My ode to The West Wing (aka the show that brought me back to life)

I had a snow day today, our 374th since January (it seems). And, since I had an exam yesterday and am currently in the WHEEE I DON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT STUDYING FOR AT LEAST ANOTHER FEW DAYS!!! phase, I sat my derriere right down on the couch and did nothing for most of the afternoon.

And it was glorious.

I caught up on a few episodes of season 4 of Call the Midwife. I went down rabbit hole after rabbit hole on the internet. I drank tea. I pet the cats. And, at one point, I stopped and marveled at how good it felt to be able to sit and do nothing without feeling anxious. To actually feel happy and relaxed, and comfortable just with myself. And I credit that all to a wonderful little television show called THE WEST WING (said with a dramatic voice). (Okay, it doesn't get all the credit, but it gets a good chunk of credit, so let's just go with that, okay?)

But seriously. In a period of my life where I was overcome with anxiety and depression, feeling terrified and alone and utterly lost, I watched the first episode on Netflix completely on a whim.

And then I watched the second episode.

And then I watched the third episode.

And it became my nightly ritual to watch an episode before bed, and suddenly that time at night that had felt the most terrifying and lonely and sad suddenly became not so terrifying and lonely and sad. I imposed my own little bedtime routine: wash face, brush teeth, contacts out, glasses on, c'mere, Jed Bartlet. I lived for that bedtime routine. It became such a comfort, such a solid and safe part of my day that eventually, daytimes got a bit easier too. I watched every single episode of that show in three months and loved every minute of it. It was free therapy alongside my real (not free) therapy. And oh, good grief, you'd better believe I cried my eyes out when it was over.

I did have some anxiety thinking of what would happen when it was over. But at that point, time and therapy and friendship had worked its magic and I was doing better. My nightly routine that had buoyed me through so many days had worked — the storm was subsiding, and I was still standing.

And I found myself not so scared of being alone. Even enjoying it, really. Now I'm fiercely protective of my alone time. I crave it, and enjoy it 99.7% of the time. I have my morning rituals and my evening rituals and they start and end my day on such comfortable notes. And with that comfort and knowledge of stability, I'm able to break those routines every once in a while, knowing I can always go back to them. It's been so freeing, still, two years since I watched that first episode.

And that's how Jed Bartlet and his crew helped me find myself again.


In the thick of it

I've been re-reading my last post for the past few days. A gentle nudge from Cait led me to think about my blog, and while I've never forgotten about it, I feel like I've forgotten how to write in it. It's overwhelming to think about catching up, so I'll just jump in with the here and now. Starting as if we're in the middle of a conversation. That's what Kathleen Kelly would say, right?

So. Right now, I'm sitting across the street from the little yellow house I've spent the last 2.5 years living in. I babysat my neighbor tonight, a boisterous boy who calls me Auntie Hallie and who's getting so big I had to remind myself to bend with my knees to pick him up. Now he's asleep, and I'm procrastinating doing some schoolwork, and watching the never-ending snow fall out the windows.

I'm happy.

February is nearly over, and March is barreling into focus. That'll put us at the halfway point for this semester, my second of nursing school, which is just flying by absurdly quickly. Oh, it's consumed me in the most wonderful way. Truly. The first six weeks of school last September felt like I was constantly a hundred feet behind where I should be, while carrying hundred-pound weights on each shoulder, while being chased by a pack of savage beasts…underwater. But I got byyyy with a little help from my friennnds. And I found my rhythm, and adjusted to the coursework volume, and before I knew it the first semester was over. And now we're well into the second semester and I'm pretty sure I'll blink and it'll be time to take the NCLEX-RN exam (oh god I'm not ready).

I can honestly say that nursing school has been the best decision of my life thus far. I feel like I've discovered my purpose, and my spirit. It's challenging and terrifying and more work than I ever could have anticipated. But when I sit in class, eagerly lapping up every bit of information my professors dole out (except for the two weeks we spent on fluid and electrolyte balances, I could've taken or left those), or when I don my scrubs and walk through the doors of the hospital, I feel so driven. This is my purpose. If you'd have told me when I was in high school that I'd ever be so passionate about medicine, I'd have looked at you like you had four heads. But I love it. I really, truly love it.

So. That brings me here. I'm still wrangling toddlers by day, as the financial means to continue this education of mine. Class and clinical are in the evenings, so I have long days every day, but it's okay — because it's all things I enjoy. But I'm finding myself pulling away from my toddler-wrangling job, and instead wanting to do something more along the lines of birth work. I've been researching graduate schools with midwifery programs, and most of them require (or strongly encourage, underlined three times and with an exclamation point) a year's work in the field you're interested in. So right now, I'm walking toward a precipice: the edge of a giant mountain, where my financially safe toddler-wrangling job stays on one side and an opportunity to attend births, do labor or breastfeeding support, or work as a doula is on the other. It's a big leap, though, and I truthfully haven't figured out how to make it financially viable. But I'm hopeful. I'm ready.

And where does that leave this blog of mine? Well, it's seen me through all of my biggest life transitions. It's seen good, and bad, and good again. So I'm not ready to let go of it just yet. Here's to learning how to write, again.


Six weeks in

Feb. 2015 edit: I wrote this post last October, and for some reason it sat in the drafts folder and never got posted. I'm posting it now, because upon re-reading it I remember what an important milestone it was.

The beginning of fall is an odd time for me. At its first whispers, I fight against it. Try to run away from it. Not the cold! Not the clouds! Not months and months of socks and scarves and three pairs of mittens. Not yet!

And so, this fall, like most of the past five, I've been teetering. I'm on a ledge, a precipice, toes a bit too close to the edge for comfort, desperately trying to keep my balance so that I don't fall into the bleak pit that is winter's depression. Thus far, I've kept my balance; through the first frenzied four weeks of nursing school wherein I couldn't see anything further than the textbooks I was frantically trying to read to stay caught up; through the confusing first few clinicals at the hospital, trying to find my way and my place among seasoned nurses and sick patients; through the transition of four new very young toddlers into our classroom who cried and cried and cried for anyone but us at first. Through all the firsts.

The fifth week, though, it all started to come together. I had two good exams under my belt, reassurance that I was gaining my sea legs in the hospital, and four happy, well-transitioned young toddlers settled alongside our older ones.

And then this past Thursday night, mortality smacked me straight upside the head. It's been in my mind, these past myriad visits to the hospital, doing what little I've been taught thus far to help people who are ill…up close and personal to people who are very elderly and very frail. It can be scary, to know that that's what we're all (God willing) barreling toward with our desire to live a long life. It makes me stop and wonder if we really do know what we're getting into.

I couldn't ignore death his past Thursday night. It was right in front of me: once, literally — in the form of a woman who had passed two hours' prior to us getting there, whose post-mortem care I had the honor of watching — and once, almost, as the 90-year-old women I was caring for got very critical very quickly. I came home that night slightly shellshocked, the baby nursing student in me overwhelmed with emotion for all that I'd seen that I'd never seen before. And I came home to an email from my aunt and uncle, updating us all on the slow, merciless, end-of-life shifts in my paternal grandparents. And I thought of my sweet maternal grandfather, and how thinking of his manner of death still makes me cry.

And so that night I cried. And cried. And cried.

I've read so many essays written by people near death. "Seize the day," they say. "Don't take any minute for granted. Live while you still can." Those sentiments have always scared me, because how can I seize the day? How can I live to the fullest if I'm so busy all the time? Of course I take minutes for granted — entire hours pass before I blink, and those are hours I'll never, ever get back again. How can I be so sure I'm not wasting my precious life? I worry.

Yesterday, a quiet voice spoke somewhere deep inside my head. You are living, it said. You are living and you are doing. That is enough and it is okay. You are happy. You are alive.

And that was enough.

And so today I said: Hello, fall. And I smiled at the multi-colored trees.

And so today I said: I am living, today. And I whispered a thank you to the universe.

And so today I said: I am grateful for exactly where I am. And I am.


The next step

Ten days.

That's it. Just ten. In ten days, I'll load my computer and charger up into my giant Timbuk2 bag, slip my syllabus into a new three-ring notebook full of lined paper, and stuff pens, hilighters, pencils, and a small recorder into my new pencil bag. And I'll head off for my first day of nursing school.

It's wild to think that it's finally here. This culmination of two years of pre-reqs, applications, anticipation, acceptance, titer levels, bloodwork, physicals and orientation is effectively over, and the real stuff begins. It seems like I've been waiting for this my entire life, and really, I have.

I've got two brand spankin' new pairs of navy scrubs embroidered with my school's emblem. I've got a white nurse's jacket. White Dansko clogs that are sure to be scuffed up in no time. A stethoscope, pen lights, a name tag, nursing textbooks…check, check, check, check. All mine.

But, as the nursing program coordinator repeated three times over the course of our three-day orientation the other week, "We can teach anyone how to do nursing procedures. But what we can't teach you is how to be a great nurse. That's something you have to dig inside of yourself and become."

That's where I pause. Doubt myself. Can I? Can I remember it all, do it all, be it all? I sometimes become so consumed with what has to be done in work and life that I tuck my chin under and just do. My challenge, I know, will be to lift my chin back up and really see the people around me. The ones for whom I'll have the honor of caring, for however little or however long. While my ultimate goal isn't nursing but midwifery, I know that the skills I learn over the next two years — both physical and emotional — are the crux of what will become my life's work. And so I repeat to myself, even now, ten days before school even starts, "Open your eyes. Smile, reach out, touch. Send them love."

It's a new adventure. A new door, a new education, an entirely different learning experience. My strongest hope is that I can be a competent, careful, nurturing presence in the lives of anyone I come into contact with.

Ten days.


Having faith

I grew up in a church. I mean that almost literally — my parents were the pianist/organist/choir directors/all things musical for a small United Methodist church in Texas when I was young, and the church building was our second home. We spent hours and hours there each week, and while my parents worked, my sister and I were free to roam. I remember running up and down the upstairs hallways, hiding behind the large banners that alternated being hung in the sanctuary, and playing downstairs in the nursery.

We challenged each other to "slide under all the pews and see who can get to the back of the sanctuary first" games, and climbed in and out of the cabinets in the narthex. We were completely and absolutely at home there. And the church community was our family, too. We had more surrogate aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents than I can count. They were our people. Lord knows we spent more time with them than we did our extended family in Georgia and Michigan.

And then there was Kathleen. The most amazing minister of love and joy. While my family never considered itself particularly religious, she instilled in me a strong knowledge of a loving God that I've carried with me through the years. I miss her.

Through an unfortunate situation, my family left the church of my childhood when I was around 13. I've not had a church family since then, but the longing for one has always been quietly resting in me. I attended a church for a few months in college, but never felt at home there. That brings us to now: I'm in a place in my life where I want that family, want that community, want that place of love and joy. A month ago, Cait and I started visiting churches in the area.

On our second Sunday, we found a beautiful United Church of Christ a few blocks from our house. It's led by a strong female minister, which was something I really wanted. The congregation is very, very small, but so welcoming and open. I find myself looking forward to Sundays now, excited to be in a place of glory and worship. Whether or not I consider myself devoutly religious, I'm so happy to have the comfort of a church family back in my life. It's made such a difference.

I don't quite know where I'm going with this blog entry, but I wanted to write it. I'm grateful for the ability to find a new family, and grateful for the simple joy of being in congregation with likeminded people as I begin each new week. I'm grateful for faith.


sNOw more, thanks.

I'm back in New England, cuddled up in my cozy bed in our cozy house in Connecticut. Apparently we're about to be dumped with snow — most everything is canceled for tomorrow, and there's already been a Snow Emergency declared (I added the capital letters for emphasis because SNOW! EMERGENCY!). (Which means you can only park on the even side of the street, which means I didn't get to go to the grocery store after work because I wanted to rush home to find a place to park, which means I'll be weathering this storm with clementines, almond butter, hummus, and spinach in the fridge, OH BOY.)

I tell you: six winters in New England and I'm finally getting used to things. And actually kind of liking it. Though for the love of god don't remind me I said that tomorrow morning when I'm shoveling my car out and hating the world.

Tucker's super excited at the possibility that we'll be snowed in together. I can see the love in his eyes.



Sometimes I look back at things I've written over the past few years and cringe. I was struggling; sad, depressed, anxious, always consumed with food and eating and not eating and my body and my weight and too much and too little and with trying to make everything stop.

And so life went by.

I'd always read that depression lies, but I never knew quite what that meant until recently. Now, I can shake my head, stomp my feet, and proclaim emphatically that Depression Lies! It does! Now, I can look in the mirror, hug myself, and say firmly, You are not the fucked-up failure you once thought you were. Look, Self. You live, you breathe, you work, you eat, you love: you are succeeding.

For several years — weighed down by the depression with which I hadn't yet been diagnosed — with every inhale all I brought into myself was unhappiness, unkind thoughts, and near paralyzing self-pity. I breathed in more and more negativity, never letting it out, until it turned into a giant festering mass of anxiety that manifested itself as the complete inability to have any sort of healthy relationship with food.

I focused on the eating disorder. Despite what doctors and nutritionists and therapists advised, I allowed it to become a way of identifying myself. It was so much easier to say, "Hi, I'm Hallie, I do terrible things to my body with food and I can't control it," than to realize that underneath everything ran the quiet river of knowing that (depression whispered) I really didn't like myself as a person. It was so much easier to spend hour after expensive therapist-run hour planning grocery lists and meal outlines, repeating I'll buy this and eat this and keep this down (even though I never would) than to confront the real reasons why I couldn't stand to be alone inside my own head. In this way, the eating disorder became its own monster; a tornado I couldn't control.

In retrospect, it's terrifying just how all-consuming it all was.

I say all this now, of course. While I was living and breathing it, I could never have realized that to truly move away from the eating disorder and all of my body image issues, I'd first have to love myself enough to effect real change in the parts of my life that were causing such depression and anxiety. How simple does that sound? And how impossible, at the same time?

There was no concrete switch that made everything suddenly on the right track. Rather, I know deep within me that it was the combination of excellent healthcare, a supportive family, a dear friend who cared enough to kick me in the pants over and over and over again (and who still does when I need it), the ability to work in an incredible place where I feel valued and accomplished, the vision of my future career within reach, beautiful friends who surround me, a new city, and, of course, time that helped propel me forward. Mostly teeter-totter, never perfect, but forward. Oh, and my body and my brain: they struggled, they persevered, and they continue to move me through life. I am grateful.

I sit here, typing this on my bed in my childhood room, listening to my family bustling about. I feel incredibly lucky. I feel incredibly fortunate. Not just for the good times, the here and now, but for the bad times, too. I know more of what I'm capable of today than I ever have. And I feel that I have a few tools in my belt for the future: security and protection against future troubles; the knowledge that this too shall pass at least as it pertains to depression, fear, and self-doubt.

There is much laughter in my future. This I know.


Eat up dis tarrot

Each day at work, I sit in the toddler classroom and eat my lunch while the kids nap. When a certain unnamed toddler doesn't nap, here's how my lunch goes:

I'm sorry about all the crunching. I was, as you could have guessed, eating carrots.


Thank goodness I'm significantly better with food these days or I'm pretty sure MY HEAD WOULD EXPLODE. But damn, I love that kid.

And damn, I love my job.



I need to revise/clarify my last post, because I now realize it was, frankly, insulting to a lot of people (including my best friend).

What I tried to convey but failed:

I used the wrong word in "prevented." (I'm frequently guilty of using poor/incorrect word choices. And I hate that.) I don't think eating disorders can be prevented. They're a deeply psychological disease, one that we can't fix by happy thinking or "just eating" or envisioning jolly vegetables growing in gardens. I thought I had expressed that, but I hadn't.

Rather, I do wonder if, in addition to group and individual therapy/medication/lots and lots of time/lots and lots of tears/lots and lots of support/etc., participating in the growing and creating of food had been involved in my treatment it might have, I don't know, made a difference? I'm finding more joy in growing and cooking and eating now, but perhaps that's only because I've had a lot of time and treatment and this wouldn't have made a difference two years ago.

And I still struggle. I still engage in unhealthy eating disorder behaviors. Sure, it's far less frequently than it once was, but it still happens. But I'm hoping as I'm eating cleaner, learning about growing seasonally and buying locally, I'll move farther and farther away from those bad behaviors. Perhaps it's wishful thinking. I don't know.

What I know is: I think a lot of my post yesterday came out of a desperation to spare myself and others the pain of struggling with food demons. From the panic that comes from eating anything and the relief that a porcelain toilet bowl can bring. For living all-consumed by trying not to eat or trying to eat or just trying to pretend food doesn't exist. I was grasping at straws, trying to find some kind of answer.

But as I sit here and think, I know there's not an answer. There's not a quick fix. And there's certainly no one thing that will work to help everybody.  (Even though I believe almost anyone who has eating disorder-related behaviors would benefit from counseling/therapy and possibly medications.)

I hope all this makes sense. I apologize if I trivialized the pain anyone's gone through by suggesting they could've done something different to prevent it. It wasn't my intention.

Also — please know that if you're struggling with food-related problems, there are ways to get help. There are online support groups, too. I'm happy to pass any resources I can along. My email is listed on the right side of the blog.


Wishful thinking

I've had this nagging thought sliding around in my head the past few weeks: what if I could've prevented my eating disorder?

Hear me out, now — I know it wasn't a choice, per se, to succumb to these years of battling food demons. There are wires in my brain criss-crossed enough that I think I'll always struggle with compulsive eating. But hear me out.

I've been reading Barbara Kingsolver's luscious book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle as we've been watching our own garden grow. Let's just say it's been like a weed (a glorious, wonderful weed) that's planted itself deep inside my head and won't leave. My thoughts are consumed with buying locally and seasonally — embarking on weekly trips to the farmer's market instead of the big-box grocery chain, and buying what's available there, and not much else.

We're lucky that our local markets supply dairy, eggs, and meat alongside all manner of seasonal produce. I was able to pick up fresh cow's milk yogurt last week, a radical change from my Chobani or Fage once-a-day Greek habit. We came home with multicolored Swiss chard, kale, and bulbs of bok choi to go along with the 21 pounds (!) of fresh strawberries we'd picked that morning at a local U-Pick-Em. Those greens, and the leftover carrots I had in the fridge already, became the staples of my diet this week — alongside strawberries at every meal and organic almond butter slathered on Cait's homemade bread. (We bought the almond butter, but are looking forward to making it ourselves as soon as we can find an almond supplier.) It's been lovely, really.

The past few weeks of veggie-heaven have forced me to contend with my kitchen fears. See, I hate to cook. I hate it. I'm bad at it, and I'm scared of it. But I'm also tired of eating raw veggies all. the. time. and am looking for more creative ways to jazz them up. So I've set goals to cook at least one new recipe a week centered around whatever vegetables are at the market. I'm being more deliberate with food, and I'm happier about it.

For so long, I remember pleading with the universe to take away my hunger pangs. To somehow bless me with the ability to not need to eat, because the idea of eating multiple meals per day every single day was just entirely too much to handle. Calorie-counting. Obsessing over fat grams. Never eating enough so that the compulsive binges inevitably followed. Purging. Starting all over again a few hours later.

But something about the idea of seeing our tomato plants growing taller, our lettuce filling out (we can pick and eat some now!), and the first little green pepper on one of our pepper plants has filled me with enormous pride. I'm taking ownership over food and eating, for the first time in I don't know how long. Actively working to grow or seek out local, seasonal foods is both blowing and changing my mind in one fell swoop. And it feels so good.

So I wonder: what if we involve our kids in this kind of thing from day one? If I make the effort to have my own garden, to celebrate the food that grows in it, to support other local farms by buying their yogurt or milk, to consciously cook meals that mean something to the food that goes into them...will my children perhaps be spared seeing their mother's awfully unhealthy relationship with food? Will my daughters (and my sons) be spared stressing and hating food like I did?

I'm not naive enough to think that this would've been the fix-all for everything. But I do wonder: how can more conscious eating make us all healthier people, both nutritionally and emotionally?

One thing I do know: I'm enjoying eating more than ever.