Tag Archives: mental health

An American in Poland

About two weeks ago I arrived in Warsaw to begin my semester abroad. The first night, I was all ready to pack my bags back up and go home. I was not prepared for the culture shock, but as the week went on I found myself once again becoming more emotionally stable. 

Before I even left home, I knew being here was going to be a challenge but I didn’t realize to what extent it would be. 

My entire recovery is being challenged. Those eating disorder voices in my head are becoming louder, and I really don’t understand why. Maybe it’s because of the food here & not knowing what it is I ate. There’s a lot of carbs and meat here and I’m struggling to find things that I will actually eat without the anxiety rising in me. I am not counting the challenges over the past two weeks as a failure, but I’ve noticed others here find my eating habits odd.

The family I’m staying with have been pressing me to eat every meal ever since I got here and I felt awkward denying their offers of food at first. I didn’t know if not accepting food when it’s offered was a sign of disrespect in Poland, but I learned that a simple “not right now, maybe in a little bit” satisfies them. 

Then there’s the fact that I feel like an outsider here. I am the only student from America here and it’s a little isolating. The language barrier is not only frustrating but disappointing to me because I struggle to express simple things to a majority of those around me. 

The things I’ve been feeling aren’t being expressed, because how can i? I’m supposed to be having the time of my life here, but so far it’s been more challenging than exciting. 

My hopes for the coming weeks is that it’ll get easier & more relaxing. Hopefully I will become more comfortable with the culture and the food situation. I just miss home and the familiarity, but inside I’m so happy I took this opportunity to live in Warsaw for 3 months. 

3 Years

Today is kind of a weird anniversary for me. I was scrolling through TimeHop this morning (people still use this app right?) when I came across a post from 3 years ago today. I left for treatment for an eating disorder/self-injury that day. I remember (vaguely, however) being terrified to go out there and have all my vices of coping and not feeling stripped away from me. I was incapable of feeling anything besides numb. There were no plans for a future in my mind, no hope of things ever not feeling as if though they weren’t going to get better. All I remember is being exhausted 24/7; emotionally and physically.

I was vulnerable to the voices in my head telling me that if I only lost a little more weight I’d be happy, I’d achieve that goal of wanting to disappear, to live a life unnoticed. Only the thing is, the more I tried to disappear the more I stood out. That’s where the lies came in. I lived a life of lying, skirting around the truth that I was slowly killing myself. My closest friends would ask what I was doing to lose the weight I had, or if I was eating. I didn’t exactly lie to them, but I wasn’t telling the whole story. I was simply working out daily and watching what I did eat (although a piece of toast with a very miniscule amount of peanut butter isn’t exactly eating). I hid my eating disorder so well and didn’t disclose information about it that my therapist I was seeing at the time didn’t even catch on to what was going on with me (which led to a lot of misdiagnoses, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder) until a month or so before I was sent to treatment.

All these memories came back when I saw those posts from TimeHop this morning. It’s still kind of mind blowing to me that it was 3 years ago, because it honestly feels like it was yesterday. I have come such a long way in my life since going to treatment.

I feel content with my life and where it’s going. I’m now a senior in undergrad with a pretty killer GPA. I’m graduating with research honors next May and hopefully will be going off to grad school after that. Yes I still struggle with my weight, appearance and eating disorder thoughts sometimes but I don’t let them consume me anymore. I have so much to offer the world (that didn’t sound conceded did it?) and after years of struggling, have a pretty good sense as to who I am. The areas of my life which I lost to my eating disorder and mental health struggles, I have either gained back or am working on gaining back. There’s relationships I’m hoping to still amend and the friends I still do have I appreciate them and no longer take them for granted.

There is so much that I have gained over the past 3 years, that it’s incredible to think about how my life has changed for the better. The road here absolutely sucked and was painful. One psychiatric hospital stay, a month in inpatient treatment and a year in outpatient treatment (which sucked more than the hospital or treatment center) are now on my track record. I hated the things that beginning recovery entailed, but if I got my life back in a better way than I could have imagined, I guess I’ll take it.

So today is the anniversary of the day I began the long journey of getting my life back. It’s been almost 2 years since I’ve last self-injured which is huge after engaging in it for 10 years. Being in recovery from an eating disorder is something I feel like I’ll always have to deal with. Every day I have to make choices and check in with myself some days to make sure I’m going down the right path because it is so easy for my emotions to take over and run the course of my life. But I genuinely love my life right now, and I’m so glad I am still alive to have these experiences.

Life After

With it being National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I wanted to take the time out of my night to sit down and write something meaningful about this week. Reading post after post of individuals’ stories about life in the grips of an eating disorder and how they’re now on the other side, I decided I wanted whatever I wrote to be a little different. But how do you make your writing different from the thousands out there that are writing about the same issues?

I have noticed a theme over the week within those posts, however. There’s always that silver lining moment at the end where the writer describes how much life has gotten better since they entered recovery, and I have to agree that it’s a fucking incredible thing being in recovery and not having the obsessions about food and weight on your mind 24/7. But the posts always end there, leaving a sort of cliff hanger, especially for those of us who know what going through the recovery process is like. But what I want to touch on is something I haven’t read much of in the posts:

            The bad days of recovery.

Because guess what guys, it’s not always an easy task and some days those thoughts and desires to once again self-destruct come running back to you. People expect you to struggle while you’re getting back on your feet while in treatment, whether that be inpatient or outpatient. But what I’ve noticed in my own life is that nobody really talks about the struggle so many of us face after we’re discharged from a treatment program and are fully integrated back into our lives. That’s when, at least in my opinion, real recovery starts and is tested on almost a daily basis.

I’ve gone a couple of weeks without the intrusive thoughts about my weight and calories, but something I’ve noticed is that it always comes back. We learn skills to fight those thoughts out, as well as behavioral components to engage in to not fall back into the very thing we were once so comfortable in. My own therapist has told me countless times that yes it may be so much easier to just say ‘fuck it’ and go back into living a life of an eating disorder, but there’s so much more to lose at this point in your life now that you have experienced what living is supposed to be like.

Let’s be real here for a moment though guys, sometimes the idea of living this new life, for the rest of our life mind you, seems overwhelming. Some days I wake up and don’t want to continue living this life of recovery. Some days I want to jump right back into the arms of an eating disorder, because coping with the emotions that come from every day life experiences can really fucking suck. They talk about the ebbing and flowing of motivation for recovery in treatment all the time, but just because you’ve been discharged from a program doesn’t mean that ever really stops. It becomes less frequent of an issue, but an issue still nonetheless.

You can go weeks feeling on top of the world and loving the life you worked so hard to get, but some days those thoughts and physical feelings can come back and come back with a vengeance. It’s in those moments though, that you really have to put all of those skills that were drilled into your head into use. It’s a struggle, because now you have insight. You know you can kick those thoughts’ ass, you know you can hold off on engaging in whatever behavior it is your head is telling you to do, and you know all of the things that you could lose by letting yourself get engulfed in those thoughts and actions for even just a day. Because I think we all know that a lot of the time, that one day is all it takes to flip that switch and you’re plummeting backwards.

But unlike the days you were in treatment, there’s not that team of people right there to catch you before you smash into the ground. So it’s all you, and you know you can do it if you choose to. It’s those choices that can either make or break you. It all comes down to choice. There’s this internal battle you enter into with your old self and the new, more insightful self. So what are you going to do? The guilt of fucking up and having to explain to either your doctor or your therapist as to why the scale says you lost weight when you go in for your next appointment or session can be overwhelming enough. To be honest, that has been something that has kept me on my toes a lot over the past year. Having to come up with some lie that seems like a legit excuse isn’t really worth it, because if your therapist is good at their job, they’ll dissect the shit out of what you just told them until they reveal the truth behind the fact you lost weight again.

But I guess I should probably end this post on a positive note, eh? I mean shit if I stopped right there we’d all be fucking depressed and not want to continue trying our best to live a life of recovery. So here it goes, that silver lining moment we all love:

Some days of recovery suck. I mean really fucking suck. But it’s only a day, or a moment or a thought. It doesn’t have to become the catalyst that slides you backwards. If you’ve made it this far to where you can say you’re in recovery, well dammit you can make it past the shitty days too. Without trying to sound like one of those cheesy motivational posters that are scattered all over the place, you’ve already proven to yourself that you can do this. So when you really feel like recovery is a joke and you can no longer keep it up, remember the way you fucking rallied to get to where you are now, even if in that moment it feels like you didn’t make as much progress as everyone around you is telling you’ve made. It’s always hard to see the progress you made for yourself, but you did it yourself. So keep calm and stay strong.

Up to MY Standards

I’ve always been a perfectionist, I mean just go ask anyone who is close to me and they’ll tell you just that. Maybe it’s because of my childhood (all the Freud lovers will give a fist pump at that) and living with that nagging voice placed in my head by those who bullied me and the teachers who never really believed in my abilities (High school guidance counselor, I’m lookin at you!).

So as I got older and became a young adult, I saw a shift in my mindset. I found things I was good at and considered it my pride to excel at these things. Some were healthy, such as my ability to play guitar and make music, and some not so healthy. Those who were seemingly better at whatever it was I too was good at, were seen as a threat to me. I know, it’s absolutely ridiculous to say out loud but it was the truth. But that truth has dangerous consequences.

Musicians around me became the enemy, a source of jealousy and viewed as yet another individual rubbing it in my face that I was in fact not as good at music as I thought I once was. I no longer wanted to learn from them, because when they tried teaching me new things, in my head all I could hear was them saying “look what I can do and you can’t”. Relationships that could have been so enriching never had the chance to grow because I pushed them away. I felt insignificant in who I was as a musician when I compared myself to them, even though a majority of these individuals had been playing music longer than I had even been alive.

Then there were the not so good things, body image being the main thing. I got sick in my early twenties with an eating disorder, after I decided I was going to go on a diet to lose some weight. Needless to say, that car soon spun out of control and took over my life. But there was something about it that made me feel so in control and on top of my world. Finally, I remember thinking to myself, I had found the one thing in my life that nobody else could be better at than me. I would listen to people all around me telling me that they found it so hard to stay in a commitment to the gym and stick with their diets. That losing weight was not as easy as I was making it look. That was all I needed to hear to give me that little extra push to keep going. Not to mention the fact that my perfectionist attitude always made me feel like crap about myself when I would finally reach that goal weight, because anyone who has ever had the misfortune of having an eating disorder knows that the original goal weight never stays the same. Once you get there you know you can go lower, and suddenly that number on the scale that you once would have killed someone to see, is no longer the number you feel happy with. There’s always more you can do to get lower. That perfect number just barely out of reach.

But where I really want to go in this is the recovery aspect of an eating disorder. Those perfectionist attitudes never really left, and I’m not sure they ever really will if I’m being honest. It’s a long road ahead of me, probably something I will struggle with for the rest of my life. Because I live in such a small town (we joke and call it ‘Smallbany’) I have run into people I went to outpatient treatment with at school, some of them in my classes. I remember the beginning of the semester someone who was in treatment with me, who I never really cared for, walked into my class. One look at them and I saw what I wasn’t any longer. They, in my mind at least, looked good. They had the features I so badly wished I could have because to me in the most fucked up way were what I consider attractive. Suddenly my body image was out of whack and I once again felt inadequate. Sure I have come a long way in recovery, but seeing others look the way that I never had the chance to look, really kind of triggered me. To me, they looked perfect. I, with some weight restored, did not look perfect.

Sure I had my schooling and the fact that I am really freakin’ good at it, but all of that was negated by the fact that I was no longer the best at the one thing I spent so many years being proud of. Someone else could lose weight and be thinner than I am. Suddenly, I was no longer up to my standards of perfect.

But what is perfect? I honestly don’t know if perfect even exists. I remember last week after taking tests I received the grade for one and it was below my expectations. I knew I could have done better, and kicked myself all day for the fact that I didn’t get that grade I knew I could have. My mind took over and I began hearing that voice in my head that told me I wasn’t ever going to measure up to the standards I once believed I could. But this voice carried over into every area of my life. I was no longer good enough at anything, whether it be school, the way I looked, or good enough for relationships (not romantic but friendships and the like).

I know this is all negative, but I think I finally found the silver lining. My standards for my whole life have been set at a place that is almost unreachable but not totally out of sight that I can’t see the end game. I can see it, and that only fuels the need to live up to my own standards. So I’ve been working really hard on giving myself a break, and it’s not as easy as you would think it was. It’s a daily internal struggle, and at times it’s absolutely exhausting. But maybe, just maybe, my standards can change, or I can at least give myself a break and some grace for not reaching that bar that is set so high. So I didn’t get a mark on a test or paper I knew I could have gotten, in the long run will it really matter? So I don’t feel like I’m the best at things I once did, who really cares? I’m not the best musician? At least I’m not the same as I was a few years ago. I’m not the best student? At least I’m not the same student I was when I was told I wasn’t good enough for college. I’m not the best looking? First of all, what does that even mean, and second of all, looks are the least of everyone’s concern at the end of the day. I realize that sounded shallow, and being the best looking wasn’t what fueled my illness. It was the need to disappear and not be noticed. But as I entered recovery, looking good, meaning healthy, became important for some reason.

I may not be perfect or up to my standards, but I realize now that nobody on this earth is perfect. We all have something that someone else wants, but at the same time we are all so completely different, and now in my life I’m trying to accept that and believe it. So maybe now I will try to set a new standard, a standard of giving myself grace.

 

The Sick Card

As someone who is working their ass off to live a better life, a life of recovery and happiness and self-love, it angers me to my core seeing people who play “the sick card” to their advantage. But that’s the thing about mental illness, no matter what label it has attached to it by psychologists and professionals, it’s a manipulative son of a bitch.

When we’re sick we become monsters, shells of the person we one were. We become liars and co-dependent on things we never saw value in before.

Then, there’s treatment.

We finally find a team or a psychologist who doesn’t make us feel like hopeless cases, who genuinely believes in us and wants nothing more for us than an improved quality of life. There’s actual tools we can use to better ourselves. Things in our life begin to turn around; we see goals we never thought we could achieve being met, new life aspirations and motivation and self-confidence. For the first time in years that light at the end of the tunnel isn’t just some cheesy ass metaphor used on motivational posters or in the abstract way. That darkness that only we can feel and see soon turns into a light, and dammit it feels so good to finally find that exit door out of all this shit we’ve been hiding in for years.

But it’s not like that for everyone.

Some find peace and comfort in the constant worrying of those around them, the phone calls or text messages of friends and family checking up on them to make sure they’re ok. They thrive on the sympathy of suffering from their mental illness, they cloak themselves as the patient and find that having this illness is the perfect scape goat for real life. Treatment, whether it be outpatient or inpatient or hospitalizations, isn’t meant to be fun or ClubMed. That shit is painful, even more painful than life tends to be, but that is their safety net.
Life gets too stressful or something happens that they don’t like, there they go pulling out the sick card they have neatly tucked away just for moments like these. Soon the sympathy and support of others comes pouring in and they gain that control of others back. For some reason, they thrive on manipulating people to feel sorry for them and make them go out of their way to prove that they care about them. It’s almost as if they’re trapping others into a world of misery because hey as the saying goes, “misery loves company”.
Real life becomes their treatment (meaning it’s soon a place they no longer wish to be, even though it’s where they need to be) and treatment becomes their life. It’s no longer a name they see or want others to see, but it’s an illness of epic proportions that they use to greet the world with.
Others in their life are forced to learn how to walk all over again around them, as not to break the egg shells strategically placed all over the ground in their home. One false step can cause the yolk to ooze out of the once complete shell, the shrapnel of broken shell digs and cuts at the heel, causing pain for the person stepping on the broken shell and that perfect excuse for the mentally ill person to absolutely lose their shit and spiral back down into whatever hole they have dug for themselves.

Free Write- Poetry

Sometimes I feel like a grenade.

My trigger has been pulled,

and I know the explosion is coming.

When will it come? When will I explode

into millions of tiny pieces, hitting everything around me

with fragments of the shell I was.

The built up pressure continues rising inside me

after the pin is yanked.

Who is holding this weapon in their hand,

knowing all too well the damage it will cause others?

There’s no time to think about the consequences now.

It’s too late. There’s only seconds left

Until I detonate and take out everyone who’s in reach.

A split second of fear kicks in as I know the pain I am about to cause.

There’s no turning back though.

I can no longer control this anger,

This thirst for making others feel just as shitty as I do.

After I release my fury, I know I will have victims hit with the shrapnel of my anger.

There’s more to lose, and more underneath this explosion than I have ever let on.

Sometimes, I feel like a grenade

How Treatment Changed My Life

As a lot of you know, I’ve spent almost the past 2 years in and out of treatment. My 1st stint in treatment was the summer of 2013 when I was out at Remuda Ranch which for those of you who don’t know is a residential treatment center for eating disorders. Thanks to my lovely insurance company (I’m pretty sure any case manager who works with eating disorders hates them) my treatment only lasted a month until I was cut off and forced back home and to the real world. A few months later I found an intensive outpatient program (IOP) only 20 or so minutes from my home and that is the place where the work really began in my recovery.

For months I thought I was wasting my time attending groups for 4 hours a day, ,3 days a week. I wasn’t motivated to change and I picked and chose the things I would use in my own life. I spent a year and a half in that program until I was finally discharged.

Looking back on those 2 years of many ups and more than enough downs, I realized that treatment changed and ultimately saved my life. I didn’t appreciate it at the time because it was the biggest and most promising threat to ending my eating disorder, but looking back I can see so many things that have changed for the better in my personal life that wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for a team who wasn’t afraid to kick my ass with honesty.

Since I was a little kid I always struggled with how I was feeling. I remember being 12 or so and feeling depressed and like the only way out was to end my life. Yet what kept the mask of happiness over my face for years was knowing there was no external stimulus causing this depression. It’s a total mind fuck when you can’t even place a finger on a cause for your depression and want for your life to end. But when I got into treatment I realized I wasn’t the only one who ever felt this way. The hardest lesson I had to learn was that I had every right to feel what I was feeling and that nobody could take how I was feeling away from me. Now this is totally different from acting on your emotions (you have every right to feel emotion, but acting on them is something completely different). The more and more time I spent talking about how I felt and having people nod their heads in agreement and giving me the feedback that I wasn’t the only one made me realize that I was important and my feelings mattered. It’s not everyday you can be in a place where you’re not only told that you have every right to feel how you feel, but to have those emotions validated? It’s life changing, and once you bring that outside of those 4 walls of a treatment center it can change your life so much in terms of how you handle relationships.

The second biggest thing that changed my life was acting as if. For so long in my life I had acted “as if”. As if I wasn’t depressed, suicidal, full of self-hate towards my body, so when we were told in CBT group to try and act as if I was hesitant. But the therapist wasn’t telling us to act as if we had something dirty to hide, he was telling us to act as if we didn’t have eating disorders when it came to exposure challenges. CBT is big on cognitive and behavioral stuff, seeing as how it’s even called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. So I gave this skill a try a few times when it came to facing huge fears of mine out in the real world and you know what? It actually fucking works! I was astonished!! Soon the things I feared with enough practice became the size of mole hills instead of mountains.

The last thing I want to talk about is assertiveness. This skill I had always sucked at throughout my life. I had this crazy idea that I had no right to ask for what it was I wanted and it hindered a lot of my life and I ultimately became an emotional doormat. Learning to say no without explaining myself was so empowering. Sure there are still things that owe an explanation to, but saying no and sticking to your guns is huge for me. Even calmly explaining how something made me feel or what I need from someone, all came from the 4 walls of the group room where I attended IOP.

I never knew it at the time I was there, but I picked up a lot of skills that has thus far bettered my life and made me happier with what I have in life. Sure I struggle with behaviors here and there, but what person fresh into recovery doesn’t? Yet I’ve found that the more and more capable I am at handling interpersonal relationships (too clinical sounding? Sorry), the less anxious and stressed I become about how I’m feeling and focus less on “how I should feel”.

The Media Is Not The Bad Guy

Internet-news The media has always received a bad reputation when it comes to mental health issues, where people see it as the root of all evil to those struggling with things such as eating disorders, depression, self-injury and so on. But you know what guys? I don’t really believe that the media is as bad as everyone would like to think it is.

Honestly, I believe we use the media as a scapegoat to not face the underlying problems. Sure seeing extremely thin individuals all over the place could cause some discomfort amongst those either in the midst of an eating disorder, in recovery from one or even healthy minded individuals who have some sort of body dissatisfaction (because let’s admit it here, we all do to some degree). But to say “hey I saw this on____ and it caused me to develop____” is a cop out.

Eating disorders aren’t media fueled developed disorders, but for a lot of people they like to point the finger towards mass media. The truth is, these disorders are much deeply rooted within the individuals mind than simply a mere exposure to what everyone unfortunately sees everyday. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the world we live in today is all about the latest health/diet fad, exercise and having an “attractive” body which all boils down to being thin, but when someone develops an eating disorder it is not the advertisement company’s or production teams of movies and television shows that caused it.

The individual struggling with an eating disorder have probably always had a deeper issue,probably stemming from self-worth, self-image and self-esteem issues throughout their life. Nobody wakes up one day, sees an ad or commercial and decides that that day they will be anorexic, bulimic or any other eating disorder. These disorders never start out as full blown disorders, for many they simply start as a way to lose weight or have a healthier life style. But there’s something inside of their brains that becomes addicted to the weight loss, the exercise, the lack of food consumed or vise versa. The media only fuels that desire to fit in or “be perfect”, which I believe was never their intention.

I think it’s time we stop using the media as a scapegoat and really look at the bigger issue at hand here; that issue is inside of us.

Nagging Little Voices

I am plagued by voices.

Not the ones you hear about on televisions

Not the ones glamorized in movies.

They don’t propel you to fame.

They don’t land you book deals or make people interested in you.

They keep me trapped inside my room

Gnawing at my ears and clawing their way up my spine.

“You’re not good enough”

“You’ll never get where you want to be in life”

At first, I was strong.

I knew they were just illusions of my mind.

The pessimistic and self-deprecating side of my personality.

Yet now….

Now I’m starting to believe them again.

“Just stop trying.. you’re not going to make it anyways”

These aren’t the voices that attract others my way.

These voices isolate me from my best friends.

They make the touch of my boyfriends hands sting like daggers

They tell me he is just going to be like everyone else.

“It’s only a matter of time before he leaves you. Nobody stays”.

When did I become so weak against them?

When did I let my guard down just enough for them to climb their way over?

How did I not see that they were always lurking outside of the barrier I placed up?

These parts of life are not glamorous

These are the things we keep at the bottom of our discussion pits.

Things too shameful to tell therapists, friends and family members.

The things that keep us bound to our beds like slaves being brought to America in chains.

And you still like to glamorize the sick?

The Real World & My Distorted World

**Possible trigger warning**

How does everything come back around to my eating disorder? As far as recovery goes, my mindset lately has been anything but recovery based. It’s frustrating as hell for me that I’ve been having such loud eating disorder thoughts the past month or so (god that’s such a cliche eating disorder treatment thing to say.. I apologize for that), and as the stress of life escalates more and more I find myself “not having time to eat” or simply being way too busy to eat breakfast or even a snack before leaving for class. It’s not too glamorous might I add. But like I said, everything fucking thing is coming back down to my eating disorder and I hate it.

If I do shitty on a test or quiz, I resort to counting calories again or simply not eating. I’ve talked about it in therapy tons and I know the reason I do it is because I know in my heart that without a doubt I am great at my eating disorder. How sad and pathetic is this? Call it a Type A personality, but my perfectionism has always gotten the best of me in life and as I’m fully in my life now it’s reared its head again and it couldn’t come at a more inconvenient time.

As I write this I know of everything I have going for me but when I lay my head down at night or am stuck in my head throughout the day, none of these things seem as promising or even significant as compared to things like my weight, how I look that day or other stupid and exhausting thoughts I have. That’s right, it’s fucking exhausting living in my head.

Even my relationship with my boyfriend is impacted by this stuff. I love spending time with him, but every time he touches me all I can wonder is what he really thinks of my body. My therapist would tell me he’s not even thinking about the things I’m thinking he’s thinking about but that feeling of disgust scares the shit out of me and when we’re together and doing things that couples do, I don’t enjoy any of it because I’m so inside my head. I don’t know if he even realizes that I’m not present and that I’m in some fucked up world where the staple in my stomach comes undone and he can see what I feel I really look like.

I always thought that after I got out of treatment I’d have a better mindset and things wouldn’t be this difficult. I knew that the day I got discharged from treatment that I wouldn’t be fixed, but shit y’all I at least thought I’d be able to manage my recovery in the real world and was strong enough and had enough of those lovely CBT skills that were drilled into my head, to be able to manage life stress without slipping down that slope that only leads to being sick.

Life thou art a heartless wench.