Having that feeling tonight that I’ll never really write. It will never work it’s way out of me, new and shining and worth anything.
Partly it’s that I am rushing myself. I am pounding my brain saying, “If not NOW then NEVER!” The same speech I gave to myself as a young poet, scrambling through envelopes, shoving my words to every contest, every magazine, because soon, so soon, it wouldn’t matter if I ever got published, the age when it would be a wonder had passed.
It’s just that I am a mother now. My desk is a kitchen table, a pot of bad decaf, words scratched out between screeches on the baby monitor, half my brain listening for the sound of little fugitive footsteps in the dark upstairs. My words don’t flow out of me any easier than my babies did. They sit, swollen and content in my belly long past their welcome. They don’t come willingly. They are cut out of me, dragged feet first into the world, screaming.
This is how I feel about my words. Like I did around my due date, knowing that now is when they should come, any minute now. Every day I live as though this is the one that will birth me into a writer. This is the day. The sun sets again and I am struggling with sleep, struggling with waking, struggling with all this motion in my body, all this life that needs to come out, but just won’t.
I am sitting in a circle of crazy people. Each of us still, solemn, a little crumpled. One at time they tell the story of how they got here. Some were driven by grief, their children hanging from trees in the back yard; some by fear, their father locking them in closets for days; some by their brains, a life of chemistry knocking them out of jobs, families, reality. Everyone has a compelling story. Everyone but me.
I am quiet, which is against the rules. You come to the group, you have to talk. The therapist pushes me. The eyes of the group, strangely dry, pull me. “Nothing happened to me,” I say, closing my eyes. The man across from me, the one who just retold his tale of finding his son hanging by an extension cord, speaks to me with alarming tenderness. “This happened to you,” he says.
I run my thumbs over my wrists. The scabs don’t hurt at all, and I’m disappointed.
I explain that my parents are preachers. Real ones who are good and love Jesus. I don’t know death or abuse or abandonment. All I know is that I have everything anyone ever needed, and yet I hate myself so much, I want to die.
Later, I sit in the doorway of my room, curled up on the floor. I want to watch them strap the man into the straight jacket again. I want to watch them carry him into the padded room with the tiny window. I want to be able to scream like he does. I want to flail and bellow and throw my whole self as hard as I can across the room. I want to need the straight jacket, but all I can do is lay here, on the floor, and watch.
I love being here. I love being surrounded by these people so much more surrendered to their crazy than I am.
One month earlier…
I am sprawled out on the driveway of the Yiddish Book Center. I am pressed hard into the ground by the hand of an invisible God. The stars are boring down through my body, pinning me to the earth below. I hear His voice, like a river, my skin like a fine sieve.
A hundred songs are born in my mouth and poetry runs out of my eyes in firey tears. Flames burst out from the crown of my head and down through the soles of my feet. The pleasure is so immense, I cannot help but scream. The planets swirl above me, moved by my sound waves like a paper mobile. The constellations bounce and twist to the rhythm of my breathing.
Songs of thanksgiving tumble out of my mouth in huge sobs. I am so grateful to be out of my mind.
Let’s pause the story for just a second.
Last Thursday, I was given the opportunity to share my testimony with a group of women who have only known me in the context of motherhood and matrimony. I hadn’t practiced, or even stopped to think through what I was going to say. I kinda just opened my mouth and started from the beginning.
I am not joking, one woman had a panic attack and ran from the room. The rest of the group just squinted and blinked at me, heads cocked, brows furrowed. My time ran out and I had to leave them there, thoroughly lost as to how this story gets untangled, gets me from there to here, gets redeemed.
I read this article (completely unrelated to this topic other than the excerpt below) on Friday and thought, “Ah. That’s it! This is why I must learn to get from the straight jacket to Jesus a little bit faster when I tell my story.”
…I remembered reading The Princess Bride when I was eleven. I’d seen it at a supermarket, and thought I was buying a fantasy in the vein of The Prydain Chronicles and the Narnia books. Three-quarters of the way through, I pitched it across the room, nauseated and infuriated by the torture and death of Westley, the hero. (Westley is revived later on, but I never got that far). Golding’s [sic] lampooning of fairytale conventions is hilarious for adults. But as a child, it just hurt my feelings.
All those sweet ladies (and maybe you, dear reader), like so many Fred Savages, were horrified that my story was nothing but sorrow and fire swamps. You may be growing antsy with the torturous narrative, but I am here to assure you, it gets good! I will get to the good part. Please keep this in mind as the next few posts are…well…fire swampy.
This is a story of victory, of good triumphing over evil. And there’s a kissing part. That I will not skip.
When I started this blog, in a fit of bravery, I was convinced that the story was just going to flow right out of me. It turns out that writing about being fat and crazy is kind of hard. Of all the things to write about — homeschooling, gardening, poodles, grain-free grass-fed meatballs — I choose childhood obesity and mental illness. Good thing fat and crazy is such a fundamental part of my story.
I got fat at age eight. I just woke up one morning transformed from the pretty little second grader with golden ringlets to the biggest kid in the whole third grade. My hair turned course and thick, my eyebrows grew together, my cheeks puffed up around my eyes, my belly rounded out over the top of my stirrup pants. I assumed the change was temporary and invisible. I assumed the strawberry SlimFast my mother packed as my lunch was going to fix the problem.
I quickly learned to edit my life around my body. When I noticed that the weight listed on my “All About Me” poster was 50 pounds heavier than my fellow 4th graders, I convinced my teacher to correct my mistake with permanent marker. I made a point to be as helpful as possible to all teachers, especially PE teachers in an attempt to go on as many administrative errands during PE as possible. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do the exercise, it was just that physical activity drew attention to my body, and my body was not like the others’. As long as I was still or talking, no one could see how out of place I was.
Being a straight A student who could talk her way out of anything eased my way. I discovered that as long as I was more exceptional for my talent than I was for my weight, it almost didn’t matter. Almost.
By the fifth grade, it was clear that I wasn’t going to be normal again. I mastered the art of “the fat friend.” I was the best friend and trusted confidante of the prettiest, most popular girls in school. I would walk with them to the “secret spot” behind the portable where 10 year olds practice kissing in front of their peers, then walk alone to the 7-11 for a chili cheese Big Bite, frosted Donettes, and a Super Big Gulp.
No adult ever talked to me about my weight. No one ever acknowledged that I was a little girl with a big problem. No one helped. In an attempt to guard my self-esteem, the adults in my life allowed me to become obese at ten years old.
While my weight was never discussed, my constant headaches, stomach aches, insomnia, and refusal to go to school earned me a trip to the pediatrician and the eye doctor. The eye doctor got me nothing but a stern lecture about crying wolf, the pediatrician got me a diagnosis of hypoglycemia and a free pass to the library with a bag of peanuts and some grape juice. By the time I was in the 8th grade, I was missing months of school at a time, trapped by hallucinations of giant black ravens hovering over my bed, pinning my head to the pillow with their beaks.
Doctors started looking for brain tumors. I fantasized about the new identity I would have if they had to shave my head to cut them out. I was disappointed when they didn’t find any.
Meanwhile, I just got fatter. I remember stepping on my mother’s bathroom scale one fall morning to discover I weighed 208 pounds. My best friend, the cheerleader, weighed 108 pounds, and somehow those numbers seemed so close. I would pray every day that God would make me thin overnight and I would lay in bed deciding which outfit of hers I would borrow to wear to school the next morning.
Despite my absence from school, I managed to do well academically. Instead of daily assignments, my teachers allowed me to write papers and do research projects based on my interest. My interest as a suicidal12 year old was the Holocaust, and I wrote many papers about Josef Mengele. Looking back, that can’t have been the best idea. My standardized test scores tagged me as a candidate for the high school liberal arts magnet program, so I climbed aboard a bus that carried me 21 miles east every day.
I loved my high school. The radical difference between my home life and school life helped me feel that I had finally escaped myself. I was rewarded for my eccentricity, challenged academically, and I had a vibrant community of friends. But still, the year I got my driver license, I couldn’t pass a telephone pole without wondering who would show up at my funeral if I just drove straight into it.
By then I had been on anti-depressants and making promises not to harm myself or others to a psychologist once a week for over a year. The talking was nice, but the drugs didn’t work. I found food to be far more powerful than drugs. My diet throughout junior high and high school was Dr. Pepper, chinese take out, Taco Bell, and school cafeteria. Both of my parents worked full time and travelled frequently, so any home cooked meal came from a box or the freezer.
When I felt sad, I ate. When I felt happy, I ate. When I felt lonely, I ate. When I felt bored, I ate. When I felt too much, I ate. When I felt too little, I ate. I managed my mental illness by manipulating my blood sugar. This approach, coupled with the side-effects of medication, helped me tip the scales at 298 pounds by the time I left for college.
By the end of my first semester, I was put on suicide watch. I sat in the counselor’s office and fantasized about how I could kill myself with the can of sharpened pencils on his desk. A week later, I was home, slicing my wrists with a safety razor. I didn’t do much physical damage, but I spent a week in intensive care at the psychiatric hospital, trying to figure out how I could get into one of the padded rooms, concerned that they might not have a straight jacket to fit me.
I love blogs. I love it when people who cannot write and cannot take pictures do a lot of both and then post it all over the Internet. Those people are generous with their story. Those people have taught me 90% of everything useful I know.
I have been stingy with my story.
After that first post you might be thinking, “Oh Lord, she’s just gonna cry and preach all over the place. BORING.” That’s fair. But here’s the deal: I am committed to being a generous storyteller. I will not just shake my bible and wax poetic about being sad and raising kids and eating bacon. Maybe the bacon part.
Here are some of the things and some of the people I want to tell you about:
My name is Rachel. I was born on my great-grandfather’s birthday in 1980. I do my best to follow Jesus, honor my husband, and keep my kids alive. I am an INFJ. I am a writer, mostly of lists.
I am married to Bryan. We met in junior high youth group where he played guitar and wore lots of vests. He no longer wears vests, but in our house, we use guitar cases instead of baby gates. Bryan is an artist, musician, and theologian. He serves as the worship pastor at our church, as well as the creative director at an advertising agency. He has degrees in studio art and theology.
With the help of my husband, I have made two other humans, Beatrice, and Leona. Bea is 3.5 and Leona is 14 months old. Beatrice is on the precocious side. Leona is on the I-think-punching-people-is-funny side.
Our dream is to homeschool our kids until they won’t let us anymore. We are starting with preschool because Beatrice has asked “What’s next!?” and “Can we do an activity?” since the moment she could speak, which feels like a long, long time ago. She was an early talker, early reader, and remains an early riser.
Mental illness is prevalent in my family. I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder in 1993. I was hospitalized after a suicide attempt in 1998. Despite medication and psychiatric care, I experienced several periods of severe depression and mania over the years. After trying a variety of medications, my illness was best “controlled” with lithium, which I took from 1998 until I became pregnant with my first child in 2007. I discontinued my medication under the supervision of a psychiatrist. I have been pregnant or nursing ever since, and therefore remain unmedicated. I attribute my current sanity to the grace of God and my diet.
I suffered severe postpartum depression after giving birth to my second child. I list this separately because that experience was truly different from every other season of depression I’ve encountered.
I became obese at age 8 and remained so into my 20s. In 1999, I weighed 320 pounds. In 2004, I lost 135 pounds through diet and exercise. I re-gained 30 pounds in my first year of marriage. I gained 60 pounds in both pregnancies, losing 70 between them. In April of this year, I was 60 pounds overweight.
As of yesterday, I am a healthy weight for my height, for the first time since the second grade.
In April 2011, I eliminated all grain, dairy, legumes, and alcohol from my diet. Within 36 hours, every symptom of depression was gone. I eat a Paleo diet, lift heavy weights, and sprint. I do not cheat and I do not miss a workout.
Eating and moving this way is better than any medication I have ever taken. The weight loss is simply a physical expression of the strength I feel internally. It sounds trite, but it’s true. If you don’t take away anything else from this blog, take this: JESUS. GRAIN FREE. DEADLIFTS.
Though I have lost weight and recovered from depression before, it has always been a very lonely, and temporary success. I believe that this recovery is different and lasting for one good reason — I have not done it alone. For the last six months I have been lead by two intensely gifted women, Sarah Sherwood, my coach, and Diana Haggerty, my personal trainer. Though I consider these women dear friends, I work from home part time just so I can pay them every penny they’re worth.
So there it is! Romance, intrigue, homeschooling, fat kids…something for everyone! This blog can’t fail!
Years ago I started a blog that I kept for 6 years. It chronicled my life as a single young woman, my work as a youth pastor, an intercessory missionary, a nightwatchman. It logged my struggles with depression, weight loss, scripture, romance, divorce, marriage, ministry, medication, infertility, prayer. Marriage and babies spread the posts thinner and thinner, and by the time my first born was 16 months old, they’d stopped altogether. I closed it down and locked it up tight about a year ago.
I cannot tell you exactly why my well dried up, why I stopped writing, but I can tell you why I am starting again.
It’s been six months since the last time I thought I would kill myself. Six months since I’ve had to call my husband to come home from work because I didn’t think my kids were safe. Six months since I left the bottom of the pit.
Maybe it was the days beginning to stretch out, or the garden slowly coming up, but there was a day in the middle of Spring when I heard a deep part of me say , “This could be the end.” I looked at my tiny, shimmering daughters, then looked at my gray, empty face. If I killed myself, my children would not be free of a broken mother, they would just have a dead mother; my husband would not be relieved a bad wife, he would just have a dead wife. Who wants to be their three year old’s dead mother?
So I cried out to the Lord.
He answered me. “I will show you how to live,” he said.
And so I lived.
I should have died, but I lived.
Had this been the first time I’d been down in that pit, the first time I was consumed with death, the first time I was rescued, it might not be so impressive. But my story, my song, is the same refrain again and again, louder and louder, I SHOULD HAVE DIED, BUT I LIVED. Between the knives I’ve held to my own flesh, the ledges I’ve curled my toes over, the evil I’ve yoked myself with, the pills I’ve rolled around in my mouth, the toxic foods and fluids I’ve poured into my body year after year after year, there is no accounting for my life today.
And that is why I am writing again.
I am writing because my well is full of I SHOULD HAVE DIED, BUT I LIVED. And that is something that should be written about.