Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

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.

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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

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.

ew

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

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

I Wish My Doctors Had Listened

IMG_4410

I love facebook quizzes.  I have learned what my name should have been, what state I belong in, what state I am from, my element, my spirit type, and a whole lot of other things I have to believe because it’s on facebook, so it has to be true.  Yesterday, I learned that people call me a “sage” behind my back.  I think that is the polite way of saying that people call me a nerd.  This is not real news to me; I have always been a nerd, and I now claim that label with pride.

Nerds like to think.  I like to over-think.  (Does that make me a Super Nerd?)  Since July, I have been complaining about a cluster of physical symptoms, and every symptom is familiar to me.  “I feel this way when my ferritin levels start to drop,” I repeatedly told my doctors.  The only one not to suggest that it was “just stress” or “just depression” was my psychiatrist, who firmly believed there was something physical going on.  After all, over the past several months, my depression has lifted tremendously, my anxiety has decreased, and we’ve been able to stretch out my ECT treatments and go off of two of my psychiatric medications.  I said, “It doesn’t make sense that these symptoms are caused by depression if my depression is steadily improving.”  My medical doctors told me it was fine and that my ferritin levels were within normal range.

Technically, they were.  But when I dug up my labwork from the previous six years, I discovered that my current ferritin level was 2/3 below my usual norm.  One year ago, my numbers were usually around 80 (low for the average person, but normal for me since I was born iron deficient anemic).  Now they had dropped down to 16.  Off to the hematologist I went, and he was shocked my doctors had not treated this earlier, especially given my history.  “Dr. X actually told you it was probably just stress?” the hematologist asked.

I know my body.  Because of recovery.  I have learned to listen to my body and to respond appropriately.  When I practice yoga, it is no longer with the intention of “getting stronger.”  It is with the intention of listening to what my body has to tell me that day.  So sometimes I hold poses longer, sometimes I push deeper, and sometimes I skip poses completely.  Through my cardiac journey, I can “read” my heart accurately and can often tell you my pulse rate and my blood pressure without using measuring tools.

I can tell you when something is wrong with my body.  My doctors in MO knew to trust me in relaying symptoms.  My current doctors (aside from my psychiatrist) have not learned to trust me yet.  Instead, they (I sought out three separate family physicians because I never felt heard) repeatedly relied on depression and anxiety, even though I told them multiple times that “this is not what depression feels like.”

In seeing my psychiatric diagnosis on my chart, did they assume I was there for attention?  That I was merely pill-seeking?  That I couldn’t be trusted to know my own body?  I may have Bipolar Disorder and a history of Anorexia, but that doesn’t mean my doctors should disregard what I say.

Have you experienced something similar?  Could you please take my survey?  I am not a scientific statistician, and this is not an “academic level survey” that could be used in a peer-reviewed study.  You don’t have to supply your email, and you don’t have to answer every question.  If you would like to contact me, please message me with your email or send me an email at KatchukMFA@gmail.com.

May 3, 2015 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Communication, depression, Eating Disorders, ECT, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

Respect and Self-Care in a World of Haunting Triggers

I have a sensitive “guilt trigger”–kind of like my sensitive startle response.  If someone wants (consciously or unconsciously) to lay a load of guilt on me, it’s really not all that difficult.  Hell, even if they don’t want to make me feel guilty, chances are I can still muster up my own guilt.

At least I know this about myself now.  So although I will often feel initial twinges of guilt for no significant reason, I am able to reign them in and realize no one meant anything by it and my head likes to twist things around.

I also now know that while sick with the anorexia and self-harm, I was once a very skilled guilt-tripper myself, and I could lay it on thick, both intentionally and just out of habit.  It is not a part of my past that I am proud of, but I have accepted it and, hopefully, keep things in check.

There seems to be this idea that because I was once an avid guilt-tripper, I can empathize and sympathize and understand where the other person is coming from–and let it slide, thereby accepting the guilt and giving the other person a free play.

Recovery has taught me many things.  One is that I do not have the right to blame everyone around me.  The second item is that I no longer have to leave myself open to guilt trips or sensitive situations that make me uncomfortable or that trigger difficult thoughts or emotions.

I am now recovering from a depressive episode that spanned over two years and was more severe than any other depressive cycle I’ve had.  Compared to a year ago, I’m doing phenomenally well, but I am not 100% yet.  Compounded with some physical issues, certain topics of conversation can be upsetting, causing my head to spin off into places I wish didn’t exist.

Yes, I am handling those situations better.  I rarely follow through on troubling thoughts.  But that does not mean I have to intentionally place myself in those situations.  In fact, learning to not put myself in those situations has been one of the hardest lessons I’m learning.  I know a significant number of people do not understand this, and I do my best to offer an explanations, but sometimes words just don’t transport meaning all that well.

And I am trying very hard not to allow people to make me feel guilty when my needs conflict with their needs.  It has meant seeming distant to some people.  It has meant turning down certain invitations.  It has meant saying, “No; I do not feel comfortable talking about that right now.”  This from the girl who never used to have needs and would listen to and be there for everyone around her, regardless of the emotional consequences.

I cannot be everyone’s hero, no matter how hard I try or how many times I’ve been there in the past.

Right now in this very moment, my job is to make sure I continue my journey to health and well-being.

We all have limits, and we need to respect them.

April 14, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment