Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Never My Friends

neverfriends

Every so often, when I’m scrolling through my facebook feed and see random blogs sponsored by an advocacy organization, I want to punch the screen of my laptop.  Don’t worry, I don’t do that.

Recently, I saw a blog detailing one writer’s recovery from Ana.  Not “anorexia.”  Not “eating disorder.” Not “life threatening illness.”  Ana.  I have friends named Ana.  They have faces and bodies and fashion styles and colored hair and hand gestures and quirks and a way of speaking that are different from my other friends.  None of them are trying to kill me.

But by using this cute nickname, this writer is referring to the years spent suffering from an illness and the strength and energy it took to recover.  For that, I admire her, just as I admire anyone who has recovered or has just made the decision to try recovery or is caught up in the hell of figuring out if recovery is possible.  (It is.)

I have seen too many friends die because of various eating disorders.  When I was still sick and had no real intentions of recovery, I brushed these deaths aside, as much as one can brush death aside.  “I only knew them for a couple of weeks in treatment,” or “She never really wanted recovery anyway,” or even, “I’m jealous.”  Then, some of the friends I made in treatment because “out of treatment” friends who I’d meet for coffee and hang out with and go to movies with.  A lot of these individuals are still my friends; we fought the eating disorders together.  Social media, of course, widened my network of friends with mental illnesses.  Some of these friends became close friends.  And a good percentage of them died. One of these friends, I think if we hadn’t met in treatment, became the closest thing to a soul sister I have encountered.  And she died.

I could no longer “brush death aside” with a casual wave of my hand.  These friends weren’t dying after a chance encounter with a stranger named “ana,” “mia,” or “ed.”  They died from an illness.  Over an extended period of time.  In a lot of physical and emotional pain.  I just can’t give those illnesses cute little names.

We give names to inanimate objects as a way of personalizing them.  They mean something to us, and we want to hold these things close to our heart.  Sometimes we name these objects or situations in an effort to make sense of them, and eating disorders rarely make sense.  But when you personalize something, it becomes harder to let go of.  And when you don’t use the true vocabulary of these illnesses (death, pain, feeding tube, throwing up, purging, isolation, obsession, compulsion, loneliness, depression, fear), it’s easier to forget the harsh consequences of knowing this “friend.”

Even ten years after recovery, I cannot look back and casually refer to my twenties with “Ana” anywhere in the description.  I was sick, and just like the cardiac illness I have is not cute and fun, neither was the eating disorder.  Would you nickname depression or bipolar disorder or suicide with cute names?  How about cancer?  How about stroke?  Then why do we consider eating disorders worthy of cute and fun?

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February 12, 2018 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, exercise, guilt, health, heart, identity, progress, publicity, recovery, suicide, thinspo, treatment, triggers | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

Everyday choices

Everyday by Toby Lightman

A friend posted on FB that recovery is harder than the eating disorder.

I completely agree.

While I was sick, I avoided life by starving myself into a shell of a human being.  Emotions?  Starved them away, too.  Stress, anxiety–gone.  My eating disorder was an automatic barrier between me and almost any other being since it can be awkward to know what to say to someone with an eating disorder; it’s easier to not say anything at all.  I avoided people; people avoided me.  I didn’t really have to make choices while I was sick.  All choices revolved around whether or not I should eat something.  Not eating allowed me to numb out, and life scared the shit out of me.  So my choice seemed rather obvious at the time.

Then there was that day that someone entered my life and made me realize I could not die.  So I had to find a way to live, if not for me, then for him.  Then came the day that I decided if I was going to stay alive, I was going to live and not just survive or ‘get by.’  So I chose recovery.  And I thought that would be it.  Recovery would appear, or happen.  I don’t know.  Something magical would transform me if I followed the right meal plan and really stuck with it.

The initial step of choosing recovery was only the beginning step.  A necessary step, a scary step, and a small step–but it was the step that changed my life.  Except it threw me into life in a way I hadn’t expected.  All of a sudden, I didn’t have the eating disorder to fall back on, to keep me safe.  I had to deal with emotions as they flooded into my system.  I had to communicate with people I had tried to avoid for so long.  Daily choices completely overwhelmed me.  Obvious decisions were the “do I eat this?” or “do I weigh myself today?” or “do I go on a two-hour run today?” questions.  Then there were these smaller, more subtle questions that came along.  “How does this person make me feel about myself?”  “Is it worth it–going to this party?”  “I like this outfit, but should I wear it?”  “Do I need a two-hour run or do I just want the endorphin rush that makes me numb?”  “Do I really feel like feeling?”  “Wouldn’t it be easier just to not eat?

Yes.  It would have been easier to just not eat or to over-exercise to the point of pain.

Yes, eight years later I still have days when I think, “It would be easier if I didn’t have to go through this.”

Life is harder than the eating disorder.  Life is not black and white (do I eat or don’t I eat?) but is filled with greys.  Issues that must be faced like body image, childhood trauma, self-worth, the purpose of life, faith, relationships.  These are things that every single person must deal with on a daily basis, even if they never had an eating disorder.  These are things that will come up multiple times in a person’s life.  And emotions?  Those annoying things we tried to avoid with the eating disorder?  They come up a zillion times every single day.  Day after day after day.  They get overwhelming, and need to be handled in safe ways that help us heal.

Hurting ourselves as a way to deal is simply not an option anymore.  With recovery comes the journey of finding new coping skills, which is a trial and error process and can be frustrating.

But even on the days when I am crying on my bed (which happens to normal people), nothing could ever convince me to go back to the eating disorder.  Life has pain.  But life also has joy.  Great big joys and small joys and everything in between.  To go back to the eating disorder would mean giving up all of those joys, and I refuse to do that.  This living fully thing that used to terrify me?  I actually like it.

In a previous entry  I challenged myself to write out 100 things that I have to live for.  Reasons to pull me through my next depressive episode.  Do you want another challenge?  How about 100 Things I’d Have To Give Up If I Chose The Eating Disorder?

It is a choice.  A choice that you can control.  A choice that only you can make.  I made my choice eight years ago, and it has been worth every step along the way.  I have pain, yes.  But I also have joy.

December 6, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

100 Things

Quick entry before I leave for my brother’s for Thanksgiving.  I’ve read a lot of my friends’ statuses doing the 26 Days of Thankfulness.  And I’ve been listening to Jars of Clay, and there’s a lyric that goes “and when you need it most, I have a hundred reasons why I love you.”

I didn’t do the 26 Day Challenge, and I’m not going to ask someone to write out 100 reasons why they love me.

I am challenging myself to write a list of 100 Reasons to Keep Fighting.

During a depressive cycle, when things start getting bad, my therapist asks me to write a list of reasons I don’t want to commit suicide.  But that’s a hard task when you look around and see nothing worth living for.  But now?  Now that I’m 90% of the way out of this depressive episode, now would be a good time to write a list of things I am thankful for, things I am passionate about, people I love, and random inspirational items.

The truth is, I am Bipolar.  I am going to completely beat this episode of depression, and hopefully I will stay well for a good length of time.  But I will eventually go through another depressive episode; it’s a kind of given with this illness.  Honestly, I am more terrified of future depressive episodes than I am of my terminal heart disease.  Because during a depression, my mind is truly not my own.  Maybe if I have a lengthy list already written out, I can pull that list out during the hard times–and it won’t require me to come up with nice happy thoughts when I’m in the hell of depression.  I’ll already have that list as a reminder.

Please have a safe and healthy Thanksgiving and make sure you take care of yourself.

And maybe think of 100 reasons why you want to do so.

November 25, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Same old thoughts enter new territory

***Warning:  I openly discuss gaining and losing weight, but no specific numbers are mentioned.***

This entry may be a bit scattered.  I wasn’t going to write it at all because it’s not in line with my general discourse, but I think more people need to talk about this because I know I’m not the only one in this place.  But admitting your unhappy with your body, that at times you even hate your body, goes against all the pro-recovery talk. 

And I am very much pro-recovery.  Having certain thoughts doesn’t cancel that out.  They may be contradictory, but I am learning the brain has the power to hold two contradictory thoughts at the same time.  The DBT “motto” is a good example:  You are doing the best you can.  You need to do better.  I used to get so pissed off when I heard that.  Now I understand it, and even remind myself of it from time to time.

SO.  I had a cardiology appointment yesterday, and I got weighed.  To be honest, I was hoping the number would have gone down.  Or at least stayed the same.  I did not expect it to go up a significant amount.  I honestly felt like crying right then and there.  But I didn’t.  And I managed to put my thoughts aside for the 2 1/2 hour drive home that included stop and go traffic through St Louis.  But when I got home, I admit I wasn’t as calm.  I was a bit panicky.  My general thought process at this point in time:

 I’ve been doing things to help me lose weight.   I wasn’t supposed to gain weight.  What the hell am I supposed to do?  I’m actually edging toward the overweight category for my size and frame.  I can’t let this happen.  This was never supposed to be like this.  I can’t exercise any more.  I thought I had cut out the right foods and added in fruits instead.  I know what would be easy to do but I really don’t want to go there.  ARGH!  I don’t know what to do!

Honestly, my way of coping was to cry, take an extra klonopin, go to bed early, and wake up and make bread from scratch.  There’s something calming about kneading dough. 

So why am I writing this?  My body is a wonderful thing.  It is strong and allows me to do things I couldn’t ever do when I was sick.  I’m healthy, which I never was when I was sick.  And, most of the time, I am much happier. 

I had two options for dealing with thoughts like this in the past.  The first was to deny them.  Numb them out–through starvation or self-harm or over-exercise.  The second was to purposely obsess about them and take extreme actions to “remedy” the problem. 

I am looking for the middle ground here.  I think it’s important to acknowledge when we are uncomfortable in our skin instead of just repeating some glib quote about how everything is wonderful now that I’m recovered.  yeah, it sounds good, but it’s not realistic.  These thoughts are here, and covering them up with some affirmation is not going to help them.  And I know beyond any little ounce of doubt that acting on these thoughts will only make them worse (Hurray! for progress!) 

We need a place to address fears such as the ones I’m having, to admit them, to allow them to be and to discuss ways of dealing with them in a healthy, realistic fashion.  Ignoring them isn’t healthy.  Acting rashly is equally unhealthy.  Maybe by acknowledging these thoughts, I can find the middle path.

August 16, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

*All* You Have To Do Is Smile

I’m finally getting around to posting a new blog.  I can thank the snow plows that went by my house at 5:30 for what is now maybe one centimeter of snow.  My area is in a Winter Weather Advisory until 6 pm for what is expected to be a grand accumulation of 1-2 inches.  Having grown up in New York and then lived in Pennsylvania for ten years, this makes me laugh.

But aside from the trivialities of how they handle snow in the middle of Missouri–why haven’t I been posting?  One of the things I value on my blog is honesty, so I will be upfront in saying that this episode of depression (I have Bipolar Disorder) took one drastic nosedive.  My treatment team and I decided a stay in the hospital was necessary in order to be able to quickly do a complete med change and to get me back on track with the ECT sessions.  Then I came home the next week and was overwhelmed with school and the end of the semester craziness.

It’s now January.  The spring semester has started (I’m an adjunct professor at an area college).  And the depression–still there.  Still rearing it’s ugly head in a ferocious way most of the time.  And I’m bringing this up because depression is often part of an eating disorder–and it’s also often part of the recovery process.

Here are some common ways that people have responded to me telling them I’ve felt depressed lately, both when it was related to the eating disorder and now, after I’ve been in recovery for some time:

“But you look happy.”  “But you’re going to school (or work).”  “But you were just at church last week.”  “You need to get out and have some fun.”  “All you need to do is push through this and it will all get better.”  “I thought you were doing well with the eating disorder?”  “Just keep trying.”  “Keep your chin up.”  “I don’t understand; you were doing so well.”  “You should be happy that your doing better with the eating disorder.”  “Well, at least you aren’t in the hospital.” “Haven’t you been praying?” “Everyone gets sad from time to time.”  “Ugh, I know.  Yesterday was a crappy day for me.”

Some of this is our fault (not the best word choice, I know).  Some of this is society’s fault.  Society in general would like to believe that things are fine and when things aren’t fine, it’s time to change to a new topic of conversation altogether.  Some of these responses are because people who have depression quite often try to hide it from other people, for a wide range of reasons.  For me–I grew up in a family that did not discuss emotions or feelings or moods, and I grew up with the idea that I’m not *supposed* to be depressed.  I was an All Star athlete in all my sports, Salutatorian of my graduation class, drum major, a member of an area youth symphony, and a member of my church choir.  And then I went to college, and the depression got worse and the eating disorder became a very serious issue.  And I still didn’t talk about it.  And with the eating disorder, almost all people who have an eating disorder learn to hide it.  Hiding the depression came with the territory.  And I also felt/feel guilty when I talk to my friends about how I’m feeling because I don’t want to burden them, and I don’t want to worry them.

I guess my point, which I seem to be taking the long way towards getting there, is that just because someone smiles does not automatically mean they are *fine*.  People with mental illness very quickly learn to put up the brave front during the day–which may sound like a good thing.  But the consequences of putting up the brave front are extreme exhaustion, frustration, loneliness, tears, sleeplessness or sleeping too much, isolation, and hopelessness.  We learn that a lot of people brush off our comment that we feel depressed, and then learn not to trust anyone at all.

Depression is not “a bad day.”  It is not the result of not praying hard enough.  And seeing someone smile does not mean things are automatically fine.  Depression is a very serious mental illness that can affect all areas of life from home life to school to work to social relationships to physical health.  Depression is not something that you just “get over.”  It doesn’t just “go away.”  Fighting and pushing through it are two useful skills, but they will not cure depression.

People with depression need support and encouragement and a safe place to let their guards down.  They need to be able to mention the word “depression” without people shutting down, running away, or changing the topic.  They need to be encouraged to seek professional help.  They need to know that people care for them, regardless of whether or not they are depressed.

I fully realize that being a friend or family member of someone with depression is taxing and tiring and frustrating, especially in the case of severe depression or long term depression.  I recommend having your own support person and making sure that you take time for yourself to destress and unwind and relax.

I feel blessed and grateful and lucky for the people who have crossed my path and have been supportive since I began struggling with depression.  I know I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my wonderful and downright amazing friends.

 

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And if anyone wants to ask me questions–http://www.formspring.me/AlexisKatchuk

 

January 12, 2012 Posted by | bipolar disorder, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, ECT, recovery, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments