The importance of self-care when you’re a caregiver

lightstock_214470_medium_user_3645479

Two-years ago my life changed completely when I became a full-time caregiver to my sister. As a result, I stopped blogging. I wasn’t sure how to talk about my life when it meant talking about my sister’s, too. But I’m learning how to walk that line. And I’m finally starting to write about where I’ve been all this time and what I’ve been doing. For everyone who has stuck around even when it’s been quiet on the blog, thank you.  

Thanksgiving Day marked the two-year anniversary of when I became a full time live-in caregiver. On that chilly November morning two years ago, while I watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV with my husband, Ian, and the smell of turkey drifted in from the kitchen, our life was about to turn completely on its head.

Not long after the pumpkin pies were finished, Ian and I learned how unsafe my younger sister’s living situation had become. My sister is disabled and unable to work, and the family member she was completely dependent on was stealing her money and neglecting her needs. It was clear she needed to move out immediately — so she moved in with us that night.

[Continue reading at HelloGiggles.]


Resolved: A no-diet new year starts now

lightstock_342678_download_medium_user_3645479.jpgThis article originally appeared on Salon January of 2017. And I’m happy to finally be able to share it with you here!

“I’ve noticed you’ve gained a little weight,” Mom said as we sat in the car. I was 11 years old and my body was just beginning to hint at hips. She reached over, tugging on the new roll of stomach fat that was hiding under my t-shirt. “Getting a little pudgy,” she teased.

I’d been too busy feeling awkward that I was morphing into what adults called “busty” to specifically zero in on what my stomach had been up to — no good, as it turned out. I crossed my arms over my stomach, feeling the soft roll of skin and fat that was just above my jeans. I sat up a little straighter, hoping that would flatten things out a bit. I tried to suck it in.

Mom talked about how unnecessary weight gain can make parts of your body pudgy, flabby. “I guess I have noticed that my legs have gotten more jiggly,” I said, looking down at my legs self-consciously.

“If you start dieting and exercising, you could get attractive, toned legs,” Mom said. She told me how a lot of adult women struggle with weight management, herself included. She hoped she could save me from the pain of yo-yo dieting as an adult by teaching me how to maintain my ideal weight while I was still young. If we’d asked a doctor, they likely would have said dieting for an 11 year old was a health risk. But we didn’t ask a doctor. My mom’s own body-image demons clouded her ability to determine what was truly best for my body.

After our conversation, Mom put me on a diet. She began monitoring what I ate. “Kelsey,” Mom said disapprovingly, “that’s too much ranch dressing. You won’t be able to lose weight if you eat your salad like that.” And she made sure I didn’t have seconds after dinner.

“But I’m still hungry,” I protested at first.

“You’re not really hungry,” Mom replied. She said I’d stretched my stomach out through overeating, and it would eventually shrink back to its right size. In the meantime, I was going to be haunted by phantom hunger pangs.

The fake hunger felt awfully real, and it seemed only get worse as more time went by. When I saw a celebrity on TV who had had her stomach stapled, I asked if it was something I could get. When I was told no, I decided that I’d get it the moment I was an adult. Maybe if my stomach was surgically corrected I’d finally feel full again.

When I lost weight, mom celebrated. She encouraged me pull out my flatter-stomach clothes that I’d banished to the back of my closet. I’d pull out my white form-fitting polo shirt and smile at my reflection. Mom would tell me how flattering the shirt was on me “now.” But then I’d gain a few more pounds and the moment would be gone.

When I hit middle school I worried about my weight more than I worried about boys. I didn’t understand that curves added weight — healthy weight. As my body began to shift into a curvier mold, I frantically tried to diet the weight that came with boobs and thighs away. I thought I was trying to manage my weight, but what I was trying to manage was puberty.

When I was diagnosed with asthma and given a daily inhaler, I didn’t take it. My parents couldn’t figure out why. I let them think I was an absentminded and irresponsible pre-teen. I was too embarrassed to tell them the truth: Being thin was more important than breathing. I didn’t take my meds because I had heard steroids could cause weight gain. I knew this wasn’t something other people would understand, so I kept it to myself.

How little I was eating became my biggest secret. And at some point my body and food anxiety crossed the line into abnormal anorexia. I started secretly skipping meals on a regular basis, cutting my food into tiny bites and then counting to twenty before swallowing so eating would take as long as possible. I tracked the most minor fluctuations in the numbers on the scale. Eating became more and more complex and anxiety-causing as I continually added self-induced restrictions to my already limited calorie intake. My obsessive eating-disorder-induced dieting sucked not only the calories but the joy out of life.

When I was in my early 20s I had a revelation about dieting after being very sick with the flu. I’d dropped several sizes. When I stood in the dressing room I was shocked that I’d lost so much weight. I had been pining after my dream size for years, and now I was smaller.

I’d thought about dieting more than anything else for 10 years: This is what I’d been living for. But the gratification from achieving a decade-long goal didn’t last a second. My first thought after realizing the number on the tag: “Maybe I could go even smaller!” Maybe that would be it. Maybe then I’d feel comfortable in my own body. Maybe then I’d feel happy and beautiful and sexy. Maybe . . .

But then I came to the sad realization that the game was rigged. The elusive, arbitrary numbers I’d been chasing — pants sizes, dress sizes, numbers on the bathroom scale — would always be replaced by a different, smaller number. When you have an eating disorder, you never reach your goal weight.

A new year is supposedly a time for fresh starts, but it always feels like the same old thing: Everyone is bombarded with fat-shaming and promises that we’ll finally feel happy and whole in our bodies if only we buy the new latest and greatest dieting or fitness product. All of the magazine covers at the checkout stand will showcase new diets with claims that these are the magic tricks you’ve been looking for all these years. The local gyms will advertise specials, claiming “New Year, New You!” With all that diet talk, if I’m not careful I could have a relapse, which is why celebrating how far I’ve come in my eating disorder recovery is a necessary part of surviving January.

This year I’m celebrating that I can now eat a bowl of potato chips without crying afterwards.

I’m celebrating how last summer I wore a bikini for the very first time in my life, and I didn’t go on a diet first.

I’m celebrating that I’ve gotten to the point in my recovery that I’m able to work out without weight loss being the goal.

I lived on a diet for years. Dieting has controlled so much of my life. It’s been the haunting, nagging, lying voice in my ear. This diet season, as others are setting New Year’s resolutions, I’m celebrating recovery goals. I’m celebrating that I learned how to eat again because life didn’t finally start when I reached my goal weight. Life started when I finally told dieting to fuck off.


Halfway Out of the Dark: Candles, Christmas, And the Winter Solstice

untitled-design-3

[Trigger / Content warning: A deadly shooting, and a scene involving child abuse]

I wrote this two years ago but it felt just as relevant to my life today, so I thought I’d share in case you could relate to. Wishing you all a light-filled Winter Solstice that brings some hope and warmth. 

It was 32 degrees that morning as I stood at my regular bus stop next to 7-Eleven. I’ve never done well with cold temperatures, so I pulled out all my winter gear: down vest, black water-proof jacket (a wardrobe staple in the Seattle region), thick socks, winter hat, and gloves.

Right below the bus stop sign there were glass candle holders with pictures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. The weather hadn’t been great that week—lots of wind and rain (it’s Washington, so mostly rain). But the four candles were burning.

There was a balloon on a stick stuck into the ground reading, “I love you.” Another read, “Thinking of you.” There were flowers strewn on the ground. The artificial ones were still standing up smartly, still holding their color. But the bouquets of real flowers hadn’t survived all the rain and had turned into a soggy mess of petals, stems, and tissue paper on the concrete.

I’d brought flowers, too. I’d written a card. I’d made a sign reading that the regular riders of our bus route remembered. That I remembered. But now it was all gone, just a part of the water-logged mess.

But the candles burned on.

I hadn’t known the victims—a seventeen-year-old boy and his father. They’d been sitting at the bus stop around five in the afternoon, right at peak when they charge you an extra 25 cents. They’d just been sitting there at their regular stop. At my regular stop. And someone drove by and shot them right there.

The younger brother was there too, but news report said he wasn’t hit. But that’s not true, not really. He wasn’t hit; he was shattered. His world ended at five o’clock in the afternoon as the rush hour traffic was just beginning to form.

Lives were taken. Lives were shattered. Evil left its mark. Darkness entered our bus stop and our neighborhood.

But the candles burned on.

Candles like that don’t keep burning forever. They have to be lit, and relit. It was morning. It was cold. But someone had already been there to light them. Someone made sure that they burned on. There were puddles of wax around the candles. They had obviously tipped over, spilling hot wax onto the cement. But someone had righted them. Someone had relit them.

The candles burned on during the longest nights of the year.

As a small child I didn’t even know when the Winter Solstice was but I’d been warned against it. I imagined pagans dancing around bonfires, casting spells, and playing with tarot cards as The Satanic Bible peeked out of their back pockets. The Winter Solstice was spiritually scandalous. It was the time when all the dark things crept out from under that dusty, cluttered spot under your bed; all the mischief and mayhem that lurked in the shadows, afraid of the light, beckoned to one another to come out and play.

But now, as an adult, I’m beginning to find a tremendous amount of comfort in the Winter Solstice. It’s a time of darkness but not dark doings. It’s a time for light to shine. It’s a time for the candles to burn on when we need them most.

Every time I stand at my bus stop I’m reminded that somewhere, very nearby, a family is mourning. For them this festive time of year is undoubtedly a time of anguish. Their hearts are grieving, hurting. If the Wise Men showed up at their home, they’d bring myrrh.

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes of life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb

I have two friends whose fathers passed away recently. They’re living in the shadow of death as Jingle Bells pays on the radio; living in the isolated valley of grief and loss.

There were four warm, friendly white-haired women who sat in front of the husband and me at the little church we sometimes visit—I think of them as our Lutheran grandmothers. Despite my religious trauma, these adorable older women have helped their church feel safe. And I found out this Sunday that one of them passed away. Her funeral service will be three days before Christmas, on the longest night of the year.

I had to call 911 last week because of a domestic disturbance across the street. I looked out the window when I heard scared children screaming, “No, Dad! No!” to see an angry man waving a large kitchen knife aggressively as his children jumped into a car that quickly pulled out of the parking lot, driving them to safety. I feel like I haven’t even recovered from the scene, so I know the children haven’t.

So much darkness. So much hurt. And that’s only looking at the small sliver of humanity  I have access to. When I turn on the news or read articles online I’m greeted with more darkness, more bleakness. So much violence. So much pain. So much sorrow. So many people in need of shelter and safety. So many people who are afraid, and rightfully so.

I don’t know how to handle it, this darkness. So much death and grief and brokenness, so much pain. The darkness is so thick that sometimes it makes me feel like I’m chocking. And December, despite all of the holiday lights and super sales, has a way of making that worse.

December is a time of year that can bring with it great joy and also great sadness. It’s like the Great Multiplier. Whatever feelings you’ve been experiencing already are multiplied, accentuated, and accelerated. When you’re already feeling an ache in your chest, tears are already threatening you at gun point, it makes it even worse. So much worse.

One of the most comforting moments in this month for me is on Christmas Eve. Even though I no longer identify with the religious tradition of my childhood, midnight Christmas Eve services still bring comfort and hope. I hold my red pew hymnal and my candle while singing Joy to the World. And in that moment, there’s light.

The candle burns on.

I have a thing about candles. They can be symbolic or spiritual or sentimental or sensual or scented (and I’m sure all sorts of other alliterations I can’t currently think of). They’re a little bit of light in the dark.

This little bit of light doesn’t fix everything. Or anything, for that matter. It doesn’t mean death hasn’t touched our lives; it doesn’t mean that existential crises have come to a close; it doesn’t mean healing has finally been achieved; it doesn’t that we’re feeling all sappy and sentimental every time we hear Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Last Christmas playing over the noise of people shopping. It doesn’t mean things are fixed. It doesn’t even mean things are okay. It doesn’t mean we like the holidays, or any of this.

Candles don’t fix things. They don’t heal things. But they provide just a little bit of light.

To me the light—symbolic and literal—this week of the Winter Solstice and Christmas reminds me that I did it. It reminds me of a line from my favorite Doctor Who Christmas special, a sci-fi retelling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: “On every world, wherever people are, in the deepest part of the winter, at the exact mid-point, everybody stops and turns and hugs. As if to say, ‘Well done. Well done, everyone! We’re halfway out of the dark.’ Back on Earth we call this Christmas or the Winter Solstice.”

The holidays can be an extremely hard time of year for a lot of people. And if you’re feeling that way, may the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice, remind you that you’re halfway out of the dark.

In a few days the holidays will be over. In a few days we’ll be changing out the calendars. In a few days you take down the holiday wreath, burn the tree, and never be forced to say merry fucking Christmas for an entire year. In a few days the sun will begin to resurface. In just a few days.

Well done. Well done, everyone. We’re halfway out of the dark.


Purity culture slut-shame blues: Everything I know about sex I learned from Bob Dylan

lightstock_348915_download_medium_user_3645479.jpg

This article originally appeared in Salon October 2016, right after Dylan had been nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature. I’m happy to finally be able to share it with you here!

I was 10 years old when I sat through my first abstinence series at church. My parents had discussed its age-appropriateness, but had decided that my relative youth was a good thing. It meant my first introduction to sex would come within the safe, godly confines of our church. So I sat in the church sanctuary dutifully every week as various pastors took turns stressing the dangers of things like necking. I didn’t have any idea what necking was, but I made a mental note to avoid it.

Read More


Pike Place Market: A Love Story

Flickr CC Travis Wise

Flickr CC Travis Wise

It was fall 2010 and it was raining — a light misting rain. The tourists pulled out their umbrellas undoubtedly feeling as if they were getting the full Seattle experience, while the locals pulled their hoods up and hunched their backs to protect their newly purchased treasures and others walked on completely unfazed. We strolled down the street, a busy and tangled mess of cars and tourists darting into traffic in an attempt to get the perfect iconic shot in front of the glowing red Pike Place Market sign. Just below the sign a gathering watched the men in white aprons at the seafood stall tossing fresh salmon the way a street performer tosses juggling pins.
Read More


Verbal Polaroid: Don’t be a Stranger

 Untitled design (1)

The green and yellow bus lurches to a stop, the doors swing open with a whoosh of air. “Good morning!” I beam at my usual driver as I step on the bus, monthly pass in hand. The doors close behind me. “You know, I think you’re the only person on my route who looks like they might actually like mornings,” he says shaking his head in amusement.

As the bus lunges forward I walk down the aisle with one hand over my head as I lightly finger the bar overhead. After several years as a proud strap-hanging public-transit-riding commuter I’ve earned my sea legs; the jerking and swaying doesn’t faze me as I make my way to my usual squeaky leather seat. I always sit where the rows of bus benches face each other because it provides the best view of the entire bus.

A few sleepy heads look up long enough to acknowledge me but not long enough to say anything.

The woman directly across from me is reading a well-highlighted leather Bible. Once, when she wasn’t reading she told me she worked at the Starbucks headquarters; she’ll get off at the transit station in order to transfer to the northbound commuter train. The preteen girl sitting next to her with her earbuds in—the universal bus sign for “No, I do not want to make small talk actually”— is clutching a pink backpack on her lap; she’ll get off at the middle school. Several other students are also lugging around heavy, bulky backpacks on their way to high school or the local community college. Sometimes they read their textbooks or flip through flashcards, always with their earbuds in.

The man next to me is sipping his regular morning coffee, obviously still trying to wake up. Sometimes he’ll nod a “G’mornin’” but that’s about the extent of his 6:30 am socialness. Several riders are slumped up against the windows, likely still dreaming of the pillows they had to leave too hastily. The only sounds are the creaking and whooshing of the bus doors and the occasional contagious line of yawns.

When an older gentleman steps on the regular riders audibly groan. He’s hauling his weekly recycling: a giant neon-orange cloth bag with pictures of jack-o-lanterns all over it. The person next to me mumbles, “Better pull your legs in,” as the man walks down the aisle with his scary Santa sized bag bumping along behind him. It barely squeezes down the aisle and when it gets stuck he gives it a tug, which elicits more moans from his fellow riders as the can-filled bag has a run in with several people’s knees. He sits down, and then the bus is quiet again.

I pull my black Beatle’s tote bag, complete with Bob Marley pins, onto my lap to make room for other passengers. A man in his late thirties slips a CD into my hand as he walks past. “I burned it for you because I saw your bag,” he says shyly before continuing down the aisle. The CD reads in blue hand-written ink: The Moondoggies. I’ll later find out they’re a local Seattle band. The album is entitled Don’t be a Stranger. (The title likely isn’t ironic because the next several times I’ll run into him on the bus he’ll ask for a date.)

As I slip my new CD in my tote bag everyone else is still slowly waking up. They read, catch up on podcasts or listen to their favorite songs, drink their coffee, and stare out the windows as the sun is just beginning to yawn and stretch right along with them.

They are close enough that I could touch them, but they are always in their own little worlds. So many potential acquaintances, friends, and lovers just within their reach. And they never know. I’m surrounded by people—sometimes uncomfortably close to people — but alone just the same.

As the bus rolls on I continue people watching and when I happen to chance on someone who is awake enough to visit, encourage them to not be a stranger.


You don’t have to

You don’t have to be good.
You don’t need to emotionally flog your tired soul
when you don’t meet your own definition of perfection.
You don’t have to be right.
Your theology doesn’t have to pristinely answer
all of your lingering, haunting questions.
You don’t have to be certain.
Your waves of doubt aren’t going to drown you;
they’ll help you to finally begin to heal.
You don’t have to be pure.
You’re not some white gown that can be spoiled;
you’re an enchantress, a body, a soul.
You don’t have to be devout.
Your beautiful life isn’t measured in how many
holy books you chant or prayers you whisper.
You don’t have to be tame.
You’re wild like the wind and fierce as fire,
you just don’t know it yet.
You don’t have to be selfless.
You’re a creature of worth and dignity,
and you deserve your care and kindness, too.
You don’t have to save the world.
You’re not responsible for saving more than one person,
and that person is you.

***

The first line, “You don’t have to be good,” was taken directly from Mary Oliver’s beautiful poem “Wild Geese.” After reading the first few line of her poem, I felt like I wanted to make a list of what I don’t have to do or be; I so often need to be reminded.