A lot has changed for me in the last 6 months. Spring and summer are known as road construction season in Minnesota, and I find I’m on a long detour now, off-road from where I thought I was going. It’s not horrible — I know some people going through really horrific detours in their life. Mine is challenging and difficult, but really just AFGO (Another Fucking Growth Opportunity, or as we writers say: more material).
In the previous post, I wrote about my efforts to go from temping jobs to pursuing freelance business writing full time. Just as I was putting the final touches on my planning and research, I started to get hit by some things that threw me off track….
The first was Chronic Pain from my poor degenerating knees. After 5 years, cortisone shots stopped working, and as the pain increased, my life got much more difficult. All my daily activities hurt, walking and standing made my legs and back ache, sleeping was difficult, and I couldn’t do my usual exercise. Stairs, I avoided. Walking meant hobbling and limping.
My ortho doc sent me to a surgeon, and after waiting 6 weeks for my appointment, he denied me surgery because of my weight. I sought a second opinion and this surgeon informed me that his whole network of Twin Cities Orthopedics refuses to operate on someone my size. I I had been counting on new knees to be my Shining Golden Solution, so this was a huge disappointment, as well as a frustrating and shaming experience.
Now I was stuck with the daily reality of pain — limiting, disabling, depressing, frustrating pain. And no clear-cut answers for getting better anytime soon.
About the same time came another detour: people started dying. First in March was my 97 year old Grandma. Two weeks later was my aunt, diagnosed in January with pancreatic cancer. She opted for no treatment, and was gone by April. Just a few weeks after that, a younger friend of ours was killed on his birthday in a senseless road-rage car accident, shortly after buying a house. He left behind a young wife whose life was now devastatingly changed.
Death is always difficult, but death in multiples is wearying and unsettling and exhausting — it’s a lot to process. I found myself sad and super-anxious, unsure about life in the face of it all.
However, the first two deaths had another complication for me. They involved dealing with my family of origin. I hadn’t spoken to my parents or my sisters or brother in 8 years. Long story, but suffice to say that the alcoholic family system I grew up in does not deal well with conflict or feelings, prefers to avoid talking about issues rather than work them out, and I’m the black sheep. There was conflict, there were feelings, and this meant years of avoiding contact or communication (which includes Bob and the kids, whose only crime was their attachment to me). I have done a TON of therapy about all this, but I still had fear and anxiety about this eventuality: someday, someone in my family would die and I’d have to decide if I would go to the funeral. Neither option felt good to me — facing my family, or avoiding that and staying home.
I decided to go. I have 14 cousins, so Grandma’s funeral was like a big family reunion, and that part was great, getting to see everyone (I’m in contact with many of my relatives on Facebook). It wasn’t easy to see my parents or siblings, but I tried to be as open as I could, greeting all of them and expressing a desire to talk and work things out sometime (none of them responded much or indicated a desire to talk). I got to see my 7 young nieces and nephews, who I’ve missed watching grow up — they were all sweet and open, willing to talk and engage with me. On the whole, it felt like a victory, to face the fear of this situation I’d dreaded for so long, to be myself and honor my values of kindness and courage.
Just a few weeks later at my aunt’s funeral, I again had to face my family. This time, I held back to see if anything had changed– would they respond to me? Or have any interest in some conversation or changing this dynamic? I won’t go into detail, but the lack of response or acknowledgement was obvious. I am on the outs, and that seems to be where they want to keep me. This wasn’t really a surprise, I’d kind of expected it, but still, on a deeper level, it hurts. Who really wants to be rejected by their family? I am comforted that I have built my own family and have a community of friends who do love and respect me. But yeah, the alcoholic family system kinda sucks.
The last leg of this story involves the eating disorder I’ve had since I was 11. Diet-obsession and food were the coping tools I used to survive the chaos of my childhood, to numb out all the intense and confusing emotions when there were no examples around me of how to handle feelings. I have gone through my whole life trying to deal with this on my own — reading about it and trying various things, my weight swinging up and down as I thought it was just a dieting problem (it’s not). In the past few years since all the divorce stuff, I’ve made a lot of progress in being able to feel and express my emotions without using food, but I found that dealing with my family sent me into eating disorder behavior (E.D.) again. When I started to feel like a failure for falling back into my E.D., and shame for all the weight gain, I realized that I needed professional help. I just couldn’t deal with it on my own anymore. I wanted to recover from this E.D. and heal my body and mind.
I enrolled in the Intensive Outpatient Program at The Emily Program. This was 3 hours a day, 4 days a week, for 7 weeks, and it was hard deep work. I really wanted to face my issues with food, eating and my body straight on, digging into my behaviors and beliefs and questioning everything. I have made a lot of progress, but my recovery is in process. I am still working with my dietitian and therapist, and I’m in several kinds of group therapy at Emily. There are a lot of insidious beliefs about food and my body to dismantle, and behaviors to replace –I want to make leaps forward in feeling good about my body, but our diet-mentality culture really makes it hard for women of any size to feel body positive.
So… Unemployed. Chronic pain. Deaths. Facing my family. Intensive eating disorder work… none of these were the path I thought I’d be on this year. But you know? Stuff like this really helps you to re-prioritize your life. I am learning so much. Yeah, it’s a detour and I’m not really sure where it’s all going, but if I keep doing my best, I’m hoping it will all lead to someplace good.
I highly recommend this book on chronic pain– author Jennifer Kane has researched so many options and gives so much information on this topic, it is definitely making my life better.