Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

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.

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

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

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

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

Crocodile Scuba Leggings

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

But.  There is an actual point to crocodile pants.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not My Year

quote

I’ve used this image before.  But it keeps kicking me in the gut, so here it is again.

I’m in a particularly scary stretch of not knowing.  I have been here before.  While living in DC, hospitals and cardiologists kept telling me nothing was wrong with my heart–aside from the fact that I was anorexic and “we can’t help you there.”  I move to Missouri, still complaining about my heart.  The cardiology team wrote me off.  My physician happened to be an eating disorder specialist, so when I fainted while running–after a solid year of symptom free behavior and health–he knew something was wrong and sent me to St. Louis.  I finally met a cardiologist who listened to me and believed me.  And then he diagnosed me.  And then I had my ICD put it.  And then I went through a fairly long period of doubt and questions regarding my faith.

Now?  I have spent the summer going to doctors in the area, and they kept telling me that all my labs were fine and I was normal.  I kept advocating for myself, because this is not normal, and my GP referred me to an ENT.  I only had to travel one hour and five minutes to get to his office–and found a doctor who listened to me and believed me and hardly glanced at my psychiatric history and believed I was in a great deal of pain.  Why the doctors here couldn’t see that, I have no idea.

I don’t have answers yet.  The doctor sat me down and discussed a few likely possibilities with me, all of which kind of scare me a great deal.  He ordered some special blood tests and is waiting to see my CT scan pictures before he decides our next move.  No matter what, I am probably on my way to a neurologist and possibly a rheumatologist.  I could be looking at surgery.

I’ve really been working on radical acceptance–I cannot do anything at all right now that would have any effect on the outcome.  So I am trying to stay focused on the present moment, not all of the what if? questions.  I try to put a positive face forward.  But the truth is:  I am very scared.  I can feel my faith; it’s still there.  But how do you maintain hope in this situation?  How do you maintain trust in this situation?  And the fact that this physical conundrum is happening right in the middle of a “What am I supposed to do with my life?” crisis does not help.

This may not seem to relate to my normal blog entries, but I promise there’s a link.

Yesterday, I had planned on cleaning my room, clearing out a space for my yoga mat, and doing some research for an essay.  And then I got a certain piece of mail and my positive attitude and perseverance and determination all crumbled away.  I curled up on my bed with my cats and cried and then fell asleep for a good while.  Not because I was tired physically, but because I was tired of dealing with “all this shit.”

I see this as progress.  There were no plans to self-injure, no plans to skip lunch, no plans to throw things at my walls.  I really wanted to stay curled up on my bed and never come out, but I had initiated a new Knitting Circle in my town, and last night was our first meeting.  It would have looked bad if I wasn’t there.  So I went, and had an awesome time and smiled and laughed–not because I “had” to but because I wanted to.

Some might say that curling up is maladaptive.  But honestly, I had been trying to stay busy all week and had been trying to solve certain problems and I know a lot of “normal” people who have days where they just throw up their hands and take a nap.  It did not spiral into a deeper depression and there were no dangerous coping skills involved.  And I realized that ten years ago, the outcome would have been a different one.  Hell, two years ago, the outcome would have been different.

One of the most important things (according to me) in recovery is acknowledging the progress and giving yourself credit for the hard work behind that progress.  Small progress, big progress, any type of progress . . . we need to step back and say, “I just did a good thing.”  We focus so much on our symptoms and behaviors and situations that helped lead to the eating disorder and, of course, we beat ourselves up for any sign of regression.

I challenge you all to get out a real piece of paper and tuck it away someplace you will always see it.  For me that’s my journal.  On that piece of paper write out your progress.  Every day write down one thing that you are proud of.  If it’s drinking all of a supplement instead of only have, write it down.  If it’s forcing yourself to go to a knitting group, write it down.  If you are deeply mired in a horrible depression and have been thinking about suicide, write down “I am still alive.”  Be proud of these things.  These are the small steps necessary for recovery.

I was listening to The Weepies “Not Your Year” today, and of course I can relate to that song right now.  But my favorite lyrics from that song are:

“Breathe through it, write a list of desires,

Make a toast, make a wish, slash some tires,

paint a heart, repeating, beating “don’t give up, don’t give up.”

Remember your desires and throw ice at the shower wall.  And if anyone can paint a beating heart with the words “don’t give up” for me, you’re my hero!

November 21, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

do we need pictures as proof?

Recently, on social media, there is an article that, while not viral, is rather popular.  It’s a bunch of before and after photos.  The before being when the individual was at his/her sickest with an eating disorder, and the after being when the individual is recovered.  Underneath each pair of photos is a brief paragraph about their recovery.

I have some problems with this article, because while it has been posted by those in recovery or striving for recovery, it has also been posted prominently in the pro-ana and pro-mia sites.  Because the before photos portray extremely thin individuals, and while the article is meant to focus on those individuals’ recoveries, too many individuals are using the before photos as proof that they can indeed lose that much weight and still live.  This is extremely dangerous thinking.  Death does not depend on weight.

One thing the article suggests to an uneducated reader is that an eating disorder is not serious unless you look like one of these before shots.  The article also suggests that these individuals are anorexic or purging-anorexics, giving bulimics and binge eaters false hope that they are out of danger.  But, as I stated in a previous post, I have lost many friends to eating disorders–and most of these friends died at low weights, but not the extremes detailed in the article, and most of them were purging.

This article, by focusing on people at an extremely low weight, tells readers that they don’t have an eating disorder or need help unless they, too, are at that low weight.  In actuality, the earlier you intervene in an eating disorder, the higher the rate of recovery.  Waiting until the end is near is waiting until the crisis is at its strongest and requires much more intervention and support, both on a physical and mental level.

The short little paragraphs stating that the individual is recovered worry me.  The focus is on how sick the individual was, and then he or she had a revelation and decided to get better.  If only it worked like that for the vast majority of those struggling with eating disorders.  My revelation?  It came on Christmas morning, when my brother brought my little toddler nephew to the hospital to see me.  I realized that I did not want my nephew to grow up visiting me in hospitals.  I decided if I could not get better for me, I would get better for him.  And with that decision, I began eating 100% and lost all urges to purge and reclaimed my positive body image as I was gaining weight.  (please note heavy sarcasm)

It didn’t work quite like that.  I was inpatient for another month, and then in their partial hospitalization program for six weeks.  And then I would be hospitalized again a year-and-a-half later.  And then it would be another couple years until I had convinced myself that I would not relapse again, that life was indeed better than an eating disorder.  I remained in therapy and got to discuss all those body image issues I had tried to hide/ignore, I continued working with my family physician to ensure I was, indeed, physically healthy.  Now?  Seven years after that?  Now I can say I am 100% secure in my recovery and am comfortable in my own skin and I know that I will never relapse.

Yes, it is nice to read an article that describes improvement.  We need to hear more of these stories.  But we also need to hear the truth, that recovery is possible and worth it, but it takes a lot of work.  And do we need these before shots to get that message across?  Why not highlight the small steps individuals take in their recovery journey?  When I was sick, people said, “You can choose to get better,” but no one told me how to do that, so I truly did feel that I was up against an impossible task.

And a lot of this occurred for me before the social media frenzy, and before academic research made use of the internet.  I was lucky to meet a professor, one who had lost his daughter to bulimia, who introduced me to someone who had recovered from her eating disorder and was doing advocacy work.  My weight wasn’t that big of a deal to her, but my behaviors were, and how these behaviors were affecting my physical health and creating mental pain were.

Another important issue this article deftly avoids is that eating disorders are mental illnesses.  They don’t just affect your physical body; they are expressions of internal pain and horror that need to be acknowledged and addressed.  I didn’t wake up one day and decide, “Hey, being an anorexic sounds like a great idea!”  But choosing recovery was a phenomenal idea.

Now?  There’s the National Eating Disorder Association and the Eating Disorders Coalition and Families Empowered & Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders.   These three sites give success stories.  These three sites give details about finding treatment.  These sites give the statistics.  And there are many other recovery-oriented sites that offer support and encouragement.  Grace On The Moon offers forums for discussion and support–that are moderated to ensure they are recovery-focused.

*note:  I did not link to the original article, because even though it has a one-line warning statement, I really do fear that the graphic pictures will be more harmful than helpful.*

October 10, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Coming Out As A Recovered Anorexic

I am a recovered anorexic.  I am stating this on my blog.  (Returning readers will already know this, but I wanted to state it clearly and succinctly.)  My blog is linked with my name.  I am fully aware that anyone, including my students, could google my name and find this.  I hope they do.  I am a writing professor after all.  Hopefully they’ll read this, and realize that I can actually write.  Hopefully, if someone reads this and is suffering, he or she will know there is hope and help and will maybe even ask for help.  (This scenario has played out in that fashion, by the way.)

But I read this blog entry today, an article about how NOT to come out as a recovering anorexic:

http://www.bustle.com/articles/34701-i-came-out-as-a-recovering-anorexic-and-heres-how-not-to-do-it

I want to state right off, that the route I took may not be the ideal route for you.  We are all individuals with unique situations and circumstances and we all have different needs.  Please take care of yourself.  Always take care of your needs first.

How did I ‘come out’ when I first admitted/realized I had an eating disorder?  I had a very good support team comprised of friends, my fellowship group and chaplain, professors, and a therapist.  My relationship with my parents at that time was . . . not all that functional.  I was completely scared shitless about telling my parents that, not only was I struggling with depression and self-harm, I was struggling with an eating disorder.  I knew that when I told them, there would be an extremely difficult conversation with a lot of questions.  I told my best friend, first.  Then I told my chaplain.  Then I told my therapist and asked him to help me talk to my parents.  I went into that phone call scared, but also confident that I had support if I needed it.

As for how I went about telling them, I kind of did wing it with my friend, or at least stumbled through it.  But I did plan out what I was going to say to my parents.  Not including a power point.  Which wasn’t invented yet, but there were no visual aides of any type.  The conversation did not go as planned (do they ever?) but I think it went a lot smoother because I knew what I needed to tell them by the end of the conversation.  I had those things written down in front of me.

I do agree that you shouldn’t let yourself get too annoyed by ignorant comments or questions, because you will get a lot of them, not only when you are initially coming out but when you are in treatment and after you are better.  I still get asked, “So, what, you like, got really thin or something?”

As for blogging about it.  I would hope that if you blog about anything, you realize it will be read.  Maybe by people you’d rather not read it.  I do not regret blogging the process of recovery.  It was very therapeutic.  I felt connected to a larger community.  And I do not regret attaching my name to the blog.  I am not ashamed to say, “I used to have an eating disorder and this is how I recovered.”  And if it helps someone, that is wonderful.  And if one of my students comes up and asks questions, that’s super wonderful.  Because this needs to be talked about.  But if you don’t want random people to know who you are, do not use a blog.  Or a facebook.  Or twitter.  Even if I didn’t state my name here, I’m pretty sure there are some people who could hack into it and find out where it’s coming from.

I did write an article–while I was still sick, but after I had decided to recover.  I knew that lots of people would read it.  But I also have my MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing, and having people read things about me kind of comes with the territory.  In fact, it’s usually my goal.  If this scares you, do not write an article or allow yourself to be interviewed.  I presented my paper at a conference.  I do not regret this decision.  I took a lot of questions–but during the Q&A period and afterwards.  I really do strongly believe that eating disorders and mental health need to be talked about openly.  But if being in the spotlight and answering some possibly ignorant questions makes you nervous, do your best to support mental health awareness by donating to the EDC or NAMI or join a fundraising walk where you’ll be one of hundreds with no spotlight.

I do not think there is a right way or a wrong way to come out about having an eating disorder.  No matter how you do it, it is difficult and scary.  But doing so will hopefully extend your support system and make you feel less alone and help you find appropriate treatment.  You need to consider who you are talking to and how to approach said person.  And you need to consider your own needs and comfort level.

One thing that did help me before coming out to people I knew, was joining an anonymous community for support.  I learned that I was not alone.  I got used to conversing in “eating disorder language.”  People encouraged me.  People offered helpful suggestions.  I “met” people whom I’d stay in contact with for many years.  I met some of them in real time and they remain my friends.  BUT be careful about the community you choose.  There are many pro-eating disorder communities.  Find one that is pro-recovery.  I would recommend:

https://www.graceonthemoon.com/

They have information about eating disorders, recovery, and finding treatment.  And their forums are pro-recovery and you can reveal as much or as little about yourself as you want.

September 12, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

more along the depressed honesty lane . . .

So not much has changed since my last entry.  I wish I could say that things are great and my job is wonderful and life is full of roses.  Actually, I can say that my job is wonderful.  I mean, I knew I liked my job and I enjoy working there and I love teaching (the vast majority of the time)–but I have to admit to being scared shitless a couple of weeks ago when I realized that the depression had continued to grow, and my strength and resilience had both continued to shrink–making my job pretty much impossible for the moment, especially when combined with the fact that we wanted/needed to increase my ECT treatments for a couple of weeks in order to get back on track with them. 

So I went to my boss’s office.  And I sat down across from her and explained the situation–using those dreaded words like “depression” and “crying” and “sleeping all day” and “increase in treatment.”  I was terrified I’d be fired on the spot.  I was terrified I’d lose my job permanently.  And I didn’t want that.  I’ve been through the depression enough times to know when I honestly don’t like something and when the depression is taking away my abilities.  And this, this is the depression.  And most of the time, I honestly don’t feel like it’s ever going to get any better, which is pretty disheartening.  But I’ve been through this enough to know that it will get better.  I don’t know when.  I have a good idea about how it will get better, but even that isn’t 100% sure knowledge–if it were I’d be healed by now. 

Right now, I am doing my best to remember that this does pass.  With time.  With medication.  With ECT.  With my light box.  With treatment.  With my friends standing beside me.  And, with the knowledge that I still have a job (one that I love) to return to when I am ready.  I have to admit that I am proud of myself for going to talk to my boss and tell her exactly what was going on. 

The point of this entry?  I’m not all that sure.  I know I haven’t been writing as much, thanks to the depression, so I guess this is just an “update post.” 

There are days when I want to give up.  When I think it will be easier.  But as I said, I know this is not a permanent state.  (You should see my journal.  I remind myself of that on a daily basis.)  And I may not feel like I have a lot going for me right now, but I have a family, I have some kick ass friends, and I have a treatment team that is working together to do whatever they can to help me.  I know that this will pass.  At some point.  With treatment and help.  And I will be back in front of that classroom and making corny jokes that only half the class laughs at.

I know ECT raises some questions for people.  If you have any questions about ECT, depression, treatment, and other related things, please feel free to ask:

http://www.formspring.me/AlexisKatchuk

January 27, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Nurture vs Nature

I recently received a comment in my Questions and Topics page about the biological basis of eating disorders: “As someone that has truly been there, who has struggled with an eating disorder for some time and then made it to recovery, what do you believe?  Where do you fall on the nature vs nuture?  What do you think the important components for treatment with the goal of full recovery are?”

This is a rather loaded question, and it’s had me thinking a lot during the day.  There have been studies about the biological nature of eating disorders, if certain people are, indeed, genetically predisposed to developing an eating disorder (article and article).  I do think that there may be a biological link to all of this, but I don’t think that it’s as easy as saying, “There’s a gene that causes anorexia” (they have not found such a gene).  A lot of people have a genetic predisposition for heart disease yet never develop heart disease because of their lifestyle.  Some people get exposed to germs and never get sick; some people get exposed to those very same germs and do get sick.  A certain medication works for some people yet doesn’t work for others.  Our bodies are amazingly complex and each individual body has unique characteristics and this challenges and frustrates medical doctors, let alone psychiatric doctors.

If an eating disorder were solely the result of faulty genetics, then restoring weight or stopping behaviors would mean the individual is cured.  However, that doesn’t seem to be the case for anyone I’ve met, talked to, read about, or heard about.  Nature alone cannot be blamed nor relied upon for a cure.  Nurture–the environment–must be accounted for.

Quite honestly, I think that once a person has been diagnosed with an eating disorder, the nature part is almost irrelevant and focusing on that alone would do more harm than good.  Each person needs to address the environmental triggers that contributed to his or her eating disorder.  Each individual needs to learn an entirely new way of living free of eating disorder symptoms.  Each individual must tackle the cognitive distortions that come along with an eating disorder.  All of this takes time–usually much longer than restoration of weight or cessation of outward symptoms.

So I suppose I fall on the nurture side of the debate.  I’m not denying that there may be a genetic predisposition for some people, but I think in the treatment of the eating disorder, in the treatment of the individual, environmental factors such as family, history of abuse, peers, personality traits, cognitive distortions, and one’s lifestyle hold more sway and, therefore, need more attention.  Successful recovery requires that you address not one small fraction of a person but the whole, complex individual.

June 17, 2011 Posted by | Eating Disorders, recovery, therapy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments