Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

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

ThirteenReasonsWhy

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

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

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