Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

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.

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

Absence, answers, and the addicting online social networks

I realize that I haven’t posted a new blog in a month-and-a-half.  Actually, I realized that I hadn’t posted anything awhile ago, but everything time I tried writing an entry, I stared at the blank screen and waited for words to come up.  And waited.  And waited.  And would stare at the blank screen some more. 

Some of you may recognize that inability to concentrate, to think, to lose oneself in time and the ability to sit for hours doing absolutely nothing as symptoms of depression.  Which I’ve been pretty open about in previous posts.  So I’ll be upfront about my lack of posts: the depression has been kicking my ass.  Writing–something that is usually as easy for me as breathing–has become a daily living skill at which I am totally inept.  So that explains my recent absence.

As for the answers to the questions I’ll inevitably get asked: Yes, I am talking to my treatment team.  Yes, I am taking my medications.  Yes, I am using my sunlamp.  Yes, I am following through with ECT, which has by far been the most effect part of my treatment.  Yes, my thoughts have been crawling through subway tunnels lately and could use a bit of light, but I’ve been honest with my treatment team about this.  And I have a couple really amazing friends who have listened to my tears over the phone and have reminded me of what the light used to look like–giving me hope and reason to believe that the light will, indeed, shine again.

For those of you who have followed me on Facebook and Formspring:  I have decided to deactivate my Formspring account, and I’m weeding out my friendlist on Facebook in search of some more privacy.  And, since my rather late discovery of Formspring, I’ve been appalled at how eating disorders are treated online–not on the pro-ana/pro-mia sites, but on widely accessed social networking sites that are open to people with or without eating disorders. The casualness with which eating disorders are treated, as if they are something to joke about, as if the rest of the world is to blame for the unfairness of everything, as if people didn’t die from these illnesses.  As if mentioning exactly how many times you puke per day will help anyone but your own competitive and egotistic nature.  As if putting other people down because they “obviously haven’t suffered as long as I have” is making anyone but you feel better.  As if making a list of what you will and will not eat will do anything but give someone else ideas how to follow suit.  

And there’s this trend of Vlogs and youtube “documentaries” and “educational videos” that have sprung up.  An actual educational video might indeed be helpful.  Letting people know what the main eating disorders are and what their symptoms are and the dangers of these eating disorders.  Listing facts and information.  Maybe even giving a couple of phonenumbers or websites that can help someone find treatment. 

Instead these Vlogs are ten-minutes of the narrator giving detailed descriptions of his or her symptoms–graphic descriptions that have the potential to be extremely triggering.  People note how much weight they’ve lost or gained.  People make jokes about how they hide their eating disorders from other people–friends and teachers at school and parents and family members.  People state how unfair it is that their parents are concerned and taking them to a doctor.  I’ve seen people compare their symptoms with other people’s.  With comments like, “Well, we know she’s not really all that sick” and “hah–she hasn’t even had a tube yet, so what’s she complaining about?”  Here’s something to think about: people die every day from these illnesses without ever having had a tube.  And how many people out there have put off going to treatment and put off going to treatment because they ‘don’t feel sick enough’?  Therefore, delaying treatment, prolonging the time it takes to recover, and increasing the chancing of ending up as one more statistic. One more death.  

And I can’t read these comments anymore and shrug them off.  People need to realize how powerful words are, and they need to take responsibility for the damage their words does.  So please, before you post that awareness video in an effort to spread the word about eating disorders, remember that there are people watching it who remember all the weights stated in the video, who compare themselves to the people in the video, who won’t seek help because “obviously” the people in the video are so much sicker and they don’t deserve help.  People who will try to become like those people in the video.  Will follow all the behaviors listed in the “educational video” until they’re too weak to pick up the phone and call for help.   

March 26, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Pull of Friendship

One of the topics that several people suggested I address is eating disorders and friendships.  That is, maintaining friendships with people you either met in treatment or met through an eating disorder forum or support group.  I briefly tackled that topic here, but I think it’s a worthy topic to look at in more detail.

The question isn’t whether or not you should maintain friendships with people you met in treatment if you are both doing well.  Congrats to both of you, and I hope you continue to support one another in recovery.

But what about two different scenarios–the first being if you aren’t doing well and have basically stated you don’t intend to and the second being that you are trying as hard as you can to work toward recovery but you have certain friends who are doing everything they can to cling to the eating disorder.

In the first post I mentioned, I address how when I was sick, I was super-eating-disorder-activist.  I lobbied, I spoke at colleges and universities and conferences.  And the vast majority of my friends also had ties to the eating disorder world.  Looking back, I do not think this was helpful.  What I needed to be doing was “normal” stuff that would teach me I could have and enjoy a “normal” life, such as school, work, friends and family and social engagements that had nothing to do with eating disorders.  I needed to purge myself of the eating disorder identity (every pun intended).

I am not sure I could have recovered if I had kept up close ties with everyone from treatment.  The people I maintained contact with were people I would have been friends with if we had met in a class or on the subway or at a coffee shop.  The eating disorder just happened to be this unfortunate coincidence that we shared.  AND all of these friends also wanted recovery, so we were able to support and encourage each other in a positive direction.  If we bitched about a bad day, the response was more along the lines of “What can you do to turn it around?” than “Ugh, me, too.”  We called each other out on things we saw that weren’t recovery focused.  I still have a couple of friends do the same for me.  Recently I wanted to take a break from therapy, and one friend questioned my motivation for that and asked if it would, in all honesty, be a good idea.  And after journaling on the topic, I realized she was on to something.

Does it sound cruel to do what I’m suggesting?  Keeping friends who are actively pursuing recovery and not maintaining friendships with those who aren’t?  I repeat something I’ve said before: Protect your own recovery at all costs.

After a year of self-enforced exile, I returned to the online eating disorder community.  And I still maintain online friendships with people who are at all stages of recovery, even those who say they don’t want recovery.  I know what it’s like to have people give up on me and walk away, and to say it hurts is an understatement.  Now that I am strong enough, I will not be that person who walks away.  Neither will I be the false, cheery voice that only says, “You can do it, hun, hang in there.”  I am not afraid to ask questions and to push someone in the direction of recovery.

But I know myself right now, and know that I am not triggered by pictures or comments or numbers or people going in and out of treatment.  I could not say that when I first started on the road to recovery, hence my friendships with recovery-minded people who would not trigger me.  Know your triggers, and if something/someone is triggering you and you are having a difficult time staying on-course, there is nothing wrong with taking a step back from that group or from that friend.  When you are more solid in your own recovery, then, if you want, you can return and help others.  If you are still triggered, then that is not the role for you.  Your recovery is your number one priority.  Do not compromise it, do not put it in danger.  If talking to others or posting on forums helps you, then keep that up.

Know yourself.  Know your triggers and take steps to avoid them whenever possible.  Your life is on the line.

April 27, 2011 Posted by | Communication, Eating Disorders, recovery, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Triggers

trigger

Yet another post generated by my earlier Black Swan post.  One person commented about triggers.  I had written that “some people look for triggers, and when they choose to do so, they will find them in any situation.”  I do believe this is true.  There is a stage of this illness where many of us purposefully surround ourselves with images or quotes that “help” us with the eating disorder (meaning, they help us stay sick).

This commenter pointed out that sometimes we don’t have control over what triggers us.  And, I agree.  I believe that purposefully seeking out triggers is a choice.  But that’s different than just walking about in the world and encountering something and having this thought or feeling pop into our heads.  It’s not like when we started out on the journey of having an eating disorder we were given a list of possible triggers and checked off which ones we would allow to trigger us and which ones we would ignore.  (Can you imagine some scantron sheet that we submit to this otherworldly person in a ticket booth upon entry into the Realm of the Eating Disordered?)  What triggers one person will not trigger someone else.  And our triggers change during the course of illness and recovery.

I re-read my post, and I don’t think I implied that being triggered is a “bad” thing.  It just is.  How we react to those triggers can be healthy or harmful, however.  We can do our best to fight them (and I believe that if you are fighting, no matter the outcome, you are winning).  Or, we can choose to act on symptoms in response to the triggers.  And there’s whole shades of greys in between these two extremes.  The unconscious versus conscious acting on symptoms.  The fact that sometimes we’re not even aware of our triggers at first.  The fact that sometimes all our fighting wears us down and then we’re hit by another trigger and another trigger and things get overwhelming and become too much.

I would love to rid the world of triggers.  That would mean ridding the world of the the world itself.  This is why I said that the focus really should be on helping those who are having difficulty with triggers.  Identifying them, naming them, expressing the feelings behind them, putting words to those feelings, and learning how to cope with the triggers without self-harming behaviors.  There are some triggers you can avoid.  But you can’t avoid all of them.  And that’s why I think there needs to be an open discussion on what do you do when . . . Suggestions that can help other people in similar situations.  So that maybe you can have a list of things to do in certain situations, especially since this time of year is difficult for a lot of people with eating disorders and self-harm issues.

Be a Girl Scout: Be Prepared.  Have your survival kit with you.  Protect your recovery at all costs.

December 19, 2010 Posted by | Body Image, coping, Eating Disorders, feelings, recovery, self harm | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

status updates

 

 

wordle.net

This post is sponsored by my Questions Page, the question being:

“What do you think of people psting triggering status updates on facebook? I know youve adressed pictures, but when people post status updates, often they claim it is for support and not to trigger others. Where do you think the line should be drawn between looking for supprt and triggering others?  Youve talked about how NOT to use facebook, how do you suggest someone with an ed SHOULD use Facebook for support? What do you suggest people do when their freinds are being triggering on Facebook? After all, its not exactly easy to say, sorry girl, youre my good friend, but we can’t be facebookf friends…”

 

Status updates.  I believe I know the type referred to in this question:

  • I’m having such a shitty day with my meal plan but I’m sick of people getting on my case.
  • I can’t believe my doctor wants me to eat all this!
  • I can’t believe my doctor wants me to go IP.  He’s full of shit.
  • Really struggling today and would prefer to be left alone.
  • Really worried about my doctor’s appointment today.  He’s not going to be happy.

This last one always makes my day.  I want to ask, “Why the hell are you telling us this?”  Do you want us to say, “Oh, I’m sorry.  Hope it goes well.”  or “I’m sorry, hon, it will all be okay.”  or “I’m really worried about you.”

Every single one of these status updates asks for a response from people, which is typical of any status update, but these are a bit more manipulative in nature.  Posting as your public update that you want to be left alone is contradictory and is only asking for a bunch of “what’s wrong, sweetie?” responses that will feed right into whatever moodstate made you write the status to begin with.

Then there are the more obvious triggering updates:

  • The doctors put me on bedrest again.  It’s so annoying.
  • My heart’s beating funny.  Maybe I should have had my ensure earlier today.
  • I know my doctor will be mad at my weight tomorrow, but I just don’t have it in me to eat today.
  • I don’t give a fuck anymore. Fuck everyone.  I’m off to be with PW.

Yes, I’ve seen that last status before.  I’ve seen all of these status updates before.  The last one is particularly upsetting as PW stands for Polly Williams, one of the four main individuals featured in that awful documentary Thin. Polly was also my real life friend long before Thin was even in the making.  And it’s a slap across my face for someone to post this update.  Why not tell people you’re going to swallow five bottles of pills and a bottle of vodka while you’re at it?

Status updates like this put people in a helpless position.  And they trigger those individuals who are still struggling.  “I’m not sick if I’m not in treatment.”  “I’m not sick if I’m  not on bed rest.”  (seriously, why post that? Are you proud of it?)

Most of all, how is someone who is trying really hard to recover supposed to feel when reading all these status updates from people who don’t really want help and are broadcasting it to facebook?

My advice, and this is tough to hear, and it was tough to take when I was at that stage: do a facebook cleaning.  Take those friends off your list.  You do not owe them anything.  If they don’t respect other people enough to care about how their words affect you, then unfriend them.  You primary responsibility is to yourself right now.  When you are stronger, healthier, you can go back and maybe help those other individuals.  But right now, focus on YOU and getting YOU better.

I know some people know each other in real time and not just through facebook.  If that’s the case, bring up his or her status updates through a private message and say how it is affecting you and that you need to focus on your recovery right now.  If he or she cannot respect this by changing their status updates, then say, “I’m sorry.  I’m not in a place to read them right now.”  Block them from showing up on your newsfeed and don’t go to their personal pages.  Or unfriend them.

Sounds harsh?  They will say so.  But how are you supposed to recover if you keep yourself planted in the same unhealthy environment?  Plant roots somewhere else.  Find people who will support your efforts toward recovery and who will not trigger you on a consistent basis.  It’s not being selfish.  It’s taking care of yourself and respecting yourself.

You come first in your recovery.  Always remember this.  You come first.

 

 

 

November 25, 2009 Posted by | Communication, Eating Disorders, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments