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

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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

Intentional Acting

14358754_10101428559527125_201134823500979566_nThis time of year is always difficult for me.  I have come to accept that life in general will be  . . . interesting during the winter months.  This year, however, I made some changes to my routine to make sure this would be a successful winter.

DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) and I agree on most things, but not so much on a few things.  I have learned a significant amount about taking care of myself, however.  A relatively new concept if you look at my life as a whole.  This year, I decided that, above all else, I would make sure I went to bed and woke up on a regular schedule.  This meant saying “the world won’t end if I don’t finish grading these papers tonight” and asking “you already know how to stay in bed for 24 consecutive hours, so how about we try something new?”  I’m not saying it was easy to maintain a regular sleep schedule; it took a hell of a lot of self-talk/self-lectures on a daily basis, and I certainly didn’t have a 100% success rate.  But I tried another new concept out this year by not shaming myself with negative self-talk when my day was less than perfect.

Not feeling guilty is actually more difficult for me than maintaining a good sleep schedule.

Healthy sleep habits definitely helped, but so did healthy exercise habits.  I said at the beginning of the winter that I wasn’t even going to go into the season with the intention of walking every day.  I hate the cold.  I hate the cold wind.  And I hate snow.  Going out for a slow walk was just not going to happen in upstate New York.  It was easier when I was able to run.  Then, just knowing the endorphin high was coming was enough to get me outside and exercising.

This year, I told myself I would try to maintain a regular yoga practice, along with my regular meditation practice.  My daily sitting practice went by unscathed.  However, there were many many many days when I just couldn’t make myself do yoga, or even do some simple stretches while watching television.  But–this winter I didn’t lecture myself about how bad it is not to exercise.  Turns out, guilt isn’t such a great motivator.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I found myself thinking, “It’s winter.  Just chill out and watch more Bones reruns.”  It was the end of winter and I didn’t feel like showing up at work, let alone exercising by myself at home.  And I’d just continue to sit there and read or knit.  And even without any self-lectures, I’d feel worse.  Mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Then I remembered another DBT skill: Acting Opposite.  I wanted to curl up in bed after going to work, not because I was enjoying a good nap that would be refreshing, but because I didn’t feel like dealing with the world.  Or my mind.  So I intentionally (a big mindfulness concept) decided to start (restart? revisit?  continue?) a daily yoga practice–with gentleness.  I started off with a few slow sun salutations–they only took a few minutes.  But I was okay with “just” doing a few minutes of yoga.  Each day, I added one more pose to my sequence.  I didn’t automatically just add on the next pose in the ashtanga series; I thought about what would feel good for my body and went with it.

So for part of the winter, I let myself sit and do nothing, exercise-wise.  For the rest of the season, I chose to challenge my depressive habits.  But in each case, I had to do so in a balanced fashion.  I had to listen to what was right for me in that given moment.  And I had to learn how to forgive myself.  These concepts of acceptance and forgiveness and gentleness are still new habits for me, and don’t come naturally.  But–I am discovering that, overall, I feel better when I choose to practice them.  My body and my mind thank me.

March 16, 2017 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, guilt, health, heart, mindfulness, progress, recovery, shame, therapy, treatment | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Whatever You Want

JUST TRY HARDER!!

If you wanted it bad enough, you’d have it by now. All you have to do is try. It’s easy once you decide to really go after it.  Give yourself some credit and just do it already! 

Anyone else hear these, or similar, sayings while struggling with an eating disorder or addiction or trauma or depression?  Or life in general?  I *think* they’re supposed to be motivational. How many people actually find words like this motivating?  How many people feel guilty after hearing words such as these?  I’ll raise my hand to the latter.

I’ll admit, those early hospitalizations for the eating disorder and self-harm—I didn’t want it.  I had no intention of wanting it.  I had every intention of following the program’s rules in order to be discharged so I could go home and get back to the weight I was before admission.  I was there because my treatment team told me to go.  I played nice so I could avoid involuntary commitment.

Then there came the stage when I began considering recovery.  I began wanting it.  I knew people in varying stages of recovery, and I was starting to see just how miserable the eating disorder was making my life.  But at the same time, I began to notice how difficult recovery was.  How many daily choices I would have to make to stay on that path.  How exhausting those choices could be.  How exhausted I would be.  And how terrifying everything in front of me was.

I wanted recovery.  But I was already exhausted and frightened and overwhelmed.  How was I supposed to take on even more exhaustion, terror, and change?  I really had no faith that I could do so.  I mean, I had an eating disorder.  How strong could I possibly be?  How could I be strong enough to overhaul my life?  I knew how easy relapsing after treatment was.  Fighting that felt like too much for me.  So when I heard someone say “You just have to want it”, I felt like a total failure.  I thought that I obviously didn’t want it enough, or else I would be choosing recovery.

Yes.  I think you do have to want it.  People can’t make you recover.  They can force you to eat and gain weight and they can monitor your diet and when you use the bathroom and how much you exercise, but that can only last so long.  Eventually, it will come back to you again.  And if you don’t want to change, you won’t change.

But desire is not enough.  If you are so exhausted and physically compromised that you can’t think through the decision of what movie to go see, how can you be expected to make a serious life decision?  If you really do want recovery but have absolutely no idea how to even begin walking that path or whom to talk to or where to go, how can you be expected to “just” get better.  And if you know you want a better life but don’t honestly believe you have an eating disorder, how can you choose not to have one?

Sometimes, someone else will have to step up and make decisions for you.  They may have to force you to go into treatment.  A doctor may have to initiate involuntary feedings.  And you may hate those people and be angry and bitter and swear you’ll never talk to them again.  But because of these people, you will have a chance to regain enough strength and mental clarity to make the decision for yourself.  And even then, you may well need those same people to help keep you on that path of recovery.

After I choose to recovery, I didn’t immediately begin eating 100% of my meals and calmly sit in the hallway afterward without yearning to get up and pace for hours to burn all of that food off.  I struggled against my treatment team.  I tried to “make deals” with them to get out of certain parts of health.  I was confused as to why they were demanding so freaking much out of me.  I wanted to get better, but I just didn’t want to put forth the required effort.  For a while.  Then I began *gasp* working with my treatment team and making choices for myself that supported a healthy lifestyle.  And after I regained enough strength, I found that it was easier to make those daily choices to recover than to make the choices to relapse.

If you are at that stage of wanting it but are completely exhausted and don’t know what the hell to do, tell someone else and tell them you need their help because you can’t do it by yourself.  And then resent that person with all your heart as they help you get to the point where you can thank them with your life.

January 26, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, family, feelings, guilt, health, identity, progress, publicity, recovery, relationships, self harm, shame, therapy, trauma, treatment | Leave a comment

I’m Sorry and I Thank You

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These are things I remind myself of almost every day.  It’s difficult to examine my life and realize that I’m not where I was supposed to be.  According to my own expectations, of course.  I do look at my life and am content–I never really planned to end up where I am, but it turns out, I like it here!  But I also like finishing what I’ve started, and there are a whole lot of things I started and never finished.

I often take stock of my life in this manner–and around this time of year, I get even more introspective.  Thinking about what I’ve accomplished in the previous year, but also since I left Missouri, since I left Washington, D.C., since I left Pennsylvania.  Since I used to work for Certain Company and taught at Certain University and climbed rocks as a hobby.

Since I knew various people that once were a significant part of my life and no longer are.  I wonder how these people are doing.  I wonder if they are still angry with me.  The ugly truth is that I lied to people, manipulated them, and screamed horrible things I don’t even remember.  I hurt people.  I wish I could contact each and every single person to apologize, to say that regardless of my pain, I should not have said or done those things.  I’m aware of that now.

I also wish I could thank these people.  The ones who walked away out of exhaustion and frustration and confusion.  I may have hurt them, but I am here because of them, and I wish I could let them know where I’ve been and where I am now and what I’m doing.  I’d want them to know that some of my dreams have come true and that I’ve been dreaming new dreams.  I’d like them to see me as I am now, because I hope they’d agree that I’m a better person–and that I’m a better person in part because of their influence.

I’d like to know I’ve made them proud, even if it’s just a little bit.

I think one of the most difficult things that people struggling with recovery face is the knowledge that we’ve let people down along the way.  It’s not easy to own up to this, to honestly admit to the dark parts of our pasts.  I think hearing “I’m proud of you” is the greatest phrase because of this.  Each time I hear this, in sincerity, I chip away at the dark parts of myself that I fear so much.  Each time these words are spoken, I heal just a little bit more.

Remember to thank those you love.  Remember to let people know when you are proud of them.  You never know what they might be carrying inside.

January 10, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, guilt, identity, mindfulness, progress, recovery, relationships, responses, self harm, shame, suicide, therapy, trauma, treatment, well earned pride | 1 Comment

questions for my former anorexic self

Question__by_Queen666I’ve been noticing a lot of blogs with titles like “10 things I would tell my former self”–usually the “former self” is specified further with “anorexic,” “addict,” “depressed,” “medicated,” and other adjectives.  The lists are poignant, and often reveal more about the process of recovery than anything else, and a lot of them are universal truths we can all nod our heads at.  I wish I could go back and tell my former anorexic self a few things, but I can’t.  People did often tell me those things, and I just didn’t listen or believe them.

I would like to go back and ask myself a few questions.  Things I could have pondered, if I had been open to doing so.  I would have given myself journaling assignments!  I have always preferred writing about something before speaking about it.

1. What do you want to be when you grow up?

We’re all asked this, and I journaled about this question all the time, and my answers morphed as I grew older, but I loved the world of academia and always say myself in an antiquated office with lots of books and a big, ornate desk and fancy chair.  And a patterned rug.  I wasn’t sure what would go on in the office, but I wanted to be in that office.  The worlds of teaching and writing and reading smushed themselves together, and I wanted to be an English Professor.

Someone did ask me a variation of this question that started me thinking, and this did lead to change on my part.  My first semester at my MFA program, I couldn’t decide if I should go into treatment or not.  I was debating this with one of my professors (whose office was nothing like the one in my dreams), and she asked me why I wouldn’t just go get help.  And I told her that I was a graduate student and couldn’t.  (My logic skills never were that great.)  But she just looked at me and told me I wasn’t a grad student.  Not really.  I came to class and read and wrote, yes.  All while obsessing over food and exercise.  I didn’t socialize.  I hadn’t gotten to know my peers.  I hadn’t explored the city I was living in.  I was isolated in my sick world and turning in sub-par papers.

I did go to treatment, and I learned that you could be a graduate student while seeking help for an eating disorder, but you couldn’t be an anorexic while being an effective graduate student.  Maybe I was ready to listen to that professor then, and I wouldn’t have been five years prior.  But what if someone had asked me–this goal-oriented overachiever–if I wouldn’t be able to be who I wanted to be if I weren’t anorexic?

2.  What is your picture of a perfect life?

I would have had myself write down every little detail, from my job to my location to my friends to my family to my church to my living quarters to my cats to my hobbies to my daily routines.  Ev-er-y thing written out.  A story book world that I created all about me.  All of my dreams.  All combined.

3. Why don’t you want that life?

“Of course I want that life!” I would have shouted.  And then I would have asked, “Then why don’t you have it?  Why don’t you make it happen?”  Eventually, along my recovery journey, I would ask myself these questions.  I’m still waiting for the perfect happy-ever-after fairytale, but I do realize that I have more of a chance of reaching that place now than when I was sick.

Question 3 would lead directly to number 4:  What are you afraid of?

Many people mistakenly believe eating disorders are about food and size.  But although I had a perfect life pictured in my head, and even though I had was given opportunities to make that life happen, something held me back.  Basically, the answer was fear.  I was afraid of being hurt.  I was afraid of failure.  I was afraid of what success meant.  I was afraid of people taking advantage of me.  I was afraid of being disappointed.  I was afraid of disappointing others.  I was afraid of imperfection.  I was afraid of anything I wasn’t familiar with that I could not control.  Therefore, it was easier to live in a world I created and controlled.

5.  How is that working out for you?

Could I have even answered this question then?  Everything I wanted out of life was not possible because of the anorexia.  I wasn’t happy.  I wasn’t safe.  I was alone.

But I was still scared.  At least I knew my current surroundings.  Sure, I could dream up a perfect life, but I had no reason to believe it was even possible.

People kept telling me that I could “learn how to manage this” and that “things would get better” but they offered no proof, just vague motivational lines of hope and faith.  I wanted, I needed, to see results.  After a few years, I did meet someone who had that proof of recovery.  And then I met a couple other people whose results matched my dreams.  Eventually, I came to believe I could do the same.  And then I became part of that network of recovered individuals who want to let people know that full recovery is possible.

We have enough media stories about the hell of eating disorders.  We have blogging communities devoted to sharing specifics of eating disorders.  We have online forums for people to compare symptoms.  News articles focusing on recovery that first must rehash all the trauma–complete with pictures–before summing up the “things are better now” conclusion in a nice succinct paragraph.

We need to hear the stories of eating disorder sufferers, yes.  More importantly, however, we need to hear the stories of recovery: not just the fact that someone recovered, but how they did so.  We need stories that provide a road map to recovery, not a road map to illness.

August 8, 2015 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Communication, depression, Eating Disorders, recovery, treatment | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

who is responsible when treatment fails?

holding_hands-1418Reading around the internet today, I came across A Disordered World, and the home page drew me in.  A site about experiencing mental illness and accessing treatment.  I read a lot of passion in this site, and I believe this author’s story is one of the stories that need to be told.  But it’s only one of the stories, and the first article and second article in a series investigating eating disorder treatment centers raised a lot of red flags for me.

Let me be clear:  It is not my intention to nullify this author or to negate her personal experience, but to draw attention to another point of view.  I do think the “investigation” is flawed because it’s an openly biased position with no acknowledgment of any other view.  This worries me, because I am afraid that people would look at this site and use it as justification for not seeking treatment.

I also support anyone who suffers outright abuse at a treatment center and speaks out, but I won’t say that the entire treatment system is flawed and incompetent.

If you have an eating disorder, are suffering, and are scared, please seek appropriate treatment. 

I’ve been in treatment for anorexia multiple times: Inpatient, Partial, IOP, and outpatient group therapy.  I was labelled as “treatment resistant.”  Maybe those are harsh terms that bias providers against potential clients, but using the word “noncompliant” only puts a prettier spin on things; it doesn’t erase the fact that in the beginning of my eating disorder, I resisted treatment.  I played the hospital’s games and got myself discharged and went back to the eating disorder.  I certainly am thankful there were people in my life that “did this” to me.  I would not be alive if people had not intervened and forced me into treatment.  Did I benefit emotionally, or did I come to any understanding about why I suffered from an eating disorder?  No.  But I am alive today because of the NG Tube inserted against my will.  These hospitalizations bought me time. I certainly didn’t enjoy them, but I don’t consider them failed experiences.

Eating disorder treatment centers all have rules, and usually they are pretty strict rules.  A lot of the times, it’s because if those rules weren’t in place, clients would continue to use eating disordered behaviors.  So yes, there are meal requirements.  Early in my treatment, I learned to just play along and clear my plate and I could go home earlier.  When I made my decision that recovery was my only option, I didn’t just “play along.”  I cried at my first dinner and could only manage a few bites.  I believe the first few meals went along the same lines.  And because I wasn’t following protocol–by refusing meals and refusing supplements and, therefore, not gaining any weight–there were repercussions.  At the time, I would have cursed the entire facility and staff and anyone who stepped into my field of vision, and I would have blamed everyone but myself.  But even though I was noncompliant, my psychiatrist and my therapist were supportive and encouraging.  It’s not like I was the first anorexic they saw who didn’t want to eat.  Eventually, I was able to work up to my full meal plan and supplements, but it took a couple of weeks.

I felt like I “should be trying harder” and that I should “just suck it up and deal” and that “it was all my fault anyway.”  One of my proficiencies is accepting guilt for almost anything possible.  But for the first time in treatment, I was being open and honest and showing my true fears surrounding recovery, and I needed that.  Because then, when I chose to eat a couple more bites of food at one meal, it was a personal accomplishment and not just “doing it because I have to.”

I don’t think my experience is unique.  I know many other women and men have experienced similar journeys as mine.  Relapse after treatment is not unusual, but it does not mean treatment failed.  Eating disorders are insidious illnesses; they take over an entire personality.  Recovery is learning who you were to begin with, and who you want to become.  And although it’s cliche, journeys usually involve some stumbles along the way, even as overall progress is being made.

I question writing that offers a blanket statement that inpatient facilities are not the most effective way to treat eating disorders.  (Have we come up with THE effective way to treat EDs yet?)  That doesn’t mean they’re not effective at all.  In an ideal world, people with eating disorders would get help before they required inpatient care and, therefore, immediately benefit from outpatient modes of therapy.  In an ideal world, insurance would pay for these outpatient modes of therapy, but a significant majority of individuals are faced with the either/or decision of inpatient treatment versus once a week sessions with a therapist.  Yes, you can appeal your insurance company, but that takes a great deal of time and energy.  At the time I decided I was going to recover, no matter what, I did not have the time or energy to appeal, and I didn’t have anyone in a position to call the insurance company for me.

I needed the inpatient treatment.  Because I was noncompliant by nature.  I needed the strict rules and consequences to get me through the initial stages of intense fear.  I would not have benefited from a partial program at first.  After six weeks of inpatient care, I did step down to their partial program, but I was ready for it then.  It was still scary and difficult, but I had also developed some faith in myself by that point.

I state on my blog that I do not recommend what type of treatment to seek.  We are all individuals, and have our own unique sets of needs and desires and tendencies and fears.  So I ask you not to write off a form of treatment because it wasn’t successful for some.  If we based decisions on that belief, every single treatment option would be scratched from the books.  I know people who have recovered fully using residential programs, inpatient centers, partial programs, IOPs, and outpatient therapy.  I also know people who have died after seeking each type of treatment.  But I know a whole lot of other individuals who died before seeking treatment at all.

If it hadn’t been for the “ineffective” treatments I received in the beginning of my journey, I would not be alive to say that I have been fully recovered for eight years now.  I may bear scars from some of those experiences, but I have to admit that I’m thankful for them.  I may have chosen recovery a little later than others had wanted, but in the end, I did choose it, and I thank everyone who helped me get here today.

August 1, 2015 Posted by | Eating Disorders, progress, recovery, treatment | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

I can’t forgive and forget, but I can still move forward

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I like tea. Tea is soothing. Useful when moving forward.

A comment from a previous entry: “Despite how crappy it is, it makes me feel better that someone else has had similar experiences as mine. And so happy to read how positive you are, even though you are having a tough time at the moment.
The problem is I’m still so angry about the poor treatment, the stigma, the fact that I was effectively left to die on my own.
How did you move on from such poor treatment from those who were meant to be helping you? How did you forgive them?”

Forgive and forget.  Don’t dwell in the past.  Look forward to the future.  Let go and let God.  No use worrying about spilled milk.  Be thankful for where you are now.

I hear the value in all of these statements.  But I’m not sure I can honestly say I follow them, and I think that’s an okay thing.

There have been times when my psychiatric care was just plain lousy and my treatment providers were negligent.  I found better providers.  Then had sucky ones again.  Then had good ones, etc. I want to say that I was the changing force, but that would be a lie.  In my case, most of the changes in providers had something to do with me moving, from Pennsylvania to DC to Virginia to Missouri to New York.

I look back at some aspects of my care and I am angry.  “Where would I be now if I had had a better therapist then?” crosses my mind, and I get angrier.  But feeling anger is less harmful than feeling guilt.  At least now I can look back and say, “That aspect of treatment was not beneficial.”  At the time, I thought it was my fault and, of course, kept silent.  My train of thought was: Why do I get a say in determining what’s effective and not effective?  Aren’t I the sick one with poor judgment skills?  I must be doing something wrong. 

I remember, however, voicing my concerns at various points in treatment.  And getting responses along the lines of You aren’t thinking clearly, and I know this is right for you.  And, because I’m not a professional, I listened and felt guilty.

This year I have realized that that is what makes me angry.  Not that I had inadequate care at points, but that my concerns were not listened to.  The number of factors that go into making a healthy therapeutic relationship are great, and we as a society are only just beginning to explore better ways to handle psychiatric emergencies.  This doesn’t change my past, but it has helped me from feeling bitter, and I no longer blame them.

It’s easy to dwell on “What would I have accomplished by now if only X hadn’t happened?” but that’s pretty futile.  X did happen.  I am still angry, and I try to use that anger in a positive manner.  I try to remember that I have a say in the doctors I see and my treatment.  There are effective ways to voice concerns and some not-so-effective ways, but I do have a right to voice my concerns and open up a discussion, just as if I were seeing my cardiologist.  I try to advocate for others when they feel they aren’t strong enough to speak up.  I encourage others to write down exactly what they are concerned about and not to leave their provider’s office until that question is answered.  I speak at conferences and schools and share my experience and emphasize that one crappy doctor/treatment does not mean the next one will not be helpful.

The stigma?  I fight this every day.  I want to cover up my scars and wear long sleeves because I know people stare.  But I’ve also had people come up to me and ask about them and tell me they are scared because they do the same thing and don’t know how to stop.  I don’t lie about my eating disorder history because I know when I am in a random group of people, someone in that group is struggling, and just by knowing that I recovered, I might give them hope that they can, too.

I have a harder time with my suicide attempt.  The stigma surrounding those who attempt/commit suicide is so heavy and dark.  But I recently got a tattoo–the semicolon tattoo.  Yes, it reminds me that I still have a story to finish, but I am hoping other people ask me about it and learn from my story.

And as for being positive?  For these several minutes, I have tried to look at things through a positive lens.  And I generally try to do that away from the keyboard as well.  But sometimes, I am a bitter, cynical person who writes angry entries in her journal and questions every experience in her past.  Those days suck.  But at least I am aware of them now, and I do my best not to use them as an excuse to treat those around me poorly.  And I write in my journal and write a lengthy, whiny letter to a friend and wake up the next day.  Sometimes back in a positive mood, and sometimes not.  Which is how pretty much every person lives.

July 29, 2015 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, recovery, suicide, treatment | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment