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

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

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

Regarding Relapses

885e88637cb1b2389902f7c29db65ddbThis may sound surprising–but this quote is actually one of my least favorites.  Even though I believe it and know it to be true.  Now.  But then? Back when I was still convinced I could live with anorexia with no repercussions?  When people threw this quote in my face, I wanted to scream and call them names.  And a little after that?  Back when I had decided to recover and was really, really trying but it seemed like there were more bad days than good days?  When people used this to motivate me, I only felt guilty and ashamed because obviously it meant I was choosing to have a bad day.  Which made it my fault.

Now?  Now I look back and can see that recovery was a series of choices.  Millions of them.  Every single day.  Overall I decided that in order to live, I needed to recover.  But some of those millions of daily choices?  They weren’t exactly made with my best interest in mind.  And each time I slipped and made the wrong choice, I felt as if my chance at recovery was thrown out the window.

In the beginning of my recovery?  Yeah, I made some shitty choices.  Frequently.  And then less frequently.  And then rarely.  And then once in a blue moon.  Now?  I don’t need to make daily choices about eating and exercise to stay on my path.

There are debates about the different definitions of “recovered” and “fully recovered” and “recovering.”  But I think we’d all agree that recovery is not one choice.  It’s many choices.  This means that when you slip or relapse, you still have that choice open to you.  No matter how big or small the slip.  Neither does a slip or relapse automatically throw you back to the very beginning of your journey.  “You start from where you are” is true for each of us, no matter where we are in our individual journeys.  All of those skills you learned to get this far?  You still have them. You can still use them.  In fact, you might have even picked up a new skill or two in the process.

A relapse, even a significant relapse, is not the end.

Not if you choose to stand back up and walk forward toward recovery.

July 11, 2015 Posted by | Body Image, coping, Eating Disorders, progress, recovery, self harm | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

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

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