Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Inspirational Photos

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Call them what you will–before and after shots, inspirational photos, self-promotion–I am not all that pleased with the combination of photography and eating disorders, which has been a problem on social media for years.

For obvious reasons, I’m not a fan of selfies that depict bones and angles and dark circles under the eyes–be it to glorify the illness or to say, “Look at me. I’m so sick and miserable.”  I am not in favor of the Go Fund Me sites that use these pictures to encourage others to donate money so the individual can get treatment.  Selfie-videos?  Maybe in another post.

The other day I saw someone post a link to a site with before and after shots proving recovery from an eating disorder is possible.  The before shot was invariably an extremely thin individual who is sad, and the after shot is the same individual after gaining weight, with a smile on his/her face.  Which is just so like real life . . . I mean I was glowing with happiness during the initial stages of recovery, which for me meant weight recovery and maintenance.

What do these pictures show?  They show that an eating disorder is about weight, and nothing more.  Are you life-threateningly thin?  Then you have an eating disorder.  Gain weight and you’ll be happy again.  It’s really that simple.  (NOT)  These pictures promote the stereotype that eating disorder=anorexia and anorexia=thin.

This is not motivational or inspirational.  It’s downright harmful.  Yes, some individuals with eating disorders are underweight. But not all are.  Some are at a supposedly healthy weight.  Some are overweight.  You can’t tell just by looking at someone whether or not they have an eating disorder.

And if recovery was a simple equation of weight restoration=happiness, then why did my eating disorder continue for years after my initial hospitalization in 1999, when I did restore weight?  I can guarantee you that I was not smiling after that hospitalization.

For me, due to the nature of the eating disorder I struggled with, weight restoration was an important first step in recovery.  But looking back, it was only just that–a first step.  The difficult and terrifying work would come later, after I was physically healthy enough to endure intensive therapy.  And I wasn’t smiling during that process either, by the way.

Recovery was the hardest thing I have ever had to go through.  Now?  Yes, I am smiling.  I can look at my body with love and awe–not because of my weight, however, but because I realize this body allows me to go for walks every day and do yoga and write and teach and officiate and go out with friends and live fully.

Please, don’t pass on those images of inspiration.  Think of where you were at your sickest.  Would you have taken inspiration from the after shots or the before shots?  Would you have felt glad for the person in recovery or would you have been jealous of the person in the before shot?

Share the stories of those who have recovered, from all types of eating disorders.  Share stories that focus on the internal process of recovery and the joy in living freely.

June 27, 2015 Posted by | Body Image, Eating Disorders, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The light and dark sides of social media

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Here are a couple characteristics I claim that I believe many of you will be able to relate to:

1. I feel guilt very easily, even if there’s no reason for it.

2. I have a difficult time saying no.

3. I would much rather take care of someone else than take care of myself.  In fact, I often feel like I have to take care of other people and that my own needs/desires are minimal in comparison.

These may seem like admirable traits.  Putting others first is usually seen as a good characteristic.  But some of us have a tendency to take things to an extreme level.  Generally, if you put someone’s needs before your own, you still get around to taking care of your own needs.  Problems start happening when all you do is take care of others and ignore/pretend you don’t have your own needs.

One of the biggest things I have learned in recovery is that I have needs and that I have to take care of them, even if that means I don’t take care of someone else.

Early in my recovery, I was lucky.  I found a 100% pro-recovery website–one of the early bulletin boards type of site.  I felt safe there, and I felt supported.  Even though some of us were still struggling, there was still a focus on recovery.  We encouraged each other to push forward after a slip or relapse.  We supported those seeking treatment.  And there were people on the site who had recovered and gave others hope.

An acquaintance on facebook recently posted that she had received some negative comments about her journey towards recovery, hinting that she really should have just “done it” by now and that it’s her own fault she’s still struggling.  My advice to her was to unfriend anyone who wasn’t fully supportive of her efforts, to block them if need be.  I even suggested that she go through her friend list and delete people who may not be working towards recovery–those who glorify their illness or size or post pictures meant to “show off” their illness.  Even people who may do these things without any ill intentions or awareness of their actions.  I suggested she surround herself with people who support her and encourage her.

This can be a difficult road to follow.  Several months ago, I realized that although I was beginning to shed most of the recent depressive episode, I’d find myself feeling worse by interacting with some others–both online and offline.  I took a look at my own updates and noticed I wasn’t helping myself either.  It’s a good thing to be honest about your feelings when things are crappy, and to let others know you need support.  But I was ignoring everything else in my life, focusing on the negative.  I noticed that a great deal of posts in my newsfeed were also negative.  So I made some difficult decisions.  I unfriended the people who–unintentionally–were dragging me down.  I had to stop seeing some people in my day-to-day life as well.  I tried to let them know that I needed all my energy to focus on myself in order to heal.

Of course, I felt guilty as hell for doing so.  I still do at times.  It’s not like I don’t understand their actions.  I mean, there was a long period in my life when I was the person holding people down, and I didn’t know it, and I was hurt when they “left” me.  So shouldn’t I stick by the people I “get?”  No.  I needed to get stronger first–or else I wouldn’t be helping them or myself.

I am still recovering from this depressive episode, but I have made immense progress in the previous few months.  I’ve had to really focus on my needs.  I am “coming out of the shell,” I suppose, and I’m starting to insert myself into more social activities, but I still need to respect my limits.

I have found great support online and in real life.  I have also encountered a lot of obstacles in each world.  I encourage each of you to pay attention to all your relationships and consider what you need to do to keep yourself healthy.

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June 23, 2015 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, depression, Eating Disorders, guilt, recovery, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

yet another post about taking care of you

Take-care-of-youI haven’t been around much (again).  I’ve hardly been online and my email and facebook were neglected.  I didn’t socialize.  I didn’t even write letters.  (I communicate my deepest thoughts through snail mail because I’m old.) These previous three weeks have been rough on my family.  My grandfather on my father’s side passed away, and I spent the majority of my time at the hospital and nursing home, and then we had calling hours and the service.  He lived a long life (he was 93) and I am at peace with the conclusion, although I will miss him.

I was kind of worried at the beginning of this period.  Even before the eating disorder had hints of starting, my tendency is to take care of others before considering my own needs and desires.  I spent a lot of time with my grandfather’s wife, making sure she was getting up to walk around and getting sleep and eating.  In the back of my mind, I do admit that I wondered if I would need someone to remind me to do those same things.

My journey of recovery has been full of ups and downs, but after this past month, I must say I am proud of how much I have changed.  Taking care of me–it came naturally.  I knew my limits and, even after thinking “But I should do this,” I would speak up and take care of myself–be it through a trip to the cafeteria or going home to sleep.

Yoga probably contributed to this more than any other therapy.  After I decided to fully recover, I took one full year off of all exercise–including yoga–to break my cycle of exercise addiction.  After that year, I began a new relationship with yoga.  No longer did I step on my mat with the intention of gaining muscle and flexibility.  My intention instead was to listen to my body.  What did each pose feel like?  How did my body respond?  What exact muscle was affected?  Did I like this pose?  Did this pose feel good on the inside?  How was I affected emotionally?

Through yoga, I learned my body.  Not just its lines and curves and thickness, but I learned how to feel–and how to respond appropriately.  I learned how to respect my body for what it could do for me.  I learned that my body has limits, and I need to respect those limits.

I found out that I don’t need someone to take care of me (although having my mom make me dinner is always a beautiful thing!).  My body will tell me to take care of me.  By paying attention to my body, I felt hunger and sleepiness and sadness and stress and joy and love.  And I reacted with love for myself.

I have absolutely no doubt that if I had not taken care of myself, I wouldn’t have been able to help my father and uncles and my grandfather’s wife through all of this.  I would not have been a help, but a hindrance.  It was not selfish to say, “I need to go home for the night.”  It was necessary in order to help again the next day.

Other people need you in their lives.  But in order to be there in their lives, you need to take care of yourself.

June 12, 2015 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, death, depression, family, feelings, mindfulness, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment