Knowing What You Deserve

I’m currently reading “Lost and Found” by Geneen Roth.  She was a victim of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.  When I first noticed her story, it was in O magazine. 

She had selected a poem called “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye for Caroline Kennedy’s guest editorial tribute to poetry to celebrate her book “She Walks In Beauty” (a collection of poems).  Shortly after the release of this issue, Schwarzenegger and Kennedy split up. 

In an odd way, that poem “Kindness” and Geneen Roth came back to me.  I randomly picked up Roth’s latest book at the library.  Why?  Because it goes along with my practices in life…food and money are two and the same to me. 

I had no idea that Roth was the same person that had been taken in by Madoff just like so many others had.  This is the same woman that chose the poem “Kindness” to get her through losing millions of dollars she had invested in Madoff so that she and her husband would have a pleasant retirement.

But what came about after finding out that her money had been tied into a Ponzi scheme, was a self-discovery into understanding why she even let herself get swindled in the first place.  Ends up her thoughts on money were just as unhealthy as her thoughts on food were. 

As I kept reading the book I saw myself and my patterns materializing before my eyes.  Ends up that not all things are as they seem.

As a single woman in NYC, I make more than enough to allow me to live a ‘more than’ comfortable life.  I invest my own money by myself (and allow JP Morgan to control my 401K investments).  I have a two bedroom apartment in an incredible neighborhood lined with five star restaurants up and down the street.  I take an international vacation every year.  I have a designer wardrobe that even astonishes me.  I have caviar and pate in the refrigerator, and more than enough food to eat. 

Literally…I have more than enough.  Actually…I have more than enough than I know what to do with.

On Friday, I headed to Jacks’ World on 45th Avenue (between 5th and 6th) because they are now carrying gourmet food.  I thought that this was a great opportunity for me to pick up on international ingredients that I have a hard time finding elsewhere. 

Caviar…pate…Moroccan crackers…cherry jams…pickled lemons…brown basmati rice…my basket was overflowing with goodies.  All at little cost to me.

The next day, I went to the Dollar Tree and stocked up on even more food.

Not done yet…later that day, I went to Rite Aid and stocked up on a bunch of stuff I had coupons for.  I don’t use maxi pads or Nivea’s cellulite stuff (I use the more expensive stuff from Bliss). I don’t eat cereal or Pop Tarts, but it’s on sale and I have coupons for it.

Now…this is where my friend would laugh and say…I know what you’re doing.  I’m pretending like I can eat, when I can’t eat.  I’m buying this other stuff…because…hmm…that’s the subject of this post.

Most of that food winds up in bags donated to the needy or thrown in the trash due to spoilage. 

I am what magazines would call an anorexic.  Trust me…it doesn’t make sense at all…but read on.

Doctors MIGHT agree with those magazines, BUT they have diagnosed the situation differently.  I have a very rare symptom (but it exists) that is a result of post-traumatic stress disorder.  That means that I suffer from anxieties, panic attacks, rapid weight gain, etc. as a result of a traumatic event that caused my brain to flip a fight or flight switch on, in other words, a ‘safety’ switch.

I didn’t realize this switch was on until my size 8 friend pointed out to me that I eat less than her.  Literally…in one sitting, I could eat 1/4 of what was on my plate, while the other person would eat the entire plate, want more (including dessert).  Me…I can’t stomach eating more.  I physically can’t eat more. 

So if I eat less than a normal person, why doesn’t the body reflect that? 

What the body does reflect is that I have anorexic tendencies.  I was almost admitted into the emergency room because of how bad the situation was.  I wanted to eat, but I physically couldn’t.  My body was rejecting the food.  They wanted to hook me up to an IV because they discovered that I was only getting in 400 calories a day (and had been for months).  The body was shutting down.

That was when I pledged to the doctor that I would work harder at trying to eat.  While some people that diet try to get down to 1,000 calories (and complain that it’s not enough), I try to get up to 1,000 calories (800 at the minimum). 

If I had it my way, I’d be satisfied with one Moroccan cracker with caviar on top.  That’s it.  Or 3 baby carrots.  Or a cup of coffee.  Or one or two slices of an apple.  Or one slice of mango. 

I don’t want more than that.  My body has already changed internally to reflect that of an anorexic.  For instance, I’ve gone from 5 days of ‘that time of the month’ to 1.5 days in the last year and quickly heading to NO DAYS.  At first, I thought I was going through menopause (about ten years too early), but the doctor informed me that was indeed NOT THE CASE. 

It’s taken almost a year for me to eat a normal meal.  If I can eat 3 meals a day…I’m happy.  I aim to eat at least 2 meals.  Even if it’s just 1/4 of what’s on my plate, or an entire salad…I am content that I’m one step closer to getting my body in the ‘green’ zone and out of the red.  [Keep in mind, a plate size to me is a salad plate portion.  If I can eat everything on that plate, it’s a good day.  Normally, I can only eat 1/4 of what’s on that plate.]

The only thing that I hate about all of this…I don’t have an anorexic’s body.  After all that I go through…I’m not 60 pounds.  I’m far from it.  This is where the PTSD comes in.

Because my body is in ‘safety’ mode, meaning that it holds onto every single calorie I put into my body and turns it into layer upon layer of fat in an effort to make me as unpretty, unsightly and extremely ugly as it possibly can.  Why?  Because the body believes that if I am that way, no one will ever look at me or want me in a way that could harm me.  Being thin and being pretty = being a victim of sexual assault.  Being fat and ugly = Being SAFE.

This is why I say that losing weight is a psychological battle for me.  It’s not a love for food.  It’s not an unhealthy attitude towards food (like overeaters anonymous).  This is my brain in a mode that I can’t snap out of.  This is my brain getting the entire body to cooperate with its ideology that in order to be safe from this traumatic event ever happening to me again…I have to be fat and ugly. 

I’ve studied the effects of PTSD for many years.  No one ever really heals from it.  They are changed forever because of the traumatic events they’ve lived through.  The more traumatic the event, the more your brain is traumatized by what happened.  Just as much as I can’t rehash or remember what happened, all of the doctors point to the same thing…this is what happens when someone suffers from PTSD. 

I’m the last of 5 cases that sought medical treatment for my condition.  The other four…they decided they would rather be fat than to let go of their safety card.  They were just as anorexic as I was, but they packed on another 80 -200 pounds after they gave up and let the trauma of PTSD take over again.

While that thought scares the crap out of me, the purpose of the book has been about defeating PTSD and learning that I deserve something better out of life.  I choose to be happy, not a traumatized little victim (despite what the brain has done). 

There are little triggers everywhere that make people decide what decision they will make or the feelings that they have when they do something good for themselves.

For instance, I had a friend that had severe money problems.  She was always in debt.  She decided to take a job that makes half of what I make (in NYC of all places). 

This is the mindset we have…we both bought a laptop on the same day.  My laptop was about $500.  I paid for it in cash.  She bought a $3000 laptop and put it on her credit card. 

I make more money than she does.  I invested $500 in a laptop and paid in cash.

She makes less money.  She paid $3000 and paid for it with a credit card.

Keep in mind, I did say she was in serious debt.

When she decided it was time for a family, I kept thinking…how are you going to afford to do that?  She went ahead and did it giving little thought to how impoverished she was already, living on Ramen noodles, to bring a child into this world.

What does she fight about with her husband all of the time?  Money.  Or shall we say, the lack thereof and all of the bills they have to pay.

She has no respect for money.  She wants what she wants and takes it, no matter how difficult or broke she will be to obtain those things.  Yet, she doesn’t feel worthy enough to take a job that will pay her more money so that she can pay all of her bills and have enough.  She would rather be impoverished, owing everyone money.

That is actually a psychological issue.  She would rather be poor.

But the reason why we couldn’t be friends, is because her decision to remain poor meant that she resented me for having more than her.  Misery loves company.

It’s just like women in a weight club where they discuss their weight loss victories and setbacks.  But for those women that reach their goals…they’re no longer part of the club anymore because they no longer have those issues anymore.  They can’t relate to a small 5 pound victory anymore or digging through the trash to eat a slice of cake.  They ‘don’t get it.’ 

With this friend, she made me resent having more money than her.  She actually made me feel ashamed of it. 

When I walk through Target with a cart overflowing with groceries and other goodies, a family of 5 will look at my cart and their five food items that is supposed to get them through the week.  They will give me this look…it’s the same look that friend used to give me. 

Even at the Dollar Tree, a family made me feel ashamed that I had a basket filled with food items, while they only had three items. 

It wasn’t about what was in the basket…it was about how much was in the basket.  It was as if they saw me as ‘showing off’ my wealth.  Forget the fact that I buy my groceries for a three month time period, not one week.  I stock up because I don’t always have the time to go to Target or the Dollar Tree. 

But at the same time, I know my blouse costs $300 and my bag is designer and cost $800.  My top alone could feed a family of four for several weeks.  My designer bag is rent money for others. 

They make me feel ashamed that I can afford both without going into debt or blinking an eye that I may have spent too much money on those items. 

The thing is, I remember when I was them.  I remember making only $24,000 a year and starving.  I remember the Dollar General Store and Aldi’s being my best friends and Wal-Mart being a luxury store.  I remember buying my jeans for $7 at the Goodwill and rocking it. 

I remember living on rice and vegetables, because meat was too expensive. 

I remember walking 2 miles to work each way, because I couldn’t afford to take the bus for $1.10 each way.

I remember working two jobs and still having a hard time making ends meet in the winter months when the gas bill arrived.  I know what it’s like getting the gas turned off in the middle of winter because I couldn’t afford the $500 bill one month and then the $700 bill the next month. 

I know what it’s like to not be able to afford…living.

But I made a choice back then.  I decided that this was no way to live.  I had a college degree that I still had to pay for ($369/month for one loan) and I was killing myself just to make ends meet.  It was no way to live.

I decided to get a better paying job.  I decided to move.  I decided it was time for me to start living. 

All I wanted…was to have more than enough.  I got exactly what I wanted by making the right decisions.  I can afford things that I never thought I would be able to afford.  I can pay all of my bills and still have more than enough leftover to save, and spend on whatever I want. 

Sure, I enjoy saving money.  It allows me to relive my days when I couldn’t afford anything.  It makes me value and appreciate what I’m buying even more…because I remember when I couldn’t have those things.  I buy what I want, when I want…but within reason.

I don’t lust after things that I think are outrageously expensive.  I shop like my millionaire aunt and uncle shop.  They shop at Big Lots, flea markets and antique shops.  They don’t spend all of their money because they need to make sure it gets them through their retirement age.

When they buy things, they buy according to what will bring them joy as well as the family. 

They also know what it feels like to have someone steal from them and practically bankrupt them.  They know what it’s like to have the banks rip away a dream and a company they worked so hard to build.  They also know what it’s like to have the bank show up at the front door to repossess their house.

But they also know how to bounce back from being the victim.  They also know what it is they value the most in life.

People are always so busy looking at the things in life that they wish they had.  They always want the dream to become a reality…missing the life that they have right in front of them. 

There are people that sacrifice time with their family and putting their kids to bed at night…just so they can succeed in their careers and provide a better life for their families, not realizing that what they’re missing out on are those ballet recitals and baseball games…the kisses goodnight and the bedtime stories…they’re missing out on those little moments that end up meaning so much in the end.  They are missing out on the life that was right in front of them.

I was lucky to have a rich benefactor that believed in me and my dreams.  My family is very chauvanistic…except when it comes to me.  I wasn’t like the other cousins or like my sibling.  I was the one that was tossed to the side by my parents while they doted on my brother.  I was born a girl, ergo my father wanted nothing to do with me.

My family felt bad for me so they created opportunities for me.  They sent me to Thailand, Paris and California.  They introduced me to the finer things in life and a bigger culture.  They took me to plays and sporting events (sitting right behind the bench).  They taught me about wines and finer foods.  They even teased me about always picking the cheapest thing on the menu when someone else was buying…just out of consideration.  We sat down and had English tea and went antiquing.  They showed me what it meant to live life to the fullest.

They also taught me that even though I was alone in this world…I wasn’t really alone.  I had them.  They were there whenever I needed them.  When they weren’t around, I had the finer things in life to fill into my soul.  They taught me how to live and to be happy…without spending a fortune to do those things.

My friend always makes fun of me when I go to the grocery store and bulk up.  She laughs because I’m filling a need…a need that cannot be fulfilled.  There’s that safety aspect of making sure that I have more than enough food in my pantry for the just in case an apocalypse happens and I have to fend for myself for 3 months.  There is also that need to eat that can’t be fulfilled.

I buy chicken one day…and throw it out a few days later…completely untouched.  I cook elaborate meals, take a few bites, wrap it up and try to take it to lunch for the rest of the week.  By my standards…all of those elaborate meals end up in the trash by the end of the week.  Trust me, I could feed several African families with what I waste each week. 

I’m supposed to eat more salad, so I buy 2 containers of spinach leaves…only to throw away one container because I couldn’t get through an entire container in two weeks before it spoiled.  It takes me a month to get through one half gallon container of milk. 

But the fact that all of this is wasted doesn’t deter me from buying more and more food as if I was going to eat it all.

Buying that food is a need.  Why?  It’s because I remember what it was like to starve on a $24K salary.  An anorexic feeling like they’re starving?  You know it had to be bad. 

I don’t ever want to feel that kind of hunger again.  That’s why I buy so much food, and order so much food at a restaurant and only pick at it (my friend calls me on this all of the time, so I order something I can take home and give to the cat). I want to have more than enough food at the waiting so that I never have to feel hunger again.

Feeling that kind of hunger…changes the way you think.  It’s almost, in a way, traumatizing.  Now that I can afford to buy as much food as I want, I overbuy.  Literally…what I spend my ‘spending’ money on is FOOD.  That need to never feel hunger again is what drives it (even though I can’t eat most of the time). 

I have doctors that back me up as a validating excuse on why I buy food.  It’s under the assumption that I’ll eat it…when the medical reports show that I’m definitely not eating it.  Then I say it’s there for the just in case my body decides that it really will allow me to eat.  Those days are very few (especially now that summer has come). 

You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink.  That’s my relationship with food.  I can buy as much food as I want to try, but to try to get me to eat it is quite another story.

This is like a love/hate relationship.  I’m a foodie, no doubt that I am.  But I hate eating.  I force myself to eat because if I don’t, the doctors will make good on their threats and I’ll be fed through an IV and stuck in a hospital.

So what am I to do?

That’s what I asked myself this weekend.  I apparently have some sick need to spend my fun money on food that I’ll never eat.  Why am I doing this to myself?

That’s when I decided to resolve to do things differently.  I am going to take each moment by moment one step at a time. 

I don’t want to waste my fun money on ‘things’ that have no real value to me.  They’re only a ‘safety’ hitch.  There are no real needs.  They are not a real necessity to me.  It only feeds that ‘safety’ need in my mind.

To resolve this, I’m not going to diet myself away by staying away from grocery stores and gourmet shops, because then it will make me overcompensate in the future.  You know what I’m talking about…people limit their desires so much that they can’t help but go crazy and binge later. 

I literally walked through my kitchen last month and thought…I have no food in here…when I have a whole month’s worth of food in the kitchen (maybe more).  But something inside me said that I had nothing…when I still had more than enough.

I’ve decided that I’m going to change that.  Since it is summer, I’ll make sure to stock up on the summer’s bounty and can a lot of the summer’s fruits and vegetables.  But after the last canning bottle is filled to the max…no more. 

Just the same way that food can spoil if you’re so busy saving it for tomorrow or as a safety vehicle for an apocalypse that never comes, so can the way we look at our now and the future.

There is always a benefit in saving for a future, but there is always that question of what if tomorrow never comes.  How much saving for tomorrow is enough…and how much is too much?

Like food, hording too much will spoil your efforts.  There is no sense of security in food.  It’s like throwing money into the trash.  You have to believe that you have just enough and more to last you in case of an emergency.  It’s just like you can’t put a million dollars into an emergency fund.  What emergency are you going to have that will cost a million dollars? 

Just like what emergency is going to happen if you have only a month worth of emergency food rather than 3 months at all times?  Why must there be more?  Put in just enough and not a penny more towards that savings bank.

Why can’t I buy 1 mango instead of 4 when I’m craving mangoes?  Why can’t I buy just 1 pound of cherries instead of 3?  [I just threw out 2 lbs of cherries over the weekend.]  Why can’t I buy chicken when I actually plan on making it that day?  The cat ends up eating 95% of it by herself anyway…and she’s really into this Moroccan chicken kick.

The point is why am I trying so hard to live for a tomorrow that may never come instead of living for today?  Sure, it’s wise to save a little for tomorrow, but come on…hording 3 months worth of food that I will have zero interest in eating 10 years from now? 

Sure, it all sounds silly when it’s put that way, but there are many of us that have this kind of ‘safety’ net that we use our money on. Whether it be shoes, sweaters, glasses, clothes, coins, baseball cards, books, movies…whatever…we need to break from that cycle.  Why?  Because it doesn’t help us. 

We need to place value on what’s right in front of us and appreciate what we already have. 

I chose a life free of debt.  I just didn’t see how I would be happy with it.  I like saving money (who doesn’t), so I make it a mission to see how much I can get with little or no money.  I make sure to splurge on the things that matter the most to me (like spending way too much on a vacation that will last a lifetime in my memory banks).  I chose the path that I deserve because I believe that I am worth it.

I want to have more than enough, but having more than enough does not always lie in consumerism. 

I had to cut myself off from buying anymore books or DVDs or purses…because I have no more room for anything more.  I decided to go to the library if I wanted to see a new movie or read a new book.  I don’t have to pay for it…and it doesn’t clutter up anymore space.  I have to use the purses I have at home, because that Kate Spade hasn’t seen the light of day since Martin Brodeur became the Most Winningest Goaltender in the History of the NHL. 

I read recently that people will pay more for an ‘experience’ rather than another object to clutter up their lives.  I used to pay a lot of money to experience hockey down in the front row.  Nowadays, I pay thousands more just to go on the road with those teams. 

So why not experience something new?  Like yoga (done right) with a special teacher?  Or try that community dance class put on by the YMCA?  Or grab the golf clubs and head to Chelsea Piers and give that instructor something to talk about?  Or how about sitting outside with a book and an icy beverage in Central Park, and letting the day go by peacefully?

Why not take that crazy safety in food money and invest it in more Russian classes at NYU?  Why not invest in myself and the moments that life has to offer?  They’re all valuable lessons I take with me that make me feel alive.  Why not invest in those moments?  It’s a much healthier alternative.

You can’t save your moments for tomorrow.  You can only live them now.  Sure, you can invest in a future moment, but let go of the accumulation of things and appreciate what you already have now.

Unhappiness is usually the result of seeing others have what you don’t have.  Unhappiness lies in the desire to want what you don’t have, instead of cherishing what you already have.  It’s about appreciating what’s right before your eyes.  Believe me when I say…that’s my mission from here on out.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: The Dali Lama was asked what he thought about self-hate.  He asked what that was.  When it was explained to him, he looked at the person asking him the question, and said that in his culture, they do not practice self-hate.  It was purely a Western concept.

About Michelle Kenneth

Michelle Kenneth is the voice behind