Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

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

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

For an “All or Nothing Girl,” “Closer” Can Be a Tricky Place to Hang Out

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I have always been an all or nothing girl.  My friends know this.  My family knows this.  My teachers have always known this.  My coaches loved this.  If I’m going to play Field Hockey, I am going to give it every little ounce of my self that I can.  Same with school.  Same with life.  I don’t believe in doing things half-heartedly.

I spent Thanksgiving with awesome friends who have become family over the years.  These people have known me for almost twenty years.  I am still sometimes amazed that my friend and I survived these twenty years and that I feel as comfortable in her presence as I did way back then, no matter how much time passes between visits.  I have gained friends and family through this one person, another thing I thought I was incapable of.

In the car home, I was listening to Melissa Ferrick, specifically to her song, “Closer,” which you can listen to on her Facebook page.  Singing along as I always do when I drive, I sang the words (forgive me for quoting an entire chorus):

“But with every little bang, every little push
Every little step I take, I get closer
A second at a time, usin’ my breath
Maybe it’s true I’ve got a fear of success
But with every little bang, every little push
Every little step I take
I’m gettin’ closer
I’m gettin’ closer”

And I realized–this is true.  And I realized–it’s easy for me to be disappointed in this.

When I was young, I must have seen a movie or show with a professor sitting in his or her office–a big, ornate desk and walls lined with shelves full of books–and I knew that was what I wanted.  I really had no idea what a professor was or what it entailed, but I wanted to be one.

It took awhile for me to accept this.  I have a Bachelor’s in music; I finished it because it was what people expected me to do.  Later, I went back for a second Bachelor’s–this time in English.  It was home.  I went on and earned my MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at American University, and there really was no option in my mind about my last step: get my PhD.  So I moved to Missouri, fully intent on getting that PhD.  I thankfully discovered that I love being in front of a classroom.  And I love being a student.  I think my dream job right now would be to get paid to sit in a library (a very big library) and do research and write.  Full time.

I finished my coursework at Mizzou.  I knew what I was doing my critical dissertation on.  I had my comps list.  I knew what I wanted to do for my creative dissertation.  And then I realized I couldn’t.  I could teach.  I could be a student.  I could not do both at the same time, and in order to get my PhD, I would have to teach while reading and researching and writing and meeting with my committee and turning out drafts by certain dates and so much more.  And I couldn’t do it.  At least, I couldn’t do it and maintain any semblance of mental health at the same time.

In the end, my mental health prevailed, and I am now a professor–an adjunct, but my dream is to still be a full-time professor.

So.  I certainly am closer.  Especially when I look back two years ago, when life started falling apart to a degree I can’t put into words.  I took three semesters off of teaching.  This semester I am teaching three sections, and I am loving being back in the classroom on a college campus.  It has been difficult to restrain myself at times–to not join committees, to not accept speaking engagements, to not push myself into the ground every single night.

It has also been difficult.  To be on a college campus and not be working toward my PhD.  To know that my PhD is not going to happen.  I have always assumed I’d have a PhD.  And yes, I still dream of going back and earning one.  I get as far as looking at universities’ programs.  I feel guilty when I am on Facebook when I see my friends post about their dissertations and their job searches and their publications because that should have been me.  That could have been me, if I hadn’t fucked up so bad, if I hadn’t disappointed everyone around me. 

I know a PhD is not in my future.  I still want one.  But I also realize that I need to accept and rejoice in the fact that I am a professor, in a field I love.  I am writing again.  I am researching again.  Eighteen months ago, that didn’t seem possible.  But here I am.  Closer. But not quite there.

As I continue studying mindfulness and practicing meditation, acceptance keeps rearing its head.  I have (mostly) accepted the Bipolar I diagnosis.  I have (mostly) accepted my cardiac diagnosis.  I can even joke about both of those.  I know I haven’t accepted my “academic failure” aka my “non-PhD.”  The fact that I still see it as a failure says a great deal.

But I am going to continue to work on this.  I had a life planned out for me.  Maybe, however, I need to accept that it wasn’t the life I was supposed to live.  I still get to discover that.

November 28, 2015 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, guilt, heart, identity, mindfulness, progress, shame, teaching | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Slow Progress is still Progress

Om Namah Shivayah

Om Namah Shivayah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Identity Post Number 1,233,459

Tales-of-mere-Existence-Who-the-Hell-Am-I-by-Levni-Yilmaz

I’ve addressed this issue many times on this blog.  I honestly thought that once I figured it all out, I would know who I am and that would be that.  Searching over.  Questions no more.  But if I have learned one thing in my journey it’s that the self is not this static thing we label one day and just stick in our pockets to keep.  The self, I believe, is constantly changing.  Evolving.  (I have no research or scientific wisdom to support this statement.  Although, now I do feel like a little research . . .)

But as I was walking over the weekend, I was thinking about who I am.  I realized I didn’t have an answer.  I know who I used to be, and I know who I wanted to be. 

I was a successful doctoral candidate who taught part-time at a local community college. I was working on my writing and was successful in seeing a couple essays published.  I knew what I wanted to accomplish as far as a book was concerned.  I considered myself kick ass strong for recovering from anorexia and for not letting the news about my cardiac state completely bowl me over.  I was a Christian who was learning about Buddhist principles and practices and was starting my own meditation practice.  I loved to read, write, knit, paint, and play the piano.  I loved coffee shops, both with friends and by myself.  I had goals I wanted to achieve and plans on how to get there.  I thought I would be a successful writer, a tenured professor, and active in my community.

I did not expect to be 37 and living with my parents and not working at all. Forget the tenure track positions.  I’m not a successful writer.  And I’m too anxious to be active in my community right now.  I still read.  I can’t remember the last time I used my creative energy for something beyond Facebook and my journal. 

Who the hell am I?  I’m someone who would easily be able to sleep all day.  I’m someone who doesn’t feel like doing most anything.  I am reliant on other people for all my needs.  I am “a contributing member of society.”  I sit down to write and nothing is there.  I feel like the people who could help me with this are all back in MO and I’m not able to contact them, and I’m not settled enough in NY to have built up a reliable treatment team that I fully trust.  (I mean, I haven’t even been here three months, and trust isn’t exactly something I just pluck off of a tree.)

And I guess I wish I had the answer.  The solution.  I am using Rick Warren’s What on Earth Am I Here For? as a devotional.  My meditation practice is starting to find a place in my daily life again.  And I’m doing everything I know how to do to “get better.”  It would just be a whole lot easier if I could do that today. 

But I guess I am in a period of change and evolution and growth.  And while it is not comfortable, it is necessary.  What I need to do is remember to keep breathing and remember to keep myself open to the world around me.  And remember to not try to force the direction I am going or how I am going to get there.

 

*****I would also like to encourage questions, or ideas for future entries.  Leave them in a comment or message me.*****

August 28, 2014 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, heart, identity, mindfulness, progress, recovery, therapy | 1 Comment

pituitary, prolactin, procedures, and . . . possibility?

Early this morning I had my first CT scan with iodine contrast.  I don’t like the iodine bit, but lying motionless for several minutes with noises around my head–I’ve got that one down.  Three or four weeks after I moved back home, I started experiencing a cluster of symptoms that I have always associated with iron deficient anemia–and I’ve always been really good at knowing when I’ve been anemic.  Well, Doctor #1 told me that all the symptoms were from depression.  Doctor #2 believed me when I said this was different from depression.  Psychiatrist Doctor agreed with me.  So they took several vials of blood, and anything pointing to anemia was good. 

My prolactin level was off, however.  By itself, not really that big a deal.  Elevated prolactin levels could be caused by two of my medications.  But my psychiatrist is doubtful since I’ve been on those medications at those doses for a rather significant amount of time and all my levels have been fine in the past.  So we went ahead with further testing.  The CT scan was looking for a pituitary adenoma, which would explain every symptom I’ve been complaining about.  Almost all adenomas are benign and can be treated with medications. 

I’m not worried about having an adenoma.  I’m worried about not having one. 

During the CT scan, I kept repeating, “Please find something please find something please find something.”  I’ll be relieved if the scan comes back positive.  I want something to be wrong with me.  Something I can point to on a picture and say, “Right there.  That is what’s causing everything.  And this is how we’re going to fix it.”  Sometimes I am so tired of having Bipolar Disorder.  I want something concrete to point to and blame for all the ups and downs.  I want to be able to say, with some assurance, that this is what we’re doing to treat it–and it’s working. 

I know that mental illnesses are “real” and that they are just as “physical” as my heart disease.  I advocate for mental health parity and try to encourage individuals to seek treatment and be open about their struggles.  But sometimes to not have to explain everything, to say “I’m Bipolar” and have the other person nod in understanding would be nice.  It would be nice to have everyone believe me when I say that I can’t just will myself out of it, that I can’t just smile and pretend everything’s fine, that some medications work and some medications don’t and it depends on the particular doses and the combination and they can just stop working at anytime. 

Sometimes this whole journey is so exhausting and my motivation starts leaking out of me.  Maybe some day, they’ll be able to diagnose and cure Bipolar Disorder with a CT scan and a given medication that has proven reliable and effective.  And maybe someday insurance companies will agree that mental illnesses are actual illnesses and will agree to cover them equally. 

Until then, I’ll probably just keep hoping for positive tests results.

August 22, 2014 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, depression, faith, health, heart, identity, Mental Health Parity, progress, recovery, responses | Leave a comment

some regrets . . . and success

“How many times have I, in my moments of brokenness, looked at my life and seen diminished worth and value?”  I just read this quote on a To Write Love on Her Arms post.  And it was a good day to read it, for this is something I have been struggling with as of late. 

I’m 37-years-old, unemployed, living with my parents, and broke.  I am 100% completely dependent on my family right now.  This was not where I wanted to be when I turned 37.  I had imagined so much more for myself.  And I can’t help but look back on my past and say, “If I had only done X differently.”  Regrets.  I have them.

  • Regarding the anorexia, I wish I had listened to everyone and actually accepted treatment that first time in the hospital.  Or the second.  Or the third. 
  • I wish I hadn’t had to take time of off school.  At every single freaking school I went to:  my first bachelor’s (I year), my second bachelor’s (only three weeks), my master’s (one semester), and my PhD (one semester, then I went back to school, and then I left for good, no PhD in hand).
  • I wish I hadn’t attempted suicide in 1997.  I realize how much pain I caused my family and friends.
  • I wish I had been a better friend, that I had been able to exist beyond my illness.
  • I wish I had gotten better sooner.  As in “the very beginning” sooner.
  • I wish I had a PhD, and a dissertation (that’s not only in my head), and something on the market. 
  • I wish I were on the market.  The job market, that is.  Actually, I wish I was in that tenure-track position I was supposed to be in by now.

 

There are more.  All along the lines of “If you hadn’t screwed up, you’d be where you were supposed to be right now.  You’d have been successful.”

I cannot help but compare myself to friends I met along my educational path.  I cannot help but compare myself to people I admired and who I wanted to be like.  I cannot help but compare myself to my brother, a successful eye doctor.  And I feel like success is just something I’m not meant to have.

People have been reminding me of a few things:

  • I have the rest of my life ahead of me.  To do lots of things.  To reach my dreams.  I have no idea what tomorrow will bring.  And, regarding my faith, maybe this is part of the plan, and maybe this  will help me become the person I’m supposed to be.
  • As for accepting help with the eating disorder.  Maybe I could have done it differently.  But I was still just a child, and I had no idea what was ahead of me, and I had little support in key places. And I did fight enough to stay alive.  And I did eventually recover. 
  • Since recovery, I have advocated for other people, I have lobbied for mental health parity, I have written articles for some journals and newspapers regarding eating disorders. 
  • As for the ‘getting better sooner’ wish.  I did cooperate with my doctors regarding the Bipolar disorder.  I took my meds, I went in the hospital when I was told to, and I talked to my treatment team.  We all tried.  But we have found out I have a particularly difficult form of Treatment Resistant Bipolar Disorder.  We could not have sped up the progress and eventually, I ended up here, getting treatment that is effective for me.
  • As for the education:  I had to take time off of school, true.  But I do have two Bachelor’s degrees and my Master’s in Fine Arts.  And I got into the PhD program of my choice, and I learned a great deal during the time I was there.  Both personally and regarding my writing.  And I got to learn Latin. 
  • Regarding the job:  nope.  I’m not teaching right now, as I had wanted.  But I have taught successfully at two colleges, and I have read my student evaluations and my peer reviews, and I am happy with my performance.
  • I do not have a dissertation all typed up to present to a committee.  But I do know what I wanted to write, and there is no reason why I can’t write–and publish–that material now.
  • Yes, I could have been a better friend, as evidenced by the number of people who just couldn’t take any more from me and left.  But I was young.  And I made mistakes.  But I’d like to think I have since learned from those mistakes and become a better friend in the process.
  • I really wish I could erase the suicide attempt.  Just erase it completely.  And honestly, I fear this will always be a regret that haunts me.  But I did learn from that event.  I learned that I did not want to commit suicide.  So when the depression took over and the suicidal thoughts got to the point where I was scheduling my plan out in my calendar, I asked for help. 

 

Part of this is a feel-good entry for myself.  Part of it is to let people know that we all have regrets, and mental illnesses are well known for taking away confidence and self-esteem and self-worth.  I think we all need to make these lists.  Struggling for recovery can make one feel weak, but acknowledging what you have accomplished and what you may still accomplish can help in those dark moments. 

And even after recovery, there is often the regret that it took so long to recover.  To that, I ask you this:  Are you alive now?  I certainly hope so considering you’re reading this on the computer, and I’m pretty sure my posts haven’t reached the afterlife yet.  You’re alive.  And that is the greatest success of all.

 

 

August 9, 2014 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, family, feelings, guilt, identity, progress, recovery, shame, suicide | 1 Comment

Yes, I will dare to address it: spirituality

Warning:  This may be one unorganized entry!  I have always had difficulty putting words to faith and spirituality without falling back on doctrinal phrases nicely printed up for me in hymnals.  But in the past six days, I have had five different people ask me about my spirituality, including whether or not it has been important to recovery.  Since I do consider spirituality to be a significant part of my life, then it has certainly impacted my recovery.

 

I kind of wish I could fall back on some pre-written doctrinal phrase and let that be it.  There was a time, when that was enough.  And part of me wants to go back to my 20-year-old self when my faith was easily defined by what I heard in chapel and the songs we sung in fellowship.  I took in what others ‘gave’ me, and that was belief. 

But I did not stay 20-years-old.  Maybe then, just accepting was all I needed.  But as I grew, and as my experiences widened, and as I met more people, I had more questions.  And “just believing” wasn’t fulfilling me anymore. 

I think what had happened was that I became disillusioned with religion.  One set of beliefs, based on ancient texts and stories, that were “good” while other texts and stories were “bad.”  I remember when my sister-in-law’s father died.  They are from Iran and are Muslim.  I remember thinking at the funeral, “What makes my prayers to God “better” than their prayers?”  And the idea that Bahman would go to hell simply because he hadn’t used the “right” words was repugnant. 

I tried to forget about it, put it on the back burner so to say.  But the question of right versus wrong had gotten hold of me, and as I have stated before, I tend to obsess just a bit, although it sounds better when I say I “critically approach” an issue. 

By the time I was 30, I had met so many different kinds of people.  People with different faiths and different ways of expressing their faith.  I lived in Washington, D.C. and was amazed at the differences in people.  I began asking, “What is it about my faith that makes me special?”  And the answer was, “nothing at all.”

I think that it is good that as children, we learn from parents and teachers about faith in uncomplicated language that is easily taken in as true.  But as we grow up and mature, we have different questions and different needs.  What I believe has helped me, encouraged me, and been a significant part of my recovery.  However, someone who was raised in a Jewish community will have a different set of needs.  Not because they are Jewish, but because they are human.  I have different spiritual needs than some of my friends, than some of my readers, than my own family.  And I do not feel that one way of expressing one’s faith is any better than any other way.  We’re addressing that same “something”–be it God or Allah or the Divine–in ways that help us grow to be the individuals we are. 

Someone asked me the other day about my childhood and my faith.  “How could you believe in a God that allowed a four-year-old to be abused and raped?”  And I will admit, there was a time when I began discussing my childhood in therapy that I asked myself that very question, coming up with no positive answers.  I realized that life itself is more complex that “believe in this and life will be all roses for you.”  That would be nice, but it just doesn’t happen that way.  I don’t know why that happened to me when I was a child.  I don’t know why I inherited the family curse of Bipolar Disorder and a genetic heart disease and my brother inherited neither. 

I don’t have those answers, but I have a choice in my response.  I could stay bitter and get angry at my brother and lay blame at God’s feet and just be pissed off for the rest of my life.  But I don’t really like the sound of that.  I have a tattoo that reads, in Latin, “Let me always live with an open heart.”  I got it after my heart surgery, as a reminder not to remain bitter and closed off.  I have chosen an open life, and while I may not be happy about certain aspects of life, I can’t change them, but I can take what I can from the situation to help my own spiritual growth. 

And by “open” I mean that my faith has grown and expanded tremendously.  I use a devotional, but it’s one that asks me questions about how to apply the day’s verses and discussion to my personal life to help me grow and become stronger.  It doesn’t just tell me what to take in in an indiscriminate fashion.  I do not believe in The Word of God being the one and only way to do things.  Archaeologists have unearthed too many versions of the Bible and there are contradictions within versions–and then there are all the other sacred texts out there, some of which predate the Bible.  I have a difficult time taking each word literally because of these contradictions and use sacred texts more as a metaphor.  “What can I learn from this particular story?” is the question I now ask.  How do I apply these words to life in a way that makes me a better person and, hopefully, allows me to make the world around me a better place. 

My study  of meditation got a weak start, since I was told by several people that I should do this, and I was resistant at first because of my faith.  However, my meditation practice has only helped that faith grow.  I have been struggling recently to return to my meditation practice–using the excuses of “new place,” “transitioning,” “exhaustion” and more.  The truth, I think, lies more in the simple fact that I am afraid.  Of what I’ll find and learn about myself. 

I have said that recovery is scary as hell and that it is the hardest thing you’ll have to go through, but I do think we have choices about how we approach recovery and the tools we use along the way.  And it is a choice you can make:  do you want to remain bitter and closed off spiritually, or do you want to grow and change and explore yourself and the world around you.

August 7, 2014 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, health, heart, mindfulness, recovery, therapy | 2 Comments