Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Lists of Changes

I recently started enjoying the memories app on facebook.  This was one of my memories, from five years ago.  Eating disorder wise, I had been in full recovery for eight years.  Depression wise?  I was entering what would become the most hellish depressive episode ever, triggered by everything going on with my heart–all things I couldn’t grasp on an intellectual level.

Some of these things are still the same.

A lot of these things are different now, and it’s nice to be able to see and acknowledge those changes–and to take pride in the work it took to make those changes.

And NONE of the changes listed could have been possible without recovery.  Eating disorders are never your friends, and they will never “work for you.”  They are never “the best option for now.”  They kill.  They steal lives.  They hurt the survivors.  You will lose more than you ever thought possible. 

But recovery is possible.  You have the power to make it happen.

TEN things you wish you could say to ten different people right now:

1.  You’re not the same person as you were two years ago.  I liked that person better.

2.  I wish you would have let me change.

3.  I do not understand your priorities anymore.

4.  I wish I could say something, anything, that would do this justice.

5.  Sometimes I hate you and sometimes I can’t forgive you.

6.  I see myself in you and am powerless to stop the train from derailing.

7.  I wish you knew how much I loved you, and what I meant when I said that.

8.  You and I are no good apart.

9.  If I could tell you how much you’ve let me down, I fear that no one would ever look at me the same.

10.  I know I’m not good enough for you.

I’ve healed some relationships.  I’ve walked away from others.  I’ve watched other people change and grow and heal.  And most importantly, I know I’ll never be good enough for some people–and I don’t really give a damn, because I’m good enough for ME.

NINE things about yourself:

1.  I keep point shoes in vases.

2.  I have a model of the human heart on my bookshelf.

3.  I am more terrified of living like this than I am of dying.

4.  Each day, I wake up with this huge, ominous question mark over my head and I’m not sure how long I can take it.

5.  I don’t think I’m supposed to be here.

6.  I don’t know where I’m supposed to be.

7.  I will never measure up.

8.  I treasure silence.

9.  Translating Latin is the only escape I have right now.

The model of the human heart is on my shelf, knocked over weekly by Camena.  I crossed off number 3 because although I am still scared of “living like this,” I have learned that I can live like this–fully live.  I know I can take it, and I know I’m supposed to be here right now.  I don’t know if this is where I’ll stay, but I’m thinking it will be.  I know I will never measure up–no one ever does, really, because it’s called Being Human.  I still like to translate Latin, but I have a lot more healthy ways of escaping than any other point in my life.

EIGHT ways to win your heart: 

1.  Don’t laugh at my fears.

2.  Treasure silence as much as I do.

3.  Don’t waste money on jewelry when there are thousands of books to be devoured.

4.  Give me flowers.  One at a time.  On random days.

5.  No pressure.

6.  If I tell you a song reminds me of you, listen to it.

7.  Believe me.

8.  Send me a poem in the mail.  Snail mail, that is.

These are all the same.

SEVEN things that cross your mind frequently: 

1. I hate this.

2. I can’t do this.

3. I wish I could leave.

4. I hate my heart.

5. This was not supposed to turn out this way.

6. Someday.

7.  Maybe.

There are still things I hate, but my heart is not one of them.  My heart can make me sad and bitter and can make me grieve at time, but I don’t hate it.  And maybe things weren’t supposed to turn out this way, but that doesn’t mean that Someday can’t happen.

SIX things you do before you fall asleep:

1. Journal.

2. Some form of devotional.

3. Listen to music.

4. If I can, take a hot hot hot bath.

5. Curl up with my cats.

6.  have a cup of hot decaf coffee.

Still a journaler–you will never be able to take that away from me!  My spirituality is still important, as it always will be.  I can’t take a hot bath here because we have no drain plug that fits 😦  And I’ve become a tea snob in the previous five years, and my nightly cup of tea requires thought.

FIVE people who mean a lot to you.

1. Sara

2. Wednesday

3. Neesha & Dustin (they count as one)

4. Court

5. Rena

These people are still important to me, even if some are no longer part of my life.  I’m proud to say that I’ve been able to add more people to this list, which was difficult to come up with five years ago.

FOUR things you’re wearing right now: 

1. Yoga pants

2. Camisole

3. Keeping the Beat T shirt

4. MedicAlert Bracelet

I will always wear my MedicAlert bracelet.  It does make me feel somewhat safer.  And I still do wear yoga pants and all that, but right now I still have on my bathrobe and PJs.

THREE songs that you listen to often: (recently) 

1. Dublin Boys

2. Bend Before It Breaks

3. Reasonland

I’d have to say these three songs are still prominent in my playlist.  “More Than Ordinary” has been my most recent obsession.

TWO things you want to do before you die: 

1. Publish my two books

2. Not have another sudden cardiac death.  That kind of sucked.

Yeah, so both of these are still the same!

ONE confession: 

1) I am drowning.

Maybe I don’t feel like I am always on solid ground, but I have learned that it’s my choice to be on solid ground, and that there are always people around me willing to help that happen.

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September 20, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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

Dreams Come

I just like my head.

I just like my head.

There’s really no meaning to this picture.  I have a clear glass head, and I put a black wig on her, and periodically use it to display hats I’ve made and to creep some people out.  But I have no main topic today, just a mish mash of what’s been in my head lately. Perhaps one of my readers has a better picture?

I am doing an Out of the Darkness Community Walk for suicide awareness on September 12.  These are run by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  I am close to my fundraising goal, and would really like to go over my goal, being the over-achiever I am.  You can help me here.  Five dollars means that more people can be helped.  If you are in the area and would like to walk with me, that would be awesome.  This is an extremely important subject for me.  I am a survivor of suicide, and I have lost family and friends to suicide.  You can read more about my story here.  I am mentioning all this here because it is absolutely necessary that our society talks openly about suicide and mental illness in general.  I remember being in high school and feeling like I was somehow broken because I had all of these bad thoughts that no one else had.  Except I know now that I wasn’t alone back then.  But mental health was not brought up in schools, so we were not encouraged to talk about it.  I was terrified to talk about it.  But imagine if we do talk about it in junior highs and high schools.  Imagine that one student in the classroom who has felt alone and broken, and then s/he hears that there are other people out there who struggle with the same types of thoughts, and then s/he decides to talk to someone, and then s/he gets help early, and then s/he may never attempt suicide at all.  That is why when I got my semi-colon tattoo, I put it on my wrist.  Not only is it easily visible to me, but it is easily visible to everyone else.  I hope people will ask me about it.

I hope my students will ask about it.  I will head back to the classroom this semester and teach eager college students about writing essays.  When I first began teaching in 2008, I spent a great deal of time wondering if I should wear long sleeves to cover up my scars from years of self-harm.  But I decided that, in my own little way, I wanted to show people I was not ashamed of my past.  And because of that decision, I have had multiple students approach me after class or via email about my scars–and about their own, be them external or internal.  Students who felt alone and scared and didn’t know where to go for help.  I have been able to direct students to the university’s health center, mental health center, and various treatment centers.  I have witnessed them grow and struggle and change, and I still tear up when I think of some of them.  Even if they didn’t take me up on the offer to walk them over to the mental health center, and even if they didn’t go at all, I put the idea in their heads that the life they were living could be left behind and a new life could begin.

If students ask why I took a year off of teaching, I will tell them.  If I had had major surgery, there would be no shame in needing time to heal.  There is no shame in needing time to heal from a serious depressive episode either.  It took me time to come around to that belief, and I hated running into people in my small hometown and having them ask, “So what are you doing these days?”  I felt ashamed for not being a productive member of society.  But I now realize that if I had tried to work last fall or last spring, I would not have been an effective teacher, and I might not have been physically capable of meeting all of my responsibilities.  Of course, I am nervous about this semester, but I am no longer ashamed of the time it took to get me here.

I want that message to spread.  Healing is possible, and it is worth the time and energy involved.  I realize that due to the cyclical nature of Bipolar I, I will likely need time to heal again.  But I also can’t plan my life around that fear.  Maybe my career in academia won’t be as I originally pictured it years ago, but I’m not the same person I was years ago.  I’ve changed, I’ve adapted, and I’m ready to continue seeing my dream come true.

This wasn’t as mish-mashy as I thought it would be, but I still have no idea for a good photo.

August 19, 2015 Posted by | bipolar disorder, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, progress, recovery, shame, suicide | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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

The light and dark sides of social media

keepcalm

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

Trigger Warning

Trigger-warningIf you’ve been reading this blog, and you’ll know I try to limit any obviously potential triggers, such as the use of numbers, sizes, weights, etc., and I usually avoid pictures focusing on weight and size.  When I posted the link to the documentary clip a few entries ago, I made people aware that the video would include sensitive topics.  In general, I don’t want people to take what I write and find justification for an eating disorder in it.  I am not in support of the Pro-Ana “movement” or websites.

Here, and on my facebook page, I don’t generally use trigger warnings that often.  Hopefully, because of the above, people don’t find my blog too triggering.  After all, it is an eating disorder blog, so if you are venturing inside, you should be expecting some mentions of eating disorders.  And like I said, hopefully I do so in a sensitive manner.

I think our overuse of various trigger warnings and ways of avoiding the obvious on social media may actually be a problem.  I don’t tell people personal information that could upset others, such as my weights, specifics of the childhood abuse, or pictures that seem to glorify when I was sick.  I try to avoid using the word “fat” in descriptions because of the inaccuracy of the word and the negative stigma it promotes.

And I do encourage people to limit their exposure to known triggers, especially in the beginning stages of recovery.  It’s been over a year since I’ve self-harmed, but I still do not feel ready to read Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects.  I’ve read Gone Girl and Dark Places. I thought they were excellent books, and I hope to read Sharp Objects one day for its literary value.  But for now, I do not know if I could read descriptions of self-harm and be okay with it.  But other people seem to like the book, and if they want to read about it and post about it and talk in general about it, that’s their choice.  It is my responsibility to determine what I can read and what I can’t.

Here’s the thing:  you will not find trigger warnings in life outside of a treatment setting, a Safe Environment, or a website, blog or chatroom specifically designed for those in recovery.  You will open the daily newspaper and sexual abuse will be mentioned in an article.  It will not come with a warning.  Hopefully, specific details will not be mentioned, but you will see the word rape.  They will not write these words without vowels:  s*x, ab!se, or r%pe.  I am not sure what good comes of this.  If, given the context of the article, you already know what the word is, then your mind will associate that word with the actual word, and your mind will still jump to the same thoughts as before.  Seeing “s*x” instead of “sex” does not protect the reader from the word’s meaning.

My intention is not to criticize where you are at in your recovery if you rely on trigger warnings.  At some point, however, you will find yourself in a situation where things are not censored for you.  If an article title includes the words “terrible abuse” and you know you are struggling with coming to terms with your own situation, then you should assume the article will mention things such as abuse and make the choice not to read further.  If you start reading an article and discover the topic to be too upsetting, then stop reading.

If you are with friends and they start talking about diets, if they are good friends they won’t mind you saying, “Hey, do you mind if we talk about something else for a bit?”  But if you are standing in line at the local coffee shop and two other customers are talking about their diets and mention their weights, it would be impolite to turn around and ask them to change the topic of their conversation.  You will need to find a way to distract yourself from their discussion.  While in a waiting room, if a news channel issues a special report alerting people to a suspected child predator and other people are watching this, you might not want to get up and turn the television off.  You might want to pick up a magazine and try focusing on those words instead.

I guess my warning is this:  the general population will not respect your individual needs relating to your recovery.  This does not mean they are intentionally trying to sabotage your recovery, but it does mean that you will need to know how to cope in those moments.  If you find that you are easily triggered, or triggered by specific things, then I suggest talking with someone about ways you can safely deal with these situations.  I wish we all had a mute button to use when the world gets overwhelming, but we don’t.  (It would make writing in public spaces a lot easier!)

I am very very grateful for the treatment I received in hospitals for self-harm and anorexia.  I felt safe on those units.  But neither was I prepared for discharge and re-entering society.  I’m not sure what the solution is to this, if there even is a solution, other than giving people the knowledge that world outside their doorstep is not always a safe place to be, but it is a place we must go.

May 12, 2015 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, Eating Disorders, mindfulness, recovery, self harm, trauma | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

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