Tag Archives: therapy

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.

 

Dear Self.

Eat as if you love yourself.

Give nutrients and love
to the most precious of gifts you’ve been entrusted with.

Don’t deny yourself the pleasure of food
for without, you wither away, like the flowers in the fall.

Be patient with yourself.

You’re a work in progress
and you don’t have to have it all figured out.

Enjoy the labyrinth of life.
Observe and appreciate each stone you step on
as you wind in and out of the paths.
Not one singular path is the right one.
Be flexible with yourself.

Let the past be free.

Release that bird from the cage
that you’ve been holding hostage for years.
It’s place is not inside your home
where you can be with it any time you choose.

Watch as it flies away into the distance.
Say a cheerful goodbye
for when it leaves, you will have less clutter,
one less thing to clean up after or worry about.

Take a break.

Go for a walk, and enjoy the moment.
My dear you have all day to live inside your head.
Clarity comes in these moments
when you observe the wind
the air
the smell of fresh cut grass.

Life and the demands can wait for a moment.
The stressors of life can weigh you down.
It’s ok to step outside every once in a while
and appreciate all you have in life.

The most important of all is this:

Treat yourself like the valuable jewel you are.

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”.

Spark of Hope (February 3rd)

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment”

-Buddha

 

I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly focusing on a time that is not the present. I day dream of the future, mainly the “what-if’s” and finding myself in a panic with thoughts that something will go awfully wrong to throw off my plans I have; or I’m reminiscing of the past and all of the places I made mistakes and beating myself up over being human and perfectly imperfect. But one skill I’ve learned is the ability to be mindful. There’s a therapy style known as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and one of it’s skills is the use of mindfulness. At first it seemed so odd and a foreign concept to me, but the more I practiced, the more I appreciated the present moment. Living in the present has a better chance of changing your future than worrying about the future.

 

Goal: Try focusing on today as it happens. If negative thoughts occur, acknowledge that they are just thoughts and they have no power over you. If the past comes creeping in, tell yourself that it no longer matters because it is not relevant to the place you’re in today.

Sparks of Hope (January 30th)

“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”

– Steven Furtick

 

I often find it difficult to not compare myself to others. It’s when we engage in this unconscious activity that we end up damaging our own self-identity or self-esteem in ways we never intended. Nobody has their life completely together and we don’t know what that person who we are comparing ourselves to has had to walk through to get to this present moment. On the surface they may appear to have the life or the body we want, but it’s the things lying underneath the surface that matter more. For myself, I am my own worst critic and I can look at others around me and wish to have their life because it looks so much more glamorous than mine. But that mindset is not only a delusion, but a dangerous one that can land you on a slippery slope.

 

Goal: Today instead of looking at others and being envious of what they have, think of your own journey. Write down 5 things you’re thankful for having or experiencing at this moment in your life. It’s when you learn to accept & appreciate what you have, that you can learn how to embrace the path your on and not want to be where others seem to be.

Anticipatory Grief

For 1 year now I’ve been experiencing what psychologists would call anticipatory grief. On the website abouthealth.com they give a pretty simple definition of what exactly anticipatory grief is; they say “ Anticipatory grief is the normal mourning a person feels when he is anticipating the death of a loved one. Anticipatory grief includes sadness, concern for the dying person, preparing for the death, and adjusting to changes caused by the death   (http://dying.about.com/od/glossary/g/anticipat_grief.htm).

Every day for a year this is what I’ve been living with. My Grandma got sick in December 2013 with a stroke and heart attack; pretty much removing any semblance of who she was my whole life. An independent 86 year old woman turned into a vegetable, unable to talk. The memories of walking in her house that night and finding her laying there, face almost blue from the dangerously high blood pressure levels, will never leave my mind. I suffered from intense flashbacks for nearly 6 months after; I’d find myself reliving the entire night in great detail over and over and over again.

A few months ago I got to a point where I was able to accept that the woman who played a major role in raising me, and who I always looked up to as a role model/influence, was no longer here and not coming back. Thank god for therapy, because I wouldn’t be able to work through that on my own. But yesterday, all of this changed. My Grandma turned 88 on Wednesday, and the day after everything in me and my family’s life changed again..

7:30 in the morning my home phone rang, and I saw on the caller id it was the nursing home. My heart always stops for a second whenever I hear the phone ring, but yesterday as I saw the name pop up I knew something wasn’t right. Her nurse practitioner was on the other side telling me how my Grandma has pneumonia in both lungs now, a fever that keeps going up and down throughout the day and how they don’t think she’s going to make it out of it this time. I felt my whole body shake as she asked me what my mom’s plan was in this case; leave her at the nursing home and keep her comfortable, or send her to the hospital. I didn’t know, but I wasn’t the one they should be talking to so I called my mom and she called them.

Enter in the anticipatory grief all over again. Now, all we can do is wait. I went to the nursing home after class yesterday and spent time with her. I refuse to have regrets this time. My Grandma means the world to me and I would do anything in my power to keep her here with me, but at the same time I want this all to be over. Her quality of life is none, she spends all day in bed because she’s unable to move and seeing her like that isn’t who she is.

Nobody teaches you how to cope with this type of grief, but I’m thankful I’m not alone. I have some of the best friends with me now that support me and are here for me. But that doesn’t stop the fact I’m starting to grieve and nothing has happened yet.

When the Cell Doors Swing Open

I’ve been having this strange feeling as I go about my days lately. I stop and think about my life, how happy I’m becoming and how in an overall sense of the word, my life is pretty good right now. Since I was 12 I haven’t felt happiness like this and it’s kind of an odd feeling for me to have. There’s really nothing happening right now in my life to cause this wave of happiness, which I always thought had to be in order for me to feel happy.

I think my problem is that I view happiness as a fleeting emotion. When I was in my teen years I would find moments where things weren’t that bad, yes I was still depressed but the need to kill myself or hurt myself wasn’t there and honestly I knew in my heart that this moment of whatever it was wasn’t going to last. Maybe it was that self-fulfilling prophecy or what have you that caused my inevitable spiral back down into depression that made me want to end my life. But right now, I am trying to change that mindset I’ve had for over 10 years.

To give this as much clarity as to what/how I’ve been feeling lately I’ll try and describe it as this:

Imagine being in a prison for years with no hope of parole. You start forming your every day life around this sentence, knowing that this is just the way your life is going to be from here on out. Yes you’re stuck in a cell with other prisoners who are serving time like you and there’s that universality of being a prisoner. Everyone gets that you’re going nowhere any time soon. But one day, the cell door swings open without warning and you’re allowed to leave. At first it doesn’t feel right so you sit in the entrance of the cell expecting it to slam itself in your face the second you attempt to get even a foot outside those steel bars. Yet you try, as anyone with that opportunity would and the door remains open. It can’t be really happening so you move slowly, the slowest you’ve ever moved in your life, as your feet begin moving your body outside of that cold dark cell of yours and you catch a glimpse of life on the outside for the first time in years. It’s terrifyingly liberating, and you realize you must once again adjust to such a drastic change. 

You’ve become to institutionalized (in a way) that living your life on the outside seems wrong. At any turn you expect to either wake up from this dream you’re having or expect to be thrown right back into that now oddly comforting cell you’ve come to know as normal. Life on the outside at first just doesn’t feel right or safe.

That’s kind of what I’ve been feeling lately, but I’m trying not to keep those thoughts in the forefront of my mind as I go about my day to day life. Maybe all of this therapy and treatment over the years is finally being of some use to me, or maybe I’ll get sent back into the cell, but I’m trying to not think so far ahead and enjoy the life I have here and now.