Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

The Brand Spanking New Alexis

Clarissa. Impersonating me.

So my cat is a pretty good representation of how I feel right now, at least physically.  I could curl up on that chair, form my body around any obstacles (I mean, why push the blanket out of my way? Curling around it is much easier.) and just close my eyes and sink into sleep.

I survived my first week back at school.  No gradual immersion, just right back to the taking three classes, teaching two classes chaos of before.  And yes, exhaustion is a normal state for PhD students, I am fully cognizant of that.  But my crappy little heart makes me just a little more tired than the norm.

Here’s the Alexis of six years ago: ignore the exhaustion.  Go to the library with my coffee (I love that libraries allow coffee!) and buckle down and finish every little nook and cranny of every little assignment.  Perfect my essay as much as possible.  Go home and exercise.  Continue to ignore the exhaustion.  And, let’s not forget the twisted logic that not eating will somehow help me function better and not be tired.

Here’s the Brand Spanking New Alexis, version Fall 2010: Acknowledge the exhaustion and look it square in the face.  Go to the library with my coffee.  Also grab a fruit smoothie with a protein booster (my current fave is Strawberries and Cream) to help get me through the Latin-followed-by-Nonfiction-followed-by-Composition stretch I have three days a week.  Translate my Latin–but when my eyes start fuzzing over the words, put it away.  Go take my quiz and give it my best, knowing I didn’t study very much.  On purpose.  Go teach my two classes.  Go home and go for a walk.  No matter what else, this hour of the day is to be protected–my hour to do either yoga or go for a walk.  This is my time.  No school.  No studying.  No writing.  No reading.  Come back and watch Bones.  Read Latin during the commercials.  Read my pedagogy.  But only until I am pulling my eyes open with my fingers.  Put my work away.  Even if it’s not finished.  Even if I walk into that quiz not having translated everything.  Even if I have to admit to not finishing all of the pedagogy reading.  Do my devotional practice with my flavored decaf coffee.  Sleep.  After my hour for walking or yoga, my sleep is the second most important thing to protect this semester.  Also high on the list of protected times: time with other people.  Not in class.  Not my students.  Not meetings.  I need to eat.  My friends need to eat.  Eating together makes everything better.  Meeting a friend for coffee before the Latin quiz I hadn’t studied for and chatting instead of studying: priceless.

Here’s the Brand Spanking New Alexis on my walk today: In the middle of the walk, I am tired.  Option 1: sit in the middle of the sidewalk and sun and have people stare at me.  Option 2: default to the old logic that walking faster will get me home sooner so I can rest sooner.  Option 3: slow down until I’m walking at the pace that a 70 year old man takes on his way to get the morning newspaper.  Before having had coffee.  Old Alexis would, of course, choose number 2.  New Alexis realizes that I probably haven’t taken into consideration the amount of walking I’m doing on campus each day and will have to remember that for next week and the knowledge that when I get tired my heart has this tendency to, well, for lack of better words, freak out, and chooses Option 3.  I strolled my way home.  And my body thanked me for it.

I am also going to bed early.  On  a Saturday night.  Even though I didn’t quite get all the work I had wanted to done today.  I’d rather start the week on solid physical footing than start the week with the knowledge that yes, I may have all my work done, but at the cost of becoming a little running stressball ready to burst.  I even saw typos in my previous entries.  And didn’t edit them.

This Brand Spanking New Alexis has only been made possible by the deep seated belief in my old mantra I have tattooed on the inside of my left wrist, my recovery tattoo: Om Namah Shivayah.  I respect the divinity within me.  I could not believe this when sick, not fully.  I used the mantra because I knew I needed to work on it, which is why I’m using the mantra I’m currently using.  When I was sick, there was no rest because I couldn’t allow myself that grace.  I was not worth it.  And the perfectionist inside of me was so strong–how much the eating disorder fed the perfectionist and vice-versa is a puzzle I wouldn’t wish on any metaphysicist.

I am here to let you know that I am worth this self-care.  This careful appraisal of my physical and mental and emotional well-being each day.

I am also here to let you know that you are worthy of this very same care and grace and forgiveness and healing.  There is a divine spark in you that is asking to be nourished so it can grow.  I challenge you to do one small thing this week to help that spark get a little brighter, a little warmer.  That spark is in there; I promise.


August 28, 2010 Posted by | coping, Eating Disorders, identity, mindfulness, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

and blessed are the eating disordered, for they shall inherit the guilt . . .

My title is only meant as a slight mocking of the beatitudes (the whole, “blessed are those who are meek for they shall inherit the earth” section of the Bible).

I’ve noticed a trend in certain sites lately.  Actually, not only lately but all the time, but I’ve only recently felt compelled to write about it now.  The trend is to label an eating disorder as sin, or depression as sin.  Or, and part of me feels this is worse in some ways, that if one would just pray harder, their despondency will leave and they could feel the healing.

My initial response to people who say these things is to ask them if they go into cancer wards and tell five-year-olds to pray harder and that lump of malignancy in their chests will go away.

Am I being melodramatic?  Not really.  Cancer=illness.  Eating disorder=illness.  Depression=illness.  Schizophrenia=illness.

Equating mental illnesses with sin or lack of prayer equates mental illness with blame.  The blame belonging, of course, to the person with the mental illness.  As if we had a choice.  As if we decided one day that we couldn’t stand a happy life, so depression it is.

Picking up a rock and throwing it at someone’s head is a choice.  Me waking up in the morning and not having energy and wanting to cry for no reason is not a choice.

An eating disorder, or any other mental illness, is not the work of satan.  We didn’t “let satan into our lives” or “let satan lead us away from God.”  That implies that someone with an eating disorder is not close to God, that they cannot be close to God.  How insulting to that person.  We are not here to judge one another’s spiritual state, or put conditions on their spiritual state.

I believe in God.  I believed in God before I developed the eating disorder.  And I continued to believe in God and feel close to him.  And I prayed.  People telling me I’m not praying hard enough is like kicking me in the gut.

A) How do you know how often or how hard I’m praying in the first place? and

B) How exactly do you measure how hard someone is praying?  If there are bruises on their knees?  If sweat pours off their brows due to the fervency of their prayers?  By whether or not they still have an eating disorder or depression? And if you use the last example to reason with me, I will once again ask you to tell me that a 5-year-old cancer patient isn’t praying hard enough.

I’m not sure if people realize how guilty things like this make those with mental illness feel.  A lot of us already blame ourselves anyway, and now we’re being blamed for not having enough faith, for not being strong enough in that faith.  So on top of worldly guilt, we get spiritual guilt piled on our shoulders.  And scientists and psychologist have long proven that guilt is not a good motivator.  So I’m not sure why they’d want someone to feel more guilt.  Maybe they need us folk with mental illnesses so that they have someone to proselytize to?

And the whole faith/prayer thing from the Christian camp infuriates me even more because does that mean someone has to change their faith in order to pray harder in order to get over their sin (mental illness)?

Prayer can be very helpful.  It can bring about a peaceful spirit, it can give us something to draw on throughout the day, it can give us strength to continue fighting to stay on solid footing.  But prayer, or any faith, should not be used to induce a good dose of guilt.  That’s warping any faith.

Instead of telling someone they should be praying harder, or telling them that you will pray for the evil to depart, why don’t you tell them you’ll pray for them to have the courage and grace to face another day and to give it their best shot?

The evil is that mental illnesses exist at all, not that I, specifically, someone chose to have one.  I mean, being Bipolar I is just so much fun; I’m not sure why everyone doesn’t choose this.

*****further addition:

In response to the commenter, “I have no problems with god, it’s his followers . . .” comment.

I hope that this post doesn’t come across as I’m smacking religion or faith or prayer.  All can play a very powerful role in recovery.  As can your church or fellowship group and other people praying for you.

My problem comes is when religion is twisted to invoke guilt.  (Okay.  If you murder your parents in a fit of anger (rather than defending yourself in a situation that leaves you no other choice if you want to survive) then maybe you should feel some guilt.)  Having an illness, or being sad, or experiencing any human emotion should not cause you to feel guilty.  Emotions are emotions.  If I’m feeling sad and cry, I don’t believe it’s the devil’s work.  There are situations in life where if you don’t feel sad, I’d question if you were human.  Not do I feel guilty for feeling sad and crying.  Both are healthy.  My God is not here to make me feel guilty–especially for things that are beyond my control.  My God is here to give me strength and courage and peace within the pain.  Things that will help me.  Guilt–not so helpful.

August 27, 2010 Posted by | bipolar disorder, depression, Eating Disorders, faith | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy) aka “eat more broccoli”

So this picture has absolutely nothing to do with the topic of my post.  But if you type in “ECT” into google images, this one will appear.  As will a bunch of cartoon line drawings of a little girl smelling flowers and playing soccer.

ECT.  Electroconvulsive Therapy.  Also known as Shock Treatment or Electroconvulsive Shock Therapy.  Yup.  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  The Bell Jar. That ECT.

Except it’s not “that ECT” anymore.  When that movie and novel came out, they both represented ECT fairly accurately.  Patients did go into full blown seizures and needed to be restrained and it was painful and sometimes patients got injuries–broken bones, pulled muscles, bruises.  And there was significant memory loss and confusion and sometimes the patients came back subdued and not really themselves.

I’ve had ECT.  *gasp*  Three separate times.  *triple gasp*  I had it back in 1998, then we tried it in November of 2009 (I pulled out of it early because the anxiety that resulted from going off my mood stabilizer (a necessity for ECT) was too much) and then in April/May/June of 2010 (we changed my meds around to avoid the anxiety issue).  There were vast improvements from the ECT in the 60s to the ECT performed in 1998.  And there were improvements between the ECT I went through in 1998 and the ECT of today.

Some myths that need to be dispelled:

You will have a full blown seizure.

Technically, this is true, but not in the way we have come to think of seizure.  They induce a seizure in your brain by passing electricity through it.  They measure the length and severity of the seizure using an EEG, not by how much you are thrashing about on the gurney. They give you a muscle relaxer which prevents the body from going into a grand mal seizure.  They do put a blood pressure cuff around one ankle and prevent that muscle relaxer from reaching your foot so they can observe any adverse negative reactions.  No, your foot is not sore afterward.  No, you do not need to be restrained.  No, you will not get a broken bone–unless in wheeling you back to your room they tip the gurney over and you tumble to the floor.  But that would be unrelated to the ECT.

You are awake and experience Hell.

You are not awake.  They give you this wonderful medicine that puts you to sleep right before the seizure (otherwise known as anesthesia.  I like to call it “happy drug.”).  I like attempting to stay awake as long as possible and talking while they give me the anesthesia until it’s impossible to do anything but drift away.  I think I’m a little weird that way.  And there was no hell.  I went to sleep.  They did their thing.  I woke up back in post-op with a nurse asking me if I wanted pepsi or sprite.  I remember nothing in the interim.  There was one time my doctor told me that I had had a larger seizure than normal for some reason that day, so I might have a headache, but I don’t remember anything being different that day.  I don’t have nightmares about machines with weird faces being wheeled toward me like I did after I saw Return to Oz the first time and didn’t know Dorothy was about to have ECT before she escapes the hospital and runs into the woods.  (Does anyone remember that movie but me?  It was terrifying.)

You will not remember who you are afterward.

So there may be some residual memory loss or confusion.  You will not forget your name.  Unless something went wrong or you have a particularly bad reaction to ECT.  You will still remember how to lift a fork from the plate in front of you into your mouth.  I even remembered Latin, the date, the day, where I was, how to drive a car, what I had for dinner the previous night, and how to get dressed.  Apparently, my friend and I went to IHOP once afterward, which I have no recollection of.  My memory loss is weird like that.  Random events that I don’t remember, events that I wouldn’t probably recall unless someone else was talking about them around me.

You will have a new personality afterward.

Your personality will not change.  Nor will you gain an additional personality to carry along with you throughout the day.  Hopefully, you will begin to experience less depression and that will affect your overall mood and, for a lot of us with depression, how you relate to other people.  If you didn’t like rock music before hand, you most likely will not like rock music after.  Although I’m sure Oliver Sacks has some obscure example that will prove me wrong, but keep in mind that most of his tales are just that–obscure.  That’s why he writes about them and not the 99.99% of us who have ECT and come out of it the same exact person as we were before, just less depressed.

Your hair does not stand up on end.  You will not shock people who touch you.  You will where a hospital gown, and they will stick monitors all over you and they will monitor your blood pressure and heartrate the entire time.  You will have an IV for a sedative, muscle relaxer and anesthesia and pain medication.  You may have a headache (I only did after the first few sessions).

ECT is now a standard treatment method for depression.  There are different types of ECT (unilateral, bilateral, bifrontal) and each have varying degrees of side-effects and efficacy and are better suited for different populations.  It is the only thing that works for me when the depression reaches a certain point, and it is the only thing that has ever been able to pull me out of a suicidal depression.  It is not a cure all.  You will still have the normal ups and downs you always have, and you will most likely still have some depression.  The ECT will hopefully get you to a point where the medication is able to start working again.  It pulls you out of the worst–hell–and gets you to a better but still bad place–purgatory.  And there’s always a chance for redemption when you’re in purgatory.  Not so much when you’re in hell.

Would I have it again? Absolutely.  In fact, because I am bipolar, type I, I am not looking at something that will take away my Bipolar disorder.  It’s there.  It’s sticking.  Much like peanut butter on the roof of your mouth.  I will get depressed again.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to catch things in time for the medication to work.  That may not happen.  I may hit another hellish depressive episode at some point and will need something to reach down and wrap around me and drag me back up.  That thing will most likely be ECT.

Of course, they may come up with another treatment.  Doctors like to do this thing called research, which is why when I had ECT I didn’t thrash around and break any bones and suddenly decide broccoli is evil.  Broccoli is cute and tastes good and your body likes it.  Eat more broccoli.

August 21, 2010 Posted by | bipolar disorder, depression, health, therapy | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

“enough: the cry for sabbath”

syllabi, Latin, and writing, oh my!

So this was my life for about a week: writing two course syllabi, studying Latin, working on my own writing, calling financial aid and the cashier’s office in an attempt to sort out my account, cleaning, organizing, finishing a scarf for my father, and trying not to run into walls (literally) as I was still getting over the effects of sleep deprivation illness.  This weekend, I am trying to finish all course prep and work on Latin and finish cleaning and laundry before my parents arrive on Monday.

Needless to say, I woke up this morning completely exhausted.

But this is what I do.  I work and work and work because “I’m supposed to” and “I need to succeed” and “I need to make sure other people think I’m competent” and then I crash.  I suppose a good sign is that I no longer crash and burn (which I equate with mental health and, in the past, certain behaviors), but simply crash on a physical level.  But crashing is no good any way you look at it.  Sure, I expect to crash after the last week of school when I’m turning in my own final papers and projects for my courses and grading my students’ final papers and portfolios, but I have this tendency to do it on a fairly regular basis.

Anyone relate?

So the other night, during my devotional time, I was reading a passage from the book The Seeking Heart: A Journey with Henri Nouwen by Charles R. Ringma.  Nouwen was a spiritual leader to thousands during his life and lived with and ministered to a community of people with special needs during his final years, and even with all the books he published and lives he changed, he often felt as if he wasn’t doing enough, and that what he was doing wasn’t good enough.  Ringma writes:

Ours has become a strange and contradictory world.  We are constantly promised much, but much eludes us.  We are bombarded with messages of rest, relaxation, and the ultimate vacation, but we are working harder than ever, and our inner world knows more of turmoil than peace.

The orientation toward productivity, usefulness, achievement, success, and upward mobility has left us full of exhilaration as we respond to all the challenges before us, but has also left us deeply depleted and inwardly restless. . . .

A further contour may have to do with our frayed sense of calling.  We never thought that the journey would be so long, the job so difficult, the career path so arduous, the spiritual ministry so taxing.  Did we make good vocational choices?  And if we did, how can we regroup and continue for the journey? Most of us, therefore, know the cry for rest. . . .

Our cry for rest is often much more a cry for those words that can most basically shape us: Well done, my beloved daughter, my beloved son.  And in the shape of the human communities of which we are a part we also need to hear such words from our companions on the journey.

A significant number of people with eating disorders did not grow up in a validating environment; the message was that you have to be more, do more and do it better.  And a significant number of people with eating disorders are perfectionists either by nature or nurture (which came first the chicken or the egg?).  We didn’t here, “well done” from our parents or teachers or coaches.  We heard, “this is what you need to do to be better.”

In the journey of recovery, at least my journey, I have found the same to be true.  When I was in a program for self-harm, I frequently wrote about how each time I self-injured I was reprimanded or lectured at, or I could see the disappointment on my therapist’s and peers’ faces.  But the first time I went a week without any self-harm, there was no validation.  It was just expected of me.  In my recovery from anorexia, when I decided I wanted to stop purging and was in the hospital, there was no award at the end of the first day, my first day without purging in months.  At one hospital, there were a significant amount of consequences for not eating 100%, but no praise when you did begin following the meal plan.

When I was at Rader, there were no reprimands, no lectures, no disappointment on the days I fell short of 100%.  But there was recognition of the days that I gave it my all and tried, even if I still didn’t make that 100%.  The small steps of progress were taken note of.  There was validation for these steps.  There was an acknowledgment of the difficulty of the journey and an acceptance that there will be steps backward as well as forward and the focus needs to be on the steps forward.

We place enough guilt on our own shoulders when we slip; we do not need reprimands or lectures from others.  Instead of hearing, “You’re overexercising still” we need to hear “Good job on cutting back by fifteen minutes today.”  Instead of hearing, “You need to stop purging and let go of that behavior if you ever want to get better” we need to hear, “I think it’s awesome that you just went two days in a row without purging.  I know how hard that must have been.”

This validation is key.  If you are not getting it from your treatment providers, I’d discuss it with them, and let them know how you feel and then I’d also find someone else in your life to provide that validation, be it a friend, a mentor, or a family member.  Yes, the validation eventually needs to come from within, but I am a firm believer that until we start hearing validation from others, we will have no idea how to validate ourselves.

I’m giving you permission to take pride in your successes, whatever they may be.  I am giving you, and me, permission to take a break from the work and reward yourself.  For me, that’s time spent knitting rather than studying, or a walk through the nearby flower gardens.  Time spent away from the pile of books by my chair.  Time spent with friends, time spent relaxing, time spent at my favorite coffee shop drinking a cup of coffee while reading a magazine rather than a textbook.

August 7, 2010 Posted by | Communication, Eating Disorders, feelings, recovery, self harm, therapy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Be Body Positive Day!!

my body positive day

Welcome to Be Body Positive Day, 2010.  As promised in my Contest Entry, I have the Body Positive Suggestions for today.  A day to honor yourself, all parts of yourself.  Your body, your mind, your emotions, your total self.

Some of the suggestions were repeats, so I didn’t duplicate them, but some people went into more detail behind their suggestions, do I did duplicate similar suggestions in that case.  Please keep in mind that not all suggestions are appropriate for every person.  If something doesn’t feel right to you, then choose something else, but I really do help that you do something for yourself today.

Me?  I’ve been having problems with the effects of long-term sleep deprivation lately, and I will be sipping decaf coffee and knitting and taking a day off of schoolwork.  And then I’ll take a beautiful lavendar scented bath before doing my devotional and going to bed.

Congrats to Heather and Laurie for getting your name pulled out of a hat (literally).  I will be in contact with both of you soon.

The suggestions: (please imagine drumroll)

get a pedicure

take a nap

kiss someone

take a bubble bath

let a puppy cover your face with kisses

get a massage

One of my favorite ways to celebrate my body is to take care of my feet.  I think it started by being a dancer and later by running, but now it’s taken on a whole new meaning. I soak my feet and pamper them a few times a week to show appreciation of all my feet do for me. Sometimes I paint my toe nails, sometimes not, but  I always feel better.

I love to garden and play with my flower beds.  I try to use all my senses while I’m weeding ( well, not taste! ) or whatever I’m doing. Flowers need food and water  too and I like to see them flourish while under my care. And I worry a little when they aren’t doing too well.

clear out rubbish- bad reminders of the past means the body isnt together as one your mind is elsewhere! so get rid of any old diaries/notes/photos/letters whatever and make yourself feel good about the now!

do something you enjoy! not necessarily with a certain focus but just something that makes you happy- reading/writing/drawing/painting/listening to music, whatever.

help a friend- the satisfaction from helping others is a great feeling and you know you’ve helped someone you care for!

RELAX-forget about you problems for an hour/a few it doesnt matter, go shopping with a friend, go for a relaxing walk, take a pet out, veg out and watch the tv, whatever works.

Allowing a man to see me without my clothes on and tell me that I’m beautiful.

– put on a swim suit (AHHH yes I know I just said swim suit but you can do it) or go without one if you are brave enough and lucky enough to have your own pool, go outside and simply float in the water.  Trust your body to hold you up in the water and feel the water surround your body.  Lay as still and quiet as you can and simply feel the pressure of the water, let it caress your body.  Breathe deeply in and out & notice how your body sinks slightly with each breath you let out and rises with each breath you take in. Sometimes just relaxing and enjoying the moment can make all the difference.

find a couch or a bed that has sunshine streaming through a window, lay down and just take a nap in the warm sunshine – giving your body the rest it deserves

Go out and get a pedicure – or if you cant afford that, give your self a pedicure, soak your feet, rub lotion generously on your feet and make your toes look pretty with polish – add some pizazz by using a different color on each nail, adding a decoration, or some glitter just for fun, then make sure to walk barefoot for awhile so you can randomly look down and enjoy your pretty feet

find someone who gives great hugs and just let that person hold you tight.

get a mani/pedi to pretty up your nails

take a meditation class to relax your body and mind

take a long, hot shower

write a list of the POSITIVE attributes of ur body and post it over your mirror

August 1, 2010 Posted by | Body Image, Eating Disorders | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments