April 26, 2012

Aftermath

I knew there would be reactions to my last post, but I never would have guessed how many, or how loving and supportive. Between the comments, the Facebook messages, the e-mails ... I'm feeling incredibly strong as I begin to figure out my new transition. I can't begin to thank you all enough - for the support now, and always. I've said it countless times before, but it never seems to be enough: I owe so much of my success with weight loss to the incredible community I've found here. This blog has been my safe space, my one little corner of the Internet where I could share my stories and find people who not only want to listen to them, but who understand the experiences first-hand and can share their own wisdom, anecdotes, and advice. It's certainly been a huge part of why I haven't entirely lost my mind in California, that's for sure.

Since making my decision to turn down the renewal of my current teaching position, I've been amazed at the feeling of serenity in my life. I don't cry eight or ten times a day. I've been sleeping better. The urge to binge is gone, and the scale is back down to my not-thrilled-but-comfortable-for-now maintenance range of 190-192. The immediate change in my physical and mental state was one of the first signs that this was indeed the right choice.


Within a day of making the decision, I received (a) my parents' blessing (b) news about an apartment and (c) contact from a former employer saying I could return to the company. So, things are on the right track. The job isn't teaching, but it's work, and I'm happy to have something to keep a roof over my head. Adjunct teaching positions are often contingent on course enrollment, so even though I have contacted a half dozen colleges and universities so far, I might not hear back until mid to late August. (I got three job offers in the few weeks following my arrival in California.) The apartment is where my friend Lorelei currently lives - she is moving in with her sister and a friend, so her roommates are looking to rent out their third bedroom. It's in a good location, very convenient, and I already know and get along well with her roommates, so I'm feeling fairly confident with that situation. And I had good conversations with both my parents about the reasons behind my choice, and they understood, which I am intensely grateful for. My mom is working it out with her work schedule to fly out here, rent a van, drive to Chicago, and then fly back to Connecticut; my dad said he's proud of me for choosing to do what's right for my health and sanity, and that's more important than being able to say that I'm a professor.

So, I'm breathing a lot easier than I was a week ago. But that doesn't mean my problems are completely gone, that everything is cured - or that anything is fixed at all. Even when I get back to Chicago, I won't be picking up exactly where I left off.

I'm moving back to the city I love, a familiar place, but in a lot of ways, it's going to be like I'm starting from scratch. I'm not living in the same apartment, or even the same neighborhood. Unless something opens up, I'm not working at the university where I spent two years as a grad student and one as a lecturer. I know a lot of people, friends and family alike, but I still am nervous about transitioning back into my role as a local friend versus a long distance one.

And, of course, there's the post-California damage control that needs to be taken care of. I may not have regained all the weight this year, but I've suffered some major emotional setbacks. My confidence is shot, my self-esteem is awful, my compulsive eating has returned with a vengeance. Not to mention the untreated emotional issues I had before I even left Chicago in the first place. There's a lot that needs to be sorted out with an unbiased neutral party, and I hope to get that taken care of right away. My mom reminded me that there have been so many major life changes in the past two years - losing almost half my body weight, moving across the country, huge changes with personal relationships - and since we have a history of mental illness in our family, it's best to take care of these things with professional help and not try to just tough it out.

I'm really looking forward to getting back to Chicago and establishing a new version of my old normal. Using public transportation again. Going back to the gym where I sweat off my first 150 pounds. Having better access to food, in terms of variety as well as price. Knowing people to run with, to cook with, to spend time with. Having people around in general - my existence in California has been very solitary, I miss the noise of the city. Even when you're alone there, it never feels lonely - at least not the way it does here. It will be nice to set up new routines in a familiar place, and I hope that being back in a place where I felt successful, with people who inspire and encourage and motivate me, will help me get back on my path to recovery and weight loss.

In the meantime, there are 65 days of life in central California I have to survive. 65 days between now and the day I turn in my keys and we hit the road. Just about two months. They will be busy, with the end of Spring semester and my intensive 6-week summer course, not to mention the packing of my belongings and selling the furniture and appliances I acquired here. But still challenging. I have to stay sane and focused and keep my eyes on the prize, so to speak. It's much easier already, knowing the clock is ticking on my time here.

April 22, 2012

Final decision

One of my Ragnar teammates, Katie, has been sharing little getting-to-know-you blog posts about all our teammates. Yesterday, the post about me went live. And reading it, and all the lovely comments, was ... difficult.

To be honest, I've been having a really difficult time with this whole Ragnar experience - with getting excited, with being a supportive and encouraging teammate, with hearing people use words that terrify me like "success story." It's really hard to parade around as one of a dozen healthy people who've saved their lives by becoming runners when I feel like a giant fraud and a failure.

Picture a girl.

She's lonely and has low self-confidence. She's deeply depressed, and at times has very dark and morbid thoughts. She binge eats several times a week, trying to numb the pain of her situation. And she spends hours upon hours watching movies or sitting at her computer playing games, because she has no energy (physical or emotional) to leave her apartment. Her work piles up around her, there are stacks of dishes left dirty in the sink, and laundry remains in piles on her bedroom floor. She showers infrequently, rarely brushes her hair - she can't be bothered to care about anything, let alone her physical appearance.

That girl was me in summer 2010, right before I started to get healthy.

But to tell the whole truth, it also describes me now. I may not weigh 345 pounds, but I'm in exactly the same mindset and mental condition that I was back then. Admitting this fills me with a variety of emotions. Embarrassed, ashamed, weak. But in a way, I also feel strong for saying it. For admitting it aloud, but also, for actually realizing it myself.

I used to love blogging. I loved going to the gym, and running, and eating well. I loved losing weight. I loved how all of it made me feel: like a survivor. I was once killing myself slowly with obesity and compulsive eating issues, but not anymore. I had tough days, but on the whole, I wanted to get out there and live, to truly enjoy the life I had been hiding from for so long.

I'm alive now. But I'm not living.

Since getting my Fall contract offer on Wednesday, I've barely slept - four or five hours a night, and never more than an hour at a time. My eating has been awful, and my body aches from punishing myself with extra-long bike rides to try and counteract the binges. I've cried, sobbed, wept, at least eight times a day. I've made phone call after phone call, trying to get advice and wisdom from the most important people in my life.

Some said to stay: it's the "adult thing to do," they said. The responsible thing. Stay where you have a definite job offer. Stay where the money is good. My mother's solution was to stay but seek therapy; I agree with the idea, in part, though it presents its own set of challenges ... namely, there's only one counselor/therapist in this town - his name is Justin, and we're not on speaking terms. There are a few other small cities an hour's drive in any direction, but with my lack of transportation, it's really a tough situation to be in.

Others said to leave: it's not going to be easy to get back, and it's going to mean a lot of sacrifices. You may never find a job that pays this well again. But ultimately, you need to do what is best for your body and mind, not your bank account. You've worked too hard, you've come too far. You've already pulled yourself back from the edge once. You get one life - make it count.

With the people I've been fully honest with, the choice is simple: you can't stay in California, it's killing you. You already spent so many years inside on the couch, sad and aching. Don't waste another day.

One of my biggest issues with making this decision is a fear of disappointing my family. They are proud of my academic and career accomplishments, and I don't want them to see me as anything less than the success I've tried to project. It's easy, then, to understand why they say to stay: because I've neglected to tell them so much about my experience here. It doesn't seem so bad when you only see the tip of the iceberg ... but there's an awful lot under the surface.

I say that I love my job, but it's not entirely true. I love teaching, but this university and this town just aren't a right fit for me. The worst I'll admit to is an occasional "tough day," when honestly, a lot of my dark thoughts have slowly crept back - not daily, and not to a point where I'd consider acting on them. But they're there, and that scares me. And I haven't told them the depth of my food issues since moving here: about the binges, about the real struggles I've been having with staying focused on my health. I've been hiding behind a false success, saying I've been maintaining within a few pounds. Maintaining weight is one thing. Doing it in a healthy way is another. And taking sleeping pills at 3 in the afternoon to stop yourself from overeating isn't healthy. Neither is taking laxatives, or ignoring my body cues and biking long distances because I don't deserve to rest, I have to work off this binge. Food and exercise weren't things I used to punish myself in Chicago, they were things I worked with in order to improve my health because I loved my life and wanted to live it fully. Here, though, they're just another source of anxiety.

I woke up yesterday and dreaded the thought of getting out of bed. My sink is full of dishes, there's a pile of student work to be graded, and unless I call my family or friends, I'm not going to interact with anyone today. My legs ached from a 20 mile bike ride the day before, plus 12 the day before that, and 17 the day before that, and 19 the day before that, and so on, and so on.

I sat at my desk and made four lists: pros and cons for staying in California, pros and cons for moving back to Chicago - with sub- and counter-arguments for each point. I made a detailed financial plan for both situations. And in the end, the choice was really clear.

There will be a lot of challenges with getting back to Chicago, lots of logistics to be worked out. Numerically, there are far more pros for staying in California. But in terms of weight, the California cons are far heavier. And I'm not willing to sacrifice another day of my life being unhappy with where I am and what I am doing with my life.

I'm moving back to Chicago, final decision, end of discussion.

Moving to California was a mistake, without a doubt. But as the saying goes, mistakes aren't always regrets. I've learned a lot about myself here, about what I value most in life, about what is most important to me, about the nature of addiction and the process of recovery. And that, I am grateful for. But, as is the case with all mistakes, we have to learn from them and move on.

I'm ready to move on, to move forward. And for me, that means moving back. I'm ready to start living again. This has been a revelatory year, and I have come to understand that living meagerly in a place you love with people who make you happy is preferable to a life that is not being truly lived at all.