Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Slow Progress is still Progress

Om Namah Shivayah

Om Namah Shivayah

I’ve posted this picture before.  Om Namah Shivayah.  I respect the divinity within me.  I got this tattoo when I knew I would never ever go back to the eating disorder.

The previous 16 months have been 16 of the most difficult months I’ve lived.   Sorry for any repeated info:  the depressive cycle I was in was the most severe and the longest I have ever had, and I had actually scheduled out all the details of my suicide attempt in my weekly planner.  I moved from Missouri to New York to live with my parents–at 37 years of age.  Although the depression began improving, my physical body was being hit from wrecking balls on all sides, and no one could figure out what the hell was going on.  I am not able to work a “real” job with regular hours.  I certainly could not handle a full teaching load right now.

I had thought things would be different.  I’d move to NY, get better, apply for jobs, and be looking forward to a new teaching position for the fall semester.

I get frustrated with “where I am at” quite often.  I’m almost 38; I hadn’t planned on needing to live with my parents at this age.  I am not working, aka contributing to society.  I am a track and field official, which is a “real job” but it’s so far from where I wanted to be at this stage of life.

But I was reminded by a friend yesterday that, compared to ten years ago, none of this would have been possible.  I was sick with the eating disorder and the bipolar disorder was not controlled.  I wasn’t ready to start the PhD program I had dreamed about attending, but I went anyway–and then had to withdraw two years after I started.  One year ago, I pulled out of teaching–and I only had one class.  In May of 2014, I lived in a psych hospital.  Last summer, I slept more than I was awake.  This past fall found me fatigued and sore and in pain and going through medical tests almost every week.  In January, I wouldn’t have been able to officiate, but now I can do four meets in four days (with a lot of sleeping in the following mornings–but I can still officiate).  I am looking to see if any area colleges need a professor to teach one section of Freshmen Comp.

So no.  This is not my dream.  In fact, I am no longer sure if I will be able to ever meet that dream.  But right now, in this moment, I have much to be thankful for in terms of how far I have come compared to 16 months ago.  I am healing.  Maybe not as fast as I would have wanted, but I am healing.  And as another friend told me, “Slow progress is still progress.”

April 27, 2015 Posted by | 1, addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, guilt, health, mindfulness, progress, recovery, relationships, self harm, suicide | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

One Person

(Trigger warning:  documentary includes numbers and photos of individual at low weight.)

A couple of months ago, I had the honor of working with a talented group of high schoolers on a documentary they were filming for a contest.  There were all sorts of rules about content and how things had to be filmed and what could and couldn’t be done.  They made sure they followed the rules of the contest; I just answered their questions.  They chose the general topic of eating disorders, narrowing in on the concept of balance.

I do not agree with their decision to include certain pictures or numbers, but I more than agree with their decision to tackle a difficult, and often ignored, subject with honesty.  I imagine there must have been easier subjects to consider, less emotional or controversial subjects.  But this group of high school students stepped away from the easy and stepped up to the challenge by speaking out.

I did not have the opportunity to meet the other individual interviewed, but she deserves major kudos for speaking out so openly so early into her recovery.  I was relieved to hear she had the support of the student body rather than their scorn, as I know still happens entirely too often.  Adolescence can be difficult when everything goes smoothly.  Throw in some struggle in the tense environment of a high school (or junior high, or college, or work environment) and sometimes (often) individuals find that it is easier to be sick than to seek help.

We need to learn some lessons from these students.

Admitting an illness is not a weakness.  Seeking treatment is not something to hide.  Admitting an illness take a great deal of courage and strength, and the willingness to seek treatment and work toward recovery is something to be proud of.  Not many are able to step up to this terrifying challenge.

In order to step up to this terrifying challenge, support is essential.  Family and friends and coworkers: we should look up to individuals who are willing to take a step toward recovery, not laugh at them or see them as weak.  They are facing their demons.  Are you doing the same in your daily lives?

Those of us who have begun recovery or recovered or want to recover: we need to speak up when we are ready, and in our own individual ways, always aiming to take care of our own needs.  Not every individual needs to or should step in front of a camera and tell his or her story.  Stories contain memories that may be difficult to share.  Not everyone needs to or should write a blog about their recovery.  Speaking up does not necessarily mean publicity.  It may mean an anonymous post on a blog or board that encourages or affirms someone else.  It may mean choosing to post of picture featuring a genuine smile that couldn’t be seen while you were sick.  It may mean donating to a scholarship fund.  It may mean letting one other person know that recovery is possible and that he or she is worth it.  It may mean sharing links about eating disorder education or treatment.  It may mean refusing to laugh at fat jokes and fat shaming.  It may mean leaving a social group that does not allow you to seek out health.  It may mean quietly loving yourself and silently doing what you need to do for you. It may mean confronting someone who is also struggling, planting the seed of hope and change.

We are not all called to change the world and win Nobel Prizes.

We are all called to change our own world for the better, however we can.

One person telling another person.  Who will then tell someone else.

Just imagine what one word of support could do. How much could change. How many possibilities become more than just possibilities.

April 25, 2015 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, depression, Eating Disorders, Mental Health Parity, recovery, relationships, shame | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Far You Jump

I miss the feeling of sand in my mouth!

I miss the feeling of sand in my mouth!

A lot of you will know that I really do miss the feeling of sand in my mouth.  Along with the thrill of competition and the endorphin rush of exercise and the camaraderie of my teammates.  I miss the training, the weights, the intervals, the stretching, the ice packs, the athletic trainers.  All of it.  It used to be my life.  I haven’t competed since college.  I haven’t been an over-exercise-obsessive-compulsive-must-run-for-hours-a-day person since I was earning my MFA in Washington, DC.  And I haven’t been able to do any aerobic exercise since July, 2009, due to a cardiac illness.

One thing I do not miss:  the perfectionist drive that made me feel guilty if I didn’t set a new PR at every single meet, regardless of the weather conditions or an injury or the time of the season.  I always had to do my best.

A few days ago, while officiating a junior high track  meet, I worked the Long and Triple Jump.  I had my first athlete start crying on me.  (I really hope this doesn’t happen often!)  She was a 7th grader.  This was her very first meet ever. Because of the snow up here, pits have only been open for about a week, so this was her first week of even learning how to long and triple jump.  She fouled her first jump.  Shook it off, but looked worried.  She fouled her second jump.  Then her shoulders dropped and she hung her head and tried to hide the tears streaming down her face.

I wanted to take her aside and really talk with her and reassure her and look her in the eyes and tell her that everything would be okay, regardless of her performance in the meet.  But with 30 junior high girls in the event, it was a little chaotic, so I didn’t have much time with her at all.

These were the gist of my words of wisdom:  “You still have another jump.  Even if you foul, it’s okay.  We’ve all fouled out at meets before.  Your coach was not expecting you to break any world records today. It’s your first meet, and he wanted you to run down the runway three times and land in the pit and have fun while doing it. Take a breather before you jump again.  Maybe move your mark back a good two feet to be on the safe side, and then run down the runway and pretend I’m not here and have fun.” 

I remember being disappointed in my performance as a seventh grader.  That feeling of not being good enough.  The pressure of that last attempt, feeling that if I fouled out, the world would end and everyone would think less of me.  At that point, I had yet to break records and win invitationals and regionals and compete at the state level.  I was in 7th grade.  Putting more pressure on myself than most professional athletes.  I wish someone had spoken those words to me when I was in seventh grade.  I finally heard them when I was a collegiate athlete, and my all-too-awesome coach began teaching me that yes, my goal was to place at Nationals, but if I didn’t, that would be great, too.  What was more important was having fun while competing and trying to do the best I could do on that particular day.

I wanted to tell this 7th grader that all of the pressure she felt?  It’s not worth it.  Competition and Track and Field are not worth it if you always end up feeling like you could have done better.  How far you long jump does not determine your worth.  How far you jump defines nothing other than muscle strength and speed and technique and, sometimes, luck.  How far you jump will not determine who you are.  The passion behind jumping might be part of who you are, but that doesn’t depend on how far you jump.  How you hold yourself after competition reflects more about who you are than the competition itself.

We as a society have come to stress performance, especially athletic performance, and the importance of placing well (winning).  In my case, I cared about performance so much that I lost track of everything else that made me me.  And when an injury ended my ‘national career,’ I had no idea who I was or how to find out.  I figured that without Track and Field Star attached to my name, I wasn’t worth anything.

I now know what makes up this body and soul the world calls Alexis.  But I wish it hadn’t taken thirty years to do so.  I wish I had left for college knowing I could do something other than long and triple jump.  And I wish I had known then that “Who I Am” is not a static self made from concrete, that I am constantly changing and growing and learning.

I now know there is far more to me than my track and field records.  I only wish I knew how to tell all of that to a 7th grader in the span of thirty seconds.

obsessive

April 19, 2015 Posted by | bipolar disorder, depression, Eating Disorders, heart, identity, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Respect and Self-Care in a World of Haunting Triggers

I have a sensitive “guilt trigger”–kind of like my sensitive startle response.  If someone wants (consciously or unconsciously) to lay a load of guilt on me, it’s really not all that difficult.  Hell, even if they don’t want to make me feel guilty, chances are I can still muster up my own guilt.

At least I know this about myself now.  So although I will often feel initial twinges of guilt for no significant reason, I am able to reign them in and realize no one meant anything by it and my head likes to twist things around.

I also now know that while sick with the anorexia and self-harm, I was once a very skilled guilt-tripper myself, and I could lay it on thick, both intentionally and just out of habit.  It is not a part of my past that I am proud of, but I have accepted it and, hopefully, keep things in check.

There seems to be this idea that because I was once an avid guilt-tripper, I can empathize and sympathize and understand where the other person is coming from–and let it slide, thereby accepting the guilt and giving the other person a free play.

Recovery has taught me many things.  One is that I do not have the right to blame everyone around me.  The second item is that I no longer have to leave myself open to guilt trips or sensitive situations that make me uncomfortable or that trigger difficult thoughts or emotions.

I am now recovering from a depressive episode that spanned over two years and was more severe than any other depressive cycle I’ve had.  Compared to a year ago, I’m doing phenomenally well, but I am not 100% yet.  Compounded with some physical issues, certain topics of conversation can be upsetting, causing my head to spin off into places I wish didn’t exist.

Yes, I am handling those situations better.  I rarely follow through on troubling thoughts.  But that does not mean I have to intentionally place myself in those situations.  In fact, learning to not put myself in those situations has been one of the hardest lessons I’m learning.  I know a significant number of people do not understand this, and I do my best to offer an explanations, but sometimes words just don’t transport meaning all that well.

And I am trying very hard not to allow people to make me feel guilty when my needs conflict with their needs.  It has meant seeming distant to some people.  It has meant turning down certain invitations.  It has meant saying, “No; I do not feel comfortable talking about that right now.”  This from the girl who never used to have needs and would listen to and be there for everyone around her, regardless of the emotional consequences.

I cannot be everyone’s hero, no matter how hard I try or how many times I’ve been there in the past.

Right now in this very moment, my job is to make sure I continue my journey to health and well-being.

We all have limits, and we need to respect them.

April 14, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment