Thoughts and prayers.

“Since 1970 more Americans have died from guns than all the Americans who died in all the wars in American history.”

It makes me just as sick to see the countless “thoughts and prayers” immediately after a tragedy, as it does to think about the countless tragedies that happen in the United States every day because of guns.

We send “thoughts and prayers” in new directions every day, but rarely do they result in actions being done to prevent the tragedy at hand. Gun violence, hurricanes, earthquakes, health crises…the list goes on.

At 25 years old, there have been over a handful of “worst mass shootings in United States history” in my lifetime.

Columbine.

Virginia Tech.

Aurora.

Sandy Hook.

Orlando.

Las Vegas.

And because I’m from Oregon I won’t forget to list the 2015 shooting at Umpqua Community College, which killed nine people.

Frankly, I have had enough. I am tired. I am angry. I am confused.

And I am at a loss of what to do.

Clearly I am not in any position to dictate policy since I’m not in public office, calling my senators and congressman only gets me so far because I’m lucky enough to live in a place where they already agree with me, and fighting with people on the internet…well, I think you can finish that sentence for yourself. So right now I have chosen to shout into the void. Fight with me if you want. Call me an idiot libtard snowflake. Once you’ve lost friends and family and had to adjust your life significantly after an election result, or let’s be honest once you hit a certain number of Twitter followers, you stop caring about that shit anymore.

Honestly, getting called names doesn’t hurt half as much as the fact that these kinds of tragedies prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that you cannot make anyone care about you. Your humanity. What makes you special. Why you are worthy of love. You cannot force anyone to understand empathy.

2016’s PULSE Nightclub massacre in Orlando was particularly heartbreaking for me in that it was around the time I was toying with the idea of being more open with my bisexuality. Maybe it’s because I was living in the progressive haven that is Los Angeles. Maybe it was because our political climate hadn’t completely exploded yet. I don’t know. But as soon as I woke up one Sunday morning to the news that nearly 50 queer people had been killed–intentionally targeted–at a gay club the night before, I swan dived right back into the closet.

I was faced head on with the notion that there were people out there who wanted me dead just for being me. And not just me, hundreds of thousands of others. I began to notice people’s covert homophobia emerging as they sent out “thoughts and prayers” to the victims, then turned around and voted for political candidates who wanted to undo every LGBT+ right we’ve ever been given, then turned around again to tell me they loved me.

I had no idea who to trust, and I felt powerless, because no matter how many times I stood in front of someone (either literally or figuratively online) and screamed: THIS IS ME. I AM QUEER AS THE DAY IS LONG. THIS ATTACK WAS AGAINST PEOPLE LIKE ME. PEOPLE MORE MARGINALIZED THAN ME. THIS IS US. DO SOMETHING TO HELP US. LOVE US ENOUGH TO HELP US. WE MATTER TOO.

…here we are.

You cannot make anyone care about you. Or at least, understand how their political actions affect people like you, and and ultimately prove at a higher, more indirect level how much they care about you.

I wish that a human life could matter more the millions of dollars given to politicians by the National Rifle Association. I wish I could understand, even at the most minuscule of levels, how people can cling to their guns even harder after a tragedy like this, meanwhile I’d just assume throw mine into the depths of Mount Doom. How am I supposed to know that you’re the “good guy with a gun?” After all, isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work? A “good guy with a gun” would have been able to stop all these massacres from happening?

Where is the good guy, and why is he always too late?

In all honesty, I don’t give a flying fuck about your so-called “Second Amendment rights.” I care about human lives. Historically speaking, that amendment was written hundreds of years ago, when guns held one bullet at a time and shot about once every 20 seconds. The only reason that language is even relevant to today is because we allow it to be. The NRA wants to scare you into believing it has to be. If there were ever a politician running for office who called for the complete and total recall of all guns, of all types, I would vote for them in a heartbeat. Will that ever happen? Probably not. Will I abstain from voting entirely because a candidate supports “gun control” rather than the complete and total recall of all guns? No.

There is a lot going on in our country right now that upsets me. Like a grief-anger-fear combo in my chest that never goes away. Guns take the cake, because there is literally no reason this keeps happening other than power, money, and misplaced fear.

And the fact that you cannot make anyone care about you.

I want to end this with a few more things. First, here are a few photos:

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Each of these pictures are from trips to Las Vegas in 2014 and 2015. The top two are from my walks up and down the Strip, playing tourist while my friends slept in, recuperating from a night out. The bottom two are from a Walk the Moon concert at the Las Vegas House of Blues, and then from the Hakkasan Nightclub inside the MGM Grand Hotel.

Each a unique experience.

As a woman, I took precautions before each of those scenarios. Carry my purse over my shoulder and in front of me; stay away from sketchy side-streets; wear nylons under the mini-skirt (although ultimately, that had not stopped the man who decided to grope me against my will); don’t drink too much.

What I never thought about, was the idea that in any of those places, someone would come at me with a firearm, because honestly I have no idea how any of us would have gotten out of that nightclub alive if they did.

Maybe the good guy would have finally showed up. I now consider it by the grace of God that I didn’t have to find out.

Secondly, today, consider donating your money or your time. Here is a link with some suggestions: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/how-to-help-vegas-shooting-victims_us_59d2387ae4b09538b5098906

Some of these include ways to donate blood, money, crisis counseling, and finally, calling your congressman and encouraging them to fight for some sensible gun control.

You make the choice to turn a blind eye to tragedy just because it doesn’t affect you.

Be better than that, because not all of us are afforded the privilege.

xoxo,

Erin

P.S. Please don’t forget about Puerto Rico as well: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/can-help-hurricane-victims-puerto-rico/ 

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I am rainbow, hear me roar.

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Photo by: Dallas Clayton

Six years ago at the start of my freshman year of college I met a girl living a few dorms down from me who identified as “bi-curious.” I had no idea what it meant but I was intrigued.

“It means I’m straight but also interested in women,” she said.

Okay, I thought to myself. At that point in my life I had never dated…anyone. Sure I had crushes on boys throughout middle and high school, but once I hit high school I wasn’t exactly what you would call “dating material.” I was 25+ pounds overweight, hiding my body and my extremely low self-esteem behind baggy clothes and jackets and a “straight-A-student/know-it-all” persona in the classroom. I wasn’t an outcast but I wasn’t really popular either, I was just kind of there.

Needless to say, no one was really knocking down my door.

For my entire life (leading up to that conversation in September of 2010), I had always assumed that gender and sexuality were black and white. You were either gay or straight, male or female, etc etc. There was no in-between. After all, everyone in my family and circle of friends was cisgendered, and either gay or straight (although mostly straight). “Bi-curious” or “bisexual” were terms that lived in the far-off undiscovered territory of my brain, and despite my lack of exploration in the dating department I had always assumed that I would like boys.

I believed that being straight was “the norm” and what everyone expected me to be, despite my mom telling me more than once that she would “be fine with it” if I weren’t.

In middle school I had crushed on this one particular guy hard, and for about two years. My first kiss was with a guy. I had an easier time talking to girls and felt self-conscious around guys, which had to be a sign, right?

But then there would be moments when I was 16 and my friends would go on about so-and-so hot male celebrity and I found that I had to force myself to feel “attracted” to him, and pretend to be all gaga over a picture or movie. Even still today, it’s rare that I see a picture of someone and feel an immediate “connection” or whatever (unless it’s Tina Fey, but I digress). I had dreams where I would be in a relationship with a guy, but then the next night with a girl. The first relationship I was ever in was with a guy, at 19 years old, and I started second-guessing it about a month in. I felt jealous of people in relationships who seemed to have their sexuality “all figured out.”

I was confused, but I didn’t realize it.

Needless to say that conversation my freshman year of college blasted me off into reflection, self-education, and a new way of thinking; that it was entirely possible that I could be attracted to two genders (and that the first guy I dated just…wasn’t the right guy).

Five years ago, I realized I was bi. 

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Since then the journey to figure out who I “really am” has been both liberating and exhausting at the same time; liberating in the sense that I’ve become aware that sexuality is fluid, and just because society wants to place me in a box does not mean that a box is where I belong, but exhausting in that…

…I’ve realized, for me, coming out is not and will never be a “one and done” type of deal. Adopting the identity of a bisexual woman will affect me one way or another for the rest of my life. 

In my dating life. In the way people perceive me once they learn this information (and it then becomes my “obligation” to explain it to them). In my family life. In my religious life.

This year, I think, has been the most defining for me as a member of the LGBT+ community. I came out to all of my closest friends, and to my parents. I began to feel comfortable texting my best friend not only every time I saw an attractive guy, but girl too. I changed my Facebook information to publicly say that I was into both men and women (minor, I know, but nonetheless a step forward). I referred to myself as bi in my online writing.

Then the PULSE night club shooting happened in Orlando last June. Guns in general have always frightened me, and I have never wanted to be near one or in possession of one, but this time, after hearing that a man with a gun deliberately attacked people because of who they were and who they loved scared the hell out of me. Because for the first time I realized it could have been my two gay relatives. It could have been one of my former students. It could have been me.

I no longer felt liberated; instead, I wanted desperately to erase all of the progress I had made in my journey of coming out. I felt like there was this part of me that, no matter how much I loved and embraced it, would never be safe in this world. I have only ever (publicly) dated men—three men total—and never once felt afraid to hold their hand in public; at dinner, on the beach, at church. But what if that partner had been a woman? Would we have felt just as comfortable with PDA, or would we ignite a rage so intense that someone would feel justified in killing us? I don’t know. I will never know, and that terrifies me.

After Orlando, I had a family member to whom I am not out say to me:

“I don’t care if someone is gay, just don’t do it in front of me. They shove it in your face. I don’t like that.”

In that moment I felt like I could never trust them with who I really was, and wondered if they said that to all of their straight friends and family too.

I have identified as a Christian long before I ever identified as bi. I was baptized into the Churches of Christ at age 15, without any family with me or ever having gone as a child. Technically, it was “my choice.” It never occurred to me that I would or should have to choose between my sexuality or being part of a church community. But in the nine years since then I’ve had people ask me:

“Why did you join the church if you knew they believe marriage is only between a man and a woman?” (I didn’t necessarily “know” this but let’s also remember that at 15 I’d barely explored my sexuality and assumed I’d be straight. Also a good number of Christians support same-sex marriage, accept that it’s not a choice, etc.).

[Insert question from church here that presumes I can speak for all LGBT+ people]

Did this mean my place at the table with Jesus suddenly became conditional because of who I might love?

Conversely, I’ve had LGBT+ people ask me how I can identify as Christian when [all] Christians are so “hateful,” meanwhile I know that’s not true. It’s a constant “one foot in one door one foot in another” situation that really came to light four months ago, and I will admit I’m still struggling to reconcile.

Like I said, coming out as bisexual has not been a “one and done” type of deal for me. There are so many steps forward that I feel like I made this year, only to be shoved halfway back down the mountain. But it’s a process, and if I could have only one goal it would be to make sure that every single person going through this process knows how brave they are.

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It’s not a phase, and it’s not a choice. You are who you are; beautiful, and brave, and a motherf***ing warrior.

And for all of you lovely non-LGBT+ people out there, my advice to you: be a positive, supportive, and safe presence in our lives. Accept and love us for who we are, unconditionally. Create spaces that empower. We appreciate it, more than you know.

We are rainbows, hear us roar.

Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than this. – Mark 12:31

We exist all around you.

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I’ve been thinking long and hard about how I wanted to address Orlando. I don’t know if any of this makes sense, but this is all I got.

**trigger warning**
homophobia, gun violence.

I remember the last time I had a major panic attack, openly, in a public space. It was last December, and a friend and I were eating dinner at the Culver City In-N-Out when suddenly, the restaurant (and a few neighboring buildings) lost power. It was clear right away that no one, including the employees, had any idea what was going on, or why it had happened. There hadn’t been an earthquake, and let’s be real, when was the last time weather made the power go out in Los Angeles?

At first, after the building darkened and the whirr of potato peelers and deep fryers quieted, I felt little elementary school Erin come out, thinking “how fun this is! We can all take out our phone flashlights and play one big game of hide and seek!”

Unfortunately that feeling only lasted about ten seconds. I looked around me: people were muttering concernedly, employees were struggling to unlock the side door (which had automatically locked us in when the power went out), the block was dark. My heart began to race; it’s beginning to race thinking about it now. My palms began to sweat. Tears stung the backs of my eyes. This was no longer fun for me, and not just because of my Generalized Anxiety Disorder and intimate relationship with panic attacks.

This was no longer fun for me because this is the United States of America, the only First World country where there are more mass shootings in a year than there are days.

History has proven time and time again that no place is safe, no place is exempt from these tragedies, and thus we have all been taught—however unconsciously—to always be prepared for the worst. Lockdown drills at school. Safety drills at work in case someone walks into our writing lab with a gun. Think twice before attending a large-scale event. Don’t walk alone at night, or during the day for that matter. This is our reality.

“We have to get out of here,” I said to my friend that night at dinner. “I have to get out of here.”

Poor guy. I could tell he knew I was about to spin out, but didn’t know how to comfort me. There was no calming me down, no telling me that NO ONE in that restaurant had a gun and was about to open fire.

Lucky for us, no one did. But that’s just it. We were lucky. Anything could have happened that night, and it was lucky that all it was was an electricity fluke down the block. And now I sit here tonight, heartbroken because 20 hours ago, 103 people at PULSE nightclub in Orlando, Florida could not be so lucky.

As President Obama said a few years—and probably a couple hundred shootings—ago, “we don’t have to live this way,” and I for one am tired of living this way. I am f**king tired of watching my fellow Americans take these tragedies with a grain of salt, furious but helpless, immediately resigning to the idea that this will just keep happening and there’s nothing we can do about it. That our government—the very people who are supposed to protect us—will never do anything about it, because there are people out there in positions of power who value their guns and an out-of-context Second Amendment more than an actual human life.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, my heart is in pieces. What a beautiful and resilient community, where all anyone wants is to be seen and heard, and to love each other. Although I am bisexual, I recognize my privilege in that I haven’t been on the receiving end of an extreme amount of direct hatred, “merely” microaggressions; still, I ache for those who have. I ache that there’s not more I can do to stop it. I ache that there are people out there who would actively want my friends (or, hell, even me) dead just because of who they (or I) love, and arguably could have an “easy” means to make that happen.

This was NOT an isolated tragedy. This happened in a space that is ~supposed~ to be inclusive and safe for us. This is the direct result of the homophobic statements, comments, and “jokes” that go by unchallenged, and create a mentality of “otherness” or “us vs. them” between queer folks and non. Exhibit A: “no homo.”

So when you’re sending out your ‪#‎ThoughtsAndPrayers‬ to Orlando, Florida, you make for damn sure you know WHO you’re sending them out to and say it OUT LOUD, because we’re here. We exist all around you. We work with you. We’re sitting in your pews at church. By ignoring us, and the profound effect this has had on us, you invalidate us, and perpetuate this cycle of hatred.

Don’t be that person. Think twice before you speak, think twice before you act, and think twice before you hop to your computer screen to tell me your Second Amendment rights trump my right to live freely. THEIR right to live freely.

I stand in complete solidarity with you, Orlando. Much love. SO much love.

Patience.

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Recently, I was told that transparency can be a good thing, so here goes.

For me, learning to have patience is, I think, the toughest aspect of living with anxiety, because that learning process forces me to evaluate a lot of things aka. issues aka. problems in my life that I’d rather ignore. For example this evening I left work with the worst dizzy-spell-turned-tension-headache not because I had had a bad day, but because I spend SO much time staring at a computer screen both in my work and home life. Then on the drive home I started thinking about WHY I spend so much time staring at electronic screens (especially during my free time), and I realized it’s because I get home and don’t have the energy to do much else.

Here’s where the lack of patience (paired with a touch of anger and self-loathing) comes in. Depression sucks the life out of you, and the will to BE or DO just about anything:

Finish that puzzle you started a month ago.

Go on a hike.

Text your best friends.

Read a chapter in your bible daily like you promised to do on January 1st.

Eat dinner.

Eat anything period.

And these are just a few examples. Meanwhile anxiety is over there in the corner like HELLO why aren’t you excelling at all of these things when a) you said you would do them and b) some of these things are completely necessary to begin with.

I want to feel the way I feel at 3 in the afternoon when I’m laughing at a funny joke at the office.

I want to come home and cook a three course meal.

I want to feel like I have energy, and stop beating myself up when I don’t.

So many “wants.” It’s a constant battle between wanting to have patience, and not wanting to think about any of those “bad” things at all, because then you’re forced to admit that you STILL don’t have it all together. There’s so much tragedy in the world that we can’t control, so why can’t we control the one thing we’d think would be obvious–our own bodies? One day we WILL look at ourselves and say we feel GOOD, and mean it. Sometimes it’s just like man, why can’t that day be today?

But we got this, peeps.

Finding my way back.

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As soon as I read this quote, it struck a cord because honestly, today was a really, really bad anxiety day. Extreme emotional highs, and then extreme emotional lows (like, “crying to Mom over the phone that I’m just so TIRED of feeling this way ALL the time” “I THOUGHT 2016 WAS SUPPOSED TO BE BETTER LOL #newyearnewme” emotional lows. It happens, folks).

Sometimes when I’m feeling particularly low, I find myself trying to remember what my life was like before I could put a definition to why I acted the way I acted, or felt the way I felt. Was I happier? Was I a better problem solver? Was I less lonely? Was I less afraid to drive a car? I don’t know. All I know is that–today especially–it’s exhausting to overanalyze why you overanalyze.

But that’s okay, because we get through it. Nothing is permanent. I may feel like my depression and anxiety threw me so far away from who I am, but maybe that means I get to find myself all over again.

2016: Love myself.

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2015 was a year full of lessons and learning the true meaning of trust.

However, dealing with rough emotional situations, as well as a difficult mental health diagnosis did not give me much space to love myself this year. More often than not I felt UNloveable, and even worse, like I was unable to give love the way I wanted, to those people in my life who I felt truly deserved it. I equated loving myself with being “selfish,” when really I was just in the process of learning that if I didn’t recognize my own self worth, if I hated myself, it’s (near) impossible to really love anyone else.

These are my #newyearsresolutions: to get to know myself a little bit more. To value others but put my own wants and needs first, to listen to my body and stop fighting my anxiety.

To fully trust God and His plan for me. To look for the blessings in disguise–for example, 2015 blessed me with some of the best kiddos a 6th grade tutor/teacher/mentor could have asked for–and to not set my expectations too high but still focus on the good.

Happy 2016, everyone! 🎉

Keep breathing;

**trigger warning**

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A few months ago I told myself (and the world…) that I would make it a priority to talk about my experience living with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. Well, what I quickly realized is that that is a lot harder than it sounds.

Last October when I had the tattoo of the sun my mom drew put on my lower back, I also had this phrase drawn on my upper left arm. I just haven’t been ready to share it until now (I’m still not 100% sure I am, actually, but if there’s one thing I’ve felt over the past couple of months it’s been God pushing me to confront the things I’m most afraid of). Inspired by my favorite Ingrid Michaelson song, these lyrics have kept me afloat many, many times over the past eight years since I first heard them.

Keep breathing.

It seems like the simplest of tasks, really. But there have been times when, deep in my depression and in my own head, “keep breathing” was something I had to constantly remind myself to do. And I’m certain I’m not alone in that experience.

1 in 5 women engage–or have engaged–in self-injurious behavior as a result of depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, the list goes on. A statistic so devastatingly common yet rarely discussed. I was, off-and-on for six years, one of those women.

This is the most difficult thing I’ve ever shared with anyone, let alone the internet. When a favorite author of mine documented in a book her experience coming out as bisexual, the two words that stuck with me the most were: “tell someone.” Still, several panic attacks ensued and prayers were sent up while drafting this post. Am I posting this for the right reasons? Will this really help anyone? In the midst of it all I realized I could learn to do it “afraid;” this is so much bigger than fear, and bigger than myself. People will ALWAYS think or feel differently than you now matter how hard you try to make them see your point of view. Society wants you to think that mental illness is either a “childhood phase,” or “the life of an adult,” but it’s not. It’s so not, and you don’t have to accept that. People say hurtful things because they don’t understand. And it’s up to me to remember that, and just keep doing what I can to spread awareness. I’m not proud of all the things I’ve said and done because of my illness, but I’ve decided not to be ashamed anymore either, because I’m not broken.

Time and time again I’ve been too afraid to ask for help, which is why I got this tattoo the way that I did. Each letter was contributed by someone who has either knowingly or unknowingly helped me through my darkest times; a gentle reminder that help is always there even when you can’t see it. The semicolon at the end is in my own writing–thanks to Project Semicolon–because my story isn’t over yet, and even if you have to do it “afraid,” yours shouldn’t be either.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Isaiah 41:10

Forward is forward.

1506651_10153323284630939_1204047443123328635_nSo this week I stumbled across a little blog on Instagram called Anxiety Support and fell in love with it in about five seconds — basically the length of time it took me to read: “Silence isn’t always golden.”

This photo pretty much sums up where I’m at right now. But part of ending the stigma of mental health means that just because we’re not in the best place doesn’t mean we stop talking. I’ve been seeing the same therapist weekly (yes, weekly) for 13 months and yesterday morning was the first time I let myself cry in front of her. Work has become my safe haven, in part because our loving, very deserving little nonprofit (826LA) is currently in a campaign to win a $100k grant, but also because at home my energy plummets to zero. Talking to even my closest friends has been difficult. Pulling myself out of bed to go to CHURCH has been next to impossible the past few weeks, which if you know me you’d know how frustrating that is. 

I don’t mean for this to be an oh-woe-is-me post; rather I just want to highlight the ups and downs that come with depression. Depression makes you feel like you don’t care at all. Anxiety makes you feel like you care too much. Having both is like a constant battle in your brain where it’s like bad guy vs. bad guy and the good guy is just on the sidelines like wait… BUT, on a more positive note, I have a surprise that I will be announcing to you all on next week’s #FeelWhateverYouWantThursday! Also, the iPhone updated so now we have 150+ new emojis.

Hang in there, peeps. Slow and steady wins the race 🐢💕

Keep on keepin’ on.

“You can do it.”

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Apologies for not posting on #FeelWhateverYouWantThursday (lol) yesterday — turns out spending 7 hours in airports traveling to Oregon can put a little damper on my creativity 🌲

Earlier this week in a meeting my boss — as she so often does — managed to unknowingly and casually say exactly what I needed to hear exactly when I needed to hear it: “Remember that you always have a place at the table.” For me, of the most crippling parts of having anxiety is the inability to communicate exactly what I’m thinking or feeling, and why. Huge emphasis on the ‘why.’ Why do I get anxiety at work when I LOVE my job & funny colleagues? Why do I get anxiety at home when I have a cozy bedroom & a caring flat mate? And in the midst of all that why comes along the message that I don’t belong. I’ve been in situations in the past where I really truly did NOT belong, and I guess it’s hard not to carry that on my shoulders for as long as it’ll let me. This week was a lot of convincing myself to — quite frankly — let that s**t go. Easier said than done though, right?

You change every day.

The title of this blog is named after one of my all time favorite songs, Difficulty, by my all time favorite artist, KT Tunstall.

IMG_7842Growing up, I was always skinny for my age, until about 13 or 14 when a couple of things happened. One, my chronic stomachaches stopped the summer before I entered 7th grade and I realized I could eat a lot more (chocolate/sugary food/etc.) and not feel sick afterwards. And two, I discovered I did not inherit the metabolism that the majority of my mother’s side of the family (including her) did; size zero jeans, small boobs, clear skin, all that good stuff. It wasn’t until the last couple of years that I’ve really realized just how much those chronic stomachaches defined my childhood, and shaped my life. I can remember always being so excited for lunchtime at school, because it was the only meal of the day where I was ‘guaranteed’ to feel hungry, and to feel well. It got to the point where I even had my own little system of eating lunch: Mom always made my PB&J sandwiches on potato bread (which I still buy today because sentimental value), so I’d eat the crust of that first (however, if the sandwich was for whatever reason on wheat bread I would tear off the crust because picky eater/gross), then the middle. Then I would very meticulously eat the rest of my foods in a specific order, usually saving the cookie Mom would always pack me for last. Since my parents were divorced, there were even days when I would save the plastic bags or wrappers of things that my mom packed, as a way to keep a part of her with me, since I wouldn’t be able to see her for the next two to three days. I would then deliberately avoid the kitchen that night at Dad’s, so as not to see him throw it away, and then just shrug when he’d inevitably ask why I wasn’t capable of doing this myself. I hadn’t realized at the time that I just didn’t know how to answer him.

Yes I realize that a lot of this already sounds crazy, but as a child if my anxiety didn’t manifest itself as a stomachache, it often turned me into a mild Obsessive Compulsive.

There was only one time where an evening stomachache actually turned into something more serious (the 24-hour flu), and that was February of 2001, so the 3rd grade. I remember this night vividly because (knock on wood) I haven’t thrown up since. Normally, dinner times would consist of me taking a few bites of food, my stomach yelling at me to go lie down and rest, my lying down and resting, then trying to eat some more. The whole process generally took about an hour, and half the time I would just nudge the food around on my plate so it would look like I’d eaten more than I had. My favorite TV show, Arthur, would also be playing in the background, because if I ever missed an episode the inside of my head went ballistic. The same went for breakfast; because I had to get to school I never had time to lie down or watch TV, but I can remember on more than one occasion getting in trouble for not eating the food that was in front of me. Needless to say, I became familiar with the term ‘wasteful’ at a very young age, and that there were kids who had it a lot worse than me who would kill to eat breakfast every morning. That had just made me feel even more powerless, because I couldn’t seem to will myself to feel better. If I could have given those ‘worse-off’ kids my food, I would have.

When I was 10, about one week into the 5th grade, my mom, Grammy, Papa, and I took a weeklong trip to North Carolina for my papa’s brother’s memorial service. It was the first time I had traveled across the country that I could remember, and certainly the farthest I’d ever been away from home. It wasn’t the original plan for me to tag along, but the thought of being away from my mom for a week terrified me, so I had begged her (silly 10 year old Erin not understanding that airplane tickets cost money). Looking back, the three things I remember most about that trip are these: the memorial (of course), the humidity, and the food. Even the simplest of things tasted so different, like my go-to McDonalds cheeseburger. One morning we went to breakfast with my papa’s sister at this place that served the biggest, most delicious looking pancakes. Of course I had ordered them, but could I finish them? Nope. I remember sitting in my char, trying to nibble on the bites my mom had cut up for me, and failing miserably. My great aunt had even noticed something was up, and asked me if I had a ‘tummy ache.’ I just nodded, feeling so bad and like I was ruining everyone’s time. It was such a normal question you’d ask a child whom this didn’t constantly afflict. I desperately wanted to cry, and I remember going into the bathroom, taking a TUMS, and thinking for the first time in a long time I’d be physically sick, and for no reason at all! Later that afternoon, when my stomach finally calmed down and I felt hungry, my papa – who had absolutely no idea how normal of a thing this was with me – looked me in the eye and said: “well whose fault is that?”

Cut to our last night in North Carolina when we had dinner at my great aunt’s house. A lot of the family was there, and they were barbequing a pig in the backyard, something I had never seen before, let alone tasted. I remember looking out the window, seeing the thing cooking, and thinking there was no way I’d feel well enough to eat it. Never mind that I was sort of a picky eater anyway. I always thought I knew my body well enough to predict when these stomachaches would come on, but sometimes it would surprise even me; I managed to eat a full serving of dinner that night, strange Southern foods and all.

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Once I hit high school, my relationship with food did a complete 180. Like I mentioned before, the stomachaches pretty much stopped around 7th grade, and I realized I was capable of eating a wider array of foods without feeling sick afterwards. This quickly became both a blessing and a curse; a blessing because in the 8th grade I could finally go to the grocery store after school with my best friend Haley and buy (and eat) several giant Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, yet a curse because throughout that year I also noticed my hips growing increasingly wider, and the love handles a little more prominent.

But I didn’t care. I was just a kid, and for the first time in my life I had been given a taste of freedom (in the form of chocolate and peanut butter).

Anyway, high school. My first two years, I had been an “athlete” and was on the volleyball team in the 9th and 10th grades. I use quotation marks around the term “athlete” because I really do mean it in the loosest sense of the word. I started playing sports in the first grade, and tried just about every one in the books; softball, volleyball, basketball, soccer…but none of them ever fulfilled me in the way I noticed sports fulfill some of my friends, classmates, and family. I come from a total sports family, and don’t get me wrong I love Oregon football and Dodger baseball, but in my family you were supposed to play sports, and you were supposed to love it. Yet I never really felt like I was in shape the way “athletes” were supposed to be. I could go on a tangent about my life as an “athlete,” but I’ll spare you this time around.

Slowly but surely, by mid-10th grade I had quit all forms of team-related, mandated exercise. I had, on the other had, joined choir, which I could go on another tangent about how fulfilling that ended up being for me, but again, I’ll refrain this time. For as long as I could remember, I had always had something to do after school in my adolescent life that was sports related; that was just the way it was and I never questioned it. Yet there I was, sitting at home after a seven-hour day at school, with nothing. Grades and academic performance were very important to me all throughout high school because I knew that’s what I needed to get into college out of state, so getting homework done was never something anyone had to push me on. In fact, I was so obsessive over getting straight A’s, that I actually cheated on an exam in my 9th grade Honors English class, because I would rather cheat than admit to my teacher that I was lost and needed help. Naturally I got caught and thus was certain I had just bought myself a one-way ticket to hell, but I digress.

Sophomore year of high school was very difficult for me for reasons other than just my anxiety and depression; a lot of transitions were happening for me all over the place. I had gone against the grain of my family and quit sports. I had tried to go to the gym and work out on my own but *insert laughter* that really didn’t work. I had actively started exploring my own faith and spirituality, realized I did believe in God, wanted God to be a bigger part of my life, and began my self-guided journey toward becoming a Christian. I had drifted apart from a lot of the close friends I had had in middle school, and at the time felt like I only had one person I could really lean on – shout out to you Isabel, you were my lifeboat. Things at home were very different; changing all around me and I felt like I could barely catch my breath let alone keep up.

So, what was the one constant through all of this?

Food.

Here are two photos. One (top) was taken early in my junior year of high school, and the other (bottom) was taken summer of 2014, in Disneyland with my mom right after I had graduated from college.

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I could not tell you how uncomfortable I was in this photo on the top. I am smiling, but I can say with 95 percent certainty that what I was thinking about had more to do with double chins, zits, and how I was sure my stomach was sagging over my jeans. I would not have been caught dead in the outfit I’m wearing on the bottom, if only because of how tight the t-shirt is. I would have felt self-conscious, judged, and most of all, exposed. I would have hid myself away in a panic because to me that was better than subjecting the world to my own shame.

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You never realize just how long the simplest of comments on your body can stick with you until you’re 23, staring into a mirror at your hips, and remembering how, eight years ago you could barely take off your puffy North Face jacket let alone stare into a mirror for more than a nanosecond.

“You’re not skinny, but you’re not really fat either.”

“Just stress yourself out. Then you’ll get a stomachache and that’ll keep you from eating.”

In 9th grade, I had gone on Weight Watchers for three months, when it suddenly hit me one night that eating a lot meant gaining weight. Because I had been playing volleyball, 12 pounds fell right off of me. Granted, I was not eating enough. At all. The amount of calories I was eating would be for someone who sits at a desk all day, not a 14-year-old who exercised at least two hours every day. So while I could feel the approval in the eyes of those around me and within myself – because guys! I did it! I could lose weight just like the best of them! Who needed giant Reese’s Cups anyway?! – I was not healthy. Foods such as pizza, hamburgers, things that used to be no big deal to me, became the enemy. I ate once slice of pepperoni and I swore I put on five pounds. I wanted to look like the rest of my family. No one ever spread rumors. No one ever muttered behind my back. I never got the impression that people viewed me as “the ugly girl” or anything like that, but I never got the impression they viewed me as really “pretty” either. I just existed.

The day I decided to quit Weight Watchers was the day the ultimate binging began. I could tell you how much I ate the day I realized I wouldn’t have to stand on a scale in front of my mother and a handful of strangers once a week, but I’ll spare you the gruesome details. I grew tired of feeling guilty for eating a piece of cheesecake – I still wanted approval, but maybe I could “let loose” a little more. I was now in control of my own destiny!

Apparently, my “destiny” included going home after school every day in 10th grade, avoiding the scale, and consuming almost 1000 calories.

Except I never threw them up.

To me, what I ate became the one thing in my personal life I felt I could control. I could get stellar grades in school, take on Independent Study courses for extra credit, and show up to class every day so that all my teachers and classmates would think everything was fine and dandy; but inside I was screaming, and food silenced me.

I would eat until I was so full that standing up hurt. I would eat until it became extremely obvious how quickly food was disappearing from the fridge, and why.

Please know that this is not easy for me to type. I’ve spent a lot of time feeling embarrassed of myself, and it was only recently that I came to accept this as a part of my past. I remember every day I would go to school wearing baggy jeans and a t-shirt, and then I’d cover said t-shirt with a hooded sweatshirt and black North Face jacket. I was beyond ashamed of my body, and I felt like if I showed any part of it, then other people would be too. Meanwhile, there’d be beautiful girls who’d literally wear black sports bras to and paint their bare stomachs for Friday night football games. They never looked ashamed of their bodies (although they very well could have been). Why couldn’t I fit in with them?

And yet, the only way to lessen the feeling of shame was to eat more.

“Why is no one calling me beautiful?” I would think to myself, pitifully. “Words of Affirmation” is my Love Language, and I had figured that since I wasn’t getting them from anyone else, I didn’t deserve them from myself either.

When really, it should be the other way around. There are plenty of other ways to tell someone they’re beautiful than by just saying: “you’re beautiful;” I just wasn’t listening. I didn’t know how to love my own body, or myself, so how could I have accepted love from anyone else?

Now, at 23, I’m lucky in that my time in college helped me find methods of silencing the noise that didn’t include cleaning out the fridge in a single afternoon, and in summer of 2012 I worked a job that forced me to eat healthier. Since then, I have thinned out and my metabolism is giving me a little more of a fighting chance – and by that I mean, I can eat not one but two slices of pizza and not hate myself for it 🙂

There are a lot of things about my body that I’m still learning to love – my broad shoulders and big feet, for example – but my hips are not one of them. What used to be the area that I most wanted to hide, I actually enjoy. I wear tight jeans and tight tops; hell, I own two bikinis! I’m still pretty Plain Jane compared to your typical young, stylish, Anthropologie-shopping hipster girl, but at least I’m not hiding behind a thick North Face jacket anymore (which is also good because I live in Los Angeles and wearing a North Face jacket all the time down here would be a form of torture all on its own).

I wanted to post this so that people could see that there is, in fact, a very clear correlation between anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. And that when you’re in the  midst of an eating disorder, it’s nearly impossible to see anything for what it is. In my case, an eating disorder happened because I have anxiety and depression, but didn’t know how to communicate it. All you want is that control; over how thin you are, over the food you put into your mouth because it’s the only thing you have control over, over the clothes we wear to show ourselves off, or hide ourselves.

I would be lying if I said I always eat extremely healthily these days, but I do listen to my body. I know my limits, so I’m no longer over-eating. If I feel sluggish, I go for a run. If I realize I haven’t eaten a vegetable in over a week, I go to the market and stock up.

I’m telling my body, I want to be your friend.