23 in 2023

I had every intention of publishing this post on January 1st, but failed! Luckily, I’d put a lot of thought into the following already, so here it goes–out into the interwebs and ready to keep me accountable.

Taking inspiration from others, I decided to put together my list of 23 in 2023: 23 goals I want to accomplish this year. Some are small, indulgent plans while others are big and life-impacting. So here it goes.

23 Goals for 2023

  1. Attend church on a weekly basis (unless we’re out of town)
  2. Go on a date with Jim every month 
  3. Have a kids’ experience every month
  4. Get a tattoo of the kids’ initials
  5. Celebrate Ryley’s graduation
  6. Have a family photo shoot 
  7. Attend a Notre Dame football game with Jim
  8. Implement a cooking routine three nights a week (start meal prepping)
  9. Lose 50 pounds by 31 December 2023
  10. Walk and/or jog 21 miles a week
  11. Run an in-person 5K race
  12. Develop a weight-lifting routine twice a week
  13. Go sugar-free for a week
  14. Change my behavior from getting up to binge at night
  15. Drink 128 ounces (a gallon) of water a day
  16. Learn 3 new physical coping skills
  17. Build the map of my life from Tara Schuster’s Buy Yourself the F**king Lilies:
    • Where does my self-esteem come from
    • What are my principles
    • What is my affirmation
  18. Keep a daily written journal (morning pages or other)
  19. Keep a personal budget of $250 per month
  20. Write a new blog post every other week (26 total)
  21. Read 100 books, with 36 books from my TBR collection
  22. Abstain from book-buying for one month
  23. Reach 7,500 Bookstagram followers

Because I love to segment and chunk a list into categories, I focused on several different areas of my life for this list.

Focus 1: Stronger Relationships

First, there are the relationship goals that focus on spending time with my family, expressing my love, and growing my faith. There are seven of these relationship-based goals.

  1. Attend church on a weekly basis (unless we’re out of town)
  2. Go on a date with my husband every month 
  3. Have a kids’ experience every month
  4. Get a tattoo of the kids’ initials
  5. Celebrate Ryley’s graduation
  6. Have a family photo shoot 
  7. Attend a Notre Dame football game with my husband

Focus 2: Better Physical Health

And then there are the health goals, which range from cooking more to building a better, healthier body. There are eight goals here, but the most important ones to me are Numbers 2 and 7, losing weight and stopping my binge eating behaviors.

  1. Implement a cooking routine three nights a week (start meal prepping)
  2. Lose 50 pounds by 31 December 2023
  3. Walk and/or jog 21 miles a week
  4. Run an in-person 5K race
  5. Develop a weight-lifting routine twice a week
  6. Go sugar-free for a week
  7. Change my behavior from getting up to binge at night
  8. Drink 128 ounces (a gallon) of water a day

Another goal that needs to be on this portion of the list is to identify the cause of my migraines and find some type of regimen that keeps them at bay.

Focus 3: Improved Mental Health

Obviously it’s integral for me to achieve better mental health. 2022 was a year filled with anxiety, more so than depression, so I’m keyed into the importance of better mental health. There are only two goals on this portion of the list, but they’re really important.

  1. Learn 3 new physical coping skills
  2. Build the map of my life from Tara Schuster’s Buy Yourself the F**king Lilies:
    • Where does my self-esteem come from
    • What are my principles
    • What is my affirmation

Focus 4: More Creativity, Less Spending

This last category of my 23 in 2023 is a catch-all of how I want to be more creative and more discerning about my entertainment. Some of these are very indulgent – like growing my Bookstagram (@jessicareadsmanybooks), but hey, they’re still goals.

  1. Keep a daily written journal (morning pages or other)
  2. Keep a personal monthly budget for entertainment (i.e. books)
  3. Write a new blog post every other week (26 total)
  4. Read 100 books, with 36 books from my TBR collection
  5. Abstain from book-buying for one month
  6. Reach 7,500 Bookstagram followers

Next Steps

So how is my progress so far? Well, it’s the fourth Sunday of the year, and we haven’t been to church yet. I’ve gained about 2.5 pounds, but I have walked/jogged 21 miles each week, and I’m pretty consistent about writing morning pages (or sometimes evening pages). I have started keeping weekly goal lists and monitoring everything so that I can make adjustments and see progress.

Do you have goals for 2023?

Five Stars for Someday, Maybe

Someday, Maybe by Onyi Nwabineli – A Five-Star Book Review

What would you do if you lost the person closest to you? And how would your response be if that person chose to leave by suicide? That’s what Eve, the protagonist of Someday, Maybe, must experience when she finds her husband, Quentin, in a pool of his own blood. Eve doesn’t know why her Q died by suicide. All she knows is grief at this unimaginable loss.

What I Loved about Someday, Maybe

This book, the debut by Onyi Nwabineli, is a deeply moving novel about grief, family (both born and found), and grappling with death. I loved Someday, Maybe for so many reasons, including the characters, the writing, and the message.

The Characters

Much of this book is a character study of a widow who is entrenched in guilt, shame, and loss as Eve tries to understand why Q would die by suicide. He did not leave a note, so there is no evident answer, despite Eve’s efforts to find the reasons. I loved Eve’s journey as her actions and thoughts were realistic and uncontrived. And, just as important, I loved the side characters in this story. From Eve’s Nigerian parents and grandmother, to her headstrong sister Gloria and her blunt brother Nate, to her best friend Bee and the people she meets along the way, these characters are four-dimensional, true-to-life loved ones who help Eve find her way. And then there’s Aspen, Q’s mother and Eve’s antagonist. Somehow Nwabineli makes this snobbish, hateful woman a realistic portrait of a mother in grief, too.

The Writing

I highlighted so many passages in Someday, Maybe. Not only are Nwabineli’s words powerful and impressive, but she fits together sentences and meanings, uses metaphor to show us the pain Eve feels, and lets us sit in Eve’s grief alongside her. This is one example:

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.

Onyi Nwabineli (Someday, Maybe, pg. 337)

The Message

Reading this book at the end of December 2022 (and finishing it on January 1, 2023) felt especially timely as we saw news of Stephen Laurel “tWitch” Boss’s suicide. News story after news story have posited questions about tWitch’s death by suicide, as the dancer and DJ appeared to have a happy family, career, and life. But it’s not our place to know all the details of why. It’s our job to have empathy for his family and friends, letting them grieve and share if/when they are ready. Also, it’s our job to understand that whatever outward presence a person shows is not always a true indicator of their internal thoughts, struggles, and feelings. That is the message that I felt carry through Someday, Maybe. Eve doesn’t understand why Q died by suicide. She feels shame for not being able to save him and shame for not seeing beneath his charismatic, successful exterior and place as her husband of more than a decade. She blames herself for not knowing he was in pain, and her journey in this book walks us through those stages of mourning and grief.

There aren’t enough adjectives to properly describe how much I loved Someday, Maybe by Onyi Nwabineli. Please just take my word for it, and pick up this book to experience on your own.

In the Existence of Mental Illness

Book Review

The Existence of Amy by Lana Grace Riva

Amy is existing. She goes to work, makes excuses to avoid happy hours, and moves through life while knowing that simple existence is not right. She has something, a voice, a compulsion, a suffocating threat to any semblance of the life she used to have. Her friends continue to be there for her, but her secrecy, excuses, and separation keep her from accepting their kindness.

Lana Grace Riva has delivered a book that encapsulates mental illness, giving voice to every bit of Amy’s struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. Reading Amy’s first-person account of her mental illness was true and gave a voice to what it’s like in the thick of it, not after years of medicine, therapy, and improvement. It’s a rare book that truly does this.

Thank you to Ms. Riva for gifting me with a copy of this book to review and provide my own thoughts about this valuable mental health novel.

Overthinking About You: A Read-Along

Mental health is a passion for me. I struggle with severe mental illness (SMI), as I’ve shared on here before. But mental illness doesn’t just impact the diagnosed; it impacts their loved ones and anyone close to them.

Mental health and relationships come with their own sets of challenges. I am so grateful for my husband who supports my mental health journey and who is my unbending advocate.

That’s why I was excited to participate in The Tandem Collective Global’s real-along for the book Overthinking About You: Navigating Romantic Relationships When You Have Anxiety, OCD, and/or Depression by Allison Raskin (Workman Publishing). This read-along was a great way to immersive myself in the book and answer questions about my contributions to my marriage while dealing with SMI.

What I Liked about Overthinking About You

I loved the thoughtfulness of this book. Ms. Raskin writes with a warmth and honest approach about anxiety, OCD, and depression, and how to navigate relationships while you have a mental illness. Another quote that hit me hard: “I might not feel this way or see the world this way, but I acknowledge and respect that you do” (p. 90).

This book is practical advice, research from experts, and nuggets of wisdom. While Overthinking About You is written from the standpoint of new and relatively new relationships, I found the discussions about anxiety and conversations about mental health applicable to my marriage. My husband is incredible, but I know my mental health puts challenges on our relationship. And that’s on me.

Activities in the Read-Along

As I completed the read-along, I highlighted passages and filled my notebook pages with resonating words. Here are three statements that rang incredibly true for me:

  • A useful acronym to respond to anxiety – “STOP: Stop, Take a breath, Observe, Proceed” (p. 40).
  • “It’s a lot more reasonable to ask someone to weather a storm with you when you already have a strong foundation” (p. 59).

And my absolute favorite:

“None of us are Superman, and that’s a good thing.”

Allison Raskin, Overthinking About You (p. 78)

Another activity asked about your healing rituals. Here are some of mine:

  • Sit outside with my husband.
  • Go for a long walk, ideally while listening to an audiobook.
  • Take a hot shower.
  • Pet my dog.
  • Let myself have a good cry.

Also, I liked the read-along activity that asked us to think about our senses and what awakens them. I came up with these:

  • Seeing the bright colors of tulips and the Northern Lights
  • Tasting a delicious dessert
  • Smelling a great perfume, coffee beans, and fresh-cut grass

Final Thoughts

Ms. Raskin understands the importance of mental health, and she writes from a place of honesty and realism. This book isn’t full of broad-stroke advice that you’d see on a motivational Pinterest board. Instead, it’s a thoughtful look at how you can manage your mental health, specifically anxiety, OCD, and/or depression, and be in a positive romantic relationship.

I’m happily married to a wonderful man who supports me and my mental health. While some of Ms. Raskin’s messages were solely for people in the dating stage, I still took away some great points about how I must communicate what I need when I’m struggling and how I can take hold of my own mental health in relation to my marriage.

Overall, this is a 5-star book for me, and I highly recommend if you struggle with mental health and are/want to be/have been in a relationship. It’s a great read with a long-lasting message!

Two quotes I’ll end with:

  • “There is power in knowing you are not going to change your morals in reaction to pain” (p. 193).
  • “No matter what happens, my life is in good hands. They just happen to be my own” (p. 196).

What Anxiety Looks Like

I’ve been fighting back crippling anxiety for a week now. I’ve tried to explain what my anxiety feels like before, but my words don’t seem to accurately define it. I am going to keep trying, though.

My Picture of Anxiety

  • Checking my email inbox obsessively to see if my boss’s boss approved of my work.
  • Feeling like a did 30 minutes of cardio when I’m just sitting in my chair. Heart pounding, shallow breathing, body aching.
  • Knowing I need to complete my to-do list, but not being able to focus, and then feeling ashamed that I can’t check off my priorities.
  • Counting calories and steps with a fear I won’t meet my goals.
  • Snapping at my husband because he asked how I am feeling.
  • Panicking when I realized I booked a non-refundable trip.
  • Clicking Buy Now on Amazon because a book or a dress might make me feel better.
  • Being proud that I was able to leave the house for 20 minutes.
  • Spending an hour talking myself up so I can leave the house for 20 minutes.
  • Sleeping because I’m exhausted, but having to take Klonopin to help me sleep.
  • Dreaming about trauma and failure.
  • Withdrawing from my family.
  • Cancelling a trip to the city to see friends because I can’t imagine getting on a train.
  • Wishing I could spend the day in bed, but feeling obligated to close my Apple Watch rings so that nothing bad happens.
  • Saying the same prayer every night so nothing bad happens.
  • Feeling like I’m walking in a razor-covered high wire.

Unbound: The Story of #MeToo

Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement by Tarana Burke

A Five-Star Book

Tarana Burke is an activist and the founder of the Me Too Movement that opened the door for thousands of women to finally raise their voices and share their stories of sexual abuse, violence, and harassment. Ms. Burke is a powerhouse, a woman who stands for so many BIPOC, for so many women and girls who do not have the words or the voices to speak up. She empowers us all to speak up and calls for the end of the horrors of sexual assault.

Ms. Burke begins her memoir by sharing the morning when her words, Me Too, became a viral hashtag that finally gave a voice to the silent suffering. But her memoir is much more than a recounting of how Me Too began. It is a vulnerable, painfully real story of truth that began when she was sexually assaulted as a child. With her truth, Ms. Burke shines a light on the meaning of #metoo, demonstrating that it’s not just a hashtag but a highly nuanced movement to hold others accountable for sexual violence.

As a Black woman, Ms. Burke explains how Black culture addresses sexual violence under a lens of not just taking care of others but with caution because of the countless Black men who have been violently accused and condemned and murdered by whites. This feels so wrong yet so relevant to what has happened in the U.S. for centuries. Her explanation was both vivid and heartbreaking.

Much of Unbound is about Ms. Burke’s realization that others have experienced the same type of pain and suffering. Their stories helped her to find her voice, and she returns that gift to others. This book is raw, honest, and brutal. But it is hopeful as well, as she encourages us to speak out and give others our voices.

I am thankful for Ms. Burke’s activism, her voice, and her courage to share her story. I do not yet have all the words for what violence and scars I carry in my past, but one day I will share my #metoo story. I hope it gives others’ strength to do the same.

The Surprises of Honey Girl

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

A five-star book review – Includes spoilers

I ordered Honey Girl as one of my Book of the Month picks a few months ago, and oh how I wish I’d read it sooner.

This debut novel by Morgan Rogers was such a surprise for me. I thought it would be a sweet romantic comedy like many others, but Honey Girl stands out. It has heart. It tackles serious mental health issues. It is life-affirming.

What I Loved About Honey Girl

The representation in Honey Girl is amazing. Morgan Rogers is a Black Queer author who incorporates diversity into every page of her novel. The protagonist, Grace Porter, is a lesbian born to a strict, military father who is Black and a white mother who travels the world in search of herself. In a drunken frenzy after receiving her PhD in astronomy, Grace marries Yuki Yamamoto, an Asian radio host and waitress, in Las Vegas. That’s where the story begins, but Grace goes on a much more nuanced journey than only trying to get to know her wife. Grace’s friends are just as diverse as she and Yuki are, making this book a refreshing read.

This book is a romance, but it’s also described as a coming-of-age novel. Grace is struggling to find her home in academia. She is determined to be the best, and that means achieving the top position. She has been following the plan laid out by her father, Colonel, for eleven years, with her only rebellion being that she chose astronomy over medicine. Her job interviews sour Grace from the field as interview panels imply that her sexuality and race are “unsuitable” for a researcher. Despite being the favored student by her professor and mentor, Grace is distraught because her dream career has stalled.

This lost feeling really resonated with me. I could relate to Grace because of my own experience after my Master’s program. You work so hard in school and do everything right, but then when you graduate, you lose that student identity. I felt lost for a few years after I got my Master’s and eventually started my doctorate program to get back some of that identity and ultimately prove something to others. That is a disheartening sentence, but it’s the truth. I still question whether I’m living up to my potential and my worth as dictated by those two degrees.

But back to Grace. Her mental health is hurting, and I cheered for her when she came to that revelation. Ms. Rogers described mental illness in the most realistic way I have read in a very long time. From anxiety and depression to a damaged self-esteem to the struggle of finding a proper mental health therapist, Grace’s story felt real in every aspect.

Those are just a few of the reasons I loved this book. I especially loved Grace’s found family of roommates Ximena and Agnes, as well as her coworkers Raj and Meera. Honey Girl is a love story between two lonely creatures who find themselves bound by marriage. It is a beautifully written debut from an author I will be following closely. It is a book that I highly recommend!

Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month (Week in the UK). My company’s Diversity & Inclusion Steering Committee tried to promote it and mental health support, but I only saw a few posts about it on our Workplace channel. I helped my department launch a campaign for mental health awareness, but I am sad that few people participated. I was the only one to make an individual post in support of the campaign. Now I’m unsettled because maybe my peers assume that I have a mental illness because I showed more support than others, and it feels like I’m standing out too much.

It’s true that I have serious mental illnesses. I share about my bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety here and on my social media channel. So if I’m putting my SMIs out in the web universe, why does this bother me? Am I a fraud because I’m nervous sharing any of this with coworkers? Am I contradicting what I stand for?

I think I am all of those things, but here are the excuses I tell myself when I shy away from talking about mental health in the workplace.

People Don’t Understand Mental Illness

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2020), 13.1 million U.S. adults have SMI diagnoses. While that’s 5.2% of the adult population, it doesn’t mean understanding and recognition is growing at the same rate.

SMIs take many forms. Some people can be high-functioning, hiding their SMIs from others while they control their symptoms with medicine, therapy, and self-care. I don’t believe that you can be “healed” from an SMI. Rather, like a cancer of your brain synapses and chemistry, you can go into remission. That doesn’t mean that you’re healed; it means that you’re not showing symptoms.

Yes, SMIs are being discussed more than ever, but the stigma remains. From misrepresentation in the media to stereotypes about mental health, there are so many assumptions about what SMIs look like:

  • Uncontrolled anger
  • Moping
  • Irrational behavior
  • Victimhood
  • Weakness

Those are just a few of the assumptions that I’ve heard, and I know there are more. The stigma of SMIs is deafening, and it prevents more people from disclosing their diagnoses.

Disclosing Mental Illness at Work

I’ve been in the professional workforce for nearly 17 years now, and one of the things I’ve carried with me from the beginning is that I’m a failure and a liability if I show too much emotion. Emotion equals weakness, and weakness equals stagnation. But what happens when emotions are tied to SMIs that, at times, have been out of control?

When I had a breakdown in August 2020, I was terrified of taking vacation time. We were in the middle of a pandemic, and who takes a vacation from work then? I was hanging onto my job with my fingernails, even while I had multiple panic attacks daily. Despite hearing that my UK counterparts were taking 4-week-long holidays, people in the U.S. didn’t do that. My boss worked 12+ hours a day, so I needed to do the same. But when I couldn’t function anymore, I knew I needed time off.

So, I made the decision to talk to my doctor about taking a mandatory leave. She agreed. I should have taken more than 10 days, but I refused to allow myself more. My boss stopped me from sharing too much information with her because of privacy laws, so I focused on HR and my doctor shared only the most pertinent information.

I felt forced into a corner to take those steps because I wanted to protect my position at the company. The Americans with Disabilities Act prevents firing because of medical leave like mine, and I was afraid of retribution because I was taking time off.

But that’s a bit irrational right? My company was pitching the boilerplate language of self-care, work/life balance, and taking time away. People in other countries were taking PTO and seemed fine with it. But that wasn’t what I knew. After all, wasn’t my boss working tons of hours? Why would I show weakness like that?

I don’t talk about taking that medical leave. I didn’t share why I needed the time. I needed more time, but again, I didn’t want to be weak.

Some things have changed since that time. I have a new boss who actively encourages taking time off. I do the same for my direct reports. The world seems more attuned to mental health in some ways. But, stigma remains. People remain quiet. And I question my actions.

When will we move forward? When will we normalize conversations about SMIs? When will we change the narrative?

Anxiety, a Psychiatrist, and a Lost Weekend

I am not sure how many psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and mental health experts I have seen over the years. I’ve lost count of those visits and of the medications I’ve tried. Since we have moved several times in the past six years, I’ve had to seek new help and new prescriptions every time, and that process is so tiring. I’ve seen good shrinks and bad ones, been taken off medicine too quickly and given new meds without warrant. But one of my psychiatrists made the largest impact on my life.

I’d met Dr. Donaldson shortly after I transferred from from one college to another in a different city. Because of my multiple suicide attempts, my dad had been seeking a referral for me for months so that I could see a doctor who had a good reputation and the potential to help his struggling daughter. I did not want to go see Dr. D., insisting to my mom that I was fine and I didn’t need a psychiatrist. She didn’t buy my pleas. “Your dad had to pull a lot of strings to get you this appointment. You’re going.”

And so I did. I arrived at Dr. D’s office and sat in a waiting room that smelled like old magazines and the 1980s. Our first appointment was thorough, but talking to Dr. D. wasn’t like my previous encounters with psychiatrists. He sat behind a giant lawyer’s desk and listened to me. He asked questions in a quiet, grandfather-like voice, and after I answered a few of his queries, I noticed he seemed to be interested in what I was saying, even when I was just talking about my summer, not my mental health symptoms. This doctor wanted to get to know me as a person before he handed over a prescription. What a concept!

He did prescribe me medicine, of course. We played with a few dosages and different meds for a while, but eventually I started taking EffexorXR for my mood, Trazodone to help me fall asleep, and Seroquel to help me stay asleep. It was a good cocktail of my mental health, until it wasn’t.

I saw Dr. D. throughout my final years of undergrad, and then when I started graduate school in a different state, he agreed to help me stay on my meds if I came back to see him whenever I returned home for a break.

I fell into a chest-numbing state of anxiety in October of my first semester. I had tripped trying to walk over to the phone in The English Center, where I worked 10 hours a week as part of my assistantship, and injured my back to the point I could barely walk to classes. Visits to a chiropractor were helping, but I was embarrassed by my klutziness in front of strangers. And, as we’d been in school for just over two months, my professors were amping up the assignments and readings. Plowing through 150 pages of critical theory a night plus writing response papers and helping grade first-year composition papers was a lot. I’d sit at my IKEA desk (thank you, Justyna) in my apartment and chain-smoke while I worked. I never slept in my bed; I fell asleep on the couch watching my DVDs of Friends on a round-the-clock loop. Not good for my back or my REM cycle. Finally, as the anxiety started to pull at my body even more and as I caught myself repeating tapping patterns, turning off light switches in quick succession of fours, and washing my hands until I was certain I wasn’t going to fail my Composition Pedagogy class, I called my psychiatrist. Something was off, and I needed Dr. D.’s help.

Anyway, I called Dr. D. in October of 2003 in a panic because my anxiety was over the top and I was terrified of failing out of graduate school (having yet to earn any grade lower than an A on an assignment; anxiety lies). He was still my doctor because we’d landed on six-month appointments that I could make work during school breaks. As it was a Thursday when I finally gave in to asking for help, he asked, “Can you take a break for a couple days?” I said I thought so. I didn’t have to be on campus that Friday, at least. “Good. Take two Seroquel tonight and try to knock yourself out for the full weekend. You’re exhausted and sleep is the best option for you right now. You’re exhibiting OCD symptoms because of your anxiety. Sleep and reset.”

So, I did. And nearly 72 hours later, I emerged from sleep and mindless TV binging to find that I did feel better. Not perfect by any means, but I could take deep breaths again and wash my hands in a normal fashion once more. Sleep would become one of my go-to ways to combat the anxiety and depression that took hold of me over many times from then on.

I’m not sure if doctors would prescribe three days of sleep with pills now. Several doctors have urged me to rest, but Dr. D. remains the first one to recognize that I need to take a break and to calm myself. For that, I’ll always be grateful.

Finding a proper medical team is not easy. It’s painful. First you have to navigate insurance approvals, waitlists, and paperwork. Then you have to regurgitate your past mental health issues and talk about experiences that can push you back into that deep hole. And trying new meds? It’s a strain of adding new pills at different doses to the already complex cocktail of antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, and sleeping pills, maintaining a homeostasis to ensure that everything is working together, that a new med is helping, and that side effects are minimal. It’s exhausting. But worth it if you can find a doctor like Dr. D.

Childhood Experiences and the Influence on My Body

It is well-established that experiences in childhood can impact your life as an adult. While literature on the subject continues to grow, a recent study encapsulates this phenomenon for me:

Childhood experiences affect family health in adulthood in the expected direction. Even in the presence of early adversity, positive experiences in childhood can provide a foundation for creating better family health in adulthood.

Daines, C.L., Hansen, D., Novilla, M.L.B. et al. Effects of positive and negative childhood experiences on adult family health. BMC Public Health 21, 651 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-021-10732-w

Let me illustrate this with a story about how a few simple interactions have influenced my shame about my body throughout the years.

As I’ve established, I have had a weight problem since I was 6 or 7. One day, I declared to my mom that I wanted to lose weight and therefore would eat nothing that day or the next. She said, “That’s not a reasonable way to lose weight.” I couldn’t do it anyway, I was little and liked food.

Every year during my childhood, my parents would take me to an asthma and allergy clinic to get a physical and check any new symptoms. I hated this annual appointment with a fevered passion. Yes, the allergy tests – those dreaded scratch tests – hurt like hell, but what hurt more was the doctor’s inevitable statement that “Jessica would do better if she lost some weight.”

I knew that statement was coming every year. I was on the high end of the recommended weight for my height, never really over and beyond that, but the doctor didn’t like my weight for medical reasons, he said. In the summers of my pre-teen and teenage years during the few weeks before this annual appointment, I’d try to lose weight, having the scale reading from the year before imprinted in my mind. But crash diets didn’t work for me and I liked food too much. My only triumphant year was in high school when I weighed one pound less than the year before. But it wasn’t enough for the doctor.

So, my history with food and weight loss and disordered eating didn’t just begin in 2000 when I started purging as a 19-year-old at a family dinner in a steakhouse. And it certainly didn’t end after I returned home from getting treatment for bulimia. I slowed my purging, cutting down until I absolutely needed to do so – to expunge all the weight and heaviness from my body. But, my weight is a constant theme in my life, covered in a thick sauce of anxiety and depression.