A Quickie with Model Stefania Ferrario

A quick interview that is… Jeez, you have a dirty mind!

 ♥ All photos of Stefania courtesy of @stefania_raw ♥

♥ All photos of Stefania courtesy of @stefania_raw ♥

I first learned about Stefania Ferrario – one of my very favorite models ever!! – from an Instagram post by Dita Von Teese, and I quickly fell in love with her look, vibe, and body-positive, be-you message. I soon found out that she’s a fan of Queen Bettie, which makes perfect sense, as the two goddesses have a lot in common.

They’ve both had to deal with size discrimination in the modeling industry, are fierce advocates for courageous self-expression, and refuse to conform to mainstream norms. Not to mention they are both iconic beauties who are innovative and creative, and they freely express their sexuality in a way that is joyful and authentic. Clearly, I could go on and on. But I’ll let Stefania tell you a bit more about herself in this quick Q&A.

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BY TORI RODRIGUEZ

Bettie Page Fitness: You seem like you’d be a blast to hang out with. What do you like to do for fun in your free time?

Stefania: Watch horror movies and music clips from the 80’s, lol!

BPF: What are your favorite types of exercise?

Stefania: I've enjoyed trying out Tai chi, and now yoga on my new Bettie Page yoga mats!

BPF: How do you strike a balance between being mindful about your eating without being too restrictive?   

Stefania: I just remind myself, “Everything in moderation” – including moderation itself! :)

BPF: What some of your favorite ways to recharge?

Stefania: I like taking my time to do my glam makeup when I have the chance. Otherwise, I'll put on my James Dean and head out bare-faced and boyish. 

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BPF: When did you first learn about Bettie? 

Stefania: To be honest I cannot remember the exact time. It feels like I've always known of her.

BPF: What are some of the things you most love and admire about her?

Stefania: She was a free spirit in numerous ways. She lived her life to the fullest and tested out different avenues in her life. I feel bad that time got to her, however. She was always beautiful to me, even in her later years. 

BPF: What’s next in your world in terms of work, personal, or anything else you’d like to share?

Stefania: I just want to keep modeling. I'll be staying in Australia from now on, however, after my experiences of treatment in the great USA.

BPF: It sounds like somebody deserves an ass-whuppin’… I’m so sorry to hear this. I hope you’ll change your mind someday and return to grace us with your spectacular presence!

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♥♥♥ 

Food Fix: Permission vs Panic

Improve your relationship with food by shifting your focus from deprivation to abundance

  No need to panic… you can always have more later!

No need to panic… you can always have more later!

BY TORI RODRIGUEZ

“You can have more later.” Isn’t there such comfort in hearing that?  There’s something about having a sense of choice and abundance that makes us tend to take only as much as we need or want.

I used to have a wicked sweet tooth, and when I was trying not to indulge, when I would finally “let” myself, it felt like it was my only chance to do it for who knew how long. “Get it while you can” was the message, which only served to create feelings of scarcity and anxiety around food. So I would eat way too much and then feel out of control and physically awful – energy crash, headache, and all-around ickyness. Over time, as I worked toward cultivating a healthy relationship with food, I learned about proper nutrition and the basic physiology of how consistently overeating, especially sugary foods, affects our insulin and blood sugar levels and pretty much every system in our bodies.

I began making choices rooted in treating my body with kindness (learn about the Health at Every Size approach HERE), paying more attention to how my body felt than to the rules my mind rehearsed – more of an internal versus external focus.  When I gave up the restrictive approach and knew I could have more later of whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, because I was no longer constantly trying to “get back on track,” I began eating enough to satisfy but not enough to sicken. 

  Do your friendships feed you? What about other areas of your life – do you feel nourished or deprived?

Do your friendships feed you? What about other areas of your life – do you feel nourished or deprived?

Sometimes I would take myself up on the offer to have more, but just as often I’d forget about it or not want more when later came. I was surprised to discover that, given the choice, I rarely wanted as much as I once thought I did. The have-more-later approach allows me to pause and pay attention to how my body feels and make choices accordingly, rather than mindlessly inhaling half a cake and barely even tasting or truly enjoying it.

