Worst Episode of TV Ever

CW: Fat Shaming, Mental Health Stigma, Spoilers for Season 2 of LOST (if anyone still cares).

I dreamed all last night of people ridiculing me for being fat. What triggered it? I don’t have to look far.

A little while ago, my husband and I, late to the pop culture party as usual, started watching LOST on Netflix. I’d heard the buzz when it aired in the days before Internet streaming, but I’d never had much interest in it. Then I heard Michael Emerson plays a leading role, and since he’s on my short list of actors I would gladly watch read the phone book, I suggested we give it a try.

For the most part, I haven’t been disappointed. The characters are varied and engaging even when somewhat hateful, and the writers apply the Mystery Island trope to good effect. I know going in that some of the mysteries will never be solved and that’s okay with me. Some of the performances are outstanding. Some not so much, but that’s the way it goes.

One of the main characters is Hugo “Hurley” Reyes, played by Jorge Garcia. Hurley has the dubious distinction of being the only fat person among the plane crash survivors. Another, Rose, might be considered fat, but she’s only kind of fat. She’s also a woman in her 50s, and she’s Black, all of which, right or wrong, diminish the impact of her body size on the story line. Hurley is young, and he’s superfat. So I’ve paid particular attention to his treatment.

At first, the writers seemed to avoid falling into the usual traps of portraying a Fat Person. He’s not the funny fat person or the butt of physical humor regarding his size. He’s not unusually clumsy. In fact, the rest of the survivors treat him with respect, except for one character who’s a nasty piece of work anyway and never passes up an opportunity to call him “Jabba” or “Michelin” or any other size-oriented slur that comes to mind. Hurley’s an organizer, often put in positions of trust. He calls out assumptions that he must be hoarding food because he’s the fat guy. Parts of his back story show the discrimination fat people face, like being forced to buy two seats on a plane even though he occupies only one. I remember remarking to my husband that I appreciated the portrayal.

And then.

It started in little ways, in the back story. We see Hurley watching TV and eating fried chicken out of the bucket. Hmm, well maybe that’s not so bad. Eating fried chicken out of the bucket isn’t a behavior peculiar to fat people. The fact that the writers chose to show the fat person doing it was certainly problematic, but it’s not the point of the episode, so let it go. Later, Hurley is reprimanded at work, a fast food fried chicken place, for eating out of the hot counter. Kind of mindlessly, you know, like you eat chips when you’re reading. Except fried chicken. That same episode opens with a dream sequence of Hurley in the pantry of the newly discovered Hatch, where he crams fistfuls of cereal into his mouth, drinks ranch dressing directly from the jar, eats candy bar after candy bar. And here I’m getting really, really uncomfortable. It’s getting harder to let go. I can tell myself EVERYONE has been living on fruit and fish and what they can scrounge for over a month at this point and ANYONE might fantasize such indulgence, but why did they have to make it the fat guy? Why make that choice? It comes clear not much later, when we learn that Hurley is, in fact, hoarding food. That he hides in the jungle to eat chips and ranch where no one can see. That every assumption people make about fat people is confirmed by his behavior around food.

Bad going, writers. And it gets worse. So much worse.

We learn early on in the series that Hurley spent time in a psychiatric hospital. I was curious as to why, all the while praying it would have nothing at all to do with his size or his relationship to food. Well, those prayers were offered in vain. In episode 18 of season 2, we learn what sent Hurley to the psych ward. “Dave” is about the most offensive 45 minutes of TV I’ve ever watched, in so many respects. It combines every single myth about being fat with mental health stigma in ways that left me screaming “FUCK YOU!” at the screen. And all of it is geared to turning Hurley from a fat man unapologetic about his size to one who is properly ashamed.

I don’t even know where to begin with this. The episode opens with chipper Libby running down the beach, Hurley panting in her wake. They stop. Red-faced, Hurley hangs his head and says “maybe I could stand to drop a few pounds.” Libby lauds him for trying and assures him “these things take time! You didn’t gain the weight overnight; you won’t lose it overnight, either.” Later, when he reveals his food stash to her and describes his relationship to food as a burden and a sickness, she says, “If you want to change, change.” I wanted to punch her in the nose.

Hurley, however, takes her words to heart. He destroys his food stash in an ecstasy of tearing open packages and dumping jars, shots redolent of “Fat person finds liberation from the chains of eating.” Unfortunately, he finishes just in time for the rest of the survivors to discover a mysterious supply drop. Oh no! More cereal to challenge Hurley’s insufficient willpower. As he stares with dismay at the palette of boxes and jars, he catches a glimpse of someone unexpected: An old friend from the psych ward. And that’s when things get really awful.

Flash back to Hurley in the psych ward, talking to his doctor. The doctor asks how the diet is going. Ugh. Right off we get the message: Hurley’s in a mental hospital because he’s fat. They don’t need to say it in words. The implications are clear. Hurley says he had chicken breast and salad for lunch: Look, I’m trying to be a good fat person! Some more chat, and then the doctor says: “You’ve been here two months, Hugo, and you haven’t made much progress!”

Let me pause to convulse laughing. The writers have just shown they did NO RESEARCH WHATSOEVER into inpatient psychiatric treatment. My very first thought upon hearing this line was, “Wow, Hurley’s mom must have really good insurance!” The facility depicted is a rambling Hacienda-style building with lots of open space, private rooms, and wide windows in the shrink’s office. That is, it resembles a high-class rehab facility, NOT your typical inpatient situation. I’ve been in a number of psychiatric hospitals. They’re usually cramped and feature shared rooms and shabby furniture. Psychiatrists don’t conduct therapy or interact with the patients much beyond prescribing medication. They don’t generally have spacious on-site offices. They meet with patients wherever–in the common room, in an activities closet. Nurses and techs do the day-to-day stuff. Staying two months without making progress is unheard-of. Even when I was a teen, most people’s insurance kicked them out after 30 days. I think we’re supposed to believe Hurley’s in his late twenties, so it’s a stretch to assume his mom’s insurance even covers him. And I doubt the fast food place where he works offers a great mental health package. The last time I was inpatient, charges ran to $10,000 A DAY. Who’s paying for this?

Moving on. There’s some more talk between Hurley and his shrink. The eponymous “Dave” is mentioned. The shrink implies Dave doesn’t want Hurley to change. In the next scene, we find out what this means. Hurley goes to the facility’s basketball court (more laughing), where a game in in progress. All the players are wearing pyjamas and bathrobes. Not only is this just plain in accurate–most places insist on patients wearing street clothes as a way of maintaining “normalcy”–but the bathrobes have dangling belts. REALLY? You don’t get that in a mental health facility those would be verboten? ANYTHING a person might use for self harm or suicide attempts is strictly regulated. We weren’t even allowed to have shoelaces. Belts are right out. Way to show you have no idea what you’re talking about.

Anyway. Dave’s at the basketball game. He’s loud, abrasive, and nasty. He calls people names. But for some reason he and Hurley are friends. Dave demonstrates this by talking Hurley into eating tacos. Oh, I see. In Hurley’s case, “change” is defined by “staying on his diet” and Dave’s not wanting him to change is equal to talking him out of this “healthy choice.” The same thing replays later, when Dave encourages Hurley to steal someone else’s graham crackers instead of sticking to his afternoon snack of celery. He also talks Hurley out of taking his meds. Hurley, by the way, is being given clonazepam, brand name Klonopin, which is an anti-anxiety medication. There are problems with this that I’ll get to in a minute. Meanwhile, the shrink appears with a camera and tells the guys he needs a photo of them for the bulletin board.

This is where my husband turned to me and said, “Dave’s not real.” Oh, fuck. Of course he’s not. He’s…what? The personification of Hurley’s relationship to food? The voices in his head that hold Hurley back from achieving what he otherwise might, i.e., becoming not fat? It makes some sense of the fact that Hurley would be hanging out with this absolute douche nozzle, but speaks volumes about what the writers actually think about Hurley’s size. In any case, Dave is an hallucination, and if that’s so CLONAZEPAM IS NOT THE RIGHT MEDICATION. Hurley’s doctor should know this. He should be treating Hurley for a mental illness, not for being fat. But fat, apparently, is all the doctor can see.

In the present. Hurley goes to Sawyer, the con-man-cum-pack-rat, to see if he has any clonazepam in his “stash.” Sawyer responds with a typical jab at Hurley’s size. Hurley loses it and proceeds to beat Sawyer to a pulp while screaming, “Jabba! Michelin! Stay-Puff!”. My husband and I cheered, but when the two are separated and people ask what happened, Sawyer only says, “He just went crazy!” I don’t expect Sawyer to own up to his insults, but I would have liked SOMEONE to tell him, “Well, you had it coming, asshole.” Of course, we don’t get that because crazy fat guy is just crazy. I mean, if he didn’t want people to call him names, he should just lose weight, amirite?

In the last flashback, we learn how Hurley ended up in the hospital. He stepped onto a crowded deck, which collapsed under his weight, and a person died. Guilt and trauma caused him to suffer a catatonic episode, during which, his doctor points out, “You stopped speaking. You stopped sleeping. But you never stopped eating, because eating is how you punish yourself.”

Repeated screams of “FUCK YOU, YOU SMUG ASSHOLE!”

The shrink shows Hurley the picture he took, proving Dave isn’t real. Dave shows up one last time, to convince Hurley to escape. There’s a shitload more wrong with this scene, including the common room window being secured with a padlock for which Hurley has conveniently been able to steal the key and the locked grate not being wired to an alarm. Of course, along the way, Dave encourages Hurley to pick up whatever food happens to be lying around, and the whole escape attempt seems to be motivated by a desire for cheeseburgers. Dave goes out the window, but Hurley, with his new, magical knowledge that Dave is an hallucination, refuses.

On the Island, in the present, Hurley tracks down Dave, who asks him what happened after he didn’t go out the window. Hurley replies that he “got better;” after a couple weeks he was released, he got his old job back, he won the lottery. Dave replies, “Yeah, right,” and tells Hurley none of that ever happened, that he is, in fact, still back in the hospital, catatonic, and ALL of this is another hallucination. This was the most realistic part of the episode to me. In my worst times, I have similar thoughts. Maybe I never left the hospital. Maybe I’m in a padded cell back in Michigan. Maybe I never went to college, got married. When those thoughts hit, I breathe and think, “If I were hallucinating, I think I would hallucinate a better life than constant poverty and wretchedness.” Hurley, however, lets Dave lead him to the edge of a cliff where, Dave assures him, all he needs to do to “wake up” is throw himself off. Just in time, Libby appears! She asks Hurley why he thinks the Island isn’t real, and he tearfully admits that “In real life, a girl like you would never like a [fat] guy like me.” She kisses him! Yay! She really likes him! And Hurley immediately goes on a diet to be worthy of her (we see this in subsequent episodes). Can I please barf now?

As I said above, this episode disgusted me. It was repulsive on every level imaginable. How difficult can it be to give the fat guy a back story that doesn’t involve him literally being in a mental hospital because of his size? Apparently too hard for the writers of this series. And it angers me on a personal level, as a person with a history of eating disorders and a troubled relationship with size and food. Perpetuating these myths and stereotypes does a huge disservice to all kinds of people. When food and eating is involved, often that is ALL mental health providers can see and that’s what they treat. The treatment for anorexia? Eat more. The treatment for Bulimia? Just stop. For Binge Eating Disorder? The same. “If you want to change, change!” Looking at the surface as it is colored by societal expectations and assumptions about food prevents providers from finding the source of issues, and even causes them to dismiss issues as irrelevant. Hurley had a fucking psychotic episode! Losing weight isn’t the indicated treatment. It never is and it never will be.

With all the problems in this episode, probably the worst thing about it is that it’s meant to evoke sympathy. All the back stories are.  They’re a line on the characters’ experiences and the situations that brought them to this place and time. We see Jack’s troubled relationship with his father and the breakdown of his marriage; Locke’s inability to let go of his own desire for a father figure, which has numerous tragic consequences; Kate’s run from the law; Mr. Eko’s past as a crime lord. We even feel some sympathy for Sawyer, for fuck’s sake! But Hurley? The great tragedy in his life is BEING FAT. He’s worth $156 MILLION and no one believes him because HE’S FAT. He doesn’t feel worthy of love because HE’S FAT. There are a zillion ways the writers could have chosen to tell his story that had nothing to do with his size, but they opted for the usual. I can almost see them sitting around in the planning stages saying, “Hey, we gotta cast one really FAT guy so we can show how terrible it is for him to be FAT!” I sure hope Jorge Garcia got a lot of money for this role. And the bitch of it is, most viewers will buy it. They won’t question why we aren’t seeing Hurley losing the love of his life or playing in a rock band or working in a high tech industry, because fat is all they can see. Just like the doctor portrayed in this episode.

If you’re new to LOST and thinking about watching, give this episode a miss. There’s no redeeming quality to it and it doesn’t tell you anything new. If you’re a writer, for the sake of all the gods, DON’T DO THIS. Don’t succumb to stereotypes and do your fucking research if you’re depicting things outside your personal experience.

That’s all.


The Worst Demon

You know the story of Pandora’s Box? I can’t take it for granted that you do.  I grew up on mythology of all kinds, but I know others didn’t, and I have no idea what they teach in schools these days. It’s a Greek myth, Hellene rather than Minoan.

In brief, the titan Prometheus, whose name means foresight, created human beings. When he saw they were naked and cold, he stole fire from the Olympian gods and took it down to them. To punish Prometheus, Zeus chained him to a rock, where an eagle gnawed out his liver every day. Every night, his liver grew back, so the eagle could gnaw it again.

Zeus wasn’t content with punishing Prometheus, though. He wanted to punish his creation. To that end, he created a woman. It’s always a woman. Each of the twelve Olympians imbued this woman with a quality: Beauty, cleverness, wisdom, strength, and so on. (We see a similar thing in later fairy tales, like Sleeping Beauty, where twelve good fairies give the princess gifts at her Christening.) They named the woman Pandora, which means “All Gifts.” And they sent her to Epimethius, the brother of Prometheus, whose name means “Hindsight.” When they sent her, they gave her a box, along with strict instructions never to open it.

Well, you can predict how that went. Eventually, Pandora’s curiosity got the better of her, as the gods knew it would, and she opened the box. Out flew every awful thing imaginable, plague and old age, and war, and sorrow, and death. All these the gods had sent to torment Prometheus’ creation, humankind.

As the story goes, when all the demons had flown out and away, one last thing followed. That thing was Hope. Now, most versions of the story I’ve seen interpret this as the redeeming quality of the gods’ “gift,” the thing that would allow human beings to overcome the rest. But the gods do not think the way human beings do, and their motives are not always as we’d wish. I believe Hope is the worst demon of all, and the gods knew it.

Hope is a lump in your gut and a fist clenched on your heart. It’s fingers wrapped around your throat and refusing to let go. Hope is the thing that keeps you fighting for your dreams in spite of all rational evidence you can never achieve them. It lets you be positive where positivity is a lie, and urges you to struggle on when the entire world seems a pit of suffering with no possibility of redemption.

I’m not a Buddhist; anyone who reads this blog will know that. But I think this is what the Buddha was getting at when he preached non-attachment. See the world as it is, not as Hope would have you see it. Only then can you move on, confront what needs to be confronted, change what needs to be changed.

I’ve been stuck in Hope most of my life. When I was young, it made some sense. A teenager in an abusive environment doesn’t need to stay there forever. One can get free, go somewhere else. A dead-end job, or a series of them, doesn’t mean every job will be the same. You don’t need to stay in unsatisfying relationships. You can go elsewhere. There’s new ground to cover.

The older I get, the less sense Hope makes and the less positive it feels. Granted, I come from a long-lived family and I can probably expect to live another 40 to 50 years, barring serious illness or accident or unseen catastrophe. There’s still ground and still time. But there isn’t time for some things. There isn’t time for children of my own. That’s a biological fact; my fertile years ended long ago. Yet Hope has kept me waiting on a miracle. Miracles happen. After the miscarriages, when I thought “I can’t go through that again,” Hope told me I’d still have kids one day. Listening to Hope, I didn’t take the actions that might have been possible then, but now are not. When I fell into a deep depression, Hope encouraged me to wait it out because nothing lasts forever. Of course, there are a dozen other factors that led to my not ever having the family I wanted, but static hope for things to change is the one on my mind right now. Even as I write this, my brain is going through the contortions of telling me “Maybe by letting go of this dream, you’ll trigger the thing that will allow it to happen.” Fucking Hope.

[Aside: PLEASE refrain from coming into my comments and saying “Adoption, fostering, blah, blah, blah,” because it’s beside the point.]

I’ve hoped situations would work out long after it became clear they wouldn’t and hoped people would change long after it became clear I’d do better to cut ties and run. I’ve hoped I wouldn’t have to confront things, that people around me would wise up on their own, because I hope people are capable of getting a clue and I hate being the person always calling others on their shit. I guess that’s just another way of saying I hate setting boundaries and I want others to set them for me, which is definitely an issue that’s caused me significant misery. I’ve kept breathing and hoped tomorrow would be better. Sometimes that hope has been all I’ve had. I wonder if that’s a good thing. Maybe without hope I wouldn’t be alive now. I wonder if that would have been bad.

Hope can mitigate pain, but sometimes mitigating pain isn’t the right thing to do. Sometimes you have to feel it.

I started this post last Monday. It was a very bad day. Today isn’t. It’s not an objectively good day, but it’s okay. So I’m no longer sure where I’m heading with this train of thought, or the point I meant to make. I think at the time I was thinking “Hope is a sucker’s game, and maybe we should all lie down and die.” I don’t believe that now, at least not all of it. I still think Hope is a sucker’s game. But instead of lying down and dying, maybe we should try standing up and punching Hope in the nose. Maybe then we can create the things we want.

That’s all.



War on Multiple Fronts

CW: Body Image, Diet & Exercise, Possible Sizeism & Healthism, Body Dysphoria

Disclaimer: I’m writing this post in the hopes of clarifying and untangling very personal issues. I’m writing it in WordPress because I think and express better through the keyboard, to an imagined audience, and also because, as always, my experience might resonate with others. You are not obliged to read.

flute 1Today, Facebook Memories showed me this picture from six years ago, and it raised a lot of issues for me.

I remember the photo shoot. A few months previously, I had gone through one of my most manic periods, during which I completed two manuscripts. I was just beginning to go public with my Caitlin Ross Series and explore self publishing avenues. The shoot was ideas for a sample cover of She Moved Through the Fair.

It was a cold, grey, rainy day. Later, I would attend a New Moon ritual. I intended to wear this dress, but while I was sitting down, my cat Luna peed on the trailing skirt, so I had to change.

I cannot wear that dress now. I’m too fat. Both things make me sad.

July 2015These pictures were taken a little less than a year ago. We were on the way to an event at a tattoo studio in Grand Junction. When I posted them, people commented things like “You look adorable!” and “Beautiful!”

I can see only my large, shapeless arms, my saggy knees. My giant waist and hips. The tiny feet holding up all my bulk, and the way they have flattened and roll in at the ankles.

My reaction is actually a little less extreme than it was at the time. I’m beginning to see that maybe some things about me look okay. Maybe.

This is always the way it goes for me, when I see pictures of myself. The closer I am to the day they were taken, the worse I look to myself. Later, I see maybe it’s not so bad. Years later, I may even see a kind of beauty.

kele fluteThis picture is from fifteen years ago, give or take. Probably a bit more. At the time, I hated it, as I hate all pictures of me at the time. Now I look at it and think, “Why? What made me see this smiling young woman as horrible and disgusting?” Now I look at it and feel nostalgia for that person. For that shape. At the same time, I remember the self-loathing, because the self-loathing never leaves. It infects every present moment. It sabotages every attempt to find acceptance, let alone self love.

At the center of my being, a Greek chorus chants over and over: “Not good enough. Never good enough.” Not just in my body, but in everything. My body is often where the struggle plays out, though.

I’m so tired.

I can point to a lot of intellectual reasons why “Not good enough” is the central theme of my life. Being born into a family that had serious issues with women’s worth and women’s identities and the bodies of people born female. Being targeted as Other for the first half of my life, beginning at a very young age. I can point to those things, but they have no impact on a visceral level. Maybe because it started before I can remember, maybe because the messages came along with a mental illness no one wanted to acknowledge and no one had any idea how to treat–a mental illness I still have trouble believing in, too many days–in my gut I believe the problem isn’t with my family’s sexism or society’s attitudes towards those who don’t fit within narrow definitions of “acceptable,” but with me. Me in particular. My being. There is something wrong with me that can’t be fixed, because fixing it would negate everything I am. This is what I believe.

Or something like that. It’s all very confusing. When I think I have a grip on it, it slithers away, like silk, like sand. Truth is nebulous, hard to pin down.

It’s hard to write this without crying. And yet, it’s also easy. A couple of times so far, I’ve felt tears constrict my throat. Just when I notice them, they slither away, too. Like some wizard has placed a “Don’t See Me” charm on the pain at my core. I touch it, and it’s somewhere else. I notice it, then forget a moment later. I get this must be some kind of defense mechanism. I survive; I get on. I swallow the razor blades and the hopelessness and the burden and the “I can’t do this any more,” and keep going, living with the things I don’t believe I can live with. Probably if I saw that thing behind the spell clear, I wouldn’t be able to.

I meant to write about body issues in particular, and I’ve already veered from the point. I’m so far off course, I don’t know how to get back. That’s the defense mechanism at work again, I suppose. Issues link to other issues, again and again, and before I know it, I’m somewhere else. Somewhere safer, if not exactly safe.

I’ve addressed body issues on this blog before, from time to time. I’ve written about my eating disorder and about body positivity, and about other things. Not much. Not as much as I’ve written about writing, or mental illness. Writing about body issues is apparently a huge challenge for me.

Several times over the course of our relationship, my husband has told me I have a stronger body-mind connection than anyone he’s ever known. We’re about to mark our 20th wedding anniversary, and we were together four years before we got married. This makes him the person I’ve had the longest and most consistent relationship with in my entire life, so I guess he’d know. And it’s true, I think, that I have a particularly strong connection between body and mind. Stress makes me physically ill. Negative emotions manifest in migraines, and digestive complaints, and muscles that set like cement. Mental illness comes out in my body. Which is one reason, maybe the main one, that I developed life-threatening anorexia in high school. One day, everything drained out of me. I’d had a lot of ups and downs before, but until a particular incident (which isn’t important except to my therapist), they were passionate ups and downs. Then passion went away. I was empty and small. Not long after, my body followed suit.

And here, the threads become very tangled. Would my mental illness have taken the form it did if I hadn’t heard all my life that I was fat and disgusting, unlovable and worthless? I don’t know. How much of that was internalized attitudes about size and how much was simply feeling I should be punished for existing in a body at all? I don’t know that, either. And how much of feeling I should be punished for existing in a body was tied to my existing in a woman’s body? Beats me. I do know my inner voice berated me for being a “fat cow” because the idea of worthlessness and the idea of fatness were inextricably linked in my mind. I do know I lashed out at both worthlessness and fatness with extreme diet restrictions and extreme exercise patterns, to the point where, now, considering any diet adjustments or any patterned exercise triggers feelings of being punished.

This is where I meant this blog post to go.

I don’t like my body right now. Trying for years and years to practice some form of body positivity has made no impact whatsoever on this. At the same time, I have never liked my body. Maybe back in the dim and distant past that I don’t remember clearly I did. I think it more likely that I had no opinion then, and when I learned to have feelings towards my body at all, the only feeling I learned was loathing, which became ever more extreme as time went on. It’s still there. Mostly, I try not to feel it, because feeling it is debilitating. I don’t know how to deal with this or overcome it. When I was anorexic and other times I’ve pursued active body modification, I’ve thought being a smaller size would make a difference. It doesn’t. I learned that thirty-plus years ago, and yet, I go back to it again and again. I still hate myself no matter what size my body is.

People who promote body positivity often say “start small.” Start with acknowledging and appreciating the things your body does for you. It breathes. The heart beats. It digests your food, all without your asking or trying. In my case, it carries me from room to room. I can walk. I can stand or sit without aid. My body grows flawless skin and beautiful hair. I don’t have joint troubles, or an immune disorder, or any of the purely physical impairments a person of my age might have cause to expect, that other people my age suffer.

(Now I am crying.)

And none of those things matter. “Not good enough.”

I want–and please note, even the word “want” is problematic for me; it’s another feeling/experience the “Don’t See Me” charm obscures–I want to fit in that green dress again. I want to be able to get my blue, embroidered sun dress over my boobs. After a walk or a couple hours in the garden, I want not to hurt because my muscle tone is so bad. I want to be able to dance more than half a song without getting out of breath and having to sit down. I want my husband to say “You’re a beautiful woman,” and not, “You’re a beautiful round woman.”

I fear all this makes me Not Good Enough at body positivity.

I’m almost totally sedentary right now. I have been since around the time that initial picture was taken. For a while, on my last determined skirmish with body modification through weight loss, I forced myself to make exercise a priority. I walked three miles six days a week and I did an hour of Pilates most days (I’m sure I’ve referred to this before). Now I rarely move. Only recently, since my latest med adjustment, has leaving the house for an hour of gardening ceased to be accompanied by innumerable mental contortions: Can I do this? Do I want this? Am I forcing myself? Is it safe? What’s the point? ad infinitum. Right around the time my last medication manager suggested we try Pristiq and it started working, I just stopped moving. (This may have happened before then, around the time I was last hospitalized.) I’d been following Weight Watchers and dropped almost 50 lbs. It started coming back before I ever achieved the fabled “goal weight,” and I couldn’t track food in the hospital, so I stopped. Then I started eating more. Then I stopped moving except to get up from the couch to pee.

I’m so tired.

How much is Bipolar Disorder and Depression? How much is laziness? Yes, I think of myself as a lazy fat person. I think, “If you just made it a point to move…” But moving for its own sake hasn’t been fun for me since I was seven years old; it’s always a duty. Something I make myself participate in to be less worthless. Even when I was studying dance, yes, I loved dancing, but I also loved the idea of myself as “someone who moves regularly.” I never, ever enjoyed those three-mile walks, and never came to that magic place where exercise transforms from a burdensome commitment to something you look forward to as part of your day. On a regular basis, I cried doing it. How do I participate in joyful movement no matter what size I am when movement isn’t joyful? When it’s acutely emotionally loaded and painful? When I don’t believe there’s anything on the other side of that pain but more pain, and more, and more? Maybe the momentary comfort of sitting on the couch surfing the ‘net on my phone is the best I get.

You know, I believe we opt into the lives we incarnate in. More and more these days I think, “Why the hell did I opt into this mess?” Why did I pick, or at least not refuse, a life so hard, where nothing ever turns out the way I want and I always have to settle for “The best I can get?”

As far as my body issues go, I feel like I’m constantly fighting a war on multiple fronts. I go back and forth between them, never winning more than a skirmish, and never with time to breathe. As soon as I have one under control, shit flares up at another. Try to shape myself to be more what I want to be, maybe succeed for a time,. Then all the restrictions and so called “lifestyle changes” begin to wear on me, and I think, “Hey, body size and weight have no bearing on my personal worth, so eat a goddamned hot fudge sundae and sit down for a change!” Relax into my body and try to accept myself in my natural state, and in a few months none of my clothes fit. Clothes that aren’t simply rags to cover my nakedness, but symbols of my identity. I can’t win. There’s no decisive victory.

I want to wear that green lace dress again, so badly. I want to sit still and watch serial genre on Netflix. I don’t know how to find any kind of resolution.

ADDENDUM: I posted this comment on a Facebook thread, and it seems like I should add it here:

“If you’ll forgive my gooey therapy-speak, I think my core wounding (ugh, that just sounds so pretentious and gross) is around worth and the right to exist, and the fatphobia and sexism got piled on top of that. Both have made it difficult to get to the real issue. And the real issue is awful and painful to acknowledge because of all the gaslighting I experienced around it. So any kind of positivity becomes impossible for me, because I lack any sense of myself as valuable, though I believe in the inherent worth of everything on an intellectual level.

And I think this is a place I was trying to get to in the post, but didn’t.”

Don’t Go Trad

Lately I’ve stumbled across a number of articles, like this one and this one, about the perils of self-publishing. To be fair, because I do always try to be fair even when I don’t want to be, many of the articles point out valid problems and their writers, in theory, explain why it’s not the path they would choose. In theory. In practice, they present a narrow and one-sided view of the practice, focusing on the worst stereotypes of self-published authors as lazy hacks who clog social media with constant promotion.

I could write my own article about why no one should ever take the traditional publishing route. I might make points like this:

You have to spend a disproportionate amount of energy on pitching and querying. Writers do what they do because of a drive to tell stories, and part of telling stories is sharing them with others. If you go trad, you can forget being able to do that. Someone else gets to decide whether or not your story is worth sharing. Often more than one person, because if you’re lucky enough to sign with an agent, you still haven’t got a book contract. It takes a special skill set to be able to hook and agent and/or editor, and it’s not one most storytellers are born with. You have to learn it. Despite helpful Internet resources, most of the learning is through trial and error. Meanwhile, the story you wanted to share isn’t being shared, and any new ones get placed on the back burner. Traditional publishing actively prevents you from doing what you set out to do in the first place.

Being published traditionally can make you a condescending ass. Sure, there are nice traditional authors out there, ones who are open and accessible, and willing to help a person starting out. There’s also a lot of jerks who think they got where they are on merit rather than the serendipity of having the right manuscript at the right time combined with class, racial, and appearance advantages that make them easily marketable. These guys strut around like they’re the gods’ gift to literature and give condescending “advice” like, “Keep plugging away and you’ll get where I am some day.” Do you really want to risk being one of them?

Gatekeepers are subject to societal prejudice. You know 89% of books published are by white, cis, male authors, right? If you’re a woman and/or person of color, or another marginalized identity, your chances of “success” in a traditional climate plummet. Even if your book gets picked up, you’re apt to hear your character “isn’t relatable” and asked to make changes. Traditional publishing is giving lip service to diversity right now, but the industry hasn’t taken a great many strides. Why fight that fight?

I did my apprenticeship. Can people in traditional publishing please do theirs? I’m 53. I’ve been writing since I was 7, and I wrote my first novel at 12. Yes, it was an achievement for a child, and yes, it was derivative and the language was less than elegant. I’ve improved since then. I’ve been an avid reader since before I started writing, and I’m fully capable of learning from what I read. I understand pacing and dialogue and how to use words. I go over my work relentlessly, making it the best it can be. On the other hand, I don’t know about some editors. I’ve read traditionally published books with hundreds of pages of purposeless exposition stuck in the middle of a story, and ones with so many typos and grammatical flaws I wonder how it got printed. One series I like very much used the word “yolk” instead of “yoke” for three volumes, leading to phrases like “the yolk of slavery.” Really, I don’t have it to trust an industry person half my age, with little or none of my experience, to direct me how best to tell my stories.

See, I could write this post. I could refute every single point anyone has ever made about self publishing. But I’m not going to. I know that not every path works for everyone, and even our definitions of “what works” differ. Traditional publishing is a valid path. Self publishing is a valid path. Some people earn vast amounts of money in each. Most don’t and never will. Except in the case of a few, writing is not a calling that leads to riches (though hope springs eternal, and all that).

Inevitably, these articles about why not to self publish are written by people who have been traditionally published, who seem to have a limited understanding of why people choose one route over another. Often they strike me as “protesting too much,” of dismissing self publishing not because of its real flaws, but because the writers have doubts or questions about the path they’ve chosen. Have your doubts; that’s fine. Please stop thrusting them on those of us who have chosen differently. Thanks.