Death match: body dysmorphia vs. visualization

Body dysmorphia is more than “not seeing reality in the mirror”, in fact, it’s a far more holistic disorder than that. I’m not sure I clinically suffer from it, but the symptoms resonate with my experience:

  • Preoccupation with your physical appearance with extreme self-consciousness
  • Frequent examination of yourself in the mirror, or the opposite, avoidance of mirrors altogether
  • Strong belief that you have an abnormality or defect in your appearance that makes you ugly
  • Belief that others take special notice of your appearance in a negative way
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Feeling the need to stay housebound
  • Excessive grooming, such as hair plucking or skin picking, or excessive exercise in an unsuccessful effort to improve the flaw
  • Comparison of your appearance with that of others
  • Reluctance to appear in pictures

Yep, that’s me.

But the interesting point is that I am in a constant state of surprise about my body image. There is a part of me that somehow believes I’m not supposed to look as bad as I believe I do.  I compartmentalize the worst of my assumptions and then operate on the principle that “it’s not that bad if I just don’t look.” Conflicting? Yes. Yes, it is.

But it also leads to situations like I found myself in recently, sobbing while collapsed on the floor of a hotel bathroom.

I do not have full-length mirrors in my apartment. The few mirrors I have are hung only to view myself from the shoulders up. I can catch a glimpse of myself in the reflections of shop windows and such, and I’m not a fashion diva so I don’t need to verify that my ‘look’ is right. I know what I look like and I hate it. Confirmation bias is real, y’all.

Yet, the flip side is that I can brush that awareness aside most of the time. I do go out with friends occasionally; I do show up for work; I allow photos of myself if not doing so would be rude in a social context. I’d rather stay at home where no one can see me but I also understand that is not a healthy thing to do all the time, so the constant hate-loathing is pragmatically pushed into its box in the corner of my mental landscape. Ironically it’s a small box; it just contains a lot of energy.

In that hotel room, though, was a full-length, floor-to-ceiling wall mirror in the bathroom. In it, I accidentally glimpsed myself in all my naked glory and I was horrified. My body appeared as a grotesquerie. There was no way to shuffle quickly out of view, or focus on my shoes or collar line. There I was, all of me, and it was as terrible as I have imagined.

It’s like knowing you did poorly on a test, but not truly grasping the magnitude of just how badly you failed until you get the grade back. Until you see that grade, you can delude yourself into a zone of “it’s bad but I’m okay”, which falls apart when you are presented with the cold hard brutal fact that your GPA just nose-dived.

I live in that zone; the mirror was the red-letter “F” on my body.

Yet, I’m aware this is a mental problem more than a physical issue. I get that. I’ve known it for years. Wishing things better doesn’t work, though (I’d have won the lottery by now, okay?). Yes, I would also like to be in better physical health, sure. I’ve joined the gym, and do morning yoga/stretching routines, and try to keep my food intake rational. That honestly has very little to do with what is going on in my head.

Interestingly, we live in a time when neuroscience is really starting to make inroads into the hows and whys of our brains. Science is pulling things like “meditate for inner peace” and “visualize for better athletic performance” out of the woo-woo realm by understanding how these ephemeral practices actually do affect our brains. Can we think ourselves to a Tiger Woods swing in golf? No, but Tiger Woods could and did. It’s a matter of learning to train our brain to best effect — figuring out how to manifest our inherent and natural strengths and talents in order to optimize our training.

That’s a mouthful, but what it boils down to is quite literally re-configuring the wiring of our brain connections. We can’t out-think cancer or depression, but if we are in a healthy place we can out-think our bad habits and our self-perceptions. We do create our own reality, at least in the sense that how we feel about our lives and how we approach problems is well within our control.

What I’ve realized is that my since body dysmorphia is an internal status of perception, it might be possible to change how I think about myself and, just as important, how I behave, through a serious commitment to the practice of visualization and positive reinforcement of self-acceptance using affirmations.

The difference between this and wishful thinking is that visualization and positive affirmations are about changing myself internally, whereas wishful thinking is dreaming about external changes. That is, it’s the difference between feeling better and hoping for better.

It’s also the difference between actively working for something and passively accepting what comes along. As many times I’ve I’ve dieted, worked out, or punished myself psychologically, it’s generally been with a sense of fatalism, because hoping for better is based on clinging to the idea of an outcome. It is not about true change, which must be internal, and so the “better” that I hope for never happens.

I mean, chances are good at this point that I’m fat for life. There is absolutely no doubt that 30+ years of yo-yo dieting involving losing and gaining 50+ pounds several times over has significantly damaged my metabolism. I’m pre-menopausal. While I’m generally in good health, I have a bad back and reduced lung capacity due to the whooping cough of 2012. I’d not be surprised that 15+ years of suffering grief, PTSD, and poverty has resulted in adrenal fatigue. I might have issues with my thyroid (doctor’s appt. scheduled in March to find out). This isn’t adolescence where I’m hoping puberty makes things right, this is middle age where I have to deal with the damages I have sustained along the way.

So yeah, wishful thinking? My worst enemy.

I’m developing a practice of visualization meditations that focus on being healthy, and teaching my brain that I am safe, strong, and whole. Sometimes it feels silly imagining my “ideal self” and “ideal life” in ways that are realistic as opposed to fantasy. At this point, though, I think it might be the only way I’ll never end up crying on the floor just because of what the mirror shows me.

I have an eating disorder

The title of this post, “I have an eating disorder”, is pretty weird to me. I don’t suffer from bulimia or anorexia, so the general consensus would be that no, I don’t. That has certainly been my own opinion for most of my life. However over the last couple of years as I’ve been lurking in the paleo and LCHF communities, I’ve read about other people’s struggles with eating disorders (EDs) and I’ve realized that there is actually a large bandwidth. And I fall on that bandwidth.

My ED stems from my OCD, something I’ve had under control since my teens, at least so I thought. I don’t spend hours straightening everything on my desk, for instance. I COULD but I don’t. However, the place where that will come out is in regards to eating. Specifically, tracking and measuring my intake, and weighing myself.

My solution is to do neither. I do not count calories, carbs, macros, or portion sizes. This, according to all the food experts, is a mistake. I’m not sure how, since that’s not what humans are designed to do to start with. But it’s something that fat people are supposed to do, because FAT. Not doing it is a huge source of guilt and shame for me; this, despite the fact that I can actually give you a fairly accurate recap of my caloric intake on most days because my mother was obsessed with food and weight tracking. I grew up knowing the nutritional breakdown of most foods. I know my basal caloric needs for my size, I know when I’ve gone over that. (What may surprise you is that I rarely go over, in fact there are many days I eat in deficit. Go figure, right?)

Still, I’m taken to task for it: “How can I ever lose weight without micromanaging my food intake????” Which to me is the wrong question. The question should be, “Why should micromanaging food intake even be necessary?”

This short blog post got me thinking about my inner turmoil regarding food tracking: Why Calorie Counting is an Eating Disorder. It resonated with me. Especially this part: “A weight issue is not caused by a lack of counting calories. No more than constipation is caused by not counting… you know. They’re both caused by something disturbing the body’s natural regulatory systems.”

I do believe that the human body is a fairly efficient biological organism. It’s not perfect, it’s the product of stop-and-go evolution, and individual variables of genetics/illness/disease can play a huge role in a person’s health. Yet, it’s supposed to work efficiently if maintained well. I keep coming back to that.

But to the point: eating disorder. When I DO try and track food intake or even exercise, I become obsessive about it. Some people wear that distinction with pride, and they are given social approval for it, which becomes a bitter cycle. For me, it’s destructive, mentally and emotionally. I obsess, I berate, I castigate, I…fail. I hate on myself, the self-loathing is epic. And painful.

A huge personal goal for 2015 is to be kinder to myself. That means, accepting what is true about myself and moving past those stumbling blocks of guilt, shame, and self flagellation. I’m going to let go of my shame about not counting calories/carbs/macros. I’m going to adapt a way of eating (WOE) what is healthy for me and stop castigating myself for every bite I put in my mouth. I think looking at it from the perspective of having an ED that I am trying to overcome will help, because it makes the issue something tangible rather than simply “a lack of willpower” or what have you.

Eating should not be a chore, it should not be a burden. It’s healthy. Tracking every bite that goes in my mouth is depressing and psychologically destructive to me. Maybe not to you; that’s for each of us to decide. But for me? Yes, it is incredibly hurtful.

I just want to stop hurting.


Past is past – bringing in 2015

I wrote the following in my private journal, but I thought it was worth sharing. There is a lot going on in my life that is positive, and despite the fact that 2014 was rocky for a lot of people I know, my year overall was not traumatic. There were good days, there were bad days. But as I thought about moving forward, I penned this:

So what do I want in 2015? Honestly I’ve seen plenty of change over the past 5 years, I’m not jonesing to “change anything!” the way I used to hope for. I’m long past that day when I woke up in bed and realized “I have nothing to live for.” Because I do, now, have so much to live for. Things I’m doing now and things I hope to do int he future. So many book ideas! The podcast with KimM! Moving to New Zealand. It’s almost weird how much I do have to live for now. 

Yet, the two most important things are still simmering, yet to fruition — my body (fat loss, fitness, dancing!) and commercial success from my writing (books! More books!). That’s where I’m headed in 2015. These massive goals, the huge hurdles I’ve basically come up against my whole life, are poised to be conquered and I am in a place where I know what I need to do in order to make both happen. It’s all within my grasp, and the missing element here is my dedication to the tasks. That, I think, will only come from a belief in myself that self-hatred cannot support. 

So tomorrow – 2015!!!! – I will not drown myself in fanfic. I will continue working out in the mornings, and I will write. I will write in WoHH (so close to the end!) and I will write blog posts (two? Possibly!). I will create a business plan that is realistic but not shy, and I will take steps to implement it. I will work towards finishing the Skeptic’s Inspirational. I will focus on staying in nutritional ketosis, over and above my need to “fit in”/be normal that is only a form a self-flagellation. I will love myself, because that much at least I deserve. I will make myself a priority out of a sense of joy and affection, and not because I feel that “success” is the only way to prove my worth. 

So that’s what I am putting into 2015. Just leaving it here for posterity. <3

Alternative realities, alternative me

I wrote the following on a fb post recently:

…there are aspects of my life I want to change, that I NEED to change for my health and sanity, but are also deeply ingrained as parts of my identity. I have had to let go of so much that I didn’t want to lose, that it is tough to purposefully change what I have left.

It’s the source of a lot of resentment in my life, actually. I don’t want to be fat, but I’m “the fat girl.” I want to be athletic, but I’m “the anti-exercise” girl. I want to dance beautifully, but I’m “the uncoordinated girl.” I want to be healthy, but I’m the “chocolate and beer girl.” I want to give up sugar but if I’m not an ice-cream connoisseur, who am I?

I’ve dwelled on this a lot lately as I’ve looked at the spectacular failure of trying to make fundamental changes in my lifestyle. If the definition of insanity is taken as doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results, then I’m certifiably a lunatic nutso crazy-pants tin-hatter.

Basically, I tend to fail at some things because not because i don’t have willpower (I arguably do), but because those changes, however desirable, go against the grain of my self-perception. Some would say, “well you don’t want it enough” and yeah, I think that’s true, but I don’t think it really hits hard enough at the core of the emotional tsunami that overwhelms me when I attempt to make those changes.

Basically, I want to be a completely different person.

I don’t think that’s something our brains approve of much. Personal growth? Sure! Learning new things? Why not! Turn into a completely different person? WHAT THE HELL NO WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH U

Ironically I gained some perspective on this from a story I read a few weeks ago. In it, a guy from what was an apocalyptic wasteland hit a magical wall on his way to his own death and shifted realities. He’s knocked out of a world where everyone he loves is dead or dying and everything he’s ever lived through is mostly traumatic and terrifying, then wakes up in his own body but in a world where basically nothing bad ever happened to anyone.

Its not an interesting story because “aw he got what he always wanted!” but because he is totally unprepared for that life. He is suddenly not the person people expect him to be. He lets them down and hurts them because he makes decisions and says things that they feel “aren’t really you.” He’s the classic trope, “out of character.” BUT…he doesn’t care. He doesn’t try to adapt and become the version of himself that he replaced. He doesn’t apologize. He doesn’t even consider being anyone else, and in the end, he’s accepted for the person he’s become.

So I wondered. What if, tomorrow, the me who woke up in THIS body was someone who had lived a different life? What if “her” decisions were just different enough that she was living the life I want to live? What if the athletic, health-nut, trained dancer, published writer version of me woke up in THIS body?

Well she’d be horrified, I’m sure. Probably miss a few days of work because she didn’t know she had a job. No doubt she’d feel exhausted and depressed.

But she’d be trained to *think* differently, to respond differently to challenges, and she’d perceive herself as a much different person than I do.

So I wonder. I think about waking up tomorrow as “a different me.” What would I do? How would I act? What choices would I make, and how would I deal with the fallout?

What if, tomorrow, I become a different person?



My totally secret five year plan!

[a very self-indulgent post about my life choices. tl;dr]

Which is, clearly, not that much of a secret. But it is actually a little bit of a secret, since there are two components of it that I am not revealing just yet.


The fact is that I do, now, have a Five Year Plan and it’s a doozy. It’s inspiring me in a way I have not felt in, oh, about five years.

Five years ago was 2009 — I was 40 and heading into the end of my marriage, the end of the job I had at the time, and the end of an era. In a more positive spin, I was heading into starting graduate school, emerging from a cocoon of grief and poor life choices, starting a second year of really effective therapy, and trying to make better health decisions. To be honest, I did not at that time have a five year plan, I was simply launching myself into the unknown which turned into a fairly comprehensive five year plan totally by accident. I wasn’t in a place to make grand plans, I was simply hell-bent on getting myself to change tracks. And I did.

Ever since I graduated and lucked into the good job I have now at FSU, I’ve been feeling kind of directionless, though. I’ve got an MLIS, a career in assistive technology and disability services, I’ve gained recognition for my grief/mourning blog Patience&Fortitude, I survived whooping cough. But other than “keep going in this general direction” I haven’t felt very motivated about myself.

I’m talking about that feeling of waking up in the morning, looking around, and asking “what am I doing with my life?” and having a ready answer that is inspiring enough to launch you into the day ahead.

I’m in a much, much better place than five years ago, when I woke up and realized I did not have much of anything to live for, nothing that inspired me or gave me purpose. I grasped at straws, and few did not slip through my fingers so here I am. That’s the good news.

But the other side of that is since the year started, I’ve been digging around looking for answers to “Where will you be in five years?” In five years I’ll be 50 years old, which certainly for women is a major milestone outshining the “Big 4-0″ by a long way. Also, my mother was diagnosed with fatal cancer at 50 and died at 52. If you think those “mere numbers” don’t shine bright on my horizon, you aren’t paying attention.

So where am I going with this? Well, those two still-secret components play huge roles in these plans, but there are other aspects that I want to talk about here.

  1. I want to dance. I mean, really *dance*, like someone who you would call “a dancer.” I’d love to be old and gray at the Urban Dance Camp, which I don’t even know if they let people who are my age attend? But the point is, I want to be ready if they do. This is something I’ve wanted to do since I was a child and took tap dancing lessons for a (very) little while. “Consistency” was not a factor in my childhood in a lot of ways, so I never got to keep taking the lessons I loved so much. Right now I’m hampered by the fact that I don’t have transportation to get to classes for adults, which all seem to be held late in the day during the week in places far from where I work or live (ie not on easy bus routes). So I might go the cheesy way and buy DVD lessons or something. I mean, that’s a start, right?
  2. In conjunction with that, I want my health back. I was doing well on paleo up until I contracted whooping cough, which derailed my health in a lot of ways I’m only just now, over two years later, coming to understand. About a year ago I went keto and wrote extensively about how much better that made me feel. I mean really, I felt fantastic! I planned to never break that but I got derailed by thinking I could make “exceptions” for sugar which, no, no I cannot.
  3. I also want to to focus a little more energy on my writing career, both at Patience&Fortitude and also fiction stories I started years ago and abandoned. I may not get far with this goal, but it is important, and so it’s on the list.

Basically, in five years I want to be the person I imagine myself being: dancing, writing, and healthy. I’m NOT that person now.

I’m not in any way going to say these goals will be easy to attain. Especially going back on keto, that will be hard as hell, because I do have a serious problem with food addiction in regards to sugar/starches. (Honestly, I don’t give a flying fuck if you don’t believe me about that, it’s my body, I know it better than you do.)

My birthday is August 15th, and I’ll officially be 45 years old. I’ve got some things to shore up before the Five Year Plan is officially in motion, but I’m laying in preparations.

This is gonna be BIG.



Fat: Not safe, but safer

It’s probably odd to link #YesAllWomen to body image issues, or maybe not. I’m a bad judge of things like that, but here we are.

Reflecting on the experiences of other women and comparing them to my own, I realized that my self-defenses are legend. I did not even know my habits were that all-encompassing, actually, although I am aware that I “play it safe” in some situations. It’s just instinct, a combination of years of harassment and a lifetime of being told (directly and indirectly) to fear every strange man within 20 feet of me (which, sadly, is advice that has proven justified by any number of jerks). That takes its toll, and only in reading the stories of other women dealing with the same issues have I come to understand the profound impact these beliefs and behaviors have had on my life. It goes much deeper than simply sitting defensively on the bus.

Part of my defense is my body, and as much as I loathe being overweight, it is easier to stand being mocked for that (“hey fatty!” while having eggs thrown at me when I was out walking) than to deal with being molested. When I was thinner (and, admittedly, younger) and at a club, I once had two men I had never met before sandwich me between them and undo my bra while on the dance floor, and that’s just one of dozens of things that happened to me when I was “conventionally attractive” (thin).

I’m not implying that I’m overweight solely for the reason of self-defense; food, health, history and mental health play a part too and I’m not undercutting any of that. Despite all of that, I do have the willpower to drastically change my body, I’ve done it several times in fact, but always at the high price of constant hunger, ill health, and a body that attracts unwanted attention. It physically costs me to lose weight, it is rarely a healthy endeavor, and the payout is nothing more than some nice clothes and a lot of harassment.

I want to be attractive, of course. I mean, who doesn’t? Really? And in our society that means, above all else, being thin. But being attractive (thin) also creates a very unwanted invitation for many men to feel entitled to touch me. Does this happen during times when I’m overweight? Sure, of course, just nowhere near as often. I’m not actually safe being fat, but I am safer, and that obviously counts for more than I realized.

Perhaps just another lesson in “KimBoo Can’t Have it All”, I suppose. *sigh*

Spend it. Right now, right here.

I am in the stupendously unique and enviable position of deciding not to go out to dinner too often in order to save money for travel plans I have later in the year.

That may sound odd, as doing something so basic as “saving my pennies” seems like a very elemental part of financial management. But when you’re poor, it’s not.

When you are living paycheck to paycheck, and those paychecks barely (or flat out don’t) cover your full expenses just to stay alive, then saving money for a trip you can’t afford to take in the first place makes no sense. If you have an extra $40 from working under the table or having a lower utilities bill than you were expecting, you are going to spend it. Usually on prosaic things like stocking up on cold medicine (hoard that shit!) or a set of new underwear, but sometimes you get really crazy and decide to throw caution to the wind and do a 2-4-1 dinner special at Olive Garden.

The logic here is unique to being poor. Most people who have never been truly poor would say, “well save that $40! You do it enough you’ll have money to travel! DUH!!!!”

No, it doesn’t work like that. Because if you save $40 a few times, and have (say) $300 in the bank, then guess what you are going to tap when your kid needs a doctor, or you miss a week of work due to being sick, or the car breaks down?

If you don’t have that $300 in the bank, you’ll find a work around. You’ll borrow or beg to get your kid to the doctor, you’ll stretch pennies to make up for lost work, you’ll take the bus until you can work extra hours to pay for the car. But if you have $300 in the bank, you’re going to spend it – not doing so because of a vague plan to “travel later this year” is not acceptable to anyone.

What most proponents of “save your money!” don’t understand is that the very act of saving money presupposes an existence-level income, which most people in the US today don’t really have, especially if they have kids. It assumes that if the car breaks down, you can afford to fix it without much impact on your day-to-day expenses, and that any special savings you have “for travel later this year” will be immune. It also assumes that calling out sick for any lengthy period of time will not devastate your over-all finances, which for most people getting paid by the hour, it almost certainly will.

None of that is true. The spending habits of the poor are based on a very “right now, right here” mentality because experience shows that planning for the future is both futile and frustrating. It may make sense, to those who have never experienced poverty, to sock away every extra dollar they can find, especially if it comes in a large bundle like a tax return. Those of us who have lived with poverty all too intimately know that it’s more important to spend that money on things like new tires, new shoes, cold medicine and dry goods…while we can.

At this point, in one of the few times in my adult life, I am able to pay all my bills with enough left over to cover things like new shoes, vitamins, good coffee beans, movies (Captain America 2!!!) and eating out with friends more than once-per-paycheck. So, you know, I’m good. I’m doing okay. Which means, if I save $40 here and there, I can actually save it for things I want. Like travel.

I’m pretty excited about that.

“Conscious Uncoupling”

Gwyneth Paltrow used the term “conscious uncoupling” to describe her divorce process from Chris Martin. They were married for 11 years, and Paltrow used the phrase in her announcement about their separation.

While it’s a term that has been making the rounds for a while, it didn’t really hit mainstream derision and scorn until Paltrow put it in the spotlight. Part of that is due to the generic Paltrow-bashing that seems so popular, but part of it is due I think to the slightly warped ideals of romance that we perpetuate in our society.

We really push the “One True Love” (aka OTP, “One True Pair”) and “happily ever after” paradigms of romance, but those ideas rest on the notion that there There Can Be Only One, and Only With That One Will There Be Happiness, with the obvious result that any relationship that doesn’t match those terms is by definition Wrong in All the Ways.

But that is not life as we live it. Most relationships start with lots of happiness, mutual pleasure, and high hopes for the future. The fact that the majority of them actually end should not take away from the joy we experienced while things were good, but generally that’s how people react. Why? Because they feel like they failed by not choosing the correct One True Love. The “proper” reaction is scathing words of anger and disappointment.

Putting aside the raft of issues that could lead to a breakup, some more catastrophic than others, I think it’s worth-while to look at why an idea based on a maturely handled, mutually beneficial divorce process received such sanctimonious scorn while breakups that seethe with toxicity and hatred are considered “normal.”

My marriage ended in a very “conscious uncoupling” way. My ex-husband and I, after 14 years of marriage, managed to end things amicably and easily. Granted, we didn’t have kids in the mix, but on the whole I’m not sure that would have mattered. He’s an honorable man who lives up to his word, and while I’m a mess of a human being I always try to do the right thing. Together, we went through a divorce process that ended with us as friends. (Yes, I’m still bitter that he got the LotR Extended Version DVDs, but then I kept Ferris Bueller’s Day Off so nah nah nah!)

And it SHOCKS people to find this out.

We are so used to stories of marriages ending in explosions of anger and betrayal that the idea of people being friends after a divorce is laughed at as unnatural.

Sometimes, sure, it’s not possible, when lying and cheating and betrayal are the sparks that started the fire. But a lot of times I think the opportunity to salvage at least that much is thrown away due to the feelings of one or the other or both that the very act of ending a relationship “proves” that it was never good to start with. They chose the wrong “One True Love” and therefore, the whole relationship is viewed as a failure.

There are times when the ending is more important than the process — say, during an Olympic competition. But generally relationships are not a good thing to rate by dint of how they ended. Oftentimes, relationships encompass a lot of positive, important parts of peoples lives. It seems to me that knowing a relationship can end without it reflecting on the worth or value of those involved might save a lot of heartache.

I think if people took ideas such as conscious uncoupling more seriously, they might avoid the degradation of their relationship to the point where anger is the only commonality the two people involved have left to share.

Was my divorce painless? Honestly, it was. What was painful were the two years leading up to it, where we progressively made each other more and more miserable, which resulted in a very dysfunctional relationship. Instead of carrying on that way until one of us did something unforgivable, we simply owned up to the fact that things were not working anymore. That was excruciatingly painful.

But doing so saved our friendship, and for that I’m eternally grateful, because for many of the years we were together, we had a relationship that was very fulfilling for both of us (not perfect, but good). Were we fortunate? Yes, I think so; not all situations can end so amicably. But perhaps a lot more could, if conscious uncoupling was seen as a valid way for a relationship to end, and if we did not collectively invest so much of ourselves into romantic ideals that do more harm than good.




Precise, dull, and boring

I have downloaded a small digital timer to my desktop. I don’t use it a lot, perhaps not when I should (to time writing sprints, for instance) and definitely when I shouldn’t. It’s there because I often care more about how something is done than in the result.

