What I do, Not who I am

Do you remember that old anxiety provoking game of “Perfection”?

Where you were given a time limit to put various shapes in their respective slots before the board buzzed and the pieces you managed to meticulously put in place were then shot into the air and back in your face.

Somehow this “game” feels like the perfect metaphor of my childhood.

Being busy and doing “stuff”, was always regarded as “good”. If mom was vacuuming we were expected to get up and do something as well. It was hectic, and typically felt like we were walking on egg shells. The anxiety and panic my mom could set off, similar to that timer of the game.

Still to this day, when my sister calls me because my mother is stressing out and off in one of her whirlwinds, I just tell her, “Stay out of mom’s way. She will freak out and yell at you if she sees you, so go hide downstairs, or at least stay out of her sight.”

When my parents were gone, I would sometimes arrive home to a list of things to be done:

Vacuum

Empty the dishwasher

Clean the cat box

Fold the laundry

Feed the dog

It was a race against time to get all the tasks done before they arrived home, and god forbid I forgot something on the list.

I was “lazy”, “selfish”, I did things “half-ass”.

I was constantly bombarded with the pursuit of what was “good enough” and because of that became very driven and goal oriented. I found my identity in what I accomplished and how well I accomplished said tasks. My worth was knit tightly with my productivity.

In elementary school these goals and fixation on my productivity started off small, making the honor roll, getting a lead in a play. Later, these became the idea that I had to do it all, and do it with excellence. I’m not sure my story could become more cliché, but if I made a 95 on a test I was congratulated and reprimanded in the same breath, “Well, what about a 100?” “Were there no extra credit points?”.

Somewhere in the mix, I was doing sports in middle school, and staying busy with student government, the school paper and science fairs; dodging the school receptionist and my math teacher because between the two of them they weren’t sure if they had ever seen me eat.

Learning about Eating Disorders in my health class, as if I hadn’t already stumbled across that tucked somewhere in between my mom’s comments about my body, my parents’ drunken fights and taking care of my two little sibs before I could even drive.

For as long as I can remember I stayed busy in school, especially in high school. I would go into school early for a National Honor Society meeting, or a Student Government meeting. I would stay late for practice, or tutoring classmates, then head off to work where I would stay, by myself, until about 11 – if I didn’t have to call the cops because of a hostile customer. While other high schoolers may have been sneaking alcohol and cigarettes, I could tell you the price difference between Marlboro and Pall Malls, and the total the packs would come to, including tax. If I skipped class it was to go back to the weight room and work out, my music kept me preoccupied, I didn’t have to think. I could immerse myself in music and not have to worry about later.

Did I stay so busy because I didn’t want to go home where my parents were probably drunk and screaming at each other, or was it for another reason?

Did I want to be prideful about how I could juggle everything at a young age and still succeed at school?

Maybe – regardless, self-esteem and worth held hands with grades and productivity as they skipped through the freshly mopped aisles of the gas station I worked at.

No matter what I did, I was blamed for the bad, and my mom took credit for the good.

Full ride scholarship to college? Oh, my mom just raised a smart, mature daughter.

Marriage falling apart? I’m the trouble making selfish child.

Softball award? Well, it’s a good thing mom went to all of those games… or, ehhh, one, that one time.

I did anything I could to get my mom to like me. I didn’t understand what I had done wrong, or why nothing was good enough. Voted most unforgettable, holding a job, participating in sports, scholarship, live in babysitter. I didn’t understand why nothing I did seemed to be right, or enough.

I figured if it wasn’t my productivity and accomplishments that weren’t good enough, maybe it was just me.

Maybe I was just “too fat”.

My mom, on a good day, soaking wet, is probably 100 lbs.

I did sports, but I began to run.

And run.

Weight came off, I was still staying busy, and it was another way that hopefully my mom would like me.

It was more or less my commitment, I would run in the rain, in the snow, it didn’t matter if it was 9 degrees or 90.

People noticed, they commented on the weight, or how frequently they would see me run.

Mom disregarded it all together, by that point I was no longer living with them, but still lived in fear of her, and wanted so badly to be loved and appreciated by her.

If I didn’t run what I deemed to be far enough, it was twisted as something I could have and should have done better. I considered it a lack of trying, or being lazy, not necessarily listening to my body and what it needed. Skipping a day of running was a lack of productivity, leading to the ever spinning cycle of “fat”, “lazy”, “selfish”. It wasn’t like a tape you see, because tapes have to be stopped and rewound to get back to the beginning. This was an endless loop of judgement based on my actions.

Why I still cling to running is still cloudy to me. Could be because it is something I can still be prideful in, or that is looked at through the disordered glasses of the diet culture as something to be praised.

Sometimes I’m not really sure who I am. It feels more or less like a list of what I do.

I go to work, I take care of my dog, I run and workout.

Who I am seems more uncomfortable.

I am a biochemist, a dog mom, a runner.

The first and last still seem to be closely tied with what I accomplish and how productive I am, not necessarily WHO I am.

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