We must overcome the notion that we must be regular. It robs you of the chance to be extraordinary, and leads you to the mediocre.”—Uta Hagen

Life has been a fairly stressful endeavour for me lately, but I feel as if I’ve been pushing myself, and I think that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, largely due to the types of drugs I am on, I don’t really have much stamina and endurance anymore. I used to be able to sit and work all night long if I needed to, or stay out until the sun came up, partying with my friends. These days, at some point, I inevitably start to feel tired and shaky and as if the only place I want to spend time is my bed.

The main stressor in my life is the work situation; courtesy of some recent changes, I’m working twice as hard (or at least 1.5 times as hard), but the net result is a paycheck that’s 50% smaller. I know this has probably caused some people to either decide to leave the company, or to buckle down and try to become a veritable factory of quality work, but I need stable income in order to pay my bills, never mind get the medical care I need. The logical alternative is to work harder and try to complete more articles per day, or look for additional projects to supplement my income, but my lack of stamina doesn’t just affect me physically. After 4-5 hours of solid, undisturbed work, I feel both physically and emotionally exhausted. It is the time in my life I can least afford to be ill, and yet I have little to say about the whole deal. On top of it, the company has now instituted a 24-hour turnaround on all assignments, and have made it clear they don’t intend to be too forgiving towards those who don’t meet deadlines. I suppose they look at it as if everyone’s replaceable, and nobody indispensable, which is largely true.

Yet, I’ve been doing my best to restructure my life to make myself stronger and keep up. I don’t really have the extra time and energy to seek out new assignments, or try to find a new job, so it’s mostly taking it one day at a time. It’s just a sad realisation that I won’t be able to make it working on a freelance basis with this pay cut. For over a year, I’ve made a nice income for a single person…more than I’d make working in an office, waiting tables, or giving people coffee at Starbucks. It’s even more than I’d make becoming a teacher or whatever else people with degrees in liberal arts subjects end up doing. But, that’s the income I need to make in order to improve my life…and it would have, significantly, had I not gotten seriously ill in 2011…and not half that sum. :( I don’t feel like I have a lot of options, and I feel a bit depressed about everything sometimes, which is far from productive. I just wonder why someone with as many talents, varied life experience, and unusual personality as I possess can’t figure out how to use any of those assets to get a stable career that I enjoy off the ground. Sometimes, I wonder if work just isn’t my thing; other aspects of life have always come easily to me. I was always smart enough to do well in school, personable enough to succeed in the social aspects of life, interesting enough to not have trouble meeting people to date or starting relationships, clever enough to formulate a nice place to live even when I had very little. When it comes to money, though, I have always struggled.

Herein lies the problem. I like money. I like shopping and martinis and nice restaurants and jewelry. And I am not lazy; if I knew what I needed to do to make the sort of money I need to comfortably engage in the type of lifestyle I’d like to have, I’d do it. I don’t want to be a millionaire, or part of the 1%, or even well-to-do. I just want to never have to worry about the practicalities of life, and still engage in the little frivolities that make my world a better place.

All the things that interest and intrigue me aren’t skills that translate to making money; the blogging habit I’ve had for 10 years, the book I’m working on (that nobody will ever read), the poetry I write, the parties I throw, the events I plan, even if I were to take up acting again. Nobody pays you just to be unique and creative and different and fabulous in that weird way that makes you stand out. It wins you friends and admirers, it makes you enemies, it throws adventures in your path, it makes life interesting…but it does not pay your bills, or your medical expenses.

For those who don’t know, in addition to recently being diagnosed with a vestibular disorder called vestibular neuronitis, I’ve also been diagnosed with panic disorder. Panic disorder sucks, and I don’t know why I’ve suffered with it for the past six months, but after reading the Wikipedia entry on it, it’s clear that I have it. I believe I developed it when I developed the vestibular neuronitis, following a severe sunburn and subsequent infection and dehydration from not taking care of myself wisely on the beach. I had a number of panic attacks over a period of two or three weeks before visiting the ER for help, and the ER, as well as a number of doctors who misdiagnosed my symptoms, put me on drugs with some terrible side effects. The result is that any time anything feels wrong with my body, I have a type of panic attack. It can range from mild enough that it’s gone within 30 seconds of changing my surroundings to needing to take an extra 2 milligrams of Valium to simply needing to leave and go home. (the last kind, the most severe kind, typically triggers a migraine. Within an hour or two of rest, Coca-Cola, and someone comforting me, I am typically better, although left very drained.).

The doctors have recommended that I see both a specialist for vestibular rehab and a psychiatrist who specialises in panic and anxiety disorders. I’ve been a little hesitant about doing these things, although I know I need to, because I know they may make me feel worse for awhile before things improve…and I simply don’t have the time to feel worse. I can’t afford to get fired because I was too busy freaking out to work.

I also would like to get off my current medications, the ones that cause me to resemble the Goodyear blimp and gain weight if I eat more than 800 calories a day. Psychiatrists, on the other hand, just want to switch you to whatever drug of choice they believe is most helpful. I have at least four types of commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medicines in my cabinet. They all made me feel like I’d rather discontinue existing than take that pill, which seems kind of contrary to the point.

They also told me about something called “cognitive behavioural therapy”, where I teach my brain to react in more positive ways. (obviously, nobody gets that my mind and body falling apart are reasons for my brain to feel less than positive, and for me to every day remind myself “What the hell happened to the charming and attractive person I used to be?”.) It’s basically “face the fear and do it anyway, unless you have a panic attack”.

So, I’ve been trying. I went out to dinner with a number of friends on Friday, and when I got there, immediately felt lightheaded and dizzy because we were seated on the highest possible level (seriously, in another room, we could stand on a chair and touch the roof. If it were a house, it would be really cute and I’d love it. ) There were also flickering lights, both of which seem to trigger vertigo and feelings of panic. I managed to ignore it, and even stood up for about 15 minutes to converse with people at the other end of the table. (standing up for too long often makes me want to fall down.) In the end, it ended up being a very good night, but it took a lot of discussion with my brain to get me to that point.

Today, I decided I was tired of being fat, when the scale hit the highest number I’ve ever seen in my life. My metabolism is slowing down to the point where I could not eat for days and not lose a pound (yet, I can’t do that, because the drugs I’m on make me light-headed and mess with my blood sugar if I don’t eat enough.), and I know/have heard of people on the drugs I’m on gaining 50-75 pounds. There is no way I’m letting that happen to my body. So, I decided to fight back and go for a 10 minute walk. It was exhausting, since one of my anxiety triggers is wide, open, overwhelming spaces. (I can’t set foot into Target without hyperventilating, which is apparently not uncommon for people with this inner ear disorder.)

I felt panic setting in twice, but I focused on telling my brain “NO, I’m going to walk for 10 minutes, period.”. Every other day, I’m going to add a minute to my walk, and slowly try to increase my endurance. This will, of course, not burn any calories, but at least it will get me outside again.

My well-intentioned roommate cooked tonight, making a chicken pot pie recipe he found on the low-glycemic recipe site I sent him. Little did I know, he “adapted” it, adding a ton of fat and calories and carbs. He really is a very good cook, and I applaud him learning to cook…but since he has, not only has he gained a noticeable amount of weight, his best friend is also starting to sport a bit of a belly. It could be that we’re all going through middle age, but I think it’s more of a “Don’t cook like Paula Deen” issue.

I may have to learn to cook healthy recipes, although I hate cooking, so I know I have control over what’s in what I’m eating. The problem: I really hate cooking.

I never knew that feeling and being healthy could be so difficult. I always took health so much for granted. I’d give absolutely anything to be able to rewind my life a year, and feel the way I did then. I would never take the ability to feel and look good, to seem “normal”, for granted again.

The only blessing that I have in my life is the supportive network of friends who seem to care and stick beside me, no matter what. I know they miss the person I used to be, too, but I’ve gotten an immense amount of support through things. The prideful, egoistic part of me simply wants to hide away from everyone until I’m better, rather than have people ridicule me for being fat or talk about how difficult I was the last time they saw me. I don’t want the world to see me when I’m unattractive, fragile, or just a downright unpleasant person.

But, another part of me is reminded that’s what friends are for, and nobody judges me as harshly as I do myself…except,of course, the people who hate me. They don’t cut me one bit of slack.

I just get sad sometimes because I know, deep inside, there’s this person who is so much better—on so many levels–than who I am now. And it confounds me that the person I am now, who is damaged in so many ways, could be loved, or liked, or even tolerated, by anyone else.

Today, I came across another interesting article about diet, culture, and the rapidly-changing face of the modeling industry…and of women in general.

(Please note, this article I’ve linked to may be NSFW because of semi-nudity and suggestive posing.)

These articles always interest me, as someone who spent a great deal of her life working in the entertainment industry, and frankly, living in a world where eating disorders were normal. In fact, amongst working models, actors, dancers, and other professional entertainers, it’s much easier to maintain the weight you strive to maintain because virtually everyone is on a diet that’s no-carb, no-sugar, no-meat, or, in some cases, no food. I learned in my teenage years from a group of ballet dancers that the best way to maintain weight is through eating nothing but an apple, a slice of cheese, a Diet Coke, and Reese’s PB Cups throughout the day..plus water, but not too much, to avoid bloating. If you live in New York, you’re constantly walking, jogging, or running everywhere, and are often too busy to even notice that food is literally everywhere, but you don’t eat it. Whether you’re working or not, you’ll attend a lot of social events, most of which involve drinking excessively…and, somehow, unless you’re chugging beer, the calories from a night of vodka tonics are less than if you’d stayed home eating a plate of pasta. In the world of performance and illusion, nobody wants to see a beautiful woman or a perfectly-sculpted guy shoveling food down like it’s going out of style.



Model Charlotte Carter, banned from catwalk for being a size 0.

In the real world, it’s harder. Food is everywhere, and people eat it, and it’s usually not healthy. Cooking takes time, and if you live in a city like mine, not having a car you spend 90 minutes a day sitting in is kind of like being an alien from another planet. Only about half of the neighbourhoods/suburbs are even slightly pedestrian-friendly. There are dog parks, but you have to drive your pooch in your car to get there, rather than go for a jog around the Central Park perimeter.

There has to be a balance, a happy medium, and most people don’t seem to find it. While I’m all for women feeling comfortable with their bodies and wanting to be accepted in all shapes and sizes, looking *healthy* should be the primary consideration in judging attractiveness.

 

 

The average model, at a size 2/4.

 

Personally, I’ve always struggled with body image. I’m a petite girl, barely 5 feet, and most grown women my size are shaped to be lovely pixies their entire lives, with tiny, delicate bone structure and no need for muscle tone, much less curves of any sort. However, I’m simply not shaped like that. I’m a girl that should have a size 4 body structure, but also has plus-size curves. Whether I like it or not, I’m Kim Kardashian. That’s just how I happen to be shaped, despite my petite size (and yes, everything is real.)

 

 

Somewhere along the line, I learned to deal with it. I even learned to embrace my lack of stature and my curves as something that made me unique. I wasn’t fat. I wasn’t skinny. I was just a healthy-looking, normal girl.

Then I got sick, and due to medication and sitting on my butt for 6 months, everything plumped up and filled out. I feel like a helium balloon, and would give anything to get rid of the 23 pounds that have joined my body. For a petite girl, that’s a sizable weight gain, enough to put me in the category of an unhealthy weight for my size. And since I gained the weight due to being unhealthy…I don’t like what looks back at me in the mirror. I see the excess flab on parts of my body that weren’t there previously, and horrible stretch marks that make me think I’ll never take my clothes off with the light on again, and that I may end up seeking cosmetic treatment when all is said and done, and the extra weight is gone.

Because I don’t like what I look like “plus sized”, it’s hard for me not to project that on to the model posing. Yes, she’s absolutely beautiful. Yes, the average American woman is a size 12-14. But clearly, she has extra deposits of fat on her body that I have learned, from personal experience, that only show up when you weigh more than is appropriate for your bone structure. Is the “plus sized” model a beautiful, normal woman? Yes. But is it healthy? Should we just accept that these days, we’re all a little chunkier than we should be?

 

 

I don’t know. Americans are living shorter life-spans than ever before, and it’s estimated that within less than a generation, three-quarters of us will be clinically obese. I understand that this model is portraying what most of us look like. But personally, when I look at the extra weight I’m carrying around on my own body, I’m inspired to want to get rid of it, not to embrace it. Because it isn’t healthy, and it isn’t attractive. It isn’t how I, as a person, am ideally designed to look. I’m proud of my curves, but I’m not proud of excess fat deposits that keep my dresses from zipping. In fact, I feel ashamed that I allowed illness and medication to defeat me, and to wreak havoc on my body.

On the other side of the scale, we’re all aware that the average woman is not a size 2. I have friends who are, and whenever were out in public, these girls get hit on by virtually every guy in existence. A real-life version of what’s being portrayed in magazines is rare, and therefore, infinitely more attractive than what’s typically seen. That’s why guys still fantasize about the size 2 models selling us virtually everything. Women who are perfectly normal and healthy are undergoing extreme measures to look like this, so they too can be seen as what they imagine is universally desirable.

 

 

I think, if the modeling world is going to make a change for the better, it needs to reflect reality. It needs to reflect people at an ideal body weight, people who are comfortable with themselves not because they are beautiful, but because they have healthy and strong bodies.

It takes illness to point out that a healthy and strong body is, in fact, one of the most attractive things. Any time you mistreat it…with too much food, or not enough…you’re not going to look as good as someone who has learned to maintain their ideal body weight for their build, bone structure, muscle tone, and level of curviness.

I personally don’t think the average American woman should strive to look like either of the models featured in this article….but if she does happen to look like one or the other, she shouldn’t feel any insecurity about that, either. Unless you suffer from disordered eating and body-image issues (and many Americans do, even if they do not engage in actively negative food-related behaviours, there are still some very disordered perceptions.), looking healthy for your unique being should be enough to make you feel good about yourself. And when you feel good about yourself and take care of your body, you can afford to put away the scale, perhaps for life. Some women look their best at 110 lbs, some at 150, some at 200. Despite what we’re ingrained to think, the number on the scale or on the clothes you wear has absolutely no relation to how attractive you look or feel.

 



Average American woman, at a size 14.

 

When I’m again at the point where I look at myself and see a healthy, fit person, I’m planning to follow my own advice, and ditch the scale. I did not own a scale for 5 or 6 years, and it was also the period of my life when I was happiest with myself, and I neither noticeably gained nor lost more than the same 5 pounds.

Unfortunately, that self-improvement endeavour may take the majority of 2012 to complete. Even without medicine and illness slowing me down, I won’t be reaching my goal weight until Dragon*Con (“We recommend you lose 0.8 lbs per week?” I think I ate a salad that was 0.8 lbs the other week. *lol*)

 

Pop sensation Adele, beautiful at size 16.

 

What I would not do, at this point in my life, is pose naked in a magazine to portray the average flaws of the average woman. So I give kudos for major self-confidence to women of all shapes and sizes to do that, and to be real enough to be photographed without makeup. I think it’s going to take awhile for the rest of us to catch up with being that comfortable with ourselves. ;)