The Undeniable Ruth Rotating Header Image

Ruth’s Soapbox

Save Aimee’s Farm Animal Sanctuary

Aimee’s Farm Animal Sanctuary in Gilbert, Arizona is home to 100+ animals (horses, donkeys, cows, alpaca, goats, pigs, sheep, rabbits, ducks, chickens, turkeys, dogs, and cats), many of which have or have had special needs.

There’s Adorabull, the calf who, last summer, was found abandoned in a ditch, umbilical cord still attached. When he came to the farm, he was so weak and sick he couldn’t even be bottle fed. He had to be tube fed. I laid with him for hours one Saturday morning, dotting on him like his mother would.

Now, he’s a strong happy cow, who’s able to frolic with the other cows in the pasture. I call him “Addy.”

Sweet Baby Adorabull

One of the more recent additions to the farm is a lamb named Grace. Born with a crooked neck, she came to the farm sanctuary all the way from Texas. With cold laser therapy and massage, her head becoming more in alignment with her body. She doesn’t let her disability prevent her from running zoomies around the farm. She’s so cute!

Grace always looks like she’s smiling!

This farm is also a healing place for the community – people with various physical and emotional disabilities. Aimee regularly posts on the farm’s Facebook page about the how the farm helps its various visitors. She also offers tours and cow hugging sessions.

Aimee’s Farm Animal Sanctuary is a healing place for me. My depression and anxiety are always better after spending a few hours at the farm. It’s always calming to visit the farm – whether I’m shoveling manure or singing to animal cuddled in my arms. I happily show up with my boots and gloves asking, “What do you need me to do?”

I love this place. I love it so much that one of my requirements for my future dream house is that the property has to be closer to the farm than where I live now so I can visit more often.

I want to help save this farm. Aimee’s landlord recently informed her that he sold the land to a developer. Aimee and the 100+ animals need a new home.

Thanks to generous contributions and fundraising efforts, Aimee has raised close to $100,000. She’s researching possible properties every day. The more money she can put down for a down payment, the more options available for the farm’s new home.

Photo courtesy of Aimee’s Farm Animal Sanctuary

Here’s how you can help Aimee’s Farm Animal Sanctuary:

Direct Donation

You can make a donation directly to the farm through their website or PayPal. You can also send money using Venmo (@Aimeesfarm).

The farm sanctuary is 501(c)(3) charity so all donations are tax-deductible.  

Smile.Amazon.com

You’re already shopping on Amazon. When you shop through Smile, you can designate a charity to benefit from purchases that are Smile eligible. You can designate Aimee’s Farm Animal Sanctuary as your charity here.

If your workplace purchase supplies on Amazon, please ask them to use Smile and support Aimee’s Farm as well.

The Farm’s Amazon Wishlist

The farm always needs supplies. Please check out their Amazon Wish List if you want to purchase one of the many things the animals need.

The farm regular puts out requests for towels and blankets. If you’re cleaning out your linen closet, please see if the farm sanctuary could use them.

Special for Law Firms: CLEs for Charity

I want to do whatever I can to help save the farm. I’m offering an hour of continuing legal education  in exchange for any law firm donating $500 to the farm. Yes, some of the CLEs I’m prepared to do fulfill our ethics requirement. If I’m in your city, I can do a CLE in person; otherwise, I’ll present it over Skype or Zoom.  

Please follow Aimee’s Farm Animal Sanctuary on Facebook for more opportunities to help and updates about what’s happening at the farm.

How I Manage Stress

Yesterday, my coach asked me how I manage my stress. I instantly responded:

Poorly.

That’s actually not true all the time. When I feel solid and secure, I can be so confident it’s uncanny.

I know that feeling.

I’ve felt that feeling.

Just not lately.

Always Been High Strung

My standard response when someone asks me how I handle stress is, “Not gracefully.” Usually, I find a way to muddle through, but it’s not pretty. I’ve been living with anxiety since I was a wee one – like before age 10.

For as long as I can remember, my modus operandi has been to have a plan for escape – physically, emotionally, and/or chemically.  A lot of my -isms (alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, and self-injury) were ways to self-medicate. When I got into recovery and took away those vices, I still had to deal with my emotions and life’s challenges.

Here are some of the things I do lately to manage my stress.

Sweat

Starting in gymnastics and now as a triathlete, I workout 5-6 days per week. Working out gives my brain an endorphin boost it needs, and it gives me a break from the rest of my life. There’s not much I can do while I’m in the pool except swim.

It also gives me a safe way to vent emotions. The day after I got my California Bar Exam results (I failed), my coach had assigned a 17-mile run. I ran one of my fastest paces to date and I got flash of inspiration about how I was going to tell my friends. Pounding pavement for those hours gave me the much-needed break I needed.

Sweat keeps me sane.

Lists

My life is managed with lists:

  • Weekly to-do lists – x2
  • Daily to-do list – on my whiteboard
  • Medication checklists – one for the hooman, one for the hound
  • Workout checklist
  • Program checklist

If I didn’t have my lists, I’d never keep track of who took which medication or whether I did everything I needed to do on any given day. My stress is related to anxiety and depression, both of which make me forgetful.

My lists also give me a semblance of control over what I’m doing, which is reassuring since lately I’ve been feeling out of control. There are days I wish I could emotionlessly work through my lists without dealing with my feelings. Thankfully, I have loving people around me who remind me that I’m not a robot.

I love this photo of Jeff and me from an Ignite Phoenix #17 Speaker Bootcamp. Photo by Brandon Larkin. (Creative Commons License)

Selective Peopling

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m an avoidant and an introvert. I’m not a fan of people in general, particularly in crowds or places with a lot of noise. However, I selectively like individuals. These are the people I want to spend time with, and from whom I’ll ask for help. It’s so reassuring to be around and/or text with people I love. They get me.

Every year, I have my jar on my nightstand and I add happy memories to it throughout the year, and then on New Year’s Eve, I read through them. One thing I noticed when I reviewed the memories from 2019, was that a lot of them had to do with hugging people.

Hugs keep me sane too.

Short-Circuit

On rare occasions, my stress gets so bad that I emotionally crash and burn. I panic to the point where I have trouble focusing and I can barely eat. (That’s how I managed to drop 10 pounds in law school.) When my appetite drops out, that’s my tell that I need to take swift deliberate steps to counteract my stress.

Sleep

Sometimes the best thing I can do when stress hits hard is sleep. When I’m asleep, it means my muscles are relaxing and I’m taking deep breathes – two things I need when I’m stressed. (A friend recently suggested I add massage to my self-care routine, probably for the same reason.)

Stress is exhausting.

An hour-long nap can make a world of difference.

All Genders Deserve Equal Access in Sports

Arizona has joined the number of states that has proposed legislation that would ban male-to-female transgender athletes from competing in female sports unless they have a doctor’s note that proves that they’re female. This law would impact athletes at every from level from K-12 schools to community colleges and state universities.

Photo by Ted Eytan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Why We’re Having This Debate

The surge of proposed laws followed news stories last year where a female track and field athlete claimed that male-to-female transgender athletes were unfairly allowed to compete in the girls’ division. The trans athletes finished a race higher than she did, which she claimed cost her the opportunity to compete at the regional race, which could impact her ability to get a college scholarship.

What I didn’t like about the reporting of this story is that most reports didn’t state whether the trans athletes were on hormone blockers and/or on hormone replacement therapy which would have made it a more level field than a cisgender male competing in a female sport. By the way, they’re both on hormones replacement therapy.

School Athletics May be the Only Option

My first thought when I heard about this proposed law in Arizona, was that trans athletes should bypass political issues in school and compete on club teams. A teacher friend pointed out that club teams are often very expensive, so the only option to participate in sports is to play on a school team.

Is It Talent or Testosterone?

Transgender girls are girls. They should be allowed to participate in girls’ activities, whether we are talking about Girl Scouts, entering a nunnery, or playing sports. Forcing a transgender girl to participate in boys’ activities or be left out is discriminatory and potentially devastating to her mental health.

In the situation of athletics, I wonder how much of is this outcry based on fairness and how much is based on transphobia. Are girls afraid of being beaten by someone they view as less than a girl?

It’s worth asking how much of these trans athletes’ success is based on talent or testosterone. History suggests that cisgender men have physical advantages over women in many sports. In looking at Olympic Records where men and women both compete in same types of events (e.g., track and field, weightlifting, etc.) the record held by the man is higher, faster, better than the women’s record. That’s why we created Title IX – to give women equal access to participate. But once a trans athlete has the same hormone level as their cisgender counterparts, I wonder if the cisgender athletes are claiming it’s unfair, but they’re using the competitions’ trans status to complain that they didn’t win.

It’s Time to Re-Examine Division in Sports

It’s time we re-examine how we divide participants in sports. With growing acceptance that there are more than two genders, which is backed by law in at least 17 states and Washington D.C., the traditional division of boys/men and girls/women is no longer sufficient. I’m a non-binary athlete (with a birth certificate to prove it), and when I sign up for a race, I rename the divisions “testosterone” and “estrogen” and select accordingly.  

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has guidelines regarding male-to-female athletes and the testosterone level they must have to compete in the women’s division. Lower level sports should adopt similar rules and require every athlete to have their testosterone level checked, and only those with a level above the threshold should be allowed to participate in the testosterone division.

(A friend suggested that the athlete’s sensitivity to testosterone should also be tested for it is possible for a cisgender woman to have a high testosterone level and body that is completely insensitive to it, so she won’t reap any athletic benefits from having this higher level.)

Photo by tableatny from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Where Change Should Start

In thinking about this issue, if we want schools to change how athletes are divided instead of using gender in the U.S., the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) should be the leader. If NCAA schools change from men’s and women’s sport to divisions based on hormones, public and private high schools will follow suit since many of the best high school athletes aspire to receive scholarships to compete in college.  

I sent an email to the Chair of the Board of Directors for NCAA Division I, encouraging them to modify the classification of athletes instead of using gender identity. I don’t expect a response beyond a cursory, “Thank you for your message,” but hopefully it will plant a seed that change is needed.

Sister Laws for Access to Trans Medical Care

If states are going to pass laws that will limit male-to-female trans athletes from participating in sports, they need to a pass sister laws that allow for adequate and affordable access to medical care for transgender people, including the ability to access care without parental consent, and laws that allow non-binary and transgender people to change their birth certificates and driver’s licenses to reflect their gender.  

Can’t Watch Football Players Kill Themselves for Sport

Ever since I learned about the concussion risk associated with American football, I can’t in good conscience support the sport. Not only do these athletes risk their lives during the game, they risk serious brain injury, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and the associated problems that can afflict them for the rest of their often too-short lives. It’s devastating to learn about the players to fall into drug addiction and/or attempt suicide.

Rams Football Field by Miss Wetzel’s Art Class from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The more I learn about the CTE and the widespread risk players seem to take, I feel like football is modern-day bullfighting. We watch players accept the substantial risk that participating in the sport will kill them, and this sport exists simply as entertainment. It’s a money-making scheme for the owners, the coaches, and hopefully the players. I suspect those in power have little regard for players once they are no longer contributing to the team’s winning record.

Although I have serious problems with this sport, it seems like a majority of fans are unfazed by disclosure of information about CTE. I kicked a simple anonymous survey to my football-loving friends to try to understand their perspective.

Out of the 30 people who responded to my questions, all of them knew that CTE is a problem facing NFL players. Eighty percent (24/30) knew about the research on the 111 NFL players brains that were tested for CTE – 110 of them were found to have it.

I asked my friends, “How do you feel about watching and loving a sport where it appears that every player except the kicker is likely getting brain damage while they’re playing the game and associated problems after they retire?” Many of them responded that professional players are adults who freely accept this risk (hopefully with full disclosure of the health consequences), just like people who choose to smoke, drive, or participate in other dangerous professions. Others said this situation bothers them and they will likely watch fewer games.

I also asked my friends, “What are your thoughts about players like John Urschel and A.J. Tarpley who retire early to preserve their health?” The overwhelming response was positive. They said these players were “smart” and that they “respect,” “applaud,” and “support” their decisions. One friend responded that these players, “made the best decision for themselves” because they suspected their “long-term financial success was going to be outside football.” Another friend said, “I think it is a great statement to others about the dangers of this sport.”

A friend pointed out a flaw in my questions. Since CTE currently can only be diagnosed post-mortem, we only know about the data in players who have had their brains examined. A lot more than 111 people have played professional football, so the information about how widespread this problem is among current players is speculative.

And I don’t disagree that football is fun – at least flag football – and many players professional and not, love this sport. I suspect most of them started as children, and participation gave them friends, heartwarming memories, and for some, academic and professional opportunities that they would not have had otherwise. With child athletes, it’s up to the parents to decide what activities their kids will do. Note: I’m not saying you’re a bad parent if you let your kid play football. I just hope you make educated decisions about what league they play in and what safety precautions are required. As a former gymnast, I can say when you fall in love with a sport so young, it’s hard to give it up, even when it’s in your best interest.

While others are getting excited for the upcoming Super Bowl, I cringe at the thought of players risking their lives for our entertainment. I don’t watch the game, and it makes me want to ask the sponsors and companies that run ads: “How can you feel good about making money off these players’ lives?”

Undeniable Recap of 2017

2016 was bad. I felt as if that year couldn’t end soon enough.  But it’s as if 2017 started the year saying, “Hold my beer” and it went downhill from there. I had a lot of challenges this year including reconstruction at Castle Carter after my condo flooded, death of my childhood coach, being in a car accident, studying for the California bar exam, and processing my gender identity.

My jar of happy memories

Thankfully, I started a new tradition of keeping a jar next to my bed where I wrote notes about things that happened in my life that made me happy or giggle. Even on bad days, I could look over at my jar that was filling with notes and be reminded that life doesn’t suck all the time. It was a joy to go through them while I wrote this post. Here are my top 5 events/activities from 2017:

Me and my skateboard

1. I got a Skateboard at CMWorld
Content Marketing World always does an excellent job taking care of its speakers. I look forward to this conference every year and I’m proud to be part of Team Orange. When they announced that Casey Neistat would be one of the keynote speakers, I started tweeting at them that I wanted an orange skateboard as my speaker gift. (They usually get us each a wireless mouse/laser pointer.) Shortly after I checked into my hotel room, the hotel dropped off a big box for me. It was a mini orange skateboard! I love this thing, not just because it’s awesome, but because it made me feel like part of the CMWorld family. Once I finish my marathon in 2018, I’m going to take a skateboarding lesson and learn how to ride it properly.

I love this tattoo

2. “Don’t Be What They Made You” Tattoo
I saw Logan in the theater. When I heard this line, I instantly knew I wanted it tattooed on my wrist. A few months later, Hollis at Iconic Tattoo made it a reality. This is a daily reminder and inspiration for me.

3. “But I’m still your Tranpa”
Accepting that I’m non-binary made me feel like I was a baby queer all over again. I felt especially vulnerable a few months ago and sent an email to trans entertainer and advocate Buck Angel, just an open invitation for lunch the next time he’s in Phoenix. He responded and signed it “Tranpa.” I wrote back and said, age-wise, we’re more like cousins. (We’re only about 7 years apart.) He responded, “Hahaa but I’m still your Tranpa ❤️.”

This warmed my heart. It matters to talk to people who “get it.” Buck is someone I reach out to when I experience dysmorphia or feel like I live in a world that wasn’t made for me.

Still smiling after running 20 miles – and rocking some mad hair

4. Running with David
I’m training for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon 2018. After getting a DNF at my last marathon attempt, I decided to hire a coach, David Roher. He lives on the east coast, so we communicate over email, text, and phone. He gives me my assignments and tracks my workouts via Strava, plus we talk about nutrition, stretching, injuries, and life in general.

David always has a word of encouragement when I need it – often to remind me that I have the ability to do any assignment he gives me and not to push myself too hard. When I finished my 20-mile training run a few weeks ago, I was pleased with my pace and by how good I felt at the end of it.

5. Ethics and Ice Cream
I had a flash of brilliance at the beginning of August to do a continuing legal education seminar looking at what Arizona lawyers were being disciplined for during the last few years to look for patterns and commonalities. I pitched the idea to do this for ASU CLE and call it “Ethics and Ice Cream.” They loved it and we scheduled the event for about a month later. I recruited fellow lawyer and comedian, Matt Storrs, and we reviewed all the Lawyer Regulation reports since 2015 and pulled off a successful event.

This event made this list, not because I created a CLE, but because I put this idea into action and made it work.

As I read all the notes in my jar, I noticed there were at least six notes that mentioned hugs or being the “little spoon.” Besides giving me a warm fuzzy trip down memory lane, these notes reminded me how important the people in my life are to me.

Rosie Dog – Go check out her Instagram

Firsts in 2017
Flying in/out of a city in one day (for Ungagged Las Vegas)
Standing ovation for singing “O Holy Night” at the Community Church of Hope Christmas Show
Love and Complements Rally
Interview on The Out House Podcast
Foods: Almond butter (meh), Vegan gourmet shreds (cheese-like, not bad), Cashew milk ice cream (best non-dairy ice cream), Almond milk yogurt (not food), Cashew yogurt (not food), Pumpkin seeds (so good), Spirulina (meh)
Events: ICON, Law Launcher, TBD Law, BlogHer

Minions make me smile

Celebrity Sightings
Tom Green
Joseph Gordon Levitt
Chris Guillebeau
Casey Neistat
Paul Risser
Minions

In Memoriam
George Seivert
Don Rickles
Andrea Esquer
Laurel Graver
Dorian Kreiling

Thoughts About #MeToo

I’ve been following the #metoo movement, started by Tarana Burke, and became widespread when Alyssa Milano posted about it following the dozens of allegations of sexual harassment and assault against filmmaker Harvey Weinstein.

Alone by Marc Falardeau from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I wish things like the #metoo movement weren’t necessary. I feel sad and disgusted when I think about the sheer number of people who have been sexually harassed, abused, and assaulted. How can anyone feel entitled to take advantage of another person like this?

These predators thrive in silence. They rely on the fear and shame they invoke in their victims so they can continue to prey on others. #Metoo helps break the silence, and give survivors a voice. It breaks the pattern of downplaying these incidents and staying silent out of fear of the repercussions that could result from speaking out against these perpetrators.

As a survivor, I’m grateful for #metoo.

Don’t Rape by Richard Potts from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

It’s validating and empowering to see people speaking out about their abuse. It reminds me that I’m not alone. It exposes the vastness of this problem. Sexual assault doesn’t just happen to “other people,” it happens to your friends, your family, your co-workers, people you look up to – people you know.

Although reading about other people’s #metoo experiences is validating, it’s also painful. I read these posts to honor and validate the survivor, but I also read them to see that I’m not alone in my experience as a survivor. My fellow survivors know what it’s like to be taken advantage of, to be frozen in fear, and what it’s like to be physically violated.

When I read a #metoo story like McKayla Maroney’s, who was repeated sexually assaulted by the USA Gymnastics team doctor, Dr. Larry Nassar, for years starting at age 13, I read her words, and I identify with her experience. It reminds me of what it feels like to be trapped, helpless, and covered with the sensation of icky-ness. Even as I type, I pause to shake my hands, trying to rid myself of that wave of shame.

I love this photo of Joe and me by Brandon Larkin (Creative Commons License)

Reading these accounts is triggering. As I was getting ready for work one morning last week, I wanted to climb back into bed and avoid the world instead of going to the office. Enveloped in shame, I could barely look anyone in the eye. When I went to my therapy appointment, I spent most of the session curled up on my therapist’s couch while we processed what I was feeling. (I couldn’t look him in the eye either.) He reminded me to take extra care of myself.

Why do I share all this? Because calling out the people who commit these disgusting acts is only part of the story. The impact on the survivors from being sexually harassed or assaulted can be devastating. It was for me.

It’s not something I went through, it’s something I live with. I’m getting better, thanks to therapy, medication, treatment, 12-step programs, and having a loving supportive people around me, though I still have days where I struggle with depression and I’m burdened with shame. Going to 12-step meetings taught me that “our secrets keep us sick,” so I have to share my story to help myself heal.

I support the #metoo movement and survivors sharing their experiences even though it can be triggering for me. This problem will only continue if we ignore it.

Thank you to everyone who validates me by sharing their story.

What Am I

I’m training for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon in 2018. When I do my long run for the week, I prefer to listen to podcasts instead of music. It’s easier to be distracted from the pain I’m inflicting on myself and find a rhythm with 30-minute episodes rather than 3-minute songs.

Recently I’ve used my training to catch up on the podcast Unthinkable, hosted by Jay Acunzo. I met Jay in 2016 when we were both speakers at Content Marketing World where he spoke about how being different leads to success in business. I always get something good out of every episode.

Be an Authority
This run started with his interview with marketing consultant, author, and speaker Robert Rose. Robert says he prefers to be called an “authority” rather than an “expert,” in part because the words “authority” has the root “author.” An expert knows a subject, but an author created it. I love this! I am absolutely stealing this for two reasons:

  1. I love the idea of being an authority on social media law (I did write the book on this stuff), and
  2. The State Bar doesn’t allow lawyers to call themselves “specialists” unless you’ve been certified through their process. This gets around that issue.

Be an Exception
Jay says, “To be exceptional, you have to be an exception.” Statements like this remind me that it’s ok to be me, and when I embrace and run with my unconventional ideas, things tend to work out. And I don’t do what I do just to be weird, but because it’s what works for me. I’m just being me. When I try to fit into someone else’s box is when things go sideways.

Jay is all about intuition. He highlights people who are successful because they trusted their gut. They ask the right questions and find the answers from within. I believe in this too. My gut feeling is never wrong – sometimes inaccurate, but never wrong. I know when I’m going with my gut, I’m doing what’s in alignment with who I am.

What Am I?
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been mulling over this question. It started back in September when I saw my friend, Ari Kaplan, speak at ASU Law School about making opportunities for yourself. I don’t know what Ari said, but it inspired me to write, “I’m an artist” in my notebook.

When it comes down to the basics, I think that’s what I am. I’m a writer, a musician, a creator. I’m happiest when I’m creating, learning, sharing, and when what I do makes a difference.

Looking to the future, I can picture myself taking music lessons and going to ballet classes (in male attire with Rocky’s leg warmers). I also see myself zipping around on my orange skateboard and learning how to be a survivalist (not that I like camping, but I bet it’s handy stuff to know). Being a lawyer pays the bills, but more and more, I accept that this is what I do. It’s not who I am.

For now, I’m putting more energy into being creative. On the wall where I put my to-do items on sticky notes, I added one that says, “Just Write.” When I saw Ann Handley speak at Content Marketing World, she inspired me to devote time to writing every day, even if no one ever sees it. And I’m listening to more music, pulling from my entire iTunes library, and not just my race day playlist.

Giving Myself Permission to be First

Making myself a priority is not an area where I excel. I put my work first. I put my goals first. I put other people ahead of taking care of myself. I didn’t want to be in a position where I felt like I was letting people down, especially when it seems like everyone around me is doing so much more than me.

I know, quit comparing my insides to their outsides.

The Road Not Taken by Greg Westfall from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Lately, I’ve felt like a typical lawyer: I get up; I go to the office; I do client work; I go home; I wake up the next day and do it all again. This isn’t what I wanted for my life. I’m so drained by the time I leave the office, I barely have enough energy to work on my blogs, let alone new projects.

I’ve been working on my first online course, but it’s been a much slower process than I envisioned. As long as I need sleep to function, I don’t have enough energy or bandwidth to just work on this just in the evening and on weekends and expect to bring it to market. It needs substantial blocks of uninterrupted time. The hackathon method has been effective so far, when I do it.

Yesterday, I decided the right thing to do to get this course done is to take one weekday every week to stay home and crank on this project. I think this is the only way to give myself the time and space I need for this creative endeavor.

Yeah, that’s me with fire breathers. 
Photo by Annie Christodoulou

So that’s my plan – I’m going back on the road less traveled and clearing my calendar one day a week until this course is done. I hope once I re-dedicate substantial time to this project, that it will have a snowball effect and I’ll be even more jazzed about it instead of being crippled by the fear of failure.

I’m reminded of the Beverly Sill’s saying: “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” One step at a time, one component at a time, this is going to get done. And likewise, if I want a lifestyle that works for me, I have to make it happen.

Footnote: I have no plans to leave my firm. I love working at Venjuris, but I need to balance client work (which is so satisfying to help people in a way that they can’t do for themselves) with speaking, writing, and other projects. It’s just who I am. I’ve never been normal, and I’m not going to start now.

My Disease is Always with Me

My disease is a bitch. Even in recovery, there isn’t a day that I’m not aware that I have an eating disorder.

The best way I can describe my disease is it’s the Fast-Eddie-used-car-salesman-older-cousin of The Oatmeal’s The Blerch. It feels like it’s floating next to me, everywhere I go, and I can’t shut him up. For St. Patrick’s Day, I had a constant barrage of thoughts about binging and purging. I felt like my Blerch was hovering next to me saying:

Back to My Old Life: Alone by Rachmanuddin Chair Yahya from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

“Check out all the St. Patrick’s Day goodies. You can have an entire tray of cupcakes with green sugary buttercream frosting. Oh – and a Shamrock shake. You’ve never had one of those. You can eat all the things, and don’t worry about the calories – because you won’t keep it down. It’s win-win. It’ll be great.”

Reality check: When I was in my active disease, forcing myself to binge and purge was not great. It hurt – a lot. Eating that much hurt my stomach, and then forcing it to contract to vomit really hurt. It’s violent, and when it’s over, my head throbbed, I had no energy, and I felt like shit.

Ugh. I wanted to growl, “Shut up shut up shut up. Shut the fuck up!” My disease tried to convince me that it’s not dangerous, that all the literature that binging and purging is hard on your heart and rips your esophagus apart was written by neurotic doctors. My disease said those are rare instances. It wouldn’t happen to me. Reality check: Eating disorders have the highest morbidity rate of any mental illness.

I dragged my fingers through my hair in frustration, then grabbed my phone and sent a single request to two of my confidants: “Tell me again why it’s bad to eat all the things and puke my guts out. My disease is messing with my head.” They both reminded me of the myriad of ways this disease can destroy my health. One of my confidants is also in recovery from an eating disorder. He reminded me of the powerlessness that comes with this disease. Giving in once makes it that much harder not to give in next time (and the next time, and the next).

I asked my therapist if my Blerch will ever go away. He said it might not, but it can get quieter. I likened that idea to Russell Crowe as John Nash in A Beautiful Mind making the decision to ignore his hallucinations, though they seem to always be lurking in the shadows. As he said, “I’ve gotten used to ignoring them and I think, as a result, they’ve kind of given up on me. I think that’s what it’s like with all our dreams and our nightmares . . . we’ve got to keep feeding them for them to stay alive.”

I’m not fond of the idea of living with my Blerch for the rest of my life, but that may not be something I can control. The disease of addiction never goes away. My default setting may always be to self-medicate and self-destruct, but choosing recovery means I don’t have the luxury of indulging these thoughts. Perhaps if I ignore it long enough, my Blerch will finally shut up.