Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Full recovery from the eating disorder led to me enjoying food and the social occasions around food.  I liked trying new (and previously terrifying) foods.  I looked forward to a Friday movie night on the couch with a pint of ice cream, some wine, and some great company.  I honored my body’s signals and was doing what I had thought was impossible–eating intuitively.  And it was awesome.

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These previous few months have been . . . trying.  Ten years of recovery is a long time, right?  I felt secure in that recovery–and I still do.  But I’ve discovered that dieting-by any name-is a definite NO for me.  My cholesterol climbed up a bit in 2017, enough for it to be a valid concern.  This is likely a symptom of my heart disease and may be unavoidable.  It could be a result of hormonal middle age.  It could be that as my body has been changing, my food choices haven’t.  So I was told to “make better food choices” and “avoid cholesterol” and “limit fat” and we’ll see where I stand in six more months.

I have been obsessing about food again.  Not if I should eat, or even how much I should eat, but what to eat.  During the years of the anorexia, pretty much all food was “bad” except for black coffee and water.  Now I’m asking if the food I’m eating is “right,” which quickly leads to wondering if I’m eating “good” food.  Once I put labels on food, those same labels shift over to how I see myself as a person.  Did I make the right (good) choice?  Then I’m a good person.

My trips to the grocery store have been agonizing lately.  I find myself comparing food labels and making sure what I choose is the one with the least amount of X,Y, or Z–even if it’s only by 1 little milligram.

I don’t like living like this.

And it’s hard to go anyplace without hearing about people’s diets.  Why they are on a diet, or why this particular diet, or why the previous diet didn’t work.  I read an article today about how restrictive diets are dangerous for those who are vulnerable to eating disorder behavior or thoughts.  It’s nice reading that other people who have recovered still turn obsessive when making a “simple” lifestyle adjustment.  It’s not ever going to be “simple” for me.  I obsess too easily and food equaled worth for too long.

I obviously have to make some small changes here and there for medical reasons.  I obviously can’t “go on a diet.”  Somehow, this person who tends to exist in extremes, is going to have to find the grey zone of compromise.  But I have also decided that my cholesterol level is not a good enough reason to torment myself and risk sanity, especially when I probably have little control over the actual numbers.  (Did I mention I like having control?!)

I will try “tweaking things” (as my therapist puts it), but if I can’t do so without my overall health staying as it is, then these numbers are just going to be my numbers.  If I have to manage the side effects of one more medication, I have confidence that I can do that.  But I refuse to be miserable, and no one will ever touch my chocolate!

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February 22, 2018 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, cholesterol, depression, Eating Disorders, exercise, guilt, health, heart, progress, recovery, responses, shame, therapy, treatment | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Never My Friends

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Every so often, when I’m scrolling through my facebook feed and see random blogs sponsored by an advocacy organization, I want to punch the screen of my laptop.  Don’t worry, I don’t do that.

Recently, I saw a blog detailing one writer’s recovery from Ana.  Not “anorexia.”  Not “eating disorder.” Not “life threatening illness.”  Ana.  I have friends named Ana.  They have faces and bodies and fashion styles and colored hair and hand gestures and quirks and a way of speaking that are different from my other friends.  None of them are trying to kill me.

But by using this cute nickname, this writer is referring to the years spent suffering from an illness and the strength and energy it took to recover.  For that, I admire her, just as I admire anyone who has recovered or has just made the decision to try recovery or is caught up in the hell of figuring out if recovery is possible.  (It is.)

I have seen too many friends die because of various eating disorders.  When I was still sick and had no real intentions of recovery, I brushed these deaths aside, as much as one can brush death aside.  “I only knew them for a couple of weeks in treatment,” or “She never really wanted recovery anyway,” or even, “I’m jealous.”  Then, some of the friends I made in treatment because “out of treatment” friends who I’d meet for coffee and hang out with and go to movies with.  A lot of these individuals are still my friends; we fought the eating disorders together.  Social media, of course, widened my network of friends with mental illnesses.  Some of these friends became close friends.  And a good percentage of them died. One of these friends, I think if we hadn’t met in treatment, became the closest thing to a soul sister I have encountered.  And she died.

I could no longer “brush death aside” with a casual wave of my hand.  These friends weren’t dying after a chance encounter with a stranger named “ana,” “mia,” or “ed.”  They died from an illness.  Over an extended period of time.  In a lot of physical and emotional pain.  I just can’t give those illnesses cute little names.

We give names to inanimate objects as a way of personalizing them.  They mean something to us, and we want to hold these things close to our heart.  Sometimes we name these objects or situations in an effort to make sense of them, and eating disorders rarely make sense.  But when you personalize something, it becomes harder to let go of.  And when you don’t use the true vocabulary of these illnesses (death, pain, feeding tube, throwing up, purging, isolation, obsession, compulsion, loneliness, depression, fear), it’s easier to forget the harsh consequences of knowing this “friend.”

Even ten years after recovery, I cannot look back and casually refer to my twenties with “Ana” anywhere in the description.  I was sick, and just like the cardiac illness I have is not cute and fun, neither was the eating disorder.  Would you nickname depression or bipolar disorder or suicide with cute names?  How about cancer?  How about stroke?  Then why do we consider eating disorders worthy of cute and fun?

February 12, 2018 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, exercise, guilt, health, heart, identity, progress, publicity, recovery, suicide, thinspo, treatment, triggers | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

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

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

Full Recovery

from deviantart.com again by Queen666

from deviantart.com again by Queen666

My previous entry was about trigger warnings, and our need to be able to cope with the world around us.  A day or two later I received a “question” on my Questions page.  It’s not really worded as a question.  After a thinly disguised non-description (where we are told of her physical symptoms, size, and severity of illness) of the individual’s own disorder, s/he lets  me know:

 I’m tired of hearing of people being cured of eating disorders. There’s not such thing. You may go in remission but you’ll battle your weight for the rest of your life. Eating disorders have been called the most fatal mental illness, and they are. I discovered that bipolar disorder type II is often associated with bulimia nervosa, while bipolar type I is often associated with anorexia nervosa. Schizophrenia is often a co-morbidity.

Yes.  Eating Disorders do have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.  However, that does not automatically mean that you can’t recover.  I was not cured of my eating disorder.  There was no “magic fix” or “magic pill.”  I took a couple years and worked my ass off to first enter “remission” and then I decided that I didn’t want anorexia to be part of my life–at all.

I do not “battle my weight.”  I haven’t in eight years.  My weight naturally fluctuates because of a variety of reasons: time of year, condition of my heart (physical, not emotional), condition of my heart (the emotional one this time), medication changes, illness, and my level of depression.  However, these natural fluctuations keep me in my healthy weight range: a range where I’ve found my body physically functions best.  I keep track of my weight because of the different doctors I see and because I do not see the point in stepping on the scale backwards when the doctor and I have to be able to openly discuss my weight because the dose of one of my medications is determined by my weight.

I don’t think about my “meal plan.”  I eat when I’m hungry.  I stop when I am full.  If I am physically ill and don’t feel like eating, I try to eat small things and drink a lot throughout the day–not to manage my weight, but to give my body energy to beat whatever is currently ailing me.

I don’t have a list of foods I’m not “allowed” to eat.  (Except gluten and dairy, but that’s determined by my intestines, not my mind.)  I don’t have a list of “good foods” or “bad foods.”  Food is food.  I eat it if it tastes good.  It’s a pretty simple decision.

I do worry about exercise.  I have for six years now, ever since my genetic heart condition was diagnosed and I had my ICD put in.  I want to exercise because it helps my depression and mood stability and it helps the rest of my body.  I have to be very careful about what I choose to do and when because exercise actually harms my heart.  When I look at my old exercise habits, I laugh at what the Old Me would have thought about my current activity level.  “Yoga?  Slow walks?  They don’t count as exercise.”  But now they do, and I’m more familiar with my body now than ever before.

My clothes fit me.  I don’t care what size they are.  I don’t compare myself to the models in ads.  I don’t stare into the mirror for hours, trying to decide how to make my body “better.”

I am not “managing symptoms.”  I live in this body and I care for it, and my mind is finally free to take in all that life has to offer.

So why do I keep this blog?  Because of the fact that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.  Because I’ve had to stop counting the number of friends I’ve lost to eating disorders–the number was getting too high.  Because I have friends who are still struggling.  Because I meet people who confide that they are struggling and don’t know what to do.

Because when I was sick, I was given the lie that you could never truly recover from an eating disorder and I didn’t know of anyone who was fully recovered.

Because a partial recovery was just not good enough for me.  If I was going to work my ass off to heal, I wanted to heal.

Because I wanted to live, and I am.

Because other people need to know this healing is possible.

May 14, 2015 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Body Image, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, health, heart, progress, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

How Far You Jump

I miss the feeling of sand in my mouth!

I miss the feeling of sand in my mouth!

A lot of you will know that I really do miss the feeling of sand in my mouth.  Along with the thrill of competition and the endorphin rush of exercise and the camaraderie of my teammates.  I miss the training, the weights, the intervals, the stretching, the ice packs, the athletic trainers.  All of it.  It used to be my life.  I haven’t competed since college.  I haven’t been an over-exercise-obsessive-compulsive-must-run-for-hours-a-day person since I was earning my MFA in Washington, DC.  And I haven’t been able to do any aerobic exercise since July, 2009, due to a cardiac illness.

One thing I do not miss:  the perfectionist drive that made me feel guilty if I didn’t set a new PR at every single meet, regardless of the weather conditions or an injury or the time of the season.  I always had to do my best.

A few days ago, while officiating a junior high track  meet, I worked the Long and Triple Jump.  I had my first athlete start crying on me.  (I really hope this doesn’t happen often!)  She was a 7th grader.  This was her very first meet ever. Because of the snow up here, pits have only been open for about a week, so this was her first week of even learning how to long and triple jump.  She fouled her first jump.  Shook it off, but looked worried.  She fouled her second jump.  Then her shoulders dropped and she hung her head and tried to hide the tears streaming down her face.

I wanted to take her aside and really talk with her and reassure her and look her in the eyes and tell her that everything would be okay, regardless of her performance in the meet.  But with 30 junior high girls in the event, it was a little chaotic, so I didn’t have much time with her at all.

These were the gist of my words of wisdom:  “You still have another jump.  Even if you foul, it’s okay.  We’ve all fouled out at meets before.  Your coach was not expecting you to break any world records today. It’s your first meet, and he wanted you to run down the runway three times and land in the pit and have fun while doing it. Take a breather before you jump again.  Maybe move your mark back a good two feet to be on the safe side, and then run down the runway and pretend I’m not here and have fun.” 

I remember being disappointed in my performance as a seventh grader.  That feeling of not being good enough.  The pressure of that last attempt, feeling that if I fouled out, the world would end and everyone would think less of me.  At that point, I had yet to break records and win invitationals and regionals and compete at the state level.  I was in 7th grade.  Putting more pressure on myself than most professional athletes.  I wish someone had spoken those words to me when I was in seventh grade.  I finally heard them when I was a collegiate athlete, and my all-too-awesome coach began teaching me that yes, my goal was to place at Nationals, but if I didn’t, that would be great, too.  What was more important was having fun while competing and trying to do the best I could do on that particular day.

I wanted to tell this 7th grader that all of the pressure she felt?  It’s not worth it.  Competition and Track and Field are not worth it if you always end up feeling like you could have done better.  How far you long jump does not determine your worth.  How far you jump defines nothing other than muscle strength and speed and technique and, sometimes, luck.  How far you jump will not determine who you are.  The passion behind jumping might be part of who you are, but that doesn’t depend on how far you jump.  How you hold yourself after competition reflects more about who you are than the competition itself.

We as a society have come to stress performance, especially athletic performance, and the importance of placing well (winning).  In my case, I cared about performance so much that I lost track of everything else that made me me.  And when an injury ended my ‘national career,’ I had no idea who I was or how to find out.  I figured that without Track and Field Star attached to my name, I wasn’t worth anything.

I now know what makes up this body and soul the world calls Alexis.  But I wish it hadn’t taken thirty years to do so.  I wish I had left for college knowing I could do something other than long and triple jump.  And I wish I had known then that “Who I Am” is not a static self made from concrete, that I am constantly changing and growing and learning.

I now know there is far more to me than my track and field records.  I only wish I knew how to tell all of that to a 7th grader in the span of thirty seconds.

obsessive

April 19, 2015 Posted by | bipolar disorder, depression, Eating Disorders, heart, identity, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment