Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

How Much Do We Share?

how-much-is-too-much-coffee-for-health-benefits_0A couple of weeks ago, I spent an hour and a half speaking with one of my colleague’s course sections.  It’s a course that speaks openly on death and dying, and I shared my experiences as someone who woke up and lived after attempting suicide.  I’ve spoken to her classes before and I speak to health classes about my recovery from anorexia.  It always brings up one significant question, one that I think about even after my guest speaking:  Did I share  enough or did I share the right amount or  did I share too much?

When owning our stories and sharing them, how much do we tell?  Of course, this is different for each individual, and it depends on the context and the recipient.  When an eight-year-old asks me why I have so many scars, I’m extremely careful about how I word things.  Think, “Sometimes I get very sad for long periods of time, and when I was younger, I didn’t know how to handle all those painful feelings, so I didn’t cope with them in the best way.  Now I have people to talk to and I have a bunch of different things to do when I start feeling bad.”

I am not ashamed of my past, of having attempted suicide, of beginning self-harm so young, of needing multiple hospitalizations for anorexia, of needing ECT as maintenance therapy for the bipolar disorder.  But it did take time to go from hiding everything from everyone to admitting things to myself to honestly answering questions.

But there are things, especially concerning the eating disorder, that I don’t share, that I knowingly withhold from anyone who isn’t one of my doctors.  I don’t want to have someone use my story to “get sicker.”  I read all the eating disorder memoirs and blogs I could, and I watched certain movies over and over.  I didn’t care how the author/subject got better.  All I cared about was how she got sick in the first place.

When I talk to groups of people, I say I was hospitalized.  I don’t say how many times or for how many months.  I may discuss refeeding, talking about the pain of refeeding and how scary it was emotionally.  Depending on the context, I may address tube feeding and explain it.  I don’t tell people what my mealplan was or how much weight I gained at what stage.  I don’t tell people how much I lost.  I don’t discuss the ways I used to purge, just that I did.  I don’t want to be “that girl”–the one someone compares herself to and then thinks, “I’m not as sick as she was, so I must not be all that sick at all.  I’m fine.”

Many sufferers grew up on competition, via sports or clubs or school.  Many of us used the illness as competition.  And many of us walked away thinking, “I’m not doing it right” or “I’m not good enough.”

It’s so easy to walk into Target and compare yourself to everyone else there.  It’s easy to take sneaky, sideways glances at other people and judge them.  It’s easy to judge ourselves and come up short.

I still compare myself to other people; in some ways, we all do.  “I wish I could speak French.”  “I wish I could knit that fast.”  “He’s a really good singer.”  “I really like the way she handles a classroom.”  But these things no longer determine my worth.  Yes, I have a horrible past, but I’ve chosen to keep moving forward.  I may strive to be better is some areas of my life, but my happiness does not depend on these things.

My happiness is here.  Now.

 

 

May 14, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, ECT, exercise, feelings, guilt, health, identity, mindfulness, progress, publicity, recovery, responses, self harm, shame, suicide, treatment | Leave a comment

13 Reasons Why

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Okay, so I will join the great online debate over the book Thirteen Reasons Why, which has led to a television show.  I have read the book, but I have not seen any television episodes.  Most of the online discussions have centered on why people shouldn’t watch the show, how horrible a person Hannah is, how it will only encourage teens to commit suicide, and how it’s just “another mental illness book” that doesn’t actually confront anything.

I read the book when it first came out.  Although the writing wasn’t the best and the plot was contrived, I was glad it was written.  A teenager voicing her feelings and thoughts regarding what led to her suicide.  No, I do not agree with leaving thirteen tapes behind that nit pick and blame other individuals.  Her suicide was her decision.  She had full agency.  No one made her kill herself.

But . . . what the book shows is that suicide is anything but a simple decision resulting from a single bad day.  No, her friends didn’t make her commit suicide, but their behaviors contributed to how she felt.  Imagine if she had been able to voice what she was feeling in an open and honest manner while she was alive.  That’s what we should be focusing on.  This book exposes the truth that people suffer in silence.

You may say that with all the options out there now, there was no reason she had to suffer in silence.  Have you ever been a teenager and known something wasn’t “right” but you had no idea where to go or who to ask or even how to put the idea that something isn’t right into actual words?

Yes, there are options.  More than before.  But they still aren’t easily accessible for youth.  There is still so much judgment concerning mental health and mental health treatment.  So maybe Hannah was cruel in leaving those tapes behind, but she was still suffering and she still felt completely alone.

As a suicide survivor, to pass judgment on Hannah’s character and actions would be hypocritical.  I’ve been her.  I didn’t leave people tapes and letters, even though I had something I wanted to say.  My attempt was my decision; no one else is to blame.

I am grateful I’m here to write this.  Most days.  The chilling nature of Bipolar Disorder is that I know it doesn’t leave.   We have found a treatment that has proven most beneficial, and I have learned a zillion more ways to cope, but I still go through dark spells and I still make mistakes.

As for this book making suicide look trendy–we’re blind if we say that society hasn’t experienced this before.  The Bell Jar;  Girl, Interrupted; and Prozac Nation are the first three books that pop into my mind.  The harsh truth is that teenage suicide existed before, it exists now, and it will continue–even if no one watches this show or reads this book.  Maybe instead of discussing Hannah’s character flaws and how it was unfair of her to do what she did, we should discuss what it is in our  society that creates real-life-Hannahs every single day.  And then maybe we should discuss how we could create a new environment, one with less judgments and less isolation and more forgiveness.

April 20, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, family, feelings, guilt, identity, Mental Health Parity, progress, publicity, recovery, relationships, shame, suicide, therapy, trauma, treatment | Leave a comment

past lexie vs. present lexie

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Someone asked me this morning about a bit I had written yesterday.  “What do you mean when you said this whole grace and gentleness thing was relatively new for you?  What did you do before?”

“Exercise Addiction.”  The phrase is misunderstood sometimes.  Yes, you can be addicted to a behavior.  Especially when said behavior provides the results you wanted.  In part, I was addicted to the endorphin high after a good cardio workout.  And, honestly, I still miss that feeling.  I’m just not willing to risk my cardiac health anymore.

Another part of the whole exercise addiction was, of course, all part of the eating disorder.  Any calorie I took in had to be “accounted for.”  Gotten rid of. Exercise allowed me to do just that–and feel the endorphin high.  Double win, right?

And then there was this part of me that mentally thrived on extreme exercise.  I wasn’t exercising to feel good or anything like that.  I defined myself by how much exercise I completed every day.  By the end, I was only “good enough” if I had completed at least four hours of aerobic exercise a day.  And exercising enough on Day One meant nothing for Day Two.  No carryover.  No rest.  Just a clean slate.  Or, rather, a slate that said, “You are a horrible person. Get your ass moving and prove that you’re actually okay.”

So I had to prove myself–to myself–each and every day. And if I did X amount of exercise on Day One, then I must be able to do XandY on Day Two.  And then XandYandZ on Day Three.  And so on.  Eventually, I admitted this was not a healthy way to approach exercise.  In mid-2006, I realized that for me to get to a healthy point, I needed to do away with exercise all together for a period of time.  That turned out to be one full year.  I would walk to the bus stop or metro stop, but I no longer ran, did yoga, stretched, lifted weights, or rode my bike.  Nothing.  For one full year.

When I began exercising again, I was closely monitored by my treatment team.  Not just to what and how much I was doing, but also regarding how I felt while exercising.  In the past, a sore muscle or joint wasn’t worth “taking it easy” let alone taking a day off.  In the past, I did the primary series of Ashtanga Yoga every day.  Start to finish, exactly as laid out.  Now?  If I notice my hamstrings are tight, I don’t stretch as hard, especially in the beginning of fthe practice.  If I don’t feel like doing a certain pose, I don’t.  That would have been unheard of back in 2005.  I do “poses” that just feel good–even if they aren’t officially a yoga pose.   If I want to rest in savasana or child pose in the middle of my yoga session, I will.  Or I can walk off the mat and call it a day.

All of these thoughts and behaviors took time.  Sometimes I still catch myself falling into the old mindset of “If you did this amount yesterday, you can do more today.” I was exercising for the sake of exercising.  Not really as a punishment, but as one more chore I needed to complete each day.  I set myself high standards in every aspect of my life, and not living up to them always led to huge amounts of guilt and shame.

Now, my worth is not defined by my body or by how much stress it can take.  My self-worth has nothing to do with exercise at all.  I determine mt self worth.  And each day is a new day.  I am not restricted by who I was anymore.  I am Lexie.  In this present moment.  That is the only standard I set for myself now.

 

March 17, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, exercise, faith, feelings, guilt, health, heart, identity, images, mindfulness, progress, recovery, responses, self harm, shame, therapy, treatment | Leave a comment

Whatever You Want

JUST TRY HARDER!!

If you wanted it bad enough, you’d have it by now. All you have to do is try. It’s easy once you decide to really go after it.  Give yourself some credit and just do it already! 

Anyone else hear these, or similar, sayings while struggling with an eating disorder or addiction or trauma or depression?  Or life in general?  I *think* they’re supposed to be motivational. How many people actually find words like this motivating?  How many people feel guilty after hearing words such as these?  I’ll raise my hand to the latter.

I’ll admit, those early hospitalizations for the eating disorder and self-harm—I didn’t want it.  I had no intention of wanting it.  I had every intention of following the program’s rules in order to be discharged so I could go home and get back to the weight I was before admission.  I was there because my treatment team told me to go.  I played nice so I could avoid involuntary commitment.

Then there came the stage when I began considering recovery.  I began wanting it.  I knew people in varying stages of recovery, and I was starting to see just how miserable the eating disorder was making my life.  But at the same time, I began to notice how difficult recovery was.  How many daily choices I would have to make to stay on that path.  How exhausting those choices could be.  How exhausted I would be.  And how terrifying everything in front of me was.

I wanted recovery.  But I was already exhausted and frightened and overwhelmed.  How was I supposed to take on even more exhaustion, terror, and change?  I really had no faith that I could do so.  I mean, I had an eating disorder.  How strong could I possibly be?  How could I be strong enough to overhaul my life?  I knew how easy relapsing after treatment was.  Fighting that felt like too much for me.  So when I heard someone say “You just have to want it”, I felt like a total failure.  I thought that I obviously didn’t want it enough, or else I would be choosing recovery.

Yes.  I think you do have to want it.  People can’t make you recover.  They can force you to eat and gain weight and they can monitor your diet and when you use the bathroom and how much you exercise, but that can only last so long.  Eventually, it will come back to you again.  And if you don’t want to change, you won’t change.

But desire is not enough.  If you are so exhausted and physically compromised that you can’t think through the decision of what movie to go see, how can you be expected to make a serious life decision?  If you really do want recovery but have absolutely no idea how to even begin walking that path or whom to talk to or where to go, how can you be expected to “just” get better.  And if you know you want a better life but don’t honestly believe you have an eating disorder, how can you choose not to have one?

Sometimes, someone else will have to step up and make decisions for you.  They may have to force you to go into treatment.  A doctor may have to initiate involuntary feedings.  And you may hate those people and be angry and bitter and swear you’ll never talk to them again.  But because of these people, you will have a chance to regain enough strength and mental clarity to make the decision for yourself.  And even then, you may well need those same people to help keep you on that path of recovery.

After I choose to recovery, I didn’t immediately begin eating 100% of my meals and calmly sit in the hallway afterward without yearning to get up and pace for hours to burn all of that food off.  I struggled against my treatment team.  I tried to “make deals” with them to get out of certain parts of health.  I was confused as to why they were demanding so freaking much out of me.  I wanted to get better, but I just didn’t want to put forth the required effort.  For a while.  Then I began *gasp* working with my treatment team and making choices for myself that supported a healthy lifestyle.  And after I regained enough strength, I found that it was easier to make those daily choices to recover than to make the choices to relapse.

If you are at that stage of wanting it but are completely exhausted and don’t know what the hell to do, tell someone else and tell them you need their help because you can’t do it by yourself.  And then resent that person with all your heart as they help you get to the point where you can thank them with your life.

January 26, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, family, feelings, guilt, health, identity, progress, publicity, recovery, relationships, self harm, shame, therapy, trauma, treatment | Leave a comment

I’m Sorry and I Thank You

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These are things I remind myself of almost every day.  It’s difficult to examine my life and realize that I’m not where I was supposed to be.  According to my own expectations, of course.  I do look at my life and am content–I never really planned to end up where I am, but it turns out, I like it here!  But I also like finishing what I’ve started, and there are a whole lot of things I started and never finished.

I often take stock of my life in this manner–and around this time of year, I get even more introspective.  Thinking about what I’ve accomplished in the previous year, but also since I left Missouri, since I left Washington, D.C., since I left Pennsylvania.  Since I used to work for Certain Company and taught at Certain University and climbed rocks as a hobby.

Since I knew various people that once were a significant part of my life and no longer are.  I wonder how these people are doing.  I wonder if they are still angry with me.  The ugly truth is that I lied to people, manipulated them, and screamed horrible things I don’t even remember.  I hurt people.  I wish I could contact each and every single person to apologize, to say that regardless of my pain, I should not have said or done those things.  I’m aware of that now.

I also wish I could thank these people.  The ones who walked away out of exhaustion and frustration and confusion.  I may have hurt them, but I am here because of them, and I wish I could let them know where I’ve been and where I am now and what I’m doing.  I’d want them to know that some of my dreams have come true and that I’ve been dreaming new dreams.  I’d like them to see me as I am now, because I hope they’d agree that I’m a better person–and that I’m a better person in part because of their influence.

I’d like to know I’ve made them proud, even if it’s just a little bit.

I think one of the most difficult things that people struggling with recovery face is the knowledge that we’ve let people down along the way.  It’s not easy to own up to this, to honestly admit to the dark parts of our pasts.  I think hearing “I’m proud of you” is the greatest phrase because of this.  Each time I hear this, in sincerity, I chip away at the dark parts of myself that I fear so much.  Each time these words are spoken, I heal just a little bit more.

Remember to thank those you love.  Remember to let people know when you are proud of them.  You never know what they might be carrying inside.

January 10, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, guilt, identity, mindfulness, progress, recovery, relationships, responses, self harm, shame, suicide, therapy, trauma, treatment, well earned pride | 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

One Day I Will Love My Body

ae2db3e26f6acb3b54fd48520d5521f4Here’s another post where I respond to someone else’s work.  Allison Epstein recently wrote “Why I Have No Intention of Loving My Body” for an online publication.  The title itself intrigued me.  As someone in recovery from anorexia, I have had the words “Love Your Body” shoved down my throat for over a decade.  I haven’t always reacted well.

I do agree with Epstein’s argument that the “Love Your Body” campaign has turned into just one more way for certain industries–fashion and publishing come to mind–to make money.  Not just among people struggling with eating disorders, but for anyone in a society that is programmed (due to fashion and publishing industries) to see only a certain kind of body as worthy or beautiful.

Speaking as someone who has recovered from an eating disorder and struggled with intense shame surrounding my body, I don’t want to proclaim that I have no intention at all of ever loving my body.  Loving my body is an ideal that I work towards, and I even have days when it’s true.  But to be honest, I haven’t yet reached a transcendent point in recovery where I can say without any hesitation that I love my body with all my heart and soul and always will.

But those of us who have sought treatment for an eating disorder or body dysmorphic disorder, we are told that we must love our bodies in order to recover.  At the beginning of my recovery, I was so far away from loving myself that the whole concept seemed impossible.  Which must mean recovery is impossible.  Or so I was made to feel.  In painting across my body’s outline on a piece of paper, I could not draw butterflies and suns and rainbows or symbols of peace and strength.  I could draw angry red scribbles as I tried to destroy my image.  I was fully weight restored, eating intuitively, and not over-exercising.  All awesome things to have accomplished.  But every time someone tried to simple tell me to love my body, I felt as if those things didn’t matter for much since I still kinda hated my body.  And I really did try to “just love my body,” but I think most of you know it doesn’t work that way.

Here’s how things worked for me.  During my first year of recovery, I focused on intuitive eating and I learned how to listen to my body and respond appropriately.  Because of the severity of the over-exercise, I agreed to one year exercise free–no running, no yoga, no speed walking, no biking, no weights.  Nothing.  The idea was to “reset” my relationship with exercise.  I still really couldn’t have cared less for my body.

So during the second year of recovery, I had a pretty good handle on intuitive eating and no longer consulted a nutritionist and didn’t see my doctor every week “just to make sure.”  I gradually reintroduced exercise into my life style.  i did not let myself keep a schedule, because in the past, that only led to obsessive thoughts.  Instead, I woke up and thought, “What would I like to do today?  Run or do yoga?”  It was through yoga that I released a great amount of hatred toward my body.  On the mat, I realized that even though I didn’t have the same super-athletic body I had while I was an All American in Track and Field, my body could do some awesome things.  I’m not extremely flexible, but I realized I was doing poses a lot of people couldn’t, and I could hold poses for a significant amount of time.  My time on the mat gave me the opportunity to appreciate the body for everything it could do for me, just as it is in that moment.  I didn’t need to improve upon it or make it stronger.

But did you note the language I just used?  I used “it” instead of “my.”  I still saw myself as separate from my body.  My body was this appendage that was necessary for me to exist, so I had to put up with it.  Not only did I continue practicing yoga, I began practicing slower, gentler forms of yoga than I was accustomed to.  While I was in a pose, I listened to what my body was telling me, something I’d later call mindfulness.  My body could tell me where I was sore or if I was tired and needed rest.  My body could also tell me if I was stressed emotionally, or angry, or overwhelmed with sadness.  This was when I began to learn to accept my body, and I learned to say that it was indeed my body.

Then I began learning more about mindfulness, which, to be honest, terrified me in the beginning.  Body scans could cause nightmares.  Very slowly, however, I learned to sit in my body, to be still in my body, and to be present in my body.  I am still beginning my journey of mindfulness, but over the previous few years, I have moved from a tolerance of my body to an appreciation of my body.

I admit, I do not wake up in the morning filled with love and awe for my body.  But neither do I wake up hating my body and dreading the sight of it.  There are days when I can appreciate my body just as it is, but there are more days when I still appreciate my body for what it can do for me.  This does not take away from my recovery.  If anything, the fact that I can acknowledge the different stages of body awareness is a huge accomplishment.

This body is mine.  I treat it well and take care of it.  I listen to its needs and wants and respond appropriately.  I could not do any of this while I was sick.  I think that if we expect people to jump from intense self-hatred to all-encompassing love of the body, we put too much pressure on them.  Recovery is not a one-day process, and we should not expect sufferers to “just get over it” as soon as they maintain weight or maintain healthy behaviors.  Our bodies carried heavy loads for such a long time, and we need to give them the grace and patience to heal.

August 31, 2015 Posted by | addictions, Body Image, Eating Disorders, health, mindfulness, progress, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

questions for my former anorexic self

Question__by_Queen666I’ve been noticing a lot of blogs with titles like “10 things I would tell my former self”–usually the “former self” is specified further with “anorexic,” “addict,” “depressed,” “medicated,” and other adjectives.  The lists are poignant, and often reveal more about the process of recovery than anything else, and a lot of them are universal truths we can all nod our heads at.  I wish I could go back and tell my former anorexic self a few things, but I can’t.  People did often tell me those things, and I just didn’t listen or believe them.

I would like to go back and ask myself a few questions.  Things I could have pondered, if I had been open to doing so.  I would have given myself journaling assignments!  I have always preferred writing about something before speaking about it.

1. What do you want to be when you grow up?

We’re all asked this, and I journaled about this question all the time, and my answers morphed as I grew older, but I loved the world of academia and always say myself in an antiquated office with lots of books and a big, ornate desk and fancy chair.  And a patterned rug.  I wasn’t sure what would go on in the office, but I wanted to be in that office.  The worlds of teaching and writing and reading smushed themselves together, and I wanted to be an English Professor.

Someone did ask me a variation of this question that started me thinking, and this did lead to change on my part.  My first semester at my MFA program, I couldn’t decide if I should go into treatment or not.  I was debating this with one of my professors (whose office was nothing like the one in my dreams), and she asked me why I wouldn’t just go get help.  And I told her that I was a graduate student and couldn’t.  (My logic skills never were that great.)  But she just looked at me and told me I wasn’t a grad student.  Not really.  I came to class and read and wrote, yes.  All while obsessing over food and exercise.  I didn’t socialize.  I hadn’t gotten to know my peers.  I hadn’t explored the city I was living in.  I was isolated in my sick world and turning in sub-par papers.

I did go to treatment, and I learned that you could be a graduate student while seeking help for an eating disorder, but you couldn’t be an anorexic while being an effective graduate student.  Maybe I was ready to listen to that professor then, and I wouldn’t have been five years prior.  But what if someone had asked me–this goal-oriented overachiever–if I wouldn’t be able to be who I wanted to be if I weren’t anorexic?

2.  What is your picture of a perfect life?

I would have had myself write down every little detail, from my job to my location to my friends to my family to my church to my living quarters to my cats to my hobbies to my daily routines.  Ev-er-y thing written out.  A story book world that I created all about me.  All of my dreams.  All combined.

3. Why don’t you want that life?

“Of course I want that life!” I would have shouted.  And then I would have asked, “Then why don’t you have it?  Why don’t you make it happen?”  Eventually, along my recovery journey, I would ask myself these questions.  I’m still waiting for the perfect happy-ever-after fairytale, but I do realize that I have more of a chance of reaching that place now than when I was sick.

Question 3 would lead directly to number 4:  What are you afraid of?

Many people mistakenly believe eating disorders are about food and size.  But although I had a perfect life pictured in my head, and even though I had was given opportunities to make that life happen, something held me back.  Basically, the answer was fear.  I was afraid of being hurt.  I was afraid of failure.  I was afraid of what success meant.  I was afraid of people taking advantage of me.  I was afraid of being disappointed.  I was afraid of disappointing others.  I was afraid of imperfection.  I was afraid of anything I wasn’t familiar with that I could not control.  Therefore, it was easier to live in a world I created and controlled.

5.  How is that working out for you?

Could I have even answered this question then?  Everything I wanted out of life was not possible because of the anorexia.  I wasn’t happy.  I wasn’t safe.  I was alone.

But I was still scared.  At least I knew my current surroundings.  Sure, I could dream up a perfect life, but I had no reason to believe it was even possible.

People kept telling me that I could “learn how to manage this” and that “things would get better” but they offered no proof, just vague motivational lines of hope and faith.  I wanted, I needed, to see results.  After a few years, I did meet someone who had that proof of recovery.  And then I met a couple other people whose results matched my dreams.  Eventually, I came to believe I could do the same.  And then I became part of that network of recovered individuals who want to let people know that full recovery is possible.

We have enough media stories about the hell of eating disorders.  We have blogging communities devoted to sharing specifics of eating disorders.  We have online forums for people to compare symptoms.  News articles focusing on recovery that first must rehash all the trauma–complete with pictures–before summing up the “things are better now” conclusion in a nice succinct paragraph.

We need to hear the stories of eating disorder sufferers, yes.  More importantly, however, we need to hear the stories of recovery: not just the fact that someone recovered, but how they did so.  We need stories that provide a road map to recovery, not a road map to illness.

August 8, 2015 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Communication, depression, Eating Disorders, recovery, treatment | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I can’t forgive and forget, but I can still move forward

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I like tea. Tea is soothing. Useful when moving forward.

A comment from a previous entry: “Despite how crappy it is, it makes me feel better that someone else has had similar experiences as mine. And so happy to read how positive you are, even though you are having a tough time at the moment.
The problem is I’m still so angry about the poor treatment, the stigma, the fact that I was effectively left to die on my own.
How did you move on from such poor treatment from those who were meant to be helping you? How did you forgive them?”

Forgive and forget.  Don’t dwell in the past.  Look forward to the future.  Let go and let God.  No use worrying about spilled milk.  Be thankful for where you are now.

I hear the value in all of these statements.  But I’m not sure I can honestly say I follow them, and I think that’s an okay thing.

There have been times when my psychiatric care was just plain lousy and my treatment providers were negligent.  I found better providers.  Then had sucky ones again.  Then had good ones, etc. I want to say that I was the changing force, but that would be a lie.  In my case, most of the changes in providers had something to do with me moving, from Pennsylvania to DC to Virginia to Missouri to New York.

I look back at some aspects of my care and I am angry.  “Where would I be now if I had had a better therapist then?” crosses my mind, and I get angrier.  But feeling anger is less harmful than feeling guilt.  At least now I can look back and say, “That aspect of treatment was not beneficial.”  At the time, I thought it was my fault and, of course, kept silent.  My train of thought was: Why do I get a say in determining what’s effective and not effective?  Aren’t I the sick one with poor judgment skills?  I must be doing something wrong. 

I remember, however, voicing my concerns at various points in treatment.  And getting responses along the lines of You aren’t thinking clearly, and I know this is right for you.  And, because I’m not a professional, I listened and felt guilty.

This year I have realized that that is what makes me angry.  Not that I had inadequate care at points, but that my concerns were not listened to.  The number of factors that go into making a healthy therapeutic relationship are great, and we as a society are only just beginning to explore better ways to handle psychiatric emergencies.  This doesn’t change my past, but it has helped me from feeling bitter, and I no longer blame them.

It’s easy to dwell on “What would I have accomplished by now if only X hadn’t happened?” but that’s pretty futile.  X did happen.  I am still angry, and I try to use that anger in a positive manner.  I try to remember that I have a say in the doctors I see and my treatment.  There are effective ways to voice concerns and some not-so-effective ways, but I do have a right to voice my concerns and open up a discussion, just as if I were seeing my cardiologist.  I try to advocate for others when they feel they aren’t strong enough to speak up.  I encourage others to write down exactly what they are concerned about and not to leave their provider’s office until that question is answered.  I speak at conferences and schools and share my experience and emphasize that one crappy doctor/treatment does not mean the next one will not be helpful.

The stigma?  I fight this every day.  I want to cover up my scars and wear long sleeves because I know people stare.  But I’ve also had people come up to me and ask about them and tell me they are scared because they do the same thing and don’t know how to stop.  I don’t lie about my eating disorder history because I know when I am in a random group of people, someone in that group is struggling, and just by knowing that I recovered, I might give them hope that they can, too.

I have a harder time with my suicide attempt.  The stigma surrounding those who attempt/commit suicide is so heavy and dark.  But I recently got a tattoo–the semicolon tattoo.  Yes, it reminds me that I still have a story to finish, but I am hoping other people ask me about it and learn from my story.

And as for being positive?  For these several minutes, I have tried to look at things through a positive lens.  And I generally try to do that away from the keyboard as well.  But sometimes, I am a bitter, cynical person who writes angry entries in her journal and questions every experience in her past.  Those days suck.  But at least I am aware of them now, and I do my best not to use them as an excuse to treat those around me poorly.  And I write in my journal and write a lengthy, whiny letter to a friend and wake up the next day.  Sometimes back in a positive mood, and sometimes not.  Which is how pretty much every person lives.

July 29, 2015 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, recovery, suicide, treatment | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

There Is Still More To Come

11751427_10101046604258545_5454523273497108847_nI’m a lover of words, and I also happen to find things like grammar and punctuation rather interesting.  The addition of a comma can change the meaning of a sentence.  Whether you choose to use a period or a semi-colon is not a decision to be taken lightly.

Almost eighteen years ago, when I was twenty, I chose to use a period.  I saw no reason to continue the sentence, which was my life.  I decided to end it all.

Obviously, I did not “succeed” in my suicide attempt.  I am still alive.  Still writhing and fighting and living and questioning everything around me.

For many years after my suicide attempt, I was angry and bitter that I had survived.  I thought it was unfair.  But I somehow knew I could never attempt such a thing again.  I could not inflict that amount of pain and grief on my family and friends.  However, knowing I wouldn’t commit suicide didn’t erase the fact that I have Bipolar Disorder, which meant that depression would come back.  And recede.  And come back.  I would still fight the feeling that I wanted to die.  I would still obsess about how I could make that happen.  I would still dream that some accident would befall me and make the decision for me.

In the spring of 2014, I hit an all time low for me.  I had previously thought I knew what depression was all about, but this episode was different.  It was longer.  It was deeper.  It was stronger. I craved death.  I obsessed about it.  Dreamed about it.  I could not stop the thoughts of suicide–but I was still confident that I knew I wouldn’t go through with it.

Then one night, things got worse.  I don’t remember much of that night, but thanks to my browser history and open tabs, I knew what I had been researching: the best ways to die.  Then, I looked at my planner next to my computer on my desk, and I saw that I had written out a timeline of everything I would need to do to set that plan in motion.  Some of the details I had planned for and around freaked me out.

Thankfully, I was so freaked out that I had switched from dreaming about death to planning it in detail, I called my therapist.  I packed my bag, and when I saw my psychiatrist for ECT, I flat out told him I couldn’t go home.  I showed him my planner.

I had chosen to use a semi-colon and not a period.

I would be in the hospital for a month.  I would be discharged into the care of my parents, and I would move back home with them.

My psychiatrist’s parting words to me were, “Thank you for trusting us.”

That month in the hospital didn’t cure me, but it saved me.  It allowed me to start the healing process so I could continue writing my sentence.  Kind of a powerful metaphor for a writer.

For anyone with mental illness contemplating life, for anyone with an eating disorder, for anyone with an addiction, for anyone having a crappy week: you can choose to keep going.  You may have to make that decision many times, but it is yours to make.  I now have a semi-colon on my wrist as a reminder that there is still more to come.  What comes before the semi-colon?  It’s in the past.  What’s after the semi-colon?  The future.  Your future, and you are the author.

For more about the Semicolon Project, go here.  You will find inspirational stories and resources to help you begin you new independent clause.

July 17, 2015 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, death, depression, Eating Disorders, recovery, suicide | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment