Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

What Friends Do: An Open Letter

Dear Friend Who is Hurting,

I received a comment letting me know that my advice and suggestions were unwanted, with a comment that you need to figure things out on your own.  I’m sorry, but I cannot follow through with that request, not if you are one of my friends.

I hate to see you suffering and in pain.  And unlike cancer or diabetes or a traumatic brain injury, all of which I know nothing about and could only offer the advice of “go to a doctor”, I do know what it is like to suffer the way you are.  And I also know that there is a way to avoid such suffering and pain.

You may want to “figure things out on your own” and if this were a case of finding the right boyfriend or figuring out which outfit to wear or which new technology to buy or how many classes to take in one semester, I would let you make your own decisions and learn from those decisions.  But what is happening now is so much more and comes at a higher price.

See, we’re talking about life and death here, not credit hours or tech toys.  The decisions you are making now impact your health and well-being and, ultimately, your life.  Oh, I know, I sound dramatic.  But remember that I am speaking from the point of view of someone who has lost over ten people to various forms of these illnesses and addiction.  Ten people I called “friend.”  Ten people whom I enjoyed spending time with and laughing with and drinking coffee and tea with.  Ten people who didn’t think they would die.

I know you think “that can’t happen to me” and “what I’m doing is far from being considered dangerous” but I beg to differ.  These illnesses don’t care how long you’ve suffered and they don’t care about the severity of the illness.  I’ve known girls who have died without meeting the “diagnostic criteria” as stated in that *wonderful* DSM guide.  And I’ve known girls and boys who have died within months of starting down this treacherous path as well as those who have struggled for years.

You  may even say “I’m not struggling at all” but your actions tell me otherwise, and other people have come to me wondering how they can help or intervene.  Your actions tell me that you are already obsessed to the point of denying your body the care and rest and love that it needs.  Your actions tell me that you are at war with your body and this war has been increasing lately, not decreasing as you initially promised it would when you “reached a certain point.”  And I’m scared that this war you’ve declared on your body is just going to keep increasing until your body has no choice but to break down.

There’s a reason I can see these patterns in you.  Looking at you is like looking in a mirror of my past.  And that scares me, because multiple doctors have told me there is no reason I should be alive today.  And I don’t’ want you to follow that same path and reach a different outcome.  If there were some way to make you see the potentialities and convince you that the earlier you stop this war against yourself, the easier recovery will be and the shorter it will be.  But right now, all I can see is where you’re headed if you don’t change: the minor obsession you now have will slowly take over your whole life and other things will fall by the wayside and become unimportant; friends will watch helplessly, and some friends will not be able to watch and will leave; your dreams that you are working so hard to make happen, will slip through your fingers.

I could very easily do what you wanted and not say anything; I could “mind my own business.”  But one thing you may not be aware of it how much your actions are affecting those around you.  Friends feel helpless and confused and frustrated and scared and anxious and they are experiencing a pain of their own–the pain of watching someone they care deeply for hurt themselves.  You do not exist in a bubble; your actions and choices affect those around you.

Again, I speak from experience.  In the beginning, I did not know how much my behaviors affected those around me.  I thought that it was “my life” and “my issues” and shouldn’t affect anyone else. But then, my friends got tired–not just ‘frustrated tired’ but also physically and emotionally tired from trying to help and constantly being pushed away.  I couldn’t see the pain my friends were in because they felt so helpless–all because I put up defensive walls and kept up convenient excuses of denial.

I am thankful for the friends who stuck by me through all of this.  The friends who never stopped speaking the truth to me, even if I didn’t want to hear it.  I am thankful for all the times someone took me by the shoulders–sometimes literally–and said, “Stop this!  You are hurting yourself!”  I am glad that I had friends willing to put our friendship on the line and tell me how much my actions–the actions I thought were mine and mine alone–were hurting those around me.  I am alive today because of them, and I am healthy and, most of the time, happy.

I know that you are in pain, great pain.  Please know that there are ways out of this pain, and that these ways do not involve hurting your body.  There is a path to love and acceptance and, ultimately, freedom.

As your friend, my job is not to stand idly by and watch as you self-destruct–and it is a path of self-destruction, and I can counter all of your “logical” arguments with proof and experience.  My job is to help you find the path of freedom, to help you find a way out of your pain.  I will do anything I can to help you on that path, but do not expect me to silently watch as you continue the path you are on.  That is not what friends are here for.

 

Sincerely,

A very concerned and worried friend.

 

August 27, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

war on “I hate my body”

I have a group of friends on Facebook who are struggling with an eating disorder.  These individuals range from just starting to consider recovery as an option to fully recovered.  So, I’m used to seeing the “I hate my body!!!!!!!!” status update–number of exclamation points varies ;-).

But I’m seeing this phrase and similar phrases in a whole bunch of people that have never struggled with an eating disorder.  In a way, seeing this comment from someone who does not have an eating disorder concerns me more. Quite often, this isn’t expressed is such blatant terms–but there are the individuals who post seven status updates a day about how much exercise they’ve done, the status updates about what the individual chose not to eat, the status updates celebrating weight loss, the status updates expressing disappointment in not losing “enough” . . . . and I could go on.

What worries me even more is that this is now acceptable in our society.  Gyms encourage this type of thinking with classes like Body War and Body Combat, instilling the idea that your body is something that you have to fight against rather than fight for.

What this creates is an atmosphere of discontentment, dissatisfaction, and downright hatred for one’s body.  And, perhaps if we all existed in little bubbles, this wouldn’t be such a problem.  But we don’t.  We live in a community.  And the more people read updates about body hate and the more people overhear conversations where the people are talking about how much they exercised and the more people talk about what they aren’t allowing themselves to eat, the more this will become the norm.  And again, perhaps if this only affected adults who can think for themselves and make their own decisions based on experience, logic, and outside resources, this would be “okay.”

But what about our youth?  I was walking in the mall the other day and heard (what looked to be) two junior high aged girls talking while shopping for clothes.  “God, I just hate my legs.  I really need to exercise more.”  Junior high and they are already fully fluent in the body hate lingo.  There is  no escaping this language.

What can we do to help this situation?  What can we do to provide a counter for those junior high girls so they can learn that they do not have to grow up hating their bodies?  What are simple, yet effective, strategies to encourage others?

I’d like to hear some suggestions and will then follow up with another post.

August 26, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

thin does not equal happy

We live in a diet-obsessed world, where if you mention you are on a diet, you are likely to be met with “good for you!” comments.  Not comments that express concern about your overall health and happiness, neither of which tend to last very long with obsessive dieting.

And now we have a new kids book, Maggie Goes On A Diet.  Unfortunately, it is not a spoof  or a joke, but an actual children’s title.  There are already a plethora of books out there about children and weightloss (a disturbing number of them include the word “fat” in the title), and a couple books about eating healthy for “weight management.”  But now we have reduced the obsession with size to a 4 to 8-year-old’s reading level and logic.

In the book, Maggie loses weight.  And then she is popular, athletic, and happy.  The cover shows her looking in a mirror, holding a dress half the size of her own body, and seeing a reflection of a happy, thin girl.

The basic problem is thin does not equal happy.  The media would like us to believe otherwise, but we just need to look at the number of hospital units for eating disorders to see that this equation is false. And on a purely personal note, the happiest–and healthiest–people I know are not what our media would term “thin.”

And somehow I can’t picture a happy “maggie” if she’s on a diet.  The people I know who are on diets tend to be the unhappy people in my life.  Children are generally happy when they’re allowed to be children, and they need proper nutrition in order to be happy children.  Their bodies physically can’t sustain the emotion of happiness when on a diet and when living a lifestyle obsessed with a superficial goal.

Yes.  We currently have a problem in the United States.  While there are still children starving and living in poverty, there are an increasing number of children whose weights are pre-diabetic and put them at a greater risk for heart problems. However, there is a difference between eating overall healthy meals and getting adequate physical activity–as well as looking at genetic risk factors–and dieting.

Children also have different rates of growth and development.  Their metabolism changes frequently as they grow.  They go through growth spurts.  Some people gain weight before they gain inches.  But this book encourages children and adults to believe there is one acceptable way to mature, and that way is by being thin.

Perhaps we need books where children of various body types are shown to be happy, with these same children pursuing activities that increase self-esteem and confidence.  Perhaps we need to stop the equation of “thin equals happy” rather than encouraging it.  Perhaps children need to learn self-acceptance and self-love rather than learning about self-denial and dangerous lifestyles that pose more health problems than not fitting into a tiny pink dress.  Maybe it’s time to throw that little pink dress in the trash and tell Maggie she’s smart and talented instead.

 

August 18, 2011 Posted by | Eating Disorders | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Status updates and the community

Today I was browsing my newsfeed on Facebook and I came across a status update in which, instead of mentioning she was having problems with self-harm urges, she let her friends know the specifics of where and how she cut.  I’ve noticed this sad trend lately–the status updates that detail the specifics, i.e. how and where someone cut, how much weight someone has lost, how many times they’ve purged in the past day.

Apparently, it is now fashionable to trigger the hell out of other people with status updates as well as photographs.

It’s not me I’m worried about.  I get annoyed at these posts, but I am not triggered.  But I’ve been in really solid recovery for over three years and started working for recovery over five years ago.  A status update from someone I hardly know isn’t going to change that.  I am worried about the people on Facebook who aren’t yet in recovery or who are new to recovery.

Sure, you can unfriend people.  But that will only prevent future instances of being triggered.  It does nothing to help the current situation or feeling.

And you can “justify” the status updates by saying they are a cry for help or a way of getting support, but why in crying out for help do you want to jeopardize the welfare of others?  Because that’s exactly what is happening.  Being so casual about the specifics of these illnesses is only causing harm to this community.  And it is a community.  Facebook itself is one big community, and then within that community is the eating disordered community.  You can break down the eating disorder community into smaller communities: recovered, questioning recovery, just beginning recovery, ambivalent, pro-ana.  It would be one thing if we could select our community and then be protected from the invasion of other, less-healthy communities, but we can’t.  You can unfriend and block people, but that newsfeed still tells you what your friends are doing and what friends of friends are doing and in this way, we see things that we wouldn’t normally choose to see.  So if you are new to recovery and are trying to surround yourself with supportive people and then you see that your friend is also friends with “forever ana” and suddenly you see a pro-ana image and message on your newsfeed.  The only way to truly block these messages and images is to leave Facebook altogether.

Being part of a community means considering the welfare of the general community.  Think about what you are writing when you post a status update or leave a comment on someone’s wall.  Think about how it’s being perceived by others.  If you feel the need to give specifics beyond “I’m having a really shitty day” or “things aren’t going very well right now” think about how those specifics are affecting others.  I don’t need to know that you lost X pounds or that you needed X stitches to know that you are in pain and hurting.

I’m afraid this trend of specificity is going to turn into a competition.  I’m also afraid that someone who is considering seeking help might read one of these status updates and think, “I’m not as sick as she is, why am I asking for help?”  When turned into a competition, these illnesses are even more deadly than they already are, and anything that makes someone question whether they are worthy of treatment is hurting the community as a whole.

You may think this is a pointless post.  After all, what can you actually do to stop status updates like this?  But I’m hoping that maybe one person reads this and changes his or her status update.  Then maybe one of his or her friends will notice and that person might change his or her status update.  This is my naive and hopeful mind insisting that change is possible, however small that change may be.

August 13, 2011 Posted by | Body Image, Eating Disorders, relationships, self harm | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Loving My Body” saved my life

I was going to stay out of the fray regarding Jess Weiner’s Glamour article.  The now infamous “Loving my body almost killed me” article.  Too many people have questioned my silence, asking if I was in agreement with Jess Weiner.

There’s a lot to say about that article; “agreement” is not one of the words that come to mind.  “Confusion” is, so bear with me for this entry as my thoughts strive for some type of order as I type.

Let me start off by saying that I know what it’s like to get medical tests result back that say “there is the potential for future harm here.”  I’ve gotten those same results back.  And yes, they did warn me that my heart could be in (more) future danger if I didn’t change my lifestyle a little in order to change those numbers. And yes, I did change some things in my life.  My heart’s rather important to me, and seeing as how there is so much I can’t do to stop future harm, I will do whatever I can do to help it.

So if Jess Weiner was focusing on those numbers for the entirety of her article, I suppose I would be more empathetic.  Instead, she is choosing to focus on her weight.  But here’s the problem: those numbers are not dependent on weight.  If they were, my numbers would never have been off.  If they were, my doctors wouldn’t be asking about my parents’ numbers or my brother’s.

Aside from that is the confusion–no, not confusion but the downright fear and worry I feel at the title of the article and the content and what these are going to do to the eating disorder community.

If I were still sick, caught up in the throes of the eating disorder, and saw that title, I’d feel a freedom to go ahead and continue destroying my body, all with the perverted logic that I’d be healthier my way, “because, see, even Jess Weiner admits that she weighed too much and so all I’m doing is trying to prevent that.”  I would have felt a freedom to continue hating my body, and I would have scoffed at someone who told me I needed to appreciate my body, let alone love it.

But here’s my real problem with the article: her focus on numbers.  Not the numbers from the medical tests, but her weights.  We know how much she’s lost and how much she’s disappointed with that number, even though the medical tests all came back in normal range.  If this were solely about health and medical tests, her focus would be on those numbers and she would have been happy that she was out of the danger zone.  But we know she wants to lose more, that she won’t be happy until she’s lost a certain amount of weight.  And she’s specific with those weights.  Knowing that she’s speaking, in part, to the same community she was speaking to before–a community that she was trying to convince not to focus on numbers in terms of weight and size.  A community that looked to her as a role model.

Here’s what I would like to say to Jess:  There is no magic number at which happiness occurs.  You can lose those thirty pounds, but they won’t determine your happiness.  You run the risk of finding out that thirty pounds wasn’t enough.  That you need to lose more and then you’ll be happy.  Except you won’t be happy when you get to that weight either.  And then you’ll want to lose more.  And you’ll start a cycle of forever dropping that magic number, thinking happiness will descend upon you if you reach that number.  The very cycle you were trying to prevent people from starting. The very cycle that can, unlike “loving your body”, kill you.

Here’s what I would like to say to people who are tempted to let go of recovery because they read this article:  If I hadn’t learned to love my body, I would not be alive right now.  It was the hatred I felt for my body that drove me to jump into the cycle of “lose more weight and then I’ll be happy” thinking.  It was that cycle that almost took my life.  My heart, my physical heart, was not strong enough to withstand that cycle.  It took numerous ER and ambulance trips and a week on a cardiac unit for me to finally learn and accept that if I didn’t start caring for my body, I would become another statistic.  Another loss.

My physical heart demands the care of my metaphorical heart.  There are days when I still wish I had an escape from the difficulties life will, inevitably, throw your way.  But there is not a day that goes by when I’m not thankful for all I have gained in recovery.  The difficulties are still there, but they’d be there no matter what my weight is.  Except now that I’m healthy, I can actually handle those difficulties.  Sometimes with more grace than others, but I can handle them.  And now that I am recovered, I can also enjoy the blessings that life throws my way, something I couldn’t do while I was sick.  Something I fear Jess Weiner has lost in her decision to focus on weight.  Something I hope she is able to find again.

 

August 11, 2011 Posted by | Body Image, coping, Eating Disorders, health, heart, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

a jigsaw puzzle of a heart

The actual human heart has four chambers, all fitting together nicely and coordinating their contractions to result in blood and oxygen being pumped throughout the body,  maintaining life.  While there are serious problems that can go wrong with the heart (as in my case), medical science and technology has come a long way in being able to fix a significant number of these problems.

The figurative heart isn’t so lucky.  There is no science, no technology to take the pieces of a broken heart and sew them back into their proper place.  No medication to take that corrects the problem.

The heart breaks.  Even while the physical heart may be beating along in it’s reliable pattern, the heart of the soul can shatter into fragments, sometimes making the physical heart ache in response.

Recently, I experience something, the specifics of which I will keep to myself, that has resulted in the sensation of me being shattered.  I feel like if I had a special pair of glasses (I watch too many episodes of “Bones”), I could look around and there on the floor I would find shadows, parts of me that have broken off and are now just scattered pieces with jagged edges.  Waiting to be put back together.  Waiting for someone with a good eye to come along and look closely and say, “Yup, this edge matches that piece over there.  Let’s get you joined back together.”  And then someone would be standing ready with a needle and thread to stitch the two pieces together.  And this would continue until I was whole again.  And then everything would be better.

But it doesn’t work like that.  No one can see those broken shadows but me, no matter what type of special glasses they wear.  Those shadows are all mine, and it is my responsibility to take the pieces and put them back together again.  No one can do that for me.  People can support me and encourage me, but those pieces are mine, and only I know how they fit together.

I find that I’m stuck, however.  I feel as if I am picking up each individual piece and saying to it, “Yes, I know you.  I feel you.  I need you.  But I don’t know how to fix you.”

I’ve experienced this before, and I know time has a lot to do with it, and this specific instance has only been a matter of a couple of days.  Journaling helps me.  Writing in general helps me.  The peace found in knitting helps, as if making something beautiful from a string of yarn is the equivalent of making something beautiful of the shadows on the floor.

I also know I’m not the only one who feels broken at times.  I know that in the throes of an eating disorder, one often feels broken or somehow not quite whole.  I’m here to tell you today that you are not alone in this, but we often keep the broken parts of ourselves hidden and silent because that is what society wants: the new and shiny and whole.

So my questions for my readers today is this:  What do you do to help yourself when you feel broken?  What helps you feel whole again?

I am hoping that people comment, that we can all help each other and support each other.

August 4, 2011 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Body Image, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, heart, identity | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment