This post was incredibly difficult to write, and even harder to publish.
Some of you have been here, with me, for a long time—perhaps all three of the years that I’ve written this blog. You’re familiar enough with my life. And some of you are new. For both of you, a story.
Five or so years ago, I worked in film production. Specifically, the art department, where the sets are designed. Shutter Island, How Do You Know?, and even on the first iteration of the upcoming film Prisoners. I had moved from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania to Connecticut. It was dreamy, but just—not quite as creatively fulfilling as I wanted. Not for the long term, anyhow.
I wanted to start a food blog. Badly. One like all of the many inspiring sites I read daily, but also with an honest perspective about weight loss and body image. I put it off, put it off, put It off—unwilling to commit to another project amidst my sixty-hour workweeks. Only when the film I was working on shut down prematurely did I see an opening. I bought my domain name, Can You Stay for Dinner?, just after my 25th birthday on January 25th, 2010.
I blogged three times a day at the start. For months. I did it the only way I do anything: obsessively and compulsively. Daniel, my longtime love of six years at that time, looked on in bewildered amazement. I was in a near-constant state of “flow”—in the zone where hours passed without my knowing. It was, by and large, right.
Three months after I’d begun, Daniel and I left our apartment in Connecticut—having leased it only for the run of my film—and up and moved to Seattle. I found work as a social media intern and worked my way up to social media manager, then to coordinator of events. And all the while, my passion for writing, for creating and photographing recipes, grew.
In the summer of 2011, when the blog was just a year and a half old, I signed a two-book deal with Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House. It was the most exciting time in my life. In a lot of ways, I thought I’d reached a peak. At 26 years old.
In the fall, my relationship ended. A seven-and-a-half-year best friendship, a love like no other, it was all over.
My company arranged it so that we’d all begin working remotely, from home. I took to the coffee shop with my laptop.
I cannot even quite express the kind of depression that began to settle over me. It felt familiar—not quite comfortable, but not necessarily so new that I questioned where it came from or why it was here. I talk a lot about my lifelong depression in this post. The days, they were so long. So gray in Seattle. The life I’d taken to—writing alone in Starbucks all day—was helping to foster a deep, deep sense of loneliness. A feeling of isolation despite being surrounded by people. Daniel, the person I’d normally turn to in moments of despair, couldn’t be that someone anymore.
By December, mere months later, I decided to move back to Massachusetts. A lot of it had to do with not wanting to live in Seattle any longer, because, for someone who struggles with dreariness of mind, dreariness of atmosphere does not jive. (I should note that Seattle otherwise is the loveliest place on Earth.) I would live with my parents, I told myself, “just for a little while.“ We know how these kinds of loose plans go, don’t we?
I stayed much longer.
2012. Well into 2013. That first year—2012—it was the darkest, most difficult year I’ve experienced. Not in terms of tragedy or tangible obstacle, but emotionally. Maybe part of it was the loss of a true sense of independence. Maybe part of it was the writing of my memoir, and the rehashing over and over of my life—the very bad and the very good. The writing was cathartic, yes, but challenging in that it made me question who I am, what I’ve lived, and, generally, what my story will really mean to anyone else. Will it even resonate? There were moments—more than I can count—when I threw away pages, walked away from chapters, told people my work was currently reading like a piece straight out of Seventeen magazine, when I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. I hear all first-time writers go through this to some extent.
Maybe it was missing Daniel, my partner, and regretting letting him go. Certainly it was this.
Maybe it was the friction of my mother and my very strong personalities—the fact that neither of us backs down from a fight; the critics that murmur constantly within us; the perfectionists we sometimes wish we weren’t.
I should start by saying that Mom, as many of you have come to know her, is just about the loveliest human being. I don’t love anyone in this world as much. I don’t know if I ever will. She’s compassionate and loving and generous to a fault. But she’s perfectionistic, as I am, and the intensity with which we love each other and look to each other for fulfillment and approval has sometimes proven challenging.
To the outside world, writing books—becoming and being an author—that’s something, a career. But to my mother, a woman who has worked two and often three jobs for all my life, it’s not. She has cleaned houses, worked as a secretary, served as a private aid for elderly folks, taken part time work at the GAP. She would think nothing of working two eight-hour shifts in a row. I’ve met no one who will work as tirelessly. She had no choice. So to her, and her blue collar sensibilities, getting a book advance, or advances, in my case, to actually write the books, while also maintaining a blog, isn’t “working;” it’s winning the lottery. It’s just not practical. It’s not a day job, no matter how well it pays, or how carefully I could choose to manage the income. Don’t get me wrong, she loves my writing. She believes in me. But what she doesn’t believe in, is the untraditional nature of my path, or the fact that I don’t have benefits, or that I don’t have a real fall-back plan if this author thing doesn’t pan out in five years. And I get it; I do. She knows what it’s like to struggle, as I do in turn, and she only wants stability, and security, for me. There’s also likely a part of her, deep down, that wants to believe that all of her millions of sacrifices in life have been worth it, so that her babies are better off than she ever was. So that they never have to clean houses and work sixteen-hour days at jobs they don’t love.
But also? Brutally honestly? If I was going to do something out of the normal realm of careers according to my mother, I know she wishes it would have been something more glamorous. Writing isn’t sexy. She would have loved to see me act or sing or model (which, no). These were her own dreams deferred, and I grew up knowing they were her dreams for me. For many years, I shared them. But the thing is, I can’t pursue them. Not for her, not even for me. I get the sense that I’m constantly wasting potential.
What does all of this even mean? It means that, being at home, I felt (and feel) a certain sense of having failed her somehow. And failing her, the woman who sacrificed everything to give me everything she never had in life—well, that just feels like failure of the highest order. I know, on some logical level, the absurdity of what I type here, but still, there’s a very real weight of losery-ness that presses upon me. I see the disappointment in her eyes when I make a dessert for a brand I’m working with and she tells me, “it just seems unoriginal,” and, even though it pains me, I have to know that she is just as hard on herself.
I’m never without an awareness of some greater pressure to be better, to do better, to ask myself, “Am I on the right path?” and, that perfectionism is absolutely paralyzing. It only leads me to believe that whatever it is that I am now is not enough. This belief — that whatever we are is not enough—it’s shattering. It’s pervasive enough to taint every experience and affect everything we do.
But, to be fair, a part of the sensation of pressure that I (or we, if you struggle, too) can sometimes feel, may come from within, and be a projection onto the other person. This often plays out as: we’re deeply insecure about one thing (our bodies, for instance), and so we feel judged by others because of it, when in reality, we’re only judging ourselves.
In Massachusetts, at my parents’ home, I didn’t have friends nearby. I didn’t have a job to physically go to. And the depression that had started to wash over me had now completely pulled me under water. Getting through each day was an exhausting battle. Trying to fill the hours—or really, committing to spending at least 16 of them inside my own head—was a pain so exquisite that I couldn’t bear to sit still. But I also couldn’t muster the motivation to do anything else. To the outsider—anyone who doesn’t experience depression in this way–it would have made sense to say, “Practice yoga!” or “Go for daily walks!” “Reach out to friends.” But to the depressive, while the advice is understandable, it feels almost as though we’re lying on the ground with a massive, bleeding chest wound, and the outsider is saying, “Try one of those extra-big Bandaids—like the kind for your knee.” It just isn’t going to cut it.
I spent thousands of dollars on therapy that my health insurance didn’t cover, though admittedly, this didn’t have to be the case. If I hadn’t been in such a desperate state—where I found a wonderful woman online, recommended highly on Psychology Today, called her, and told her, “I’ll pay any amount. I just…I’m not OK,” then maybe I could’ve searched around to find someone in my network. But no. I can’t regret a dollar, even if my bank account does.
At my lowest points, I struggled with episodes of emotional eating. I described one of my last bouts of binge eating in this post. All of the pictures that I’ve included below were taken this summer. As you can see in each of them, I gained some weight.
What kept me from falling into a never-ending cycle of eating and gaining, was, I guess, committing to my long-held belief that the food doesn’t make life, heartache, and vulnerability any easier to handle. It won’t; it can’t. I was desperately sad regardless, and I knew that.
Selfies are the worst. The WORST. But Target clothing options need to be photo-texted to my best friend Kate, and this shot along with the one below are the only recent full-frame photos I have of myself. This top photo was taken in mid-July.
TJ Maxx. Mid-August. I didn’t get the dress.
What’s hardest to express, what’s not clearly decipherable in my smile below, a photo from May in San Antonio, is the tremendous shame I carry with me for having gained weight—even if it’s a small amount, considering my role as a “weight loss success story.” Shame might not even convey it, but failure does. Failure always does.
By the end of summer 2012, I was drowning. And by the end of that coming October, I thought about dying.
Saying that aloud is, the hardest thing I can admit to you. But it’s true, and even typing the words brings hot, tingly remembering tears to my eyes. My throat closes and my chest tightens with the unbearable. There was a weekend, then, when I checked myself into a hotel room a few towns away from my house, and just lay in the uncomfortable double bed, unable to move. Unable to watch TV, unable to talk, unable to shift away from the mattress coil sticking into my tailbone. I didn’t even reach for food in those hours and hours on end. I stared up and at the ceiling, at stains on the stucco, and wondered if this was what it was like to have “Locked-In Syndrome,” where all of your voluntary muscles are paralyzed, but your mind is left sharp and unharmed. I wondered if my mind was so sharp that it was cutting the rest of me into unrecognizable shreds.
That Monday, I called my therapist and told her I wasn’t OK. After years of going on and off of various anti-depressants, and having been without one for at least twelve months, I committed to taking a new one. Lexapro.
In a month’s time—one very long month—I was feeling stable, better. Life—the day to day—was more manageable. I didn’t feel trapped in my own head all the time. I wasn’t struggling so hard to fill the hours. And when I say fill the hours, I literally mean, “how do I get from 6:46pm to bed at 11?” Because it’s always that question for me—how to get through. I can think of activities, sure, but even in doing those—reading a book, watching a movie, working, crafting—there has always existed an internal minute-ticker. One down, two down, three down. Am I done yet with the day? It’s not just exhausting, but anxiety-inducing as well. The medication helped—not to silence that time burden altogether, but to lower its volume, and that has made a tremendous difference in my state of mind. I don’t necessarily mean to credit a pill with helping to save my life, but in a way it did. By helping to manage the fluctuations of chemicals in my brain and therefore my overall mood and sense of well-being, I was able to function normally. To practice self-care. It began a positive cycle of: feel better — > gain motivation — > act on motivation by doing more that fulfill me — > feel better.
When the thick, black smog of depression lifts—even temporarily—you start to see clearer. You understand what you need to do—what you want to do—to move forward and continue to feel better. There arrives an awareness that your depression was, and is, not life imprisonment, and that in itself provides relief of the highest order.
Emerging from an intense, cripplingly painful time in my life and looking back on it now, I realize one of life’s most profound and meaningful feelings: hope. It’s what those of us who suffer have likely lost many times, and the only thing that can save us.
2013, despite some hiccups here and there, has gone really, really well. I’ve spent much of it editing my memoir (it’s finished!) and in the company of my very best friends. This last one, the friend bit, is everything. Daniel, my ex-boyfriend, is, to this day, my greatest friend. He and I, as I wrote about in this post, “On Daniel,” will probably never lose touch completely, and I like that; I do. Kate and Sabrina, who I went to Las Vegas with this past April, are the true loves of my life. And Camille, who you might know from our travels together, is unbelievably special to me.
Kate and I have been best friends for sixteen years now. Last year, we even celebrated our fifteen year best friendship anniversary by taking a tropical vacation. We’re going to be so crazy when we’re older, when not even one other person gets our jokes. She lives in North Carolina now, but we talk twice a week, and at least every other conversation ends with questions like, “How come I never get sick of you?” or “Will I love anyone like I love you?” Probably not is the answer.
Sabrina, too, has changed my whole life. Do you have that best friend who just supports you unconditionally? Who you just know would stand behind you and defend you fiercely no matter what the case? Who loves your singing voice in the car as much as you do? That’s Sabrina. I met her freshman year of college and, honestly, I just fell in love with her.
Me and Sabrina at the end of August on Fire Island
These girls (side note: when will I feel like enough of an adult to call my friends women?), and all the people I love, really, give my life its richness, its fiber, its meaning. Being with them, or at the very least, being nearby, I’ve realized as I get older, is what I want to do. Because what is a life without this love? The question I ask myself all the time is, What would my experiences matter without them? The answer, for me, is not much.
And so. When I was debating where I wanted to move this year, because I feel ready and eager for a big, bold change, I thought about southern California for a time. Santa Monica sounded like a dream of a place, and it is. The weather, the fresh produce all year long…But then, I remembered moving to Seattle, and missing all of my people. This time, I’d be without Daniel; I’d be starting over. And California, after thinking on it for months and months, lost some appeal.
In November, I’m moving to Manhattan. Into an apartment with Sabrina. Into an apartment with a kitchen the size of my bathroom now and a bedroom that would laugh at the very dimensions of my queen-sized bed frame. And. it. will. be. spectacular.
I’m so excited. I think about all the possibilities and I want to run there. We’ll have dinner parties, start a book club that ends up being one big wine group, walk in Central Park, try SoulCycle, spend a ridiculous amount of money on cocktails that aren’t worth even half that much, fill our DVR with nonsense and watch it aaallll.
But it will also come with challenges. Of course it will. Life always does. Inevitably, I’ll wish I had a car to go to Target for a twelve-pack of toilet paper; I’ll wish the city were less crowded; I’ll experience months where money is tight; and certainly, I’ll struggle with my own perfectionism—with feeling like I’m not enough as I am—because that is a part of me that feels limb-like. And I’ll work on that. For now, though, all I see is goodness. Hope.
All this to say, the contentment I’m feeling right now is something I want to hold onto if I can. I’m so grateful, every day, for it. And I’m really grateful for you, for being here. If you’re around, I will be, too.