Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

love and thanks

love and grace and kindness

I was recently inspired by a blog post of a friend of mine from college.  Five simple ways to show your thanks for other people on this holiday–such simple yet meaningful acts like clearing the table or doing dishes.  I know holidays can be a rough time for people with eating disorders and addictions and mental illnesses, but sometimes doing a small act of good for someone else can take the focus off your own anxiety.

Awhile ago, a friend of mine from grad school wrote an entry on her pregnancy blog

Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful (even someone who doesn’t major in english can figure out the correlation between those two words!)–but being thankful for our bodies can be extremely challenging for those of us who have struggled with eating disorders or abuse.  And I admit that I’m not always good at it.  Especially recently.  I have this “I’m thankful for knowing what’s wrong with my heart/I hate my heart” dialectic within me.  And yes, I still do struggle with body image.  But it really is amazing how much one simple act–taking the time to exfoliate and moisturize my skin each night–allows me to marvel at the strength and beauty of my body.  It’s not perfect.  It’s not “what I wanted.”  But it’s mine.  And there are some wonderful aspects about it.

I don’t really believe in New Year’s Resolutions, but I’ve recognized lately that I need to spend more time taking care of me.  I’m giving myself a challenge, similar to my friend’s challenge–to do one thing each day for me.  This may mean a nice bath, a walk, dancing, listening to my favorite cello concerto, using a facial mask, painting my nails, taking more time to write in my own journal rather than for school, stretching, doing a devotional. (For you DBT people, think Self-Sooth, Strong, Improve and Mindfulness).

There are so many ways we can show thanks for our bodies, regardless of where we are in recovery.  I’d love to hear other people’s ideas on possible acts of gratitude or things they are currently doing to honor their bodies.

And if you have ways to show thanks to other people, feel free to throw them in there as well.

Happy Turkey/Tofurkey Day to all of you!

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November 25, 2010 Posted by | Body Image, coping, Eating Disorders, health, heart, mindfulness, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

What (media) is continuing to eat at me.

I can’t really come up with a picture for this entry.  Right now, any picture circulating kind of pisses me off.  The whole media response to Portia de Rossi’s memoir.  As I stated in my previous “eating me” entry, I’m all for raising awareness of eating disorders and getting the word out there that eating disorders are serious illnesses that are deadly and that they need to be taken seriously.

However, our media really isn’t taking them seriously.  They are taking advantage of a good headline in order to make money.  If PDR had not gotten to a low weight (hell, if she hadn’t been famous), we would not be reading about her.  But her low weight is now plastered all over all the social magazines’ covers and we have the wonderful (*cough*) opportunity to see pictures of her at her lowest weight.  Then, if we choose to read the article, and people with eating disorders flock to these articles as if the magazines had some type of magnetic force, we get to read about how she reached that weight and her binge-purge cycles, complete with what foods she used as “marker foods.”

And then, in the last page or, most likely, the last two paragraphs, we get to read about how she’s recovered and how she knows she will never ever relapse or diet again.

I’m happy she’s recovered.  Thrilled.  And I know that people have found inspiration in her recovery and in her openness.  I admire that. I admire her.

I do not admire the glorification of her illness and the sensationalism that is occurring.  Yes, these articles show that she was sick. Do they really go in depth into the health consequences or social consequences or, god forbid, the fact that 20% of people with anorexia will die?  No.  They tell the reader two very detrimental things:

A) This is how you, too, can reach this weight.  Really.  The articles I’ve read are basically “how to get sicker/thinner” manuals with a bunch of “how to try to hide it from people” tips.

B) This is how much you need to weigh in order to have a family member finally pull you out of the gym and tell you that you are hurting yourself.

WE HAVE ENOUGH OF THESE ARTICLES AND BOOKS AND TELEVISION SHOWS.

Intervention, What’s Eating You, Obsessed, Hoarders, etc are sensationalist journalistic shows.

Where are the I Got Better, or These are the Steps I Took To Kick Anorexia’s Ass shows?  We don’t have them.  We watch television shows that explicitly show disturbing behaviors and then have the participants go to treatment (sometimes).  Then (very rarely) we get to see the “after” shot: how their lives are better.

Great.  That’s what doctors and therapists tell us all the time: “You can get better.”  But we need examples.  We need public figures willing to tell us how they did it, what steps they took, and to admit that it was a hell of a lot of hard work.  Or else we think we go from “before” to “after” with a nice little stay in some kitschy resort-like rehab that most insurances won’t cover.  Forget the intense individual and group therapy.  Forget the tears.  Forget the ambivalence.  Forget the relapses.  Forget the pain.  Just give us the “after” shot.

Except when we don’t see the middle, when we don’t see how it is, when we are actually going through it, we feel so alone and so scared and think something is wrong with us for not getting better already.

Maybe these shows have some educational purpose for people with no experience with mental illnesses.  But who is looking out for the thousands of people watching these shows or reading these articles and learning how to lose more weight?  Who is countering the message that you don’t need treatment until you weigh a certain amount?

Oh.  That’s right.  There are no shows that will give that message.  They wouldn’t make money that way.

Yes.  I’m bitter on this one.  I have gotten too many messages about how people don’t feel “sick enough” because of these shows and articles.  I’ve gotten too many messages that “Well, if she got to that weight and turned out fine, then I don’t need to worry.”  And I’ve gotten too many messages saying, “No one is going to take me seriously if I try to get help where I am right now.”

I can point them to the memorial wall at Something-Fishy that lists people who have died from eating disorders.  I can tell them of the people I’ve known personally who have died–at healthy weights.  But I can’t negate the media’s message, which is that you are only worthy of attention if you are on your death bed.

You are worthy of attention. You should seek help.  Now.  The longer you wait, the closer you are to death.

November 22, 2010 Posted by | Eating Disorders, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

complicating more hospital waters

a hospital. can you guess which one?

Just because I like making matters more complicated.  I got the following message from someone (edited and condensed):

“I know the main reasons i’m wanting my eating disorder so badly, but that doesn’t make me want it any less. but even though i know all of this stuff and have all the tools or whatever, parts of me still just want to be “sick.” Like hospitalized sick. Is that weird? I feel embarrassed telling you that.
How the FUCK did you stick with it? how did you keep yourself from relapsing?”

I see two “questions” here.  Is wanting to be “hospitalized sick” weird? and “How the FUCK did you stick with it? “It” being recovery.

Here is my response to the first question (edited to fit this blog):

You know there’s still a significant part of me that is jealous of certain people who keep going back inpatient, even though I see problems with the inpatient “culture” I talked about before. These men and women are sick and they need help. We know that. Everyone around them knows that. So everyone takes care of them. And they get to go into treatment whenever life or recovery gets too hard or too threatening or too scary.  And in treatment, people are actually taking care of them.  They/we may bitch about how un-fun treatment is, but there is comfort in knowing someone is taking care of you.  This is the part of recovery where a lot of people get stuck: we never had anyone to take care of us as a kid, but then we got sick and went to treatment and people took care of us, and then we got better and most people assumed it’s all fine and dandy but we still need people to take care of us as well as find out how to take care of ourselves. In the past month, there have been so many times where I’ve thought in my head, “If I take this course of action then I could be hospitalized and I can rest and let other people do everything.” I don’t want to be sick. I don’t want to relapse. I don’t want to live in a hospital.  But I sure as hell want that hospitalization. How contradictory are those previous two sentences?  No, it’s not fun being there, but there is community and people who care and people who get it and people who don’t expect you to just smile and pretend you’re fine.

And no, I am not planning on doing anything that would result in me needing to go to the hospital.  The hospital for me is a mirage–it promises safety and order and protection, and to some degree, these things are provided when I’m in the hospital.  But then I leave the hospital.  And as I said in my previous complicating the waters post, the real world is always there when you leave the hospital.  The real world never, ever goes away.  And while hospitalization may have helped me and may have been necessary at various points in my life, I have ultimately had to learn to live in the real world and take care of myself.  Not just the “big girl” things of paying bills and buying groceries and cat food and cleaning (or not) but the self-care and self-nurturing things: knowing when I hurt and am in pain and need comfort and knowing where to find comfort (safely), knowing when I need rest, knowing when I need to reach out, knowing when a box of tissues really is the best way to handle things.

Taking care of yourself does not mean doing it alone.  I know whom I can call in certain situations.  I know who can provide me with what type of comfort I need.  I know when to ask for help and how to ask for help (although I fully admit I suck at following through with this at times) and when I need to respect other people’s boundaries and soak in the bathtub and take a nap with my cats.

I think there will always be part of me that believes that a hospital can offer escape.  After nineteen hospitalizations, how could I not feel that way?  The part of me that realizes life is better outside of the hospital is larger than the “hospital=escape” part, and it continues to grow.  But the desire for escape is still there.  I believe that’s normal.  For everyone.  It’s just that for some of us, escape became something unhealthy.

So, I will answer the “How the FUCK did you stick with it” question in another entry . . .

November 14, 2010 Posted by | coping, Eating Disorders, recovery, therapy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

anger and thankfulness

anger & thankfulness

I’ve been confusing some people as of late.  They don’t know what to do with my anger, and they think that my anger negates all forms of thankfulness and gratefulness.  Anger only complicates feelings; it doesn’t negate other feelings.  We are complex human beings and often hold seemingly contradictory feelings at the same time.

First a brush up on Greek mythology.  Remember Persephone?  She was captured and taken to Hell by the God of the underworld, Hades.  Her mother, Demeter, got pissed off and mourned and sent the earth into mourning (winter).  Zeus (the head honcho) could not allow earth to die, so he ordered Hades to return Persephone to her mother.  One little problem:  while in hell, Persephone had eaten six pomegranate seeds and there was this rule in Hell (Thanks to the Fates and all their fury) that if someone consumed anything while in hell, he or she had to stay there for eternity.  So.  Persephone has to stay in Hell for six months each year (during Winter while her mother grieves) and then gets to spend six months on earth (yeah spring and summer and flowers).  A continuous cycle of earth and hell.

So here I am (in my picture), holding out a pomegranate in a display of giving.  Holding the harvest.  Cradling fruit.  About to enjoy the seeds which sent me to hell.

Except my seeds weren’t pomegranate seeds, they were faulty DNA strands.  Little genes that aren’t what they’re supposed to be.  The result:  a heart that is continually dying.  (Hell)

For the first several months after my diagnosis and surgery for the ICD, I was thankful beyond believe.  I’d spent 8 1/2 years searching for a diagnosis and finally happened to land in a specialist’s office who knew what I had within five minutes of meeting me.  Finally, an answer.  Then, around January, it hit me.  Holy shit, my heart is dying. And then I got angry and depressed.  I can’t stop my heart from dying.  No one can.  It’s a wait-and-see game.  I have this little ICD inside me that will hopefully prevent another cardiac arrest, but they aren’t failproof.  I have two structural abnormalities in my heart that are getting worse because of the illness (ARVD) and yes, I may need a heart transplant or a valve replacement.  But no one knows.  No one can know.  There are no answers.

And I am pissed.  My whole life has changed.  I willingly chose to change when I recovered from the eating disorder.  I sure as hell did not choose this. I want my old life back.  I don’t want a metal box in my chest.  I want to drink as much caffeine as I want without worrying if my heart will freak out.  I want to walk to class as fast as I can without wondering how high I’m getting my heart rate, it it’s too high, if I’ll get to class and then get shocked by the ICD.  I want to run again.  I want to ride a rollercoaster again.  I always wanted a tattoo underneath my collarbone (I already had it picked out) but I can’t do that now because every 5-7 years for the rest of my life they will cut me back open and put a new ICD in place and they will eventually have to change locations and tattoos cut open by surgical knives don’t look too nice.  I hate this.  I hate everything about it.  Sometimes, I even wish I didn’t have an ICD, so that if I do have a cardiac arrest, I’d just “go.”  And that sentiment–the idea that maybe the life I’m leading is just prolonging the inevitable–is a sentiment no one wants to hear, let alone discuss.

“You should be happy you know what’s wrong.”  “Be thankful for the heart you have.”  “You should be thankful.”  “You should be grateful.”–these are the common cliches people quip to me.  They are not easy to hear.  Maybe nothing would be easy to hear, other than, “Lay it on me sister and bitch about the fucked up hell this is.”

But here’s the thing: I am angry and pissed off as hell.  AND I’m thankful that I know what is wrong.  I question my life BUT I’m thankful for the ICD inside my chest that allows me to live.  I am afraid of everything that is to come AND I still want to find out what is to come.

My head–my heart–are complicated places right now.  And I may question everything around me, but deep down, I’m still thankful for this heart within me.

November 13, 2010 Posted by | coping, feelings, health, heart | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

What’s Eating Me?

A few people have asked me my opinion about the new television documentary/exhibitionist/intervention type show on E–What’s Eating You?: True Stories of Food, Fear and Obsession.

I’m all for raising awareness about eating disorders.  We need programs that dispel the myths about eating disorders.  We need to get the message out there to people with eating disorders that they are not alone and that there is hope and healing.

What we do not need is a television show that gives us the highly selected dramatic moments of people who are extremely sick.  There are two very disturbing myth about eating disorders–that only the extremely noticeably sick people die from them and that unless you are extremely sick you do not need treatment.

Spend some time on almost any eating disorder forum and you will find evidence of these myths.  People who have a list symptoms and feel hopeless and lost and don’t know how to get out of the hell they’re in will say, “But I’m not sick enough yet to need treatment.”  We are primed by the media that you need to be on death’s door to get help.  We’ll watch as models get thinner and thinner and not say a word until one of them passes out.  Then they have people rush to their sides and beg them to seek treatment.

And I’ve really lost count of the times when I’ve heard or read, “But it’s not like this is to the point where I’ll die.”  Here’s the thing with eating disorders:  it’s not a predictable downward slope.  People have died from their eating disorders after only having them a year.  People have died before their doctors thought they needed more intensive care.  People have died in hospitals.  People have died immediately after discharge.  People have died years down the road.  People die every day and you can’t predict when it will happen or to whom.  Sometimes, the body gives out.  Sooner rather than later for some people.

This show features people who are at the extremes of eating disorders.  They need intensive inpatient treatment, not outpatient therapy.  They do not need their  lives broadcast on television. The people viewing the show, they see the extremes and think, “I’m not that sick, so I don’t need help.”  Or “I’m not that sick, so I don’t have an eating disorder.”  The people viewing the show do not need weights or sizes thrown at them; they do not need to see eating disorder behaviors, they do not need to hear about how these individuals got sick.  I’ve had people contact me because they’ve been so upset after seeing parts of the show.

What do we need?  We need an honest portrayal of what it’s like to live with an eating disorder that isn’t worthy of television voyeuristic drama (and let’s face it, that’s what this show is) but still puts the victim in hell on a daily basis.  We need to let people know that pain–any amount of pain–is a sign that something is wrong.  We need to let them know that if they can reach out for help when they see early warning signs, they have a better chance of surviving than if they wait to emulate the people on television.

We don’t need any more books or shows or sites telling people about the downward spiral of their eating disorders.  We need shows and sites and books about people who have recovered, who are willing to talk about the steps they took to get there, who are willing to say, “Yes, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it was worth it and you can do it, too.”

When I was still sick with the eating disorder, my eating disorder would have loved this show.  It would have “fed” off it.  I would have gotten sicker.  What I needed was someone on the other side to say, “No.  Look in this direction.  Look at life. Take my hand and I will help you get there.”

November 10, 2010 Posted by | Body Image, Eating Disorders | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

complicating the waters (cause that’s my job)

no real reason for choosing this pic. my friend and I were meeting for coffee awhile back and we saw this truck and thought it pretty neat.

Before I stir up the waters, I just have to say that I purchased my ticket to California for the Jackie Bristow Memorial 5K and I’m super excited.  I can finish this semester and go to the east coast to see my family and then go to the west coast to see my friends.  For someone who had never been west of the Mississippi until she moved to Missouri two and a half years ago, this is a hell of a lot of traveling.  And this girl is excited.

My previous post. I had some people strongly agree, some strongly disagree and some acknowledged both “sides.”  I put “sides” in quotations marks, because I wrote that entry not to establish myself in the “anti-hospitalization” camp, but to open up a dialogue about a very touchy subject: that of the Eating Disorder Inpatient Culture.  And I really do feel it has become a culture.

I am so far from the anti-hospitalization extreme, but not at the “I love the hospital” extreme.  I want to make this very clear: If you need more acute treatment, please do whatever it takes to get it.  If you are in a medically compromised position and still don’t want to get better but your treatment team is suggesting/threatening treatment: go.

Let’s reveal an ugly truth of my life: I have been hospitalized (inpatient) nineteen times, for time periods ranging from three days to three+ months.  I acknowledged in my previous post that people around me were tired of the in-and-out drama of me and hospitals.  I have admitted here and elsewhere that in the beginning of my treatment for my eating disorder, I had no intention of getting better and every intention of relapsing as soon as they let me go home.  I am not proud of this.  I am not proud of the nineteen hospitalizations, but I don’t regret them.  I am alive because other people stepped in and said, “You will die if you don’t get more help.”  The hospitalizations gave me time to decide I wanted to live.

Can I promise I will never be hospitalized again?  No.  I used to think I could promise that.  Then this previous year sucker punched me something fierce.  The depression (I’m Bipolar I) reached a low I thought I’d never see again.  My cardiac diagnosis made me question, once again, my identity, and combined with the Bipolar Depression the Cardiac/Identity/What The Fuck Do I Do Now resurrected some old coping behaviors I thought I had left behind.  I have learned a lot about myself in this past year, and I currently feel more rooted in recovery than ever before, but I have no idea what life is going to throw me further on down the line.  I hope I handle it with more grace than I did this past year, but I can’t promise that.

The decision this past year to revisit the psych ward and to get more help for the anorexia was not an easy one.  I hated that I was back in that position. I didn’t want to be back in that (literal and figurative) place. I was ashamed and embarrassed.  And I know I “shouldn’t” have been, but let’s face it, we feel a lot of things we “shouldn’t.”  Now I can say I am proud of taking action.

When I came back to my apartment, the real world was still there.  Waiting for me.  It will always be there.  There is no running away from it.  The only roads leading away from the Real World are roads of self-annihilation.  My previous post was more about this concern: Hospitals have become, for a growing number of people, a way of escaping the real world and a way of postponing the ultimate question that has to be asked and answered in recovery from an eating disorder.  Who am I apart from the eating disorder?

A hospital will not answer that question for you.  It can, if you are willing, help give you the strength to find the answers for yourself.  A hospital can, if you are willing, provide you with tools to help you cope with the real world.  Treatment can, if you are willing, support you in this journey.  But the journey is, in the end, yours.

The journey is not one that comes easy.  It’s not a day hike.  It’s not even a weekend backpacking trip.  It’s a trek up a mountain that doesn’t have any pre-made, convenient trails.  It takes time and there will be risks and there will be bears to frighten you along the way.  But the view at the top of the mountain, the person you find waiting for you, is worth all of the sweat and the tears.

November 6, 2010 Posted by | coping, depression, Eating Disorders, identity, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments