Thursday, October 22, 2009

Competing Interests

Yesterday I had a Wardrobe Day. At least once a month for as long as I can remember, I've had one. It's the day when the outfit I had planned on wearing just looks awful, so then you're scrambling to find something else, and nothing fits right or looks right together, and then you can't get the right jewelry, shoes, hair, etc. In other words, absolutely everything about your appearance sucks. And the clock is ticking rapidly, threatening to make me late while I frantically scramble to pull something together. Ladies, please tell me you know what I'm talking about. Long ago, I realized it tied to my period. Not only was I a bit more manic, but I was retaining water, bloated, etc., etc., etc. and things really didn't fit quite the same. Well, I don't have periods any longer, but apparently I still will have to endure Wardrobe Days. There is absolutely no justice. But, as I rummaged frantically through my closet looking for a Plan B, it occurred to me how body image issues have held sway in this house for so, so long. However, I came at my own through a different lenses than my daughters. Either way, I wondered how exhausting all of it must have been for the only human male in the house, my poor husband.

About the time I hit forty some interesting things happened. That was the year that Kelsey really began to struggle and her father and I, as I have documented, were scrambling to understand what was happening and learn how to take the "dys" out of function to try and help her. But, strange things began to happen to me personally as well. I had been, as my mother would say, pleasantly plump during my childhood, but I was high strung enough as an adult to enjoy the ability to pretty much eat what I want and stay at a fairly stable weight. I wasn't thin, I wasn't fat. Almost in line with that big awful landmark birthday, that shifted, and I began to put on weight. I sat behind a desk a dozen or more hours a day, so maybe that's not that surprising, but it was not a happy event when I finally had to concede that I had moved up a dress size. I ate less, and I ate better, but I still gained the weight.

Then there were the breakdowns. Some really scary moments. I won't even go into them, but the worst of them nearly was the last of them. It was as if I was watching myself go completely nuts from someplace deep inside my own body, but could do nothing to stop it. They weren't pretty, and how Greg managed to hang on is really amazing in hindsight. Luckily, I noticed the timing before too much wreckage ensued. I would experience an episode about a week before my period an then another one the week after. I went through about three months of that before I noticed the pattern, but fortunately, once I picked up on it, I could steel myself for it and control it better (hint: one really important tool is to avoid sodium). All of this happened by the time I hit 42.

When I began waking up in the middle of the night drenched in my own sweat, I suspected I was beginning menopause. As it turns out, I was in what's known as a parimenopausal state. Early, granted, but not completely unheard of for women of my age. I was practically a textbook case. The worst part of it was that I still had periods. That seemed the most criminal aspect of it all. But, there's not much to be done about it other than to endure it and not use salt, cheese, chips or about a million other things that taste good. I suddenly had a new respect for women who use menopause as a justification for all manner of crimes.

But, all the things I would normally think to do to combat my situation seemed triggering to my daughter. I couldn't diet. Not in the Oprah sense of the word anyway. I ate smaller portions and tried to eat better, but I was surrounded by friends who were trying this diet or that one, or taking this diet pill or that one, but I didn't dare join in those efforts when we were trying to stop Kelsey from restricting. My father always used to say, "Do as I say, not as I do." Even without a lot of therapy, I knew that parenting philosophy didn't really fly. So, I tried not to obsess over my diet, secretly freaking out about how the less I ate, the more I gained.

As Greg often told me, no diet is truly effective without exercise, and I was quickly learning how true that was for someone hitting that slowing metabolism wall. Same conundrum I faced with any potential diet. Not that I had a lot of spare time to do much of anything, but I was aware that Kelsey's initial treatment program put her in contact with women whose disorder focused mainly around over-exercising. Yes, that is a form of eating disorder, and it can be a dangerous one. You can exercise yourself to death.

And, finally, I couldn't participate in the age old remedy for middle age body image woes, which is to whine and gripe about it. Basically, anything I did that called attention to my own body was a trigger to Kelsey and her struggles with hers. So, I resigned myself to a period of feeling frumpy, fat and miserable, scared to do anything that would make Kelsey's struggles any worse. Was that the right reaction? I don't know. I thought about how odd the timing of it was many times. I was at least ten years ahead of what I anticipated would happen to me as an aging woman. Not that I minded the idea of getting past it as fast as possible, but it was a nasty distraction to what other things were going on in my life. Then again, and I think we would all agree, the monthly visitor - or whatever other cute little name one may call it - is a nasty distraction at any time.

Ladies, we are the stronger gender. Let's just give ourselves a hand right now. I know of no man, even my most revered President Obama, who could have night sweats all night long, yet still manage to get up end stuff oneself into underwear designed to flatten every inch of flab down flat against our bodies, shove bloated feet into shoes that force your toes into unnatural positions and in every way dress ourselves up like a Christmas tree and function. Hear us roar is right! But, in the end analysis, we are also victims, almost all of us. Our appearance matters too much, and we are judged too much by it. How much different our lives would have been if I didn't have to worry about those extra pounds and the places they landed and if Kelsey didn't have images of Kate Moss constantly stuck in her head as the ideal female. Being happy with whatever our genes combined to make us just doesn't seem possible. We have to mess with it, try to truss it up, dye it, augment it, slim it down, make it taller, paint it, put jewels on it and generally modify it on an ongoing basis. I believe that as long as we are that way eating disorders will exist.

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