Diary of A Skinny Girl

| from Instagram #transformationtuesday share on 10/22/19 |

On the left is a photo I took about 8 months ago. I weighed 105lbs. I’m 5’5″. On the right is me now at 114lbs (and pretty sure I’m still the same height). I never intended to be anorexic, I only intended to die. . .

It was September of 2015. I was a healthy 134 lbs. Like many people, arguably especially women due to the disproportionate amount of worth placed on their physical exterior, I had the horrible habit of hating on my body. I hated my “love-handles”, hated my “big bubble” butt, hated the fat on my inner thighs that made them rub together and chafe on a hot summer day in a skirt. I wouldn’t wear tube-top shirts because I hated the fat that would get squeezed out between my breasts and armpits. And I hated that I didn’t have enough fat in my breasts! Hate, hate, hate!

This isn’t a story about starving for weight loss, persé…

Despite all of that hate, September does not mark the month in which I decided to start starving myself to drop weight (disclaimer: not recommended). But September is the month in which I dropped from 134 lovely pounds to 103 pounds soaking wet (and belieeeeve me, my dreadlocks can hold some weight in water). It was a 5am-ish phone call that triggered my weight loss.

It was trauma.

Even now, as I write those words, my heart is pounding in my chest. My throat is tight. I can feel my eyes starting to burn. I want to cry. But I’m here now and as long as you’re here we can get through this painful story together. I promise not to dive too deep–I can’t breathe down there, either.


So: September 2015, 5am-ish, phone call. It’s my older brother on the phone. As history has shown, my family members only call me before dawn when someone in our family has just died. Why would this time be any different? Well, it wasn’t any different, and. . .

It was mom.

I can’t even begin to go into how complicated her loss was, that is truly worthy of an entire novel. Needless to say, it was untimely (she was only 55 and it was sudden), it was un-fucking-fortunate, and it was devastating to myself and my entire family. We were, for the most part, still raw from losing my big sister suddenly in 2008–the catalyst that set my mom on her downward spiral that eventually destroyed her. For some of us, moving forward from that was intensely interrupted by our mother’s inability to move forward that was peppered by unhealthy fixations and other destructive behaviors that eventually drove most of us into self-protective distances. Losing a loved one is a horror like no other. I’ve lost enough to know that one of the first things you wonder is, “When was the last time I told them I loved them? Did they know how much I loved them?” These questions hit especially hard when there was virtually no contact for a couple of years leading up to the loss. Basically I went from hating my body to focusing all of that hate on myself for “having let my mother die without knowing how much I loved her”.

I didn’t believe that I deserved to live.

Food is sustenance. Food is life. After 21 days without food you die. Instead of eating enough food I basically just drank coffee and alcohol. It’s not that I wanted to die, it’s just that I didn’t want to keep living. I didn’t care to. I cared about my husband, my family, my friends, but I didn’t care about me and I was so deep in my pain that I couldn’t grasp that hurting myself was hurting those I loved, too. Somehow I couldn’t hold the two realities in mind at the same time–that dying meant hurting those I loved. I just wanted the pain to end. Deep depression and anger had destroyed my appetite, anyway, so it was no challenge to just stop eating. Plus I didn’t have the motivation to feed myself–I wasn’t worth the effort I had decided. Well then, not feeding myself meant less chores to do and I didn’t have the energy or care to do chores, anyway, so that was a win in my book. It was the perfect storm for stress-induced anorexia.

I remember having this terrible idea that if I was going to survive it was only going to be because my husband kept insisting on feeding me, which meant essentially I was going to keep living only because he wanted me to. The onus was on him. Incredibly unfair, I know, but grief is not always logical and it is rarely merciful. So even though I starved myself in a quasi-passive effort to disappear from my painful reality I did have a hearty meal each day because my husband would lovingly cook me a dinner nearly every night when he’d get home from work. These meals kept me alive but the drastic weight loss meant consequences for my body, to include the loss of heart muscle. It required time and therapy for me to start feeding myself again and to have enough self-love to grab a glass of water instead of a glass of wine or another cup of coffee. Breakfast has always been my favorite meal so the self-feeding began with that. Eventually I began to bother with lunch, too, and got myself up to 108-lbs for a time. The journey to gain weight became an epic yo-yo affair.


Self-Exploration Through Art

foreword

Words can be elusive. Thoughts and feelings are hard to understand and even harder to communicate. Sometimes I find it easier to explore and understand what I’m feeling through art. I’ve struggled my whole life to ever consider myself artistic. Art, I always thought, was something people did to create things for the sake of creating and they did it because they were artistic in nature. It never occured to me that perhaps people were creating things as a form of expressing inner conflicts, feelings, and thoughts they couldn’t otherwise adequately express in words. It only occured to me that I did that. “I’m not making art, I’m letting my mind sort itself out.” Aren’t we all? For a rigid thinker like me, something abstract like art can be difficult to fully comprehend.

To me the creation of art is how I speak to the world and how I process my experiences, gaining a better understanding of myself–I don’t think of it as being art but alternative words or snapshots for me to ponder of what lies beneath the maelstrom of my conscious brain.

Painting has become a primary source for processing my internal landscape. Others look at my paintings and see art, I just see feelings and thoughts and a heavy amount of information. Importantly it has become one of my favorite methods for exploring some of the harder, more difficult-to-understand aspects of my autism, such as meltdowns.


Snapshot: Sensory Meltdowns


| part I |

Sensory overload is a massive topic and I’m certain I’ll be writing several posts about it because it does tend to largely inspire the style of my art. This post in particular focuses on the confusing nature of sensory-induced meltdowns as expressed through a painting that was done as I was recovering from sensory overload from processing several data-heavy conversations, confusing information, and getting additionally overwhelmed by loud auditory stimuli. This painting is meant to convey one particular, overarching aspect of overload for me: chaos.

every line a sensation / every dot a sound / every swirl a sight / total meltdown

When you look at this, what do you see? There are layers upon layers; dozens of colors, dots, and dabs; swipes and scrapes; spatter and glitter and gobs of paint all to create texture (the metaphoric layers of processing). The lines seem like they’re trying to form shapes but they get lost in confused swirls, interrupted by swipes of color (information) going in varying directions with different destinations that all seem lost in a web of larger information. Thoughts try to form but get nowhere (dots, dabs) and focus is fractured by walls that spring up and block the ability to grasp concepts long enough to fully understand them. Every attempt to organize the chaos into something sensible is met by yet more chaos–the closer one looks the more lost in detail they become. The overload is all of the paint on a single canvas giving you too much to look at, too much to sort through, too much to comprehend.

What does this feel like? It’s entirely over-whelming, sometimes frightening. My mind is out-of-control and I feel slightly disconnected from my body, like the sensations are incongruent with my experience, and that lends its own anxiety. The emotions are too many, too fast, too confusing and I’m not good at identifying them in real-time. The frontal lobe of my brain feels like someone put a spike through it. The harder I try to focus the more everything scatters, the more my head pounds, and if I try too hard for too long to process I get disabling migraines that can wipe me out for an entire day or two.

Sometimes it’s like too much pressure in my head and body. Sometimes it’s like a hundred voices (but not actual voices, just hundreds of lines of information feeding into my psyche at once and I can’t focus on one). I become intensely emotional but I don’t know what emotions I’m experiencing or why. I become exhausted, irritable–angry, even–and lash out at whatever is nearby, be it a person or an inanimate object: “Stupid fucking chair!!” *kicks chair over* And to think…all it did was catch my sweater as I walked by it…hardly worthy of the violent outburst it received.

But my mind is in so much chaos, so much pain; my body is confused and feels like lightning is zapping me–not like a tingling sensation but like a jumpy, fiery, dangerously-energized charge that is unstable and makes everything seem more aware…like every skin cell is more alive than it’s ever been. It makes sitting still and staying focused almost impossible. It makes the soft, concerned touches from my husband feel like hot fire pokers, cold ice picks, needle-encrusted gloves, sandpaper fingers. It makes me jump, recoil, tense up.

If I’m lucky enough to not be shutting down at the same time I can actually say, “Please don’t touch me,” but far too often I’ve already succumbed to selective mutism and just ended up pulling coldly away from his touch, curling into a fetal position, communicating with my body messages I never intended to send because they weren’t congruent with reality: “Don’t touch me, I don’t like you right now. I’m mad.” Or in somewhat better cases I just go rigid and hug myself while he hugs the brick wall that I’ve become, trying my best to allow contact that he needs but I can barely stand.

Side note: Since my diagnosis I no longer force myself to allow contact when I’m over-stimulated and my husband now understands my need for physical and emotional space while I recover from sensory overload and/or meltdowns. I think it’s important to work with one’s neurodivergence rather than against it.

Exhaustion invariably follows these sensations. My brain is keyed up, my body is keyed up, and more often than not I’ve been stimming incessantly to maintain a sensation of connectedness to my body, to help me focus and calm, and that takes a toll as well. When you rock, sway, count (use your brain resources), bounce, and pace like a caged tiger you tend to amplify your physical and mental exhaustion, but the trade-off is maintaining enough of a connection to your physical being that your mental being doesn’t descend into full panic.

Take another look at the painting; thousands of strokes and dabs. If each stroke and each dab represents a sensation, thought, stimulus…could you hold your own and not explode? Like a balloon being over-filled, a person can only take so much before they burst into little pieces. Being on the autism spectrum just means that my balloon (stimulation tolerance) fills up rapidly–sometimes too fast to catch before it pops (and when it pops confetti just gets everywhere). And thanks to how hard it can be to find all of the little balloon pieces amongst the confetti mess, it takes me a much longer time to put the balloon back together again. And as you might have guessed, a repaired balloon can be more susceptible to future pops if not properly repaired.

If you’re neurotypical you have the benefit of your brain sorting through all/most of that information in real time and mostly on a subconscious level. For example, if your body says, “My bladder is full,” the NT brain can translate and communicate that clearly and effectively. For me the message “your bladder is full” is not translated in real-time and not as a clear message. I will, instead, receive mixed information or information that feels “anonymous”, i.e. I know my body needs something but I don’t know what is needed and I don’t know what part of my body is sending the signal. I instead start to feel anxious, jittery, scattered, agitated, and begin stimming to re-establish a connection with my body that feels as if it’s drifting. It can take me anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours to realize I need to pee. As a result of a lifetime of this delayed comprehension of my senses (topped-off by intense focus on special interests that made it excruciating for me at times to break away from my interest to satisfy the droll needs of my physical body) my bladder is…needless to say…not as strong as it used to be.

Exploring my autism through art has been tremendously helpful because it takes longer to formulate a clear understanding of my experience and feelings than it does to let my hands express it for me on canvas. I need a lot of time and space (both physical and mental) to figure out what’s going on inside and the process of painting is a gift to myself of deliberate dedication to sorting, acknowledging, and releasing all of the information swirling and crashing through my being so that I can make room for yet more (because the world, and life, is relentless). It is my hope that through continued painting I will learn more about the patterns of how I process so that I can be more wise in the ways of navigating my internal landscape in real-time. At least, for now, it provides me the opportunity to process more efficiently after-the-fact.

As I continue to explore my experiences through art I hope they lend–if nothing else–a more colored-in picture of a female autistic life.


Disclaimer: My experience does not reflect the experience of all people on the autism spectrum. While some of the symptoms that I discuss can be common for those with ASD that does not mean that my experience of my symptoms is the same as how others experience the same symptoms. No two people are alike and, indeed, no two autists are alike, either. Furthermore, how females experience autism spectrum disorders is often quite different from how males experience them.

Home of the Weird

Ah, Portland; a place full of devilish details:

Beards. Man-buns. Lumber-sexuals. IPA beer, craft beer, sour beer, gluten-free beer. Voodoo Doughnuts. Swinger clubs. Food cart villages.

There’s the Scottish Darth Vader guy who rides the uni-cycle in a kilt whilst playing flaming bagpipes. There’s an all-vegan strip club (“Eat pussy, it’s vegan!”) and another that serves grass-fed beef raised and slaughtered by the owner himself (RIP, owner of The Acropolis).

Clothing-optional wellness spas. Nude beaches. Topless rights in the city. Naked bike rides. Sex dungeons. Vintage, vintage, vintage!

It’s a city in the woods. Beautiful and peppered with parks, one could almost forget they’re in a large city until they encounter the usual metropolitan issues: trash, homeless camps, rats, the horrid smell of piss and vomit, strung-out ramblers ready to fight their hallucinations and probably you, too, and a recent uptick of protests and anti-fascists looking remarkably fascist..

Air shows. Comic Cons. Festivals. Pirate Invasions. Carnivals. Floating discos. Silent discos. Art walks. Farmer’s Markets. Cannabis stores.

It’s a place where you have to buy your liquor at a liquor store (forget getting that big ol’ bottle of JD at the supermarket for only $10 bucks!), you aren’t allowed to pump your own gas, and you can open-carry a loaded gun if it makes you feel safer (but Heaven forbid you touch your cellphone while driving).

Dog-friendly restaurants. Dog parks. Dog-friendly apartments. Doggie Hotels. Dog boutiques. Dog meet-ups. Dog fanatics. “You have a dog? Me, too! Let’s be best friends!” Dogs, dogs, dogs!

It’s a land of a thousand cuisines. A land of a thousand cocktails. A land of a thousand whiskeys. A land of a billion coffee shops.

And in those coffee shops are your bloggers (not it, I’m at home!), your artists, your screen-writers, your researchers, your work-a-holics, your studious students, and that dude in the back trying not to be obvious that he’s watching porn on a public network. In public.

By the way, they’re all dressed like it’s fall even though it’s summer and sporting aviators like they’re vintage or something.

Skinny jeans. Yoga pants. Sweater dresses. Flannel. Suspenders. Beanies. Long socks. Loafers. Converse.

I love this city. It’s quirky. It’s predictable when it wants to be but still catches you by surprise. It’s like Denver, CO, and Austin, TX, yet not like either at the same time. It’s like San Francisco yuppies and Humboldt County hippies got together and had a “hipster” baby and you can’t help but marvel at how it seems to succeed despite itself at times. You just have to remember that it marches to the beat of its own drum.

It’s all in all a fun place to be with endless options for entertainment and adventure. I moved here in 2013 and, although I find it tough to deal with our almost constant cloudy and/or rainy weather, I really can’t imagine living anywhere else (except, say, Hawaii or elsewhere tropical). It’s a place where you get to be yourself–truly, authentically you, and you kind of just blend in with the local ambience. You may not go unnoticed, but most likely you’ll go unbothered, and that’s a haven for “weird” people like me.

I believe that’s what is meant by the bumper sticker “Keep Portland Weird”. What big city isn’t weird? What’s truly, uniquely weird about Portland is that by and large it accepts you for who you are.

Unless you’re a person of color.

#truth

‘Cado Toast for Dayzzz

Spotlight: Comfort/Insistence on Sameness –Breakfast style

In my mind there are two types of people in this world: those who love breakfast and those who don’t. I’m not so sure about those who don’t. . .

Personally, I love breakfast and could eat it for every meal of the day, every day. Not only do I need to eat breakfast in order to calm the ravenous beast that is my belly upon waking, but I just really struggle to function if I don’t have it first-off. And forget about just grabbing some left-overs from the night before, I have to have breakfast food or nothing is right–especially not my stomach.

Of course it can’t stop there, oh no–we must take it a step further because it can’t be just any breakfast food, really.. It must be avocado toast.

Side-bar: I’ve always been very particular. Very. When I was a kid I would have meltdowns at the dinner table if my “special spoon” was not available for me to use. I insisted upon it day after day, meal after meal; breakfast, lunch, dinner–if it required a utensil it had to be my special spoon. (I can still remember the beautiful curve of the cursive ‘W’, the elegant twist of the floral etching along the gently crenulated sides. I miss that spoon…) Not much has changed since then except that spoon is long gone (taken and discarded in my parents’ effort to rid me of my “bratiness”, aka insistence on sameness).

Instead these days I just insist on eating the same meal(s) again and again, like ‘cado toast. I am capable of eating other meals for breakfast but nothing feels right in my world if I start my day with anything other than that satisfying and delicious avocado crunch. If I can’t eat the toast until 1pm and had to eat something else to ease the morning hunger, it isn’t until 1pm that I feel like I’m not either ill (scattered, agitated, drained) or frantic if my stress levels are already high. Because of this it’s important to start my day the same–it sets me up for success, it makes me dance-level happy, it lets my body know it’s taken care of and lets my mind know its needs will be met.

Day 1 to Day 1 million: Two pieces of gluten free toast topped with two slices of tomato each, lightly salt & peppered, with 1/4 of a large avocado spread over the toast and also peppered, topped with a handful of basil leaves. And if I’ll be doing some muscle training that day I’ll add an egg or two on the side–sunnyside-up. Hey, don’t knock predictability, it’s the best comfort food.

Avocado toast? But isn’t that basic AF?

Look, I’m a lot of things but basic ain’t one. However this blog post isn’t about defending my choice in breakfast foods or railing against the idea of “basic-ness”, it’s about me taking a moment to honestly address a trait that can sometimes be disabling but is, truthfully, a trait I like to laugh at myself for and take lightly when I can: insistence on sameness. So in the spirit of humor–yes, my brain just insists that I be a “basic bitch” every day and eat my avocado toast. If it means I get to start my day with the confidence that success is in the cards for me, so be it.

So about that insistence…

What happens when I don’t get to have my avocado toast? Probably not the same thing that happens to your average neurotypical adult and it varies based on how well I’m functioning that day:

Higher-functioning days = I can cope, with mindfulness practice, and I can find a suitable alternative and lean on a different sameness for comfort (such as morning coffee). Heaven forbid I’m out of coffee, too, or so much for “higher functioning” in that case. 😖

Lower-functioning days = Cope? BAHAHA! 😭 Melt. Down. You’d think the world was ending or something; sobbing, shouting, throwing stuff, slamming doors, frantic stimming/pacing, hyperventilating, often followed by a period of dissociation (shut down). In other words, explosion followed by implosion and unintended nutrient depletion because it’s harder to force myself to eat something different than it is to just not eat anything at all.

Clearly it isn’t just avocado toast. It must be magical. Or drugged. Or this girl has crazy OCD.

Or…perhaps this is just what it can look like to be neurodivergent; specifically, to be on the autism spectrum. It doesn’t look like this for everyone on the spectrum, but this is a facet of how it is expressed in me. I’m not going to get philosophical, psychological, or too terribly thoughtful at all here because this post isn’t about diving deep, but rather dusting off the surface so that the picture is a little clearer. For example, in this picture one might see how females on the spectrum can sometimes be misdiagnosed with anorexia and struggle with proper nutrition for years because their doctors don’t understand it’s autism and not self image issues or anxiety. 🤔 (Being particular, having sensory sensitivities triggered by textures and smells, and insisting upon sameness can be a daily challenge when it comes to getting proper nutrition (not to mention the whole gamut of digestion issues that come with ASD) but all that’s for another blog entry!)

If my executive functioning was consistently at its lowest I would starve. The more stress I am under, the lower my executive functioning; the more I insist upon sameness, the more susceptible I am to meltdowns and shutdowns from changes in routine, the harder it is for me to make decisions and take action, and the longer my periods of dissociation can last (this is where I really struggle to get my needs met because I struggle to communicate them when/if I can even recognize what they are). Eating becomes stressful, almost burdensome and anxiety-inducing, and the double-edged sword that is predictability is either my savior or destroyer because I can either find comfort in the reliability of that same breakfast every day, or I can find turmoil in its absence.

It’s a little thing, this desire for avocado toast for breakfast. In an autistic world, however, it is literally everything: a detail that, if bypassed, can collapse the entire structure of a day, week, or longer depending on my overall stress load and level of functioning at the time. Today I might get excited at the idea of my partner making me gluten-free blueberry waffles and eggs just how I like them, and I can negotiate the acceptance of this different breakfast with myself, but tomorrow even the suggestion of a different breakfast might spin me out.

Solutions make challenges fun.

Needless to say, when I travel out of town I take my own panini press (the whole gluten thing, yo) and fixings for ‘cado toast so that I can set myself up for success every day (some genius I owe to my husband). In this way I feel kind of spoiled when I travel because I know my breakfast will be my (current) idea of the best ever. This is how I adapt when adapting itself is a challenge–by setting myself up for success in being who I am, because trying to force myself to be neurotypical–as I have done for 34 years–has done nothing but destroy my psyche, self-esteem, and hold me back from being the best version of myself. And yep, the best version is my authentic autistic version despite how “dysfunctional” that might sometimes look. By spending the time to work with my challenges rather than constantly battling them and demanding that I be “more normal”, I have come to finally love something more than I love avocado toast (that isn’t also my husband):

Me.