Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

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 | Leave a comment

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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