8.23.2014

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.

2.14.2014

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.

1.02.2014

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.

12.26.2013

Perspective

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.

8.02.2013

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:

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

Y'all.

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.

6.24.2013

Clarification

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.

6.22.2013

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.

6.01.2013

Mary, Mary, quite contrary...

Lord knows I have no green thumb. I think I've killed every plant I've ever owned, including Mimblulus Mimbletonia, the ivy Cait gave me. When I expressed some hesitance about accepting it, she said "COME ON, you CANNOT kill an ivy. It's, like, DIFFICULT to kill an ivy."

I killed the ivy.

I didn't mean to! I really didn't! I watered it faithfully (maybe too faithfully?) and sang to it and sent love into it and meditated over it and did all the other things Good Plant Owners are supposed to do. But still, little Mimby died a sad, slow death.

Hey. I can keep kids alive. I can keep cats alive. Hell, I can keep FISH alive. Remember Severus? He survived the three-hour trek from Boston to New Haven in a UHaul, for pete's sake. But bless my heart, flowers wilt in my presence.

Which is why the idea of starting a vegetable garden in our neighbor's beds across the street reeeeeally freaked me out. Because remember! I kill plants! All of them! I'm not allowed in arboretums anymore!

We did it anyway, though, cause the thought of fresh-picked tomatoes warm from the sun just makes my mouth water like nobody's business. So then this happened:


Bok choi, cherry tomatoes, lettuce, two kinds of heirloom tomatoes, two kinds of kale, three kinds of sweet peppers, cilantro, rosemary, basil, oregano, lemon balm, and mint. Planted. In the ground. Done. Wham-bam-thank you ma'am.

Luckily Cait has some garden knowledge and our neighbor (whose beds we're using) is an expert. So maybe, if I tiptoe softly 'round the beds and read them lines from Emily Dickinson's "Nature, The Gentlest Mother" and only handle them under direct supervision, these plant babies will have a chance in life.

C'mon, seedlings. Grow grow grow.

4.15.2013

My heart is in Boston today.

4.13.2013

Building sandcastles

Twice last week I came home from work, beelined for the bathtub, climbed in — shoes and all — and let the water wash the sandbox out of my flats.  Those were two very good days.

It seems like mid-April is marking the beginnings of spring around here — tiny buds on the trees, green shoots sticking out of the ground, and one morning spent planting tiny peas in the ground with Cait, chanting, "Grow, peas, grow!" while we dug and sewed and buried. The middle of April. Welcome, spring, we have missed you something fierce.

Warmer weather means we get to stay outside longer with the kids (hooray!). Warmer weather means phasing out of the boots-snowpants-gloves-jacket-hat routine for every. single. child. before every. single. time. outside. Warmer weather means sunshine and sandals and short sleeves and oh, sweet jeebus, LET IT BE 90 DEGREES NOW!

It's been a very long winter.

With this spring coming, I feel like I'm stretching out my mind and body in this still-new place, hearing my joints crackle and pop as I continue to settle into New Haven. I ordered new lavender curtains for my bedroom this morning in an ongoing attempt to make my room more me, and exchanged my flannel bedsheets for cotton. I'm going to school and going to work, occasionally going on dates and going out with friends. I'm settling, here, and it feels pretty good.

So, is this adulthood?

I turned 24 a little over a month ago. That's a number that a younger me thought of as ADULT. That blows my mind. Frequently. My younger self had a million and one plans that I wanted to have accomplished by age 24 — namely, having forsaken college in favor of marrying young and popping out babies. And while I sometimes (frequently) wish that had been the path I somehow would've taken, I didn't, and there's no use dwelling on it.

Instead, I am here, one degree under my belt and another about to be started — I'll apply for nursing school this fall. With fingers crossed and lots of luck, I'll have my RN in 2016. I've got no babies of my own, but I've got a slew of gorgeous little ones on whom I get to lavish love, affection, and occasional (well, frequent) redirection every day. I don't have a spouse, but I have an incredible network of friends who buoy me and give me rides when my car breaks down and who come over late at night when I'm alone and sad, just to talk. I am truly lucky.

It may not look like what I had planned. But if this is adulthood, then I'll take it. Here's to a continued spring — of warmer weather, happier days, and lots and lots of sandcastles.