December 18, 2014

a hard stop, Daddy

My dad died. I still find that so shocking to say, even two months later. I struggle to speak of him in the past tense. I have the sense of falling when I allow myself to think it: my dad died.

It was a good death. We all hope for that peaceful scene surrounded by family and deeply loved, and that happened. Daddy died with his beloved wife and his four children around him - and their families, too. The hospital was sincerely, generously, compassionately, and professionally wonderful.

But Daddy is dead and that can't be mended. My mourning is so deep and layered that I have to shelve it daily in a variety of ways. I surround myself with strange relics and wear his watch and sweater. I have embarked on the rest of my life missing my dad.

What Daddy left me is rich and even lively: ongoing debates, grounding values, a chuckling curiosity and wonder. He left me and my brothers a stubborn legacy of what dads are and what they do. I will always, to some degree, be sitting next to him in the front seat of the Chevy, back when kids could sit in the front and slide around without seat belts. His right hand is drumming on the seat back behind my head. When he has to brake quickly he will fling his arm to brace me: always believing that he can protect me from harm. From hard stops and windshields, from bullies and bad decisions, from the laws of physics and time.

It's a hard stop Daddy. A hard, hard stop.

December 12, 2014

"The diet feels good: they feel calmer"

If I could choose the first thing you ever read about eating disorders, this should probably be it.  Many of my friends are talking about it and for good reason.

It's not fair, but some people have a
paradoxical response to hunger.
It is long since time we stopped, as Cynthia Bulik puts it so well: "psychologizing" anorexia nervosa. That goes for all eating disorders, of course. We need to start our thinking about these mental illnesses by seeing the symptoms as neither natural nor willful. What looks like a "desire to control" or a "desire to be thin" is neither. These are biologically driven psychological symptoms with a predictable trigger: energy imbalance.

Imagine a group of sixth grade girls who decide to go on a diet. Or imagine a boys’ wrestling team that decides to engage in some serious crash dieting before weighing in for a meet. Most of the girls and boys find the period of negative energy balance unpleasant and can’t wait to break the diet and go out for pizza and ice cream. For a few, however, they find that they actually feel better under negative energy balance conditions. The diet feels good; they feel calmer. The anxious chatter in their heads diminishes enough to suggest that this might be an escape route from the pervasive discomfort with which they have been living. The positive biological reaction to negative energy balance lures them into continued and escalating dieting in a quest for the paradoxically improved sense of well being that it confers. It is simultaneously seductive and destructive. It is seductive because of the promise of calm and control it holds; it is destructive because it has the power to kill.
from "Negative Energy Balance: A Biological Trap for People Prone to Anorexia Nervosa," by Dr. Cynthia Bulik

We need to start seeing energy imbalance itself as a risky state for certain people, whatever the "reason" it starts.

December 6, 2014

Throwing Starfish interview at Gurze catalog

I was delighted to do an interview about Throwing Starfish in the Gurze Catalog. I love talking about Charlotte Bevan, parenting through an eating disorder diagnosis, and the guilt and fear of caregiving.
Can you offer some wisdom for parents on guilt and fear? 
Guilt is a very self-centered state of mind. It is about us, and when a loved one is ill we need to focus on their needs. Fear, too, is very narrowing. It makes every moment difficult and gives too much influence to the present when we need to be thinking about the bigger picture. Guilt is inevitable, of course, as is fear, but they are indulgences that we cannot afford to spend much energy on if we expect to have the stamina it takes to face this kind of challenge. Guilt and fear undermine the parental stance our kids need us to have, and our partners need us to have. 

It may seem harsh to a parent to be guilted about feeling guilty, I know. It is the most natural emotion in the the world when your beloved child is in harm's way. Parents are MEANT to feel responsible and indeed we can't be good parents unless we stand ready to do that and do it at a moment's notice.

Fear, too, isn't something that is avoidable nor is it dysfunctional. Who isn't FRIGHTENED OUT OF THEIR MIND by having a child develop a life-threatening and mind-altering brain disorder?
All this is why it is so very heroic and PARENTAL when we quell the fear and stuff the guilt and stand in the storm. While fear and guilt are natural, knowing that they are probably your greatest foes is an even higher level of Super Parenting. It's really hard. It's the hardest thing most people will ever do. There's moments when it just isn't possible. But it still has to be done and the harder it is the more critical it is. I am filled with admiration and humbled by parents standing in the storm.