Tips For Professionally Sitting Around Naked In Public

I’ve worked on and off as an artist’s model for the last 16 years, and it’s a part-time gig I’m finally starting to “lean in” on by booking more sessions and networking within the community. I recently met up with some other local artists’ models and, while we were exchanging tools of the trade, I realized I’d accumulated a lot over my years of experience.
I thought I’d share some with you.

                                                     #Realness

Here’s some tools of the trade I’ve picked up along the way:

1) Go Natural
The magic of being an artist’s model is that you don’t have to make yourself look like a fantasy; they want reality. Keep makeup minimal and soft (tinted moisturizers or BB creams are the best thing ever) and sweep your hair up into something loose so you’re not having to fiddle with it and artists can work with the shape of your neck and shoulders. Use a clear deodorant (I really, really like the Crystal kind.) If you must paint your fingernails, go with what I call the “Disney Princess Look”, which is just a solid nude tone, so your nails look healthy but aren’t distracting with a stark French tip. Try to avoid tan lines. If you’re working in a studio with stage lighting, feel free to hit yourself with a little contouring and mascara, but otherwise, skip it.

You gon’ sweeeaat.

2) Use Vagisil Brand Powder head-to-toe
You’re going to sweat. Even if you’re sitting still. I promise. Regular baby powder is thick, will make you look chalky, and goes on chunkily (New word alert!). Powder designed for vaginas, however, is light, fights odors even if unscented, and is translucent on the body. It’s also talc-free! Score!

3) Commit to a Hairstyle Down There
Look, your pubic region is going to be on display, but it isn’t the Main Event, so don’t try to feature it. Either grow your hair out or wax it all off, but anything in between will look out of place in the context. Trimming the edges is okay; landing strips & creative designs not so much.

4) Wear a Wrap Dress to the Session — Just a Wrap Dress
It seems trivial, but if you’re not wearing anything at all, strap indentations from bras and underwear are small ways that take the artist out of that ethereal, magical, otherworldly zone in which we create, and back to banal details. Plus, if you don’t bring underwear with you, you can’t accidentally leave it in the bathroom at the studio.
Oh, and BYO Robe, even if the studio owner says there’s one there you can use; you may need to use it as seat protection, and that is not something you want to share with other models.

5) Wear a Tampon
I don’t care what time of your month it is. You want a tampon in. You may be sitting for awhile in a warm room and snail trails are awkward to have to address in a professional setting. And plan sessionsaround your period if you can.

6) Skip the Coffee/Tea
I’m not a sadist, but seriously skip the coffee or tea unless you want to be interrupting the session every 10 minutes to pee. In fact, I don’t even eat within a couple hours of a long-term sitting so I’m not dealing with unforseen digestion issues.

7) BE SOBER
It doesn’t matter how nervous you are before your first time posing nude, you’re being hired to do a job and, believe it or not, this is intensive work. Even having one cocktail or puff beforehand will change the way you hold your posture and expressions, which is a recipe for unimpressive work. Not only that, you won’t be able to hold poses for as long if your head isn’t in the game. Do everyone a favor and show up without a buzz, at least until you and the artist get a groove going.

8) Line Up Your Focal Point With Your Nose
You might have to hold a pose for awhile, so your first inclination is to pick a focal point; however, you can still keep your eyes on a spot while your head and neck slowly melt into a different position (which results in your head looking like a weird blob in any artwork because the artists’ view is slowly changing.) To make sure your head isn’t moving position, close one eye and line your nose up with a focal point. Check in every 5 minutes to make sure you’re still lined up.

9) PRACTICE YOUR POSES BEFOREHAND
My first ever art model gig was at a huge class at what was then called North Carolina School of the Arts on a tiny block in a drafty loft-style studio in front of about 30 students all around me. We were going to start off with a few 5-minute warm up poses that the professor directed me to “give something energetic!!” so I picked a crazy, angular stance where all my weight was on one foot. Within 30 seconds, I was sure I was going to die. The rest of the session was me struggling to figure out what I could hold for longer than that that the students in the back of the class could see that wouldn’t kill me. Somehow, I booked another gig with that professor, but this time, I did some thorough research of complementary poses that both flattered and showcased my form and wouldn’t have me in agony if held long-term. Now I have an arsenal of poses for every setting at every length of time. Oh, and I also learned to…

10) Strive for Poses with 3 Resting Points
Whether you’re standing or sitting, the part of your body that is absorbing all the weight is going to start aching after a few minutes not moving. Even if you’re sitting but putting a lot of weight into your hand, that wrist is going to start freaking out if it’s working long term. With three resting points, you can shift your weight delicately between them without drastically changing your pose, which keeps intact the integrity of the image your body is creating.

3 Resting Points includes your upper body, btw.

11) Check In With Your Zen
If you’re sitting still for a long time and holding a pose, your mind tends to wander to your grocery list or that thing some stranger said on your way to work or repressed childhood memories or whatever. As important as it is to check in with your nose focus point, it’s also important to check in with your self every 10 minutes so your face isn’t slowly morphing into an expression of horror or resentment or heartache. Again, you want to have one stable emotion the whole time so the artist observing you isn’t trying to draw a weird amalgamation of expressions (unless they request that.) Be sure to come back to your emotional center, take a deep breath through your nose while you puff out your chest, then slowly exhale back into your pose. Roll your eyes around to stretch them out, squeeze them shut, then gently open back to your focal point. This is like hitting the “reset” button for your whole system.

*Look for my essay about my love affair with this style of modeling in Sasee magazine. And, no, they aren’t paying me to say this right now.

OFFICIAL STATEMENT: I’m Done Discussing my Ladyparts to the Media

File this under Things I Never Thought I’d Need to State Publicly, but here we are.
I received my 7th inquiry to participate with a “docu-series”/reality show today with regards to the article I wrote two years ago about having developed Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder…

This is the 2nd time MTV has solicited me. Two separate shows with different subjects, but still, apparently I am a prime candidate for terrible TV.

This is the 2nd time MTV has solicited me – two separate shows with different subjects, but still! 20 years ago that would’ve meant something! (CDs name shown in case others with PGAD would like to contact her regarding this inquiry.)

...and realized I should close this Pandora’s box on the record.

I no longer suffer from Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder and do not want to continue speaking on behalf of that community. 

I published a follow-up article last year via XOJane about how the condition was derived from the antidepressants I was on and how that plus my pelvic floor myofascial disorder were relieved once I took myself off all my pharmaceuticals including the Mirena IUD. I experienced intense PGAD for about 6 months – the myofascial disorder for another year. I have been symptom-free from PGAD for almost two years.

I received no medical treatment for either condition due to limited funds. I am not equipped to speak on behalf of the majority of PGAD sufferers who experience this as a chronic, genetic, hormonal, or generally recurring condition. I do not know of the most recent treatment methods, where the OB/GYN community is in their research or availability of resources. I never got involved with the online community of PGAD sufferers, so I absolutely cannot speak for them or even discuss their particular issues/campaigns.

In the two years since the original article was published, I have accepted interview requests from HuffPost Live (See video here), a team of independent female documentarians, and – on a #YOLO-embracing whim – the campy, trashtastic TLC  reality show “Sex Sent Me to the ER” (which, frankly, was a straight-up awful experience start-to-finish – with the exception of befriending our initial casting director, whom I adore.)

I’ve turned down 6 other reality shows and a feature in the ever-classy UK MirrorOnline because I feel strongly that I’ve publicly commented on this very short part of my past enough.  Continuing to publicly discuss PGAD would be taking the platform away from those who still suffer and who are still working very hard to get recognition and representation within the gynecological community. 
Not only that, but it’s painfully evident how badly most media sources just want to sensationalize the issue when women have literally killed themselves because there’s no cure or relief from symptoms; I have no interest in perpetuating this dynamic.

My vagina is currently healthy. I have no interest in trying to get barrel-bottom “famous” by continuing to talk about that brief time it went haywire ages ago.

Things I’m a Hypocrite About: An Ongoing Exposé

Principle: I think chasing trends and fashion is the most wasteful, superficial manifestation of this consumer culture we’ve created.
Hypocrisy: I enthusiastically watch to see what Rihanna is going to stun us with next… And I follow about 50 drag queens on Insta just to admire their selfie creations. (@PhiPhiOhara is doing #365DaysofDrag, a look per day for a year, and it is quite literally amazing.)

Principle: Capital punishment is morally wrong, barbaric, outdated, and terrifyingly flawed. Enough is enough.
Hypocrisy: If someone is convicted of child abuse (especially sexual), that person should be hurled into a shark tank on a celebrity-hosted Pay-Per-View event and we should send all the proceeds directly to the public education system.

Principle: It is absolutely none of my business what anyone does in his or her bedroom and I’m sick of it being public discussion.
Hypocrisy: I am disgusted by this grey-walls-in-the-boudoir vogue and will quietly judge it all day long. Call it “classy” all you want; all I see is a resignation to boredom. I didn’t know vanilla came in grey.

Principle: The pendulum swing back to small businesses and DIY lifestyles is exactly what we need to get America back from this ubiquitous, sweeping corporate culture that creates indentured servants out of small-town workers!
Hypocrisy: …But Starbucks is the only place in town that can do a dairy-free/soy-free/low-sugar mocha… And I just want a part-time gig from a company that isn’t on the brink of collapse due to financial issues for a change.

Principle: “Oh, I haven’t seen that commercial; I don’t really watch TV.” is something I catch myself saying a bunch. And believing.
Hypocrisy:  I’ve religiously followed “It’s Always Sunny…”, “Broad City”, “Archer”, “Baskets”, “New Girl”, and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” every season since their respective inceptions via streaming services… oh, and “Snapped”, which terrifies my husband.

Principle: Kids are the worst. My anxiety skyrockets being around more than three of them at once. And why are we even still producing them? Humanity is having a serious overpopulation issue that could easily be curbed if we pumped the brakes on procreation.
Hypocrisy: Have you met my daughter?! SHE’S MADE OF MAGIC AND SUNSHINE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Here, let me give you ample opportunity to observe her general awesomeness via varied social media platforms. It won’t get old.

Principle: It’s important that we all express how we feel and stand up for our beliefs no matter what!
Hypocrisy: … Unless you honestly believe God doesn’t want you to share, interact, or coexist with anyone different than you. Then you should shut the fuck up and take a seat.

Principle: Namaste. I recognize that the Divine in you is the Divine in me, too. We are all one, and we are all manifestations of a Higher Power, interacting on a physical plane.
Hypocrisy: This is just something I want to believe but don’t yet. I can only see the Divine in the very few people who are extraordinarily kind, generous, selfless, forgiving, creative, or otherwise inspirational. For the most part, I just see secular, regular, messed up (sometimes REALLY awful) people. That doesn’t mean it’s reality; it’s just what I can observe. I should work on that.

