Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

a beautiful and painful life full of hope and chaos

Scrolling through some posts on my Facebook newsfeed, a highlighted article popped up and caught my eye. The featured quote from the article, written by Jennifer Rollin, MSW,LCSW-C, is: “There is a beautiful life waiting for you on the other side of this eating disorder. Freedom and full recovery from anorexia is possible.”  This quote makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside as well as a little angry.

A Therapist’s Tips for Your Recovery From Anorexia

Let me clear up a few things first:  Rollin spells out some awesome tips for making progress in recovery, and I think anyone struggling at all with an eating disorder should try these tips out, see if they work, and if they do, put them in their toolbox.  She also addresses that individuals with eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes and that you don’t have to be a certain weight or size to seek help.  And, I love the fact that she uses the phrase “full recovery,” combatting the older saying, “Once an anorexic, always an anorexic.”

So what could possibly make me angry?

Actually, the only thing that irks me is the featured quote.  “A beautiful life is waiting for you on the other side of this eating disorder.”

Ten years into full recovery, I’m still waiting for the beautiful life to appear.  I held onto the idea of a beautiful, better life while in treatment those last two years, and I pictured some amazing bliss for myself but when I slowly slipped through to the other side, to a life without the eating disorder, I thought I had stepped far away from the trail, because that beautiful life I had promised myself wasn’t there.

Living in recovery wasn’t the same as living inside a world designed by Rainbow Bright and My Little Pony, with rainbows and sunshine and soft green grass.  I felt as if I had  landed in exactly the opposite: a sandy desert that somehow also had blinding snowstorms and tornados.  I couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong.

If I had “done” recovery the “right” way, surely I would be living a much more peaceful life.

Life is not inherently beautiful.  Life is full of risks and choices and fear and sorrows and shit-storms.  I had tried to escape this part of life with the eating disorder.  I tried to numb it all away and I tried to make it disappear.  Except I also numbed away the rest of what life has to offer: warmth and friendship and love and joy  and contentment.  When I began recovery, I entered into both parts of life: the ups and the downs.

There are parts of life that are beautiful, and I know my life is better this side of the eating disorder.  I respond to all of the shit-storms in a healthier fashion, which means my physical body and my over-filled brain are stronger, and I can weather the storms, even if I’m not the picture of perfect grace.  And when the storms are over, I can now see the sunlight and feel the warmth.  There may still be pain, but there is great happiness at times and contentment at times and acceptance of the present moment at times.

Maybe believing in the perfectly beautiful life helped get me to recovery.  Maybe we need to keep reminding those who struggle that the beautiful life is out there.  I just know that I personally felt disappointed in recovery and I felt that I was at fault and that if I had just tried harder, my beautiful life would have  been mine.

Language is a funny thing, always changing and evolving.  A living, breathing life form.  That is open to interpretations.  That can be misunderstood.  There will never be one perfect way to give voice to our stories,  but that same slippery nature of language still allows us to dream of a beautiful life.

 

 

August 1, 2017 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, guilt, health, identity, recovery, relationships, treatment | Leave a comment

To The Bone fits my reality almost perfectly.

“I had an eating disorder, and To The Bone Got it Almost Entirely Wrong”

Author, Lucy Kelly: “The new Netflix movie is a remarkably tone-deaf and insight-free depiction of anorexia nervosa.” 

I thought To The Bone finally depicted someone struggling with the terrifying choice of anorexia versus recovery.  To The Bone is reassurance that other people have lived my story and other people had the same fears as I did and that other people took years to make the choice to recover.

Yes, this post will discuss anorexia symptoms–my experience with various symptoms and treatment.  At no point will I make the claim that my experience is everyone’s experience–or even that it should represent the majority of people with an eating disorder.

As advocates for mental health awareness in general and eating disorder awareness specifically, we bemoan the fact that not enough media accurately portrays eating disorders, that anorexia is glamourized or romanticized and that society doesn’t understand that anorexia has a mortality rate of 20%.

Then there comes a movie–that is fiction (and she makes a point to call this a fiction, not a documentary/memoir) , but based on the writer’s personal experience–and now people are pissed that it isn’t accurate enough, and that it’s not representative of all people who struggle with an eating disorder.

We ask for reality and then bitch when we’re given that reality.  Does anyone else see the inherent conflict of this statement?

No one story will ever be representative of the majority.  And if we want to keep saying that each individual’s story is unique, we can’t expect one story to work for everyone.  Articles and blogs such as the one I have linked to are now complaining that her story didn’t represent their story.

But–it was nice to finally see this story represented in media.  This story is strikingly similar to my story. If we want people to understand the harsh realities of  eating disorders, tell them to watch this film, because I’m having problems seeing this as ‘romanticized.’ It certainly doesn’t paint a pretty picture.

The seven patients are male, female, black, white, straight, gay, bi, and have anorexia, binge eating disorder, bulimia, and exercise addiction.  This isn’t supposed to represent typical treatment centers, but in one inpatient treatment center, there were only three of us in the eating disorder treatment.   The idea is that it isn’t traditional at all.  The main character faints while waiting for a bus. She’s forever huddled in several layers of clothing in an effort to stay warm and hide herself from sight.  She forces herself to do sit-ups in bed because she is terrified of life without sit-ups. Another patient keeps a smelly paper bag under her bed to throw up in when no one is watching.  A pregnant patient loses her baby due to complications from the eating disorder.  The token male dancer had to stop dancing due to injuries–that are a result of the eating disorder, and he finds during the movie that he will never be professional dancer again because his knee is shot.  One patient is forced to have an NG-tube and struggles to accept how many calories being pumped into her.  Which of these stories present an eating disorder as a beautiful way to live?

ached to tear the NG-tube out.  The only reason I didn’t?  My doctor said he would just put another one back in, and that this time I’d be on a one-to-one on a medical unit on bed rest, and I figured (in my obsessed brain) that at least I could burn off a few calories by walking from the dining room to the living room, where we had to sit. All. Day. Long.  I kept a chart tracking exactly how many sit-ups, push-ups, toe raises, squats, etc. I did every single day.  I would not go to bed until I finished all of those exercises–in addition to whatever running and walking and biking and swimming I had done earlier in the day.  I timed how long I stretched my hamstrings–and kept a chart of all of my stretches too.

We say that media only contributes to the stereotype that only very thin people need treatment.  This film only has 7 patients, true–but some are emaciated, some are thin, some may be overweight (from a health perspective).  Some are athletic.  Some aren’t.  Yet all of them are getting help.

This film does not cater to people wanting numbers of any type.  We only have a few shots of Ellen, the main character, in anything but layers of clothing.  We don’t see her weight.  We don’t hear her weight–either her current weight or how much she’s lost.  We don’t see sizes.  There is one calorie reference.  We don’t even know how many sit-ups Ellen does every day.

As for how the film represents families trying to deal with or understand their loved one’s struggles with an eating disorder?   The sister voices her anger at not having a real sister, only an illness standing in for a sister.  The parents and step-parents struggle to understand and support their daughter and really have no clue how to do so and, even if they did, they’re exhausted and wish they could just forget about it.  If you want to say that parents do everything they can possibly think of to seek help or to read up on a diagnosis and possible treatments or providers–be thankful you can have that viewpoint.  I don’t.

This film doesn’t wrap things up in a nice, neat plotline.  We don’t dive into all the myriad ways someone might develop an eating disorder.  And the patients don’t simply get to the treatment center, get help, and get better.  In fact, the ending simply shows her deciding to really give treatment a chance–without the happily-ever-after conclusion Hollywood loves.  Ellen has had treatment–and then relapsed.  Over and over again.  Which is kind of what my story was.  Hospitalizations that I was not invested in aside from keeping my doctors from committing me.  Discharge, relapse, readmission.  I can’t be the only one with this plotline.

Ellen is terrified.  Of recovery.  This is what we don’t want to speak of.  We want to think that people get sick and want to get better.  But what if you’ve been sick for so long you’ve forgotten what not being sick is like?  What if you’ve been told by multiple treatment providers that “once an anorexic, always an anorexic”?  Life without an eating disorder is the unknown territory that could be beautiful and fulfilling, but it could also be horrific and painful and terrifying.  Terrifying enough to paralyze you.

The repeated hospitalizations did one thing–they kept me physically alive until I hit my particular rock bottom and made the decision to recover and to actually participate in my own treatment.  At the time, I probably would have said I wanted nothing to do with whatever life was.  Now?  I’m glad people forced my physical body to maintain enough health that I survived.  Now?  I’m glad I hit rock bottom and scraped my way back up to somewhat level ground.

This movie will trigger a great many people.  Some people will watch this movie for that very reason.  They want to get tips and tricks to be sicker.  This film won’t give out a lot of tricks.  I’m positive that a lot of people have already printed out pictures from this film and pasted them on walls and in journals as “thinspiration.”  However, I don’t think any representation about eating disorders could not be triggering.  The people who will stare at these images will find inspiration in any movie, any television show, any magazine, any fashion runway, any fitness program, any gym.  They will see someone who is frail from chemo treatments as desirable.  They will see pre-pubescent children as ideal.  They will look at Olympic weight lifters and think that body type can be had by every citizen in the world.

What are some other things you will see watching this film?  How difficult it is to navigate relationships when you or the person you care for are ill.  Family, friends, romantic interests–all are affected by an eating disorder.  How recovery is not a simple process of finding a treatment center and forever moving forward.  How no one can make you recover unless you want to recover.

This film may not be representative of your reality.  But the article I linked to above doesn’t represent my reality.  There is no one reality, no one story.  Perhaps that is what people need to see.  Sometimes, stepping outside of your comfort zone and exposing yourself to alternate realities really is the best course of action.

 

 

 

 

 

July 21, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, diversity, Eating Disorders, exercise, family, health, identity, images, inclusiveness, movies, publicity, recovery, relationships, thinspo, To the Bone, treatment, triggers, weight | Leave a comment

Unfamiliar Body

My prior knowledge of menopause: You stop menstruating.  At some point when you’re older (like around 60?).

What I have now come to understand about menopause: Menopause is not this event that will happen one day; it’s a process.  You will–eventually–stop menstruating, but during the nebulous grey zone called perimenopause, you may wonder if some version of The Body Snatchers has taken place, because the body you wake up in is not the body you felt asleep in. And this glorious stretch of time is just that–a long, seemingly endless stretch of time.

My doctors in Baltimore had warned me that I may experience menopause earlier than expected–because of the eating disorder and because of the level/duration of prior athletic training.  So I assumed I’d just stop getting my period a little early and, well, who wouldn’t want that?

When I started having night sweats a year ago, all my bloodwork came back normal, and we attributed the then-random night sweats to stress or due to medications.  Now the night sweats are always worse the week before my period.  And I’m lucky enough to get hot flashes during the day, too.  And the length of my cycle has changed and it’s a bit heavier than ever before.

However, I have also acquired a whole new, unexpected body.  Okay, technically, I inhabit the same skin I always have, but the outline of my skin has changed.

he first time I went to wear shorts this year, they didn’t fit.  I was a bit confused, and wondered if I had put the shorts in the drier one too many times.  But when I got dressed for my next track meet, I noticed I no longer had to wear a belt.  Jeans and shirts that were once nice and relaxed could now be sold with the label “slim fit.”  While I have always worn maybe an almost-B-cup, my breasts now prefer a definitely-C-cup.

I am still letting everything sink in, and adjusting to these current changes that no one seems to want to talk about.  But it has been nice knowing that these changes have no other significance.  When I was struggling with anorexia, my size and weight were inseparable from my worth.  I feared my body’s curves and strove to make them disappear. I had to learn to disassociate my shape from any type of  judgment.  I had to say, “This is my size” as a simple statement.

Now I am once again relearning my body, and although I  no longer fear my body, I have returned to a practice that was an important part of my recovery, and that is to pay special attention to the final pose of my yoga sessions: savasana, or corpse pose.  A seemingly simple pose of rest, but one that used to be terrifying.  Lying there, open to the world, I was exposed and vulnerable.  This was intimidating on my best days, for I had never allowed myself to know my body, to be fully present in my own skin.

Again, I take extra time in corpse pose to truly rest and relax. I give myself time to trace the shape of my body on the yoga mat.  My goal is to feel each body part without opening my eyes.  I try to sense where my body is touching the mat.  I am relearning the curves of body.  Without letting my mind run away.  And without letting my physical body stand up and run away.

While there is no longer fear, there is an unfamiliarity that is unsettling.  But for once, I am thankful for the prior struggles with eating disorders.  Or, rather, prior exercises I did in recovery that allow me to claim this body as mine.

 

July 11, 2017 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, depression, diversity, Eating Disorders, exercise, feelings, health, heart, identity, mindfulness, progress, recovery, therapy, weight, yoga | Leave a comment

To the Bone: An Uncomfortable Necessity

Please remember that these thoughts are my own personal opinions.  I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist, and I haven’t performed my own research in order to analyze  statistics.  I am someone who had an eating disorder for a decade.  I am someone who struggled though the initial stages of recovery and have been fully recovered for ten years.  My experience should not be equated with either your personal experience or with academic research.

I think “To the Bone” is a necessary movie, to be released on Netflix in July.  

I think “To the Bone” will be a disturbing movie to watch.

I am sure that some individuals will use the film as “thinspo,” or motivation to continue with their eating disorder.

I still think this is a necessary movie, and I hope that more and more people hear about it and watch it, even if it is triggering and disturbing.

Here’s the reality: Eating disorders existed before movies and social media.  Characters with eating disorders are scene in literature throughout history, even if the modern vocabulary of “eating disorder” and “anorexia” and “bulimia” are employed.

Thinspo existed before the internet.  Thinspo existed as soon as two individuals who were struggling with an eating disorder discussed ways to lose more weight, or be stronger, or look more muscular, or cancel out calories already ingested.

Yes, some individuals will use the film to “get sicker,” but we cannot let fact cancel out everything else this film offers.  If people want a trigger-free environment then don’t read anything, don’t listen to music, and don’t watch movies.  And you might want to stay at home and completely isolate yourself so you don’t come across any upsetting sights or upsetting people when you go to get a cup of coffee.  Don’t bother taking a literature class, since I’ve come across more disturbing scenes and people via our classics than walking around this world.  And don’t bother looking into medicine or psychology or social work or history.

Life is triggering.  That’s not going to change.  Every time I see a television show that uses “cardiac arrest” incorrectly, I feel intense anger.  And that leads to some tough sadness, and then a good dose of guilt.  I feel these things observing various ads and billboards.  But just because they make me uncomfortable, I know the signs need to be there because there is information that more people need to know, no matter how it makes me feel.  So I choose not to watch the cheesy Hallmark movies about terminal illnesses in which the ending is somehow always happy, with great insight gained for each character

Similarly, I don’t watch fashion runways or browse through fashion magazines.  A) It’s not what I’m interested in, and B) I find some of fashion quite upsetting.  I am responsible for not picking up that magazine.  While I was still sick, Girl, Interrupted was a movie I’d watch for “motivation.”  I was the one putting the DVD in my player over and over and over again.  That doesn’t detract from the intelligent, thought-provoking movie that it is.  We need to take more responsibility for our own actions, and that includes how we respond to images that seem perfectly normal to most people.

This film will contain images that aren’t seen as “normal” in the general public.  I’ve only seen the Netflix preview of the movie To the Bone. There are the stereotyped images of anorexia, so yes, it has a character who is female and underweight as the lead.  But there are also characters that aren’t either of those things.  There are male eating disorder patients, and there are patients who aren’t emaciated.  They show the intense obsessiveness of exercise addiction, something that hasn’t gotten much media attention.  There is a scene where the family of the patient responds.  I don’t expect to watch that movie with a whole bunch of warm, fuzzy thoughts that make me smile for days.

And maybe we need that.  Maybe more people need to see the severe emaciation that can result from an eating disorder.  Maybe people need to see the endless sit-ups and stair repeats.  Maybe people need to see someone terrified of a plate of food.  Maybe we need to see someone break down because of that fear.

There is a general thought that “eating disorders are bad for your health, of course, but it’s really just high school girls losing some weight and caring too much about their size.”  Those of us who have struggled or are struggling or have lost people to these illnesses already know this to be a radically false claim.  The general public does not.  The general public sees people who are recovered talking about their experiences.  The general public see individuals in early recovery discussing why they sought treatment.  In most cases, the general public sees individuals after they have received or started treatment,  after some of the severe consequences of eating disorders aren’t so obvious.  If the general public never sees the full reality of eating disorders, why would they fully realize the severity of these illnesses?

And maybe, the general public needs to see how this film impacts those of us who are recovered, are still struggling, or are mourning the loss of loved ones to this illness.  Maybe, it’s time to discuss these illnesses more fully than we have in the past.  The public should be more alarmed if this film isn’t uncomfortable to watch.

 

June 21, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, death, depression, diversity, exercise, feelings, guilt, heart, identity, images, movies, publicity, recovery, responses, shame, therapy, thinspo, To the Bone, treatment, triggers, weight | 2 Comments

Things That May Be Difficult to Discuss

5340545-Tangled-wires-as-connection-and-network-concept-Stock-Photo-tangled-wire(please remember that this is my own personal experience, and I do not have an MD in either neurology or psychiatry.  Do not take my opinion as fact.  Take my opinion as an opinion.)

It’s not often I’m scrolling through my news feed and up pops an article written by someone who receives ECT, or electroconvulsive therapy, previously known as “shock therapy” or “shock treatment.”

I appreciate how the author points out that she’s not the “typical ECT patient.”  Just because movies and books may feature some middle-aged patient with long, stringy grey hair in a straight jacket in the corner of an empty room, does not mean this is normal.  Also keep in mind that today is 2018; it is not 1923.  When ECT was first used as treatment, it was also used as a punishment for symptomic behaviors, not an effective form of treatment.  It would physically subdue the patient without curing the underlying problem.  That is not how this treatment is used today.

I am not the stereotypical madwoman talking to herself in the corner.  (Although I do talk to myself.  And my cats.)  I am a just-about-40-year-old college professor who receives ECT as a maintenance form of therapy for the Bipolar Disorder I.

When ECT is used in an appropriate and careful manner by knowledgeable doctors with an appropriate candidate, ECT can be the best form of treatment for that individual.  With any form of treatment, you have to consider how the treatment was administered and whether or not the patient is a viable candidate–and, of course, do not  forget that each patient is unique (emotionally and physically), and may or may not have a positive response.  But–I wouldn’t trust my psychiatrist to diagnose and treat my cardiac illness.  I trust my cardiologist who specializes in electrical conditions of the heart and who has done a fair amount of research concerning my particular, rare, illness.  (In other words–ask questions, do research, and talk to an appropriate doctor whom you trust.)

So let’s address a couple of common myths and urban legends.  One: I am anesthetized while receiving said treatment and, therefore do not feel a thing and my body does not go into convulsions.  The ECT itself is extremely brief–a matter of seconds.  Two: I don’t wake up not knowing who I am or where I am.  I am aware before the short-acting anesthetic, and I am aware after I wake up.  While some confusion is normal when first awakening–that’s from the anesthesia and not the treatment–and it disappears quickly.  Three: While I am not allowed to drive that day, I can go about my daily activities and work with only some minor fatigue.  I can still teach and can still officiate, as long as I have transportation to get there–again, typical of restrictions after any course of anesthesia.  The day following the treatment is when I experience a headache or muscle fatigue, but I rest and take what usually is just a single dose of ibuprofen, and the headache is gone.  Four: There is not just a single one-size-fits-all approach to ECT.  There are different forms of ECT, depending on where the doctor chooses to place the nodes and if he uses one or two nodes and the duration of each session.

Memory can be a tricky mistress, however.  When I was in college (for my first bachelor’s), I had a course of ECT over three weeks.  I don’t remember anything from that time period or anything right before and right after those weeks.  This makes me rather uncomfortable, knowing that there is a period of time when the words in my journal entries from that time are unfamiliar.  So when, fifteen years later, a psychiatrist suggested ECT, I balked.  But that psychiatrist also had been treating me for longer than my first bachelor’s degree took, whereas the doctor from my college days only treated me when I happened to be inpatient.  Being the research freak I am, and since I was inpatient and couldn’t get to a library, I asked him to show me some legitimate articles or papers, and then we had an open, honest discussion about predicted results and side effects–both in terms of the immediate future and long term future.

I chose ECT.  After my cardiac diagnosis, I went through a very severe and lengthy depressive episode, and because of my heart, I cannot take a large number of medications.  I was exhausted and my mind was strung out, and I knew I couldn’t be discharged in the state I was in.

By the time I left that particular psychiatrist to move back to the eastern parts of the country, we had figured out that most of my medication was not helping.  My psychiatrist in MO found me a psychiatrist in NY, and the two of them consulted and discussed my treatment–and allowed me in on the discussion.

Over the previous three years, we’ve taped off old medications that proved to be ineffective, figured out which medications are effective, and I now am receiving ECT once every four weeks.  If I start to slip at all in those weeks, I call my psychiatrist and we talk about whether or not I should have an earlier, extra, treatment or if I am coping quite well and should see how things go.

During this time, I have been a college professor, a NYS Track and Field Official, an NCAA Volleyball Judge, a writer, and a friend and family member.  My memory has some glitches–but that could also be from the depression itself or, well, the fact that I’ll be forty in a week.  It’s not enough of a problem to hamper my lifestyle or consider terminating treatment.

I continue to reevaluate everything as new knowledge is produced in the scientific world of research, and I continue to reevaluate my pattern of symptoms, and discuss these with my treatment team.  Given everything–my past, my present, my physical limitations regarding medications, and my response to ECT–the most effective treatment for me is ECT.

 

May 28, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, ECT, health, heart, progress, recovery, relationships, shame, suicide, therapy, treatment | 3 Comments

Sometimes, We’re Just Human

Scrolling through Facebook the other day, I came across this post on how bodies look at different weights.  Yes, there are pictures.  No, they are not posted to feed into the pro-ana craze.  There are all different weights represented and all types of bodies.  The post pairs them up in twos: Two women who weight the same amount and have very different body shapes.

“Eh,” I thought.  “I already know people have different body shapes and sizes. I know weight is just a stupid ass number put on earth to drive us all nuts.”

But I thought I’d take a look at the post anyway.  Here are some things I loved about this post:

  1. The photographs don’t include the person’s  face, and the women aren’t posing in some so-called-sexy-come-hither pose in front of the mirror.  We can’t tell what they are feeling if we can’t read their faces. These photos are more objective than subjective–no special lighting, no special outfits, no special poses.  Just the shape of an unknown person at a given weight.  Because how someone feels shouldn’t be based on their weight.
  2. Also–the women aren’t photographed side by side.  Two different photos of two different women are place side by side.  They weren’t in a position of trying to look “better” or “thinner” or “fitter” or “happier” than  a person standing next to each other.  Because it shouldn’t be a competition.
  3. The post gives us no other information about the women.  Not their age, lifestyle, fitness level, etc.  There are no judgments or subjective comments posted about any photo.  Because you can be fit and strong and healthy regardless of your weight.

I know all of these things.  Most of the time, I even feel these things.  But sometimes, say, at the end a semester of teaching and the end of another very busy track season and after submitting what feels like 500 million thousand job applications in all different types of formats–sometimes I can feel a bit tired and overwhelmed, and my logic isn’t so logical.

And then I try on a pair of shorts that should have fit me but didn’t.  This bothered me.  Even with all my rational statements that are supposed to make me realize my faulty reasoning, I felt crappy.  I wasn’t thinking, “Now I have to lose weight” or “I hate the way I look” or “I’m too big for this world” (a significant phrase from the days I struggled with anorexia).

I just felt wrong somehow.  I was happy with my appearance before I put on those shorts.  I haven’t thought about losing weight in ages.  I know I’m healthy right now–healthier (physically and emotionally) than I’ve been in awhile.  Winters are tough on my body; it’s as if the cold sucks all of the vitamins that contribute to energy levels out of my body and blocks those vitamins from getting into my body.  I thought to myself, “I shouldn’t weigh this much.”

Not because I had stepped on a scale and saw a scary number, but because of the way a pair of shorts fit.

The end of this previous winter and throughout this spring, I have noticed I have more energy and I feel stronger than previous winters.  I was taking care of myself ignorant of all numbers relating to my size–and this led to more emotional and mental strength as well. 

I immediately worried if I was overreacting and if this was a sign that the eating disorder was sneaking into my thoughts and and and.  But this post is a good reminder, that not everything relating to my body comes from the old history of anorexia.  Sometimes, it’s just me having a crappy day, combined with being surrounded by media that tells everyone they need to lose weight or gain muscles or lose inches.

These thoughts can be persistent and stronger in people struggling with an eating disorder, but this is not just an eating disorder issue.  It’s a cultural one that affects all sexes, all ages, all weights, all lifestyles–and, as a whole, we need more posts such as this one to open up communication.  A scary monster in the closet can’t remain a monster if we are willing to bring it into the light of day.

May 21, 2017 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, diversity, Eating Disorders, exercise, feelings, guilt, health, identity, images, progress, publicity, recovery, responses, shame, treatment, weight | Leave a comment

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

Intentional Acting

14358754_10101428559527125_201134823500979566_nThis time of year is always difficult for me.  I have come to accept that life in general will be  . . . interesting during the winter months.  This year, however, I made some changes to my routine to make sure this would be a successful winter.

DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) and I agree on most things, but not so much on a few things.  I have learned a significant amount about taking care of myself, however.  A relatively new concept if you look at my life as a whole.  This year, I decided that, above all else, I would make sure I went to bed and woke up on a regular schedule.  This meant saying “the world won’t end if I don’t finish grading these papers tonight” and asking “you already know how to stay in bed for 24 consecutive hours, so how about we try something new?”  I’m not saying it was easy to maintain a regular sleep schedule; it took a hell of a lot of self-talk/self-lectures on a daily basis, and I certainly didn’t have a 100% success rate.  But I tried another new concept out this year by not shaming myself with negative self-talk when my day was less than perfect.

Not feeling guilty is actually more difficult for me than maintaining a good sleep schedule.

Healthy sleep habits definitely helped, but so did healthy exercise habits.  I said at the beginning of the winter that I wasn’t even going to go into the season with the intention of walking every day.  I hate the cold.  I hate the cold wind.  And I hate snow.  Going out for a slow walk was just not going to happen in upstate New York.  It was easier when I was able to run.  Then, just knowing the endorphin high was coming was enough to get me outside and exercising.

This year, I told myself I would try to maintain a regular yoga practice, along with my regular meditation practice.  My daily sitting practice went by unscathed.  However, there were many many many days when I just couldn’t make myself do yoga, or even do some simple stretches while watching television.  But–this winter I didn’t lecture myself about how bad it is not to exercise.  Turns out, guilt isn’t such a great motivator.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I found myself thinking, “It’s winter.  Just chill out and watch more Bones reruns.”  It was the end of winter and I didn’t feel like showing up at work, let alone exercising by myself at home.  And I’d just continue to sit there and read or knit.  And even without any self-lectures, I’d feel worse.  Mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Then I remembered another DBT skill: Acting Opposite.  I wanted to curl up in bed after going to work, not because I was enjoying a good nap that would be refreshing, but because I didn’t feel like dealing with the world.  Or my mind.  So I intentionally (a big mindfulness concept) decided to start (restart? revisit?  continue?) a daily yoga practice–with gentleness.  I started off with a few slow sun salutations–they only took a few minutes.  But I was okay with “just” doing a few minutes of yoga.  Each day, I added one more pose to my sequence.  I didn’t automatically just add on the next pose in the ashtanga series; I thought about what would feel good for my body and went with it.

So for part of the winter, I let myself sit and do nothing, exercise-wise.  For the rest of the season, I chose to challenge my depressive habits.  But in each case, I had to do so in a balanced fashion.  I had to listen to what was right for me in that given moment.  And I had to learn how to forgive myself.  These concepts of acceptance and forgiveness and gentleness are still new habits for me, and don’t come naturally.  But–I am discovering that, overall, I feel better when I choose to practice them.  My body and my mind thank me.

March 16, 2017 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, guilt, health, heart, mindfulness, progress, recovery, shame, therapy, treatment | , , , , , , | Leave a comment