Warning: My thoughts are scattered on this topic, so don’t expect a well-organized post
So, there’s been some posts on facebook and elsewhere and some events in my own life that have me thinking. We often feel as if we are alone in our journey. Alone with our pain, alone with our struggles. Just alone. But then when someone steps in and offers words of advice or support, we either shrug them off or get outright mad at them for not understanding what we’re going through.
I’ve damaged a lot of relationships over the years due to my illness (es). Some I have been able to repair. And then there are others where the only thing left for me to do is come to terms with the fact that there is nothing left I can do, and what is is what is. I can take comfort in knowing I tried to make reparations, but sometimes, the damage I inflicted was too great.
Most of the relationships suffered precisely because I thought I was in my fight alone. It has taken time and a few harsh (but necessary) words from others for me to realize that I am anything but alone, and my struggles (now with episodes of severe depression rather than anorexia) affect those around me just as much as they affect me.
The people around me care for me, and when I push them away, I hurt them. When I am demanding, I hurt them. When I refuse to accept help from them or from my treatment team, I hurt them. I wear them out. I make it difficult for them to remain in my life. Not because they don’t care anymore, but because it is just too hard, too trying, too difficult, too exhausting, and too painful. On them.
I have learned some things along the way that have helped.
One is to listen to my friends. When they are worried, there is reason. And they have a more objective view than I do.
Second is that I no longer rely on one person and one person only. That puts a great deal of pressure on that person, which is entirely unfair. I have built a network of friends and I remind myself that they all care for me and will help me if they are able.
The third thing is I have learned how to take “no” for an answer. I cannot expect my friends to be my treatment team. That’s my treatment team’s job. And I can’t expect my friends to be there 100% of the time. They have lives and struggles of their own that they need to attend to. And just because they are unable to help at a certain time has no bearing on how much they care for me.
The fourth thing is that the words “Thank You” hold a great deal of power and love. Use them.
The fifth thing comes down to choices. If I have the choice to take action to get better and choose to continue on my path of illness, this stirs up feelings of powerlessness and fear in my friends. It means they have tried to help me, and I’ve refused their outstretched hand, basically slapping them in the face.
And with an eating disorder and depression, the stakes are high. Refusing help means walking down a path that leads to death. People accuse me of being melodramatic when I use the word “death.” But as of now, I have lost ten friends to an eating disorder and four friends to suicide. All ten of my friends who died from an eating disorder were offered help; all refused it. Only one was “sick enough” or “thin enough.” The blunt truth is that death doesn’t give a flying rat’s ass how thin or sick you are; having an eating disorder, even when you’re “fine”, is enough.
There is help available. There are friends who want to help you. But relationships are two-sided and take work from both people to keep them functional and healthy.
Step closer to life and take that outstretched hand.
I’m sitting here in my living room, enjoying a hot cup of hot chocolate caramel with mini marshmallows. This simple act of relaxing got me to thinking.
There was a time in my past when this would not have been a “simple act” and I certainly wouldn’t have typed “enjoying” in the same sentence as “hot chocolate.” In fact, I most likely wouldn’t have had the hot chocolate or marshmallows in my apartment to begin with. And, quite often during the holiday season, I wasn’t even in my own apartment; I was in the hospital.
I read my newsfeed and see the disheartening posts, the hopelessness, and the fear. Just because I am recovered doesn’t mean I am past these feelings. I was blessed with bipolar disorder, and depression can be a real bitch, which not many people truly understand.
But if you can take away one thing from this post, from this blog, I want it to be hope. There really is a life beyond the eating disorder, and it really is possible. Yes, it’s a long, uphill battle. And yes, you will doubt yourself and the climb and the end result. But that end result, it really is as good as everyone makes it out to be.
Today I was listening to a song my Jars of Clay and it made me think about my undergraduate years and the fellowship group we had each week where we would get out our guitars and sing, and I realized I miss that time, and for a brief second I wished I could go back there. But then I realized that I would have to go back to the person I was then, and I am not willing to do that.
My life isn’t perfect. I experience loss and heartbreak. I want to walk away from life sometimes. But I would never return to the anorexia, because that’s not a life, and I have a life now. Full of happiness, sadness, gain, loss, regret, hope, success, and failure. I am able to experience all of these things without numbing them out. And although I have a long ways to go in my journey, I am free.
I am now able to give thanks for this cup of hot chocolate. I am thankful for the family gathering next week. I am thankful for the friend’s cookie baking get together last week. I am thankful that I can meet friends for coffee and have something with my coffee if I choose. I am thankful that I have grown and become the person I am today, faults and all.
