Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

past lexie vs. present lexie

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Someone asked me this morning about a bit I had written yesterday.  “What do you mean when you said this whole grace and gentleness thing was relatively new for you?  What did you do before?”

“Exercise Addiction.”  The phrase is misunderstood sometimes.  Yes, you can be addicted to a behavior.  Especially when said behavior provides the results you wanted.  In part, I was addicted to the endorphin high after a good cardio workout.  And, honestly, I still miss that feeling.  I’m just not willing to risk my cardiac health anymore.

Another part of the whole exercise addiction was, of course, all part of the eating disorder.  Any calorie I took in had to be “accounted for.”  Gotten rid of. Exercise allowed me to do just that–and feel the endorphin high.  Double win, right?

And then there was this part of me that mentally thrived on extreme exercise.  I wasn’t exercising to feel good or anything like that.  I defined myself by how much exercise I completed every day.  By the end, I was only “good enough” if I had completed at least four hours of aerobic exercise a day.  And exercising enough on Day One meant nothing for Day Two.  No carryover.  No rest.  Just a clean slate.  Or, rather, a slate that said, “You are a horrible person. Get your ass moving and prove that you’re actually okay.”

So I had to prove myself–to myself–each and every day. And if I did X amount of exercise on Day One, then I must be able to do XandY on Day Two.  And then XandYandZ on Day Three.  And so on.  Eventually, I admitted this was not a healthy way to approach exercise.  In mid-2006, I realized that for me to get to a healthy point, I needed to do away with exercise all together for a period of time.  That turned out to be one full year.  I would walk to the bus stop or metro stop, but I no longer ran, did yoga, stretched, lifted weights, or rode my bike.  Nothing.  For one full year.

When I began exercising again, I was closely monitored by my treatment team.  Not just to what and how much I was doing, but also regarding how I felt while exercising.  In the past, a sore muscle or joint wasn’t worth “taking it easy” let alone taking a day off.  In the past, I did the primary series of Ashtanga Yoga every day.  Start to finish, exactly as laid out.  Now?  If I notice my hamstrings are tight, I don’t stretch as hard, especially in the beginning of fthe practice.  If I don’t feel like doing a certain pose, I don’t.  That would have been unheard of back in 2005.  I do “poses” that just feel good–even if they aren’t officially a yoga pose.   If I want to rest in savasana or child pose in the middle of my yoga session, I will.  Or I can walk off the mat and call it a day.

All of these thoughts and behaviors took time.  Sometimes I still catch myself falling into the old mindset of “If you did this amount yesterday, you can do more today.” I was exercising for the sake of exercising.  Not really as a punishment, but as one more chore I needed to complete each day.  I set myself high standards in every aspect of my life, and not living up to them always led to huge amounts of guilt and shame.

Now, my worth is not defined by my body or by how much stress it can take.  My self-worth has nothing to do with exercise at all.  I determine mt self worth.  And each day is a new day.  I am not restricted by who I was anymore.  I am Lexie.  In this present moment.  That is the only standard I set for myself now.

 

March 17, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, exercise, faith, feelings, guilt, health, heart, identity, images, mindfulness, progress, recovery, responses, self harm, shame, therapy, treatment | Leave a comment

Intentional Acting

14358754_10101428559527125_201134823500979566_nThis time of year is always difficult for me.  I have come to accept that life in general will be  . . . interesting during the winter months.  This year, however, I made some changes to my routine to make sure this would be a successful winter.

DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) and I agree on most things, but not so much on a few things.  I have learned a significant amount about taking care of myself, however.  A relatively new concept if you look at my life as a whole.  This year, I decided that, above all else, I would make sure I went to bed and woke up on a regular schedule.  This meant saying “the world won’t end if I don’t finish grading these papers tonight” and asking “you already know how to stay in bed for 24 consecutive hours, so how about we try something new?”  I’m not saying it was easy to maintain a regular sleep schedule; it took a hell of a lot of self-talk/self-lectures on a daily basis, and I certainly didn’t have a 100% success rate.  But I tried another new concept out this year by not shaming myself with negative self-talk when my day was less than perfect.

Not feeling guilty is actually more difficult for me than maintaining a good sleep schedule.

Healthy sleep habits definitely helped, but so did healthy exercise habits.  I said at the beginning of the winter that I wasn’t even going to go into the season with the intention of walking every day.  I hate the cold.  I hate the cold wind.  And I hate snow.  Going out for a slow walk was just not going to happen in upstate New York.  It was easier when I was able to run.  Then, just knowing the endorphin high was coming was enough to get me outside and exercising.

This year, I told myself I would try to maintain a regular yoga practice, along with my regular meditation practice.  My daily sitting practice went by unscathed.  However, there were many many many days when I just couldn’t make myself do yoga, or even do some simple stretches while watching television.  But–this winter I didn’t lecture myself about how bad it is not to exercise.  Turns out, guilt isn’t such a great motivator.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I found myself thinking, “It’s winter.  Just chill out and watch more Bones reruns.”  It was the end of winter and I didn’t feel like showing up at work, let alone exercising by myself at home.  And I’d just continue to sit there and read or knit.  And even without any self-lectures, I’d feel worse.  Mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Then I remembered another DBT skill: Acting Opposite.  I wanted to curl up in bed after going to work, not because I was enjoying a good nap that would be refreshing, but because I didn’t feel like dealing with the world.  Or my mind.  So I intentionally (a big mindfulness concept) decided to start (restart? revisit?  continue?) a daily yoga practice–with gentleness.  I started off with a few slow sun salutations–they only took a few minutes.  But I was okay with “just” doing a few minutes of yoga.  Each day, I added one more pose to my sequence.  I didn’t automatically just add on the next pose in the ashtanga series; I thought about what would feel good for my body and went with it.

So for part of the winter, I let myself sit and do nothing, exercise-wise.  For the rest of the season, I chose to challenge my depressive habits.  But in each case, I had to do so in a balanced fashion.  I had to listen to what was right for me in that given moment.  And I had to learn how to forgive myself.  These concepts of acceptance and forgiveness and gentleness are still new habits for me, and don’t come naturally.  But–I am discovering that, overall, I feel better when I choose to practice them.  My body and my mind thank me.

March 16, 2017 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, guilt, health, heart, mindfulness, progress, recovery, shame, therapy, treatment | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

To Do Or Not To Do

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Until relatively recently, I was never much of a list person.  Grocery lists, errand lists, whatever.  I didn’t make lists.  I went to the store and wandered up and down aisles and grabbed what I needed or wanted and usually ended up with the intended food in my cart.

Maybe it’s this thing called Middle Age creeping up (already there) on me, but I make grocery lists now–or else I get to the store and have no idea what I needed, aside from milk.  I always remember to buy milk.

But each Sunday morning, I begin writing a list. A  To Do list for that day and the coming week.  It’s scrawled out with an actual pen and a piece of paper-no iPhone alerts/reminders for me.  Above was last weekend’s list.  As something comes to mind, I put it on the list.  I may be knitting and think, “Oh, I need to remember to call Bill on Tuesday.”  I stop knitting and put it on the list.  I keep adding as the week goes on.  And I cross off items I accomplish.

Not every single item from last week’s To Do List got crossed off.  But guess what, everyone?  The earth is still turning, and I am still breathing.  No catastrophes.  No crises.  No conflicts.  In fact, I may be feeling healthy right now because I chose not to do something and instead of “being productive”, chose to go to bed at my normal time or knit for a few minutes.

I have learned three things from keeping a weekly list.

  1.  Life will go on, even if I don’t finish grading papers by some deadline I had given myself.  Yes, my students might feel a bit disappointed when I don’t have their papers ready for them the next day, but I simply say, “I’m sorry I didn’t have time to finish them.  I should have them ready tomorrow” and move on.  I don’t offer excessive apologies or outlandish excuses.  And guess what?  Their lives continue as well, with no crises or conflicts.  I didn’t ruin anyone’s life.
  2.  It really really really feels kind of awesome each and every time I cross something off my list.  And by the end of the week, when I’m more tired and stressed out, just looking at all the items I’ve crossed off makes me feel proud.  On days when I feel guilty for not “living up to my potential,” I can look at my list and see what I have accomplished.  I am allowed to take pride in this.
  3. There will be days, even stretches of days and weeks and maybe months, when this list won’t look as, well, professional.  Last week, I didn’t need to put “do your laundry” or “buy toilet paper” on my list.  I just completed them as my daily routine.  But then there are days when “vacuum the bedroom” and “laundry” are not only on my list–they will be the only things I cross off.  And it will take a full day of motivating self-talk to get me to actually walk downstairs and do a load of wash.  But you know what?  On those days, crossing that item off my list feels just as good as crossing off “complete job application packet,” something that has several steps to it.  And you know what?  I can take pride in buying toilet paper.  I set a goal and I accomplished that goal.  This=pride.

Sometimes, having a mental illness makes it difficult to cross things off our lists.  Sometimes, having a mental illness makes our lists look a little different than other people’s lists.  Some people don’t have to write down, “Open the front door and step outside,” but there are days I need that on my list.

So make a list.  For today.  For the week.  For the month.  Or a life list.  Don’t forget to put things like “buy toilet paper” on it–but also don’t forget to put things like “Knit” and “have a cup of coffee with a friend” and “play with the kitties” on that list.  And then, each and every time you cross something off that list?  Give yourself the credit you deserve.

February 25, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

there is always room for change

CHANGE?

 

I am grateful that I had so many people in my life who wanted me to recover.  They longed for growth, for development, for health, for change.  At the time—twenty years ago, fifteen years ago—I saw no reason for change.  Seventeen years ago, I finally could see where everyone else was coming from, and desired that change for myself.

 

Thankfully, most of my friends all gave me the space for the growth they desired.  They supported my changes.  Even when I made mistakes, they were still behind me, ready my next moment of inspiration when I would bloom a little more.

I wish I could tell you that I was sick and then I was well.  That there is thin line between “the old Lexie” and “the current Lexie.”  Let’s face it—I’m still making mistakes and I’m still blooming, day by day.

I want to tell you that 100% of the people in my life see this current me and allow me to flourish.  But change is difficult, not only for those doing the changing and growing, but also for those doing the observing.  There have been people who only wanted that old me of twenty years ago and discovered that Healthy Lexie didn’t mesh all that well with their lifestyles.  I no longer supported the myth that eating disorders are simply lifestyles and not illnesses.  My mere existence proved that myth wrong.  There have also been individuals who haven’t been able to accept my change because they know they haven’t changed.  So when they look at me, they try to find that old me still hanging around.  They cling to the myth that no one really ever fully recovers from an eating disorder.  Once again, I proved that myth wrong.

 

I am not alone in that.  You can change.  I have been the observer as other people have bloomed around me.  I am still that observer.  Hell, as I said, I’m still changing, so people still get to watch me grow. There is no time limit.  No deadline.  No age restrictions.  No minimum/maximum amount of anything.  This society does a wonderful job in teaching us to judge ourselves based on everyone else.  Compare compare compare.  It’s a message driven home in almost every single magazine on the stands.

 

Recovery, however, is yours.  Your pace.  Your steps.  Your petals.  Your choice.  Your joy.

February 17, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Whatever You Want

JUST TRY HARDER!!

If you wanted it bad enough, you’d have it by now. All you have to do is try. It’s easy once you decide to really go after it.  Give yourself some credit and just do it already! 

Anyone else hear these, or similar, sayings while struggling with an eating disorder or addiction or trauma or depression?  Or life in general?  I *think* they’re supposed to be motivational. How many people actually find words like this motivating?  How many people feel guilty after hearing words such as these?  I’ll raise my hand to the latter.

I’ll admit, those early hospitalizations for the eating disorder and self-harm—I didn’t want it.  I had no intention of wanting it.  I had every intention of following the program’s rules in order to be discharged so I could go home and get back to the weight I was before admission.  I was there because my treatment team told me to go.  I played nice so I could avoid involuntary commitment.

Then there came the stage when I began considering recovery.  I began wanting it.  I knew people in varying stages of recovery, and I was starting to see just how miserable the eating disorder was making my life.  But at the same time, I began to notice how difficult recovery was.  How many daily choices I would have to make to stay on that path.  How exhausting those choices could be.  How exhausted I would be.  And how terrifying everything in front of me was.

I wanted recovery.  But I was already exhausted and frightened and overwhelmed.  How was I supposed to take on even more exhaustion, terror, and change?  I really had no faith that I could do so.  I mean, I had an eating disorder.  How strong could I possibly be?  How could I be strong enough to overhaul my life?  I knew how easy relapsing after treatment was.  Fighting that felt like too much for me.  So when I heard someone say “You just have to want it”, I felt like a total failure.  I thought that I obviously didn’t want it enough, or else I would be choosing recovery.

Yes.  I think you do have to want it.  People can’t make you recover.  They can force you to eat and gain weight and they can monitor your diet and when you use the bathroom and how much you exercise, but that can only last so long.  Eventually, it will come back to you again.  And if you don’t want to change, you won’t change.

But desire is not enough.  If you are so exhausted and physically compromised that you can’t think through the decision of what movie to go see, how can you be expected to make a serious life decision?  If you really do want recovery but have absolutely no idea how to even begin walking that path or whom to talk to or where to go, how can you be expected to “just” get better.  And if you know you want a better life but don’t honestly believe you have an eating disorder, how can you choose not to have one?

Sometimes, someone else will have to step up and make decisions for you.  They may have to force you to go into treatment.  A doctor may have to initiate involuntary feedings.  And you may hate those people and be angry and bitter and swear you’ll never talk to them again.  But because of these people, you will have a chance to regain enough strength and mental clarity to make the decision for yourself.  And even then, you may well need those same people to help keep you on that path of recovery.

After I choose to recovery, I didn’t immediately begin eating 100% of my meals and calmly sit in the hallway afterward without yearning to get up and pace for hours to burn all of that food off.  I struggled against my treatment team.  I tried to “make deals” with them to get out of certain parts of health.  I was confused as to why they were demanding so freaking much out of me.  I wanted to get better, but I just didn’t want to put forth the required effort.  For a while.  Then I began *gasp* working with my treatment team and making choices for myself that supported a healthy lifestyle.  And after I regained enough strength, I found that it was easier to make those daily choices to recover than to make the choices to relapse.

If you are at that stage of wanting it but are completely exhausted and don’t know what the hell to do, tell someone else and tell them you need their help because you can’t do it by yourself.  And then resent that person with all your heart as they help you get to the point where you can thank them with your life.

January 26, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, family, feelings, guilt, health, identity, progress, publicity, recovery, relationships, self harm, shame, therapy, trauma, treatment | Leave a comment

I’m Sorry and I Thank You

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These are things I remind myself of almost every day.  It’s difficult to examine my life and realize that I’m not where I was supposed to be.  According to my own expectations, of course.  I do look at my life and am content–I never really planned to end up where I am, but it turns out, I like it here!  But I also like finishing what I’ve started, and there are a whole lot of things I started and never finished.

I often take stock of my life in this manner–and around this time of year, I get even more introspective.  Thinking about what I’ve accomplished in the previous year, but also since I left Missouri, since I left Washington, D.C., since I left Pennsylvania.  Since I used to work for Certain Company and taught at Certain University and climbed rocks as a hobby.

Since I knew various people that once were a significant part of my life and no longer are.  I wonder how these people are doing.  I wonder if they are still angry with me.  The ugly truth is that I lied to people, manipulated them, and screamed horrible things I don’t even remember.  I hurt people.  I wish I could contact each and every single person to apologize, to say that regardless of my pain, I should not have said or done those things.  I’m aware of that now.

I also wish I could thank these people.  The ones who walked away out of exhaustion and frustration and confusion.  I may have hurt them, but I am here because of them, and I wish I could let them know where I’ve been and where I am now and what I’m doing.  I’d want them to know that some of my dreams have come true and that I’ve been dreaming new dreams.  I’d like them to see me as I am now, because I hope they’d agree that I’m a better person–and that I’m a better person in part because of their influence.

I’d like to know I’ve made them proud, even if it’s just a little bit.

I think one of the most difficult things that people struggling with recovery face is the knowledge that we’ve let people down along the way.  It’s not easy to own up to this, to honestly admit to the dark parts of our pasts.  I think hearing “I’m proud of you” is the greatest phrase because of this.  Each time I hear this, in sincerity, I chip away at the dark parts of myself that I fear so much.  Each time these words are spoken, I heal just a little bit more.

Remember to thank those you love.  Remember to let people know when you are proud of them.  You never know what they might be carrying inside.

January 10, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, guilt, identity, mindfulness, progress, recovery, relationships, responses, self harm, shame, suicide, therapy, trauma, treatment, well earned pride | 1 Comment

Regardless of gender, color, size, age . . .

 

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Recently, Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act into law which will, among other things, require insurance companies to stop refusing payments for residential care, thus finally giving eating disorder patients access to adequate treatment.  The Miami Herald ran an op-ed discussing this new law, which originated with the Anna Westin Act.  The senators also discuss what was left out of the law–measures that would affect how images are photoshopped.  Regarding how these images affect those with eating disorders, they state, “Dissatisfaction with their own bodies based on unrealistic and unattainable physical standards promoted by these significantly digitally-altered images can develop into dangerous medical conditions including depression, anxiety, and eating disorders, costing both families and taxpayers dearly.”

I agree wholeheartedly with everything stated with this op-ed, and I realize digitally altered photos are the main point of discussion.   However, the editors of the newspaper unfortunately contributed to existing stereotypes with their choice of a cartoon illustration depicting a very thin female with a huge shadow.  But why would the editors have chosen anything different considering our leading eating disorder organizations and treatment centers–regardless of the age and sex of the patients they accept–offer the same images over and over in their publications:  a thin female staring forlornly into a mirror or out the window.  Of course, she is almost always a she.  And she’s usually a white, older teenager, often with long straight hair.  We don’t see a rebellious teenager with spiked, dyed hair, with piercings and tattoos, dressed in black, staring angrily into the camera.  This is not the image they want to people to associate with eating disorders.

As the stereotypical all-American overachieving white college female, it was terrifying to reach out for help because I was afraid I wasn’t “thin enough” for anyone to believe me.  So I didn’t reach out for several years.  Imagine how difficult it must be for a forty-year-old Asian male to ask for help.  Or a black woman approaching retirement?  Or anyone considered at all overweight?  Or anyone who isn’t skinny?

I was in treatment with men and women and adolescents and adults from all different cultures.  Yet the treatment brochures don’t reflect that diversity.  Educational materials stating that eating disorders affect everyone across the population still only portray a small segment of these individuals.

Eating disorders already result in isolation and fear.  In order to truly reach the different people affected with these illnesses, we need to expand the face of eating disorders.

 

December 29, 2016 Posted by | Body Image, Communication, diversity, Eating Disorders, feelings, health, identity, images, inclusiveness, Mental Health Parity, publicity, shame, teaching | 1 Comment

The Inevitable Holiday Post

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To state the obvious: the holiday season can be difficult for a lot of people, regardless of any diagnosis or history of diagnoses.  It’s just plain stressful.

I love going to visit my brother and sister-in-law—I get to see my precious nephew and niece, after all.  And I love catching up with all of my in-laws, whom I simply refer to as family.  I like waking up to kids squealing when they see the presents under the Christmas tree and relaxing with family the rest of the day.

However much I love my friends and family and love spending time with them, I remain an introvert.  This does not mean I don’t like spending time with people or socializing—it just means that doing so tires me out as much as running ten miles used to.  This is when the anxiety heightens, simply because of the exhaustion, and then I start feeling trapped—the old “the walls are closing in on me” feeling—and wishing I could disappear.  The stress mounts until I force myself to emotionally numb out and present a much-practiced Smile Face for people.  In the past, this would inevitably lead to dangerous coping behaviors, and that would lead to guilt and shame, even if no one else knew about it.

I still feel all those feelings, but now I have a choice as to how I respond.  I could still give in to those old urges, but I know that’s not really want I want for myself.  Instead, I’ve learned that when I first start feeling that panic creep up on me, I give myself an break.  I find space and silence and retreat for a few minutes.  Sometimes for more than a few minutes.  I simply rest in the silence.  I inhale slowly, feeling my ribcage expand.  As I exhale, I picture all the tension in my body flowing out, and I let my shoulders relax.  I notice the solidness of the chair I am sitting on, or the floor beneath my feet.  I ground myself, thus healing the anxiety before it has a chance to overcome me.

Usually, I return to any festivities going on, but there are times I don’t.  Times when I am simply too overwhelmed and I know that immersing myself in a room of people and noise will be too much.  My family and friends know that this is not a comment on my feelings for them and that I’m not tired of them.  I am simply tired, and for my own health, I need some me time.  They’re a supportive bunch and don’t judge me.  They are glad I am learning to take care of myself and finding ways to stay healthy.

This list has some good ways to take care of yourself on stressful days.  I love writing To Do lists, because when I cross something off that list, it feels wonderful.  There are days when crossing off “check work email” is an accomplishment.  I make my bed every day—not to accomplish anything, but because I love the feeling of crawling between two smooth sheets when I go to bed.  I prefer baths over showers, and making myself put “real” clothes on does feel good.  If you choose exercise, please do so keeping your health in mind.  And remember that everyone has days when they stay in the pajamas all day, but if these days start melding together, please reach out and talk to someone.

And some days, you just need to wear a crown.

 

 

December 21, 2016 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, family, feelings, health, mindfulness, progress, recovery, relationships, shame | 1 Comment

Landing in the middle

Over the previous two weeks, several people have asked me about my blog and wanted to know when I’d start writing again.  Honestly?  I didn’t think I had much to say.  Also, I was busy.  A clichéd excuse used by many students, I know.  As a professor, I don’t accept this excuse as legitimate, so before I dig myself in deeper, here’s the deal:

I have more to say.  Maybe not about the initial steps of recovery, but about day to day life, living with the memories that may still rear up every so often.  I look at where I had always wanted to be by this point in my life, and I am not there.  I am not the person I wanted to be by now; my educational and professional careers had to be altered because of some of the choices I made years ago.  I have to accept that, however, and be who I turned out to be rather than who I once wanted to be.

Earlier this year, I decided that by the end of 2016, I would have a submission-ready manuscript.  FINALLY.  When I began my memoir, the drama of the illness and of the initial steps of recovery were still filled with raw emotion.  But the conclusion—that’s been nagging at me for a few years now.  I still feel sure in my recovery and have no regrets, so why the hell couldn’t I sum all of that up in a nice concluding essay and wrap this whole project up?

It turns out that this story doesn’t really have a clear ending.  I wanted to Be Recovered.  But with my perfectionistic, obsessive streak, I began questioning what that even meant.  There are some days now and then when I hate the number on the scale. Those emotions still have nothing to do with my actual weight, but I thought that if the number bothered me could I still call myself “recovered”?  Could I be “recovered” if I don’t feel like eating when the depression has been particularly brutal?  Could I be “recovered” if I go home after a difficult day of teaching and choose a ½ gallon of ice cream rather than a nice, balanced meal?  How could I be “recovered” if I still give in to my emotions and let them determine my actions?

Welcome to the life of a fully recovered individual who lives in the real world full of great days and conflicts and exhaustion and joy and despair and contentment.  An individual who has perfectly healthy reactions to both the good and the bad days.  Sometimes, going with comfort is the best course of action.  I’m not harming myself in any way, and I curl up and sleep with a tummy full of chocolate and wake up and go face what was so horrible (it usually isn’t horrible at all) and rediscover balance.

A recovered person is not a perfect person.  A recovered person is a human person with all the normal daily variations that come with the human experience.

Once I let this sink in, once I realized that I am honestly content (in this one case) with imperfection, the conclusion I had been looking for was finally created.  I think that society needs to hear more stories like this.   The amazingly inspiring individuals who recover and then go on to create significant change in their world are necessary.  The sobering stories of individuals who lost their fights are also necessary.  But most of us fall in the middle.  And the middle, it turns out, is a perfectly fine place to be.

December 17, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

For an “All or Nothing Girl,” “Closer” Can Be a Tricky Place to Hang Out

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I have always been an all or nothing girl.  My friends know this.  My family knows this.  My teachers have always known this.  My coaches loved this.  If I’m going to play Field Hockey, I am going to give it every little ounce of my self that I can.  Same with school.  Same with life.  I don’t believe in doing things half-heartedly.

I spent Thanksgiving with awesome friends who have become family over the years.  These people have known me for almost twenty years.  I am still sometimes amazed that my friend and I survived these twenty years and that I feel as comfortable in her presence as I did way back then, no matter how much time passes between visits.  I have gained friends and family through this one person, another thing I thought I was incapable of.

In the car home, I was listening to Melissa Ferrick, specifically to her song, “Closer,” which you can listen to on her Facebook page.  Singing along as I always do when I drive, I sang the words (forgive me for quoting an entire chorus):

“But with every little bang, every little push
Every little step I take, I get closer
A second at a time, usin’ my breath
Maybe it’s true I’ve got a fear of success
But with every little bang, every little push
Every little step I take
I’m gettin’ closer
I’m gettin’ closer”

And I realized–this is true.  And I realized–it’s easy for me to be disappointed in this.

When I was young, I must have seen a movie or show with a professor sitting in his or her office–a big, ornate desk and walls lined with shelves full of books–and I knew that was what I wanted.  I really had no idea what a professor was or what it entailed, but I wanted to be one.

It took awhile for me to accept this.  I have a Bachelor’s in music; I finished it because it was what people expected me to do.  Later, I went back for a second Bachelor’s–this time in English.  It was home.  I went on and earned my MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at American University, and there really was no option in my mind about my last step: get my PhD.  So I moved to Missouri, fully intent on getting that PhD.  I thankfully discovered that I love being in front of a classroom.  And I love being a student.  I think my dream job right now would be to get paid to sit in a library (a very big library) and do research and write.  Full time.

I finished my coursework at Mizzou.  I knew what I was doing my critical dissertation on.  I had my comps list.  I knew what I wanted to do for my creative dissertation.  And then I realized I couldn’t.  I could teach.  I could be a student.  I could not do both at the same time, and in order to get my PhD, I would have to teach while reading and researching and writing and meeting with my committee and turning out drafts by certain dates and so much more.  And I couldn’t do it.  At least, I couldn’t do it and maintain any semblance of mental health at the same time.

In the end, my mental health prevailed, and I am now a professor–an adjunct, but my dream is to still be a full-time professor.

So.  I certainly am closer.  Especially when I look back two years ago, when life started falling apart to a degree I can’t put into words.  I took three semesters off of teaching.  This semester I am teaching three sections, and I am loving being back in the classroom on a college campus.  It has been difficult to restrain myself at times–to not join committees, to not accept speaking engagements, to not push myself into the ground every single night.

It has also been difficult.  To be on a college campus and not be working toward my PhD.  To know that my PhD is not going to happen.  I have always assumed I’d have a PhD.  And yes, I still dream of going back and earning one.  I get as far as looking at universities’ programs.  I feel guilty when I am on Facebook when I see my friends post about their dissertations and their job searches and their publications because that should have been me.  That could have been me, if I hadn’t fucked up so bad, if I hadn’t disappointed everyone around me. 

I know a PhD is not in my future.  I still want one.  But I also realize that I need to accept and rejoice in the fact that I am a professor, in a field I love.  I am writing again.  I am researching again.  Eighteen months ago, that didn’t seem possible.  But here I am.  Closer. But not quite there.

As I continue studying mindfulness and practicing meditation, acceptance keeps rearing its head.  I have (mostly) accepted the Bipolar I diagnosis.  I have (mostly) accepted my cardiac diagnosis.  I can even joke about both of those.  I know I haven’t accepted my “academic failure” aka my “non-PhD.”  The fact that I still see it as a failure says a great deal.

But I am going to continue to work on this.  I had a life planned out for me.  Maybe, however, I need to accept that it wasn’t the life I was supposed to live.  I still get to discover that.

November 28, 2015 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, guilt, heart, identity, mindfulness, progress, shame, teaching | , , , , , , | 2 Comments