Life’s a Gift

Out of nowhere, on Friday night, my throat started hurting something fierce. I couldn’t swallow and I couldn’t yawn; my neck was so sore that I couldn’t even turn my head; and, my ears felt like they had plugs in them. Needless to say, it was extremely painful and uncomfortable. Since my boyfriend was just getting over a cold, I automatically assumed that he had passed his germs to me. So, I popped some Cold&Flu pills and waited for them to work their magic. I waited… and waited … for two days. When Monday morning rolled around, I was still miserable and decided it had to be strep throat. Sure enough, when I went into the Urgent Care Center it took no more than 5 minutes to confirm my latest suspicion. I was prescribed antibiotics and told to take the next 24-48 hours to rest.

Yesterday, after sitting around the house for days, I decided to get out and do some light Christmas shopping with my boyfriend’s father. As we were driving to the mall, we drove past this awful wreck; the driver’s side of the small compact car was crumpled in like delicate foil and shiny glass littered the road. My mouth hung open in shock as I watched from the passenger window. “I hope they’re okay,” I prayed out loud. 

My boyfriend’s father solemnly replied, “The person driving that car didn’t survive, honey.” 

“How do you know?” I asked, hoping he was wrong.

“See the blanket hanging over the driver’s side? They only do that when there’s been a death– to conceal the body until the investigation is over.”

Her name was Debra. That’s all I know. She could have been a mother, a sister, a wife. She could have been a doctor, a receptionist, a stay-at-home mom. Maybe she was driving to the mall, like me, to get gifts for family and friends. And, now, she is gone–in the blink of an eye, one wrong move. What kind of person deserves to meet such a tragic end? 

Since yesterday, I have been thinking about my own life. I was whining and complaining the whole weekend about feeling ill; I laid on the couch, feeling sorry for myself, while my boyfriend waited on me hand and foot. But, it was just a bacterial infection, a temporary illness. The person in the car is gone forever, not temporary. Permanent.

It shouldn’t have taken such an unfortunate event to make me realize the many blessings I have. I may get sick or I may have a bad day at work, but there are many people out there who have so much more to worry about. Every day on this earth is a precious gift and I think we all need to cherish that gift, because everything can vanish without a moment’s notice. As for that woman? I pray for her and for her family, and I hope she had the chance to enjoy life’s precious gifts before she went home to the Lord.

 

I do it for him

Last Tuesday evening, my boyfriend and I made the 10 hour trip home for Thanksgiving. He is honestly my rock–he left behind his family to be with mine for the holiday and he will do it again for Christmas and the New Year. Now if that isn’t love then I don’t know what is.

He seems to be the only supportive person in my life right now, which is why I still try to stick to recovery even if it’s the last thing I want to do. He wants (read: NEEDS) me to get better because he wants a life with me–a future, a family, a happily ever after. And, I want to give him that, I really do.

I know everyone says you have to want to recover for yourself but when that’s impossible, I think the next best thing is to recover for someone you love. If I didn’t have him in my life, I would have no desire whatsoever to get better (& I truly mean that).

Over the holiday, my mom and dad seemed to disregard my current state, despite my obvious cries for help. My dad, who often exhibits eating disordered behaviors himself, didn’t say anything when I got up to use the bathroom after almost every meal. And my mom completely blew off my boyfriend when he mentioned that I wasn’t doing so well– “I’ve done all I can for her. If she wants to destroy herself then that’s her choice,” she snapped, eyeing my dinner salad judgmentally.

But, the thing is Mom and Dad… it’s not my choice and you know that. I did not ask for an eating disorder, I did not ask to be unwell.

If my boyfriend weren’t in the picture, I would have let my parent’s comments and actions fuel the eating disorder even more (“You’re mom and dad don’t even care about you! Show them how sick you can really get—then they’ll be sorry they didn’t listen!”ED) But instead, I am trying my best to ignore that voice inside my head.

Today, I went to the doctor to get new meds (hopefully these ones will work!) and I am going to see my therapist this afternoon. I don’t want to, but I know I have to for him, for our future.

Where do I go from Here?

I have given up on myself, so my outpatient therapist has given up on me.

Okay, so maybe “given up” is an exaggeration on my therapist’s part; she has simply told me that she is “unable to help [me] if I cannot meet her halfway.” She cannot sit back and watch me ignore the meal plan, neglect my meds, and engage in behaviors. She cannot force me to choose recovery; I have to want it.

But, I don’t want it.

As I was sitting in her office today, unresponsive and disinterested, I realized that for the first time in three years of treatment, I [legit] do not want to continue. I have learned so many skills and techniques to be able to overcome my eating disorder, but I always manage to end up in the same dead-end situation– unable to continue using those skills and techniques, unable to leave behind the disorder.

So, where the hell do I go from here? Do I quit my job? Go into default on my mortgage payments, student loans? Leave behind my boyfriend, friends, coworkers? All just to go into some treatment facility where I’ll learn the same skills and techniques, only to stop using them shortly thereafter? Where does this vicious cycle end?

I feel stuck– like this is as good as my life will get. I feel like I am incapable of achieving full recovery and at the same time, I feel like I will never get sick enough to the point of hospitalization or death (neither of which are true, I know). I’ve convinced myself that I can live my life with this disorder without any consequences—good or bad.

I don’t want to give up, but I feel as though there’s no other way to fight this anymore. 

Let’s talk…

… about the holidays.

We all know these tend to be very stressful times; especially for people who deal with anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses. But, who are we kidding? Even people that don’t suffer from mental illnesses dread the holidays. They are filled with obnoxious family members, drama (ugh), financial burdens, and way too much food. Y’all know what I am talking about.

Two years ago, I had just gotten out of residential treatment in time for Thanksgiving. I was living at home at the time and I felt that I was ready to conquer a Thanksgiving feast for the first time in a very long time. After all, I had just learned a whole new set of skills on how to cope with the stressors of the holiday season—mainly the stressors of food. Phew, was I wrong. My (then) boyfriend ended up bailing on family dinner at the last minute, which sent me into complete panic mode. Too upset to eat, I barely touched the food on my plate, and to make matters worse, my entire family was watching every move I made. I ended up leaving my aunt’s house drunk and in tears.

Last year, I was finishing up college in a different state and living with my (current) boyfriend. We decided to have Thanksgiving with his family since we were going to spend Christmas with mine. I ended up cooking a HUGE turkey (which turned out fantastic, if I do say so myself) and several side dishes that reminded me of home. Turns out, my boyfriend didn’t coordinate dinner with any of his family members, so it was just me, him, and his dad—with a shit-ton of food. They are both picky eaters and didn’t touch half the dishes I spent so much time making and I was too distraught to eat; most of the food went in the trash. The night ended with us fighting and me in tears (again).

At this point, I hope you’re thinking of some of your dysfunctional holiday moments. It would make me feel a million times better to know I am not the only one who experiences them!

This year, my boyfriend and I are set to head north for the holidays—to be with my family. I’d like to say that I have high hopes, but I know myself and I know the current situation I am in; I can barely force down a normal meal without crying or panicking. Despite my struggles, though, I am hoping for the best. I keep reminding myself that now, more than ever, is the time I should be cherishing these moments with family and friends. We are all getting older and we are not promised tomorrow. With that being said, my challenge for myself and you is to try to enjoy the holiday season as best you can. I am going to sit down to a Thanksgiving feast and remind myself that one big meal will not turn me into a balloon; I am going to put on my winter clothes (even if I feel like a lump) and go Christmas tree hunting with my dad and brothers; I am going to laugh, drink, eat, and be happy. Why? Because I deserve it and so do you.

I Wish I Knew

The other evening, my boyfriend and I went out to eat at a pizza restaurant. As I was eating my salad (I know… ugh), I spotted this young girl sitting in a booth with her parents. She sat on one side, no older than ten, swinging her short legs and nibbling on a piece of pepperoni pizza, while her parents sat on the other. The girl had a huge smile plastered on her face and her parents looked at her lovingly as they chatted away.  

Even as my boyfriend went on about his day, I couldn’t pull my gaze away from this happy little girl. I studied her chubby (not unhealthy) body and her cute round face, and I almost lost it as I admired her long, golden curls. She did not seem to have a care in the world as she eagerly grabbed another piece of pizza.

I looked down at my salad, close to tears. Was I that happy once? I wondered. Did I ever enjoy pizza without worrying about calories? I knew the answer, but the fog in my head prevented me from remembering such a time.

The girl and her parents left before we did and as I watched them head towards the exit I couldn’t help but wonder what the girl’s future looked like. Ten years from now, would she still frequent pizza restaurants and happily graze on a hot pie? Or would she turn out to be like me, picking at a stupid salad?

I prayed, for her sake, that she’d turn out to be a normal teenage girl; one who would go out with her friends, confident in her own skin and not afraid to order a burger or a milkshake (or both!).

One who would not succumb to the deadly grasp of an eating disorder.

I wish I had the ability to travel back in time. I would find myself, a joyful little girl, sitting at a pizzeria, and I would tell her not to give in to the evil voice. I would tell her to just be happy and live her life, regardless of what the world thought of her.

[Part of] My Story

As a kid, I had everything I could have ever wanted; my Mom and Dad were always supportive of me and my two brothers. There was always food on the table, a roof over our head, a yearly vacation and plenty of extra-curricular activities to keep us busy. Overall, I was a happy kid that felt loved and appreciated. I played the piano, was a girl scout, ran track and had many friends; my mom always called me her “social butterfly.” When it comes down to it, there are a few significant events in my life that contributed to my downward spiral into a destructive lifestyle, centered on absolute control.

1) Sexual Abuse

During the summer of 1999, when I was six years old, I was sexually abused by a relative. At the time, I didn’t realize how much of an impact it would have on my life; I was unaware that his actions with me were inappropriate– I just thought I was special. I tried to lock this secret away in the back of my mind but as I got older, I became aware of the fact that I was unable to form normal and trusting relationships with men. To this day, I still struggle with letting men in. There are days when I don’t even let my boyfriend touch me because I am so aware of that terrible incident and the feelings of shame that come with it. It took me over 15 years to open up about the abuse, and I still have difficulty not letting it control my thoughts or behaviors.

2) Beauty Pageants, Divorce & Modeling

In the sixth grade, I came across a flyer at the grocery store, announcing our upcoming community pageant. That’s when I decided I wanted to compete in beauty pageants. Even though I liked making new friends, wearing beautiful gowns, gaining confidence, and competing for a crown, I realize that pageants only led to increased self-loathing. When I didn’t win, I would bash myself for being too fat and too ugly; I was constantly comparing myself to other contestants and in my mind I could never measure up. When my pageant coach told me that I would ideally need to lose “15-20 pounds to increase my chances of winning” Miss Teen [state] USA, I began to think that something was severely wrong with my body and I started to diet for the first time (which continued throughout most of my high school career).

When I was a junior in high school my parents got a divorce. Deciding to live with my mom, I packed up my things and moved, abandoning my school, my friends, and my childhood home. In hopes of making new friends, which suddenly felt impossible, I joined the cross country team. Cross country became my escape; I could run away my feelings of dissatisfaction and frustration. But, once the cross country season ended, I didn’t know how to keep those troubled feelings away, so I decided to use restriction as a means of coping and keeping off the weight. If I failed at restricting, I would make up for it by running or abusing laxatives. At first, I felt empowered, but as the weight continued to fall off, I felt absolutely miserable. My senior year of high school was a blur and I turned into a liar and a bitch. My interest in modeling (which was influenced by people always telling me, “you’re so tall, you should be a model”) didn’t help with these behaviors or my poor body image. After starving myself for months, an agency told me that my hips were 3 inches too wide and that I was an inch too tall. Hearing that made me feel like my tall body was a complete waste of space, so I continued to make it my mission to take up less space. I wanted to prove to myself and the world that I could be model thin. To me, that was perfection. My mom knew that something was wrong and threatened to keep me from going to college in the fall. I did everything in my power to make sure that didn’t happen and I ended up winning that battle.

3) Transition to College, Diagnosis & Treatment (aka: The “Real Life”)

I was already in the midst of my disorder, but I didn’t let that stop me from living my new college life. When I wasn’t out drinking and partying on the weekends, I was hard at work studying rigorous pre-law courses. Little did I know, college was the place where my eating disorder thrived. Most people (it was a small campus) referred to me as the “tall, skinny girl;” I was the one who always ate salad, ran everyday, and got tipsy after having only one drink. I felt an enormous pressure to maintain this image because I thought it was the only reason that people liked me. But, the more I maintained this image, the more miserable I became. I was so absorbed in trying to create the perfect life at school that I didn’t realize my life was heading downhill. My ability to function was so low and my abuse of alcohol on  the weekends didn’t help. I got myself to get into quite a few risky situations; I drank till I blacked out, lost my virginity to someone I barely knew because I was too intoxicated to say no, and started cutting and purging when I couldn’t cope with the feelings of sadness and inadequacy brought on by the alcohol. There were also difficult situations occurring at home that only increased these behaviors.

By time I reached junior year, I was so unhappy and using every behavior in the book that I decided to seek help from the school counselor. I immediately told her about all of my behaviors and she encouraged me to see an ED therapist. During my first session, I was immediately diagnosed with an ED. This honestly came as a shock to me and suddenly I was terrified about my future. How could my seemingly perfect life turn out so wrong? How in the world did I end up with an ED? After I was diagnosed, I was extremely thankful to have supportive family and friends; however, even though this support system was great, I was still using behaviors and I was not getting any better.

As soon as my junior year ended, I entered residential treatment. I was angry, scared, and unsure; it was not entirely my choice to be put at such a high level of care and I had trouble accepting that there was something wrong with me. After two weeks, I somehow convinced myself and the staff that I was perfectly fine to step down and enter back into the real world. I completed three weeks of IOP, and then dropped back down to outpatient. By the end of the summer, I was happy, eating healthy, dating a great guy, and getting my life back on track. Once senior year rolled around, I felt a million times better and I couldn’t wait to be back at school. I was eager to finally live a normal life and to make senior year the best year yet. But, as soon as I returned, all of my old behaviors resurfaced—it was like I hadn’t even spent my whole summer in treatment. The atmosphere was so triggering and my desire to maintain the perfect image was uncontrollable. Depression set in heavy, my self harm and ED behaviors worsened, and I started to have suicidal thoughts for the first time in my life. I was so determined to just sink back into an endless hole that I discontinued outpatient therapy and I stopped meeting with my nutritionist. My close friends and counselor noticed that I was relapsing and pushed me to really think about my life. I ended up giving myself two options; one, stay at school and get sicker and possibly die, or two, go back and get the help I needed.

My second go at residential proved to be much more effective. I stayed for over a month then stepped down to PHP and IOP over an extended period of time (months and months). I kept up with classes online and was even able to return to my dream college. This past May, I (fortunately) graduated with a Bachelor’s of Art degree and now I am working a job I love. I still continue outpatient therapy quite frequently. 

It has been over 7 years since my ED first developed and over 3 years since I started treatment. I am nowhere near recovered, but I feel that I’ve been lucky enough to be given the tools I need to get healthy one day. For those of you out there struggling, I just want to say that I understand. I understand the long and difficult journey that ultimately comes with the ED diagnosis and I understand the frustrations and guilt that come along with this ugly illness. This is just part of my lifelong story, a glimpse; but, if you have any questions about any of it, please feel free to connect with me. You are not alone. Thanks for reading 🙂

 

Recovery is a BITCH.

A little over three years ago, I was officially diagnosed with an eating disorder. In the three years since, I have been trying my hardest to stick to a life revolving around recovery. Let me tell you… it is NOT easy! In fact, it has been the most difficult journey I have ever been on and it still continues to be. I will post “My Story” soon, which details the long and tedious journey– but, for now, I would like to chat about my current recovery struggle.

I have been in and out of treatment like a revolving door. I finally thought I beat this damn demon after my last round of PHP & IOP. Ha, ED won’t let me off the hook that easy. I was almost done with outpatient therapy this summer… almost, then life got stressful and ED decided to creep back in. Now, I am back to where I was a year ago– not really sure if I want recovery and giving into that stupid, stupid voice. It’s gotten to the point where my therapist is, yet again, threatening a higher level of care (we’ve been here many times before). After all, “why do I still continue to see her if I don’t do anything she tells me to do?” I don’t know… why do I?

Because if I don’t, I feel that absolutely ALL will be lost. If I don’t go and at least listen to what she has to say, ED will win and there is still a teeny tiny part of me that doesn’t want him to win. If I don’t see her, I have to admit that I am sicker than I thought and that is the LAST thing I want to do. So, you see my predicament? In my mind, if I am still going to therapy (even if it is at the wrong level) then I am still doing something to fight the eating disorder. I don’t see it as a waste of time because it is [kind of] proactive. 

I feel like my reasoning won’t make sense to most people, but I am hoping that someone understands. It is so freaking hard trying to get back on track when the train has completely derailed. The ED voice is so LOUD right now, but so is my voice. ED says, “Don’t eat, exercise a little more, and show them what you’re capable of.” And, my voice says, “I’m not sick. No, I don’t need a higher level of care. My life is going good, so why should I interrupt that with nonsense?” They contradict one another, which makes me come across as extremely stubborn to everyone around me. I feel like I can’t win, I feel like I am stuck in a deep, deep rut. Recovery is a bitch.