It’s a paranoia bred of insecurity and fear; I learned early that something done effectively was still wrong if not done correctly. These lessons range from the huge to the minute. People aren’t allowed over to the house if it is not sterling clean and fashionable — a rule that reinforced my mother’s isolation and probably feeds into mine. Don’t wear tailored clothes if you are over a size 8. Boiled eggs must be cooked for exactly 11 minutes. Shoes should match your bag, in style if not in color (you will never see me toting a backpack while wearing heels).

None of these are terrible life lessons, though. I mean, cooking boiled eggs for 11 minutes has worked out well for me over the years.

What has not worked out well for me is how this has intersected with my OCD and my creative urges. There are plenty of OCD artists, I’m sure, so I’m not suggesting those traits are incompatible, but combined with my innate need to be “correct”…well, I find myself stumbling along not doing things I want to do because I’m sure I will do them the wrong way.

It’s like that timer sitting on my desktop (always open, always on top). It’s not there to guarantee perfectly cooked eggs, it is there to make sure I follow the rules. Because if I cook them for 12 minutes, well the eggs might be a little too hard boiled but I, sad pathetic creature that I am, will be humiliated because I DID IT WRONG.

But the eggs will be edible, after all.

I used to think that perfection was a matter of precision, of getting everything precisely correct according to the rules, even if the rules did not exist anywhere but inside my head. But I’ve cooked enough eggs to know that each batch is different, no matter how perfectly I’ve timed the cooking of them.

I’m working on doing less obsessing about the rules and more accomplishing of the goals. I’m doing pretty poorly at it right now. It’s a process, is what I’m saying.

I’ve spent most of my life being precise, dull, and boring — scared of saying or doing things because I was scared I would be judged WRONG somehow. I’m not entirely sure how to get past that, but until I do, until I embrace imprecise and bright and exciting, I’m pretty sure I will continue to languish, artistically.

A Poor Mentality

Not my life

Not my life.

I’m going to get specific here about something that makes a lot of people uncomfortable: money. Specifically, about being poor vs. not being poor, and how emotionally debilitating walking the line between those points can be.

Yesterday I spent nearly $1000 — I caught up on the utilities bill (two months, an accident because I forgot the pay last month…yeah, that’s me), the internet bill, a payment on a debt, and about $100 for groceries. Also a $15 hair cut (buzz cuts are cheap to maintain, fortunately! Not many women are as lucky as I am!).

That’s not a small amount of money, but it’s not very much either. For some people that is a car payment. I’m lucky that I can cover most of my basic bills for about $1500/month, and I know it.

The thing that marks this as important to me personally is that the majority of my life, I’ve never had that much in the bank at one time in order to pay the bills with. A few years here and there, but rarely. As much as I whined about paying those bills, there was a sense of pure astonishment at being able to do so all at the same time and with having money left over.

Being poor isn’t just about poverty, it’s about walking the line between poor and not-quite-poor, of being one catastrophic event away from destitution. For many of us it is about “getting by”, and the old “robbing Peter to pay Paul”, and deciding whether to spend that $10 on vitamins OR ground beef OR two bags of coffee. It’s about paying bills and having $75 left in the bank to pay for gas and groceries and going to the movies…scratch that, because it is not enough for all three. The much-anticipated trip to the new movie is cancelled first. Then visits to friends’ houses and all other social events are cancelled because the gas funds have to go to getting to work and back. The trip to the store is stressful and leads to a panic attack/crying jag because the bill came to $63.75 instead of $50, but there is no way to pare down the cart without planning to go hungry. But in the end, you aren’t homeless, and you do have food in the house.

That is all depressing and stressful in ways that are impossible to really explain to anyone who hasn’t been there. People think poor=immature or poor=stupid or poor=irresponsible, which is a nice and easy way to absolve themselves of actually having any compassion for people doing without. I’ll be the first to say that I’ve been, at times, immature and stupid and irresponsible, but I’ve always worked hard and almost never been without a job. People don’t want to understand that even with two people working their asses off, just paying the bills can be a trauma.

I’m talking about situations where literally there is less than $20 left to deal with emergencies like getting sick, car repairs, and clothing replacement (only done under duress, because why buy a new bra when the two you have are functional? Why by new shoes if your work flats aren’t falling apart?). I have hoarded ten dollar bills knowing that I was coming down with a cold and would need Nyquil, while knowing that was the most I could afford.

I lived for many years without a bank account. People thought I was crazy but it wasn’t that hard, even if it did limit my purchasing power (no debit card to use on Amazon or to rent a car or buy plane tickets…not that I was traveling anyway). There is no point in a bank account if you have, at most, a few dollars left at the end of the week. Especially with the ever-looming threat of overdrafting by mistake, which costs a ridiculous amount of money.

I can’t even begin to explain how amazing it is to know that I can go buy groceries and not sit at the check out in a cold sweat, hoping I did all the math right.

And yes, of course, it’s easy to check your balance online now. That was not the case even five years ago (much less 15), and given that there were times I did not have any kind of personal internet connection (too expensive), then you understand why someone who is so bad at math as I am might panic. Counting cold, hard cash is a lot less stressful. And honestly? I still break out in a cold sweat, even when I know I have three times the amount of the grocery bill in reserve. That fear has become a habit.

I’m pretty terrible at personal money management, and that’s a personality flaw that I’ve worked hard to improve but isn’t changing much, I’m afraid. At this point I’m just so flat out terrified of being “on the razor’s edge” again that I’m a miser. Oh I go out to dinner with friends more, and took my cat to the vet ($200 for a cold! OMG! Cat! Noooo!), and bought new eye glasses. But I’m not buying that new mattress set or clothes or jewelry or a car (nope nope nope) or… a lot of stuff. Like going to the dentist. I’m used to putting those kinds of things aside and as much as I know it’s probably a bad idea (my back really needs a new mattress) old habits are hard to break. I don’t have to borrow from friends and family to keep the lights on or pay the vet bill, and the the everlasting joy of that statement means I’m not bothered by a bad tooth.

I haven’t had a credit card in my name since, I think, 2001? Or so. There-abouts. There was a day when I had AmEx, Chase VISA, Texaco and Shell cards. I don’t miss that day, not ever. Because when you’re on the edge, credit is an easy out. I can honestly say that about 90% of my credit card purchases were “legitimate” in that I did not buy designer handbags or trips to exotic locales. I bought gas, and food, and work clothes, and occasionally a movie or a dinner out. The regular things that middle-class people aren’t supposed to worry about buying every once in a while. But I couldn’t afford to, and I never got ahead, so I got in debt. I paid those debts off years after I cut up the cards, and I’m never going down that road again. (Yes, I took out student loans, but I consider them more of an investment.) Going without a full cart of groceries or Olive Garden on the weekends was frustrating, but not worth the credit nightmare.

Quite frankly I don’t care what my credit score is. I’m sure it’s not great, but oh well. I’ve had such bad credit in the past, and been so poor, that no part of my life plans or self-worth rests on my credit rating. If you have a job, you can: rent an apartment, buy a car, open a bank account, etc. etc. Good credit makes all of that easier, but I’ve done those things without it. The thing is, if you’re poor, it doesn’t matter anyway. What good does credit rating do for buying a car when you know you can’t make the monthly payment on it? Sell your grandmother’s ruby and diamond ring and pay cash.

People look at me as an educated, white, middle-class middle-aged woman, and so I think they are surprised when they find out about my attitude regarding money and credit. They expect someone like me to have a savings. I did, once. Got up to $5,000+, I was so proud. Then Husband’s truck broke and required over $4,000 to fix. We had the money, that was unusual. Then we didn’t have the money, and that was totally normal.

I guess the point I’m making is that being poor isn’t just a financial status, it’s a mentality — it’s a psychological state of constantly being on guard against poverty, of assuming that a lack of money is a very normal way to live. I finally got to the point where I never expected to have enough money to pay the bills, because I never did, not consistently (the few well-paying jobs I had rarely lasted long, for one reason or another. I’ll just say I was never fired and I almost never quit). It’s easier to assume the worst when that’s the way you’ve been living for nearly 20 years…and was, for me, a critical component of my childhood.

So paying all those bills with money I actually have in the bank and still having some left over is a profound shock to my system. I’m used to money running out as opposed to simply being spent. I really love how this feels, and would like to believe it will continue for a long time. I’m trying to believe that. I’m trying really hard.