love letter to excess, on the occasion of fat tuesday

a lot has changed in the years since i wrote this, including a reprieve of my depression. but so much of it still true.

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i was raised in an active catholic household. i attended catholic schools, complete with religion class and mass on wednesdays. my parents took us to church every sunday. i was baptized before i reached a year old; i took communion in the second grade. i was among the regular student readers during services. before easter, i fasted, religiously, routinely, probably until i was fifteen or sixteen. it took me that many years for my habit of faith to lapse, to begin the slow dis-articulation of myself from the traditions of the catholic church. the practice of fasting for lent, along with attending Christmas and Easter vigils, has stayed with me into adulthood, something i have considered if not participated in with some regularity. as this lenten season approaches, i found myself wondering what i might give up this year.

this cold brutal winter has been the scene of my deepest depression since returning from Palestine to live in the US when i was fourteen. every day i have struggled with getting out of my bed, with getting dressed and washing up, with doing household chores, with eating, with my school work, with my social life. as a fat person, i have been bowled over (bowl, ha) by my complete disinterest in food–in its preparation and in its consumption. for the first time in my memory, i sometimes forget to eat. i sometimes must force myself to do it. i forget to call the people that i love, i feel resistance at seeing other humans, at leaving my house, at being with people. i feel resistance to life in general, and bone deep despair at the possibility of happiness. i feel nothing is possible. i believe in nothing. at thirty one, i am out of any kind of faith, let alone a religious one.

today in the shower, while i contemplated what i might give up, i thought “i’m going to give up living.” and despite the self consciousness i have developed around my depression, a reflexivity hard won, i was surprised by myself. i was as surprised as i was in january, where i considered for the first time since i was a teenager, what steps i might take to end my life. there, under a lukewarm stream of vaguely pressurized water, i was a girl again, with no perspective or hope for what the future could bring. it shook me today, and it shook me in january. i sit here shaken by the cruelty of my psyche to itself, the lies it feeds itself, the tricks it plays so effectively on my heart. and my heart, tender and sad, threatens to believe even as it persists in its stubborn beat.

i should pause here and say: this is not a cry for help or an attempt to seek intervention. i have already intervened, back in january, and again today, and i am doing everything i can to address this desolation inside me. i won’t detail my efforts here, but i assure you, if you are worried now and fretting, it is ok. i am ok, and i will continue to be so. more, i wanted to take a moment to walk myself out of the hole i stumbled into. and because i am a libra, because i am an enneagram four with a three wing, because i am insecure to the point of narcissism or narcissistic to the point of insecurity, i am going to do that in writing, and i am going to do it publicly.

i began getting fat around the age of eight. it’s hard to remember precisely, but i went from being a fairly svelte child to a robust one around the fourth grade. when i moved back to palestine in the summer after fifth grade, i was already shopping in the fat kid sizes, and that bodily difference was hyper exposed in palestine, where all the girls and boys my age seemed effortlessly skinny. i remember my first diet around the age of eight, and i remember eight as the year i began writing. big year. i continued to be fat in palestine, always bigger than the girls my age, and a fair number of the boys. always told i was beautiful, but that if i lost five kilos i would be even more so. i would try on jeans at stores and the staff would suggest that i would look so much better in the pair in question if i did something about my stomach. my stories are likely as familiar as the day is long. show me a girl who hasn’t been told her body is wrong, and i will show you a flesh and blood unicorn. it’s not their exceptionalism or singularity that makes them compelling, but rather the saturation of them into my experience of the world. since the first time i was fat, i remained and still am fat. fatness is a becoming, it is constant but renewing in every moment. i will never not be fat–it goes beyond whatever shape my body has currently taken to an iterative of my existence.

over the years, i have decoupled that iterative from value (mostly). here is my fat body: here is how it moves, here is how it dresses, here is how it dances, how it smells, how it changes, how it seeks attention, how it avoids it, how it eats, how it gets sick, how it gets tired, how it gets strong. here is my fat body: here are the things i like to do in it, here are the things i avoid, here are the fears i have, here are the loves i have. here it is scared, here it is happy, here it is sad, here it is struggling. sometimes i feel this decoupling from value has had the effect of disabling me from celebrating my body. sometimes i feel this decoupling is the only thing that has allowed me to celebrate it, and take pleasure in it.

for lent, i have almost always given up some kind of food or drink. i remember a particularly hard forty days without caffeine. forty without chocolate. forty without junk food. forty without eating out. forty without breakfast cereal. i always understood lent as a time to give up something that you had, but didn’t need. something that had no merit in your life, but that through your practices had taken on significance it didn’t deserve. in this way, lent has been about an asceticism of the body that would allegedly allow me to address the robustness of my spirit. in reality though, lent was another kind of diet. another desperate and hopeless attempt to make my body right and good where it had been so wrong, so bad.

in a recent evening, i was out for drinks with some friends. one of them is a particularly minimalist person who takes joy in only having in his life those things he absolutely needs. when he suggested that things that went beyond utility had no value or purpose in the world, and were therefore, perhaps morally or ethically wrong, i had a flash of defensiveness and anxiety. by definition, i am excessive. i am acutely aware of the ways my excess manifests, of the ways i have been made to feel and to believe that i am too much. i am too much body, i am too much voice, i am too much need. i talk too loud, i laugh too big, i take up too much room. i loom in classrooms and planes and subway seats. i make too much food, i hoard too many canned goods, i order too much at dinner. i own too many shoes, too many tee shirts, too much stuff. i confess too many of my secrets, i need too many people. i want too many things. i feel. i feel too deeply, i feel too much.

i have struggled, then, to reconcile my excess with the ways depression has convinced me that there is nothing. that i am nothing, that i can be nothing. i have, in terrible moments, tried to become nothing. to say less, to eat less, to hide, to move in the world without touching so much as a turnstile let alone another human. i have, in different moments, become louder and bigger and more–to affront the notion that my something is nothing. to convince myself, mostly, that i am not too much, but that the world has been stingy. what is terrifying most about my depression, perhaps, is the confluence of these moments: the simultaneous belief that in being too much, i am nothing. when my heart feels that the world has no room for me, i have believed that both my heart and the world lack capacity. that if i wasn’t so much, there might be room for me, love for me. that the gnawing, gaping hole i feel is the very reason my excess is unacceptable. if i didn’t need so much, i could be of the world. that the world could give me something if i wasn’t so damn hungry. my lack of faith in the world is now both a reflection of the way that the world has failed me, but also a reflection of the ways my heart and psyche and body have failed–to be something? to negotiate more space? to take up less? to be right. to be good. to be Aristotelian, to be utilitarian, to be moderate, to be of use.

by now i am (and perhaps you are) wondering where the love letter in this messy story is. the love letter is just this. it is just my excess, existing alongside the countless admonishments against my very being. it is just me, existing alongside the countless suggestions that i disappear. it is the too many cigarettes i smoked while writing this post, it is every click and reader of this essay, it is the paczki i plan to eat on fat tuesday, it is the posts on facebook that people groan to read, it is the endless selfies on instagram, it is the defiant presence of palestine in the face of its attempted annihilation, it is the use of words when i have been told to shut up, it is the smile i attempt for strangers and for friends, it is the relentless stubborn beat of my heart. the thump thump of this too big organ in my too big body, the thump thump of every step i take forward, on faith, in love, that we are making a world so big and beautiful it can hold us, excess and all.

10 thoughts on “love letter to excess, on the occasion of fat tuesday

  1. michael says:

    beautiful writing. one of my friends here in austin was part of a play (“fat: the play”) about being fat and fatness. in the play, someone asked, “how can i be so much, and be so little at the same time?” it was a striking question that i think your post was a brilliant elaboration of//response to. thanks for sharing.

  2. C says:

    Because your narcissism requires no forgiveness, I hope you will not feel the narcissism of my response requires forgiveness. I’m going through something similar. I feel useless and worthless and guilty for feeling like this. I want to blame a host of other people for the loss of a job I cared about and a community I thought I belonged to and now feel cast out of. I feel guilty for not enjoying the good things in my life, but nothing feels good or peaceful. I’m ashamed of the struggle to get up in the morning and my apathy towards everything I’m supposed to care about and believe in. When people casually ask how I’m doing, all I can say is J is doing well with his writing. When we met up with you guys, I cried in the car on the way there and on the way back, just because there’s such a deep awkwardness and insecurity in this depression. I’m too ashamed to even try to see friends I normally enjoy. Now I’m wondering what will happen if I give up my brave face, like you’re doing so beautifully. Is there a reprieve in confession? I hope so.

    • mejdu says:

      there is no shame in your sadness, c. i hope you are able to find the spaces that support you and where you are able to speak and heal. sending strength.

  3. Scott Russell says:

    Well done, Mej. The idea of excess v. rightness/wrongness has me thinking. You made yourself a metaphor for the nation… and you can spell “poonchkey.”

    • mejdu says:

      thanks, scott. i have been thinking a lot about scarcity and abundance these days–fertile ground 🙂 also, don’t be fooled. i had to look up the spelling.

  4. bbeaty says:

    This is fabulous! I don’t know what else to say. I have shared this with my friends who do Lent, my friends who do the enneagram, my friends who are passionate about body issues and the world at large.

    Thank you.

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