Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

One Day I Will Love My Body

ae2db3e26f6acb3b54fd48520d5521f4Here’s another post where I respond to someone else’s work.  Allison Epstein recently wrote “Why I Have No Intention of Loving My Body” for an online publication.  The title itself intrigued me.  As someone in recovery from anorexia, I have had the words “Love Your Body” shoved down my throat for over a decade.  I haven’t always reacted well.

I do agree with Epstein’s argument that the “Love Your Body” campaign has turned into just one more way for certain industries–fashion and publishing come to mind–to make money.  Not just among people struggling with eating disorders, but for anyone in a society that is programmed (due to fashion and publishing industries) to see only a certain kind of body as worthy or beautiful.

Speaking as someone who has recovered from an eating disorder and struggled with intense shame surrounding my body, I don’t want to proclaim that I have no intention at all of ever loving my body.  Loving my body is an ideal that I work towards, and I even have days when it’s true.  But to be honest, I haven’t yet reached a transcendent point in recovery where I can say without any hesitation that I love my body with all my heart and soul and always will.

But those of us who have sought treatment for an eating disorder or body dysmorphic disorder, we are told that we must love our bodies in order to recover.  At the beginning of my recovery, I was so far away from loving myself that the whole concept seemed impossible.  Which must mean recovery is impossible.  Or so I was made to feel.  In painting across my body’s outline on a piece of paper, I could not draw butterflies and suns and rainbows or symbols of peace and strength.  I could draw angry red scribbles as I tried to destroy my image.  I was fully weight restored, eating intuitively, and not over-exercising.  All awesome things to have accomplished.  But every time someone tried to simple tell me to love my body, I felt as if those things didn’t matter for much since I still kinda hated my body.  And I really did try to “just love my body,” but I think most of you know it doesn’t work that way.

Here’s how things worked for me.  During my first year of recovery, I focused on intuitive eating and I learned how to listen to my body and respond appropriately.  Because of the severity of the over-exercise, I agreed to one year exercise free–no running, no yoga, no speed walking, no biking, no weights.  Nothing.  The idea was to “reset” my relationship with exercise.  I still really couldn’t have cared less for my body.

So during the second year of recovery, I had a pretty good handle on intuitive eating and no longer consulted a nutritionist and didn’t see my doctor every week “just to make sure.”  I gradually reintroduced exercise into my life style.  i did not let myself keep a schedule, because in the past, that only led to obsessive thoughts.  Instead, I woke up and thought, “What would I like to do today?  Run or do yoga?”  It was through yoga that I released a great amount of hatred toward my body.  On the mat, I realized that even though I didn’t have the same super-athletic body I had while I was an All American in Track and Field, my body could do some awesome things.  I’m not extremely flexible, but I realized I was doing poses a lot of people couldn’t, and I could hold poses for a significant amount of time.  My time on the mat gave me the opportunity to appreciate the body for everything it could do for me, just as it is in that moment.  I didn’t need to improve upon it or make it stronger.

But did you note the language I just used?  I used “it” instead of “my.”  I still saw myself as separate from my body.  My body was this appendage that was necessary for me to exist, so I had to put up with it.  Not only did I continue practicing yoga, I began practicing slower, gentler forms of yoga than I was accustomed to.  While I was in a pose, I listened to what my body was telling me, something I’d later call mindfulness.  My body could tell me where I was sore or if I was tired and needed rest.  My body could also tell me if I was stressed emotionally, or angry, or overwhelmed with sadness.  This was when I began to learn to accept my body, and I learned to say that it was indeed my body.

Then I began learning more about mindfulness, which, to be honest, terrified me in the beginning.  Body scans could cause nightmares.  Very slowly, however, I learned to sit in my body, to be still in my body, and to be present in my body.  I am still beginning my journey of mindfulness, but over the previous few years, I have moved from a tolerance of my body to an appreciation of my body.

I admit, I do not wake up in the morning filled with love and awe for my body.  But neither do I wake up hating my body and dreading the sight of it.  There are days when I can appreciate my body just as it is, but there are more days when I still appreciate my body for what it can do for me.  This does not take away from my recovery.  If anything, the fact that I can acknowledge the different stages of body awareness is a huge accomplishment.

This body is mine.  I treat it well and take care of it.  I listen to its needs and wants and respond appropriately.  I could not do any of this while I was sick.  I think that if we expect people to jump from intense self-hatred to all-encompassing love of the body, we put too much pressure on them.  Recovery is not a one-day process, and we should not expect sufferers to “just get over it” as soon as they maintain weight or maintain healthy behaviors.  Our bodies carried heavy loads for such a long time, and we need to give them the grace and patience to heal.

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August 31, 2015 Posted by | addictions, Body Image, Eating Disorders, health, mindfulness, progress, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

Inspirational Photos

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Call them what you will–before and after shots, inspirational photos, self-promotion–I am not all that pleased with the combination of photography and eating disorders, which has been a problem on social media for years.

For obvious reasons, I’m not a fan of selfies that depict bones and angles and dark circles under the eyes–be it to glorify the illness or to say, “Look at me. I’m so sick and miserable.”  I am not in favor of the Go Fund Me sites that use these pictures to encourage others to donate money so the individual can get treatment.  Selfie-videos?  Maybe in another post.

The other day I saw someone post a link to a site with before and after shots proving recovery from an eating disorder is possible.  The before shot was invariably an extremely thin individual who is sad, and the after shot is the same individual after gaining weight, with a smile on his/her face.  Which is just so like real life . . . I mean I was glowing with happiness during the initial stages of recovery, which for me meant weight recovery and maintenance.

What do these pictures show?  They show that an eating disorder is about weight, and nothing more.  Are you life-threateningly thin?  Then you have an eating disorder.  Gain weight and you’ll be happy again.  It’s really that simple.  (NOT)  These pictures promote the stereotype that eating disorder=anorexia and anorexia=thin.

This is not motivational or inspirational.  It’s downright harmful.  Yes, some individuals with eating disorders are underweight. But not all are.  Some are at a supposedly healthy weight.  Some are overweight.  You can’t tell just by looking at someone whether or not they have an eating disorder.

And if recovery was a simple equation of weight restoration=happiness, then why did my eating disorder continue for years after my initial hospitalization in 1999, when I did restore weight?  I can guarantee you that I was not smiling after that hospitalization.

For me, due to the nature of the eating disorder I struggled with, weight restoration was an important first step in recovery.  But looking back, it was only just that–a first step.  The difficult and terrifying work would come later, after I was physically healthy enough to endure intensive therapy.  And I wasn’t smiling during that process either, by the way.

Recovery was the hardest thing I have ever had to go through.  Now?  Yes, I am smiling.  I can look at my body with love and awe–not because of my weight, however, but because I realize this body allows me to go for walks every day and do yoga and write and teach and officiate and go out with friends and live fully.

Please, don’t pass on those images of inspiration.  Think of where you were at your sickest.  Would you have taken inspiration from the after shots or the before shots?  Would you have felt glad for the person in recovery or would you have been jealous of the person in the before shot?

Share the stories of those who have recovered, from all types of eating disorders.  Share stories that focus on the internal process of recovery and the joy in living freely.

June 27, 2015 Posted by | Body Image, Eating Disorders, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

yet another post about taking care of you

Take-care-of-youI haven’t been around much (again).  I’ve hardly been online and my email and facebook were neglected.  I didn’t socialize.  I didn’t even write letters.  (I communicate my deepest thoughts through snail mail because I’m old.) These previous three weeks have been rough on my family.  My grandfather on my father’s side passed away, and I spent the majority of my time at the hospital and nursing home, and then we had calling hours and the service.  He lived a long life (he was 93) and I am at peace with the conclusion, although I will miss him.

I was kind of worried at the beginning of this period.  Even before the eating disorder had hints of starting, my tendency is to take care of others before considering my own needs and desires.  I spent a lot of time with my grandfather’s wife, making sure she was getting up to walk around and getting sleep and eating.  In the back of my mind, I do admit that I wondered if I would need someone to remind me to do those same things.

My journey of recovery has been full of ups and downs, but after this past month, I must say I am proud of how much I have changed.  Taking care of me–it came naturally.  I knew my limits and, even after thinking “But I should do this,” I would speak up and take care of myself–be it through a trip to the cafeteria or going home to sleep.

Yoga probably contributed to this more than any other therapy.  After I decided to fully recover, I took one full year off of all exercise–including yoga–to break my cycle of exercise addiction.  After that year, I began a new relationship with yoga.  No longer did I step on my mat with the intention of gaining muscle and flexibility.  My intention instead was to listen to my body.  What did each pose feel like?  How did my body respond?  What exact muscle was affected?  Did I like this pose?  Did this pose feel good on the inside?  How was I affected emotionally?

Through yoga, I learned my body.  Not just its lines and curves and thickness, but I learned how to feel–and how to respond appropriately.  I learned how to respect my body for what it could do for me.  I learned that my body has limits, and I need to respect those limits.

I found out that I don’t need someone to take care of me (although having my mom make me dinner is always a beautiful thing!).  My body will tell me to take care of me.  By paying attention to my body, I felt hunger and sleepiness and sadness and stress and joy and love.  And I reacted with love for myself.

I have absolutely no doubt that if I had not taken care of myself, I wouldn’t have been able to help my father and uncles and my grandfather’s wife through all of this.  I would not have been a help, but a hindrance.  It was not selfish to say, “I need to go home for the night.”  It was necessary in order to help again the next day.

Other people need you in their lives.  But in order to be there in their lives, you need to take care of yourself.

June 12, 2015 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, death, depression, family, feelings, mindfulness, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Full Recovery

from deviantart.com again by Queen666

from deviantart.com again by Queen666

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because I wanted to live, and I am.

Because other people need to know this healing is possible.

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

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

How Far You Jump

I miss the feeling of sand in my mouth!

I miss the feeling of sand in my mouth!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

obsessive

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

Why I’m Still Here

National Candlelight Vigil

National Candlelight Vigil

I was looking for a very specific photo this morning and came across a lot of oldies that made me start pondering a bunch of things.  The end of this month is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and there will be awareness walks and candlelight vigils and guest speakers and conferences all over the country.

Yesterday, I was working on my conclusion, writing in my journal, and picking up books my cat pushed off the bookshelf.  (This happens quite frequently.)  I keep Lauren Greenfield‘s book that accompanied her documentary Thin on my shelf.  Honestly, I have mixed feelings about this particular work.  Yes, it created awareness and helped bring eating disorders to the discussion table regarding parity.  Yes, parents and professionals should watch it.  But I never recommend it to someone struggling with an eating disorder.  The only reason I ever watched that video while I was still sick was for motivation to get sicker.  The photos made me jealous, because I wasn’t “thin enough.”  The stories were mainly about sickness and frailty, not recovery and wellness.

And then there’s Polly, a main subject in the documentary, and someone I think about often.  Polly never had the chance to recover, because she committed suicide on February 8, 2008.

Polly was my friend.  I knew her long before Thin was filmed.  I know I have photos of the time we spent together, but I’m not sure where I’ve tucked them away.  This was before smart phones captured everything and we relied on a 35 mm camera.  I look through Greenfield’s photos when I think about Polly, but those photos also bring up a lot of anger and sadness.

In the film, she is the rebellious one.  The defiant one.  The revolving door patient.  The problem maker.  And while she certainly was rebellious and defiant, there was so much more to her, including this part of her that wanted more than anything else to recover.  But what motivation did she have to recover when people kept telling her that she wasn’t trying hard enough?  That she would always battle some form of an eating disorder?  That she could only ever hope to manage symptoms?

I was fortunate. I had already been labeled a “revolving door patient” and was known for defiance when I met Allan and Kathy.  They had recently lost their daughter, Shelby Starner, because of an eating disorder.  They were the first people who told me that I could recover, that I had to recover.  Fully recover.  They believed in me, they encouraged me, and they pushed me when they had to.  I began to think that I could not die and make them suffer again.  They introduced me to Kathleen, an individual who had fully recovered, and I began to think actually recovering–and not just surviving–was a possibility.  She repeatedly told me I couldn’t settle for anything less.  Then I met my nephew, and decided he didn’t need a sick aunt haunting his life.  So I realized my only choice was recovery.

I had mentors in my life showing me recovery was possible.  I had people reminding me that I had the strength to recover.  I had people reminding me why I had to recover.  I had a treatment team who believed that 100% full recovery was possible, and that I should never settle for anything but recovery.

What if Polly had had that?  Someone to show her what full recovery looked like.  Someone who told her full recovery was possible.  Someone to see beyond the rebelliousness and defiance.  Someone to put their faith in her.

“Back then” that was difficult to come by.  I’d been hospitalized five times–and had been told I would always live with anorexia–before I met Allan and Kathy, who offered another possibility.

That’s why I still keep this blog.  I want people to see that full and total recovery is possible.  I don’t want anyone to settle for anything less.  I want someone to find this blog when they’re about to give up on hope and realize that someone else has been there and has made it through.  I know that some people still doubt that recovery from an eating disorder is possible, and just last month, I had a doctor put me through a whole bunch of questions because he didn’t initially believe me.

My job is to prove all of those people wrong.

February 9, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

2014

Brandi Carlile

Brandi Carlile

Brandi Carlile is my 2nd Favorite Singer of All Time.  I love her.  I have fallen in love with her.  (In a non-creepy, non-stalkerish manner!)  And today I had the chance to listen to her music all the way from Albany to home.  Her lyrics often get me thinking of certain people and situations, and being the last day of the year and all, I was in a reflective mood to begin with.

The previous 365 days can be split into Before and After.  Before accounts for January through the end of May.  After is anything after June 1.

“Turn to light or fade to black; you don’t look back no you don’t look back; at what you might not want to see.” ~”Save Part of Yourself”

I could ignore the Before; it’s not filled with pleasant memories, so it would be nice to ignore those months.  But I hesitate to do that.  Whether or not I like what I see, those five months did happen, and I am still here, and I feel like I have learned a lot because of that.

I began 2014 in the hospital.  I start the semester teaching and tutoring.  Ugly Depression Number Infinity requires that I stop teaching due to the fact that I can’t find the motivation to go to the kitchen and cook (thank you pre-made food companies) let alone go to the school to teach. Ugly Depression only grows so that I experience what is the worst of all my depressive episodes.  One night late in April I do a lot of research and planning and wake up in the morning to find I had scheduled out every single detail of my suicide attempt and written it into my calendar.  That scared me–I KNOW that suicide is NOT an option.  But the depression was twisting my mind.  So I spent all of May in the hospital, which may seem like a bad thing, but I discovered that giving up all control and being 100% honest and allowing my doctors to help me without questioning or fighting them really is a good thing.

May 31 I am discharged.  June 1-3, we pack up all my belongings, hop in a UHaul truck and begin driving from Missouri to New York, thus beginning the After part of my year.

Moving back in with my parents took some adjustment on all of our parts.  And the cats had to adjust as well.  I connected with friends from my high school years when the anxiety let me.  I only had a psychiatrist–no therapist, no general physician, no cardiac team–meaning I would have to rebuild my support system from square one.  And as the depression and anxiety continued to improve, I did just that.

Moving back east has forced some reflection time.  When I last lived here, I was the Perfect Outstanding Athlete and Scholar Who Was Supposed To Go Far and Go Big.  I’ve had to come to terms that I am not the same person that I was in 1995–and that I didn’t have go back to being that person.  I have been fairly open and honest with all these people that remember me from back then, and I have been supported and encouraged in amazing ways.

I also thought that when I moved back east, I’d just pick up where I left off concerning old friendships.

“It wasn’t too long before/ I showed up at your door/ I’d been gone a thousand miles
I didn’t know how much more I could stand/ If I could stand at all
You said I looked like I’d been through World War II/ And my soul was worn right through
I thought you would read my mind/ I thought you’d ask me to stay
You’d never turn me away like before/ But you closed your door anyway” ~”What Did I Ever Come Here For?”

While some of my old friendships have survived, a large number of them did not.  I went through anger and bitterness and sadness and guilt.  I kept asking myself “What could I have done differently to make this friendship blossom? What did I do wrong?”  It has taken me several months to realize that “what I did wrong” was part of who I was back in my twenties, and that most of my old friends do not know who I am now.  Let’s face it: my twenties were ugly years, and I can’t blame anyone for not welcoming me with open arms and shouts of joy.  I don’t think things I have done are evil and unforgivable, and maybe people have forgiven me, even if they do not want me in their lives now.  I’m a big risk to take, and people now have families to take care of and jobs and committees and life.  I’m not sure I would take a risk with me at this point.  Their current lives.  My past.

And the end of the year always makes me remember a couple significant people from my past who are no longer with us:

“I wish I could lay down beside you When the day is done
And wake up to your face against the morning sun
But like everything I’ve ever known You’ll disappear one day
So I’ll spend my whole life hiding my heart away” ~”Hiding My Heart”

But I’m learning that maybe hiding my heart away is not my best option and that I need to be open to new experiences and new relationships.  Even if people disappear.  Even if there’s pain.

Who’s gonna break my fall When the spinning starts
The colors bleed together and fade?
Was it ever there at all? Or have I lost my way?
The path of least resistance Is catching up with me again today” ~”Again Today”

The other night a friend from my twenties were talking.  This is someone who went through her own version of hell and is learning to thrive.  I wanted to know if she ever missed all that stuff from back then.  Because although I don’t miss my behaviors from back then, I do miss the ability to escape from reality–to run away.  It is comforting to know I’m not the only one that wants to just run away sometimes.  But it’s also a comfort to know someone else is choosing not to run away.  It would be easier.  But life is worth every slammed door in my face, every question of faith in my head, every time the depression feels overwhelming, every time my heart skips a beat and fills me with fear.

Screw the whole “If you changed your past, you wouldn’t be the same person you are today” belief.  I’d change a whole lot if I could.  But I no longer live as if I can.

So while I hope this year is better for me and for others who are struggling, I want you to look at the person you have become now and live for today.

January 1, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crocodile Scuba Leggings

I now own a pair of crocodile embossed scuba leggings.  Why they are “scuba” leggings I don’t know, because I’m pretty sure I can’t scuba dive with these pants.  In fact, I don’t really want to go scuba diving at all.

But.  There is an actual point to crocodile pants.

I remember growing up and purposefully not wearing clothes that would draw any attention to my body.  I loved competing growing up, but I dreaded the moment when I had to step up on the starting block in my bathing suit.  Or take off my warm-ups and warmup for the long and triple jump.  This only got worse when I went to college and the uniforms were made of even less material.  Once I actually stepped on the runway for an actual jump, all fears and thoughts drained from my head as I focused on the take-off line.  At that point, nothing else in the world mattered.

So, I was not one to go out to clubs in skirts that barely covered my underwear or shirts that showed off  my midsection whenever I raised my hands. I even felt uncomfortable wearing boot cut jeans, since they were too tight.  I wore baggy jeans, and I felt most comfortable with a long-sleeved shirt that I could pull down around my hands.  This new trend of clothes that have thumb holes is like a dream come true.

It’s been a relatively recent development for me to wear clothes that actually attract attention to my body.  When I taught yoga, I wore boot cut leggings and a tanktop because people did look at me to demonstrate certain poses.  But I figured people didn’t really come to yoga class to stare at me in lust.  (I really hope that’s true!)  In the early stages of recovery, I still wore clothes that either hid my shape entirely or only suggested there were curves underneath the clothes.  Maybe.

When I began teaching, I was nervous as hell.  Professional clothes, while not purposefully sexy, were not all that baggy and loose.  But as I began to teach more, I realized the students probably didn’t give a damn about my outfits, especially at 8 am.  I bet some of them didn’t give a damn about writing, either.

And now?  I’ll wear bootcut slimming jeans and a slightly form fitting top.  And then all of these leggings and jeggings and skinny jeans lit up the fashion scene.  I have to admit, leggings are quite comfortable, especially on those days I curl up and read and write all day.  I began wearing them to the grocery store to pick up milk–but I put a big baggy sweatshirt over them.  Gradually, I have tapered that big sweatshirt to nice slightly form fitting shirts.  (Still long enough to cover my midsection, however.  And no shirts with sexual innuendos splayed across my chest.)

For Christmas, my sister-in-law got me these scuba leggings, a tanktop and a sweater to match–an outfit that does not scream “Come have sex with me” but  does invite people to look at me.  My initial reaction was that I could never wear the entire outfit at once.  Then, I tried everything on.  And looked in the mirror.  And liked what I saw.  I looked good. I turned and looked at myself from various angles.  And thought, “people might look at me.”  And then thought, “I’m okay with this.”

My form being seen by other people.  Because of my own choices.

I may not go to some hot club with loud music and bodies bumping into each other while wearing this outfit (because I can’t stand crowded places or loud noises or lots of strangers around me).  But, I can wear this out when I meet friends for coffee or lunch or dinner.

And if people look in my direction?  I probably won’t notice, because I never notice.  But I can still go up to the counter and get a refill and go back to my table without attempting to pull my top down to my knees.

It has taken 37 years, but I can now honestly say that I am okay with my body, and I’m okay with people seeing said body. All those Body Image Art Therapy sessions at SP that I used to dread and try to skip–they’ve finally paid off.  Yes.  I’m admitting the benefits of doing a body tracing.  I am larger, softer, and healthier than I have ever been, and I’m proud of this, and if someone doesn’t approve of my shape?  Well, I’m not hear to get their approval.  I’m here to get my own approval.  I’ve worked hard and long to get my approval, and it doesn’t matter what I wear, I will still have that approval.

December 29, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment