There are so many things in Roxane Gay’s writing that I identify with, and that I am inspired by. I just now finished listening to City Arts and Lectures on NPR, a recording of when she was interviewed back in February, at the Nourse Theater in San Francisco.
She writes about being a woman in America. About being an overweight person, as someone who has purposefully put on pounds in order to not be noticed. She writes about being gang-raped as a young girl, about her boyfriend setting her up for the rape. She has suffered by blaming herself for this, and she has recently released a book about this called Hunger.
I have had body image issues from a very young age, and I did not experience such a horrific assault as Roxane did, but I was molested by the neighbor boy when I was a very small child. I, too, did not tell my parents when this happened. My self esteem has always suffered, despite the best efforts of the adults who raised me. Other adults in my life constantly warned me not “to get too heavy,” at the same time they were feeding me or giving me something nice to “put in my Hope Chest.” I realize now that they loved me and were concerned about my health, but when I look back at photos from these years (my pre-teen years) I cannot find any evidence that I was overweight.
Yet the feeling that I was fat, or somehow unacceptable, has always haunted me. Of course, much of this has been due to depression. And, at times I have been seriously overweight. I did not realize that it was depression until I was in my twenties and was spending summer vacations home from college in my bedroom, brewing pots of coffee at night and reading until dawn, then sleeping until three in the afternoon. One summer I barely left the house and when I went to see a movie with a friend (The Lost Boys-yes, it was that long ago) I was jumpy around the people in the diner where we ate after the show. I got a lot of reading done that summer, but I ate my way through it as much as I read my way through it. After having lost 50 pounds the year after I graduated from high school, I succeeded in putting that plus 20 to 30 pounds more back on in the years I lived in the dorms at University of San Francisco.
I find myself feeling terrible at times lately, because my prescription anti-anxiety meds have been so effective that I haven’t cared that I put 20+ pounds on in the last year and a half. It didn’t matter until the back fat grew noticeable, and now I feel like I have gone overboard, and what an out of control freak I must be. Yet the rational side of me that thinks there is nothing to worry about has resigned itself to accepting that this is just the new me. And, after all, I am comfortable in a size 12. Who wants to maintain a size 8 figure? Not me, not any more. I like to eat.
The Roxane Gay City Arts and Lectures broadcast struck me in a very personal, relatable way. Her openness and honesty about her depression and weight issues made me open up the laptop and start this rambling, reflective post. I am also a writer who feels writing helps with the depression. Yet, it takes listening to a broadcast about this topic to get me sitting here writing about it. And this feels seriously disjointed. Yet my theme is: we all have issues, and thank goodness for those who speak openly about these issues. They can save the rest of us. If I could, I would thank Roxane, because her truth-speaking helps to make it a bit easier to face my own issues, and every time I write “all about me” I get a little better.
So, thank you Roxane Gay, and all the women (and men-everyone, really) who can speak about their dark secrets. It is these secrets that make us who we are as artists, as writers, and as human beings.
It’s a refreshing change from the feeling that one must always be sunny and have it all together to get themselves through the day. We do what we can with what we have, and, as long as we have that, we have everything we need to survive. For those of us living with depression ( I sometimes think of this as The Depressive Arts) survival is everything. Even for those of us who are not the Fittest.