Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Aha Moment

This entry is courtesy of the Topics page, where the readers get to suggest topics for my entries. The topic for today:

What was my “aha moment”?

I think this is a multi-layered question.  There were two aha moments and they were both necessary and were about a year-and-a-half apart from one another.  The first one was near the end of my first semester of my masters program.  I started the program on shaky footing, and continued relapsing at a rapid rate.  All the while thinking I was doing a phenomenal job of hiding it.  It turns out my professors knew what was going on, and the peers that I allowed myself to socialize with also had a good guess.  (I didn’t do much socializing that semester because everything involved food.)  

I was at an academic conference presenting a paper and the evening after I presented, I went into severe tachycardia  and could hardly breathe.  I was dizzy and couldn’t stand up or hold anything in my hands because I was shaking so hard.  So I had to go to the hospital via ambulance–the whole drill of potassium and IVs and antiarrhythmic medications and all that.  I really really wanted to finish the semester.  I told myself that I wasn’t near my lowest weight and that I wasn’t sick enough, but a few days later, I woke up and looked in the mirror and what I saw scared me:  I wasn’t pale. I was yellow and, well, I looked disgusting.  So I went inpatient.  

While I was inpatient that time, my brother brought my nephew to visit me on Christmas Day.  Alex was only two and had only just started called me ‘Ame Lexie.  Another patient and I taught him how to say “Peace Out!” and flash the peace sign (which he did with three fingers, not two).  Yes, that’s endearing and cute and funny and he will still say that when you give him the peace sign.  But I realized that I didn’t want him to grow up visiting me in hospitals, that I didn’t want him to remember where he learned the peace sign.  I love that little boy with every ounce of my being, and I decided I wanted to be an active part of his life, and that I wanted him to remember me coloring on the living room floor or running around the playground.  

I decided I didn’t want to be sick anymore.  That I wanted to actively participate in life. 

The second aha moment came a year-and-a-half later.  It was my fourth semester in my master’s program.  And I was doing well.  But then I freaked out.  “What if I couldn’t be a good student without the eating disorder?  What if I couldn’t handle life?  What if I sucked at everything I wanted to do?”  And so what did I do at the fear of not having the eating disorder?  Clung to it even harder.  And went back IP.  

Once I was there, another patient asked me on Day 2, “What do you do?”  As in, my career.  And I answered, “I’m a grad student.”  Except then it hit me: I wasn’t really a grad student.  I wasn’t a part of the program.  I still sat in the library by myself and worked all day.  I still preferred to wear huge baggy clothes and hoodie sweatshirts and curl up in the corner of a cafe than engage with people.  

So I went into my doctor’s office and said, “I don’t care what I say, but do not listen to me when I start asking you to leave.  I am going to trust you 100% to tell me when I am ready and what I need to eat and how much I need to weigh.”  Three days later, I asked him if I could go home because I was sick of being inpatient and was sure I could “do this on my own.”  We talked about this, but then he said, “You will be here much longer than you thought you would.  But you will never come back.”

I ended up in tears in his office multiple times a week, but I told him every thought and feeling and fear and gave up all control.  He did keep me much longer than I thought I should be there, but he was right in doing so.  He kept me long enough to realize that I did not need the eating disorder.  

He kept me long enough for me to realize that I didn’t even want the eating disorder.

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July 31, 2009 Posted by | Eating Disorders, identity | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Feeling Rage

One of my favorite singers is Missy Higgins, and she has a song called “100 Around the Bend” and the refrain is:

 

So jump in my car we’ll go 100 round the bends
We’ll take this road until we’re back at the start yet again
Jump in my car we’ll go 100 round the bends
And we’ll pretend that feeling rage is feeling real
That feeling is feeling real…but feeling rage ain’t feeling real

“So jump in my car we’ll go 100 round the bends

we’ll take this road until we’re back at the start yet again

Jump in my car we’ll go 100 round the bends

And we’ll pretend that feeling rage is feeling real that feeling rage is feeling real.”

 

Except she changes the last line of the refrain for the last line of the song to “We’ll pretend that feeling rage is feeling real . . . but feeling rage ain’t feeling real.”

But feeling rage ain’t feeling real?

Seriously?  I beg to differ.  How many of us grew up being told–either explicitly or through non-verbal cues–that you’re not allowed to feel anything but happy (or at least you’re not allowed to feel the “bad” emotions) and/or that you’re not allowed to express emotions?  And did that really work out too well for us?  I know in my case it didn’t.  All that energy had to come out some how, and it came out in self-destructive ways.

Feeling rage is feeling real.  It means you are allowing yourself to be in the moment and not push aside an unpleasant feeling.  Now, if you can’t control the rage and end up throwing hard objects at someone, or if the only thing you feel is rage, then I’d take an unprofessional guess that there’s a problem somewhere.  

Anger–and sadness and happiness and joy and guilt and shame and fear and contentment–is a normal emotion.  Lately, I will admit to anger.  Sometimes bitterness.  I’m not sure if I can claim I swing into the rage category, but definitely anger.  And this is a good thing.  I’ve realized that regarding my unexpected cardiac diagnosis, not feeling anger would be unhealthy.  Come on, I’m having to give up some things that have always been very important parts of my life, things I enjoyed, things that made me happy.  Not allowing myself to feel that would equal denial, and denial has never worked out too well.  

No, it’s not fun crying over this, but if I don’t allow myself to grieve and be angry now, I only see myself being extremely bitter later, and I don’t want that.

July 30, 2009 Posted by | coping, feelings, heart | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

walking

I am, by nature, a rather competitive person.  And, by nature, I want to do my absolute best 100% of the time.  As an athlete, both of these characteristics served me well.  I don’t think many people expected me to be a two-time All American my freshman year of college.  I certainly didn’t.  I don’t think I’m unique in these characteristics, at least not among the people I know who have struggled with eating disorders.  A lot of us are perfectionists, straight-A students, excellent athletes, and involved in our communities.  

Of course, we can use these characteristics against us.  I know I did.  I set my “weight goal” and I made damn sure I was going to get it.  I set goals and I reach them.  Very simple.  

Today I was walking at a local park.  Because of the recent surgery, and the nature of the reason for the surgery, I’m walking very slowly.  It will be several months before I can pick up the pace at all, and running is not in my future anymore.  But I’ve been working on looking at this a different way: that I am alive, that I know what is wrong, and that I can still walk.  So walk I will.  

But then this woman passed me, walking in the opposite direction, and she was working up a good sweat at a pretty fast pace.  If I had to guess, I’d think she could do three laps to my one, which is a significant difference on a 1.7 mile loop and given that we are both walking.  A few minutes after she passed me, I found that I had started walking faster, and I had to consciously tell myself to slow down, that I wasn’t racing her.  My recovery from surgery is not a race–against anyone else, against any time line, or against my preconceived notions about where I should be.

Recovery is not a race.  That being said, I’m not saying you shouldn’t always be trying to move forward.  But comparing your recovery to someone else’s can have devastating effects if you think that you’re not “up to par” or “good enough” or feel ashamed for not being better yet.  These thoughts and feelings can make you feel frustrated and make you think that trying is futile.  

We all have our own journeys to walk in this life.  Give yourself permission to walk yours.

July 29, 2009 Posted by | Eating Disorders, health | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

mindfulness

 

One of my favorite spots at Shelter Gardens

One of my favorite spots at Shelter Gardens

 

 

My day didn’t start off all that well.  I open my email and have an alert from my bank that there’s been suspicious activity today and they need me to call them to see what’s going on.  And, sure enough, there were four fraudulent charges.  On an account that was already “not in the best of shapes.”  So I go to the bank, and we call Fraud Protection and we get the charges reversed, but of course, I don’t have a debit card for a week because they cancelled the old one.  But that doesn’t matter, because they put the entire account on hold until the 5th.  

Peachy.

Okay, so I’m thinking, what bills are immediately due?  I think I’m good with that.  I have another account set up that has my rent money in it, so I’m okay with rent.  I have a little bit of cash for food.  So I can do this.  

I decided to go for a walk in the gardens near my apartment.  One of my favorite spots is near this statue.  I’m not one for sitting on benches while walking, but today I impulsively sat down–no, I decided to lie down on my back on a nearby bench and looked up into the trees, listening to a beautiful set of wind chimes.  Not one of those small, tinny high-pitched annoying wind chimed, but a big, heavy, hollow wind chime that produces slow deep notes.  

I saw birds flying in the branches above me, flitting to the nearby feeder, and listened to their chirps mingle with the wind chime.  I honestly think I was only there for a few minutes.  But it was enough time to just sit back, relax, not panic, and be.  This is about as close to mindfulness as I get.  I am rarely able to let my mind go, to just notice thoughts and not analyze them.  To be okay in the moment.  I’m always looking for ways to change the moment.  

But I did everything I could do to remedy the situation.  Thinking about it or obsessing about it or panicking–these would get me nowhere.  And at some point, lying on my back and watching leaves, I had this feeling that things were going to be okay.  

And considering what I’ve been through in the past month, this really is a very small matter. I’m okay.  I will be okay.

July 28, 2009 Posted by | coping, Eating Disorders, health | , , , , | 4 Comments

infallible

“Please don’t worry about me.”

“I’m fine.”

“I’m not sick enough yet.”

“I don’t deserve to go into treatment.”

These four statement often follow something along the lines of “I haven’t been doing all that well. But I can hold on” or “People are telling me to go inpatient, but . . .”

Here’s what I think.  When someone says this, they are really asking you to convince them they are worthy of seeking help.  They want you to tell them how sick they are.  They want reassurance that yes, they are indeed sick.  This is not meant to be an accusation, or a critique.  I think it’s a part of the illness.  I think it’s similar to how some people post pictures online that outright display how thin they are, but then deny it when you confront them.  

I will always support people to enter treatment if they need it.  Even if they aren’t mentally ready to give the eating disorder up yet.  But if it buys them time, if it keeps them alive, it is worth it.  But I do have to admit that sometimes, I get tired of back-and-forth of “should I or shouldn’t I” even when the person admits his or her treatment teams wants them inpatient or in PHP.  What am I supposed to say?  I feel as if my words are hollow.

Some times are harder to hear these lines than others.  Times like now.  Just a couple of weeks after the two year anniversary of a friend’s death from anorexia.  In June, there was another two year anniversary of another friend.  In November, they’ll be another similar anniversary.  And then in February another one.  In fact, I can’t think of a single month where I don’t have an anniversary–not of people I’ve heard about or met online, but people who I knew face-to-face.  I’ve lost count of the people I know who have died from these illnesses.  Through conferences and Lobby Days, I’ve met countless parents who have lost their children, children who have lost a parent.

Yesterday, on Facebook I found out about two more girls who have died.  And then today, I read about how people are debating whether or not they “deserve” treatment because they aren’t “sick enough.”  

There is no magic line of “sick enough.” If you have an eating disorder, you deserve treatment.  In fact, if you don’t wait until  you think you’re sick enough, you have a better chance of not needing to return to treatment.  Seek treatment early.  Stay in treatment as long as you can.  

How many more people have to die before we get this?  When I’m in a room with 10 anorexics, I can’t help but look around and think “Two of us are going to die.  Who’s it going to be?”  This is not a melodramatic statement.  Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric illnesses.  

We are not infallible.

July 26, 2009 Posted by | death, Eating Disorders | , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

America’s Next Top Model

So I’m a little slow on the uptake, because this entry is referring to an episode from 2007.  But I don’t feel well and there’s an ANTM marathon on TV, so what better thing to do but watch girls get in cat fights?  

In this episode, they’re filming a music video with Enrique Iglesias.  The lead model is well below what would be considered 85% of her IBW and collapses on stage and they have to call an ambulance.  The EMT said, “With you being this thin and it being this hot, you have to eat.”  Did Tyra or ANY of the judges address this?  Did the other contestants say anything other than, “She doesn’t like to take directions from people.”  

So it comes to the final decision and another model is sent home because she came in saying she was a plus size model (which looked to be about a size 8?) and during the course of the season, she dropped some weight.  So the judges said, “You can’t be a plus size model if you’re not plus size.”  Which meant, she dropped down to what looked like a size 6.  

Excuse my language, but what the fuck?  Yes, let’s reprimand the healthy-sized female who says on the “secret camera” that she refuses to step on the scale and get into the “how much do you weigh?” discussions with the other contestants.  In fact, she wasn’t stepping on the scale at all.  Then they highlight three girls complaining about how their size 0 clothes are getting tight and how they gained one pound during the day.  

No one even mentioned that the malnourished model should take better care of herself or, god forbid, seek help.

July 25, 2009 Posted by | Body Image, Eating Disorders | , , , , | 2 Comments

Identity

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”  We’re asked this question how many times when we are kids?  And what does the question imply?  That we are going to arrive at this destination–this what–and that we’ll know what that what will be when we’re young and that we’ll know when we get there.  

When I was a tour guide at my undergraduate college, I had to reassure countless parents who were terrified their children were going to flunk life because their child didn’t have a major picked yet.  Most students at a small, liberal arts college either come in with no major or end up switching by the time they graduate.  I didn’t exactly switch majors, just added another concentration and never worked in my major.  And now, I’m getting my PhD in something completely unrelated.  And maybe, twenty years from now, I’ll be doing something different.

We are not static.  This was a difficult lesson for me to learn.  Vegetation and animals that are static do not adapt to their environments and become extinct.  Humans who don’t adapt, who don’t change, become stagnant, stiff, and stuck.  

So I thought I’d know when I was recovered.  And I did.  And then I thought, “Well, that’s done,” and I was wrong, as I’ve mentioned previously.  There is always room for personal growth.  This whole experience with my heart has also taught me some important lessons about identity, because I’m having to give up something I’ve done for twenty years.  I’ve been A Runner (capitalization intended) for twenty years.  How many pairs of running shoes have I worn?  Racing flats?  Uniforms?  Butt huggers?  And now I am being forced to let go of that.  It’s a loss, one that I’ve found other athletes understand, but few other people.  

My brother said to me, “But running doesn’t make you who you are.”  

He’s right.  But it feels like such a significant part of me, of how I coped with the world, of how I identified myself as someone who is strong and active.  And I’m going to have to change that part of me, find something else to allow me to feel physically strong.  Find something else to take up that space.  

I’m learning that “what I want to be when I grow up” isn’t a fair question, because the what is constantly changing, evolving, adapting.

July 24, 2009 Posted by | Eating Disorders, heart, identity | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Human

Recovery involves a lot of change, which is only one of the reasons why it is probably the most terrifying decision someone with an eating disorder will ever make in his or her life.  There are the obvious changes of behavior, and other people need may need to change and adapt to adjust to your new, stronger self, and your environment may need to change.  There are also these smaller, somewhat-less noticeable changes that have to happen if you’re to succeed in Life on the Other Side.  

One of these changes was made evident to me during my recent and ongoing recovery from cardiac surgery.  Without betraying details, I’ve felt sort of let down by a couple of people.  

Pre-recovery, here are some potential reactions to this situation:

A)  Blame myself 100%.  Obviously, I am too needy and should do this on my own.  

B) Blame them 100%.  If they were real friends, they would have reacted to this situation exactly how I wanted.  

A would have resulted in self-guilt and self-blame, both of which I excelled at.  B would have most likely resulted in me isolating myself not only from the friends in question, but from other friends as well.  

A and B are the black and white extremes of interpersonal relationships I often fell into while I was sick.  People were either good or bad.  I could not handle someone who had both characteristics.  Basically, I could not tolerate anyone who was human.  Also, both A and B gave me the blessed option of not feeling the situation.  Cognitively compartmentalize into “Your fault” or “My fault.”  (Let’s face it.  Guilt and shame are part and parcel of the eating disorder and were rather constant, regardless of the situation.)

Here’s what recovery can offers me: the ability to feel disappointment and sadness and acknowledge that I have the right to feel that way.  But I don’t have to let go of these friendships as a result.  My faith in these friends, my closeness, is not affected.  I’m able to give them the quality of human.  

I can exist in that beautiful grey area I tried so long to avoid.

July 22, 2009 Posted by | Communication, Eating Disorders, heart | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“It Never Goes Away”

As I said in a previous post, what is my recovery may not be your recovery.  One of the comments on my last post referred to how the problems with body image and not knowing your size and the discomfort with shopping–“it never goes away.”  This entry not meant to criticize the commenter; it’s just being used as a jumping off point. 

“It never goes away.”  I refuse to believe this.  It’s just simply not good enough for me.  I refuse to live a compromised life, and anxiety while going shopping, or any degree of body dissatisfaction, it’s just not good enough.  And I don’t believe these things will always be here.  Yes, I am recovered.  But I am still in therapy.  That’s because the eating disorder really is just a bunch of symptoms covering up the real problem.  And you can deal with the underlying problem until the symptoms have been taken care of.  The way I like to think about body image issues right now is comparing it to a mosquito bite.  The most noticeable problem is the bite–or the life threatening behaviors and symptoms of the eating disorder.  The itch is what remains, that annoying reminder of something that used to be there but will eventually go away as well.  The body image issues are that itch.  

I do not believe I have to live with this dissatisfaction.  I believe there are steps I can take to complete eradicate it.  This involves cognitive therapy, changing the way I think about myself.  Challenging myself to step outside of my previous comfort zones and slip into something other than an oversized hoodie.  One thing I almost never wore while I was sick were skirts, especially skirts that fell above the knee.  Now, I have a closet full of them.  I have to say that I look good in them.  I never would have said this before.  I could not fathom taking pride in my body; I couldn’t fathom feeling anything other than shame about my body.  Granted, this pride is not an every day occurrence now, but it’s happening.  

And that is progress.

July 22, 2009 Posted by | Body Image, Eating Disorders | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The “B” Word

 

photo by Svitlana Matviyenko

photo by Svitlana Matviyenko

 

 

That’s right.  Body Image.  (Which, for the purposes of the catchy title, is being grouped as one word.)  I’m going to tackle the big bad topic of Body Image.

I’m recovered.  Fully recovered.  I’ve stated that.  I truly believe it.  There are no behaviors, no symptoms, nothing that could make someone raise her hand and go, “Hey, everybody!  Look over here.  We have someone with an eating disorder!  Let’s all stare!”  

That being said, my body image is not completely healed.  When I look in the mirror, I do not see what you see when you look at me.  When I look at my clothes, they still seem too small for me, even though I know they fit.  When I look at a sheet full of body outlines and am given the task of circling which one is closest to my outline, I fail miserably.  At first, I was a little bit angry about this.  I mean, I’m recovered, so why don’t I see reality when I look in the mirror?  Why do I still see someone bigger than I am? 

I say I am recovered, but I don’t believe that this means I have reached a static place in my growth as a human.  We all, eating disorder history or not, have our own mental road blocks to work through.  We can try going around them, but we will always come right back to them.  When I say I am recovered, I say that the eating disorder is no longer my identity and that I no longer have any desire to use those symptoms as a means of escape and I am willing to do whatever it take to stay physically as well and mentally healthy.  

One of the last things for me will be this body image thing.  I mean, for twelve years after turning eighteen, I still had the body of a teenager.  And then by the time I was 30, I was finally at a healthy, adult weight with healthy adult curves on my frame.  I am happy I am at this weight if I look at things logically–this weight allows me to be healthy and fit and active and alive.  But it is still a difficult thing to accept emotionally.  This is still a very new body I carry around with me on a daily basis.  It goes beyond having to buy new clothes.  It’s a feeling of how I move about the world and the space I take up in it.  For someone who tried so hard to take up as little space as possible, allowing myself to be a woman–curves and flesh included–has been a terrifying journey.  It has made me vulnerable, and there are days when I pull on the extra-large hoodie sweatshirt and retreat into that form of safety.  And then there are days when I am confident and, dare I say it, want to dress up and have someone say, “You look great in that outfit!”  

Healing in terms of body image is an ongoing process for me.  It means continually making myself vulnerable.  But what I have learned is that while being vulnerable can leave you open to pain, it also leaves you open to joy.

July 19, 2009 Posted by | Body Image, Eating Disorders | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments