Category Archives: Soul Food

On mental health, body image and self-esteem.

Eating Disorder Recovery: When “healthy” is a lie.

TW: If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, please care for yourself. None of this is meant to upset you, but if you’re sensitive to photos or talk of disordered behaviors, maybe skip this one. We’ll return to your irregularly scheduled sass soon enough.

There’s never a convenient time to talk about eating disorders. Trust me, I’ve been waiting on it for years. There’s always something: What will X new friend think? What will X future employer think? What if X potential suitor googles me (bigger threat: what if he DOESN’T? What kind of sociopath are we dealing with here?), freaks out and says gurl, bye?

Short answer: GURL, BYE. I need people in my life who can deal. Easy to understand, harder to implement.

The bigger issue is that nearly five years after entering treatment for (what started as) bulimia, I don’t consider myself recovered. Recovering, yes. I go days, weeks, even months feeling like I’m over it. Spoiler: I’m not. Recovery has been far from linear and is complicated by the fact that my ED followed a sizable weight loss. I have no normal to return to. Instead, I have these:

the overweight overeater

the frustrated yo-yo dieter

the out-of-control bulimic

the hyper-controlled health nut

the food-obsessed waif

the gluten-free vegan

the compulsive gym rat

the anxious, run-down shell who said, holy shit, this could go on forever.

And now I’m…what? Tired of thinking about it. Tired of hiding from it. And kind of wanting to talk about it, even if the words are as clumsy and circuitous as the journey has been.

Unless you’re being force-fed in a hospital — and often even if you are — recovery is rarely a simple prescription. I sought salvation from bulimia in “healthy living”: If what I ate was good for me, I could commit to keeping it down. I developed a love of wholesome cooking and got into running and weight training. My binges got fewer and further between. My weight stabilized and actually dropped. I figured out how to incorporate the odd baked good or rich meal, and got a real kick out of publicly Eating While Thin.

Double-fisting Shake Shack! …Followed by a slice of watermelon for dinner.

What I didn’t know is that I was way underfueling my body type and activity level. For YEARS. I wasn’t consciously restricting, but I look back and do a quick tally and guys. It was just not enough. I knew I sometimes went to bed hungry. I knew I kept a food journal and planned all my meals in advance. I knew spontaneous eating stressed me out and my rigidness interfered with my relationships. I knew I spent all day lusting over recipes and restaurants. I thought I was just, I dunno, really into food.

Dead eyes + bones = you’re doing it wrong.

I was fine until I wasn’t. I hit a wall a little over a year ago. I couldn’t understand why despite eating “healthy” (read: tiny portions of so-called clean food), I felt sick all the time. Exhausted, edgy, foggy, bloated, plagued by dry skin and acne I never got as a teen. I was a model of health…and I looked and felt like shit.

“So I says to the guy, ‘Sternum? I hardly know ’em!'”

I confused the bloating with weight gain — unacceptable, since my self-identity had come to revolve around Eating While Thin. God forbid anyone see me looking a little squishy. I cancelled plans and eventually stopped making them, convinced that what little social life I had left was pulling me away from my “healthy” routine. The good times could resume once I got things under control.

Me on a fat day. Def.

I saw a doctor, who basically told me it was all in my head. He said I should focus on reducing stress and give up gluten despite testing negative for Celiac. I realized I could control the bloating by basically never eating more than a few bites at a time. My energy temporarily spiked, which is a biological response to starvation (…so you can find food). Then it got 10x worse.

(Could it have been because I was barely clearing a thousand calories on top of a rigorous workout regimen, and my organ function and hormone production had slowed to a crawl?! Dammit, Emma, you with your spoilers.)

Much swoll. Very muscles. I could barely carry those eye bags.

I spent all my free time googling symptoms and digging through forums for answers. Then I did a few things at once. I quit caffeine, knowing it wound me up tight. I adopted a totally gluten-free, vegan diet — by that point, my digestion was so suppressed that I was convinced I had real intolerances — and I told myself I could eat as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted, as long as it was “healthy.” While plenty confining, it was a system I’d never trusted before. Whole avocados instead of anemic slivers. Almond butter feasts straight from the jar. Full-fat coconut milk with raw cacao and honey every night before bed.

And something wild happened. I gained weight. Not a ton — maybe ten or fifteen pounds — but it came on quickly and settled evenly. Wilder still, I didn’t become hideously unattractive. Quite the opposite. The bloat deflated, my skin calmed down, and my face and curves filled out. This was not the unflattering layer of water that had settled under my skin in response to a chronic deficit. This was straight-up fat – honest and womanly, firm to the touch, and just what my body needed.

My eyes brightened. My cheeks flushed. I had never been hit on more in my life. More importantly, I felt relaxed and silly and social and sensual — like myself for the first time in longer than I knew.

Selfie-improvement.

Unfortunately, I didn’t quite get it yet. I gave my narrow diet’s contents more credit than its flood of usable energy. Upon realizing I couldn’t do the gluten-free vegan thing forever, I fell back into restrictive patterns: small portions paired with a serious cardio habit. Pretty standard — maybe fine for someone without such fraught digestive and nervous systems — but not nearly enough for my barely-healing body. The weight fell off, and my symptoms returned with a vengeance. I couldn’t leave the house without throbbing headaches. I couldn’t run without swelling up with stress-induced water weight for days. Are these my choices? I wondered. Chronic inflammation or morbid obesity?

Well, as it turns out, no.

I’ve arrived at the final frontier: permission to eat, full stop, “healthy” or not. Recovery 2: 4 REALZ THIS TIME finds me trying to reset my metabolism and get to my body’s natural weight on what is, for me, an unprecedented amount of food. On top of my regular meals (which have doubled in size), I’m trying to eat when I’m hungry, even if I just had a full meal an hour ago. The more I resist, the longer it will take for my body to trust me and use that energy for good. There’s science to back it up, but it goes against every tenet of mainstream diet culture — a hard sell for someone not underweight by the scale.

It’s incredibly daunting to eat like a teenage boy after being so careful for so long. But once I stopped suppressing my hunger, I was shocked by how much of it I felt. Far more than I could physically fill with my old staples. I’ve had to embrace fats and simple carbs — which make me feel great — and avoid anything with too much fiber, which makes me want to explode. Instead of overthinking it, I’m taking my multivitamin and hoping my body is smarter than me. As first world problems go, there are worse things than eating a lot of cheese.

I’ve been doing it for about two months — no cardio, to boot — and it has not turned me into Jabba the Hutt. It’s that same fifteen pounds, and that same vitality I lacked as a paragon of “health.” Even without the pristine diet. I can and do eat everything, and my skin and mind are mostly clear. The weight is honest and womanly. I know that it is good.

Not every day is good, though. Water retention can be unpredictable and drastically change my appearance in a matter of hours. I’ll catch sight of an old photo or something that no longer fits and think, Maybe I was just doing it wrong. If I tweak my macros. Load up on fruits and veggies. The “Bad Blood” music video, while epic, was triggering as fuck. I went to bed hungry three nights in a row in pursuit of uber-svelte Swiftyness. Lo and behold: Headaches! Joint pain! A fresh crop of zits! My body simply will not do it anymore, and neither will I. Anyone who judges the weight gain does not have my best interests at heart. I am not letting myself go. I am letting go of a compulsion that kept me from living fully.

My body feels awkward right now, but I’m finding my peace with it. I also know I may need to gain more, and I have to accept that too — even if that weight comes from eating cake for breakfast, or having three snacks in the time I’d have formerly allowed myself one. The definition of “healthy” changes after an eating disorder. Finding that mental freedom — challenging my fears and my systems — is so much more important than a little bit of vanity weight. The best thing I can do is focus on developing value markers outside of my size and surrounding myself with people who couldn’t care less.

No witty bow to tie up this one, friends. Thank you for letting me share. I hope for your sake you can’t relate, but if you can, I hope this spurred you toward a positive change, or at least made you think. If you want to talk more, I’m only an email away.

Cha-cha now, y’all.

One of the first articles I ever published was a pseudo-inspirational rant called “Hello, My Name is Emma, and I’m a Quitter.” With all the confidence of 19 fairly knock-free years, I recall abandoning piano lessons for dance class (because “no preteen girl in her right mind would choose tea-length dresses over sequined hot pants”) and urge my peers to turn from their colorless lives and walk it out. I end with this clincher:

“I give you all permission to quit. Quit your job. Quit your major. Quit your relationship, if you have to. Do a little soul-searching and discover what it is that makes you happy. The only one you’ll have to answer to is yourself, and I’m sure you’re the harshest critic that you know. In the immortal words of Rihanna, just live your life. Ay, ay, ay.”

RIHANNA, Y’ALL.

I read this and feel like a shadow of my 19-year-old self. I still back this advice, but I’m really bad at acting on it. Where my soul is concerned, I’m all search and no rescue, letting pride and fear of discomfort cockblock action. Rude.

I just turned 26, and I’m trying to Benjamin Button my way back onto the dance floor. So in the spirit of embracing my inner quitter/cocky 19-year-old, I’m pleased to share that I’m valiantly failing my New Year’s resolutions and mostly pretty stoked about it. Sometimes taking two steps back means INVENTING THE CHA-CHA SLIDE. Hey, it beats piano.

Dear January, You’re Full of Shit and Here’s Why

No headphones on the train. This was a nice idea meant to help me connect with my surroundings and minimize time on autopilot. It’s still a nice idea – in fact, I’m writing this in a notebook on the train right now, which I probably wouldn’t be doing if I hadn’t accidentally left my headphones at the office. It’s just not a realistic everyday rule. Trashy EMP is the only way I can get it up some days, and I forgive myself for that.

What I HAVE done is adopt a ritual that makes my commute less of a slog. Instead of taking my caffeine to the face when I wake in the 5 o’ clock hour, I try to wait and either bring (LOL) or buy (yep) something to sip on my way into work. It’s extremely pleasant to hold a fancy beverage and plan my day or stare at babies or whatever — even if Krewella is still providing the soundtrack — and it helps me arrive in a state of peak phreshnezz (read: aggressive caffeination). It also means I drop some dimes at the Pine Tree Natural Organic Land bodega, but my buddy there gives me free bananas, so I’m pretty sure I’m breaking even come snacktime.

Up my manicure game. Okay, yes, but do you know how much I cook and how many dishes I wash/toss in the sink and think about washing?! Many many dishes, which means my manicures last maybe 24 hours and my hands look twice as old as my face. So I guess what I’m saying is that my new resolution is to buy rubber gloves.

Commit to life after bangs. WTF. Why. I look so good with bangs. I am not your sad friend who chopped off her hair to get over a breakup. I keep going back to them because they work. They soften my features and hide my weird hairline and signal that I don’t take my cheeseburger-print dress too seriously. Let’s stop pretending I want a grown-up haircut. You can’t fight destiny, because her child will avenge you and f*cking Beyonce plays for that team.

Run 13.1. I’m in pretty great shape, if I do say so myself. I have my soft spots, because I enjoy housing carbs and cooking while tipsy, but I sweat almost daily and the meatheads at my gym ask my advice on muscle splits. Here’s what doesn’t interest me: achieving ~peak fitness~, whatever that means. The second exercise stops feeling constructive or voluntary is the second I am OUT.

Whatever cocktail of mental and physical stressors aligned in my half marathon training was not doing this body good. I was undertraining and panicked about it, prone to insomnia that I dealt with by carbo-loading myself to not-sleep before runs I would skip because what I really wanted was a strength circuit or trendy cardio class, which I wouldn’t do because I needed to save myself for runs. Dumbest loop ever. It was a mess and I was a mess and furious that so many people could force themselves to do this and I COULD NOT, especially after announcing to literally thousands of people that I would.

In that sense, it was hard to quit. But once I did, I felt nothing but 100% relief. For me, exercise has always been about feeling happy and fit and the opposite of everything I felt while forcing myself to be a distance runner.

The awesome part was remembering how much I love staying active in other ways! I am pumping dat iron and lip-syncing my heart out on the elliptical! Casual runs on sunny Saturdays that involve cross-training on swing sets and refueling with doughnuts: I love you! Do not come near me with a training schedule and a race number for several years at least!

UGH CATHARSIS LIKE LEGIT I AM REBORN.

Eat sandwiches for lunch. This one is going really well!

Get outta town. Also fruitful! I did the L.A. thang in February and I’m off to Sonoma next week for work! Basically I flee to the West Coast every chance I get and it’s only a matter of time until I just don’t come back…!

Wear pants on the weekend. It’s been more of a sundress situation, but it’s progress!

Ulfilter myself. Well, I made it back here eventually WHADDAYAWANTFROMME.

Hacking the small stuff.

Once upon a time, I had a motto: Don’t sweat the small stuff (and it’s all small stuff)! I didn’t invent it, but I made a great evangelist back in 2009, right around the time I titled a Facebook album “My Life Is In Shambles But Here Are Your Damn Photos.” Term papers? Sorority rush? Costume designing three shows? Small stuff! Here are your damn photos!

I still don’t believe in sweating the small stuff. But I don’t believe in ignoring it, either — precisely because it’s all small stuff. If everything doesn’t matter, then…nothing matters. The itchy business of living is all we’ve got some days. The small stuff will absolutely undo us if we let it. And for no good reason, because small stuff is usually easy to fix.

As someone who chronically stresses over abstract ideas like Maintaining Balance and Finding Love and Designing My Career, I think the small stuff is a fine place for me to direct my attention. Instead of sweating it, though, I’m hacking it — systematically scrubbing until it figures out how to scrub itself. If I flick away the sweat before it drips, I’ll never wind up with a soaked shirt and eyeliner on my chin. And now I’m very much regretting this metaphor.

Small Stuff to Sweat Hack in 2015

No headphones on the train. Without a sense of hearing, I enter an eerie state of half-consciousness. I’m less likely to stare at adorable babies, admire a girl crush’s denim-cuffing technique, read the book I’ve ambitiously tucked in my bag or work through whatever’s on my mind. Instead, I just…zone. It’s not meditation, it’s dead time, and I don’t need two hours of it a day. Saying no to “headphoning it in” will make my commute more engaged and productive.

Up my manicure game. This is one of those things that speaks volumes about where I’m at with self-care. It’s a bit of a hamster wheel, yes, but I feel infinitely more pulled together when my nails are painted. I can spare 20 minutes twice a week to feel pulled together.

Commit to life after bangs. Growing out bangs is the worst, and I’ve now tried and failed on three separate occasions. This time is the last time (meaning, last time was the last time). Suffer the interim shag — like, two months, max! — and ye shall be rewarded with the ability to rock a sloppy topknot on days you DGAF (but it’s fine, cuz you painted your nails).

Dress myself the night before. Not another vanity hack — this is straight time management. My morning routine is quick and dirty, except that I’m horribly indecisive and spend 25 minutes shuffling in and out of various half-outfits before realizing I will be fired if I don’t show up for work and racing out in whatever I’ve land in at minute 26. Somehow I don’t see myself agonizing into the night if I lay out clothes when I’m in a less harried frame of mind. Doing so will also help facilitate early workouts, which is key because…

Run 13.1. I’m not the first twentysomething to run a half marathon, and I won’t be the last. But it’s a big deal to me! I’m registered for the Pittsburgh Half on my birthday weekend (in May), meaning it’ll be the first workout I complete in my second quarter-century. Happy new year, indeed. I’m calling this a preventative hack against small stuff like brain fog and body angst that creeps in when I start slacking on exercise. I’ve got time for long runs, but ain’t nobody got time for that.

Eat sandwiches for lunch. Literally nothing hits that sweet spot of satisfied-but-not-sleepy for me like a sandwich. Not salad, not soup, not souped-up fiber-fied grain bowls (I get gassy, okay?). Every few months, I attempt to go raw/go Paleo/break up with gluten and, after a brief placebo-induced reckoning, find I’ve cured nothing except my ability to function after noon. Stop the madness! Sane amounts of gluten and I are A-OK. Sandwiches are my happy place. And if I wind up back there in March, there is gluten-free bread I can pretend to like until I come to my senses.

Get outta town (and, if possible, the U.S.). I love staycations. I live in an amazing city, and bopping around at a leisurely pace and then coming home to cook in my own kitchen and sleep in my own bed makes me happy. I did so for two full weeks in 2014. But…I need to travel. For my own growth and, once I shake off my control-freaky roots, enjoyment. I’ve already got a few trips to look forward to — five days in L.A., a weekend in Philly for the 1989 tour (h8erz gunna h8!!!!!!!), the aforementioned half marathon — and I’m into living dat nomad life insomuch as my sanity and wallet will allow.

Wear pants on the weekends. Would you judge me if I told you I often go two straight days without putting on clothes? Good, because I judge me a little. As much as I need “me time” to function, weekends can and should consist of more than lounging all morning, forcing myself to the gym, showering, putting on fresh PJs and climbing back into bed at 2pm. I swear I enjoy the outside world — I just get sucked into things (like, um, things made of spandex) until it feels too late to bother getting dressed. Pants would be a game changer.

I’ve also had some frumpy growing pains transitioning into my Adult Look (it’s a thing), and I’m bound to pull it it together more quickly if I get all the terrible ideas out of my system when the stakes are low. More trial = more error, followed by NO ERROR EVER AGAIN. That’s how that works, right?

Unfilter myself. I wrote way more than I published in 2014 (good, but could be good-er), and a big part of that was psyching myself out over images. It’s dumb. I’m not a photographer. If I have a relevant photo, I will certainly throw it up here. But I trust that anyone who jives with my blog can figure out what I’m saying with out a dubious Instagram illustration.

What small stuff are you hacking this year?

Pipe dreams.

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

My ancient radiator, that’s who. We’re transitioning out of transitional weather — trading jackets for coats and PSLs for comforts brewed on the stove. Polar vortex is descending, and with it a choice: snuggle up to a sweet new normal or let bitterness eat us alive.

Should probably find a new home for this guy.

I am a winter girl. (I also do not wear Abercrombie and Fitch, so Rich and I were doomed from the start.) Layering up and hunkering down is in my hard wiring, and each year I enjoy a surge of reverse SAD. I could point to my indoorsy interests or Buddy the Elf-like holiday spirit, but more than anything, it’s that I thrive in a season ruled by intention.

Intention is, to me, the source of all forward motion. It’s a close relative of mindfulness, but less about the moment itself than the act of constructing it: I will go here. I will do this. I will make my fate my own. It’s accountability, but only to myself — to things I think I want and know I need.

Summer, for all its loveliness, is at odds with intention. In bloom, I am bright and breezy and pliable. I want to say yes, and I want things to say yes to. I make myself available to whim and, in doing so, pluck myself from roots I planted when no other grass was greener, because there was no other grass.

For a few weeks, it’s bliss. By August, I’m stuck in a strange holding pattern — like I’m waiting for something to change me, and when or how is beyond my control. Like I’m failing every moment I’m not Living In The Moment. Plans waft my way; I say no and feel guilty, or I go and feel drained. It’s too much. I love unplanned adventures and aimless walks through the park. Just, you know, when I want to. Not because summer said I should.

There’s no dragging our heels in the winter. We’ll wind up knee-deep and turn back before we begin. Oppressed by the elements, we’re reduced to bare totems of priority, our will to fight for our good times revealing how much we want what we want. The lack of foliage exposes deep-sown yearnings that hide in the loveliness of an unexamined life. All that rawness leads to discomfort sometimes. I get it. I also know it comes back around to growth.

In winter, I do what I want when I want it. I write. I cook. I exercise. I clean my apartment and spend whole days perfecting my eyeliner technique. Paradoxically — or obviously — that bare, predictable landscape sends me grasping at tendrils that poke through the snow. Those are the powerful moments. I gather them fiercely and savor them without trying — because they’re exceptions, and because I know my fellow scavengers have fought for them too.

And so I intend to winter: in pursuit of things I think I want and know I need. To winter: an active verb, because I’m the one making changes around here. To winter: in a way that makes the spring irrelevant, and therefore that much sweeter when it comes.

It’s gonna be a damn good time.

Baby teeth.

Hey, parents of the world. It’s me. The stranger staring at your baby. More blatantly than I could ever stare at a full-grown human. Maybe making faces. Maybe just staring, neutral until both of us find an honest face.

C’mon, guys, be cool.

I do know it’s impossible to fake-smile at a baby. Go ahead, try your subtle ugly out on someone under three feet tall. Actually, don’t. Flashing an imposter smile at a baby feels perverted, like telling them Santa isn’t real.

Reflexively, they smile back at first. But they always catch on, round cheeks melting, confusion clouding that baby glow. What is this labored expression with no life behind the eyes? their own searching ones say. Am I doing it wrong? They couldn’t imitate it if they tried.

I’m sorry, you want me to what?

Babies know what’s up. It’s a ludicrous notion — forfeiting participation in your face. I love life most when I smile, and life loves me right back. But I don’t always have a smile in me, and in those moments, I wish I could make like a baby and just stare until something moves me. Or scream and squirm and pound and gag until everyone around me is all OH NO HOW CAN WE FIX THIS and the non-baby people decisively see themselves out.

As babies know, that’s exhausting. Nothing is ever worth screaming about for very long. It’s only a matter of time before they’re back around to smiles and everyone’s all gah, a baby! And baby’s all hey, girl. Let me see ya grillz.

I win.

It’s not in our nature to go through the motions. I know because babies don’t do it. They know better. We all did, at one point. The smiles find us, if we let them. If they don’t, we use our tiny, mighty wills to make it right.

Babies remind me to trust the cycle. To opt for curiosity over indifference. To make my default mode delight and not disdain. Cling to your smile like your life depends on it, babies. Know that, at the very least, your happiness does.

And that’s not even edible.

So that’s why I’m staring, parents. Don’t worry, I’m harmless. Just in search of an honest smile. Do your thing. I’ll be right here staring at your baby. Please let me. Please let your baby make me better at being grown.

Words on words.

It just happens to be the way I’m made. I have to write things down to feel I fully comprehend them. That’s Murakami, but also it’s me. All I know of myself — my formative moments, my views on The Issues, my coffee order — I learned by putting it in writing. Sometimes I say things and walk away knowing only that I disagree with them. I scribble my truth and make a retraction. Next time, I’m prepared to quote my most articulate self.

It’s sort of like my past is an unfinished painting, and as the artist of that painting, I must fill in all the ugly holes and make it beautiful again. That’s Lady Gaga, but also it’s me. And damn, does it get messy. My mind sketches in black and white. My soul insists on gray. My body lets loose an unfettered stream of color. We push and pull and pile it on until a blank canvas seems like the solution — but the war would start again there, leaving artless half-life in its wake. Better to chip away the paint to the intention and lay a dappled topcoat that transforms the old mistakes. I’m a perfectionist, uncomfortable with works in progress. But even I know progress kicks the other option’s ass.

All the power in the world comes from the words of those that lived before us. That’s Raymmar Tirado, who wrote a syndicated blog post called “7 Reasons Why You Will Never Do Anything Amazing With Your Life.” I’ve stashed that clickbait in a note on my phone for months. It lights a fire on days when I’m sad, soggy driftwood. Is that power? I’d say yes. That one’s not me, though — not lately. And that’s because I’ve opted out.

Words are my livelihood. I write about parties and peonies and 15 genius ways to use a fork. But when it comes to #realtalk, I don’t always have the right words. Or I do, but at the wrong time. Or I do, but choose to speak them once aloud and let them fade, or siphon them into heady stasis when what I need is a gut check. OMG, your navel looks like mine! I thought I was the only one! Or, Girl, get out of your navel and look at your choices. Both are useful. Both are welcome. Both turn an indulgence into an exchange.

So that’s a lofty way of saying that I’d like to hang out here again. Because I’d rather write the wrong words than no words at all. Because I want to know me, and I hope that my knowing me can mean that you know you. When I don’t have the words, I’ll borrow them and trust that they’ll embolden rather than eclipse me. Words, at their most powerful, don’t belong to anyone.

I love a manifesto. I had almost forgotten. Thank goodness I wrote it down.

Dance-perate times.

On a scale from one to Britney, this week is 2007.

Me.

I know I’m not supposed to flaunt my disasters on The Internet, so while I think we passed propriety when I decided to talk about excrement, I’mma stick with second-person narrative today. Just know it’s been one for the books. Or blogs, I suppose, once the wounds aren’t so fresh. I’m okay, but I think the universe is trynna give me some perspective. Oh, universe. Always trynna.

I’ve been chanting clichés like it’s my job. All’s well that ends well! Stop comparing your behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel! Funnily enough, tweeting these vague, “inspirational” statements actually was my job when I worked in women’s empowerment. I’m not big on quotes, myself – I’d prefer that my words derive their significance from me alone – and I’d sooner turn to YouTube than Chicken Soup for the Soul. Because when you’re minutes from losing faith in humanity and yourself, you don’t want to hear that tough times don’t last, but tough people do! You want to do the adult thing and pour whiskey into a bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. At 11:42am.

And dance.

Somewhere amidst my high highs and low lows, I perfected the art of the Desperate Dance Party (henceforth referred to as DDP). My DDP habit saw me through heartbreak, all-nighters, heartbroken all-nighters, and more Jason Derulo choruses than I’ll willingly disclose. This is The Internet, after all. I have a reputation to uphold. (Ridin’ solo, ridin’ solo!)

Any halfhearted hand jive will release a few endorphins, but not all DDPs are created equal, and nor are the divas who inspire them. Before engaging in any DDP, you must answer a few questions: How desperate am I right now? Do I feel shaving-my-head insane, or just a little bit plastic baggy? Have I taken any mind-altering substances? Is my roommate home? Are my neighbors home? Do I want to punch a wall? Would a person do the trick? Is this a feasible alternative? Just how many bottles of Mike’s do I have on hand?

Once you evaluate, choose your soundtrack, and don’t hold back. Also, lay off the combo high-knees-one-two-punch. That’s my move.

The Emma Aubry Roberts Scale of Dance Party Desperation

Or, Top 40 for those who feel hopelessly, spastically lost in the world.

Level One: Beyoncé. What? you cry, outraged. Beyoncé, at the bottom of this list? Here’s the tragic thing about Beyoncé: Nothing. She’s a perfect specimen with no place in your pathetic life right now. A BDP is a beautiful thing, but save it for Keg night with your gurlz.

Level Two: K. Perry. Do you ever feel like a plastic bag? I do, and it’s a specific, schizophrenic strain of desperation. Katy kills it for capital-M Moods where you don’t know what you’re all worked up about, but your teenage dreams have been crushed and you need to do ponies/grapevines/angry bicycle crunches until you feel like a firework again. Go ahead, get hot ‘n’ cold. Unleash your inner extraterrestrial. And next Friday night, do it all again.

Level Three: Robyn. Now we’re talking. If your desperation stems from romantic troubles, “Dancing on My Own” is an obvious choice (see one of the most iconic scenes from Girls’ first season), but don’t underestimate the healing power of “Time Machine” and “Don’t F*cking Tell Me What To Do.” This is some next-level, feeling-all-the-feelings shit. Move your body in ways you never thought possible. Then call your girlfriend. It’s time you had the talk.

Level Four: Gaga. Say what you will about Lady G, but know this: She gets it. She gets caught in bad romances with men named Alejandro (I mean, really?), then puts on her poker face and marries the night cuz she was born this way. Whatever awful, destructive thing you did, Gaga did it first and probably better, so quit whining and just dance. It’s gonna be okay. You’re on the edge of glory. And everyone knows you like it rough.

Level Five: Britney, bitch. Forever stronger than yesterday, no one can dance her way to a comeback quite like Brit. She’s the ultimate symbol of resilience; the queen of white-walled, windowless dancehall glory. Motherhood has only taken her music from slutty to sluttier, and jazz squares to “(You Drive Me) Crazy [The Stop Remix]” are as timeless as mountain climbers to “Womanizer,” which prove no less satisfying than moonwalking in circles to “Piece of Me.” Scream, and shout, and let it all out. Keep dancing till the world ends. It gets better. Your hair might even grow back, too.

* “Starships” gets an honorable mention (I recommend it for those at the Katy level), as does any intersection of Sia and D. Guetta (“Titanium” and “She Wolf ” are the move here). Remember, though, a DDP candidate must satisfy different needs than your Sweaty Gym Jamz and Songz 4 Puttin’ Mah Sequin Topz On (yes, these are real playlists, as are Feeling Sry 4 Myself and ~*~SeXiiTiMe~*~). The juvenile punctuation is optional, but the anguish is not. Work yourself up. Dance your way back. Beyoncé will still be there when you return.

** Yeah, I listen to pretentious indie shit, too. These is desperate times.

And on that note, I’m off to Chicago for a soul-soothing weekend with some of my favorite people. If experience is any indication, Katy, Robyn, Gaga and Britney will still be there when I return. Oh, divas. Always trynna.

Do you DDP? What’s your jam? Your signature move?