Sometimes it’s hard to love yourself.

I can stand in front of the mirror and look at my body and see where the muscles used to be. I can look past the stretch marks and scars and see the smooth skin I used to have, where my skin was still squishy but pretty taut. I can see that if I had that tone now, in this new body, I would be a beast. My broad shoulders, cut in waist, wide hips, and huge breasts would look amazing with me a hundred pounds thinner. People don’t look at me and think I need to lose a hundred pounds. I carry weight well, which has always made admitting how much I weigh embarrassing. In old pictures of me with my shirt off flexing like an idiot, I weighed anywhere from 165 to 180. So when I say I need to lose a hundred pounds, I’m not exaggerating or saying I’m disgustingly obese. Though maybe I am. I’m sure most people think so.

Sometimes I still see myself that way – the beast of a girl who could leg press forty reps of 200lbs and carry on a conversation because it was as taxing as curling a five pound weight. I remember what it feels like to stand up straight and look at my body in the mirror for those two months that summer before I turned 18 and had self confidence, knowing I looked amazing. My body still has memory of that. When I put on my industrial strength sports bra and stand in front of the mirror with sweat pants hanging on my hips, I strike that familiar stance and muscle memory jolts me. My shoulders go back, my head holds high, I turn and squeeze what’s left of my abdominal muscles and feel good for a few seconds before reality sets in.

I’m hungry, but can’t make myself eat. Some days I do so well and eat properly. Other days I don’t feel as if I deserve to eat, no matter what time of day it is that I begin getting those pangs of hunger. I look at my body and ignore the rising sickness that comes over me as my stomach begs to be fed something, anything, to just make the emptiness stop. I deny it because the tape measure and the scale and the eyes of people who pass me tell me that I don’t deserve it.

I didn’t eat when I was ten to the point where I was throwing up stomach acid so often at school that my mother would have to leave work to come pick me up and watch me eat. I was only in fifth grade when I felt that being skinny was more important than me making it to lunch without throwing up that burning, foul liquid. I got an ulcer from worrying about people thinking I was fat. I wasn’t. Two years later I would put one arm behind my back and one across my stomach and if I couldn’t touch my elbows I wouldn’t eat that day. I might have a Pepsi and a Snickers just to give me sugar to make it through the day. I was forced to eat in front of my soccer coaches when they realized I wasn’t eating and was benched by another unless I could tell him everything I ate that day because my energy was too low to be on the field. Soon I was put on daily medication because I had the acid reflux of a forty year old male and would get violently sick with stomach cramps whenever I ate.

When major depressive disorder set in with other mental illness and I had back to back pregnancies, my nightmare of being fat actually came to fruition and I was everything I feared. When my mental health deteriorated, so did my physical health. Now that I’m finally getting myself together mentally, I’m left looking at the remains of what I’ve done to myself through years of sedentary depression and anxiety.

I don’t recognize the body I’m in. I don’t like the way people look at me, or how they say I dress well for someone of my size, or tell me I have a pretty face. I don’t like that I’m stared at at social events, or that people have commented on my size in comparison to my husband as if that is any of their business. I want to get healthy and am working toward being so, but the stares I get doing anything physical outside of my house has made me retreat to back roads where people won’t see me or into my basement where I have to hope that in a year or two, maybe I’ll be fit enough to exercise in public where people won’t judge me so harshly with their eyes or whispers. Maybe someone will finally call me beautiful without an addendum such as “for a big girl”.

I’ll never be tiny – I’m not built to be. But I could be healthy and strong. I could be a beast with strong thighs and core. I should not deprive my body of what it needs because I have some sense, some fear, that tells me I’m not deserving of basic sustenance. I should think of my self as Wonder Woman or some Amazonian queen because I’m beautiful and amazing and deserve to treat myself, and be treated with, respect.

I had always said that I was built like an ox, but a publisher I had been talking to at a writer’s conference noticed I wasn’t eating in front of anyone, looking anxious as people began eating their lunches. After I joked about my Eastern European build she said to me, “No honey, we’re not built like oxen, we’re built like oaks.” And nothing has been more inspiring to me than those words.

A Very Informal Essay on Beauty…and figuring shit out the hard way.

Dare For The Beautiful Ambiguity

Dare For The Beautiful Ambiguity

I’ve always been obsessed with beauty. I love beautiful architecture, art, staring at the sky, quiet scenery of secluded spots, being lost in busy cities, and people who are just too beautiful – both aesthetically and those with kind souls.

I don’t know if it was society ingrained or part of my personality disorder, but I always just wanted people to love me and think I was beautiful. I thought everyone hated me. I never had a boyfriend, while all my other friends had one after another. I concluded it was because I wasn’t pretty enough. I dealt with disordered eating and wished for beauty, because I thought it was something I didn’t have – if I was pretty, wouldn’t I have boys liking me? When I was older I thought sex was equal to someone loving me, at least for a few minutes. I had pictures from Maxim and FHM all over my walls with labels on bodies of parts I wished I had. The worst part was that I was beautiful (and had a fantastic body), and maybe I still am now (minus the fantastic body), but I don’t feel like I am. I found out years after high school from guy friends that they had been intimidated by me – everyone loved me and no one knew how to talk to me because they thought I was out of their league, which was ridiculous. I was queen of the geeks and played Risk in my friend Matt’s basement with Battlestar Galactica on in the background and another friend played WoW in another room – they were the only guys who would talk to me, and they were awesome. I spent years with absolutely no self esteem, and it was because guys thought I was some magical unicorn they couldn’t talk to, and I’ll never understand why. I was absolutely not one of the beautiful girls at school. I also thought that was weird, because girls who liked me never had that problem. I even married one of those little shits – a guy who would call me, ask me to a ball, then after dropping me off, would not talk to me until the next year, because he thought I was out of his league and I wouldn’t want to hang out with him at the pool hall. He was the only guy to ever ask me to a dance. Ever.

Now after years of depression and disordered eating of a whole ‘nother kind, I’m fat and desperate to get healthy and feel beautiful again. It’s not just that I want to feel beautiful, but I absolutely narcissistically want other people to think I’m beautiful. But more than anything, I’d like for people to look at me as if I was human and not in disgust. My self esteem used to be crippled because people thought I was too beautiful (in an outside/inside way, not in a Scarlett Johansson way because praise Jesus for that one) for them to talk to. Now it’s crippled because I can’t go out of my house without someone looking at me like I’m disgusting because of my weight. I’m a size 22. I’m not ridiculously huge, just definitely need to and want to lose a lot of weight and be healthy.

Because I’ve always placed such emphasis on beauty and it’s been such an obsession of mine (that will never go away), I’ve found it hard over the years to find the real motivation to lose weight that didn’t put me into a pit of depression when I failed to meet unrealistic goals and look a certain way after a certain amount of time. I finally realized beyond being ‘wanted’, I want to lose weight to be healthy, so I can hike the Appalachian Trail, so I can go do things I’ve always wanted to do without feeling like I’m going to have a heart attack. I want to feel beautiful and tell society to fuck off. I know I’ll never be those beautiful girls hanging on my wall, or even the me that thought she was fat and ugly when it was quite the opposite, but I can be a new me that cherishes her being as a whole and not in parts. I can be happy in my skin because it is mine and no one else’s. I can love my body for the hell I’ve put it through, and be grateful it’s still sort of working. I can be healthier, move more, and smile because who gives a fuck if someone looks at me and doesn’t think I’m drop dead gorgeous? I’m a fucking beautiful person. If they look at me and think otherwise, they’re missing out because I am awesome. I have to make myself feel good, because in my experience, society will not make any effort to do so.

Kickstarter for Sebastian Junger’s “Korengal”

Kickstarter for Sebastian Junger’s “Korengal”

Sebastian Junger and the late Tim Hetherington did a great thing. 

They embedded with our boys in the 2-503rd, 173rd ABN BDE out of Vicenza, Italy during a deployment to a remote area in Afghanistan in 2007-2008. It was a 15 month deployment for our guys (I say ‘ours’ because it was my husband’s battalion and…well, they’re my boys – always will be), and we went through a lot of loss. Out of this deployment, Sebastian wrote the book War, Tim put together Infidel, and the two put out the award winning documentary Restrepo (which you can view on Netflix). 

Before Tim was killed in Libya, he and Sebastian had talked about revisiting their unused footage from Restrepo and show a more in depth and personal view of what it was like for the guys during the deployment and after they came home. Sebastian has moved forward with their plan, and Korengal is the result. He’s trying to raise enough to get it out to American audiences in theaters, and needs to raise $75,000 by the end of May to make this happen. 

The story of the 173rd is a personal one to me, but my bias aside, this is a continuation of an important story that the public needs to see. Take the time to view the Kickstarter video and read the letter from Sebastian, back if you can, and either way – please share. 

Thank you,
Ash

Sky Soldiers.

Exhausted Writer Seeks Energy and Time Machine

I have projects. That could actually be my slogan. I’ve finished the finals on two more classes, leaving only two condensed courses from here through the middle of May until I graduate. I’m so tired. I can’t say this is as tired as I’ve ever been, because well, having a toddler with the flu and a brand new baby while having a pulmonary embolism made me pretty tired. Nothing will ever compare to that. But I am tired. And a bit burned out. Either way, I’ve got stuff to do, because I can’t stop for a moment without having yet another project beginning.

I’ve signed up to do CampNaNoWriMo with some tumblr friends to give me some focus on working on a novel I’m toying with. I haven’t looked at the one I started last January since around April of last year so I might pick that up just to look it over. It was the first chapter of that novel that was reworked into a short story and was published in the Warriors Arts Alliance Proud To Be: Writing American Warriors anthology. I’m trying to decide what to write to submit to them within the next month, and have at least one other writing contest I’m looking to enter. By the time all this finishes, I’ll have graduated with my Associate of Arts degree and am taking the summer off to write. I have a poetry chapbook I’m working on, and all my other stories that are laying around.  At least I have tons of characters to keep me company on lonely nights.

For fun I’m starting a multi-fandom Etsy shop called EndVerseCreations with metal stamped jewelry, mugs, leather bracelets, etc. Because no matter how much I have going on with school and writing and cub scouts and coach pitch and swim lessons, take the boys fishing, paint, scrimshaw, working toward a physical fitness goal, trying to keep up a YouTube page and running a ton of blogs (my mental health one growing substantially and I forgot I promised to try to write a book for them this summer), there’s never enough for me to do. Although I do really want to take some time, maybe this weekend, to read The Maze Runner.

But first, now that finals are over and classes don’t start until…Monday (today is Friday for those playing at home), ZONK.

Sex Objects and the Idea of Empowerment

Sex Objects and the Idea of Empowerment

At first I was hesitant to watch the video.  I wanted to argue and say, “But I like feeling sexy. I like being make up free and lounging in my hoodie, but I also like getting glammed up and feeling beautiful.” I thought this video was going to tell me I’m a terrible woman for feeling confident and empowered when I feel my best – even if it’s dressing like a pin-up model.

But this was not what the video was about. It’s about being portrayed a sex object – an object, not a sexy woman. It’s about dehumanizing someone for the purpose of selling something. It’s about oversexualization of younger and younger people. It’s the increase in our culture to be okay with sex trafficking, rape, and unrealistic standards of “beauty” that affect how we think, move, and speak – and even how we interact with each other woman to woman. I love my make up. I love dressing either comfortably or showing a little skin because I love making myself feel confident. But I’m not an object. I’m not an abstract idea. I’m a human being; and it’s far too ingrained in our society that conforming to a certain ideal comprises our worth when it doesn’t. 

Reminding Myself that I kick ass.

I was getting down on myself (as you do) about how I haven’t accomplished much in the past year and I really need to kick myself in the ass and get moving, and how I spend too much time on the internet (specifically tumblr) and should be writing and whatnot, but then I realized something – in 2013, I did the following:

  • Started college full-time and got 32 credit hours completed, with a 4.0 in my last semester and a 3.9 in my classes overall. Thanks to my Army experience and dual-enrollment in HS, I’ll be graduating (as long as I can pass College Algebra) this spring with my Associates (after a grueling course load) and then continuing on to work on another degree. 
  • I edited the first chapter of a novel I’m working on into a short story, submitted it on a whim at the suggestion of a friend, and it was published.
  • I got to go read my work and meet other writers and Vets, and attended a mini-writer’s conference that was a pretty amazing experience.
  • I helped my oldest son make a TARDIS pinewood derby car and made a Dalek one for my youngest. 
  • I did oil painting and learned scrimshaw. 
  • I participated in GISHWHES.
  • Made some tumblr-friends.
  • I had the kids to myself majority of the year with the Man gone on deployment, long hours at work, and school in another state for two months. I did all the yard work on top of my work and Mom duties with swim lessons, cub scouts, coach-pitch, and volunteered for book fairs. 
  • I participated in Endure4Kindness to raise money for Random Acts.
  • Ran multiple blogs with over a thousand cumulative followers – one of which helps people with Borderline Personality Disorder, Anxiety, and Depression. 
  • And I did all this while working on overcoming my social anxiety (I barely need my medication now – my progress is nothing short of amazing in the past six months alone), handling Borderline symptoms, and dealing with Major Depressive Disorder. 

So you know what? I kind of kick ass. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of that.

Even if I do spend a lot of time on the internet. 

“The conversation no one else is having.” – The Good Men Project

How have I not heard of this? I guess because it’s the conversation that no one else is having. I happened upon this site after someone on fb shared a link to a story about why men don’t cheat, and interested in human sexuality as I am, I went to check it out. I was blown away by the response of the article and actually cheered at one point. So I ventured further, hitting up the About section, and was extremely pleased at this ‘let’s break the mold of masculinity’ stance that is feminist and makes me hopeful for a change in media coverage of men. 

“Guys today are neither the mindless, sex-obsessed buffoons nor the stoic automatons our culture so often makes them out to be. Our community is smart, compassionate, curious, and open-minded; they strive to be good fathers and husbands, citizens and friends, to lead by example at home and in the workplace, and to understand their role in a changing world.” 

This is pretty great, not just for men, but for everyone who wants to see a change in the definition of what is masculine and feminine, gender roles, and media portrayal of either sex that promotes certain expectations and condones bad behavior. While I’m sure as with any website I won’t agree with all the published material; but after a brief overview, I’m impressed with what I’ve seen. It’s kinda cool.
I like. 

Update on the Bookish Act of Kindness

As anyone who knows me knows, books are extremely important to me. I remember reading a book a day during third and fourth grade. Because of my love for reading, I won an essay competition on the prompt “Reading Takes You Places” when I was nine. That’s probably when I realized that writing was what I wanted to do. Now that I’m a parent, I take joy in seeing my oldest doing the same thing as I did when I was his age. We have to tell him to turn off his reading light some nights when it gets too late and he’s hiding under the sheets trying to finish one more chapter. So you can understand why children having access to books – good books – is extremely important to me.

After talking with the school administration at the grade school, I determined that the best way for me to get books for the kids was to buy them for the classrooms. We set up the book fair (which of course I volunteer for because books), and I came to work on Saturday. There was a table in the entry where we have drawings for baskets filled with books – one for the younger kids, one for the older kids – and a cork board with little envelopes filled with book requests from teachers. It was mostly the teachers of the younger grades and speech teachers, but there were a few 5th grade teachers who made a wishlist. Before it got busy, I tasked my sons out to finding books. I went through each teacher’s wishlist (that usually consisted of about three or four books that they wished they had in their classroom) and picked a book. I called it out, and they would find it, or they tried to at least.

We ended it up with twelve or more books ranging from Chester the Brave to The Maze Runner.
Here are some of the donation slips that didn’t get lost in my purse: 

Image

We had put gift stickers inside with the name of the teacher and my oldest’s name for who it was from. Most didn’t know who Philip was, but asked the office. I happened to be picking them up for an appointment when one of the secretaries told a woman in the office, “This is Philip’s mom.” She was one of the teachers, and she thanked me for the book. Philip wound up coming home with a handful of Thank You notes from very appreciative teachers.

Since it was just our little family and money’s tight, the Buy One Get One Free at the book fair allowed us to do this.
I’m hoping that maybe one day I’ll be able to get all the books on the teacher’s wishlists. Having books for classrooms that kids can read for years to come is great for everyone involved.

A Paper on BPD and Counseling

Counseling and the Borderline Personality

Ashley D. Wallis

                Making the decision to begin counseling, whether it is individual, couple, family, or group counseling can be a difficult choice.  Depending on the situation, the counseling sessions could be short term for temporary issues or extend into psychotherapy for more long term or permanent mental health issues.  Over the course of the counseling experience, a client may encounter various counseling theories and practices, as well as more than one kind of therapy.  Additionally, many mental health issues have co-occurring conditions that require various modes of counseling to accomplish goals set by the counselor and client. One such diagnosis is Borderline Personality Disorder, sometimes referred to as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, which is rarely diagnosed alone.  With a stigma that prevails even in among the mental health helpers in the psychiatric community, the disorder is often ignored or seen as difficult to treat.  Over the years, people with Borderline Personality Disorder have begun to speak out, and more effort has been made in using various therapies and counseling options for those seeking wellness.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) got its name in 1938 from what New York psychoanalyst Adolf Stern called the borderline between psychosis and neurosis.  (Lillenfield & Arkowitz, 2012) A misnomer, BPD is not closely related to disorders of psychosis, and the borderline patient is not the stereotypical psychotic person they are often portrayed as or perceived to be. The disorder (that affects about 2% of the population) is thought to be brought on by genetic predisposition, neurobiology, and environmental factors. People with BPD may have difficulty controlling their emotions or thoughts, lack a sense of self, fears abandonment, have problems with impulsivity or reckless behavior, and have unstable relationships. (National Institute of Mental Health) The fourth revision of the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) had nine criteria that were found prevalent in those with BPD. When a client showed recent and chronic displays of five or more of the listed criteria, they could be diagnosed.  In 2013, the DSM-5 changed the diagnosing criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder, citing levels of personality functioning instead of the proposed trait system used in the previous edition. (Sarkis)  Both men and women can suffer from the mental illness. Women are more commonly diagnosed, with co-conditions such as depressive and anxiety disorders as part of their Axis-I or II diagnosis. Male patients are more likely to have antisocial personality disorder or substance abuse problems as co-conditions.  The overall effect of Borderline Personality Disorder is a chaotic identity marked with instability of thought patterns to include emotional regulation problems.  The borderline often has difficulty with family and other relationships, and keeping a job can be difficult for some either from frequent hospital stays, troubled work relationships, or impulsivity to include abruptly quitting a job.  Over the course of a day in the life of a borderline, emotions are turbulent and can change at the slightest provocation, or trigger. This emotional rollercoaster also includes moving from adoration of a person and detesting them the next in a thought pattern called splitting.  The emotions of the borderline personality were explained by clinical psychologist Marsha Linehan in a quote to Time magazine in 2009: “Borderline individuals are the psychological equivalent of third-degree-burn patients. They simply have, so to speak, no emotional skin.” (Lillenfield & Arkowitz, 2012)

BPD has increased co-morbidity when Major Depressive Disorder, eating disorders, substance abuse problems, or another mental health issue is also diagnosed – up to 70% in some cases. (National Alliance on Mental Illness) With a 10% suicide rate and proclivity for self-harm, thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts, and frequent emergency room visits, people with this disorder were often institutionalized or deemed too difficult to treat in the past, leaving not much room for hope for wellness.  This is now changing. Despite having a misleading diagnostic name and no medication that actively treats the disorder itself, treating the co-occurring conditions such as depression and anxiety with regulated medication and using various therapy types have increased the ability for borderlines to live relatively normal, functioning lives.

The stigma of borderlines to be manipulative and harsh with counselors has caused the mere mention of the diagnosis to cause dread for both patient and mental health professionals.   Some clinicians are hesitant to diagnose BPD officially because of the stigma, and provide depression or another mental disorder as the Axis I diagnosis to insurance companies to ensure the client will get the counseling they need.  This stigma is so prevalent that Harvard University psychiatrist George Valiant noted that clinicians who are frustrated with patients who are difficult to manage sometimes diagnose their client as having the disorder, often simply for being challenging. (Lillenfield & Arkowitz, 2012) As more and more people with BPD are speaking out about their experiences, this stigma is slowly starting to change.  In 2011, when Dr. Marsha Linehan, who founded the most often used therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder revealed that she had been an inpatient with BPD as a teenager and dubbed “one of the most disturbed patients in the hospital” due to her self-mutilating behavior, people in the psychiatric community were shocked. After a second hospitalization, Linehan went on to earn a Ph.D. in 1971 – something considered an unsurmountable feat for someone with the disorder.  (Lillenfield & Arkowitz, 2012) With new therapies and a better understanding of how the neurobiology and environmental factors work together, hope has been given to those in the BPD community who seek wellness.

As there is no one medication that treats the disorder, medications that treat underlying conditions such as depression and anxiety tend to work for some time with the patient, but inevitably become ineffective.  The personality of the borderline does not change; even twenty to thirty years after treatment, those diagnosed with BPD may still retain the aspects of personality that are chronically troubled. This includes the instability of relationships and dissatisfaction with their lives with continued social isolation. (Kernberg & Michels, 2009) Although this seems like a bleak outlook, current therapies are showing to help patients move into a place of “recovery.” Likened to any common chronic medical condition, people with BPD can have relatively normal lives and function well in society as long as they take their prescribed medications, attend therapy as needed, and learn to manage their emotions.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) was used for BPD patients before Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) was established by modifying CBT to fulfill the needs of self-harming borderlines.  DBT, a psychosocial therapy, teaches the patient mindfulness and grounding similar to Buddhist teachings and even yoga practices in individual, group, as well as on-call therapy. Many borderlines that undergo DBT develop a routine involving meditation to keep them grounded and to feel balanced. Another therapy that is currently being tested is Mentalization Based Therapy (MBT).  MBT forces the patient to stop and look at their thoughts before acting, asking them to take others into account. A major problem with borderlines that cause emotional eruptions is hypermentalization, or the misreading of social cues that cause spiraling negative thoughts and can cause the borderline to self-harm or have suicidal thoughts. Using DBT and MBT, or pieces of each therapy that work with the individual client, show to greatly improve the daily life of the borderline personality and their ability to cope with urges and impulses caused by their emotions.  Learning the ability to cope with these symptoms gives the client diagnosed with BPD increased functionality.  Maintaining some sort of stability and control through medication, counseling, and skills learned from the various therapies gives hope to the hopeless, and the strength to overcome the darkest moments when suicidal thoughts would have been the norm.

The pervasive instability of the emotionally dysregulated BPD patient is not the hopeless cause it has often been regarded as.  Borderline Personality Disorder is a mental illness that can be treated with monitored medication and counseling rooted in humanistic theory, continued psychotherapy, other forms of therapies such as DBT and MBT, or a mixture thereof that best suits the patient.  Not the monsters they are commonly believed to be, patients with Borderline Personality Disorder can overcome the worst of their symptoms and learn to control their urges  in a safe, secure, and emotionally validating environment.  Using a variety of counseling method skills on a daily basis that over time become part of their normal routine, those with Borderline Personality Disorder break the stigma thrust upon them by the very community that should be helpful to them.  Marsha Linehan created a groundbreaking counseling option which is remarkable in its own right, but coming forward and sharing her own story as a BPD sufferer shows others with the disorder that the stigma against them is unjustified, and that they as individuals and as a community can achieve wellness and help each other find a way to rewrite the characterization of the disorder.

 

 

Works Cited

Kernberg, O. F., & Michels, R. (2009). Borderline Personality Disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry, 505-508.

Lillenfield, S. O., & Arkowitz, H. (2012, January 4). Diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder is often flawed. Retrieved from Scientific American: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-truth-about-borderline

National Alliance on Mental Illness. (n.d.). Mental Illnesses: Borderline Personality Disorder. Retrieved from National Alliance on Mental Illness: http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=By_Illness&Template=/TaggedPage/TaggedPageDisplay.cfm&TPLID=54&ContentID=44780

National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Borderline Personality Disorder. Retrieved from National Institute of Mental Health: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/borderline-personality-disorder/index.shtml

Sarkis, D. S. (n.d.). Borderline Personality Disorder: Big Changes in the DSM-5. Retrieved from Psychology Today: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201112/borderline-personality-disorder-big-changes-in-the-dsm-5