Friday, July 29, 2011

Swimming out to the buoys

I went to the beach a few weeks ago, by myself. It's since become my thing. But that first day, I went mid-morning on a weekday, hoping there wouldn't be too much company on the sand.

There wasn't, except for the birds. Heaps of seagulls and geese covered half the beach. One woman lay several yards away from the water in tanning position despite the overcast sky. A man sat in a lawn chair just beyond the waves' reach. Two women, mother and daughter, peeled down to their black swimsuits and waded out into the water.

I spotted someone swimming along the buoys, back and forth, a steady crawl. I had picked the right time, the time when those in the know come down to the beach to get their exercise in.

I had my new Marc Jacobs (from TJMaxx) one-piece on, which I had blown my budget out to get (at $50; my budget fits in my shoe) so I could actually swim at the beach instead of flail around trying to keep a bikini on. This girl is my body double, boobs disappearing under compression and all:
So I sat on a rock like a typical introvert, drawing trees and birds in my notebook and trying to look like I came to the beach to sit on the rocks and wasn't itching to dive in as soon as my introversion wore off. I looked up and saw someone walking out of the water, the person who had been swimming along the buoys:

Her sunburn turned out to be a pink swimsuit. I had been sure she was a guy. A guy in his 30s or 40s who would later be in scrubs in an operating room at the Clinic because swimming in the lake like that means you're a highly self-disciplined surgeon.

I packed up and walked out along the sand, past where the swimming woman had gone to sit next to the man in the lawn chair.

"You're a great swimmer!" I said to her. I flipped my sunglasses up so she could see I wasn't a stalker, or to give her a fair shot at describing my face to police if I were. (Really, this is how I think.)

"Oh, thanks! There's a group of us who are going to swim a mile or two miles at the end of the month."


"Yeah, the lake is perfect for it today, low waves."

Low waves, but I felt like a sliver of tree bark in the lake. It is so big and jostly, and I am a pool-adapted swimmer. But that woman was in my mind. Most women in her apparent shape wouldn't even put on a bathing suit, let alone attempt swimming for a sustained amount of time. Or swimming at all! What made her start? How long has she been at it? How had she come to join the group? She looks like a fertility idol, but how healthy must she be?

What makes the difference between her and my similarly shaped neighbor, who nags at her dogs all day long because she can't nag at her life?

I want to be that swimming woman. I want to take care of myself like that, believe in myself like that, commit like that, embrace life like that, and ignore anyone who might judge my less appealing parts because I know how fucking fantastic I am inside. Ignore them -- including myself, sometimes.

And so I swam. I wanted to impress her. I wanted to be fearless. I thought I would choke or cramp or otherwise embarrass myself. Is that my fear? Embarrassment? Is that worse than death?

I've been back a few times and the swimming is no longer an issue. I'm a fish again, though cautious. I want to take care of myself like that woman takes care of herself, actively and within a niche that works for me. There are lots of "shoulds" in the world, lots of advice about the right way to do things. But we know in our guts much more than a pile of experts or studies can tell us.

I want to do that in all areas of my life. I want to be bold enough to cut away things that don't benefit me. People that don't benefit me. I want to be bold enough to sculpt a life that will let me be my bipolar self without trying to kill me. I'm working on my courage. I'm working my way towards the buoys.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

If you don't want people to comment on your weight, why are you commenting on mine?

Person: Are you getting skinnier?
Me: Relative to you, yes.


Person: You look skinnier.
Me: Maybe your eyes are getting fatter.


Person: You're so skinny!
Me: Don't be jealous, you look good too!


Person: Are you losing weight?
Me: Nope, checked yesterday, still good ol' 125 like I was in high school!


Person: You're too skinny.
Me: I know, I have great metabolism. I can eat anything I want and never gain a pound.


Person: Are you eating?
Me: I had six pancakes and four turkey-sausage links this morning for breakfast. What did you have?


Person: Are you getting skinnier?
Me: Do you know how lucky you are that talking about how fat someone is to her face is taboo?


Dear (American/Non-Starving) World,

99% of you are fatter than I am. Get over it.

With Sincerity,

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

How ill is mentally ill?

I called the hospital's financial-clearance office today so I can keep visiting my psychiatrist now that I don't have insurance. The last question they asked me was whether I had any particular conditions, including permanent blindness or deafness, cerebral palsy, leukemia...or a permanent mental illness.

Am I really as hampered as I would be if I were blind? Or if I had cerebral palsy or cancer? I just can't buy it.

Is this about likelihood of insurance denial? Did you know that my total medication bill these days runs under $100 per month? It may even run under $75; I can't remember how much the generic Neurontin cost me last time, and I'm not using it as a psych med anyway. Are the insurance companies telling me that treating bipolar disorder -- granted, with generics -- is as expensive as treating cancer?

I know I have a lucky medication lot right now. My mood stabilizer is startlingly cheap to refill; last time, it cost $13.11. (Go to Target for your meds!) If my meds weren't generics, I'd be spending $500 or more. (Which, by the way, is incredibly, incredibly stupid.) Bipolar disorder has become very cheap to treat as far as medication goes.

Then there's the psychiatrist and, for some people, the therapist. And the risk of hospitalization. So all this added together...

I analyze all this in terms of money, cold and rational, because I still can't allow that bipolar threatens my life like cancer would, or inhibits it like cerebral palsy would.

And honestly, it's probably good that I think that way. Like blind bicyclists who employ echolocation -- if they weren't optimistic about their conditions, they'd be on the couch all day.

But I've headbutted the world enough times to know that I have to be realistic, too. Since leaving AmeriCorps, I am stable. I still have some rogue anxiety going on, and I slip into depression once in a while, but now that my stress levels are low, I am functioning again.

Did I head towards adulthood hoping I'd have limited choices if I wanted to be stable? No. But how wonderful that changing my circumstances makes me healthier.

And so how can mental illness be as grave as those other illnesses? But I know it can. I've been to the brink many times. I am okay today, so I don't have a mental illness; I forget about tomorrow. I worry about having children and whether I will fall apart on them.

I choose a job that keeps me afloat but that won't earn me wealth. The illness curtails our earning power. Another reason for financial assistance.

I'm still discovering what having bipolar disorder means for my life. I know it doesn't have to mean devastation, and that financial assistance isn't damning -- it's lucky. I know that without a psychiatrist and meds, I might die. It doesn't feel like cancer-die, but somehow it's true.

And when I feel good, all of this feels like life rather than burden -- like, as I said, discovery. It's interesting. I enjoy figuring it all out.

My cat is sleeping with her foot in her face. For some reason that seems appropriate right now. Being at home on a weekday, sitting next to the sunshine and my cat with her foot in her face.