Non-Fiction, Women

Wasted and Dying to Be Thin

 

Recently, I mentioned on Twitter that I just finished reading Wasted by Marya Hornbacher. I have not written my review as yet.  However, today I thought I would reprint my review of a Fringe Fest play which was published in March 1993; the newsprint is a bit too ragged for total readability, though I will scan the photo that went with the article.  I reviewed this play and read Wasted because at one time my nerves were so bad from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) that I couldn’t keep my food down. This problem eventually led me to flirt with bulimia and anorexia.

 

Review: Dying To Be Thin

A Day in the Life

by Teresa D. Gibson

Linda Carson’s, Dying to Be Thin, is an all-too-real depiction of a day in the life, thoughts, and feelings of a bulimic.  Directed by Pam Johnston, this one-act play, starring Carson as Amanda, is so poignant in its portrayal of the severe emotional extremes of such an illness, that even the borderline-funny moments could not make me laugh. Its glaring accuracy, which is what makes this play a tremendous success, made me wonder what anyone in the audience could see as funny.

The scene opens on a cozy set. Amanda is asleep in her canopy bed. A table, dresser, and mirror surround her and, to the right, is the all-important bathroom.  Everything looks normal. Only the bathroom scale, a note on the wall with a written vow to lose ten pounds, and a very thin main character, give any hint of something being wrong.

Minutes into the opening, to the sound of food lists being chanted in the background, “sugar, chocolate, icing, bread, cake,” and so on, the audience is witness to Amanda’s first purge. The scene is handled with creativity and is effective, yet there is something almost too pretty to make an impact on the non-bulimic.

Throughout the play, however, emotions are captured perfectly. In a frighteningly short time, we travel with Amanda through her post-purging euphoria–a new beginning of eight hundred calories a day; panic at her slim sister’s upcoming visit, triggering a resolution to cut down to zero calories for one week; terror of approaching her mother’s gift of rice cakes; and the excitement of going on “a binge to end all binges.”

I felt her emotional free-fall. I was excited at the thought of her accomplishing her goals–regardless of how her intimacy with bathrooms found her one day trapped in a grubby one, down a dark and dangerous Toronto alley.

As I watched all of this, I couldn’t help but remember an exchange between a therapist and a bulimic friend in a therapy group. So tormented was she by society’s billion dollar fat industry, geared at making women ashamed of themselves, that where we saw frailty, she saw bloating.

Knowing that recovery is multi-layered and complex, the therapist gently instilled a watchful voice inside us all, “I love and accept myself. Binging and purging is doing harm to me.”

Her surprise at hearing that her ‘ultimate release’ or binge was actually doing awful things to her body, struck me hard. So did the list of the damage that bulimia can do: chronic fatigue and illness, depression, electrolyte imbalances, kidney damage, gastrointestinal problems, as well as lost time at school, work and with friends.

Dying To Be Thin is an incredible production. Its detail is meticulous and I was tremendously impressed by Carson. She acknowledges being a recovering bulimic, knowing full well how identification with an issue can sometimes spur undesirable effects. Yet, in not hiding, but instead illustrating the downward spiral of a condition that once seemed magical, she gives back to bulimia sufferers compassion, dignity, and a lessening of shame.

 

Printed in Kinesis, March 1993.

 

 

 

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Non-Fiction

What Is My Purpose?

Sometimes I ask: What is my purpose in life?

Why am I here while my brothers are not?   Why did all that awful stuff happen to me if I did not deserve it? To us? Why does it happen to so many?

And then Oprah’s Life Class questions came up again. Am I stuck on my story?  Do I expect people to feel sorry for me? What do I want to accomplish by sharing my stories? What do I know?

I want to harm no one.

I want to help girls and women whose lives may mirror mine in some ways. I also extend that to men who might relate to my writings too; my brother Steve encouraged me with this.

I want to listen with all my senses. I value confidentiality and never betray that trust.  I am the keeper of many stories and will guard them always. I know those friends whom I trusted protect mine as fiercely.

I want to trigger no one in crisis. That is a huge concern for me.

I want to answer my incredible need to tell my full story. I need my perspective known so I can live out whatever is left of this life God gave me.

I want everyone to know that this is not about me at all.  This is my vocation and, as a friend wrote to me several months back, it is an honourable one.  There is no need for shame.

I want to further my understanding of what took me from a bright-eyed little girl with a love of words, reading, and Brownies, to a teenager who maimed and killed herself, but emergency doctors revived.  “You’re okay,” the psychiatrist said. “You’re just trying to make sense out of the madness all around you.”

I told some of these stories many years ago and then re-told them. My memories pieced themselves together over time. Also, after multiple traumatic events, it took me a long time to develop the required social skills to talk at all, let alone keep myself safe. I continued my one-on-one relationship with a therapist; with this, and my continued education (eventually including university), my ability to express myself increased proportionately.

My purpose, then, is to continue doing exactly what I am as I write.

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Non-Fiction, Poetry, Women

My Hope Is In The Mountain, by Nancy Wood

My help is in the mountain

Where I take myself to heal

The earthly wounds

That people give to me.

I find a rock with sun on it

And a stream where the water runs gentle

And the trees which one by one give me company.

So must I stay for a long time

Until I have grown from the rock

And the stream is running through me

And I cannot tell myself from one tall tree.

Then I know that nothing touches me

Nor makes me run away.

My help is in the mountain

That I take away with me.

Nancy Wood.

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Non-Fiction, Women

The Truth About Me

 

The truth about me is that I tuned in to Oprah’s Life Class for a few minutes today. The challenge that impaled my chest one minute in was, Are you addicted to your story? Impaled my chest? Yes, I’m a super-sensitive person so bristles sprang up on the back of my neck too.  Iyanla Vanzant kept saying to a woman on skype, “. . . that’s the story you keep telling yourself. What is the real story?”

The truth about me is I love a good challenge.  I needed a lot of therapy to survive and combat the depression and self-hatred beaten into my young psyche. Role-playing. Reading a letter to an empty chair. Trusting the doctors that anti-depressants and relaxants would give me the strength to deal with my frequent panic disorder, agoraphobia, and night terrors. Whiling away complete hours of silence with my therapist, wishing I was at least whittling.  As I matured and grew into increasing levels of insight, I spent considerable time raging, grieving, writing and thinking hard about everything.

The truth about me is that I have been motoring in mud forever.  Actually, when I ran away from home, I just escaped into another prison. A different sort of kidnapping took place, just free of my mother and stepfather. The trauma kept multiplying so I was forgetting faster than anything. Memories didn’t always reveal themselves in any order, nor did they do PowerPoint presentations connecting every minute detail for me.  I, like every survivor, had to address issues of abandonment, distrust, hatred, love, betrayal, and victimization, while summoning the necessary energy to survive day-to-day.

The truth about me is that any interaction that is, in effect, silencing someone from speaking at all–no matter what level of stuck-ness they are at–irks me. Many times, as I attempted to deal with people who were way beyond me in terms of social skills, I ended up in tears and found myself crawling ever-deeper into my shell.  I do realize that in the format of Oprah’s Life Class, every exchange with someone must get succinct fast.

The truth about me is that in my ever-evolving story, I have not been stuck since the beginning of 2011.  I was blessed then as the grief of Steve’s death changed ever so slightly; I was able to move ahead while holding him dear to my heart.  The wonders of life since then are like maple sugar to a child.  Writing retreats. New friends. Trusting more deeply. Letting friends I love know that. Laughing until a geyser of tea is pouring from my nose.

The truth about me is I still struggle with self-esteem, feeling equal to everyone else, being my own best friend, and yearning for a family that would have my back through anything. The latter is wasted energy but the rest is not. The truth is that in hope and the evolution of my story, I have truly ‘made it.’

The truth about me is I am not sure I could sit between Oprah and Iyanla and hold my own. But I would sure try and contribute enough so I wouldn’t have to grab Oprah’s shoe as a memento.

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Non-Fiction, Women

On Humour and Mental Health

Status Update
By Terry Gibson
Just had to say: I use humour a lot. Mostly self-deprecating. Today — as someone who has been in therapy for over two decades — I joked about therapeutic issues. I mean no disrespect to therapists or anyone living with a mental illness. I have dealt with depression all of my life and understand more than someone might think. If I ever upset you, write me. Kindly and respectfully. I’ll gladly listen and give you a heartfelt apology. Finally, given my background, therapists have taken me from a selectively mute, self-hating and destructive child to where I am today. I owe them everything. Hearthugs, as a lovely poet friend of mine says.

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Non-Fiction

My Brother Steve (Written in December 2008)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Today is a relatively good day. I’ve been chatting with my brother on the phone and with another patient who befriended him and does absolutely everything to make him comfortable. You see, my brother has been in the hospital for about five years straight. Due to a brain tumor (or what I understand it to be), he is paralysed on his right side and has trouble with his speech, especially if he is over-tired, which he is a lot lately.

I love this guy so much! He’s such a card. He loves making people laugh and there is nothing more intoxicating to me than hearing him burst into a fit of giggling. That sets me off while we’re talking on the phone and — even while I cry (for instance, when I’m overwhelmed by the terror of losing him) — he still has me falling right off the chair laughing at his hilarious stories, in an attack of emotional confusion.

Let me tell you more about him. Most people learn to talk and walk only once in their lives. This is not so in his life. He learned both twice and is once again, struggling to walk. By the way, he’s only fifty and has the resilience of a credit card frozen solid in a thick block of ice. Even with scalding water poured over it, that card is still buried deeply and untouchable for quite a long while.

That’s Steve’s big heart and soul. I admire him so much. And the tales I’ve got to tell are mind-blowing. I shake my head every day in amazement and try to find the resolve he displays every day of his life.

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Non-Fiction, Poetry, Women

My Poem – “Hard” – Originally Entitled “Fourteen” – True Story

HARD

If only I had known
How tough it would be
to be jump-started daily
by a vacuum cleaner hose
Cracked over my legs
And Mom’s shrill tones
Yelling, accusing.
Frantic, I fall out of bed
still shaking and sweating
ice from being locked up
Alone, last night in the attic.

Hope crystallizes and evaporates
I love yous and hugs do not exist
Only the verbal machete, punctuated
by blows from my own baseball bat.
While somewhere, laughter echoes from
A joke only I could not grasp.

At school, peer pressure dealt me
another nerve-grating punch
Piercing and curious eyes surveyed me
But I said nothing, so they did not see.
I was left fated to search faces
for warmth, compassion,
Or the answer to Why?

I have no idea
what I have done
Or how to alter my face,
Voice, laugh, cheekbones,
Eyes, expressions,
Interests and friends –
Everything you despise.
If only I had known how
Hard living this life would be.

Terry Gibson 2012.

 

This poem was originally entitled “Fourteen” for my age at the time.

Which do you like better?  Please leave a comment. Thanks so much!

 

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Poetry

Denial

 

The instant

the enormity

of your suffering,

of your spirit deflating,

Crashed  against

Incalculable skies —

I knew I hadn’t been listening.

 

Terry Gibson 1993.

************

The poems from this year were written when I attended UBC’s Creative Writing Department. While I was doing what I loved, my oldest brother’s sudden death–within one and a half years of my Dad–sent me spiralling into a deep depression.

Given that, I’d love to hear from people on something. Do you see images in this? Anything? I’m trying to tap into my poetic self but am struggling. It helps to know that I love free verse.

 

 

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Non-Fiction, Poetry

Your Friend Always

I will be your friend always,
no gaps, no forgettings.
Not until the mountains are worn away
and the rivers are nothing but sand and rocks,
not until it thunders and lightning comes in winter
or until it snows in the summer,
or until heaven and earth are the same,
not until then will I leave you.

First century Chinese Friendship Oath.

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Non-Fiction

Naked, Drunk and Snoring

Really, I shouldn’t teach my Teika to take everything so literally.

When I returned to my office, she was bleary-eyed and had the electric shaver out–ready to go for the bald baby look.

That would’ve been so embarrassing! Had that happened, I couldn’t be seen in public with her.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to reject my little sweetie.

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