Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Full recovery from the eating disorder led to me enjoying food and the social occasions around food.  I liked trying new (and previously terrifying) foods.  I looked forward to a Friday movie night on the couch with a pint of ice cream, some wine, and some great company.  I honored my body’s signals and was doing what I had thought was impossible–eating intuitively.  And it was awesome.

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These previous few months have been . . . trying.  Ten years of recovery is a long time, right?  I felt secure in that recovery–and I still do.  But I’ve discovered that dieting-by any name-is a definite NO for me.  My cholesterol climbed up a bit in 2017, enough for it to be a valid concern.  This is likely a symptom of my heart disease and may be unavoidable.  It could be a result of hormonal middle age.  It could be that as my body has been changing, my food choices haven’t.  So I was told to “make better food choices” and “avoid cholesterol” and “limit fat” and we’ll see where I stand in six more months.

I have been obsessing about food again.  Not if I should eat, or even how much I should eat, but what to eat.  During the years of the anorexia, pretty much all food was “bad” except for black coffee and water.  Now I’m asking if the food I’m eating is “right,” which quickly leads to wondering if I’m eating “good” food.  Once I put labels on food, those same labels shift over to how I see myself as a person.  Did I make the right (good) choice?  Then I’m a good person.

My trips to the grocery store have been agonizing lately.  I find myself comparing food labels and making sure what I choose is the one with the least amount of X,Y, or Z–even if it’s only by 1 little milligram.

I don’t like living like this.

And it’s hard to go anyplace without hearing about people’s diets.  Why they are on a diet, or why this particular diet, or why the previous diet didn’t work.  I read an article today about how restrictive diets are dangerous for those who are vulnerable to eating disorder behavior or thoughts.  It’s nice reading that other people who have recovered still turn obsessive when making a “simple” lifestyle adjustment.  It’s not ever going to be “simple” for me.  I obsess too easily and food equaled worth for too long.

I obviously have to make some small changes here and there for medical reasons.  I obviously can’t “go on a diet.”  Somehow, this person who tends to exist in extremes, is going to have to find the grey zone of compromise.  But I have also decided that my cholesterol level is not a good enough reason to torment myself and risk sanity, especially when I probably have little control over the actual numbers.  (Did I mention I like having control?!)

I will try “tweaking things” (as my therapist puts it), but if I can’t do so without my overall health staying as it is, then these numbers are just going to be my numbers.  If I have to manage the side effects of one more medication, I have confidence that I can do that.  But I refuse to be miserable, and no one will ever touch my chocolate!

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February 22, 2018 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, cholesterol, depression, Eating Disorders, exercise, guilt, health, heart, progress, recovery, responses, shame, therapy, treatment | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Missing Chaos

sometimes, I have to admit that I feel a little . . . unsettled . . . in this new world I live in.

25564_633436301485_7179378_nThis world is so much calmer than the one of my twenties and the first six years of my thirties.  After 3+ years, I’m still not used to it.  I still walk out of my apartment some days, amazed that I have a bag on my shoulder filled with work stuff–that I have this thing called a job.  Sure I’ve had jobs before.  In fact, I’ve almost always had some type of job, even if it was a very-part-time job while I was on disability.

This, though, this is different.  I enjoy this job and I want to keep this job and I keep waiting for the calm to stop.  For chaos to fall down from the heavens and cause this current world to break into tiny pieces.  It’s happened before.  I know I’m now working with an awesome treatment team and that I will hopefully catch any relapse before melting into a puddle on the pavement, but it still terrifies me.

Yet sometimes, I long for that to happen.  Only I wish I could control the severity and length of the chaos.

Why?  Why would I miss the voices in my head telling me to give up on everything and to hurt myself?  Why would I want to constantly obsess about my suicide plans?  Why would I want to go back to a run of stays at various inpatient units?

Maybe I don’t miss the chaos as much as I miss the community that knows the chaos.  The community that just gets it–all of it–without me having to explain anything.  The community that’s mainly made up of people who have failed-multiple times-at being an adult. Others who can barely keep a job, let alone contemplate a career.  Others who never seem to have many stable relationships–romantic or otherwise.  Others who have periods of time on their resumes or CVs not filled with a job or education or anything other than psychiatric emergencies.  Others who know the daily routine on a psychiatric unit can be as comforting as it is mind-numbingly boring.

It’s easier on a psychiatric unit.  To admit to exhaustion and sadness and hopelessness. To admit I need help.  To admit I want help.  To admit that I have no real clue about ‘normal emotional reactions and behaviors.’  I know the extremes.  I’m finding my way around this middle grey zone, but I often feel lost here.

I don’t have the Sorority Days stories, or the Spring Fling stories, or the Marriage and Family stories, or the New House stories, and sometimes I don’t know how to engage with people when I’m in a group that seems to be focused on reminiscing about The Good Old Days.

Some days I fear needing to go back in the hospital.  Some days I wish I could, just to take a break for a week.  I still feel “new” to all of this, and I have no idea what’s coming next.  At least the chaos was predictable in that I knew it would be there tomorrow.

February 17, 2018 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, guilt, health, identity, progress, publicity, recovery, relationships, responses, self harm, shame, suicide, teaching, therapy, treatment | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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?

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

Intentional Acting

14358754_10101428559527125_201134823500979566_nThis time of year is always difficult for me.  I have come to accept that life in general will be  . . . interesting during the winter months.  This year, however, I made some changes to my routine to make sure this would be a successful winter.

DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) and I agree on most things, but not so much on a few things.  I have learned a significant amount about taking care of myself, however.  A relatively new concept if you look at my life as a whole.  This year, I decided that, above all else, I would make sure I went to bed and woke up on a regular schedule.  This meant saying “the world won’t end if I don’t finish grading these papers tonight” and asking “you already know how to stay in bed for 24 consecutive hours, so how about we try something new?”  I’m not saying it was easy to maintain a regular sleep schedule; it took a hell of a lot of self-talk/self-lectures on a daily basis, and I certainly didn’t have a 100% success rate.  But I tried another new concept out this year by not shaming myself with negative self-talk when my day was less than perfect.

Not feeling guilty is actually more difficult for me than maintaining a good sleep schedule.

Healthy sleep habits definitely helped, but so did healthy exercise habits.  I said at the beginning of the winter that I wasn’t even going to go into the season with the intention of walking every day.  I hate the cold.  I hate the cold wind.  And I hate snow.  Going out for a slow walk was just not going to happen in upstate New York.  It was easier when I was able to run.  Then, just knowing the endorphin high was coming was enough to get me outside and exercising.

This year, I told myself I would try to maintain a regular yoga practice, along with my regular meditation practice.  My daily sitting practice went by unscathed.  However, there were many many many days when I just couldn’t make myself do yoga, or even do some simple stretches while watching television.  But–this winter I didn’t lecture myself about how bad it is not to exercise.  Turns out, guilt isn’t such a great motivator.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I found myself thinking, “It’s winter.  Just chill out and watch more Bones reruns.”  It was the end of winter and I didn’t feel like showing up at work, let alone exercising by myself at home.  And I’d just continue to sit there and read or knit.  And even without any self-lectures, I’d feel worse.  Mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Then I remembered another DBT skill: Acting Opposite.  I wanted to curl up in bed after going to work, not because I was enjoying a good nap that would be refreshing, but because I didn’t feel like dealing with the world.  Or my mind.  So I intentionally (a big mindfulness concept) decided to start (restart? revisit?  continue?) a daily yoga practice–with gentleness.  I started off with a few slow sun salutations–they only took a few minutes.  But I was okay with “just” doing a few minutes of yoga.  Each day, I added one more pose to my sequence.  I didn’t automatically just add on the next pose in the ashtanga series; I thought about what would feel good for my body and went with it.

So for part of the winter, I let myself sit and do nothing, exercise-wise.  For the rest of the season, I chose to challenge my depressive habits.  But in each case, I had to do so in a balanced fashion.  I had to listen to what was right for me in that given moment.  And I had to learn how to forgive myself.  These concepts of acceptance and forgiveness and gentleness are still new habits for me, and don’t come naturally.  But–I am discovering that, overall, I feel better when I choose to practice them.  My body and my mind thank me.

March 16, 2017 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, guilt, health, heart, mindfulness, progress, recovery, shame, therapy, treatment | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

There Is Still More To Come

11751427_10101046604258545_5454523273497108847_nI’m a lover of words, and I also happen to find things like grammar and punctuation rather interesting.  The addition of a comma can change the meaning of a sentence.  Whether you choose to use a period or a semi-colon is not a decision to be taken lightly.

Almost eighteen years ago, when I was twenty, I chose to use a period.  I saw no reason to continue the sentence, which was my life.  I decided to end it all.

Obviously, I did not “succeed” in my suicide attempt.  I am still alive.  Still writhing and fighting and living and questioning everything around me.

For many years after my suicide attempt, I was angry and bitter that I had survived.  I thought it was unfair.  But I somehow knew I could never attempt such a thing again.  I could not inflict that amount of pain and grief on my family and friends.  However, knowing I wouldn’t commit suicide didn’t erase the fact that I have Bipolar Disorder, which meant that depression would come back.  And recede.  And come back.  I would still fight the feeling that I wanted to die.  I would still obsess about how I could make that happen.  I would still dream that some accident would befall me and make the decision for me.

In the spring of 2014, I hit an all time low for me.  I had previously thought I knew what depression was all about, but this episode was different.  It was longer.  It was deeper.  It was stronger. I craved death.  I obsessed about it.  Dreamed about it.  I could not stop the thoughts of suicide–but I was still confident that I knew I wouldn’t go through with it.

Then one night, things got worse.  I don’t remember much of that night, but thanks to my browser history and open tabs, I knew what I had been researching: the best ways to die.  Then, I looked at my planner next to my computer on my desk, and I saw that I had written out a timeline of everything I would need to do to set that plan in motion.  Some of the details I had planned for and around freaked me out.

Thankfully, I was so freaked out that I had switched from dreaming about death to planning it in detail, I called my therapist.  I packed my bag, and when I saw my psychiatrist for ECT, I flat out told him I couldn’t go home.  I showed him my planner.

I had chosen to use a semi-colon and not a period.

I would be in the hospital for a month.  I would be discharged into the care of my parents, and I would move back home with them.

My psychiatrist’s parting words to me were, “Thank you for trusting us.”

That month in the hospital didn’t cure me, but it saved me.  It allowed me to start the healing process so I could continue writing my sentence.  Kind of a powerful metaphor for a writer.

For anyone with mental illness contemplating life, for anyone with an eating disorder, for anyone with an addiction, for anyone having a crappy week: you can choose to keep going.  You may have to make that decision many times, but it is yours to make.  I now have a semi-colon on my wrist as a reminder that there is still more to come.  What comes before the semi-colon?  It’s in the past.  What’s after the semi-colon?  The future.  Your future, and you are the author.

For more about the Semicolon Project, go here.  You will find inspirational stories and resources to help you begin you new independent clause.

July 17, 2015 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, death, depression, Eating Disorders, recovery, suicide | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Full Recovery. Yes. It really is possible.

According to Facebook, I have 300 friends.  Most of the time, my newsfeed keeps me up to date on the Friends who are near me physically and the ones who interact with me the most.  Which means the vast majority of my 300 Friends don’t just pop up on my screen.  And honestly, I cannot keep up to date with 300 different people, especially the ones I’ve never met or talked to aside from a couple messages on Facebook.

But a conversation on my wall yesterday made me randomly think of Someone, and so I went to her page to see how she was.  Well, Someone died from her eating disorder, and there is now a “Remembering Someone” group in addition to all the other ‘in memory’ groups out there.  I had had several private message conversations with her, but I can’t say that I knew her.  It still makes me sad.

And then my dear friend Kathleen MacDonald re-shared her story for a support group.  I have heard her speak this story and I have read it multiple times over the years, and it still makes me cry.  Kathleen had someone who knew what it’s like to lose a daughter to an eating disorder step in and help her see her worth as a human being and helped her understand her life had meaning and purpose and beauty and that there really was a way to heal.  A way out.

In 2004, my life intersected with that of Allan Benn.  His daughter had died from an eating disorder in 2003.  At the time, I didn’t believe the people who told me that I could get better–because very few people ever told me that.  Most everyone told me that people didn’t really recover from an eating disorder, that they learned to “manage it” for the rest of their life, but it would always be present somehow.

So if I was only ever going to be anorexic to some degree, why even try to recover?  What was the point?  I didn’t have anything to offer the world; I didn’t even feel I had anything to offer myself.  But Allan saw my suffering, and how it was holding me back from the person I was meant to be.  One day, he sat me down and asked, “What are you going to do now? Because you can’t keep doing this.”  I can’t remember if I had any type of answer for him or not.  But he told me that I needed to take steps to get better.  I didn’t believe him, because ‘obviously’ recovery was impossible.

But over the next year-and-a-half, I began seeing myself through his eyes.  I wasn’t sold on recovery yet, but I was willing to admit the way I was living was causing me great pain.  And as he continued to stress health and wellness, I saw that the way I was living was causing him pain.  I had no idea that my actions could affect other people to that degree.  A sobering realization, but one that led me to the conclusion that even if I didn’t want to get better, I could not let myself be another loss in his life.  It didn’t seem fair.

And so, over a period of months, I began seeking out treatment options but always fell back on the “it’s never helped before” belief until I really didn’t have a choice due to my physical health and I went back into treatment.  I still didn’t believe in me, or even really want recovery–but I cared about Allan and his wife.  “They told me recovery is possible,” I kept repeating to myself.  I had to at least try.

And then I began fighting for the sake of my nephew.  And a part of me was fighting to prove all the doubters wrong.  And then I began fighting for me.  I began to believe that recovery really was possible.  And like everything else I do, I refused to settle for anything but full recovery.

I wish there had been that one person in Someone’s life that connected with her on some deep level words can’t really describe.  I wish she had been able to see her inherent worth as a person and everything that life had to offer her and that she had to offer life.  I wish she believed that she could recover.

All too often, we are labeled revolving door patients, or ‘lifers’ who don’t stand a chance.  These messages come from family, friends, and medical professionals.  ALL of us need to be told that recovery is possible and that we deserve that recovery and that we can succeed.  We need more stories of recovery.  We need to convince people that 100% Full Recovery is possible.  And we need to keep saying that–to sufferers, to parents, to friends, to healthcare providers, and anyone else who will listen.

You. Can. Recover.  Recovery does not mean the absence of pain, but it does mean the presence of life.

November 8, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments