Perfection isn’t always attainable and the cost may be too high.
Talk to your loved ones:
My sister P has an unrelenting drive to pursue perfection.
In the 70′s, she started working as a file clerk. She worked and worked, harder and harder until she was Vice President of one of the biggest banks in the world. All without a college education. remember as a child, she’d get up at a ridiculous time every morning to iron her clothes so she was perfect for her day. On the weekends, she would wash and detail her car so it was perfect, too. She was meticulous about everything she was involved with.
When someone gave her a gift she liked or someone did something well she exclaimed in a high pitch voice, “PERFECT!!!” I gave up on her level of perfect a long time ago, knowing I was never as driven as either of my sisters to keep up appearances.
She was nicknamed, after Olive Oyl, the character in the Popeye cartoons who was tall and slim with dark hair just like hers. My sister and I always struggled with our weight as children and adults but not P. She vowed as a junior high school student she would never be fat and she never was.
When P discovered she had cancer she fought extremely hard. When she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma 20 years ago, the survival rate was much lower. Her treatments were hard but she kept her spirits up. After her bone marrow transplant she got out of the hospital faster than anyone else had before.
Year after year passed and P remained cancer-free against all odds.
Yesterday, my sister K and I drove 3.5 hours each way to see P. It was a tough visit. She’s not breathing on her own, has 5 tubes down her throat, has had a heart attack, and her kidneys are working at 25%. She is being kept alive on machines because of an infection anyone normally could get at home. Part of this is because she had a bone marrow transplant and will forever have a compromised immune system.
After talking to P’s doctors we also discovered she partially did this to herself.
P didn’t eat enough and when she did eat she didn’t eat healthy foods. I can remember for years now if she ate a normal meal she would be in the bathroom with diarrhea or throwing up.
We found out yesterday along with all the medical issues P is facing she is suffering from long-term malnutrition.
This is a woman who has money. She can afford to eat but she chose not to. We know now she didn’t eat enough for a long time. In her search for her version of perfection she is fighting for her life and on life support with an infection that you or I would be in bed with mildly inconvenienced .
She always had Cosmo or Glamor magazines in her home and strove never to be bigger than a size 6. She was forever losing just 8 more pounds.
I hope all the women I know read this and take it to heart.
P will always suffer the effects of her long-term malnutrition. It is not too late for your daughters, it is not too late for anyone reading this who struggles as P does with food. It sickens me that my sister who I love so dearly is malnourished.
Talk to your daughters. Talk to your friends. Before you skip that meal to fit into that new dress think of P and eat something healthy. Trying to be some unreal version of a woman can kill you.
I have no words for the anger I feel about this. I have always hated the unreal images of women and the shapes I will never be, but this event takes my anger to a whole new level. If women as a whole don’t buy into the magazine image of a woman then the image of the size 0 woman as perfection will have to change.
Let that start here.
I suppose this is going to take me a while to write. I want to talk about my mom. I want to talk about myself. I need to share.
I grew up in a home that at first pass might pass the sniff test. Now, as an adult, returning to visit, I realize something stinks.
I was never comforted by my mother. I have no memories of thinking, even as a child, “I need help/I hurt/I am sad… I should find my mom.” What six year old writes a letter to her mom saying, “I am sorry to have burdened you, I know you don’t love me and I will leave” and then just walks down the road as far as she can until, she is so afraid of being more trouble for having left, she runs home, pees her pants along the way. Retrieves the letter from her mom’s vanity. It’s been only three or four hours. No one knew she was missing. She tells her mom she is sorry and hopes she knows she is hollow with guilt for being a burden. “I know I am always guilty mom, even if I don’t know what I did. I am always guilty.”
My mother is mentally ill. Depending on the year and the shrink, she has depression, a bipolar disorder, multiple personalities, anxiety issues… you name it, someone has treated her for it. She is also bulimic and an alcoholic. No one ever acknowledged these issues to me or my brother until my parents were getting a divorce when I was 17. My father had always been the lightning rod, attempting to divert or distract or come between my mom and us kids. I never knew anything different.
She had all these rules for us. Do you remember when Jacob Wetterling went missing? I do. That was one of those events that triggered something in her. The paranoia took hold. We had code words for emergencies… code words for normal life. If someone wanted to come in the front door of our house, they had to say “breakfast sausage” even if it was a member of our family. We weren’t allowed to have play dates with other kids. My mom’s logic was that we should be friends, and so we shouldn’t need anyone else. She wasn’t going to cater to the social needs of a child, she had better things to do.
Dear Shrink That I Don’t Have:
I’ve been spending a lot of time on the interwebs lately. I don’t know if that’s a good thing. I’ve been learning a lot about Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Anorexia. Mostly via YouTube videos. Do you know how many people suffer from those? Seemingly quite a few. But I don’t.
I mean, in seventh grade I began eating as little as possible to get by. I was already active, so I didn’t exercise as obsessively as some do. I kept this up until I moved in with my dad at 16. Even then it was only a little better.
My mom came to visit once and said I was filling out and looked nice. All I heard was ‘filling out.’
That was a setback.
I dated an asshole, the things he did to make me hate myself are too many for this letter. Another setback.
Then, slowly, I started being able to eat more than salad in front of others. I met my current boyfriend and my eating habit progressed further.
Except now I’m 135 lbs. Do you know what 135lbs is? It’s AVERAGE for a woman of 5’6”. For some reason my brain keeps changing ‘Average,’ in my head into ‘Fucking Fat Cow.’
People tell me I’m beautiful, but I can’t hear them, because I’m too busy seeing all the things I hate about myself. I’m 22, are 22 year old supposed to have cellulite there? I’m pretty sure that’s cellulite. Why is my skin shitty? Oh because I eat sugar. God, my face is too round, why is it so round? Remember when you used to have ABS there? You shouldn’t ever have a child… you’re going to balloon up and it’s going to be hideous. Plus, what child would want to be raised by someone like you? Why can’t you just STOP EATING ALREADY?
The thing is that I’m slip-slip sliding back to a place that I used to be. A place my boyfriend doesn’t even know exists. It’s a deep, dark, scary place.
But you see, dear shrink, I don’t have a problem. Because the doctor I went to for my many health problems between the ages of 12 and 16 told me I needed to make time to eat, but never saw that maybe my not eating was a deeper problem. (Seriously, woman… since when is a middle-schooler or even early high-schooler TOO BUSY TO EAT, ARE YOU DENSE?)
Both of the therapists I went to when I was 19, told me that I was of sound mind, despite the fact that my boyfriend talked me into going because he didn’t know how to deal with my depression. I didn’t have any problems…maybe I should try some breathing exercises. (Gee, thanks…because my much cheaper yoga class couldn’t have taught me that.)
Is there something about me that causes those in the medical field to disregard me as healthy in every way? I don’t feel healthy in every way. The fact that I feel like I have problem should indicate a problem even if no real problem exists. But no, they always send me on my way with dismissive looks and half-hearted advice.
So I don’t get “help,” I let my friends and family think I’m just crazy and I bury the worst of it. I deal with the accusations of being irrational. I deal with people getting mad at me because I’m ‘not happy with my body’ and I wait for the upswing. I watch videos on YouTube by people with Anorexia and with BDD and secretly I’m a little jealous. They’re DIAGNOSED, they have problems. They’re not just that whiny chick who isn’t smart enough to be happy with herself.
Because as far as the world knows, I have no problems…I’m just irrational.
So thanks, Shrink That I Don’t Have… I’m so glad that we’re on the same page here.
P.S. Too bad I can’t afford to visit you either. I’m bummed that I’m missing out on our quality time together.