Principle: I genuinely don’t believe in marriage; it’s an antiquated institution that isn’t based on practicality anymore aside from tax benefits. Monogamy isn’t natural and that’s not a terrible thing. Attempting to put rules and arbitrary expectations on human nature just causes way more heartache than anyone deserves. I’m not anti-marriage; I just don’t advocate it if asked (which I’m not, usually)… And I don’t at all get this obsession with weddings in our culture, but that’s another issue…
Hypocrisy: I’ve been married and monogamous for almost 8 years. And, despite a rocky start, the last couple years have been improbably, almost annoyingly ideal. I’ve even considered renewing our vows. ::shrug:: I dunno, guys.

Principle: The sugar-addicted American diet has made us so depressed, obese, and unhealthy that we have become fat little caricatures/laughingstocks to the rest of the world. Eat more vegetables!! Stop eating garbage and then piling on medications to treat the ailments that this Western diet causes! It’s costing us a fortune in insurance costs to tackle everyone’s issues that could easily be treated by consuming less sugar and empty calories. Take control of your health, people!!!!!!
Hypocrisy: I have spent $52 on the boxes of Girl Scout cookies I have singlehandedly consumed from my daughter’s inventory in the last 6 weeks. They’re $4 per box. I have also checked a dozen grocery stores in my area in anticipation of the arrival of Ben & Jerry’s Dairy Free collection. Also, summer is approaching, which I often refer to as “Cheerwine Season”.

Principle: Can we all quit telling each other what to wear and what not to wear already!?!
Hypocrisy: White people shouldn’t wear cornrows. Stop it.

What It Feels Like*

You know how, when you have an itch you can’t get to immediately – maybe it’s on your back or at the bottom of your foot under a shoe and a sock – and it gets exponentially worse with every second you can’t access it until you’re starting to feel anxious and sort of frantic until the absolute first moment you can reach it and then you GO TO TOWN scraping the everloving bejesus out of your skin in such a way that, if there was no itch, it would really, really hurt, but because there is that godforsaken itch, there’s this overwhelming, almost orgasmic feeling of relief?

Okay. The impulse to self-harm is that exact feeling, except The Itch is completely fabricated in the sufferer’s brain. The sensation of relief is identical, but usually, the brain ramps up the demands, insisting that suicide is the only real remedy for The Itch.

And that’s what suicidal ideation feels like on it’s very most basic, chemical (vs. situational) level.  Most of the time the brain will go to great lengths to support this argument, breaking out everything short of a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate aaaall the reasons that suicide is the best option. However, once a person with suicidal tendencies has gone through enough therapy to call “Bull!! Shit!!” on the mind’s thesis, the reasoning disappears while the impulse remains, regardless of how “good” or “bad” a person’s life objectively is. (Some pharmaceuticals have been known to exacerbate this impulse, which I can personally attest to… privately, where none of the companies can slap me with a slander lawsuit…)

This is why, when someone says “I feel suicidal”, trying to convince him/her how great his/her life is is not only useless, but it makes said person feel even more hopeless and guilty as to why she/he is feeling something so confusing and genuinely terrifying in the first place.

Suicidal ideation is an unhealthy hought process that desperately needs to be discussed like any other illness. Trying to convince any sick person that there’s no reason to be ill would be ridiculous in its futility and ignorance. Mental illness is no different.

 

*A public response to the emails/FB messages I’ve received about this in the last year. Thank you for asking questions, TT, DM, PS, CP, TH, NB, and JF.

White Guilt Isn’t Helping Anyone

Look, Fellow Whitefolk, I understand that it’s tough right now if you’re not a member of the Racist Denialism Gang. A substantial percentage of us were raised by post-integration parents in a world where diversity was just a casual part of our reality and not a political statement. (Yes really. That was my childhood, and I was even raised in the South.) So it’s only natural to have a knee-jerk “Not ALL Whiteys are evil!!!” reaction when we hear Black people railing against the actions of Greater Caucasia. And, adversely, it’s also really easy to shrink back into a state of anti-white self-loathing and ongoing frustration that I’m being lumped in with people whose actions appall me. Unfortunately, both of those options are terrible.

I spent a lot of time in the latter category. Not to get all “I have Black friends!!” on you, but I took for granted how blessed I was to be raised by parents who cultivated a racially diverse social circle without any thought or pretense to it while we were growing up. Our playmates were always of varied ethniciy and, honestly, it wasn’t even something we bothered to discuss; race was completely irrelevant when we were just happy kids playing together, you know? This is why, after I moved further south in my mid-adolescent years and started observing rhetoric and behaviors I’d never seen before, I started feeling this deep sense of shame about being part of this pale tribe of imperialist racists. ((I didn’t hear the n-word spoken by a White person about a Black person until my freshman year of high school, for example. I didn’t know white people really did that outside of old movies depicting inbred redneck slave owners. And, for the record I always went to public school; in my younger years the ratios between Black and White classmates were equal.) It absolutely didn’t get better with age as I started actively paying attention to the songs and words of Black people who were still struggling against centuries-long systematic oppression.

And then it got even worse when I heard SO MANY White people I know, love, and respected get louder and more intent about screaming back that the idea of systematic oppression was all in Black people’s heads because “racism is over”, “they were making a big deal of nothing”, “not everything is about race”, and they should “just calm down and be grateful for the rights they’ve been given since slavery.” And I don’t want to sugarcoat this: This type of rhetoric is ubiquitous. I routinely hear this type of apologist talk from a majority of the white people I associate with. (Not a large majority, but more than 55%, I’d guess.)
It is disheartening.
It is God damned embarrassing.
And it, honestly, makes me want to hate White people.

This, however, is also not helping either side.

The Truth is that stagnation comes from divides between the races (or any group of people categorized by societal boundaries.) We’re all just going to devolve into hatred and war if we don’t start connecting and drawing some similarities between us instead of judging each other for our feelings.

For example: Recently, a bunch of Whitefolk have been angry and terrified at the very misguided idea that a pop star is calling for war or something. (She’s not, by the way. “Black Power” doesn’t have the same godawful, historically murderous history “White Power does”.) And okay, yeah, White People, it would be really fucking scary to hear about militant groups forming to fight against anyone with white faces. However, it’s exactly what the KKK has been doing for a century and a half now toward People of Color, and our government protects them. Maybe PoC are sick of living in a world where that happens? Wouldn’t you be?

Ah. See? Now we can relate.

This is where my shame and guilt will get me nowhere. If I’m sitting around hating myself because a bunch of idiots I don’t know and can’t/shouldn’t take responsibility for are making all White people look like arrogant, heartless racists, then my inability to act isn’t helping to build any bridges and move toward understanding from both sides.

This being said, NEITHER WILL ME GETTING LOUD AND SPEAKING OUT ABOUT OPPRESSION OVER PEOPLE OF COLOR. What we don’t need is yet another White person taking the stage and having his/her commentary about something we can never fully comprehend. We need to listen to those who are affected. We need to honor their feelings and ideas, even if they are hurt and hostile at this moment. It’s the only way to create a common ground from which to build real peace

We need to not fucking make this about us. (Looking at you, Macklemore…)

Look, I’ve always been an obnoxious outspoken type who will rail on about injustices and other societal bullshit, but in doing so, I’ve taken for granted that, as a Caucasian, I already have access to a platform to spout off about my beliefs. The whole point of the #BlackLivesMatter movement is that there are voices and lives that deserve to be respected but are routinely dismissed; I want to help facilitate the opportunity of a valued opinion to everyone for a change. Me hogging the podium doesn’t at all encourage that whole “Be The Change” thing people seem so intent on proclaiming from their bumper stickers.

And I’m familiar with the protests such a crazy notion will elicit:  “But I NEED to express myself!! You can’t silence one person in favor of another!! We have to ALL fight if change will happen!!! My voice is valuable too, no matter what race I am!!”

I’m not denying those things in principle. And I’ll speak out about equality and Love and peace until I’m dead. But we need to remember to respect someone else’s turn.  These current fights for PoC to be seen as equals is not about me as a White person; my perspective is not of the most importance, and I would be hurting the cause by taking away attention from those speakers whose voices are of the most use.

But what I can do is not hide out in my White Guilt. And you can, too, Other Whiteys! Ask real questions. Listen to what your PoC friends and acquaintances have to say without judgement or needing to give your $.02. (And for God’s sake, don’t get all whiny and butthurt if some don’t want to completely open up with you because you can’t fully understand where they’re coming from.)  Stand with them when they speak out. Watch “Dear White People” ; it’s addressed to us, FFS. Retweet their truths. Go to protests with them and resist the urge to post a a selfie from the event so you get Internet cred for appearing woke.

Sure, it hurts me very deeply when I read PoC writers rail against White people as a whole, even though I understand the rage. I’ve had to stop myself from screeching “This is just encouraging the same blanket prejudices and intolerance against an entire race that you yourself hate when directed to your own! STOP!!!!” back at hundreds of blog posts, Tweets, and Instagram accounts in the last few years, but I’m choosing not to. I just keep reading. The last thing those who are getting the courage to speak out need is one more person telling them not to for any reason. There are a lot of viewpoints; I don’t have to agree with all of them. But I should do my best to understand.

That, in fact, is the only real responsibility I have in any of this.

This current struggle for societal equality isn’t about us, Caucasians, and that’s not going to hurt us, despite what our collective ego is trying to get us to believe. Nobody is trying to attack White people by demanding to be treated fairly and getting angry when they aren’t getting through after decades and decades of politely asking.

What if we just tried to shut up and listen for a minute? What if we heard “Hey, I’m really angry at you White people, and it’s ruined my life, and I don’t trust any of you as a result” and didn’t argue with that person for a change? What if we just accepted that that’s how someone feels without trying to convince him/her that he/she’s wrong and that viewpoint is somehow ridiculous? What if, instead of sending in more force at Ferguson, we’d given the rioters a real chance to be heard and make changes together? What if each of us dared to do that same thing in our own personal interactions? I bet both scenarios would be relieved of a lot of tension.

Things might start turning out differently. I’m pretty sure it’s worth a shot; the way we’ve been going about this isn’t working.

The One Year Mark

I’ve been holding off on writing anything a lot recently, but I received this message randomly on Reddit:

littlebirdy
…and it seemed like the Universe providing a Cosmic Stage Cue for me to move forward with [over]sharing my story.
(Also, thanks again to user l_b for such a profound message.)

It’s been a year since I stopped taking the cocktail of medications I’d been prescribed for more than a decade prior and, while I consciously know that a lot has improved, spring is the time of year that my mental state collapses. I was determined this will be the year I come through it without falling apart, and I was very optimistic that, because this last year hasn’t seen any major, long-term depressions, this would finally be the spring I was okay; however, the last couple weeks have seen that typical decline in spirits that I’m fighting tooth and nail. You’ll have to forgive my momentary Eeyore demeanor (or not – your choice) , but this week in particular has traditionally been the one that has seen a complete meltdown on my part, which usually results in me being bedridden for a month and has put me in two separate mental hospitals over the years. (This, by the way, isn’t at all uncommon I recently learned. In fact, spring is the season that sees the most suicides and mental health hospitalizations. Does this make me basic?) I’m trying to get sunshine, continue a daily yoga practice, and get what fruits and vegetables I can, but the surge of random despair is pretty hard to shake.

It would serve me well to focus on The Positives of The Last Year. Let’s do that instead.

1) I’ve lost half of the 60 lbs I quickly gained while on the last medical cocktail, which has been veeerry slow going (apparently my liver is so shot from years of meds that its ability to metabolize fat is pitiful), but because of my yoga practice, I feel stronger than I ever have. I still have a long way to go, but unlike every time I’ve ever lost weight, this has been gradual and lasting; I’m not losing in fits and spurts and I don’t gain everything back during a premenstrual week where I’m craving every carb on the planet. Also, despite what I weigh, I have better endurance during an average day, which feels tremendous. A year ago, I was exhausted after a 25-minute mile and felt abysmal; now I’m walk/running around town when I can and spending a few hours on a recumbent bike every chance I get which has really rebuilt strength in my thighs and knees. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything slowly-and-surely, but regaining my physical health is successful because I haven’t been in a huge rush to “get my body back”.

2) I’ve been able to maintain routines, complete tasks, and accomplish stuff. In the last year, I took on a part-time job, which I was able to maintain while also keeping up my household consistently – a feat that never once happened when I was on the roller coaster of manic-depression-inducing medications. Again, usually my energy levels go through month-long cycles of mania then depression, but in the last year, everything has leveled out so that I’m consistent. It’s amazing and it has profoundly impacted the happiness and peace of my family. My job folded because the small business I was working for is changing ownership, but while there, I was competent and able to show up and get things done regularly. I haven’t been quite as consistent in my energy levels with the 9-month yoga teacher training course that I’ve been doing since September (mostly because my physical health has still been struggling), but I’ve kept plugging away at it as I can. I had a habit in my early years of college of getting all the way to the end of a semester and then having a meltdown and just stopping; I’m fighting the urge to do that now as we’re entering the last weeks of the training.

3) I’ve been able to let go of stuff FINALLY and have “trimmed the fat” from my social circle. I mentioned this before, but the medications I was on kept many outdated conflicts with past relationships at the forefront of my consciousness and emotions. Being the type to try to “solve” these issues, I kept entertaining those relentlessly, unable to stop replaying situations/emotions in my head despite praying to be able to just get the fuck over it already. There were about 8 people whose interactions with me had an impact as though they had happened recently, even though I haven’t seen many in more than a decade – some in almost two. Despite realizing years ago that this was an unhealthy/psychotic fixation on my part, I just could not seem to move past them. I honestly tried prayer, meditation, ancient rituals, spells, and anything else I could find to cut emotional ties with my past to no avail. Turns out, all I needed to do was stop taking medications that kept feeding that loop in my psyche. Within a couple months, I stopped being haunted by all of that anger and sadness. I politely excused myself from the lives of those I’d continued to bother with my insanity finally.  I honestly feel absolutely nothing about my bad past relationships except peaceful indifference. ::exhaaaales::
In fact, in the last few months, I was presented with a new relationship that immediately spelled trouble and, without hesitation, I put my foot down and said, “No. I care about you, but I’m not doing this.” Unlike every single time I’ve tried that, I didn’t hesitate or backslide.
There are a couple of people with whom I will be interacting with for the rest of our lives, but even those relationships are more peaceful now. I’m not on guard constantly, but I’m blunt about boundaries without any lingering anger. That’s also a huge difference.
It’s been staggering to realize that the medicines that were supposed to be helping me heal from trauma were, in fact, the thing that was keeping me stuck in a frenzied victim mentality. Gross.

Anyway, despite these last few weeks of swatting at seasonal depression, my life is significantly better than last May; my whole mindset is clearer and more serene than since I was about 11. The tone in my home in this last year have been so different I feel like we’re living by a new script. I’ve been very guarded in letting in any new drama as this is the most peaceful we have ever been, and my husband and I are taking the time we need to rest from the years of legitimate insanity.

To be honest, I have fought a lot with myself and my crushing disappointment that I haven’t accomplished more with my life at 32 years old. On paper, it doesn’t seem like I’ve been doing much of anything, but if this last year has been allowing me to prepare for the next few decades of my life, I’m okay with that. Before I try to launch myself into the lifestyle I dreamed of the whole time I was sick, it seemed wise to take some time to figure out what all had been physically damaged over the years, work toward healing all that, and find some steady footing. Just taking some time to catch my breath seems necessary, despite my desire to do something productive/that I’m proud of.

I realize there’s no such thing as “perfect health”, and I’m being patient with my healing as 12 years of multiple medications (15 if you count birth control, which I should) is a long time; chances are, I have a while longer before my body is completely free of all the damage it endured. I’m no longer suffering from PGAD (which evaporated when I stopped the antidepressants, a phenomenon I will be discussing in a documentary I’m participating in next fall, actually), but my other aforementioned gynecological issues are still working themselves out. I’m positive I do suffer from PMDD, which has me fighting the urge to step into traffic a couple days every month (not kidding.) I’m still unsure whether or not I should take Zoloft during the week prior as my OB/GYN has prescribed and recommended because, while I’m now terrified of medication, I’m also still terrified of my mind trying to kill me randomly because it’s freaking out on hormones once a month. Meanwhile, I stopped eating gluten last January and, have since had major relief in a lot of the neurological weirdness I was being tested for last autumn, but there’s still a lot of stuff that I’m dealing with that I’m just sort of hoping will go away over time as I continue to eat better and build physical strength.

Mentally, the Tardive Dysphoria (feeling of apathy resulting from years of antidepressant use) I mentioned having or months and months is also lifting, but it has been replaced with a lot of projected frustration and aforementioned misanthropy, which I’m not enjoying and am fighting a lot. There’s not enough research out there to say whether or not a grumpy internal monologue is one of the phases of healing from TD, but I suspect that it may be. I’m trying to do what I can to keep my hormones in check to regulate symptoms of needless frustration and, luckily, I’m not aggressive in my grumpiness. In fact, for the first time ever, I’m able to observe when I’m being unnecessarily cranky, distance myself from others quietly, deal with it privately, and return to social circles without causing needless drama. THIS IS UNPRECEDENTED. Also, I’m no longer having the fuming, ongoing anger about small things that has plagued me since forever, and that’s nice. I’m spending a lot of time alone, doing work outside when it’s sunny and working on art pieces while listening to a nonstop stream of intelligent stand-up comedy, which has proven to be therapeutic, actually. I’m okay with it seeming underwhelming from the outside; anything more than this has been making me miserable and anxious.

Conclusively, this year has been successful in improving my life (and my household tone) significantly, which is what I’m working to focus on instead of the things that are still lacking. Having the expectation that I’d be “all healed” within a year of going off medication only has me focusing on the disappointments of not being completely better. In my fantasies, I disappear from society for half a year and come back all rebranded as the image of physical health and with a fully-completed portfolio of publishable final drafts. Realistically, however, it is my slow, steady recovery and interactions with my support unit that are facilitating me turning this corner and building a sustainable lifestyle for a change.

Detox Level Up and Exquisite Peace

In the spirit of candidly sharing every part of this recovery thing, I’m going ahead and talking a tiiiny bit more about ladystuffs because it’s critical to the story. Plus, after telling the world I was clinically horny last winter, I figure anyone still reading my drivel is equipped to handle it. So, after about a month of ongoing crabbiness and desperately seeking ways to keep my ever-present irritability at bay, I suffered the single worst spell of PMS I’ve ever experienced, and realized that these symptoms may not’ve been related to withdrawal but were, instead, just coming to light after being obscured by the psychiatric meds and should probably be looked at separately.
Long story short: I’m not on birth control anymore and everything is genuinely great.
It was kind of terrifying, given that I’ve been on it since I was 17, but I figure I’ve already kicked a 12-year addiction to antidepressants, so cutting myself off from unnatural hormone replacement was a logical next step. Sure enough, my moods immediately stabilized, my abdomen stopped cramping nonstop, and my mind has just been at peace.

At this juncture, I’m completely au naturel.
And that seems to be the Answer as far as my mental health goes.

I’m not an idiot, though; I’m still going to be vigilant of my moods and energy ebbs and flows. Again, after the terrifying manic episodes I’ve been having in the last few years, I’m too paranoid to let even an energized cleaning spell go by without heavy consideration, and I know that many, many people quit their medicine believing that they’re “fine” only to horribly relapse. That’s the last thing I want.

But I also know that every single mental problem I’ve had in the last decade has happened while I was on antidepressants, and my massive psychotic break (almost exactly a year ago to right now, actually) happened while I was on medications for both depression AND bipolar disorder. Like I’ve said before, these medicines weren’t helping anything, and I was living a lifestyle of moving from illness to illness…which was bullshit… From where I sit now, I’m inclined to believe at least 75% of this madness was precipitated because I was so heavily medicated (the other 20% being from the birth control, and the final 5% is my own natural color.)

These days my mental state is rational and predictable on a daily basis, which wasn’t even possible during the Effexor-zombie apathy spell I was experiencing for months at the beginning of this year. I’m still working on building up physical strength, and I’m monitoring my diet with lots of protein, so my carb-binge cravings have finally subsided. I’m finding I’m a lot less exciteable than I remember being in my youth, and I tend to be a lot more laid-back than I’ve ever been. I don’t nervously blurt or ramble when I’m bored or nervous, which is a huge relief; I feel more at ease moving through social interactions these days. A lot of that I’m sure has to do with age, but being that I’ve been a hyperexciteable mess right up until a couple months ago, finding out that I’m really a lot more relaxed when I’m unmedicated is a delightful surprise.

I feel like I’ve had a complete mental makeover. The person I’ve been in the last couple months has been drastically different than the scary, insane thing I’ve been exhausted being for an eternity now. Aside from physical issues throwing kinks in my daily life, I’m finding that I’m more consistent than ever and my progress at recovery is slow and steady instead of coming in fits and spurts like usual. With this lack of constant drama, our household is flourishing; my husband feels more comfortable and relaxed and, as a result, his creativity is bursting, which spurs on my own. We’re calmer and more content; stress, anxiety, and fear don’t lie just below the surface of our interactions anymore. It’s an incredible luxury.

I will say that, now that I’m not constantly battling some mental demon, I am excruciatingly bored with this stay-at-home lifestyle I’ve set up for myself. Having the Bear at home for summer is keeping me entertained and staying creative, but the minute she goes off to school in a couple weeks, I’m diving right into a couple ventures I’ve had on the backburner for years now. Originally, I thought I’d look for work, but as I was interviewing for another non-prof office gig a couple weeks ago, I realized I’m not convinced I can swing a 9-to-5 lifestyle. Instead, I’m going to spend more time sloooowly integrating structure to my life and figuring out where New/Healed/Mostly-Sane Liz can thrive.

Honestly, for the first time since I was a kid, I feel like forward movement and living a full, unique, healthy existence is something I’m actually accomplishing. It doesn’t look impressive on paper, but this thoroughly-therapied, at-peace-and-slowly-plodding-forward-at-my-own-pace version of my Self is my favorite of my acheivements so far.

My Most Spectacular Failure: A True Fable

In honor of the LPGA U.S. Open starting today, I thought I’d share the story of the time I singlehandedly cost my high school the 1997 State Championship women’s golf title. It is a doooozy of spectacular proportions and is an ideal parable for both the perils of making expectations about other people and the beauty of perspective.

The public high school where I spent my freshman and sophomore years was brand new at the time and happened to have among us two of the best female players in the state; we just needed a third player to qualify as a team, and because my father made his career developing golf courses and I’d grown up in Pinehurst (the original self-proclaimed “Golf Capital of the World” outside of, you know, Scotland), the organizer was adamant that I’d make a perfect candidate. Said organizer was also my volleyball coach, which was a sport in which I was admittedly pretty awesome, so she straight-up refused to believe me when I said, “I really, really can’t play golf, Coach. Seriously, this is a terrible idea” and, I assume, just thought I was being modest. She was convinced that I could go out there and “hold [my] own” since I’d been raised in a golfing family, and so, after her relentless begging for almost a month, I acquiesced.

I’ll keep this short: The three of us traveled four hours from Myrtle Beach (the other self-proclaimed “Golf Capital of the World”) across the state to the tournament, which was held in even-more-out-in-the-middle-of-Nowheresville, SC. The two girls on the team scored the best in the entire state, and we were an easy choice to take the whole thing, even if I shot an outlandish 120.

I shot 154.

I couldn’t stop laughing; it was too absurd… and then laughing about how unashamed I was about the whole thing.

Alright, wait.
I legitimately had done my best out there because I didn’t want to make a mockery of the thing deliberately. I was raised with manners, for God’s sake. And integrity.
Also, I felt genuinely sorry for the other two girls who were maybe hoping this whole thing would be a beautiful underdog story that would put our sparkling new high school on the map and possibly help them catch the eye of scouts for potential collegiate golf careers. But I’m not sure how they felt about it, really, because they made sure to never speak to me again.

However, the look of shock and horror that slowly crept across Coach’s face as she watched my swiftly-unraveling game was the funniest thing to happen on a golf course short of Bill Murray mumbling about a Cinderella story. I even told a few friends about the catastrophic ridiculousness of my game with a shrug and the honest assessment that, “I DID say it was a bad idea…”

What’s most interesting to me all these years later is this: At the time, I was of the age where I was shamed very, very easily.
Call me “overweight”? I’ll be a wreck of tears and starvation for a month.
Fart in mixed company? Not going to show my face for the next hour.
But grandly, publicly, comically botching a state championship in front of hundreds of people in a sport I absolutely don’t care about? Hilarious.

..and easily dismissed, too. This was something that not only never bothered me, but that I quickly forgot about. Telling people I played golf in a state title tournament is one of those pieces of personal trivia I reserve for games of “Two Truths and a Lie”, and people always assume that that’s the lie.

So there are two lessons here, really:
1) Shame and embarrassment are all relative to what we put value on and our individual perceptions of what “failure” actually means.
2) Don’t make assumptions on a person just because of their lifestyle’s circumstances.

Oh, and 3) I cannot effing play golf. So don’t ask.

NOTE: My sincere apologies to Katie B. and Serena (Selena?), wherever they are, who probably never found this whole thing as hilarious as I, but who never once said anything negative about it to me like total class acts. It would’ve been a real honor to play with you had I actually been playing golf that day.

Detox Weeks 3-4: The Great, the Bad, and the Relatively Ugly

All of this should be prefaced by restating that, as the Effexor’s hold on my psyche slowly increased during the years I was on it, it literally sucked my will to experience life dry, which means that a lot of things fell by the wayside. This is a gigantic part of the reason I’m quitting it in the first place (as I mentioned in-depth earlier), so it stands to reason that it’s the months of apathy and resulting piles of mental/physical “euckh” I’m actually dealing with the most now aside from the SSRI withdrawal syndrome (which, again, is a @#$%ing real %$#!ing thing…)
Things are developing, which is good. Here’s the lowdown:

The GREAT!!
My will to thrive has returned in full, which is exciting. My mind isn’t racing and I’m not feeling manic or ridiculously overzealous about hurling myself forward, but I’m actually excited about stuff like getting my house in order and catching up/regaining a normal fucking day-to-day life that includes being productive and enjoying things! I’m doing spring-clean-y stuff and selling/donating/purging outdated clothes/housewares and slowly getting shit going again. I even went out and touched-up a “street art” piece I’d been meaning to do for literally 9 months now (I bought the paint that long ago. Ridiculous.) I can’t really describe how it feels to be excited about desiring to do the mundane, but it is among the things that I am most grateful for at the moment. THIS is why I knew, in my heart, that quitting these godforsaken medications was what I needed. Score yet another for intuition.

The Ongoing Bad
The thing about recovery in any form is that one always expects it to be a steady, gradual course, but it never, ever is; this includes recovering physically, unfortunately. It wasn’t recommended by anybody, but I weaned myself off the drugs relatively quickly, because the more I read about it, the more I found that people were describing the hideous withdrawal symptoms all along, no matter how quickly they decreased their dosage and, frankly, I’d rather be severely miserable for a month than generally miserable for six. I’m a rip-the-damned-bandaid-off-already kind of gal. (In a barely-related story: I also genuinely like spoilers. Bring ’em on. I hate suspense.) So I basically took the hard route and committed to just being tortured and incapacitated for a short amount of time. Unfortunately, after being “clean” of the Effexor/Cymbalta for a couple weeks, my plans hit a snag last weekend when my husband was out of town and I was still in physical misery; HOWEVER, I also found myself literally being woken up every 4-6 minutes with the most horrifying, vivid dreams I’ve ever experienced. Not only were they hyper-realistic in that they moved seamlessly into my real-life situation, but I was experiencing physical sensations to boot. It was insufferable and I finally caved and took a fraction of a dose of the SNRI to stop the withdrawal symptoms. They worked like a charm, and I was immediately able to sleep with no problems, but I’m terrified I reset my whole system and have prolonged the detox process. Dammit.

The Relatively Ugly
Another fun thing I didn’t know about Effexor is that it is precisely what has been contributing to my weight gain in the last couple years (aside from the Fat Miley project, in which I openly embraced putting on a few for the sake of art. #WorthIt) Not only does it make cravings uncontrollable (and will punish your psyche severely if you try to abstain), but it makes the weight harder to work off. And as it worked on my apathy, I sort of stopped giving a crap because, really? Being a little fat is a ton of fun once you stop giving a shit what society says about it. Seriously. Everything’s a little cushier and more comfortable; you stop giving a shit about whether or not your tailored stuff is gonna fit because you know it isn’t and you embrace clothes that are more flowy and easygoing anyway. It’s kind of like walking around in a fatsuit, which is just a bunch of pillows wrapped around your bones. Fluffy!
I mean, I knew I was getting on the unhealthier side, and I sure did miss wearing most of the stuff in my closet, but I’ve lost baby weight before and I wasn’t too worried about being able to lose it again; I just didn’t have any real drive to do it… or anything for that matter. Being 50 lbs overweight was a bit of a fun adventure/life experience. I have no regrets on that front.
HOWEVER, now that I’m trying to get my body back in gear, it is embarrassingly hard. Even when I was humongous and pregnant, I still was active enough to get back on the horse once the baby was outside my body. Aside from the general pain and dizziness from the withdrawal, I’m trying to push through and get a little cardio for endorphins’ sake.
I went for a walk today. I went 2 miles. It took me 40 MINUTES.
Apparently, sitting around in apathy has hit the “reset” button on my personal stamina. I literally have never been in this bad of physical shape before.
It is a daunting task to think of getting out of this hole.
I genuinely am not worried about losing the weight so much as I am my ability to get my strength back in what feels like a completely foreign body. The weight will work itself out, but dear LORD, do I feel physically useless.

To be honest, in this apathy spree of mine, I’ve sort of just not given a shit about how I look at all. Putting my concern on my quality of life and my mental state has definitely been more important, and, honestly, taking a break from the societally-induced vanity we’re all expected to adhere to has been kind of nice. I love playing with makeup, but I’ve only done so about once a month for the last quarter-and-change. I’ve been living mostly in maxi dresses/skirts and cinching my waist to give myself a shape, but not really paying much attention to appearance on a daily basis. Between that and not getting much physical activity, I feel completely disconnected to my body; I’ve been living mostly in my fuzzy brain.
As much as I’ve always hated women who primp for hours, I don’t think setting up a routine to at least put on mascara or do a vibrant lip for myself every morning after I meditate is a bad thing right now, even if I don’t plan on seeing anybody during the day. I need to start acknowledging this body if I’m going to heal it, too, I think.

It seems like I’m writing my own How to Heal Thyself manual. I like where this rough draft is going.

Detox Week Two: Most Unexpected/Waaaahhh

Wellll…

Things were uncomfortable, but they were slowly getting better. Every day was a little less godawful, and, by Friday, I was pretty sure I was through the thick of it. Saturday I was out and about and feeling peachy keen! I went and worked at the yoga studio and was getting excited about getting my house back together and finally catching up on, you know, my entire life.

Then, Sunday, I was all dressed up and ready to go out and suddenly, I was just… not…

And I dizzily fell into bed and immediately to sleep, in which I sweated as though I was sprinting through a tropical rainforest wearing a latex bodysuit… and had unbelievably effed-up, vivid dreams. This continued for the entirety of the day, thus robbing me of any Mother’s Day joy or festivities while my poor family sort of just hung out and did whatever. I was completely comatose All. Day.

I’m not as exhausted today, but I’m still dizzy and disconnected and disoriented. I’m hungry, but I feel like barfing… or sneezing… or breaking into sobs. The light hurts. Sounds make me want to cry. In fact, I’ve lost my cell phone, so I called my husband because I just needed to hear someone’s loving, patient voice and I ended up crying “I’m so sorry this has been going on for forever and I’m worthless and unreliable and I thought I’d be feeling better by now and I’m so sorry.” at him while he was patiently trying to get back to work at the place where he’s not a babysitter for an adult woman but is, instead, a respected leader of a highly-successful design department.
Also, I’m confused pretty much constantly, which is making writing this much harder than it should be. Forget doing anything productive; I can barely remember what I’m doing from one minute to the next. And I keep losing track of time. It’s weird and not fun.

I thought I was pretty much done with this! Things were doing so much better for a couple days there! This was going to be the week I started getting back to living and I was gonna see some sunshine and work in my garden and get out and go to yoga classes and take walks and see people and junk.

I’m not depressed, though, which is a good sign. I’m just getting frustrated because I’m ready to be back on the horse. I’ve been ready, actually. This is getting really, really stale.

Dammit.

So, right now, I’m sort of just waiting and doing tiny, boring things around the house. Like laundry. And petting my kitties. That’s it. I don’t actually know how long this phase of going off Effexor is supposed to last, but I’m getting pretty tired of being useless. It’s doing nothing for my self-esteem.

And I still have no idea where my phone is…