National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2016

Today marks the 6th day of NEDAW this year, and I’ve been silently watching all of the posts of Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. Thankfully, I have seen this link about how low weight pictures don’t help to raise awareness for eating disorders going around more than I have seen any “before and after” pictures.

Most years, I’ve been right in the thick of it too, changing my profile picture of Facebook, tweeting statistics about how eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and how research and treatment for eating disorders are severely underfunded. This year, however, I’ve kept quiet.

I have been afraid to say what I want to say, but right now, seeing as I have the worst case of laryngitis that I’ve had in a long time and feel very silenced, it feels appropriate (and necessary) for me to share this.

In the Fall, my health got pretty bad. I was finally diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, the autoimmune form of hypothyroidism, and I was referred to a gastoenterologist to deal with the gastro symptoms. I was gaining weight and having migraines all the time. My class attendance was pitiful, and I nearly failed a class because of it. My depression came back and hit me like a freight train, and I was very isolated. I wasn’t eating much – primarily because I didn’t feel good and before my Hashimoto’s diagnosis, I would often get physically sick when I would eat. As the semester progressed, my health started to improve little by little, but my eating stayed the same. I started using being sick as an excuse for restricting, and I didn’t even realize that’s what I was doing until I went home for Christmas break and my eating got even worse. I convinced myself that I still just wasn’t feeling very good, and once I got back for my last semester of classes, things would be much better.

Shortly after I got back, I realized that I was fooling myself, and that I was trapped in a downward spiral and I needed more help than I was getting. I found myself sitting back in the living room of Monte Nido at Laurel Hill admitting that I had been out of residential for almost two years, and I was struggling. It was an incredibly humbling experience, because the last time I had sat in that room, I’d announced that I thought I could safely call myself Recovered. As I looked around the room, I saw the faces of girls who’s worlds had shrunk so small, and I remembered that’s where I was two years ago too.

I thought to myself, “I might be struggling right now, but it’s so much different than this.” I realized that I was living into a pattern that had been developed over the years. Every two years for the past decade of my life, I would end up in treatment of some sort.

2006 was the year of experimental medications, crisis counseling, and Children’s Aid referrals.

2008 was the year I was referred to the Eating Disorders Program at my local hospital.

2010 was Mercy Ministries.

2012 was Credit Valley Hospital Day Program.

2014 was Monte Nido, Cambridge Eating Disorder Center, and Eating Disorder Center of Andover.

2016…is the year I’m graduating from college with my Bachelor’s in Social Work.

So…after I realized this, I realized I had to reach out for more support. I had to use my voice and actively choose to break that pattern. I spoke with my wonderful dietitian with whom I had broken up last May, and I’ve now been seeing her again for a short time. She’s providing me with just a little bit of external accountability and a lot of ass-kicking. She downright refuses to call my slip a relapse. According to her, I stubbed my toe and I just have to remember that I can walk again without it hurting.

And I remember now. I remember why I am doing this. I remember why I chose to fight so hard two years ago.

I’ve got a life to live. On behalf of the (probably more than) 7% of eating disorder sufferers who die from their illnesses, of the families who lose loved ones, of the 60% of people with eating disorders who don’t have access to treatment.

I’ve got a life to live. Because of Kelly, and Amanda, and Rachel, and Moriah, and Alyson, and Sandra, and Karl, and all of the other friends and family members I’ve lost to their mental illnesses.

I’ve got a life to live. For my future clients, for the people who will hear my story and find hope.

I’ve got a life to live. For all the people who love me and have supported me all the way through this process. For all the people I’ve hurt along the way, and all the ones who gave up on me and told me I’d never make it out alive.

Most importantly, I’ve got a life to live. For me. Because I deserve to live. I deserve a life filled with joy, freedom, laughter, and hope. I deserve to live to feel the pain of heartbreak and to put the pieces back together again. I deserve love and be loved, and to one day, hold my children in my arms and rock them to sleep.

The theme for this NEDA Week is  “3 Minutes Can Save A Life”, and it’s true. The first step to getting to where I am today is recognizing the issue and reaching out for help. No one deserves to live through the hell that I did before I finally got adequate treatment. So if you think you, or anyone you know, is suffering from an eating disorder, click here. Get screened. It’s worth 3 minutes of your time.

Choosing recovery was the hardest choice I ever had to make, and sometimes I still need small reminders of why I chose it in the first place, but I am here to say that my life is so much bigger than I ever could have imagined.

I am living the future that I dreamed of for my whole life, but never believed I would actually attain.

And if I can do it, so can you.

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At the Ice Castle in Lincoln, NH yesterday afternoon! So much fun!

**Feel free to contact me if you would like additional resources or just a listening ear. I would love to hear from you!**

Dear Brave One.

Dear Brave One,

It’s been a year since you left treatment, and I know it’s hard to wrap your head around, but you are doing so well. It’s been a year of incredible highs, and very distressing lows, but you made it. Every single day, you are making it.

I know that you sometimes doubt yourself. You doubt the soldity of your recovery. You doubt your motivation, your intuition, your relationships. You doubt your very worth. You question your identity over and over again. Any time something good comes into your life, you have to question it. Do I deserve this? No? Maybe. Yes, yes I do. But why? The cycle can be maddening if you let it go on for too long, but you already know that.

Despite all the doubt and insecurity you face on a regular basis, I’ve noticed that there is this confidence – this unshakeable, firmly rooted confidence – that has begun to grow inside of you. Over the past year, I have seen you persevere through many trials. I have seen your determination and strong-will carry you through situations that, from all angles, appeared insurmountable. I have seen you truly blossom into such a powerful, thoughtful, compassionate young woman.

I know that you’ve faced so much loss this year. Far too much. But, you know what? You have finally given yourself permission to grieve. You’ve created space to feel those gutwrenching feelings, and you’ve allowed the process to transform you. Losing so many people that you love has been hard on you, but instead of shrinking away inside yourself, or diving headfirst into your eating disorder, you have continued to reach out. You have maintained your connection with the outside world, even though your heart was breaking.

For the first time in your life, I think that you can finally say that your actions match your values. There is a congruence between your words and your actions that has never been there before. That did not come without a fight. I know that it’s safer to say that everything’s fine when it’s not. Presenting your authentic self to the world on a daily basis is not easy. You’ve learned how to do it though, and I’m so proud.

I really am so proud of you. I know I don’t say it enough, but the work that you have done this year is truly awespiring. You’ve blown me away time and time again, even in the smallest things. I am so grateful that you’ve given yourself the opportunity to thrive, and that you’ve chosen to do the harder thing again and again. Those choices have led you to a place that you thought you’d never be.

You are nourished, healthy, whole. Your eyes shine when you talk about the things that you love. You are full of passion and energy. You laugh…a lot. You are full of grace, wisdom, and empathy. You create a safe space for people to feel heard. You use your voice when necessary, and you listen closely to everything around you. You are one of the most observant people I’ve ever met, with such a keen memory. You have learned how to maintain healthy boundaries in your relationships. You have taken those personality traits that used to keep you sick and transformed them into traits that will carry you forward.

You’ve come so, so far, but you’re not done yet. I want you to keep rolling with the momentum. Keep fighting. Keep doing the work. Keep showing up with your authentic self.

You are a kickass human. Screw anyone who says otherwise.

Love,

Me

Sometimes you look back, and everything is different.

I’ve been trying for a week now to reflect on the school year through the lens of eating disorder recovery, and I haven’t been able to write anything cohesive. At first, I got so frustrated by that, but I just realized that is actually huge progress.

I have no desire to associate myself, my life, or my current experiences with an eating disorder. It actually makes me really sad, and sometimes angry, to hear people talk about their eating disorders. In the thick of it, I didn’t realize how small my world was, and to have to shrink my experiences this year down to the size of an eating disorder feels excrutiating.

It amazes me exactly how much can change in a single year when you finally commit to doing the real work. A year ago, I was basing my identity in my eating disorder, in the amount of days insurance approved me for in treatment each time, in how many people checked up on how I was doing or if I was struggling with any disordered thoughts or behaviours. Now, none of that matters to me. Today, what matters is the quality of the relationships that I am choosing to maintain, my physical health, how actively I am practicing self-care, my education, snuggly babies and puppies, and whether the choices I am making are alligning myself with my future goals.

I still remember, of course. I remember life with my eating disorder, and I will admit that I sometimes romanticize it a bit. I sometimes get urges, but I never consider actually acting on them. I don’t know that I could ever forget, and even if I could, I wouldn’t want to.

This Monday marks the beginning of finals week at my school. This is a significant milestone for me, because for the first time in my Gordon College career, I am completing a full school year, and I am not taking incompletes for the first semester ever. I am two presentations and two exams away from my first completed school year. I used to believe that I couldn’t succeed in school unless I was sick, and this disproves that belief. I am well, and I am doing well.

I hesitate to call myself recovered because I haven’t even been out of treatment for a full year, but I cannot fathom ever returning to the depths of chaos and despair that is an eating disorder. I’m too busy living my life now. I don’t have time for that.

Now, I’m going to go grocery shopping for a picnic at the beach tomorrow. That, my friends, is how I know that I am well.

Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester, MA (where I’ll be spending the day tomorrow! Heck yes!) (photo credit: pinterest.com)

It takes effort, until it doesn’t

Since I’ve been home and interacting with people who I haven’t seen in quite some time, I’ve been asked all sorts of questions ranging from “Where have you been the last three years?” to “You’ve gained so much weight! How did that happen?” (Talk about tactless and triggering, much? No gracias.)

The question that I’ve been asked most often in conversations where the topic of my recovery comes up is, “Do you believe you can fully recover or is this something you’re going to have to manage forever?”

In the recovery community, it sometimes feels like there are two camps when it comes to the answer to this question. There are those who are fully convinced and have seen evidence that full recovery is, indeed, a very attainable possibility, and then there are those who believe that while symptoms may be eliminated or highly reduced, there will always be little bit of the eating disorder just waiting for you to slip and fall into it’s waiting arms.

(Source: healthyplace.com)

(Source: healthyplace.com)

As for me, I ascribe to the ideology of camp number one. My response is a resounding yes. Yes, I absolutely believe that full recovery is possible. I have met too many recovered individuals to believe that they are the exception to the rule. For me, the notion of continual management of symptoms and hyper-vigilance of watching and preparing for the next relapse fills me with such a deep sense of hopelessness. I don’t want to think that all of my efforts have been for naught – all the meals that I’ve fought through and all the urges I’ve surfed (Sun wave, anyone? Shout out to Ali and Rachael at IOP if you see this.); the endless therapy sessions and the pain of buying clothes to fit my new body that I’m working hard to accept. I need to have an end in sight, and for me, that end is “recovered”.

One huge component to this discussion is the definition of recovery and recovered. Everyone has their own unique definition of recovery. I have thought about this long and hard. I have participated in plenty of group therapy sessions based around this topic. It’s very difficult to fight for something that you cannot even imagine.

When I say that I believe in being fully recovered, I think of life without an eating disorder. What does that mean though? In my mind, it is so much more than weight restoration and the cessation of behaviours. It’s choosing to reach out instead of reaching in. It is to eat more one day and less the next; to have a big brunch without worrying about how it fits in your meal plan. Self-compassion is no longer a treatment buzzword, rather it’s a reality that is lived out on a daily basis. It’s saying no to things that don’t satisfy you, and creating space for things that make you come alive. It’s establishing and maintaining real world relationships that are not wrapped up in the treatment and recovery circles. It is affording yourself the opportunity to make mistakes. I think it means embracing your inherent character traits and using your strengths to your benefit, rather than aiding in your self-destruction. It is living in the space between black and white. It is seeing yourself as a worthy human being, no questions asked. It is having healthy coping mechanisms that have simply turned into ways of life. It is structure and routine in combination with flexibility and relaxation.

Something that we talked a lot about in treatment was how both the eating disorder self and the healthy self come from within each of us, and the process of recovery means that we develop our healthy self so that it’s strong enough to absorb the eating disorder self back into us and take all the energy we spent waging war with our bodies and begin to fight together. What once was fragmented becomes whole.

From everyone I’ve talked to, I’ve learned that there’s no single moment where you realize you’re recovered. Eventually, the day will come when you realize that you’ve been so busy living that you haven’t thought about engaging in behaviours for over a year. There will be moments where you remember…maybe a familiar taste triggers something deep within the recesses of your memory and you thank God that you are no longer that person.

To get there takes work; it takes effort and energy.

Until it doesn’t. 

Life’s Punctuation

Tonight is my last night of treatment.

Every time I’ve left treatment in the past, there’s been an ellipses at the end…

I’ve been waiting for the, “what next?” – the inevitable relapse that comes once I finish treatment. Sometimes I’ve waited longer than others, but it always comes eventually.

This time there is a period. I don’t feel like I’m waiting anymore.

Today, June 16, 2014, is closure. It is the end of a chapter. It is fear, hope, peace, anxiety, and cautious optimism.

Tomorrow, June 17, 2014, I turn the page and begin to write the rest of the story. I don’t have a full map of what that’s going to look like, but I know that this chapter will transform tragedy into triumph. This chapter will be the launching pad for the rest of the story that is my life.

As with any good story, I hope to carry forward certain themes. I want people to look at my life and see hope. To look at my footsteps and see the power of choice. To hear the sound of my voice and know that their words, too, are valuable. To look at my imperfections and see the reflection of grace.

Tonight is my last night of treatment. I’m scared and I don’t feel ready, but I have been equipped with all the right tools to embark on this next chapter.