Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Regardless of gender, color, size, age . . .

 

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Recently, Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act into law which will, among other things, require insurance companies to stop refusing payments for residential care, thus finally giving eating disorder patients access to adequate treatment.  The Miami Herald ran an op-ed discussing this new law, which originated with the Anna Westin Act.  The senators also discuss what was left out of the law–measures that would affect how images are photoshopped.  Regarding how these images affect those with eating disorders, they state, “Dissatisfaction with their own bodies based on unrealistic and unattainable physical standards promoted by these significantly digitally-altered images can develop into dangerous medical conditions including depression, anxiety, and eating disorders, costing both families and taxpayers dearly.”

I agree wholeheartedly with everything stated with this op-ed, and I realize digitally altered photos are the main point of discussion.   However, the editors of the newspaper unfortunately contributed to existing stereotypes with their choice of a cartoon illustration depicting a very thin female with a huge shadow.  But why would the editors have chosen anything different considering our leading eating disorder organizations and treatment centers–regardless of the age and sex of the patients they accept–offer the same images over and over in their publications:  a thin female staring forlornly into a mirror or out the window.  Of course, she is almost always a she.  And she’s usually a white, older teenager, often with long straight hair.  We don’t see a rebellious teenager with spiked, dyed hair, with piercings and tattoos, dressed in black, staring angrily into the camera.  This is not the image they want to people to associate with eating disorders.

As the stereotypical all-American overachieving white college female, it was terrifying to reach out for help because I was afraid I wasn’t “thin enough” for anyone to believe me.  So I didn’t reach out for several years.  Imagine how difficult it must be for a forty-year-old Asian male to ask for help.  Or a black woman approaching retirement?  Or anyone considered at all overweight?  Or anyone who isn’t skinny?

I was in treatment with men and women and adolescents and adults from all different cultures.  Yet the treatment brochures don’t reflect that diversity.  Educational materials stating that eating disorders affect everyone across the population still only portray a small segment of these individuals.

Eating disorders already result in isolation and fear.  In order to truly reach the different people affected with these illnesses, we need to expand the face of eating disorders.

 

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December 29, 2016 Posted by | Body Image, Communication, diversity, Eating Disorders, feelings, health, identity, images, inclusiveness, Mental Health Parity, publicity, shame, teaching | 1 Comment

The Inevitable Holiday Post

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To state the obvious: the holiday season can be difficult for a lot of people, regardless of any diagnosis or history of diagnoses.  It’s just plain stressful.

I love going to visit my brother and sister-in-law—I get to see my precious nephew and niece, after all.  And I love catching up with all of my in-laws, whom I simply refer to as family.  I like waking up to kids squealing when they see the presents under the Christmas tree and relaxing with family the rest of the day.

However much I love my friends and family and love spending time with them, I remain an introvert.  This does not mean I don’t like spending time with people or socializing—it just means that doing so tires me out as much as running ten miles used to.  This is when the anxiety heightens, simply because of the exhaustion, and then I start feeling trapped—the old “the walls are closing in on me” feeling—and wishing I could disappear.  The stress mounts until I force myself to emotionally numb out and present a much-practiced Smile Face for people.  In the past, this would inevitably lead to dangerous coping behaviors, and that would lead to guilt and shame, even if no one else knew about it.

I still feel all those feelings, but now I have a choice as to how I respond.  I could still give in to those old urges, but I know that’s not really want I want for myself.  Instead, I’ve learned that when I first start feeling that panic creep up on me, I give myself an break.  I find space and silence and retreat for a few minutes.  Sometimes for more than a few minutes.  I simply rest in the silence.  I inhale slowly, feeling my ribcage expand.  As I exhale, I picture all the tension in my body flowing out, and I let my shoulders relax.  I notice the solidness of the chair I am sitting on, or the floor beneath my feet.  I ground myself, thus healing the anxiety before it has a chance to overcome me.

Usually, I return to any festivities going on, but there are times I don’t.  Times when I am simply too overwhelmed and I know that immersing myself in a room of people and noise will be too much.  My family and friends know that this is not a comment on my feelings for them and that I’m not tired of them.  I am simply tired, and for my own health, I need some me time.  They’re a supportive bunch and don’t judge me.  They are glad I am learning to take care of myself and finding ways to stay healthy.

This list has some good ways to take care of yourself on stressful days.  I love writing To Do lists, because when I cross something off that list, it feels wonderful.  There are days when crossing off “check work email” is an accomplishment.  I make my bed every day—not to accomplish anything, but because I love the feeling of crawling between two smooth sheets when I go to bed.  I prefer baths over showers, and making myself put “real” clothes on does feel good.  If you choose exercise, please do so keeping your health in mind.  And remember that everyone has days when they stay in the pajamas all day, but if these days start melding together, please reach out and talk to someone.

And some days, you just need to wear a crown.

 

 

December 21, 2016 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, family, feelings, health, mindfulness, progress, recovery, relationships, shame | 1 Comment

Landing in the middle

Over the previous two weeks, several people have asked me about my blog and wanted to know when I’d start writing again.  Honestly?  I didn’t think I had much to say.  Also, I was busy.  A clichéd excuse used by many students, I know.  As a professor, I don’t accept this excuse as legitimate, so before I dig myself in deeper, here’s the deal:

I have more to say.  Maybe not about the initial steps of recovery, but about day to day life, living with the memories that may still rear up every so often.  I look at where I had always wanted to be by this point in my life, and I am not there.  I am not the person I wanted to be by now; my educational and professional careers had to be altered because of some of the choices I made years ago.  I have to accept that, however, and be who I turned out to be rather than who I once wanted to be.

Earlier this year, I decided that by the end of 2016, I would have a submission-ready manuscript.  FINALLY.  When I began my memoir, the drama of the illness and of the initial steps of recovery were still filled with raw emotion.  But the conclusion—that’s been nagging at me for a few years now.  I still feel sure in my recovery and have no regrets, so why the hell couldn’t I sum all of that up in a nice concluding essay and wrap this whole project up?

It turns out that this story doesn’t really have a clear ending.  I wanted to Be Recovered.  But with my perfectionistic, obsessive streak, I began questioning what that even meant.  There are some days now and then when I hate the number on the scale. Those emotions still have nothing to do with my actual weight, but I thought that if the number bothered me could I still call myself “recovered”?  Could I be “recovered” if I don’t feel like eating when the depression has been particularly brutal?  Could I be “recovered” if I go home after a difficult day of teaching and choose a ½ gallon of ice cream rather than a nice, balanced meal?  How could I be “recovered” if I still give in to my emotions and let them determine my actions?

Welcome to the life of a fully recovered individual who lives in the real world full of great days and conflicts and exhaustion and joy and despair and contentment.  An individual who has perfectly healthy reactions to both the good and the bad days.  Sometimes, going with comfort is the best course of action.  I’m not harming myself in any way, and I curl up and sleep with a tummy full of chocolate and wake up and go face what was so horrible (it usually isn’t horrible at all) and rediscover balance.

A recovered person is not a perfect person.  A recovered person is a human person with all the normal daily variations that come with the human experience.

Once I let this sink in, once I realized that I am honestly content (in this one case) with imperfection, the conclusion I had been looking for was finally created.  I think that society needs to hear more stories like this.   The amazingly inspiring individuals who recover and then go on to create significant change in their world are necessary.  The sobering stories of individuals who lost their fights are also necessary.  But most of us fall in the middle.  And the middle, it turns out, is a perfectly fine place to be.

December 17, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment