Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Forgiveness

I’ve been thinking about relationships lately, for various reasons, both friendships and romantic relationships.  And how illness affects them.  I’m currently reading Dancing at the River’s Edge: A Patient and her Doctor Negotiate Life with Chronic Illness by Alida Brill and Michael D. Lockshin, M.D.  The book has been a great help lately, and I’m learning that a lot of what I’m feeling and grieving is normal.  Someone else has been here, too, and she has been kind enough to put words to my thoughts.

She writes about relationships and how they are affected by chronic illness.  And although she was talking about a physical illness, I saw a lot of parallels between what she was writing and my experience with anorexia and Bipolar Disorder.   The crises involved in the mental illness are (sometimes) different in nature, but they are still crises.  They still wear down not only the individual in crisis but those around that individual as well.  In an ideal world, we’d all stand by each other through thick and thin, “through sickness and health”, but sometimes, a lot of times, doing so is much more than the human spirit can bear.  And relationships fall apart.  And we are left wondering what could have been different.  What we could have said differently.  What we “should have” done.  A lot of  thoughts beginning with phrases such as “if only” and “what if” and “maybe”.

I know I was not always the nicest person in the worst days of my eating disorder and I know that when I’m going through a severe depression or mania, my words sometimes spill out without any censorship and pierce the other person in ways I couldn’t have foreseen.  I had one friend tell me that she only came to expect the passive aggressive comments from me.  That comment hurt in a lot of ways.  It made me realize that I had hurt her in the past.  Perhaps too many times.  It made me realize how much my illness affects other people.  It made me realize that we had gone beyond the point where I could prove her wrong.  That, indeed, she only saw me as passive aggressive.  And that if that’s all she saw in me, it hurt me too much to continue that relationship.  How could I say or do anything without doubting myself?  Without wondering what she’s really thinking about me.  This was a relationship that fell apart over time, and communication had a great deal to do with it.  I have had friends tell me that they could not handle the eating disorder.  I have had partners stick by me during the mini-crises of the anorexia, but as soon as I was inpatient, they left, leaving me feeling broken.  And, also, leaving me in a huge pile of self-blame and guilt.

Alida Brill writes about this feeling.  And then she writes words that I underlined and I know I will come back to them time and time again.

If you despise yourself for an intemperate remark you made during an episode of illness, or fearing its return, if you are disgusted with yourself for not being able to curb an anxious or too needy demand or request, remind yourself of this: this path we walk is arduous and filled with boulders, ditches and canyons.  Force yourself to say these words, even when you are not convinced you believe them: “I did the very best I could.  I grieve the loss of this love and this relationship.  But, I do not blame myself, for I truly did all I could at that moment, within the parameters of my illness.” (pp 124-5)

She goes on, commenting about how she feels about an ex-partner who left because of her illness:

I do not blame him for being exasperated beyond his level of tolerance.  I wish I had been able to feel at that time the compassion I feel for him now.  In the end, however, we both did the best we could at that intense moment, when my disease took charge of our diaglouge and, consequently, our relationship. (p 126)

I do not see anywhere in her words permission to purposefully say or do anything with the idea that “it’s my illness, not me.”  We still have personal responsibility to do the very best we can do.  But what that best is will vary from time to time.  And yes, it is affected by our illnesses, by major life events, by changes we can’t control.  What I read in her words is forgiveness for those times when my best just wasn’t good enough, for the times when my friend or partner’s best just wasn’t good enough.

I read in her words permission to release the bitterness and blame and anger.  I could choose to hold onto those feelings and let them prevent me from risking other relationships.  Or I can take what I learned and hope I don’t make the same mistakes again and risk the opportunity to find love and acceptance.

Yes, in hindsight, I would change a lot of my words and actions.  But dwelling on wishing I hadn’t said that or done that is futile.  The past is in the past.  But the future always remains.  Yes, we risk hurt and pain each time we enter a relationship.  But we take that risk because we might be proven wrong.

May 30, 2010 Posted by | Communication, feelings | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Beautiful Ones

This post comes courtesy of Gretchen Vanderwall Treglio, the author of these beautiful, affirming words, who gave me permission to share them with you.

Beautiful ones~

Maybe you feel afraid. Maybe you cannot even remember a time when you didn’t feel afraid. Maybe fear has become a constant companion, an invisible parasite silently eating away at everything good inside you.

You are Safe.

Maybe your heart feels broken beyond repair. Maybe too many people have left you when you needed them. Maybe too many people have not cared for you the way you wanted to be cared for, the way you needed to be cared for.

You are Loved.

Maybe darkness has entered your life. Maybe it has landed on your chest like a heavy bird that will not fly away. Maybe you feel anchored to that darkness, to the fathoms of terror and dread beneath you.

You are full of Light.

Maybe you feel alone. Maybe you feel there is no one who can understand, who even wants to understand, what it is to live inside your body, to live inside your head. Maybe you feel it’s better to hide than to risk the harsh judgment of those who will not comprehend.

You are never Alone.

Maybe you feel that life is not for you. Maybe you feel that life is for other people, people who are braver, people who are stronger, people who are ” normal”, who can withstand its blows. Maybe you feel like you are failing at life.

Life is for You.

May 28, 2010 Posted by | Body Image, Eating Disorders, feelings | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

An Upbeat Mix

On facebook, I either like a page  whose title is something along the lines of “listening to music that matches your exact mood at that time.”  I do that a lot.  I have playlists on my iPod for various moods.  There’s a playlist of songs for when I broke up with someone and their not exactly the most cheerful songs, but they have a bit of self-empowerment in them.  There’s my depression playlist (not really called that) and the songs in it are, well, depressing.  Music is a way to put words to how I am feeling when I can’t find the words myself.  It’s a form of release.
But listening to the depressing playlist over and over again has this tendency to increase my depression.  If I listen to that playlist too many times, I begin to sink into the music and feel it all the more strongly rather than releasing the emotions inside of me.  Then the music becomes UNtherapeutic.  So I also have a playlist of music that I can’t help but sing along to, usually quite loudly and off key.  And I can’t help but feel good when I sing along.  Sometimes the words don’t matter.  You’d think “We’re All Gonna Die Someday” would be on my depressing list, but it’s on my feel good list because it’s got a kick ass fiddle part and it’s just a fun song to sing along to.
So this is my playlist I call “An Upbeat Mix”  These are songs that help me through the bad times.  Not because they have anything to do with why I’m feeling down but because I can’t help but smile when singing them.
  1. Shine (acoustic version)/Anna Nalick
  2. Citizen of the Planet/Alanis Morissette
  3. Unbroken/Missy Higgins
  4. What Do You Hear in These Sounds?/Dar Williams
  5. Fidelity/Regina Spektor
  6. Follow/Brandi Carlile
  7. Come On, Come Out/A Fine Frenzy
  8. Saturdays/Holly Brook
  9. I Will Arrive/Melissa Ferrick
  10. Everybody/Ingrid Michaelson
  11. Breathe (2 AM)(Acoustic version)/Anna Nalick
  12. Last Hard Bible/Kasey Chambers
  13. Suddenly I See/KT Tunstall
  14. My Song/Brandi Carlile
  15. Never Give Up/Melissa Ferrick
  16. The Wrong Girl/Missy Higgins
  17. If I Know You/Nerina Pallot
  18. Take Me Away/Sarah Kelly
  19. We’re All Gonna Die Someday/Kasey Chambers
  20. Blackbird/Sarah McLachlan
  21. Don’t Let Them/Shelby Starner

What are some songs that help you through the rough times?  Do you find yourself matching your mood or trying to counteract it?

May 26, 2010 Posted by | coping, Eating Disorders, feelings | , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Waist Not

copyright Jean Fran "Worth" (deviantart.com)

Copyright Jean Fran (=roseonthegray)”Worth” who writes:

“My waistline should be neither inversely proportional nor directly proportional to my worth as a human being.”

I want to bold her words, italicize them, and put them in a bigger font, but I’ll restrain myself.

I searched for this picture after a message from someone about how, even in recovery, she still compares herself to other women and feels bad about herself as a person if they have a smaller pant size.  Doesn’t matter if they are taller or shorter than she is.  It’s the number of the size that matters.

Sound familiar to anyone else?  I’d like to say that while I was anorexic I did not compare myself to other people.  That it was only about me.  And for a great deal of the time, that was true.  But not always.  In fact, there were times that I would delay going into treatment because I wouldn’t be the smallest one there.  One of the most difficult things–no, the most difficult thing–when I went to Rader was that I wasn’t at my lowest weight.  I wasn’t at a low weight at all.  I was above my ideal weight.  Everyone else will be thinner than me.  Everyone is going to think I don’t need to be here.  Everyone is going to think I suck at my eating disorder.  Everyone is going to think I’m faking it.  (Why the fuck was I worried that I sucked at my eating disorder?)  But there were other reasons, besides my waistline, for me to be there.  And I am so very thankful I did.  Not just because I got back on track quickly, but because of the spiritual growth that happened.  But that’s another topic.

Waist size.  Jean size.  Shirt size.  Bra size.  Admit it.  Even when we say, “I’ve always just compared myself to myself” there are times when we’ve compared ourselves to others and felt bad because we didn’t measure up–in an inverse way.  We were a measurement up rather than a measurement below.  And for some reason, that translated into “I’m not as good as that person.”

But I love Jean’s words: My waistline should be neither inversely proportional nor directly proportional to my worth as a human being. (There, I italicized them.  But I refrained from bolding and using a huge font.)

Where do we learn that our waistline does matter? Look at the TV.  Reality shows: America’s Next Top Model, The Biggest Loser, Project Runway. And how many lead actresses on television dramas and comedies are overweight?  And how often is the overweight person cast as the one who blunders, who’s too loud and brassy, who’s not as smart?  Look at magazines.  I find it so ironic that fitness magazines promise “Six moves to Six Pack Abs” and feature a model who has so little body fat that she should probably drink a six pack and have a healthy fat-to-muscle ratio.  These magazines don’t feature women in their thirties, who have a couple of kids, whose hips have appropriately widened and have nourished their bodies well enough to support life.  Look at fashion magazines.  How many women off the street can actually fit into those outfits?  Whom are designers making clothes for?  Pre-pubescent teens with no hips or breasts?

These are our role models from the time we are young.  We see these women on a daily basis.  And magazines and fitness shows and advertisements for the miracle diet pill tell us we need to look like them and if we don’t, we’re just not good enough.

It’s an extremely difficult thought pattern to break.  I had a yoga teacher give me a mantra: Om Namah Shivaya.  Roughly translated: I honor the divinity within me.  It took me years before I could begin to believe this.  I was too tied up in measuring up to impossible standards.  But after I entered recovery, I really began to challenge myself to repeat this mantra every time I started comparing myself to either my old anorexic self or to another individual.  Eventually, I got the tattoo, in Sanskrit, on the inside of my left wrist.  I wouldn’t let myself get it until I truly believed it.

But do I have moments of doubt? Yes, as evidenced by my fears before going into Rader.  What do I do to challenge those thoughts?  Yoga has probably been the most therapeutic thing for me.  Yoga taught me how to listen to my body and to respect my body and to appreciate my body for what it could do for me–right here, right now, as is.  Not in the future.  Not “if I lose ten pounds.”  Not “if I fit into my old jeans.”  Not “if I’m toned and buff.”  But right now, in this present moment, just as I am.

I got rid of old clothes, which I know is a very difficult thing to do.  And I refuse to talk to other people about my exact weight or what size I wear and I don’t let them tell me their weights or sizes.  That way I can think to myself, if I find myself comparing by looking at someone, “My perception is so flawed, my comparison is totally inaccurate.”  That gets me through the moment.

I have a list of things I am proud of.  Things that have nothing to do with my physical body.  Things that define me more than my size or shape ever could.  I think that when we are sick and during recovery, quite often so much emphasis is placed on weight recovery that we forget to also focus on who we are inside that body.  Talents.  Likes.  Dislikes.  Hobbies.  Achievements.  Dreams.  Goals.  Personality traits.  These are the things we need to focus on.

So I guess I have no easy answer as to how to change that tendency to compare and then base your self-worth on that comparison.  It’s an ingrained thing for some of us and it will be hard to break that automatic thought process.  But my suggestion would be that each time you find yourself doing it, name three things about yourself that you are proud of, things that aren’t connected to your shape or size or the number on your jeans.  Write these things on your mirror.  Cover a journal with them.  Write them all down in one list and keep adding to it as you discover more about yourself.  This is a journey.  We do not wake up one morning, suddenly in recovery, with all negative thought patterns gone.  Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself the time to grow.

May 25, 2010 Posted by | Body Image, Eating Disorders, identity, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Who Am I? Part 870.

Out of Ashes by *Colleenchiquita (DeviantArt.com)

I was thinking yesterday of the advice I gave about discovering/uncovering your personality.  So I decided to take my own advice.  A lot has happened to me in the previous year, some things have shaken my identity.  Part of my identity is my personality.

Our personality is not what we do, but why we do what we do.  For example:

I am a PhD student.  That’s what I do.  But why am I a PhD student?  I don’t have to be.  I have what’s considered a terminal degree in my field.  And while there are some reasons I went on for my PhD that are less than idealistic (better jobs, better benefits, tenure track positions . . .) there are more important reasons:  I love learning.  I thrive on learning new things.  I actually like immersing myself in research.  I love to sit with a cup of coffee, surrounded by books and articles and sift through all of that to come up with a thesis and argument.  I discovered that I absolutely ADORE Latin.  It’s the most perfect language ever.  If you have OCD, study Latin.  Everything has its place; every word has a distinct purpose.  I’m reviewing my Wheelhock text right now in preparation to jump back into Latin Readings in the fall and I love translating.  It’s fascinating to me, the translation process.

I am a professor.  Technically called a Graduate Instructor at this point.  I was scared I wasn’t going to like teaching, but some days that’s the best part of being here and I’ve really missed it this past year.  There are things I don’t like (I actually had a student ask me to raise his grade because his parents would be upset if he didn’t get a higher grade.  Um, really?  Then do the fucking work and show up for class was my thought, which I did not say out loud.).  But I love interacting with students and watching them progress and grow as the semester goes on.  I actually really love working with freshmen and enjoy office hours when they have to come in for one-on-one conferences to discuss their papers because a lot of them have questions about college and survival in general.

I am a knitter and crocheter.  It’s relaxing.  And I love taking a ball of yarn and making something beautiful and useful out of it.  It’s a magical transformation.  And I did it.

I am a writer.  I always have been, ever since my mom gave me my first journal when I was 8.  And yes, I still have that journal and every single journal since.  I think I’m on my 27th journal right now.  Words have the ability to let me escape the world, deal with the world, transform the world.  I feel I communicate best with the written word rather than the spoken word.  The pen in my hand feels like home to me.

Similarly, I am a reader.  Books have always been my escape.  I knew how to read before I went to school and during my childhood, it was a way to forget the trauma that was currently happening, and later it was a way to escape from the memories of that trauma.  Reading is still an escape for me.  I sink into books and feel as if I am right there in the plot line.  I love the worlds that authors create.

I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and rape.  That is not how I define myself, but I cannot deny that it’s affected who I am.  I can say that I am one hell of a strong person for living through that, and an even stronger person for finally talking about it with a professional when I was an adult.

I am a recovered anorexic.  That means I am stubborn (I know you’re thinking “all anorexics are stubborn”)–but I mean stubborn in the fact that I set my mind on recovery and wasn’t going to let anything get in my way.  It’s been a rocky road at times, but damn have I learned a lot about myself in the process.  Namely that I have the strength to tackle huge-ass demons and kick them to the curb and then stomp on them.

I am a cardiac patient.  I live with the knowledge that the muscles in my heart are dying and there is nothing anyone can do to prevent that or stop it or slow it or treat it.  Because of structural conditions in my heart and the fact that these prevent them from certain procedures, my doctor was forthright in telling me that a heart transplant is more than a mere possibility for me.  I will admit that I’m scared and angry and confused and I really do want to whine this is so fucking unfair! I’m in the process of learning I can do this.  I can live.  And I can live a full life.  And Lily will be there to help me and protect me and my doctors are there and my friends are there.  I’m learning that it’s okay to admit weakness and ask for help and support.  It’s still difficult for me to do that, but I am learning.

I am a spiritual person.  My bulk of my faith stems from Christianity, but as I’ve gotten older, my faith has expanded greatly and I don’t think there is a word for what I believe.  But I believe in the spirit and the soul and God and I believe God takes many different forms and no one God is better than the other.  I think religion, all religion, is a way to make sense of good and evil and how we fit into the world.  I no longer think one religion is the religion.  Faith is more important than religion.

I am not a person who enjoys bars or clubs.  In fact, they make me downright uncomfortable.  I’d rather go to a coffee house and sit in a corner and read and study and write and talk with a friend.  I’m someone who doesn’t make friends easily.  I make acquaintances easily, but it takes time for me to trust someone and really let them in and know who I am behind the role of PhD Student and Graduate Instructor.  I like coffee.  I also like tea, although I don’t have nearly as many Facebook status updates about tea as I do coffee.  I like blending my own teas and seeing what happens.  I like writing letters and getting letters.  They feel so much more personal than emails and FB messages and I really have been known to jump up and down when I see a letter or package in my mailbox.  My mom sends these awesome care packages from the dollar store and the box is filled with fun stuff.  I like making things for other people because it makes me happy to see them happy.  I am a cat person.  Not a dog person.  In fact, the only dog I’m not inherently afraid of is a beagle because I grew up with beagles.  It takes time for me to get to know and trust a friend’s dog.  I draw and paint and create and love getting messy in the process.

I’m sure there is more.  A lot of this stuff I didn’t know while I was anorexic because I was so focused on being the “perfect anorexic.”  Those obsessions take up so much space in your head there’s not room for much else.  So a lot of this stuff I’ve learned over the past five years.  It’s been a scary process, a confusing process, a maddeningly slow process at times, but it is a process.

And I promise you, that if you open yourself up to this process of exploration, you will have a blog entry like this one some day.

May 23, 2010 Posted by | coping, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, identity, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Who am I? Part 869?

twisted_personality__by_fridaythirteenth (DeviantArt.com)

Personality: the complex of characteristics that distinguishes an individual or a nation or group; especially : the totality of an individual’s behavioral and emotional characteristics.

Yesterday, I received an email that points to the very complexity of personality.

Quoted from email: “Last night, my roommate and I watched a home video of her when she was about 3. She is exactly the same, and we laughed about it.
I feel sometimes I have no idea what my “personality” is. I can remember bits and pieces of childhood, but not enough to really know “what I was like”….I DO remember always feeling like I was “too much”, my parents hated how much energy I had. so I changed myself. My eating disorder developed in pre-puberty, so thats a big time of identity formation. . . I have no idea what’s actually NATURAL for me personally. I have no idea if I like to talk or not. I’m used to forcing myself to talk and also forcing myself to be silent. Now, without the eating disorder, I feel that I don’t know what my actual personality is. ”

How familiar is this?  We developed a certain persona through the eating disorder.  For some of us, it was a way to interact with the world.  For some of us, it was a way to block the world out.  In all cases, we learned to deny who we were to fill a role, be it because we received message that we were too much or not enough or too loud or too quiet.  Or sometimes, just the vague concept that we just weren’t right somehow and damn, did we try hard to get it right through the eating disorder.

I know when I let go of the anorexia, I had no idea what I’d find.  Who I’d find.  Would I even like her?  Maybe there was a good reason that I hid her away all those years under a facade of thinness and denial? Maybe I should just go back to that facade, play the game, and be the good girl.

I’ve mentioned before that after I chose recovery, I went through one hell of a massive depression, a depression I knew was not bound to the Bipolar Disorder, but to that existential question of “Who am I?”  Because I honestly didn’t know.  And I really had no idea how to find out.

But I had a great therapist, one who pushed me pretty hard at times.  One who never let me take the easy way out.  And with his prompting, I just started doing.  Yes, that’s right.  I just used an awfully simple formula: Just do it.  Do you have a list of things that you’ve always wanted to do but never did because of the eating disorder?  Do them.  And then reflect on whether you actually liked doing them.  If you don’t like knitting, crocheting, sewing, jewelry making, painting, OR drawing, there’s a pretty good chance you’re not the artistic type.

But what we do is only part of who we are.  How do you act in certain social situations?  What type of social situations do you like?  Are you an extrovert or an introvert?  Are you an overall positive, happy-go-lucky kind of person or are you more realistic and grounded?  Do you have this drive inside of you to always get to the next level or are you more laid back?  Do you have this thirst for knowledge that pulls you to the library shelves or do you prefer to learn by experiencing things?  Is your idea of a perfect date slamming jello shots and singing karaoke or sitting in a coffee shop to the background of classical music?

I think these questions are more difficult to answer.  But similar to the first set of questions about what we do, we can find out the answers by trying out different roles.  I know that sounds similar to what we did when we were sick, playing a role, but this time it’s with the intention of finding out if it feels right or not.  When we were sick, how it felt didn’t matter as long as those around us were happy.  This time, if you try out a role and don’t like it, you don’t have to do it again.  Try journaling and purposefully reflecting on how you felt during certain situations during your day.  What made you the most comfortable?  When did you feel most alive?  When did you feel like a fish out of water?

The journal I mentioned in my last post is helping me answer some of these questions.  It’s approaching that question of Who are you? using art.  It’s a non-linguistic way to access our personalities.  There are also guided journals out there that don’t use art that you may want to consider if you feel blocked by a blank sheet of paper.

So my advice: experience and journal.  Do things.  And then reflect on them.  Write about whether or not they “fit.”  This is not a quick process.  In fact, I think it’s one that if we are interested in continuing to grow as human beings, is one that will continue throughout our lives.  At least, that’s my goal.

May 22, 2010 Posted by | Eating Disorders, identity, recovery | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

When Words Fail

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to join with a small group of friends and work through this workbook.  Journaling and Art!!  How much more awesome can it get?  I have always gotten a lot of insight through art therapy, sometimes more-so there than in the “regular” groups while in the hospital.  Give me oil pastels and a sheet of paper and let me go and there’s no telling what’ll come out, but it will always be revealing.

This concept as a whole highlights something else going on in my life at the moment.  I’ve been . . . struggling . . . with therapy.  Not feeling heard or understood.  My therapist and I spent the last session, in part, discussing this, why this is happening, what can be done to change it.

At one point, he asked me a question with the expectation of a certain answer.  And I answered that question.  And I thought I gave him that certain answer.  But that’s not what he heard.  He told me what he wanted to hear and I said it.  And it was an “ah-ha” moment for him, the realization that I was saying something, thinking I was communicating certain things, and he didn’t hear a single one of those things.  (I am being vague as to what the question and what my answer was on purpose because it’s a general issue for our therapeutic relationship at this point, my words not conveying what I think they are.)

I left that session feeling rather defeated and somewhat hopeless.  Words are what I do. And now I am beginning to see that my words aren’t working.  The whole point of words is to communicate, to get one idea out of one person’s head and into another’s.  And I’m not succeeding in doing this right now.

The defeated and hopeless feelings come from the fact that I left that session thinking, “words are all I have left and now they aren’t working.”  Words play a significant role in my identity.  And sometimes I feel that, without words, there would be nothing left.  I feel that a lot has been taken away from me in the past year, and I was already questioning the strength of my words, the effectiveness of my words because of a certain event at school that happened roughly a year ago.  And now my words are once again not enough and the words that are there are just not good enough.

I don’t know how to remedy this situation, if we want to call it a situation.  This is one more thing I don’t know how to fix.  Yes, it leaves me feeling broken.  Yes, it leaves me feeling ineffective.  Yes, it leaves me feeling insufficient.  I keep thinking not enough not enough not enough. How familiar those words are.  I thought they were firmly planted in my past, but they are more than echoes of old memories right now.  They are current.

I fix things with words.  How do I fix the words themselves?

May 20, 2010 Posted by | Communication, identity, therapy | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Getting Normal Back

questions, questions, questions and a bit of hope

So I’m starting a new journaling process, and one of the first exercises, or the first exercise was to come up with at least six questions you’d like answered by the end of the workbook.

Most of my answers didn’t surprise me as I’ve been writing about them in my regular journal for some time.  One question surprised me–not necessarily because of it’s existence, but because of the strength of the emotion fueling the question.  I think the topic in general has been on my mind lately, as evidenced by my previous blog post.

“While I no longer feel body-hatred associated with my size or shape, why do I now feel an intense body-hatred for the entire body itself?”

The first part of the question is a blessing.  Last time I was at my doctor’s, I looked at the number on the scale, still much higher than the ideal weight I’d been maintaining for four years, and thought, “If this is my new normal, this is okay.”  My body has gone through a lot in the past year, and we’re still working on the thyroid problem.  And, yes, folks, I am older.  Four years isn’t a long time, but quite often, thirty does seem to be a turning point for females.  So maybe thirty-two was mine.  I took my “ideal weight jeans” (so weird to write that and not write “skinny jeans” as I had for so long) out of my closet and put them into a box.  (My skinny jeans went to goodwill a good couple years ago.)  If we figure out this thyroid thing and they become my normal jeans again, so be it.  If not, I have jeans that fit me just fine right now and I’ll stick with them.

But the second part of the question.  The body-hatred in general.  I’ve come to think of my body as this thing I exist in.  And I’ve come to view this thing as quite defective.  There are days I have the thought, “why feed this body if it (the body) isn’t worth it?”  Notice my wording:  the body, it, thing. Not my body.  I keep thinking to myself this is not my body.  Not the one I know.  Not the one that can run a half-marathon with relative ease.  Not the one that can bike to the library to do work.  Not the one that can go to the wine bar with friends and relax and have a good time instead of feeling self-conscious and uncomfortable for having a glass of soda in my hands.  Anger is one of the main emotions I have right now, along with resignation.  And I think the resignation is what is getting to me, making me so tired.

The question I have is how do I heal this type of body-hatred.  My heart issue is hear to stay and will not get better.  Is it really just a matter of time?  I’ll get used to it and adjust and be okay with it all?  I’m so used to being active in that process.  There was a lot of work I did to get rid of the body-hatred associated with the eating disorder.  After years of therapy and hospitalizations, I had exercises to do, journaling prompts to follow, art projects to work on.

I don’t know the steps here.  I have no master plan.  All I have is anger and resignation and no outlet for those two things as of yet.  I don’t want the answer to be “it’ll take time.”  That makes me feel powerless.  I want to do something to help that process along.

I finally started feeling normal (yes, I realize there is no true normal), and now that feeling is gone.  I want it back.

May 17, 2010 Posted by | Body Image, coping, heart, recovery | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Defective Identity

Love your heart

I’ve been having a rough time lately.  About eleven months ago I found out I had ARVD and then had surgery to have an ICD placed.  About eleven months ago I was told I would never run again.  I wouldn’t ride my bike.  I wouldn’t swim laps.  I wouldn’t drink as much coffee.  I wouldn’t drink wine anymore.  I shouldn’t drink alcohol at all but sometimes I have a beer.  I would take medication to help suppress the arrhythmias.  I would have a surgery every five years for the rest of my life to replace the ICD.  Potentially, I could be looking at a heart transplant.

I feel somewhat defective.  Please don’t get me wrong–I am thankful I’m alive and that they finally figured out what was causing all the problems and although we can’t treat it, I can take measures to avoid as many arrhythmias as possible.  But I’m also extremely angry because I can’t help but think, “there is so much I can’t do and will never do again.”  Things that were important to me.  Things I had come to define myself by.  After so many years of defining myself by the anorexia, I finally had a healthy relationship with exercise and could define myself as a “healthy, active, fit, and strong young woman.”  I was a runner.  I was an athlete.  And now those things are gone.  And I want them back.

What’s made it harder is that this is a taboo subject.  When I am with friends here, I can bitch and moan about my workload as both a student and teacher and dish out the department gossip and gasp when I hear what so-and-so had the balls to do and how unfair that is.  But if I mention the H word (heart), there’s this weird, awkward silence that wrecks the conversation.  Can I blame people?  Who wants to talk about mortality at our age?  We’re not supposed to be dealing with this stuff yet.  We’re still in school for goodness’ sake.  Life and death are supposed to leave us alone while we’re in school.  And I should just be thankful I’m alive and, overall, healthy.  I am both thankful and angry, and few–very few–people are okay with that.

And then yesterday I was told I couldn’t donate a kidney because of my heart.  My cardiologist said I could.  But the transplant coordinator said I couldn’t.  I have two perfectly healthy kidneys and only use one and someone else could possibly have used one of them.  I’m aware of the risks of surgery.  And yes, it would be elective on my part.  Except it’s not all that elective when someone else’s life could be saved.  It’s not a difficult decision at all for me.  My conscience said that only option was to say, “yes.”

I expected to hear I couldn’t donate because my genetic markers were off.  I was not prepared to hear I couldn’t donate because of my heart.  I know this is unreasonable and I know it’s not rational, but my initial response was, “this is just one more way my body is defective.  This is just one more thing I cannot do because of my heart.”

I’m not asking you to convince me otherwise.  My wise mind knows I am not defective.  That doesn’t change how I feel.  And I am only now, eleven months after my diagnosis, learning that I need to grieve what was lost.

I am also learning that defining myself as a healthy, strong, active, fit young woman had one hell of a flaw: the definition was dependent on my physical body, just as when I was anorexic, the definition was dependent on my physical body.  This year I haven’t been able to say, “I’m a teacher.  I’m a student.”  I was letting my body heal.  And felt lost in the process.

Having an eating disorder is focusing all your mental energy on your physical body, naming its flaws and hating its curves and dreaming of ways to change it and yet still taking pride in the amount of control you have over your body.

I think I was on the right track, initially, in learning who I was without the anorexia.  And then this heart diagnosis came and knocked me flat on my face and brought all my attention right back to my body.  I have learned that self-definitions should not depend on your physical body.  I think that it’s healthy to appreciate your body and things you can do because of it, but your identity cannot revolve around the physical, because what happens when the physical is taken away, against your will?

And so I start a new process of self-discovery.  Of learning how to define myself. Of answering the all-important, “who am I?”

Perhaps I should start with, “Who do I want to be?”

May 11, 2010 Posted by | Body Image, Eating Disorders, heart, identity, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Mathematics of Recovery

mathematics of an eating disorder

I was thinking of a picture to use for this entry, and realized I had all the props necessary, except for a calculator, because mine broke, which I will have to remedy before the beginning of next semester.

For some of us, the mathematics of recovery do involve the addition of weight.  For some, it is weight maintenance with better eating habits and no purging behaviors, and for some it may be the subtraction of weight.  And each scenario is of equal importance for our physical health.

But there’s another type of math that comes with recovering from an eating disorder, and for a lot of us it can be more terrifying than putting on weight or taking off weight or maintaining weight.  Everyone, regardless of what eating disorder he or she suffers from, needs to add in a self.

Someone on my formspring asked me, “What did you put in place of your eating disorder?”

My response:

I think this is an important question. There was no one thing I added into my life to replace the eating disorder. The analogy I use is that the eating disorder is this really weird shaped object and when you remove it, it leaves a really odd shaped hole. Replacing that odd shaped hole is impossible. BUT you can fill it with several different things. Which I think makes you a more well-rounded person.

Personally, I filled that hole with school. It was so nice to be a student without the eating disorder. I could actually BE a student. I had more times for friends. And I wasn’t scared to go meet them at restaurants anymore–aka I could do “normal” things with them without the eating disorder holding me back. I picked up my creative activities again–the painting, the writing, the drawing. I started making jewelry. I wrote more, and I wrote a hell of a lot better, too.

I realized after submitting my answer that I wanted to say more on the subject.  I hope my answer doesn’t make it sound as if it was easy to fill up that eating disorder shaped hole.  Immediately after giving up the eating disorder, I was thrown into a very serious depression.  I refused to change my meds because I knew that I was dealing with more of an existential depression, the “Who the hell am I without the eating disorder?”  depression.  The person who asked me this question on formspring speaks to a lot.  For so many years, we defined ourselves by our eating disorder.  And only our eating disorder.  It, pardon the pun, consumed our thoughts and personality and ruled our actions.  The student, the athlete, the musician, the drama enthusiast, the artist, the chess player, etc., all got shoved aside.  I know that I was still a student while I was in the thick of the anorexia, and I was still a musician, but while that’s what people saw on the outside, that’s not what I felt on the inside.  On the inside was Anorexic with a capital A.

And then I took that away from myself, leaving me with that huge question of “Who the hell am I?”  I wasn’t even sure I was going to be able to return to school that fall because I honestly thought to myself, “If I’m not anorexic, how am I going to succeed as a student?”  (It turns out that I was a much better student without the eating disorder.)

So my suggestion as to how to go about finding things to fill that odd shaped hole the eating disorder left behind is this:

A) fill it with multiple things.  No one thing can ever replace an eating disorder.  It’s too vast.  And do you really want to be someone who is completely obsessed with one thing only to the exclusion of anything else?  In my nonprofessional opinion, that’s just as bad as being obsessed with the eating disorder to the exclusion of everything else.

B) start a list.  Write down every little thing you have ever wanted to do but for whatever reason never did.  It can be small things like learning how to knit or crochet or it can be something big like sky diving.  Make a list and include all the hobbies you have even the slightest interest in.  Things you were too busy with the eating disorder to try.

C) start checking things off that list.  Some people call it a bucket list.  I call it “things I like to do.”  I read, I knit, I crochet, I write, I blog, I walk, I draw, I teach, I paint, I listen to music, I dance, I love learning languages, I collect build-a-bears, I love my nephew and niece, I speak at eating disorder events, I speak out about my experiences with my heart.  Not one of these things is large enough to take the place of the eating disorder.  But all of them together?  They add up to a fulfilling life.

D) Start this list now, regardless of where you are in recovery.  I don’t care if recovery is just some vague concept that you are considering for sometime in the future.  Get a list started.  Do things off of that list.  That way, when you do decide to take some leaps and bounds in the direction of recovery, you’ll have someplace to land and won’t be looking around you, thinking, “Fuck.  How the hell did I end up here and what the hell am I supposed to do with myself now?”

These are just my ideas.  But I do think that it’s important for you to consider who you want to become, what you want to do.  That way the absence of the eating disorder won’t be such a shock.  You’ll be ready to start filling in the holes.  You’ll be read for the addition that is called recovery.

May 8, 2010 Posted by | Eating Disorders, identity, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments