EMERGENCY

Okay, well, don’t get too excited.

I actually had a few topics I wanted to write about, but then something happened and it was just begging to be documented and who am I to turn down inspiration? (Even if I am hunkered down on the side of a precarious dirt road furiously typing on my phone and greatly increasing the risk of giving myself carpal tunnel syndrome).

Let me paint a picture for you: I just had a reasonably disastrous night in some ways. It’s 70° F in Homer, Alaska and I’m biking out to a Russian village that starts where the road ends, or at least in that general direction. I biked back and forth between my house and a friend’s a couple times in my sweatpants and essentially a bathrobe because I couldn’t quite figure out how to make the bike work, and I’m not too skilled a biker, mind you. I’m wearing a funky, too-big, bright orange/red helmet and a large and bouncing fanny pack. I saw a mama moose munching that didn’t see me, which is the very best kind of human-moose interaction. I’m not going to describe the view, because my clumsy semantic attempts at imagery can’t begin to do justice to the never-ending range of blue peaks varying height and shape with effortless perfection and cradling pristine expanses of glacial fairy dust. Oops. I just did.

Well, actually, I could just give you a real picture.

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Kisses all around

I’ve been taking something of a break from exercise and any type of dietary consciousness for a while: “letting myself go” if you will, though I’ve been trying to see it as just another stage in the mysterious process.

So, in something of a revolutionary twist, I biked along the path of moseying. I stopped for water and snacks and texts and selfies and views, I downshifted frequently (meaning I made it easier for myself), I stopped to write this in my phone’s notes; in short, I wasn’t really doing it for ‘exercise,’ per say.

An absolutely amazing thing happened. I’m not sure exactly where; perhaps after the multiple confused trips to actually get the bike or after I realized hills don’t have to be so hard if you don’t stay in the highest gear or when I thought about my friends on a cross country bike trip or when I found out I actually kind of enjoy biking despite what I’ve been telling myself…

Regardless, somewhere amidst the ridiculous amount of enormous trucks which seem to be almost exclusively populating the road,

Exhibit A, although this one isn't that big, I know, but I was stopped already, okay?

Exhibit A, although this one isn’t that big, I know, but I was stopped already, okay?

my unbridled (okay, maybe a little bridled) joy burst out of me like a hyped-up-yet-still-kinda-slow sprinkler. Bridled because I know I’m still injured; I know this feeling is temporary; my tummy still talks to me when I put food in it ’cause it’s not so good at digestion, especially when I feed it much, much, much more than it was asking for; I’m aware part of me is still doing it for the calories; and I’m not foolish enough to think any one thing will change my world forever.

BUT. I FELT it. It’s real and that oppressing cloud of depression and self-hatred and doubt and bleak resignation and unjustified resentment and hopeless abandon was tangibly released from duty for a little while.

I have not a single delusion that soon I won’t find that annoyingly relentless companion by my side again. But a stupid chocolate granola bar never tasted so good and I never felt the soft parts of my belly with such acceptance and the mosquitoes and bees never bothered me so little and I worked so fucking hard to get here. Oftentimes against myself, but nevertheless no one can deny I was working my ass off to the point of exhaustion without respite.

I’m not “there,” but this is certainly, without a doubt, a far different universe than the one I’ve been loitering in — hell, than the one I was descending into last night. I can still touch that other universe and access it at a moment’s notice, and I know I’ll be there again soon.

I didn’t want to believe it. For some ludicrous and asinine reason I didn’t want to believe that satisfaction and genuine smiles were waiting for me, that every opportunity is a chance for escape and that I too have the ability to open the door.

Caveat: don’t just think I’m all better (whatever that means) and abandon me and that the rest of my posts will be love letters and celebrations to life. This is NOT the endpoint, in case you haven’t gotten the gist of my precautions yet.

‘Cause the mosquitoes and flies are starting to bug me a bit (sorry, couldn’t help it) and I have to bike back up this bouncing, headache-inducing dirt road.

I’m kidding, I’m not back to that universe yet.

I’ll be sixteen tomorrow, and to jump straight into cliché city, it can only go up from here, right?

(I mean, there’s a fairly nasty uphill and then the rest is pretty much all downhill back to my house, but let’s not get too caught up in the details.)

A Body Manifesto

I love stories. I love novels and short stories and poems and movies and biographies and stories about the hilarious look the teacher made when he heard that one kid fart and then blush until his lips started trembling from the effort of trying not to let on that he was the culprit of that god-awful stench. But my favorite kind of stories are the ones behind the expressions I see every day and actions I scoff at or that shoot right over my head. Consciously or not, I anticipate the revelation that comes from hearing the stories of people I judge or misunderstand. (Judging is a whole ‘nother issue that we can discuss later. Don’t worry, I have lots of issues.) Despite the countless reminders I send myself about respecting each person’s own experiences and needs, I still catch myself determining the validity of others’ opinions or decisions for them. Because I am the ultimate authority on everything, obviously.

Any time I am lucky enough to hear someone else’s story, I am once again reminded of the seemingly insurmountable demons and obsessions that whirl around and stir up tornados — to varying degrees — in everyone’s personal realms, and the different lessons we’re all taught by them, however painfully.

As I mentioned before, my demons have grown pretty evil and gigantic lately. In fact, sometimes they look exactly like an extremely short, talkative girl with a big nose, brown hair, and thoughts bursting out of her brain (see picture in footer, or any picture of me ever, or just me). Whaddya know. Unfortunately, a lot of my struggles have taken the form of an epidemic that plagues most women in the country and nearly every teenage girl: body insecurity.

Yayyyy, a huge part of my problems are excessively characteristic of being a white, upper middle class teenage girl and center around superficial societal expectations. Could I be a little more dull and self-absorbed, please?

But body image/food issues have ballooned into a ginormous, uberly oppressive force that is ruthlessly conquering the brain of every woman (and men, but overwhelmingly women), extracting her sanity, and doubting her self-worth.

As something of a disclaimer, I’ve spent the last year and half almostly constantly immersed in this topic, or with at least half my being trained primarily on the issue, so I have a lot of ideas about it. My thinking swims and jumps around in shapes I can’t even begin to describe. I’ll have the unquestionable, fool-proof theory or solution in one instant and be utterly crushed and contradicted the next. In short, I still have no clue what I think or what the answer is.

That being said, I do have quite a bit to say on the topic, and if I can induce any kind of discussion, relation, release, inspiration, or really any authentic reaction, this mission is worth undertaking. As I travel on this healing journey of falling in love with myself and consequently this spectacular world I’m surrounded by, I hope that the bulk of my actions can benefit both my inner and outer environments. In other words, this exploration and liberation is undeniably for my own welfare and support, but my aim is to widen the scope and include other wise and delicious souls in the entire process and discussion.

My history with this beast includes a host of “disorders” and destructive habits, actions, and thought processes. I’m the Queen — and King, for that matter; hell, I rule the whole damn empire — of digging my own holes, dredging them into ruts so deep Everest-grade climbing ropes can’t pull me out, covering the surface so I can hardly breathe, and doing my best to drag everyone else down with me. One of my biggest struggles has been the fact that I really don’t fit into any of the “food issues” categories (mine ranges from binging to over-exercising and always accompanied by utterly crippling obsession).

For all of our sake, I won’t get too in depth into the endless list of dirty details that have festered in the midnight rut for far, far too long.

What I will say is that being at constant war with myself and being so focused on my own maintenance and image that there is truly no room for any other meaningful consideration SUCKS. Not letting myself eat sucks, eating so much I can’t move without pain sucks, feeling paralyzing shame and disgust at my own body sucks, letting my emotions and validity be inversely proportional to a number on a scale sucks, it’s all just sucky yucky muck.

While I am fully aware that my own food/body image obsession is wholly irrational and absolutely by no means universal, there is something wayyyy too common about this whole situation.

WHY DOES THE SIZE OR COMPOSITION OF OUR BODIES HAVE ANY BEARING WHATSOEVER ON OUR CHARACTER OR WORTH OR STATUS OR LITERALLY ANYTHING EVER??!?!?!?!

I get that some people feel a toned/muscular/skinny/fit body is a sign of discipline and self-care, but you know what’s not? Obsession and misery!

A lot of us who struggle with this monster are severely ashamed of its shallowness and vanity. At the risk of repeating what has become one of the most talked-about yet stagnant issues, I would, again, like to point out that it’s really REALLY HARD to feel worthy, capable, attractive, powerful, and lovable when every social construct designates “fat” as an insult. We’re at “WAR with obesity,” for God’s sake!

This preoccupation with food, body image, and appearance has become so entrenched in mental health and personal accomplishment that it’s become hard to isolate. How could this perpetual evaluating and comparing and squeezing of our flesh result in anything other than a deep, shameful yearning for approval and a hidden (or not so hidden) pocket of penetrating guilt?

Health is important. I’m just not convinced healthy means cutting out chocolate if that’s all you can think about or going to a spin class that you really really hate. A lot of my own behaviors are unhealthy and very difficult to change, but I think health has a whole lot to do with not squashing your own worth into a bullet that can’t fill a cartridge but is fully capable of being shot.

I’m not sure what healthy means for me, and I’m just as confused now as I ever was. Maybe there’ll be a time in my life when a six-pack and sanity are coexistent, but that’s not right now. Maybe I’ll gain 30 pounds or maybe I’ll suddenly discover I can eat a meal without stuffing myself to the point of popping. I really just have no idea, and I’m learning (trying) to be okay with this state of not knowing, perched on the edge of catastrophe and bliss.

I feel a little unjustified making these statements because no matter how deeply in my soul I know these words to be true, I still (very) often fall prey to that inexplicably cruel wave of guilt and self-doubt. But I’m ready to surrender and break open the floodgates of hot, sticky, magnificent, boundless love that I know is stirring around somewhere. I can feel it boiling and spreading and aching to join with all of yours.

This will most likely be a resurfacing theme, and I’ll try not to linger too long but some things just need to be let out.

This is my story. My heart has an opening for yours.

If anyone has any experiences/thoughts/questions/insights/anything at all that surfaces for you I would be SO honored and thrilled to hear them. Please feel free to share in the comments below or email me at hirschbarae@gmail.com

Art by Gail Baker

Art by Gail Baker