Daddy and Doodle

My dad and I are creatures of habit. Every night after dinner, we retreat to the family room where he binge-watches vintage TV shows while I waste time online and listen to music through my earbuds. We do this in silence for hours at a time until we go to bed, and I usually don’t see him in the morning since he has to get up early to ensure that justice is served hot and fresh at the courthouse every weekday.

This routine, though comfortable, isn’t exactly refreshing or relaxing. I find that the more time I spend online when I’m not doing something constructive (browsing Facebook vs. writing this post), the more disgruntled I become. Don’t get me wrong, I think the internet is an amazing thing. I keep in touch with friends who live all over the country, I’ve seen all kinds of inspiring art, I’ve learned new skills (like how to conjugate irregular verbs in Spanish and how to make candy-stripe bracelets), and I have access to pretty much any song I could ever want to listen to. However, all too often I wind up scrolling through various social media feeds for hours on end, only to come up empty when I search for any meaning in the last chunk of time I spent inert on the couch, dead to the physical world.

Tonight, Dad and I changed up our routine for the better. In the week since I’ve been home from the hospital, I have effectively trashed my room (as I am wont to do), and I chose tonight to clean it up. My mom went out with her friends tonight, and I didn’t want to leave Dad all alone downstairs while I puttered around in my room, so I invited him into the big comfy chair where he used to read me bedtime stories when I was a little girl, handed him my laptop, and gave him the rundown of how Spotify works. Within moments, my messy bedroom was transformed into a jazz radio station, complete with “Mike Scott spinnin’ those stacks of wax!” I heard everything from Herman’s Hermits to Phil Collins, and I also introduced Dad to Panic at the Disco, which he deemed, “interesting.”

Since I’ve been out of the hospital, I’ve felt extremely raw, like I’m walking  around with no skin. Everything is terrifying, but life doesn’t just stop because you’re scared. I have a lot of free time on my hands since I’m not in school, and unfortunately, I often use that free time to think of all the horrible things that could happen to me and also how every horrible thing that has already happened to me is completely and totally my fault.

I went back to work this week, which I had been dreading. I actually love my job (I’m a cashier in a grocery store.), but I was terrified to have to spend all day in public with no close friends or family members around to protect me should I need them. I know these fears are unrealistic. In all likelihood, no one is out to get me, or is even thinking about harming me. Still, they linger. I was surprised to find that work was actually a great distraction from my fears once I got into the routine. I’m realizing the obvious: the less time I spend ruminating on my problems and everything I dislike about myself, the easier it is to get through the days. I’m very glad I spent some quality time with my dad tonight instead of looking at posts of seemingly perfect lives and yearning for that perfection in my own life, even though I know it’s all just an illusion. I’d much rather have my own imperfect life with all its little twists and turns. Do I wish I was already finished with my Associate’s degree? Do I feel like I should be on my way to a “real job” by now? Do I regret some of my relational choices? Yes, yes, and yes. But that doesn’t have to stop me from enjoying the small things on the road to the bigger things. Being mentally ill doesn’t mean I don’t have goals or the means and desire to achieve them. It does mean that I may achieve them differently than many of my peers. I know high school students who will graduate with the same degree I’m still working on three years after graduating high school. I know teenagers who are living on their own and paying rent, while I’m in my twenties and still living with my parents. I don’t have a fancy diploma to hang on my wall (yet), but that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to be proud of the things I have accomplished. Progress isn’t always a new car, an engagement ring, or a graduation ceremony. Sometimes it’s throwing out your box of razors. It’s calling someone instead of doing something self-destructive. Progress is getting out of bed in the morning without dreading what the coming hours hold, but instead wondering how you can make the day everything it can be.

Friends, Family, Food, and Freedom

Today was a great day. It was the kind of day I could never have had when I was in the depths of my eating disorder. To start the morning off, I met up with my friend and coworker, Diana. She came over to my house and we made flower crowns, which are an awesome accessory anytime you’re feeling like a fairy princess. When anxiety ruled my life, I never had people over. It was too risky. What if they thought my room was too messy and therefore assumed I was a disgusting slob who probably had cooties? What if my room looked too clean (unlikely), and they knew I had spent too much time cleaning up and thought I was trying too hard and then assumed that I never had friends over and thought I was a complete loser with no friends? That could totally happen, right?? What if my parents were there and my dad accidentally let one of his embarrassing nicknames slip out? I would have to change my name and leave the country if any of my friends found out  I answer to “Tootie Rootnik.” It seems silly that I would actually worry about these things, but I did. I’m happy to say that I don’t anymore. I had never spent time with Diana outside of work, (another reason I didn’t have friends over much before; what if as I got to know them, we discovered we hate each other??) but I’m really glad I did because she is an all-around great person.

Diana looking like a goddess in her flower crown.
Diana looking like a goddess in her flower crown.

After we finished our crowns, we decided to go to Steak-n-Shake to get milkshakes and lunch. In the past, I would have balked at the idea of a spontaneous lunch, especially at a fast food restaurant, but anorexia wasn’t invited to this get-together. We chatted and laughed over our milkshakes, and had such a good afternoon that there was no time to worry about sopping the grease off my delicious Frisco melt.

My mom and brother, Adam spent a few days in South Carolina at Adam’s freshman orientation for college. Since it was just Dad and me at home, we got to spend some quality time together. (Or, as he called it when I was little, “Daddy and Doodle time.”) One of Dad’s greatest loves in life is Italian food, which just happens to be one of my biggest fears in life. That’s right. Not drowning, not a plane crash, not my family unexpectedly being abducted by aliens. Italian food is what makes me sweat. My family used to frequent Carrabba’s, but stopped going when anorexia made it too much of a harrowing experience for me. I hadn’t been in a couple of years–before tonight. When Dad came home from work, I asked if he wanted to go to  Carrabba’s, and of course, he said yes.

When we got there, Dad said he wanted to sit at the counter by the kitchen because he likes to watch the chefs cook. carrabbasOne thing I really admire about my dad is his curiosity. So many of his sentences start with, “I was listening to a podcast, and I learned…” Or “This makes me think of something I read the other day and…” He is always learning new things, and I love that he shares them with me. (Even though I make fun of him for his podcast addiction.) Tonight was no different. He regaled me with anecdotes about how restaurants are run that he learned from a book he’d read recently. Another perk of sitting at the counter is that sometimes if the chefs have a spare moment, they’ll whip you up a small sampling of their own creations, tasty treats that aren’t on the menu. Tonight, Dad and I got to try peppercorn chicken in a cream sauce. You read that right. I was met with food I hadn’t planned on eating, that I hadn’t chosen, that I didn’t even know if I would enjoy, and my first reaction was a smile. It was delicious, and I thanked the chef.

dad and me
Daddy and Doodle

While we ate our dinner and I listened to Dad talk about his day, I thought about how proud I am of him. Dad started a new job as a judge this year after twenty-five years of practicing law. His dad (my grandpa) was a judge, as is my uncle. You could say it runs in the family. Dad worked hard to get where he is, and he works even harder now to be the best he can be at his job. It makes me proud to hear about his days, how he makes careful decisions and puts an abundance of thought into all that he does. I was so engrossed in Dad’s stories that I didn’t notice that I had broken one of my ED rules.  In the past, I’ve always felt the need to put my drink in exactly the same place on the napkin so that there is only one ring of water. Tonight, I missed the napkin completely and set the drink on the tabletop. It didn’t make a difference. I was okay. I enjoyed bread, which used to be forbidden in restaurants. Best of all, I didn’t feel the need to stuff myself or to restrict. I ate what I wanted, listened to my hunger cues, and stopped when I was full. I even ordered dessert, which used to be unthinkable, but I took it home with me to enjoy later, rather than forcing myself to eat it as a punishment.

When I was at the Creek, something John, the Creek’s chef, said really stuck with me. He told me, “Eating is a celebration,” and he’s right. Food is a celebration of culture, of art, and of taste. Mealtimes are a celebration of family, togetherness, and events big and small. Tonight, I celebrated the wonderful relationship I have with my dad, and yet another victory over anorexia.