This is possible for each and every one of you. Recovery. Life. Freedom.
This holiday season, give yourself the best give you could ever receive: the determination to become who you were meant to be.
Tis the season! Time for fun, friends, family, food and . . . . freaking out. Yes, the holidays are are a great time to get together with family and friends you haven’t seen in ages and to celebrate your beliefs and to celebrate being alive. But for a great many of us with eating disorders and mental illnesses, the holidays are a time of stress and fear.
Yes, the get-togethers are a time to celebrate. But they typically involve a lot of people and a lot of food, two things that were overwhelming for me when I was in the thick of my eating disorder. In fact, when I’m in the midst of a depressive episode, being around a lot of people is still overwhelming and I want to claw my skin off and curl up in a ball under the nearest end table.
A couple of years ago, I was going through a really rocky time, depression wise, and there was a holiday party to attend on Christmas Eve. I had already been surrounded by people all day long, and this party, although it would have given me a chance to see a great deal of extended family members, would have induced too much anxiety and stress. So I said, “No.” I didn’t go to the party. This upset some family members, but I was able to have some precious alone time and gather strength and energy for the next day: Christmas Day.
However, I realize that saying “No” is not always an option, nor is it always a good idea. So we need to find ways to help manage the stress that comes with the holidays.
The first suggestion I have is probably overused but really can help: Breathe. Take some time before the party to de-stress and calm yourself down. Focus on your breath and relax. At the party, when you start feeling overwhelmed, you can always excuse yourself to go to the bathroom and take a couple minutes to breathe slowly in privacy. If someone asks about why you are going to the bathroom so much, blame it on the tea or coffee or wine being served.
Schedule things during the holidays so you aren’t running from one party to another. Make sure that you have time in between to gather yourself and calm down and relax. Make sure you have some Me Time in the midst of the holiday festivities. Even if it’s just an hour or a half an hour, give yourself time to be with yourself. Take a bath. Read a book. Take a nap. Play with your pets. Go for a walk. Just do something that gives you time alone and time away from the noise and the people. Try to do this every day.
Another thing that helped me is another often used bit of advice: Take time to remember the good things. Too often we focus on the negative and what will stress us out. Instead, make a list–an actual list with a piece of paper and a pen–of the good things in your life, things that you are thankful for. They do not have to be big things. They may not mean anything to anyone else but you. Some of the things on my list: My family. My cats. My knitting. My writing. Having time to read. Being able to work. Having a kick ass treatment team. And an even better group of friends. All my tea (my friends know what I’m talking about here!). My heart (my actual, literal heart).
And then there’s the food. I will be honest: I remember the stress and the anxiety, but I did not have healthy ways of managing them, and now food does not scare me at parties and get-togethers. So I would like to hear suggestions from you, my readers, for dealing with the stress around food at parties. Healthy suggestions.
Let’s help each other during this season, and let us find the joy around us.
I attend a weekly sitting meditation group. I haven’t been attending all that long, a few weeks before the semester started. But it is already something I look forward to each week, and it’s on my “Must Do” list for the week. Not many things make that list.
As the name implies, we sit and meditate. Which I value. My therapist had been trying for ages to get me to try mindfulness meditation. Now I know why. And then after the sitting portion of the hour, the leader has something to discuss, something s/he brought in to read, or something s/he had been thinking about lately, or some words of wisdom s/he found to pass along.
This past week, the reading was from the dammapada:
If one knew oneself to be precious,
One would guard oneself with care.
The sage will watch over herself
In any part
Of the night.
.. . . .
Don’t give up your own welfare
For the sake of others’ welfare, however great.
Clearly know your own welfare
And be intent on the highest good.
This passage really struck home with me. I’m in recovery, but I’m still working on “knowing myself to be precious.” Or, maybe, I know myself to be precious now, but I’m still learning to watch over myself. I still need a lot of help with that, especially in the night. But I guess one could argue that accepting that help is watching over myself. In the past, I never used to accept that help, and there were times when I was quite passive aggressive (aka manipulative bitch mode) in denying that help from friends and loved ones.
The second part of the passage is something that’s difficult for me. And it came up for discussion at a good time in my life. A time when I am currently helping several others in various ways, and constantly thinking about reaching out and how best to go about it, and thinking about what various people need most. And in the meantime, I’m going through a bit of a rocky period myself. Oh, not as rocky as it was even a few months ago, but when I look at it honestly after hearing this passage, I have to admit that right now I need to make sure I’m not “giving up my own welfare.” It’s something I’ve been good at in the past: choosing others over myself. But again, if I’m honest, that never did lead anywhere good. I think I’ve finally learned that you really can’t help others if you don’t help yourself.
So I encourage you to sit–and meditate if that’s your fancy–and think about one way that you can know yourself to be precious. Write that one thing down and stick it in your pocket. When those moments hit when you’re questioning recovery, read that slip of paper. And maybe in a more peaceful moment, add another reason. Keep adding reasons as you dwell on this idea of preciousness. And be sure to take some time for yourself. I know a lot of you are busy people. But five minutes of silence, five minutes of calm breathing, five minutes of curling up with your cat–just five minutes can bring about peace. And I don’t know about you, but I will take peace, however fleeting, for just five minutes of silence.
This post is another one sparked by my activity on facebook. I’ve noticed people posting youtube videos–”eating disorder documentaries”–and apparently there are a plethora of them out there on youtube. These documentaries are supposed to be educational, documenting what an eating disorder really is and the hells of having an eating disorder. And they succeed.
But why do you need to watch them if you’ve already got an eating disorder? You know the hell of having one. You know the realities. There’s nothing that one of these documentaries can show you that you don’t already know.
You may claim that it’s reassuring to know other people out there struggle like you. You already know that. Look at your friends on facebook. Look at the friends “liking” these documentaries and most of them have eating disorders already. So you’ve already got a network of others like you. And real live people tend to be more supportive than a two minute montage set to a depressing song.
This brings me to my problems with these videos. If they were meant to provide support and encouragement, I’d be all for them. But these videos whose purpose is to show what an eating disorder really is do one main thing: trigger the hell out of people stuck in the hell of an eating disorder. Without getting too descriptive and, therefore, triggering, I’ll say that the montage of pictures are what I would label as “pro-ana” or “pro-mia” images.
If you want to recover, these are not the images you need to be looking at. These images do nothing but reinforce the eating disorder and make it more difficult to make choices toward recovery.
Similarly, reading and rereading and rereading eating disorder memoirs and underlining and marking passages and quoting them on facebook and then rereading them some more is only doing more harm than good. Again, you know what the hell of an eating disorder is all about. You don’t need to read about it. You need to read about people who have recovered, people who have fought the battle of recovery and won.
These are two choices you can make to further your own recovery. I know it’s not easy. The pictures and the memoirs have their pull on the part of you tied to the eating disorder. But if you really want to recover, you can help silence that eating disorder part of you and help the real you grow and flourish.
Recovery is a choice. Not one choice. A million and a half small choices that must be made on a daily basis. Some of them will need to be made multiple times. But the power is in your hands.
Every so often I look at random friends’ About Me pages on Facebook. I like learning about people, and I like reading the quotes people have posted. I came across this one last night:
“You never come back, not all the way. Always there is an odd distance between you and the people you love and the people you meet, a barrier thin as the glass of a mirror, you never come all the way out of the mirror; you stand, for the rest of your life, with one foot in this world and one in another, where everything is upside down and backward and sad.” -Marya Hornbacher, ‘Wasted’
Just to answer some questions ahead of time: I’ve read Wasted. Both while I was still sick and while I was in recovery. I have very mixed views on whether this book is beneficial to the general community, and I won’t go into all of them here. I do think Marya Hornbacher is an excellent writer, gifted at putting the internal experiences into words.
But this quote? I honestly wish I could not somehow delete it from all copies of her book. I feel it does a great disservice to the eating disorder community. I think, in a lot of cases, it can take away someone’s hope, and without hope, what are you left to fight with or for?
I once thought I’d never fully recover, that the anorexia would be there, in some form, for the rest of my life. And it was so disheartening. So defeating. And then I met someone who told me that until I let go of that idea, I wasn’t going to fully recover. But that person had never had an eating disorder, so I pushed their advice to the side. What could they know about my battle? But then that person introduced me to someone who would become one of my closest friends. This person knew about my struggles. She had been there. She had fought them. She knew what hell I was going through.
And she came out on top. Not a few feet from the top, but she climbed the summit of the mountain and stood in glory, savoring the feeling of succeeding at what would be the toughest climb of her life. And seeing her, knowing her, and hearing her story gave me hope.
I am here to tell you that while Marya described the hell of an eating disorder quite well, she is wrong in the conclusion, that you will never truly be free.
I am here to tell you that you can be free. Completely, 100% free. You can stand on the summit of your own personal mountain and bask in all the glory. The hell, the pain, the fears, the struggles–you can beat them all and they will disappear.
The world does not have to be upside down and backwards and sad. You don’t have to see the world through any type of barrier. You can be part of the world. Wholly and freely.
Your relationships with others will be healthy. The distance between you will fade away, and you can interact with people on a level that is rewarding and fulfilling.
This all takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes patience and faith and perseverance. But all of this is possible. And it doesn’t mean that life will be all smooth and wonderful for you. Life will still throw nasty stones in your direction, but now you will be strong enough to handle those stones in healthy ways. And you’ll continue walking with your head held up with pride for not succumbing to eating disorder symptoms.
You can be part of the world instead of a pale observer. You can interact with the world. You can make goals and watch those goals come to fruition.
With both feet firmly plantedin this world, you can live without being pulled in two directions. You can be free. 100% free. Forever.
I know there can be a lot of mixed feelings about your treatment team, especially when you’re caught up in the thick of an eating disorder or addiction or in the midst of a bad depressive episode. You like to think that you know what’s best for you, and these people that only see you once a week or once a month–what do they know? And all too often, they suggest things that just rub the wrong way–seeking more intensive care, finding a nutritionist, trying new coping skills that sound pointless.
I have to admit that I once had that relationship with my treatment team. And then I decided I wanted to get better. I didn’t want to continue the “sick life”–constantly weak, in and out of hospitals, fainting, lying to family and friends, not being able to function fully in life.
Once I really made the decision that I wanted to be well, that I was tired of the eating disorder, my relationship with my treatment team changed. I figured that I had tried it my way. Plenty of times. And I only ended up sicker, or in the hospital again, fighting with staff to let me go home. There was one way I hadn’t tried, and that was what the way my treatment team was pushing for.
So I let go. I let go of my stubbornness and my pride. My clinging to the idea that I knew what was right–all the time. And I put my trust in my treatment team. I told myself I would try it their way. I would go where they sent me and try all those stupid coping skills and not put up a fight. Or, at least do my best not to put up a fight. I had no idea where this would lead me, but I figured that my way hadn’t worked out so well. In fact, every step of the way, my way turned out pretty damn bad.
This was not easy. I ended up being in the hospital for much longer than I had in the past. I went into my doctor’s office and said “I want to go home” a few times. He always countered with, “But I thought you wanted to get better?” And then he said, “You will stay for now. But you will never come back.” And he was right. And when I did go home, I went back to my outpatient team and was ready and willing to work with them. I extended my trial of doing things their way rather than my way. It still wasn’t easy. My comfort zone expanded in a great many ways. But I tried their coping skills. I tried things the nutritionist suggested. I followed the treatment plan.
Their way worked. In a way my way had never come close to in the past. And I began to recognize the positive changes in my life. And I began to feel more comfortable, bit by bit, with this new way of living. It was still scary as hell, but my life was changing–for the better. I was living. Actually living. Without an eating disorder to hold me back or tug at my shoulders when my friends decided to go out for lunch and I decided to go with them.
This philosophy of trusting my treatment team has continued. I know I’m not always the perfect patient, no one is. But I really do try to listen sincerely and put things into practice. Sometimes it takes a couple tries, but eventually I’m on path.
The past two years have been rough. The depression has been worse than any other depressive episode in the past (I’m bipolar). Trusting my treatment team has meant going inpatient and trying new medicines and trying new treatments. I can’t say I wanted to go in the hospital, but I also knew one thing. Two things, rather: I wanted to live and, if I was going to live, I wanted to get better. And I’m not sure that could have happened if I hadn’t listened to my doctors.
There are times when mental illnesses block your logic. When you can’t see the path in front of you clearly. When you can’t tell which way to turn. When the knowledge of what is best for you is skewed. This is when my treatment team steps in and says, “Here. Walk this way. Try this new thing.”
I’m thankful I chose their way. I’m thankful someone stepped in and took me by the hand and showed me which way to go. I’m alive. And living freely again. It took awhile. And I wanted to fight back at times, but then I remembered what happens when I go my own way.
I’d much rather walk down an unknown path with someone guiding me than walk down the hell of my own paths alone and in the dark.
I was working on my manuscript yesterday and came across a section I thought was relevant to my previous couple of posts on change.
I knew that it would be one hell of a huge ass change to give up the eating disorder. But I don’t think I was prepared for what came after. This is the part no one warns you about, and I think it trips up a lot of people and leads to relapse for some of us. It certainly took me a few tries to figure things out.
The eating disorder was this huge, all encompassing adjective, noun, and verb. When I gave it up, I was left with me. Except I had no idea who me was anymore. And I wanted to find something to replace the eating disorder to fill me up. That’s right–something not somethings. I thought I could find one thing and *poof* have my identity all wrapped up in a neat little package again.
I thought I could make that identity “a grad student.” It was convenient. I was already in the program. I loved it. I was good at it. I had friends there.
But those very friends taught me something without realizing they were doing so. It didn’t take me long to realize that even the most talented, dedicated students of my department were more than just students. During breaks during class, and in the lounge, people talked about other things–exercising, knitting, music, family, friends. We had some campers in the group, some rock climbers, some fashionistas, some parents, some partiers. Some of just about everything. And each person talked about more than one thing.
They weren’t Grad Students who lived, breathed, and ate literature and writing and studying. They were multidimensional people. They were interesting. They were fun to be around. They were whole people not just one thing.
It took me time to become a multidimensional person, to become well-rounded. It took some exploring, some trying new things (*gasp*). I discovered that “student” was just a small part of who I am, just as “professor” is just a small part of who I am now. I love that part of me, but it doesn’t make me who I am. I am a writer, a knitter, a decaf coffee lover, a cat lover, a friend, a daughter, a sister, and aunt, a cardiac patient, a yoga student, a Harry Potter fan, and a Beth Orton fanatic. And a lot of other things. Not one of things defines me all on its own. And I’m glad for that. I’ve come to appreciate the many parts of me.
All these parts of me make it easier to survive in the world, to be an active, contributing part of society. I’m no longer this island of illness that can only only offer one thing to the people around me. And I hope I keep growing and changing. Life is more interesting and much more rewarding this way.
Someone made a comment on my previous entry about how the changes I mentioned were so hard to implement. And I agree; they were.
But here’s the beautiful thing about change: it doesn’t happen overnight.
Okay, some changes do happen quickly. One day three years ago, I went to the cardiologist and fully expected to just go back home the same person. Instead, within a matter of ten minutes, I was a cardiac patient with a team of specialists who had scheduled surgery.
But all the changes I’ve implemented in my life? You know, going from the selfish, stubborn, prideful, manipulative person to who I am now? That took time. Little baby steps guided by my therapist. Small enough steps that sometimes I couldn’t even see how that step would help anything whatsoever. But those little baby steps add up, until eventually you get to look behind you and see that the person you used to be is not the person you are now.
And what about recovery? Talk about small freaking steps. From the time I decided to recover, it took two lengthy hospitalizations and one short one and a shitload of therapy. There were no drastic changes, only gradual ones. And I think that was a good thing. I’ve never been good with drastic changes–nothing seems to stick or sink in that way. I do my best work when the change seeps in and makes itself at home.
There’s a song by Jars of Clay called “Lesson One” (I think I’ve mentioned this song before). And there’s a line describing a personal journey of growth: “It’s too far to walk, but you don’t have to run. You’ll get there in time.” That’s a comforting thought for me. I grew up running after everything, which probably contributed to the eating disorder in the first place. I know I have a long way to go still, but hearing an affirmation that yes, indeed, I will get there is comforting.
Choose one small step today. One. Small. Step. Then own that step.
I always get a tad more philosophical in the weeks leading up to my cardiology appointments. I start reminiscing more, and I start thinking about what I wish I’d done.
Let’s face it: I was not a nice person when I was in the thick of my eating disorder. I was selfish and stubborn and prideful and blind to what I was going through and what people were trying to say. A lot of relationships didn’t make it through that time period. I won’t say “It’s all my fault” and wax guilty because relationships are always two-sided, but I certainly played a major part in the crashing of the relationships.
I’m pretty sure a lot of people in recovery could empathize with all of this. For those of you in the thick of things, watching current relationships falter, you may want to look a little closer to home to understand why.
So what’s the point to all this? To emphasize the fact that people can change. You do not have to stay trapped in the eating disorder forever. Nor do you have to remain trapped in that personality. In some ways, I think healing the self is a little more difficult than healing the eating disorder, but all of it is possible. No matter how sick you are, how stuck you are, how long you’ve been trapped in the eating disorder–there is a way out. When I was fighting my hardest, I think I could have had someone tell me that on a daily basis and it wouldn’t have been enough, hence my drilling it home another time here.
But here’s the neat thing that I’ve discovered: We never stop changing and growing. I look at the person I was four years ago when I moved here, post-recovery, and the person I am now, and they are two different people. Related, but very different. And I am grateful for that. And I look forward to changing and growing some more in the time to come.
Can I change my past? No. I’ve made amends in some cases, but in some cases, all I can do is say, “Thank you for all you did do,” and “I’m sorry” and leave it at that, walking forward with new knowledge and the determination to apply that knowledge. I can’t change my past, but I can change my future.