I’d venture to say that most of us have experienced deprivation – imposed by others or by ourselves – whether with food, love, acceptance, or self-expression. Start working toward awareness of what you’re hungry for, both with food and otherwise. Turn your focus away from rules and limits, and focus on adding the things that nurture you in whichever parts of your life where you’re not getting enough of what you need. If you’re strongly driven by “shoulds” and “should nots” with your eating, it’s highly likely you operate the same way in other areas.

Obsessing over rules keeps your relationship with food in your head – fixating on what you can and can’t, should and shouldn’t eat; what’s “good” or “bad” or “fattening” or not – instead of driven by your body’s cues. It makes you act on external factors instead of intrinsic ones, which is disempowering, ineffective, and can give you a sense of disconnection from yourself and others.

Try for the most part to make food and exercise choices based on a combination of what you know about your body (this is the priority) and what is known about how to achieve and maintain good health (and there’s much more to it than what or how much to eat or work out! Plenty of sleep, socializing, and relaxation, are also essential, for example). If you’re not clear in these areas, set out to explore both. Seek to empower yourself with knowledge, but don’t trust sources that shame you for your choices or generally make you feel like shit about yourself, and expect and embrace a trial-and-error process as you discover what fills you.


  Enjoy every single bite! Celebrate food and life!

Enjoy every single bite! Celebrate food and life!

Move away from restraint and deprivation, and start thinking abundance, adding, expanding, enhancing, fulfilling, and satisfying. Instead of “eat less junk,” start with “eat more plants.” Guess what? You’ll inevitably eat less junk. This is a good metaphor for feeding your mind and spirit too – the more you get what you need, the less you’ll want what you don’t need. So instead of trying to subtract the junk, aim instead to add the nutritious stuff. But just as importantly, DO NOT fall into the guilt trap when you eat the junky stuff… that will just continue to feed the binge-shame-restrict-binge cycle.

Get to know your body by asking yourself (even if the answers aren’t readily apparent), “What really satisfies me, in terms of food and otherwise? How do I physically feel after I eat this? After I eat X amount of it?” Ideally, you’ll jot these notes in a journal so you can notice patterns over time. Approach it like a lifelong experiment to explore and find out how much and what kinds make you feel happiest and most alive, given your unique design.

Keep in mind that there’s a difference between feeling bad physiologically – nausea, headache, bloating, lack of energy – and feeling like a terrible person because you ate something deemed “bad.” Start placing more emphasis on the former, and remember that all foods can be enjoyed in moderation – and in excess at times! Food doesn’t intrinsically have moral value, despite the media’s and many confused humans’ longtime tendency to frame certain foods as “sinful” and “bad” and something one “cheats” with, along with the common reinforcement of those views by family, friends, co-workers, and even the people who are supposed to be experts. I’ve seen many a fitness pro or dietitian promote these dangerous ideas.

In the process of unlearning deprivation, you may at first eat more than you need. But eventually, with the reassurance that you can have what you want or need at any time, you’ll come to trust yourself. Then you’ll realize there’s no need to overdo it, and the fear and panic will subside, becoming unnecessary.  “You can have more later” is a powerful message. ♥





Weight Stigma Worse for Health Than Being "Overweight"

Research shows that anti-fat bias has more of a negative impact than weight itself.

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BY TORI RODRIGUEZ, FOR MEDICAL BAG

As obesity rates continue to rise, healthcare providers have increased efforts to encourage weight loss in patients considered to be overweight in the interest of reducing associated harms like cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes. However, emerging evidence suggests that these efforts may also cause harm by promoting weight stigma, which has been linked with a range of negative health outcomes and an increased risk of death. Read the full story here: https://www.medicalbag.com/medicine/weight-stigma-vs-obesity-providing-compassionate-care/article/810901/ 💗

 

The Bettie Page Fitness Body-Positive Wellness Plan!

Forget all the complicated diets and scary exercise regimens. Stick to these tried-and-true basics for optimal health.

  The building blocks of the Bettie Page Fitness Body-Positive Wellness Plan! Do as many of these as you can on most days, and don’t beat yourself up when you can’t.

The building blocks of the Bettie Page Fitness Body-Positive Wellness Plan! Do as many of these as you can on most days, and don’t beat yourself up when you can’t.

BY TORI RODRIGUEZ, MA, LPC, AHC

[This info was the basis for last year’s Bettie Page Fitness Health Challenge. We will be doing the challenge again this November. To sign up, enter your email when prompted by the popup box when you enter this site, or shoot us an email at info@bettiepagefitness.com.]

As a psychotherapist, wellness coach, and health journalist with expertise in food and body images issues among others, I often find that when people want to improve their health or other areas of their lives, they feel compelled to make big, sweeping, fancy changes that are either impossible or unsustainable (not to mention joy-sucking and boring). What I’ve also learned throughout my many years of professional and personal experience is that the most effective approach to getting and staying healthy is to simply focus on the tried-and-true basics. This sometimes doesn’t appeal to people who are ready for things to be completely different RIGHT NOW and want that shot of hope that comes from planning to radically overhaul their lives (uh, diet culture, anyone?)

But the letdown when you realize it isn’t doable is more painful than the initial fleeting feel-goods. Diets don’t work, and you don’t need any complicated plan to make major, lasting changes. If you’re ready to give up those quick fixes that quickly fizzle and want to create sustainable changes that actually feel good, then focus on these 6 key areas and just do as many as you can on most days. Make a commitment to yourself to keep it judgment-free and weight-neutral, and keep your inner perfectionist out of it! This is about building a strong, healthy foundation and learning to listen to yourself and make decisions about your health based on what your body tells you instead of what any diet plan, magazine, fitspo page, your mom or friends, or anyone says. (That includes me – which is why these are all suggestions that you should adapt to your own needs.)

  Love this bo-po illustration… Does anyone know who the artist is?

Love this bo-po illustration… Does anyone know who the artist is?

This solid self-care approach will help you start shifting your thinking from an externally-focused viewpoint (based on calories, pounds, societal messages) to an internally-focused one based on how your body feels and what you know it needs. Note: You don’t have to love your body to improve your health; you only need to be willing to take care of it or at least to start working toward that goal.

♥  THE PLAN

The basic goals are summed up in the Bettie collage at the top of this post. You might want to save it to your phone or print it out so you’ll have a quick reminder of what you’re going for.

{Each day, thank your body when you wake up.}

♥ Be mindful. As much as possible, avoid distractions when you eat. Fully experience and enjoy your food. Same with exercise: Instead of just trying to get it over with, notice how your body feels as you do it, and appreciate all the countless cells and many systems working in your favor to allow your body to move.

♥ Listen to your body. Aim to pay attention to how it feels before, during and after eating and exercising. You might also start simply getting in the habit of asking your body, “What do you need right now?” even if you can’t recognize the answers yet. 

♥ Eat 5-9 veggies & fruits daily. Eat mostly plant-based (veggies, fruits, nuts, legumes, grains) whole foods – in other words, ones that aren’t overly processed – including at least 3 vegetables and 2 fruits daily, more if you’re already there (9 is the daily amount recommended by the USDA). Eat organic as much as possible, but don’t stress when you can’t. Your protein sources, of course, will vary based on whether you’re vegetarian or vegan or neither. Healthy fats are essential for everyone.

Drink at least eight 8-oz glasses of water each day, more if you’re very active. Coffee and all kinds of tea are generally great for our health, unless you have a particular reason why you're not supposed to drink them - so enjoy in liberal moderation (in other words, unlimited coffee still isn't a good idea. Well, only in theory.) This isn’t a diet plan; these are concrete actions you can take to improve your health. Don’t frame foods as “good” or “bad, and don’t be restrictive with your eating. Loving limits: Yes. Rigid rules: No.

♥ Move daily if you are able – whatever kind you like. The Bettie Page Fitness videos are great options for strength, cardio, and yoga, especially when you can’t make it outside or to the gym. Some days you might only have time for a 10-minute walk or quickie strength workout… and that’s okay. Bring your full attention to it and make it the best 10 minutes of your day! {Thank your body when you finish.} If you can’t manage any physical activity, do some extra rounds of breathing exercises to create internal movement – you’re still vastly improving your health by increasing oxygen and detoxing your cells, soothing your nervous system, increasing endorphins, and lots more.

♥ Relax. Be sure to carve out time regularly to do literally nothing, laze around with friends or your lover or dog, or whatever makes you feel relaxed. Even when we’re working on self-care, we need regular breaks from focusing on goals or it takes the joy out of it. If being with other humans rejuvenates you, then your relaxation time might sometimes include socializing… also a key component of optimal health, though some need more or less people-time than others.

♥ Sleep at least 7 hours each night. Most of us really do need 8, some need more and some less. But given our current global sleep crisis, a solid 7 each night is an excellent starting point. {Before you sleep, thank your body for getting you through another day.}

*****

Now here’s the part that can be most challenging for many of us: Try to approach all of this with non-judgment, self-compassion, and curiosity instead of the fear and perfectionism that health plans can evoke. If you have days that you can’t meet all (or any!) of your goals, seriously don’t waste a minute judging and criticizing yourself for it. Let this be a truly healthy experience, and don’t bring any of that kind of dread and anxiety to this process. Instead, use that time and energy constructively and put it toward figuring out what might work better next time.

The main thing I want you to do is pay attention – to whatever thoughts and feelings may arise as you work toward your goals, any barriers that get in the way, and what seems to work well for you or not. Ideally, you will also take at least 10-15 minutes for self-reflection each night to record (in whatever format works for you) these observations in addition to noting how/what you did toward your goals that day.

When you’re done reflecting, do a breath-based or guided meditation for 2-5 minutes to sort of reset. Here’s one of my simple faves: Set a timer and do a 4:2:6 breathing pattern – Inhale deep into your belly for 4 counts, hold for 2 counts, then exhale completely over 6 counts. Just pay attention to your breath as you go, and when your mind wanders, gently return your focus to your breath. If you want to try different breathing techniques, check these out: https://bit.ly/2xxz7ug

At the end of each week, set aside more time for focused reflection to assess your progress, notice any patterns, and adjust your goals or strategy if needed.

That’s the basic blueprint! Tweak as needed to make it work for you. Stay tuned to this site and explore previous posts for more tips and articles about health, fitness, body image, Bettie (of course), and more!

Best of luck and warmest regards,

♥ Tori

Jungle Bettie's Fitness Adventures!

Some of my all-time favorite Bettie pics are the Bunny Yeager shots in that infamous one-piece leopard creation that our ever-resourceful queen made herself. These were shot in Florida at Africa USA in Boca Raton and on the beach at Key Biscayne. Bettie’s awe-inspiring fitness and flexibility are on full display as she climbs, hangs, crawls, and does some impossible balance maneuvers near a waterfall (even on wet rocks!), including an advanced yoga toe-stand looking move and a reverse tabletop pose – on her toes, of course – with a leg extension. So yeah, our queen was basically superhuman. Check her out!

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❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Was Bettie Page "Really" a Feminist?

She undoubtedly represents and contributes to women’s empowerment, but does the F-word apply to the Queen of Pinups?

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BY TORI RODRIGUEZ

Bettie is often hailed as a feminist icon – and rightly so. As I wrote in The Little Book of Bettie: Taking a Page from the Queen of Pinups, she earned a bachelor’s degree at a time when less than 4% of women were college graduates, and she was the rare woman of her time who lived independently and supported herself. She unintentionally blazed a trail as a key figure in the sexual revolution and one of the top supermodels in history, despite having been rejected by Ford Models for being too curvy. She survived numerous traumas and other hardships throughout her life and has inspired countless women to live fully and freely in many respects.

Some folks debate whether she was “really” a feminist… she’s not on record as saying so definitively either way, but in an interview with Playboy, she was asked directly if she was a feminist. Her answer: “Women should have equal employment rights. A woman who does the same job as a man should get the same money.” Alas, women today make only about 80% of a man’s wages, on average, and this rate is even lower for women of color.

So, Bettie clearly had feminist leanings but then goes on to say: “As for women who don't want men to be courteous, to give a girl their seat on a bus, I don't go in for that. I think women should enjoy those niceties and courtesies from men.”

To each her own, but my thinking on this is that people of all genders should be equally courteous to each other and to the elderly, pregnant women, etc. I believe an able-bodied person in general should hold doors for others and give up their bus seat for an elderly or ill person. I also think it has to do with intentions and whether the gesture is rooted in gender stereotypes… For example, if a man is giving up his seat or helping a woman because he thinks she is inherently more fragile and in need of protection, that constitutes “benevolent sexism,” a practice that researchers have linked with rape culture and victim-blaming, gender inequality in the workplace, and even cardiovascular disease risk in women.  

And guess what else? Benevolent sexists will be chivalrous and adoring as long as you correctly perform your gender as they believe women should, but will reject you when you step outside those lines. So, benevolent sexism can be sneakily harmful in ways that are harder to discern and confront than with hostile sexism.

Side note: As for whether Bettie was “truly” a feminist, I believe that someone can contribute substantially to a cause (in Bettie’s case, feminism and while we’re at it, body positivity) even if it isn’t intentional and even if they don’t call themselves a feminist – although I highly recommend it, of course!

What do y’all think about all this? Comment below or on this post on IG or FB.

Bettie Page's Love of Fitness

Ahead of her time in countless ways, Bettie was working out long before most women were and kept it up throughout most of her life. Below is a brief excerpt from The Little Book of Bettie: Taking a Page from the Queen of Pinups.

  ~A gal's gotta stay fit if she's gonna spar with gorillas!~

~A gal's gotta stay fit if she's gonna spar with gorillas!~

BY TORI RODRIGUEZ

Among the infinite reasons Bettie fans are awestruck by her: She just looks like the epitome of health and vibrancy in her photos, with glowing skin and more muscle definition than was common for women of her day. There is good reason for that. Bettie was the rare woman in that era who worked out—in a New York City gym, no less! Back then, women might use “reducing machines” designed to slim the body with minimal physical exertion, according to Natalia Petrzela, PhD, a history professor at the New School in New York City, and the fitness historian for Well+Good. These contraptions “were often adjacent to beauty salons or located in private homes—not in gyms, which were still considered the preserve of sweaty, grunting men and entirely inappropriate for respectable ladies who often kept their high heels on during a reducing session.”

Not our Bettie! It seems she was right there with those sweaty, grunting guys putting in some real work. She loved to swim, go dancing or walking, play sports, and do calisthenics. I’m also convinced that she was doing yoga. These various forms of exercise often showed up in Bettie’s photos—for instance a Camel Pose or Plow Pose here, a squat or a lunge or an ab crunch there. 

  ~Bendy Bettie ~ This pic appears in the   Bettie Page Yoga   video as the inspiration for   the Plow & Half Shoulder Stand poses!~

~Bendy Bettie ~ This pic appears in the Bettie Page Yoga video as the inspiration for the Plow & Half Shoulder Stand poses!~

This sparked my idea to create the Bettie Page Fitness workouts that are inspired by Bettie in several different ways. Each move in the workouts is based on a specific photo of Bettie, with an emphasis on the amazing balance, perfect posture, and core strength Bettie displayed. I don’t encourage women (or myself) to try to get the “Bettie body,” since her shape was largely determined by genetics. And while her body was undoubtedly spectacular, there are many different types of beautiful bodies, and not solely because of how they look.

If you study Bettie’s movements through hundreds or thousands of poses, you’ll notice that the great majority of them are big, open, expansive, and outward—you can tell she was unafraid to take up her rightful space in the world, both physically and figuratively. By emulating her body postures, we are harnessing that same energy and cultivating those traits. They are what scientists now call “Power Poses,” and they have been found to reduce stress, improve body image, and increase confidence. I’ve purposely included lots of power poses in the Bettie Page Fitness workouts, which also happen to be the first-ever body-positive fitness videos. 

  ~Joyful Bettie ~ This pic appears in the   Bettie Page Fitness: Total Body Strength & Cardio   video as the inspiration for the Star Jumps cardio burst!~

~Joyful Bettie ~ This pic appears in the Bettie Page Fitness: Total Body Strength & Cardio video as the inspiration for the Star Jumps cardio burst!~

Like Bettie’s fitness sampler platter, a solid exercise practice should include...

[Check out The Little Book of Bettie to learn more about Bettie and fitness, including two new Bettie-inspired workouts I created for the book!]

Missing Alexis

[Content warning: Suicide]

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The photo above shows me in the late 80’s with my first BFF, Alexis, who would have turned 43 today. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia after we graduated from high school, and she made the decision to end her suffering 17 years ago. I'm missing her deeply today as I always do. I would love to see her alive and thriving, but I'll have to accept that I can't. I'm infinitely thankful for the time we shared and that she still "visits" me sometimes in my dreams. If you have time for a longish read, here's a piece I wrote for her years ago and have revised slightly to reflect the passage of time. I hope you'll read it and hug your loved ones extra tight tonight in honor of my girl. I'll add more photos of Alexis to this post in the coming days. ♥♥♥

We were opposites from the beginning. It was Thanksgiving week, 1980, and our kindergarten classes were celebrating together with a bit of un-PC dress up that makes my grownup, feminist self cringe: Alexis was a Pilgrim and I was an American Indian. As with our costumes, the differences between us were plenty: she had olive skin, deep-brown hair and a small frame, while I was blonde and “big-boned,” as people (annoyingly) referred to my larger build. She was quiet, obedient and reserved; I was the loud-mouth, hyper and rebellious and always seeking out our next misadventure.

Despite this early encounter, it wasn’t until a couple of years later when we ended up in the same second-grade class that we actually became friends. All those differences fell away: we just clicked. From that point on we spent nearly every weekend at each other’s houses, playing Go Fish, having contests to see which of us could drink the most miniature-bathroom-cupfuls of water, trying to stay up “‘til the next day” and never once making it. One of our favorite pastimes was going to my brother’s baseball games and sloshing around in the creek behind the field, collecting overly-ambitious baseballs. When we went through our lazy preteen stage, we would lie on the couch for hours, her feet next to my head and mine next to hers, watching entirely too much TV. Headbanger’s Ball was the hands-down favorite, and our hair rivaled that of the men in the glam bands we obsessed about (we were in on the first round of Bret Michaels, for one).

Alexis was an artist and drummer and animal-lover, and she had a bunch of different pets at any given time, including a snake, birds and horses. She drew the most amazing, elaborate sketches of unicorns, maidens and castles, down to the tiniest detail. When my mind flashes back to one of those drawings, I’m awed at her talent and more surprised still that I didn’t recognize it as extraordinary at the time. I’m also pained by the thought that her rich imagination would eventually become her enemy.

There were other beautiful things about Alexis that slipped by me, too, like her protectiveness of me, her tender concern that is apparent only now in hindsight. As a teenager, I fell asleep in the school clinic after pretending to be sick because I’d smoked a joint in the woods near the school and since I was a weed rookie, I couldn’t keep it together enough to sit in class the rest of the day. No one noticed when school let out that I was still in the clinic snoozing. As my parents tried to figure out where I was, Alexis had another friend take her searching for me because she was too worried to sit back and wait for word of my whereabouts.

The saddest phase of our friendship was when our interest in boys blindsided us, at far too young an age, and tested our connection to each other. It never broke, but it still pisses me off that we were so wrapped up in getting attention from boys that we let it take priority over the special bond we had. I also regret having temporarily tossed her aside for another friend, one who matched my larger appetite for trouble - and a car to facilitate the mission, before Alexis and I were old enough to drive. This friend was absurdly jealous of Alexis’s exceptional lbeauty and didn’t want her around, and I didn’t protest like a friend should. I know now that it was all normal adolescent stuff, but it hurts so much more since I know I’ll never have a chance to make it up to her.

  Tori & Alexis circa 1991

Tori & Alexis circa 1991

As the frenzied searching years of our early adolescence settled into the more mellow late teens, Alexis and I began to regard each other with a familiarity and fondness that can only come from knowing each other nearly all your lives, much like I imagine sisters feel. Throughout high school, we were part of an inseparable quadruplet of girls (Ahoo and Liz completed the group) who bonded over hip hop, heavy metal, cigarettes, and excessive amounts of yapping and laughing. But as our senior year drew to a close, it seems we had all developed interests that diverted our attention outward. Alexis and I continued to check in with each other on a regular basis, but we made little time for each other as we became more entrenched in our first serious relationships. We were both partying way too much, but I was somehow managing to stay in college, studying psychology, while Alexis seemed to struggle with figuring out which direction she wanted her life to take.

I guess I should have suspected something was wrong when I called Alexis and she explained that she was about to move out of her condo because she was having nightmares and there were “too many bad memories” there. Maybe if I’d probed a little, she would have confided in me. I don’t quite remember the context, but I probably wasn’t expecting such a heavy statement. Maybe I just wanted the call to be quick and easy, a hi-just-checking-in-now-let-me-get-back-to-my-life call. So I didn’t push, and she didn’t offer any details. My heart drops to my stomach when I try to imagine even for a minute what I now know she really meant.

We spoke on the phone many more times after that, often saying, “We have GOT to get together – this is ridiculous!” She had moved back in with her parents in our old neighborhood – she was just a short walk away, yet somehow we couldn’t seem to connect in person. She did stop by my parents’ house once while I was out shopping with my mom, and she told my dad that she just wanted to come by and see the house where some of the happiest times of her life took place. They were some of mine too – me and my soul sister, together learning about life and love and each other.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I invited Alexis to my baby shower, and she said she’d come. The morning of the shower, I went to my parents’ house to get ready, and when my mom and I went outside to leave, there on the porch was a gift bag full of baby gifts with a casual note from Alexis saying that she couldn’t make it after all. It was obvious that we were home, yet she hadn’t even knocked on the door. That’s when it finally began to register that something was really wrong.

Just before my daughter was born, I moved back to our old neighborhood too. Surely, two childhood best friends could squeeze in some face time living in the very same neighborhood. But no, her puzzling avoidance and my airtight daily routine conspired to keep us apart.

I clearly remember the details of our conversation when we spoke in the spring after my move. It stands out because it was an upbeat conversation–and a real one, not just a gratuitous check-in. It also stands out because it was our last. She had recently started a new office job, and she really liked the people she worked with. We talked about my kid, just an infant then, and I insisted that Alexis come over to see her. We agreed that she would come for dinner soon but didn’t set a date. About a week later, I noticed her number on the caller ID but she hadn't left a message. That missed call still haunts me, of course.

The following week, after my family went out for Mother’s Day dinner, we gathered at my parents’ house. My mom checked her phone messages and there was one from Alexis’s sister saying she had some sad news. When I called back, her father answered and told me right away that Alexis had died. He asked how much I knew about the problems she’d been having, and I guess that in struggling with my answer I made it obvious that it wasn’t much. He explained that shortly after we’d graduated from high school, Alexis began having troubling symptoms and was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia. When it had become too much to bear she took a taxi to Walmart and bought a shotgun, then went to her favorite place in the woods just behind our neighborhood. I wonder what she thought about before ending her life there.

I went to her memorial service pushing my infant daughter in her stroller, hating the irony of the thought I kept having: “So this is how you finally meet my daughter.” I didn’t recognize anyone except her parents and sister. I longed to see someone we had both known, someone I could grab onto and cry, “Can you believe it?!” But instead I stood around awkwardly, at one point viewing the pictures of her on display. They showed the sweet, soulful, endlessly gifted and beautiful little girl I’d met two decades earlier at a kindergarten Thanksgiving party.

  Alexis in 6th, 7th, 8th, and 11th grade yearbook photos

Alexis in 6th, 7th, 8th, and 11th grade yearbook photos

I wanted her back so badly. Instantly I felt the crushing pain of knowing that we had lived just over a mile apart and yet hadn’t laid eyes on each other in years. It’s the kind of thing that you can’t rationalize, can’t explain away, not really. You just have to live with it. I didn’t make the time to see my best childhood friend even after it was obvious she needed someone, needed me. I took time for granted and just knew there would always be another day, another call. You also wonder, more so with suicide than with most other types of death, if there was something you could have done. Even though my mind knows it’s unrealistic to blame myself for a suicide, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had just made more of an effort, really insisted that we see each other, would my presence in her life have made the difference?

I became a textbook case, going into denial about whether she was even dead, clinging to the remote possibility that she really wasn’t after all, that maybe she and her family had concocted the whole scenario to give her a fresh start in another country or as a different person. Crazy, I know, but still, I didn’t fully accept that she was gone until I ordered her death certificate and had it in my hands, facing the simple, brutal, final truth.

It’s been 17 years since her death, and when I think of Alexis, I’m indescribably sad that she had to go through all she did. I grieve the growing old she’ll never do and the family of her own she’ll never love. I mourn the gentle spirit and magical artistic talent the world will never get to experience. And I miss my oldest friend who knew me to my core, who loved and accepted me unconditionally.

I have dreams about her every once in a while, and in them it’s like we’re both aware that she’s gone, but there is a sense of peace and comfort as we talk and enjoy each other’s company like we did countless times over the years. That unmistakable fondness we had for one another is there too. In one dream, we were laying feet-to-head just like we did as kids, chatting away and lazily passing the time. I like to think she’s visiting me in my dreams.

At Alexis’s memorial service, I started to cry as I approached her mom. Trying to be strong, she hugged me and said, “Don’t.” But I do. I have many times, and I am now.

*****

  • Please know that suicide is preventable, and having suicidal thoughts is not a flaw or sign of weakness.
  • If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.
  • To learn more about risk factors and warning signs, visit afsp.org/signs