't figure out how to replace, and I have a drawer full of tee-shirts despite the fact that I wear tee-shirts about three times a year.
M is a maximalist in many ways: he loves toys and souvenirs, he buys a tee-shirt at most concerts he attends, he gets the super-special edition Blu-Ray of whatever movie he's buying. We have more box sets in our living room than most video stores (RIP) have on their shelves. And I love our jumble of interlocked stuff, like our wall full of concert posters and our comic-book shelves. Sometimes, though, I wish we had the ability to curate our lives a little more effectively, to remember that the toy/poster/tiny bowl/lanyard that reminds us of a special moment isn't the memory itself.
I struggle to get rid of gifts, like hand-me-down pillows or gnarly old rugs. I hang onto books that I bought during my undergraduate program that I never got around to reading. The things that represent relationships, or things I wanted for myself ("I'll have a season where all I read is steampunk novels!"), are especially hard to ditch. It feels like a betrayal.
Which brings me back to my closet. Most of the clothes that go unworn were gifts: either too fancy for every day wear (a stack of party dresses from my mom), or things that don't quite align with how I want to present myself in the world (that pink sweater). I'm a person who often crafts stories about her outfits: today, I want to look like a safari guide; today, I want to look like a posh beekeeper. (The fact that I rarely want to look like an office manager could be dissected, I know.) When other people's narratives don't match up with mine, it can throw me for a loop. I struggle to shape a story where I wear a heathery Irish sweater and a one of my six black knee-length skirts. I wonder if my clothes are too young for me, or not quite office-appropriate, or too staid. I wrinkle my nose when it comes to go shopping, because I'm at a loss for where to buy new clothes. Mostly, I just want to feel like myself, but with all these changes in the past year, I'm not totally sure who I am, and who I want to be.
But when I see something I know is right—oh, that's a nice feeling. A recent trip to Value Village scored me a pair of Sorel boots that tickle me completely. I can picture wearing them as I walk through the snow on the way to a client's office, or on a winter walk around my parent's farm, or to brunch with a bunch of girlfriends. I could also picture them on the feet of a magazine editor, or a lavender farmer, or a consultant, or a writer, or any of the other zillions of alternate-reality Kaitlyns I use to shape the vision of how I want my real, messy, married, working, laughing, loving life to go.
Image via mybeautyandfashion.com