Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

a beautiful and painful life full of hope and chaos

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

A Therapist’s Tips for Your Recovery From Anorexia

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

So what could possibly make me angry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

To The Bone fits my reality almost perfectly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

The Inevitable Holiday Post

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To state the obvious: the holiday season can be difficult for a lot of people, regardless of any diagnosis or history of diagnoses.  It’s just plain stressful.

I love going to visit my brother and sister-in-law—I get to see my precious nephew and niece, after all.  And I love catching up with all of my in-laws, whom I simply refer to as family.  I like waking up to kids squealing when they see the presents under the Christmas tree and relaxing with family the rest of the day.

However much I love my friends and family and love spending time with them, I remain an introvert.  This does not mean I don’t like spending time with people or socializing—it just means that doing so tires me out as much as running ten miles used to.  This is when the anxiety heightens, simply because of the exhaustion, and then I start feeling trapped—the old “the walls are closing in on me” feeling—and wishing I could disappear.  The stress mounts until I force myself to emotionally numb out and present a much-practiced Smile Face for people.  In the past, this would inevitably lead to dangerous coping behaviors, and that would lead to guilt and shame, even if no one else knew about it.

I still feel all those feelings, but now I have a choice as to how I respond.  I could still give in to those old urges, but I know that’s not really want I want for myself.  Instead, I’ve learned that when I first start feeling that panic creep up on me, I give myself an break.  I find space and silence and retreat for a few minutes.  Sometimes for more than a few minutes.  I simply rest in the silence.  I inhale slowly, feeling my ribcage expand.  As I exhale, I picture all the tension in my body flowing out, and I let my shoulders relax.  I notice the solidness of the chair I am sitting on, or the floor beneath my feet.  I ground myself, thus healing the anxiety before it has a chance to overcome me.

Usually, I return to any festivities going on, but there are times I don’t.  Times when I am simply too overwhelmed and I know that immersing myself in a room of people and noise will be too much.  My family and friends know that this is not a comment on my feelings for them and that I’m not tired of them.  I am simply tired, and for my own health, I need some me time.  They’re a supportive bunch and don’t judge me.  They are glad I am learning to take care of myself and finding ways to stay healthy.

This list has some good ways to take care of yourself on stressful days.  I love writing To Do lists, because when I cross something off that list, it feels wonderful.  There are days when crossing off “check work email” is an accomplishment.  I make my bed every day—not to accomplish anything, but because I love the feeling of crawling between two smooth sheets when I go to bed.  I prefer baths over showers, and making myself put “real” clothes on does feel good.  If you choose exercise, please do so keeping your health in mind.  And remember that everyone has days when they stay in the pajamas all day, but if these days start melding together, please reach out and talk to someone.

And some days, you just need to wear a crown.

 

 

December 21, 2016 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, family, feelings, health, mindfulness, progress, recovery, relationships, shame | 1 Comment

The light and dark sides of social media

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Here are a couple characteristics I claim that I believe many of you will be able to relate to:

1. I feel guilt very easily, even if there’s no reason for it.

2. I have a difficult time saying no.

3. I would much rather take care of someone else than take care of myself.  In fact, I often feel like I have to take care of other people and that my own needs/desires are minimal in comparison.

These may seem like admirable traits.  Putting others first is usually seen as a good characteristic.  But some of us have a tendency to take things to an extreme level.  Generally, if you put someone’s needs before your own, you still get around to taking care of your own needs.  Problems start happening when all you do is take care of others and ignore/pretend you don’t have your own needs.

One of the biggest things I have learned in recovery is that I have needs and that I have to take care of them, even if that means I don’t take care of someone else.

Early in my recovery, I was lucky.  I found a 100% pro-recovery website–one of the early bulletin boards type of site.  I felt safe there, and I felt supported.  Even though some of us were still struggling, there was still a focus on recovery.  We encouraged each other to push forward after a slip or relapse.  We supported those seeking treatment.  And there were people on the site who had recovered and gave others hope.

An acquaintance on facebook recently posted that she had received some negative comments about her journey towards recovery, hinting that she really should have just “done it” by now and that it’s her own fault she’s still struggling.  My advice to her was to unfriend anyone who wasn’t fully supportive of her efforts, to block them if need be.  I even suggested that she go through her friend list and delete people who may not be working towards recovery–those who glorify their illness or size or post pictures meant to “show off” their illness.  Even people who may do these things without any ill intentions or awareness of their actions.  I suggested she surround herself with people who support her and encourage her.

This can be a difficult road to follow.  Several months ago, I realized that although I was beginning to shed most of the recent depressive episode, I’d find myself feeling worse by interacting with some others–both online and offline.  I took a look at my own updates and noticed I wasn’t helping myself either.  It’s a good thing to be honest about your feelings when things are crappy, and to let others know you need support.  But I was ignoring everything else in my life, focusing on the negative.  I noticed that a great deal of posts in my newsfeed were also negative.  So I made some difficult decisions.  I unfriended the people who–unintentionally–were dragging me down.  I had to stop seeing some people in my day-to-day life as well.  I tried to let them know that I needed all my energy to focus on myself in order to heal.

Of course, I felt guilty as hell for doing so.  I still do at times.  It’s not like I don’t understand their actions.  I mean, there was a long period in my life when I was the person holding people down, and I didn’t know it, and I was hurt when they “left” me.  So shouldn’t I stick by the people I “get?”  No.  I needed to get stronger first–or else I wouldn’t be helping them or myself.

I am still recovering from this depressive episode, but I have made immense progress in the previous few months.  I’ve had to really focus on my needs.  I am “coming out of the shell,” I suppose, and I’m starting to insert myself into more social activities, but I still need to respect my limits.

I have found great support online and in real life.  I have also encountered a lot of obstacles in each world.  I encourage each of you to pay attention to all your relationships and consider what you need to do to keep yourself healthy.

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June 23, 2015 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, depression, Eating Disorders, guilt, recovery, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Slow Progress is still Progress

Om Namah Shivayah

Om Namah Shivayah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Person

(Trigger warning:  documentary includes numbers and photos of individual at low weight.)

A couple of months ago, I had the honor of working with a talented group of high schoolers on a documentary they were filming for a contest.  There were all sorts of rules about content and how things had to be filmed and what could and couldn’t be done.  They made sure they followed the rules of the contest; I just answered their questions.  They chose the general topic of eating disorders, narrowing in on the concept of balance.

I do not agree with their decision to include certain pictures or numbers, but I more than agree with their decision to tackle a difficult, and often ignored, subject with honesty.  I imagine there must have been easier subjects to consider, less emotional or controversial subjects.  But this group of high school students stepped away from the easy and stepped up to the challenge by speaking out.

I did not have the opportunity to meet the other individual interviewed, but she deserves major kudos for speaking out so openly so early into her recovery.  I was relieved to hear she had the support of the student body rather than their scorn, as I know still happens entirely too often.  Adolescence can be difficult when everything goes smoothly.  Throw in some struggle in the tense environment of a high school (or junior high, or college, or work environment) and sometimes (often) individuals find that it is easier to be sick than to seek help.

We need to learn some lessons from these students.

Admitting an illness is not a weakness.  Seeking treatment is not something to hide.  Admitting an illness take a great deal of courage and strength, and the willingness to seek treatment and work toward recovery is something to be proud of.  Not many are able to step up to this terrifying challenge.

In order to step up to this terrifying challenge, support is essential.  Family and friends and coworkers: we should look up to individuals who are willing to take a step toward recovery, not laugh at them or see them as weak.  They are facing their demons.  Are you doing the same in your daily lives?

Those of us who have begun recovery or recovered or want to recover: we need to speak up when we are ready, and in our own individual ways, always aiming to take care of our own needs.  Not every individual needs to or should step in front of a camera and tell his or her story.  Stories contain memories that may be difficult to share.  Not everyone needs to or should write a blog about their recovery.  Speaking up does not necessarily mean publicity.  It may mean an anonymous post on a blog or board that encourages or affirms someone else.  It may mean choosing to post of picture featuring a genuine smile that couldn’t be seen while you were sick.  It may mean donating to a scholarship fund.  It may mean letting one other person know that recovery is possible and that he or she is worth it.  It may mean sharing links about eating disorder education or treatment.  It may mean refusing to laugh at fat jokes and fat shaming.  It may mean leaving a social group that does not allow you to seek out health.  It may mean quietly loving yourself and silently doing what you need to do for you. It may mean confronting someone who is also struggling, planting the seed of hope and change.

We are not all called to change the world and win Nobel Prizes.

We are all called to change our own world for the better, however we can.

One person telling another person.  Who will then tell someone else.

Just imagine what one word of support could do. How much could change. How many possibilities become more than just possibilities.

April 25, 2015 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, depression, Eating Disorders, Mental Health Parity, recovery, relationships, shame | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment